CategoryRants

I get a little riled up occasionally, and then I think about why I am angry. I will continue thinking long after I should have let it go. One great way of getting beyond the issue is to write about it.

Liberal or Conservative: How does the Devil vote?

Photo by Pedro Lastra on Unsplash

Does God want us to be liberal or conservative?

How do the demons vote?

We get a pretty clear answer to the second question in C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters.   The book takes the form of a series of letters that have been written by a senior demon, Screwtape, to his nephew and junior tempter, Wormwood, on the best means by which to bring a soul to dwell for all eternity with “Our Father below,” as they refer to him.

In the seventh letter, Screwtape explores the question of whether to make Wormwood’s patient an “extreme patriot or an extreme pacifist.”  This was the question on everyone’s mind when the Letters were published in 1942.

Screwtape is quite clear that the devils are not interested in whether Christians support or oppose World War II.   Neither side is inherently Christian, it seems.  As a matter of fact, Screwtape seems to see more possibilities to lead him astray through pacifism.

Today, the specific circumstances are different, but Christians are still struggling to answering the same general question.  The contemporary question has us wondering between liberal or conservative, Trudeau or Scheer, Democrat or Republican, Trump or someone else?

If Lewis is correct, the minions of hell can use our conservatism just as easily as our liberalism to gain possession of a soul for all eternity.

If Lewis is correct, the minions of hell can use our conservatism just as easily as our liberalism to gain possession of a soul for all eternity.Click To Tweet

Screwtape explains the process:

Step 1:

Whichever he adopts, your main task will be the same. Let him begin by treating the Patriotism or the Pacifism as a part of his religion.

It is clear that the position the Christian takes is of no consequence; the goal of the forces of hell is to erroneously connect our position on the political spectrum with our faith.  From much that I read from Christian writers on the internet, it is apparent that the devils are having a very easy time of it.  We are very willing to take the first step.

Step 2:

Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part.

Again, it doesn’t appear as if we are having the demons work very hard.  I’ve heard many stories of people who can no longer associate with, let alone fellowship with, brothers and sisters in Christ who occupy a different position on the political spectrum as they.  The “camp” to which we belong is so obvious and it is not coloured by any qualification involving all the other dimensions of the Christian faith.

Step 3:

Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the “cause”, in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favour of the British war-effort or of Pacifism.

C. S. Lewis never read a single blog post or online article, and yet it is as if he’s read the same religio-political diatribes and tirades that I can only escape in the shower.

But there is hope.  Screwtape reveals the means by which we might reverse our steps toward the eternal flames.

The attitude which you want to guard against is that in which temporal affairs are treated primarily as material for obedience.

This is Lewis’ real point.  Whether left or right, we ought to treat our political positions as primarily material for obedience to our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Our position on the environment, taxes, deficits, size of government, guns, immigration, abortion, LGBTQ, education, is secondary to obedience.  In the fifth letter, Lewis makes this point, through Screwtape:

The Enemy [God] disapproves many . . . causes. But that is where He is so unfair. He often makes prizes of humans who have given their lives for causes He thinks bad on the monstrously sophistical ground that the humans thought them good and were following the best they knew.

It is more important for us to be obedient than it is for us to be right.  And yet, because we have allowed the faith to be slave to the cause, we find it easy to hate our political opposites.

Back to the seventh letter:

Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours-and the more “religious” (on those terms) the more securely ours. I could show you a pretty cageful down here,

And here we have it.  This is a dire warning for those who have made faith a means to an end.

God’s Good Gifts

FotoshopTofs / Pixabay

We ate dinner in an Italian restaurant in the United States of America.  I ordered a manicotti with meat sauce.  What I got was a plate of efficiency and profit.  And it tasted like crap.

I ordered a manicotti with meat sauce. What I got was a plate of efficiency and profit. And it tasted like crap.Click To Tweet

As we were ordering, I asked the server if the pasta was freshly made.  He had a physical reaction to the question–incredulity?  “No,” he said.  “It’s delivered.”  He named the supplier.  None of the ingredients were made at the restaurant.  The back kitchen was merely the cite of assembly and reheating.  The essential stuff was made in some factory somewhere and delivered frozen or refrigerated through the back door.  I can see the one-gallon plastic buckets filled with sauce, the frozen bags of manicotti and ravioli, the one-gallon bottles of salad dressing, and the machine-made frozen pizza crusts.

I  ordered a baked manicotti and my wife the spaghetti.

Before I took a bite, I ladled a couple of tablespoons of red-amber grease off the top of the melted slab of rubbery mozzarella.   Beneath it, I found two small manicotti.  The pasta was limp and the ricotta cheese had that processed-frozen flavour.  The sauce was plentiful but tasted like it came from a plastic bag.  And, it was exactly the same sauce as that on my wife’s spaghetti.

By his grace, the Creator has given us the ingredients and the mandate and the will to innovate.  The Italians have discovered all kinds of sauces for pasta.  These include:

    • Acciughe, 
    • Aglio e lio,
    • Alfredo, 
    • Amatricana, 
    • Bolognese,
    • Burro,
    • Cacciatore, 
    • Frutti di mare, 
    • Funghi e iselli,
    • Marinara, 
    • Noci, 
    • Pesto, 
    • Pomidoro, 
    • Romana, 
    • Tartufata, 
    • Umbria, 
    • Vongole.  

With all these sauces, how can a restaurant use the same one on two different dishes?  The whole point of different dishes in an Italian restaurant is the variation in the sauce; the pasta is a secondary consideration.

Variety is one thing, but using fresh quality ingredients improves the dining experience exponentially.  In that Italian restaurant, there was no attempt to offer a quality product.  The industrial kitchen that produced the sauce used the cheapest ingredients it could buy in bulk.  The cheese, too, was produced from inferior products on an industrial scale.  Efficiency and profit were the end goal; a good tasting meal wasn’t even a consideration.  The United States has long valued efficiency and profit, and these are not evil in themselves, but they do not belong as the primary motivation in a restaurant, perhaps in a cafeteria.  That’s it! This meal would have been barely adequate in a cafeteria.

The ingredients were cheap.  There was no chef, only assemblers, and they come cheap.  The meal was worth $7.99, but I paid over $20 CDN for my cafeteria manicotti.

Where I live in Canada, I can get freshly made pasta and quality sauces for just over $20.

Is Tim Keller Under God’s Curse?

pumukel / Pixabay

I chanced upon a post in which the author, Michael, says that Tim Keller, in his book, The Prodigal God, is preaching a “different Gospel.”

This is serious stuff because if he is, Keller is under God’s curse according to Galatians 1:8.

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!

Is Tim Keller under God’s curse?

In response to a comment on his post, Michael says, that Keller is “redefining the key parts of the gospel.”  If this is so, then Keller may be under God’s curse.  The parts of the gospel that Michael claims Keller is redefining are “the gospel [of] sin” and the gospel of repentance.

Redefining the Gospel of Sin?

Michael’s beef with Keller is he thinks Keller is calling the elder brother’s obedience a sin, that the elder brother needs to repent from doing good.

I’m not sure what to say.  Keller asserts nothing like this.  It’s baffling that someone could walk away from The Prodigal God with this notion–Keller is such a clear writer.  This is like mistaking the moral failing of the nine ungrateful lepers as having leprosy.

Michael has misread Keller for some reason and he writes three long posts explaining Keller’s “egregious errors.”  Of course Keller never says that the older brother is condemned for his obedience.  He says that the elder son is lost because the motivation behind his obedience is sinful.  Michael seems to struggle to wrap his mind around this idea saying that “Obedience, whatever the motivation, is never wrong.”

I suppose Michael is right in a sense.  If you can isolate the act from the motive, the act itself is not inherently wrong.  But Keller is not condemning an isolated act of obedience, he’s talking about the foundational motivation, which is inseparable from the act.

I won’t go so far as to say that acts of obedience are insignificant, but the motivation behind them is far more important.  With an obedient act, you can cover up wickedness.  Polonius from Shakespeare’s Hamlet said as much.

T’is too much proved, that with devotion’s visage and pious action we do sugar o’er / the devil himself.

We need not rely on Polonius an authority on Truth.  Let’s go to the Bible.

In Genesis 4, both Cain and Able brought a sacrifice to the Lord, but Cain’s was rejected.  There are several ideas as to why God did not look upon Cain’s sacrifice with favour; one of the most likely reasons has to do with Cain’s motivation.  He may have been sacrificing as an act of appeasement–they pagan motivation.  The foundation of Canaanite worship was appeasement–bribing the gods to bring fertility and to protection.  Cain’s sacrifice may have been an obedient act, but God saw his heart an rejected the sacrifice.

OK, perhaps motivation was not the issue with Cain’s sacrifice.  It could have been that God didn’t like vegetables.  How about Deuteronomy 10:12-17:

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good? 14 Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. 15 Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. 16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. 17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.

The Lord requires obedience; verses 12 and 13 couldn’t be clearer; but in verse 16, it clearly states that the Lord requires more than just obedience–he wants the circumcision of the heart. Obedient acts are fine, but God really wants an obedient heart.  In verse 17 we learn that God will will take no bribe.  God is clearly saying that he doesn’t want the motivation of obedience to be love and not appeasement.

Let’s go to Jesus  himself.  In Matthew 5-7 we have The Sermon on the Mount.  Again and again, Jesus says that righteousness is not achieved through mere obedience.  To be considered righteous, not committing adultery will not cut it–we can’t even look at someone with lust.

Keller is not redefining the gospel.  Keller’s condemnation of the elder brother is completely consistent with the gospel.  He is not condemning the older brother for being obedient.  He is saying that the elder brother is lost because he merely obeyed.  He was good so that he could have the inheritance.  The father wanted his love.  He wanted the elder brother to wash the dishes after the party.

My Eldest Son

To get my eldest son to do the dishes after dinner was almost always a battle.  He didn’t think it was fair that on his day for this duty we I had dirtied a huge roasting pan.  He didn’t think that it was his turn, because he did it last Thursday and he deserved to skip his turn tonight.  The variety and complexity of arguments never ceased to amaze me.  It wasn’t always a fight, but even when he obediently set about doing the dishes there was always a grudging attitude.

One Thanksgiving he came back from college.  I had prepared a huge meal for nearly 20.  At the end of the meal, he got up and did all of the dishes, refusing any help.  I was shocked.  What happened to my son?  He was living on his own, going to school.  Because he had very little income, he had been eating cabbage cooked with olive oil. salt and pepper.  When he lived under my roof, he had no idea how much money and effort went into feeding him.  Now he knew and he was grateful.  His gratitude led to behaviour far beyond obedience.

This is the behaviour of the youngest son.  This is the behaviour that the father wants from his eldest son.

Support for the Righteous Elder Brother

Michael believes that the elder brother was never lost.

His argument rests on the context of the Parable of the Prodigal son.  It is preceded by two other parables about lost things being found–the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin.  Michael says that in these parables, the lost sheep and coin represent “a sinner who repents.”  The other sheep and coins that did not go missing represent “the righteous persons who need no repentance.”  The third parable must be understood in the same way.

Michael correctly understands the importance of reading verses in context, but to get the context he only went back to verse Luke 14:3.  He should have gone back to verse 1.

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Jesus’ audience is really important here–we have sinners and Pharisees.    But Luke doesn’t just say that the Pharisees where there, he tells us what they were thinking.  Jesus has something to say to both of these groups.  To the sinners, he wants to say that God earnestly seeks them.  Simple. He does this with two and one-half parables.

What does Jesus want to communicate the Pharisees?  Michael would have you believe that Jesus wants to tell them to keep up the good work.  If you are at all familiar with the Bible, Jesus never tells the Pharisees to keep up the good work. As a matter of fact, he frequently tells them that they are less righteous than the sinners.  The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18:9-14 is one example.

In his telling of these three parables, Jesus wants to address what the Pharisees are thinking.  That’s why Luke tells us they were muttering to themselves.  It’s the same thing that the older brother is muttering as he stands outside the party.

Michael insists that we must view the third parable as exactly parallel to the first.  I’m not sure why we would impose parallelism on the third when an extended application to the Pharisees makes so much sense given the audience.  Jesus and/or Luke are reinforcing the joy at the recovery of the lost with the parallel to the first two,  then extending the story to the condemnation of the Pharisees.  Bam! Brilliant!  This is a mike-drop moment that reinforces not just what our heavenly father is doing sinners, but what he’s doing for the self-righteous.  He’s inviting them in.

The father says, “You are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.”   Come in an enjoy it.  The elder brother refuses.  If this isn’t lost, I don’t know what is.

Redefining Repentance and Salvation

According to Michael, Keller is also under God’s curse because he, Keller, claims that the father of the prodigal son accepts him before he repents.  He claims that Keller writes “that repentance is not needed for forgiveness, but rather comes after forgiveness.”  He says that

“Keller incorrectly teaches that salvation precedes repentance, while also changing what we are to repent from.”

Tim Keller believes there is nothing that we do to earn our salvation–not even the act of repentance.  This idea expands God’s Grace.  I understand that there are some Christian denominations that place more emphasis on human agency than others.  Keller does not belong to one of these denominations.  It seems as if Michael does.  The God’s Sovereignty/Human Free Will debate has gone on for a long time and, these days, the general consensus from both sides is that both are true, it’s just that but one is a little truer, and it’s not a  salvation issue.

Michael seems to be saying it is a salvation issue.  If he is, he is also claiming that most of Christ’s church, both past and present, is, along with Keller, under God’s curse.

Let’s look at the parable to see the relationship between repentance and salvation.

Where is the turning point in this story?  According to Glen Skrivener over at the Gospel Coalition the “real change in the prodigal—both his change of status and of heart—happens in the arms of the father. That’s where repentance occurs.”  This is consistent with Romans 5: 8.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

The father runs to the lost son with open arms and joyfully embraces him before he can even get a word of repentance out of his mouth.  I don’t think that it is too much of a stretch to say that salvation comes to everyone in exactly the same way–the way presented by this picture of the son wrapped in the father’s arm.  The younger son is repentant; he is saved.  Where is the elder brother?  He’s standing outside.

I’m actually baffled that someone can see the picture of the elder brother standing outside the part muttering, furious with his father and brother, and say that the guy is just fine.

Flannery O’Connor’s wonderful story “Revelation” is about an elder brother who receives a vision where she sees all sorts of people moving up toward heaven.  There’s a large batch of elder brothers who

were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They alone were on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away.

Tim Keller’s book, The Prodigal God, was such a blessing to me.  I was much more like the elder brother than the younger.  I was good.  Reading it I had a whole new appreciation for the heights and depth and breadth of God’s Grace.  I would wish the same experience to Michael and his readers.

 

Fake News and the Zombie Apocalypse

Ahmadreza89 / Pixabay

Have you ever not said something that you truly believed was true for fear of the backlash?

If so, your individuality may have already been absorbed into the horde.

In his recently uploaded YouTube critique of news media, Is CNN FAKE NEWS? – Existentialism and Mass Media, PlasticPills describes the power of the media to shape public opinion to the point that individuality is absorbed into the mindless whole.

Advertising determines desire. Celebrity determines taste. News Media determine orthodoxy.

Advertising determines desire. Celebrity determines taste. News Media determine orthodoxy. Click To Tweet

And you know what happens when you stray from orthodoxy.  The same thing that happens to all heretics, they are burned at the stake.

Mass media creates and maintains orthodoxy by pruning away individuality, that is, “anything that is different, abnormal, or special.”  It does this by attacking what diverges from whatever values it deems to be orthodox at a given moment.

Mass media also suppresses individuality by making the ordinary seem exceptional.  Look at what your favourite 24-hour news channel is calling “BREAKING NEWS.” This used to mean a president was shot or a new genocide was underway.  Now it means a president sneezed or someone misused the term genocide.

According to PlasticPills, although news media would like to pretend its purpose is to inform us of significant or extraordinary events, the actual purpose is to entertain, and in doing so it “literally creates a mass audience of idle, reflective [not in the sense of ‘thoughtful’] people, all with the same opinions and desires and discourages independent thought.”

The leveling of all events to entertainment makes it impossible for people to differentiate important events from unimportantClick To Tweet

The Philosophy of “the Public”

PlasticPills is basing his argument on ideas of Soren Kierkegaard.

Kierkegaard is critical of the “monstrous abstraction” which he called “the public.”  Existentialist philosophers Nietzsche and Heidegger commented on the same entity calling it the “herd” and “Das Man” respectively.

The public is, for Kierkegaard, “the concept of an anonymous group that dictates everyone’s proper behavior.”  And the news media creates this entity.

Perhaps the central tenet of existentialist philosophy is the importance of individual, free, authentic choice.  So they are antagonistic toward “The Public” (the horde) because it discourages independent thought and negates individual freedom.

Because of outlets like CNN, there are no individuals, just masses with opinions. Click To Tweet

Zombies and Mass Media

So what does this have to do with zombies?

Monsters are about what we fear.  Popular monsters are a product of our collective fears.  The zombie horde is our monster because it embodies our Modern identity crisis.  We like to think of ourselves as autonomous individuals, but the very presence of a monster indicates that deep down we may have our doubts.

Individuality and individual freedom are strongly valued, worshipped even, in our society.  But there are forces in our society that threaten the individual.  Kierkegaard and PlasticPills assert that one of these forces is the mass media.  It creates “the public,” this mass of opinions from which deviation means metaphorical burning at the stake.

Kierkegaard’s Public is analogous to the zombie horde.  It mindlessly walks through our streets and the mall looking for any movement or sound that diverges from the norm as defined by the horde.  When it senses heterodoxy, the mindless herd turns toward the thinking individual on mass and rips out his entrails and eats his brains.

We are intrigued to watch this scene play out on the screen because we feel it play out in our lives.  We fear our individuality being absorbed into the group, but the fact that the horde already exists (on television and in the theatres) indicates that the absorption we fear may have already occurred.

Pre-Show at the Movies

annca / Pixabay

I remember when they used to show cartoons before this movies.  I remember Woody Woodpecker and Bugs Bunny.  I like Bugs Bunny way better.  I was almost as excited to see the cartoons as the feature film.

Movie pre-shows date back to the early days of cinema but what happens before the movie has changed over time.  These changes tell us a little about who we are and how our society has changed over time.

Newsreels

Before television became so ubiquitous, most of us got our news from the radio or the daily newspaper.   Although these provided information and the occasional picture, they weren’t moving.  Newsreels were shown before the feature films filled this niche.  Only in the theatre could people see moving pictures of these significant events.  I would bet that some people went to the theatre in early 1942 more to see the newsreels of the bombing of Pearl Harbor than they did to see Bette Davis in The Man Who Came to Dinner.

The Hindenburg Disaster in 1937

Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics

The Bombing of Pearl Harbor

There is a good dose of propaganda in the newsreels.  The messages in each of the above newsreels are not all that subtle.  These taught us how to think about Nazi pride and racism, or Japanese treachery.  The newsreels carried a powerful message about who we are and what we did and stood for.  We were the good guys and proud to be so.   Newsreels represented orthodoxy; they formed identity and created confidence in who we were confident in who we were as a people, and our place in the world.  It was manipulative, but the end goal was to achieve a common vision that was thought to be of benefit to the country.

Cartoons

When I was a kid, the newsreels had phased out.  Television news offered the events of the day in moving pictures in the comfort of home.   Apparently, the movie house people figured we needed something before the feature. perhaps to help us settle into our seats, so they replaced the newsreels with cartoons.

Why cartoons?  I don’t really know, but I can surmise.  Why are people coming to the theatre in the first place?  Theatre goers came to be entertained, so let’s entertain them?  Cartoons are entertaining; the solution was simple and logical.

Is it just me or does there seems to be some respect for the audience in this idea?  I paid money to be entertained, and they entertain me.

But then it changed.

Ads

I don’t want to see ads.  When it comes to the long list of things I don’t want to see, ads are just above: emergency surgery on children, snot, vomit, and very old people rollerskating.

Yet here I sit, forced to watch commercials and I am paying to do so.

Gone is the respect; back is the propaganda.

But this propaganda is not designed to shape a people for mutual benefit and the national identity.  This propaganda is designed to create discontent for the benefit of corporations.

We are no longer seen as human beings, but as consumers.

Every day we are bombarded with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of commercial messages–newspaper, magazines, radio, bus-stop benches, the bus, stuck on trucks and cars, pens, billboards, sports stadia and jerseys, the internet, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, every game I play on my phone, and television.

For just a day, try to pay attention to just how many ads you are exposed to and you’ll be blown away.  It will be a lot more than 1,000.

So, I go to the movies to get away from it all and then there’s an ad.  I remember the first time I saw an ad in the pre-show.  I said, quite audibly, “Oh, come on! Seriously!”  A few people seemed to agree with me, but most didn’t seem to have a problem with it, and now no one does.  That first time, it was just a single ad.  I just saw Rocketman tonight–there were many non-movie related ads.

Ads Create Discontent

The underlying purposes of the newsreels was to inform and to shape us into what a particular people, what the creators believed was a better people.

The people behind the ads are not interested in our well-being or that of the nation.  In fact, they want us to be a worse kind of people.

Is it better to be content or discontent?  Content, obviously. But a content people is bad for the corporate bottom line.

Human beings have teeth.  They are tooth-coloured.   Someone correctly surmised that they could make a lot of money if they convinced people that tooth-coloured teeth are not the right colour for teeth, and then sold them a product that would make their teeth this new colour.  Their whole goal is to change our idea of what is normal for tooth colour from natural to an artificial colour that we need to pay $50 a month to maintain.  They chose white, but they’ll be moving onto pastels any year now.

Someone else created dishwasher detergent that killed 98% of the bacteria.  This made them a tonne of money after they managed to convince people that bacteria is not a natural occurrence, which it is.  Then, they exploited the psychological connection between bacteria, germs and residual food on dirty dishes. Voila! Billions.

This is two of many examples where advertisers deliberately manufacture desire–they create a perceived need so they can sell us an unnecessary solution.

The goal and cumulative effect of these types of advertisements are to convince us that we are not good enough, or we can’t be happy unless we buy something.  Although they make it seem like they are serving us, they aren’t–they are exploiting us.  They don’t want us to be content.  If we were content, we wouldn’t buy their crap.  They want us to feel like we are lacking–perpetually unfulfilled, forever needing.  Coca-Cola spends over two billion dollars a year on advertising because it can make many, many more billions by doing so.

The corporate attitude behind the ads–we are objects.  Objects to be used for the benefit of the corporation, usually to the detriment of our own.

Who let these scum into the movie theatre?

Bring back the cartoon!

Bring back Bugs Bunny!

Ads before the movie! Who let these scum into the theatre? Bring back the cartoon! Bring back Bugs Bunny! Click To Tweet

Driving and Character

A few days ago, I was driving down the highway.  I was in the right lane where I was supposed to be.  I can up behind a slower moving vehicle, who was driving where he was supposed to be.  I put on my signal, checked my blind spots, and merged left.  There was a  guy in that lane who saw what I was doing and sped up to close the gap so I couldn’t get in front of him.  I wasn’t having any of that.  Neither was he.  He laid on the horn as if to inform me of his presence.  This was unnecessary; I already knew he was there.  Perhaps he was angry that I would presume to move in front of him.  I gave him the universal, “Give me a break and quit being a jerk” sign.

I’m not saying I behaved generously in this situation.  I am saying that the other guy didn’t.

I contend that North American roads and traffic rules create competitors.

I was driving in Cornwall last summer and there is no space for this approach.  Cornwall roads promote collaborators.

The roads are intended for traffic in two directions, but it is only wide enough to accommodate a single car–a very little one.  And there is no shoulder, only stone wall covered in spiny vegetation–these are called hedges.

The speed limit is 60 km/hr. and I found myself, on day one, sitting on the right side of the car, shifting with my left hand (manual transmission of course–automatics were almost twice the money).  Theoretically, I was supposed to be driving on the right side of the road, but there was no right side of the road, or left side, in Cornwall.

The way you passed another vehicle was with the use of pull-outs.  a pull-out is about 11 inches longer than the car you are driving.  If a car came up from behind, you simply used the next pull out to let them pass.  I used them regardless of what side they were on.  I think this was appropriate.

When you encounter an oncoming vehicle someone needs to use a pull-out.

    • You advance to the next pull-out and let him by.
    • He advances to the next pull-out and lets you by.
    • You back to the next pull-put and let him by.
    • He backs to the next pull-out and lets you by.

The relative positions of each car to the closest pull-out is often the determiner.  But with experienced Cornwall drivers, it all happens very quickly with some flashing of headlights as a means of communication.  They can often get past each other with hardly a reduction of speed.  But if backing up is required, it’s somehow clear who is doing it, again with a flash of the headlight, and it’s sorted in no time.

The key to the whole system is cooperation.  The guy refuses to accommodate, or back up, will snag the whole system and nobody will get anywhere.

The system demands cooperation.

I can’t help but wonder if this sort of daily cooperation begins to change a person.  Every day they must work with others to achieve mutual benefit.

I wonder if the daily competitive, “me first” refusal to accommodate shapes a persons view of the world, even to the level of his identity.

Black Hats, White Hats, Red Hats, Grey Hats

Simplistic thinking and knee-jerk reaction is a problem these days.  There used to be more a little more nuance in people’s thinking, some acknowledgment of grey areas.  Not anymore, it seems.  We live in a world of black and white.

I was watching Twitter this week when the #CovingtonBoys met Nathan Phillips.  People looked at that now famous image and jumped to all sorts of conclusions about what happened.  Pretty much every conclusion to which anyone jumped was wrong because they jumped from simplistic assumptions.  A week has passed and some people are still looking at the incident through stereotypes.

With this binary thinking, there are clear good guys and clear bad buys.  Heroes in white hats and villains in black hats.  But this isn’t reality; there were no black and white hats at the Lincoln Memorial last Saturday–just grey (and red).

The Sainthood and The #Covingtonboys

There were a lot of people who saw the students from Covington High school as saints.  Others see them and want to respond with violence.  The reasons for both reactions are the same.

  1. They are Christian.
  2. They are obviously conservative
  3. They are wearing MAGA hats.

The Sainthood of Nathan Phillips

There’s a whole other batch of people that instantly saw Phillips as the saint.  Their evidence?

  1. He is a U.S. Marine Veteran.
  2. He is an Omaha Tribal elder.
  3. He must be liberal.

TheCovingtonBoys are not Saints

I work with High School students.   They are all capable of much good and we celebrate this when we see it, but they are all capable of many forms of vice or folly.  They are like every other human being on the planet except they are young.  Consequently, both their good and their evil are a little more exuberant.

I am going to disagree with Rienzo, who seems to equate the boys to Christian martyrs facing lions in the Colleseum.

In this group of students, as in most groups, you will see a mix of good, bad and foolish.

They are Christian: Not all Christians are good.  I would go so far as to say, “No Christians are good.”  I wouldn’t be so bold, except the Bible says it.  For it puts Christians in the larger category of being human.  I will concede that there is a lot more hostility directed toward Christians in the media these days.  But, it is not at all helpful for Christians to automatically come to the defense of other Christians, just because they are Christian.  We can expect evil within our midst.  And the best course of action is to deal with it.

It’s equally ridiculous to demonize all Christians.  For one thing, the standard by which Christians are being demonized is a Christian standard.  Secondly, many of the offenses for which Christians are accused are not Christian or at least not exclusively Christian, but human nature expressed through religion and politics.

Every Christian is also human.   That means they will sometimes do good things, but it also guarantees that they will also do evil.  Consequently, we will have to condone or condemn their words and deeds, one at a time.  This is not convenient, but it is moral.

They are conservative:  This doesn’t automatically make them good people, but it doesn’t automatically make them bad people either.   There are good reasons behind social and economic conservatism.  And there are problems with it as well.  Let’s admit this fact, instead of automatically and thoughtlessly condoning or condemning.  Meaningful dialogue is the only way to tease out the truth and the falsehood from these positions.  Meaningful dialogue and name-calling are mutually exclusive.

I don’t understand Christians who are completely comfortable under the conservative label when a good chunk of conservative thought runs contrary to the Bible.  But even so, they are half right, and it might take some responsible dialogue to determine when, where and why.

They are wearing MAGA hats:  This is a hard one.  Some people see this as a token of sainthood.  It certainly isn’t that.  But I try not to think of it as signifying pure, unadulterated evil.  It is inseparable from Donald Trump.  This means that Christians should be very hesitant to wear them for he represents so much that is contrary to Biblical Christianity.

Of course, the students don’t understand that it’s inappropriate to politicize the March for Life with a Trump hat, but where are the adults?   And then I realize that there are probably a lot of adults are wearing them too.

Of course, the students don't understand that it's inappropriate to politicize the March for Life with a Trump hat, but where are the adults? And then I realize that there are probably a lot of adults are wearing them too.Click To Tweet

Nathan Phillips is No Saint Either

Nathan Phillips is no saint, nor is he likely a villain, but this week, binary thinking reduced him to one or the other.  From some perspectives, the evidence for his essential goodness comes from his service in the US military.

He is a Veteran:  Partly out of guilt for our treatment of Vietnam War veterans, and partly because of our worship of Freedom, we’ve recast the idea of a soldier as Defender of Freedom.  We liturgically show appreciation for the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform at civic celebrations and sporting events.  Further, the military is, as always, linked to nationalism.  Consequently, our cultural narratives now celebrate our soldiers.  Veterans are the good guys.  Phillips is a veteran.

Our veneration of Freedom and Nation can lead us to unthinkingly considering all veterans as white-hat heroes, but Nathan Phillips cannot live up to this image.  He is only human.

He is an Omaha Tribal elder:  This has lately become a powerful signifier or goodness.  I recently overheard a woman bashing Christians for being bigots and anti-science.  But it was obvious that she held firmly to the now fashionable reverence for Indigenous culture and spirituality that our federal and provincial governments are promoting.  I support this promotion, by the way.  But with qualifications.

Indigenous Spirituality in a Box

We do well to understand the culture and spirituality of our Indigenous neighbours.  There is much to admire and even emulate. But I worry that we are sanitizing and homogenizing this culture.  Both Indigenous spirituality and Christianity are inconsistent with the modern liberalism that dominates the political and social scene in Canada often for the same reasons.  In the case of Christianity, the differences are emphasized and condemned.  In the case of Indigenous culture, the differences are emphasized and patronized and sanitized and then celebrated.

Both Indigenous spirituality and that of Christianity are inconsistent with the modern liberalism that dominates Canadian politics and education, often for the same reasons. But we condemn the differences in the former and praise them in the latter.Click To Tweet

We are not taking Indigenous culture and spirituality as it is.  We pick and choose the bits that fit our particular political and social narrative.  I fear we are we sentimentalizing.  And so we fail to understand our neighbours but walk away feeling as if we’ve somehow done right.

I wanted to tell the woman who was bashing Christians and venerating Indigenous spirituality, that 70 percent of Indigenous people are Christian.  I suspect this would have been problematic because I don’t think it fits her simplistic narrative.

When I was a kid, the media–movies and television–usually presented Indigenous Americans as aggressive and savage.  We’ve come to repent of this racism, but we are in danger of replacing this misrepresentation with another.  Disney does this when it presents the Sioux as passive victims in Hidalgo.

We often reduce indigenous culture down to its connection to the land or its respect for elders and ancestors or the dialogic approach to problem-solving or as a complement to secular modernism.  These are wonderful aspects of these cultures that we might benefit from, but aren’t we just cherry picking?   Aren’t we really assuming a patronizing openness to these particular ideas and in doing so, disrespecting the whole?

Very rarely do people or things fit neatly into categories of Good and Evil. One of the things we can learn from Indigenous culture is the efficacy of a restorative justice model to teach us that this is so.Click To Tweet

He must be a liberal: There are two problems here.  One is that it’s a simplistic assumption–liberals cannot usually be identified by how they look.  The second problem is to assume that if he’s a liberal, he’s a saint or an embodiment of evil.  There are good reasons behind social and economic liberalism, but it’s not all good.  Meaningful dialogue is the only way to tease out the truth and the falsehood from these positions.

I don’t understand Christians who are completely comfortable under the liberal label when a good chunk of liberal thought runs contrary to the Bible.  But even so, they are half right, and it might take some responsible dialogue to determine when, where and why.

Very rarely do people or things fit neatly into categories of Good and Evil.  One of the things we can learn from Indigenous culture is the efficacy of a restorative justice model to teach us that this is so.  I’m not sure if Phillips is so keen on restorative practices, but we’ll see if he consents to meet with the boys.  America needs some Indigenous Peoples’ wisdom in these curcumstances.  Ironically, these ways are also Christian.  Let’s use, and celebrate both.

If you’d like a nice parable that also bears on this discussion, read “The White Knight” by Eric Nicol.

 

Can I Please Have an Extension?

kang_hojun / Pixabay

This is a post for my students and their parents.  I’ve received emails from frustrated parents because I was hesitant to grant a request for an extension on a writing assignment.  Here I explain my refusal, not just to justify myself, but also to provide information so that parents and students can proactively avoid the circumstances that cause the frustration in the first place.

I have explained my two-draft system for teaching academic writing.  It’s a great system because student writing improves significantly, but it comes at a cost.  There is so much marking to do, and it’s the hardest kind of marking–the kind where I must give meaningful feedback.

When I started this two-draft system, my marking was inefficient.  Today a class set of papers takes me 16 hours, a few years ago is was closer to 24.  I was marking for two weeks solid, as the papers trickled in.

Here's the thing about marking--if you mark 10 papers in one session, it will take just less than 2 hours. If you mark those same papers one at a time, It will take you over 3.Click To Tweet

I didn’t want to abandon the whole system because student writing was improving, but I needed to streamline the process and get the marking under control.  Now, I’ve done it.  Not only is my marking down to 16 hours for a set of papers, but I am seeing even better writing from students as a result of these changes.

The changes place some more responsibility on students.

Managing the Marking

Right now I have nearly 60 English 12 students, and I’m marking most papers twice.

In order to make the marking more manageable, I have established a due date/time for the first draft.  This date is firm.  If the paper comes in on time, I mark it.  I stop when I finish the last one.  If a paper comes in after this, I won’t even see it.

The papers are always due on Saturday at 8 am.  Remember, there is no requirement to turn in the first draft, but if you want the feedback this is the one condition.  You have to turn it in for me to mark it.  And I mark on Saturday.

It takes 10-12 minutes to mark each paper. I usually get around 45-50 first draft papers.

This adds up to about 10 hours of marking.  In order to get the papers back to students as fast as possible, I mark them all that day.  I mark until I have no more papers.  I’m not going to check in on Sunday to pick up any stragglers.

I have a due date/time for the second and final copy of the paper.  This time is also firm.  If a first draft paper has been submitted, this second draft is optional.  If a student wants me to mark their re-write, they need to turn it in, on time of course.  If I don’t get a paper, I assume the student has chosen to take the mark they earned on the first draft.

Sharing the Cost

Student writing has improved so much, that I regularly have students return years later to thank me for preparing them so well for university writing.  Their success is due in part to this two draft system.  But this success comes at a cost. The cost is shared by the students and myself.  The price I pay is giving up specific Saturdays to provide thorough, valuable and immediate feedback on first drafts and then marking them all again.  The student’s cost is they must turn in their best work by the time I get to the last paper.

All this isn’t as harsh as it sounds.  High school papers are a long time in development.  We work on them for 3 to 4 weeks.  We’ve had discussions and done activities that help the student to understand the task.  I do all I can to get students started with a clear sense of direction.  Writing can start more than 2 weeks before the due date.  There is time enough to write the paper.

Not all students start early enough.  They are busy with other things, many of them worthwhile.  The week before the paper is due, those who haven’t started predictably begin to experience stress.  This motivates, but some students are involved in a lot of things and haven’t yet developed a system by which they can both be busy and get their school work finished.

Some of these will ask for an extension.

Extensions

I will, of course, give an extension for significant illness or an unanticipated family crisis–these are unplanned an unavoidable.  I will also give students more time if they started their paper early and have been diligently working for weeks and still need more time.  I usually have a pretty good idea as to who these students are.

I am very reluctant to give extensions because of a lack of time management.  I totally understand why they want one.  I understand why the parents are frustrated with me for not giving one.  I get it–in the week before the due date, the student has three shifts at Tim Horton’s, the hay needs to be taken off before the rain, there’s grandpa’s 75th birthday party, volleyball practices, piano lessons, and a Taylor Swift concert.  There are tears and frustration–even yelling.  All could be well if only Mr. De Jong would give an extension.

This is when I get the email.

By making the paper a priority, and starting early, the busiest student can get a decent draft of a paper completed in two weeks.  Students take between 4 and 12 hours to write a large paper.  They know how long it takes them.  If they are busy and slow, they must start earlier, and take every 30 minutes where they can get it.  They have to say “No” to Starbuck’s and Hockey Night in Canada for two weeks.  This is the price they must pay if they want feedback.

Remember, there is an extension built into my system–there is no obligation to turn in the first draft–it’s completely optional.  They don’t even have to inform me.  They can decide to take an automatic 5-day extension.

All Decisions Come at a Price

Who should pay the price for a student’s involvement in the school play or the missions trip?  Or the hockey game or rock concert?  Almost all students accept the fact that they ought to pay the bulk of the costs for their decisions–for the good ones as well as the bad.  All decisions demand a price.  It’s a fact of life.  Deciding to go on a leadership trip to our nation’s capital is good, but it will cost you.  Many students pay this cost by organizing their schedule in such a way so as to submit the first draft before they leave–that’s five days early.

Students ought to pay for their decisions--for the good ones as well as the bad. All decisions demand a price. It's a fact of life.Click To Tweet

I usually deny a student’s request for an extension because they are, in effect, asking me to negate the natural consequences of the decisions they made.  Someone must pay the price, but they’d rather not be the one that pays it.

What lessons will they learn by a refusal of an extension?  What lessons will they learn by a granting of same?

“It’s only one paper.”

One exception will quickly turn into 10 and I’d be back where I stared–an additional eight hours of marking spread out over two weeks.  I’d go back to students turning in one paper and cut down on the comments.  I’d be doing things just like my high school teachers.  And most students wouldn’t become better writers.

“What about grace.”

I worry about the lessons that are learned if I give an extension.  I think the most gracious thing to do, long term, is to deny the extension.  The kids that are busy need to learn how to manage busyness–their life won’t get less busy when they get to post-secondary or move into their career.  I’d also hate to think what a child learns when they don’t pay the price for their decisions.

“It’s not fair.”

59 other students are paying the price of their own choices.  Is it fair that one does not?

 

The Liturgy of Loud

Bru-nO / Pixabay

Why is the music so loud?

Before we go any further, I want to make clear that I’m not talking about loud music, because I don’t mind loud music.   I’m talking about bass levels that evoke the adjective “ridiculous” from someone who doesn’t mind loud music.  Levels that make me wonder if there is some technical malfunction because there’s no way this could be intentional.

I spoke with some sound engineers and musicians from various churches and I asked them why the loud bass mix.  Here are the answers I received:

“It Isn’t Loud”

Most were quick to assure me that the music wasn’t too loud from the perspective of safety, pointing out there is little danger of hearing damage at the volumes of even the loudest worship bands.  I told them that I wasn’t worried about my hearing or my cholesterol or my blood pressure.  Other concerns were in play.

I explained that it wasn’t the volume.  It was the bass–the bass guitar and the bass drum were disproportionately high.  I explained that the bass hum dug through my ears into the back of my jaw, that my shirt was vibrating against my body and that I worried that my buttons would vibrate open.  I explained that sometimes I had to stop singing to check if my heart was in atrial fibrillation, that I was uncomfortable with feeling my esophagus vibrating and feeling ripples in my stomach acids.  I explained that I think it is too loud because my bowels had been liquified.  They nodded–they knew what I was talking about.  They told me it wasn’t a mistake.

“We Love it Loud”

Who is the “we” of, “We love it loud”?  Christendom?  Is it everyone but me? True Christians?  The worship team?

I pressed one song leader and he said, “Young people prefer the high bass mix.”

I have been to places where young people listen to music and dance.  They do love it da bass.  I usually leave.  Is this what is expected of me on Sunday mornings.

The singing we do in church is corporate worship.  A diverse body of believers worships God with our voices.  We do so in cultural ways.  We used to have one culture, but about a hundred years ago, youth culture began to diverge from that of older generations.  So we now have two cultures–what does culturally expressed corporate worship look like when we have two distinct cultures?

What does culturally expressed corporate worship look like when we have two distinct cultures?Click To Tweet

Do we go with the majority?  Do we go with a mix?  Do we go with a homogenization?  Do we go with one of the subgroups and the other can lump it?

This is serious stuff and none of these options are very good.  It seems to me the last one is the worst.  I don’t think anyone has ever considered exclusively singing songs like “Jesus wants me for a sunbeam,”  or bringing back the pipe organ.  These are fine for their subgroup, but a minority ought not to dictate how the whole church worships.  So why does it seem obvious that we need to crank up the volume and bass levels because “we” like it that loud?

I’m thankful that I attend a church that doesn’t crank up the bass every Sunday.

“People are Less Self-Conscious if It’s Loud”

Another answer to my question, “Why so loud?” was that people sing better when it’s loud because they feel less self-conscious.

This might be so, but how do you know?

Are they really less self-conscious if the music is still loud, but the bass is more balanced?

When I look around there are a lot of people singing enthusiastically, but these people sing enthusiastically whatever the volume or mix.  I also see people not singing at all, but these folks don’t sing even when it’s loud.  I know of at least one person that has stopped singing because he’s focused on his shirt buttons and his pulse.  If there is one, perhaps there are others who find that the mix is getting in the way of worship.  And again, I am not opposed to loud music.  If you want to support tentative singers with loud music, you have my blessing. I am questioning the ridiculous.

The Liturgy of Loud

Corporate singing is a liturgical element of our worship services.  As with all liturgical elements, it is what we learn in the repetition that makes rituals so powerful.  What we learn isn’t just in our heads, it’s deeper than that–we learn it in our bones.  Let’s look at what we learn through the singing of songs when we can consistently hear the voices of the worshipers.

  1. We learn that we have an individual voice that is important in worship.
  2. We learn that our imperfect individual voice blends with other voices to create something beautiful–the gift of worship to our Lord.
  3. We learn that worship involves active participation.

What do we learn from a very loud praise band with a high-bass mix?

  1. I learn that my individual voice is unimportant.  When I cannot hear my own voice, we are ritually practicing the insignificance of the individual worshiper.
  2. We learn that the voices of the corporate body are also unimportant.  When we can’t hear, we are ritually reinforcing the negation of Christian unity and community.  If that sounds too strong, well then, we are at least missing the opportunity to ritually reinforce the importance of Christian unity and community.  One of the greatest joys I derive from corporate singing is the sense of “the throng of worshipers.”  It starts with hearing my wife singing with me, and then the sound of one or two voices behind us, and then I become aware of my place within a choir of hundreds of voices coming together in the praise of our Lord.  It is a liturgy of unity.  Sometimes, I cannot hear my own voice, let alone the strong voice of my wife’s strong alto 10 inches from my ear.  When the mix and volume obliterate the sounds of all these voices we are ritually negating the throng.
  3. With the elimination of the sound of other voices, worship becomes highly individual.  Perhaps this is why the same bass mix we are using in worship contexts is so popular in rave parties and dance clubs.  Our culture is hyper-individualistic, so it makes sense that our music would reduce a collective experience to individual physical sensations.  Marshall McLuhan was right when she said that the media is the message.  What message is the media of rave/club music communicating?  Do we want to communicate this message in Christian corporate worship?
  4. In Modern churches, worship can easily become passive.  Part of this is because Modern worship resembles a secular concert, where our passivity is expected.  The other part is that I don’t have a role to play in worship if I have no voice and can hear no others.  Sure, I can worship individually, but that would be counter to the purposes of corporate worship.

All rituals, including those in church on Sunday, shape our identity as a people.  Therefore, corporate worship should be designed to shape us into the people of God as active worshipers.  (Importantly, we ought not to mistake movement with active worship.)

When the mix and volume of the praise band obliterate the sounds of human voices we are ritually negating the worshiper in corporate worship.Click To Tweet
Perhaps the most important things about corporate worship is placing your voice among those of others. High bass and volumes remove the corporate from corporate worship; I can't hear anyone else. Worship is reduced to an Individual experience.Click To Tweet

 Dynamics and Earplugs

There are two arguments behind which advocates of a ridiculously loud and high bass mix advocates hide.

  1.  Music needs a variety of dynamic levels.  This is absolutely true.  But one of them need not be absurdly loud.   The first verse is usually fine because it’s just a soloist and an accompanying acoustic guitar and/or piano–we can hear ourselves and each other.  The second verse builds.  We have left corporate worship; natural human voices have been stifled.  Chorus–now comes the bass, even the words from the amplified voices are incoherent.  If we ever hear each other again, it’s on one of the repetitions of the bridge. 
    Is it still corporate worship if I've only heard the voices of other people during one verse of the song?Click To Tweet
  2. Ear plugs are a courtesy provided for those who find the volumes discomfiting.   This is a nice gesture, but misplaced.  First, the earplugs do nothing to block out the discomfort created by the high bass-mix.  Second, earplugs do the same thing as the loud music does–they block out the voiced of other worshipers.  The take the corporate out of corporate worship.

“The Bible Says It Should Be Loud”

Another answer to my question is that the Bible mandates the music should be loud.

One verse that is cited to support this assertion is Psalm 150:5.

“Praise him with loud crashing cymbals!”

Another, is 1 Chronicles 15 where David commands the people to play loudly on musical instruments, which they did.  I certainly agree that our corporate worship won’t always be solemn or contemplative; much of it should be joyful and exuberant and some of it will be loud.  It is appropriate to respond to God’s grace with enthusiasm.

Revelation 19:1 tells of the great multitude in heaven is crying out,

“Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God!”

There is no mention of a musical accompaniment here. This verse may suggest that we turn down the bass;  the very fact that the words sung by the heavenly host are recorded in the rest of Revelation 19 indicates that they were heard and understood, despite the accompaniment, if there was any at all.

I’m no theologian, but I think that these verses have very little to do with volume, but are reflective of an attitude of worship.  It is a bit of a hermeneutical stretch to suggest that they indicate a Biblical mandate that the electronically amplified instruments in enclosed spaces must approach 90dBA.

It strikes me that the Biblical defense of the bass mix is an attempt to justify one’s musical tastes with isolated texts.

“You’re Just an Old Fuddy-Duddy”

In my interviews with worship leaders and sound engineers, nobody told me that I was just an old fuddy-duddy.  But since they were all 25 years younger than me, I wonder if they were thinking it.

Maybe I am a fuddy-duddy. When it’s too loud, I am agitated and lead away from worship into irritation.  But even if I am the only one who feels that excessively loud and bassy worship music is irritating, we should evaluate the hidden consequences of the Liturgy of the Loud.

Perhaps the most important things about corporate worship is placing your voice among those of others. High bass and volumes remove the corporate from corporate worship; I can't hear anyone else. Worship is reduced to an Individual experience.Click To Tweet

Further reading: Here is the first in a series called “The Poetry of Worship” 

Adding To Hymns? Do So Carefully

 

Tama66 / Pixabay

John Newton’s “Amazing Grace” (1779) tops almost every list of the most popular hymns of all time.

It’s been covered by Whitney Houston, Al Green, Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Steven Tyler, Alan Jackson, Carrie UnderwoodElvis Presley and thousands of others.

Why this popularity?

The tune is beautiful, even when played by bagpipes.  The poetry is rich.  The song presents the Gospel of Grace.  Its significance is both cosmic and individual. It takes us from our present, through death, into eternity.  It’s the complete package.

New Choruses to Old Songs

Feelings are becoming more and more important in our culture.  Have you noticed that people no longer say, “I think” anymore?  They always say, “I feel.”  Although emotions are important, they are often given too much authority in our culture.

We can see this swing in contemporary worship music.  Choruses are added to the old favourites to give them the emotional lift they lacked in their original form.  The music goes higher, the vowels go longer, hearts rise up, hands join hearts . . .

There is nothing wrong with the addition of new choruses.  We can critique older styles of worship for not engaging enough of our emotions and these new choruses actually lead to more holistic worship.  The new choruses do go wrong when they are emotion for emotion’s sake–one of the indications that the mind is not invited into this emotional climax is that the words don’t really mean anything, or worse, they fail to connect to the rest of the song, or worse, they are incomprehensible.

Why the need to add to the good ol’ hymns?

I get it.  Times are different.   We like choruses now.  The old hymns don’t have choruses.

Why do we like choruses?  Why does a song without a chorus just feel incomplete? It’s because, these days, we are very emotional.  Not just Christian culture, but the culture at large.  More and more it is our feelings that matter, sometimes at the expense of everything else.

We might feel let down if worshipful feelings aren’t are not evoked by the songs we sing.   Consequently, many of our songs are designed to generate worshipful feelings.  The original “Amazing Grace” was not written with an emotional climax, so Tomlin gives us a chorus with a building and rising melody that pulla our feelings up, along with our hands, to that place where we feel worshipful.

Our worship is becoming more sentimental; if we don't feel worshipful, we feel as if we have worshiped adequately.Click To Tweet

It is not wrong for the songs we sing to evoke worshipful feelings.  Nor is it wrong to add refrains to old songs to serve this purpose.  I like Todd Agnew’s “Grace Like Rain” which also adds such a chorus to Amazing Grace.

Our emotions ought to be involved in worship, but so should the rest of us.

The choruses that Tomlin adds to the best of our traditional hymns are designed to make us feel worshipful–more worshipful than we would feel if we sang the hymn in its original form.  Fine.  Unfortunately, these additions are often shallow and trite.  They can make us feel worshipful, but they do little for our mind or imagination.

Traditional hymns were not structured to provide an emotional climax, but they can be fixed with the addition of a sentimental refrain.Click To Tweet

Metaphors are Magic

Metaphors are amazing things.  They are comparisons.  Properly executed something magical can happen in the comparison.   “Amazing Grace” has many metaphors including:

  • Life is a path with hidden snares.
  • Heaven is home.
  • Our heavenly bodies will be like the sun.
  • Because of Grace, death is a mere veil.
  • God is our shield.

These metaphors engage our minds, our emotions, and our imaginations.  And they contribute to holistic worship.  Let’s look at one of these metaphors.

He will my Shield and Portion be,
As long as life endures.

Here the poet metaphorically compares the Lord to a shield.  All kinds of meaning flow from this comparison.  Most clearly, the Lord protects us for our entire lives.  But a little deeper is the idea that life is a war, and that we are in desperate need of protection.  It’s interesting that the song doesn’t name the threat, only the shield; this song is about God and his Grace; our foe can be the subject of other songs, not this one.  This is the power of metaphor–it is layered and complex and they can surprise you even after you’ve sung them a hundred times.

Mixed Metaphors are Ludicrous

Mixed metaphors are not magical.

On the surface, a mixed metaphor looks like a metaphor, but it is a comparison that doesn’t work.

First, here are two wonderful metaphors that Jesus uses for himself:

“I am the good shepherd, . . . and I lay down my life for the sheep.”

“I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never grow hungry.”

These are both legit metaphors, but if we mix them we have

I am the bread of life, and I lay down my life for the sheep.

The comparison is nonsensical.

Unlike a metaphor, this silly comparison does not lead to deeper reflections on who Jesus is–it has no magic.  It just leaves us puzzled.

Jesus did not say, I am the bread of life, and I lay down my life for the sheep.Click To Tweet

Tomlin’s Mixed Metaphor

The chorus that Tomlin added to the most beloved of hymns climaxes on a mixed metaphor.

My chains are gone
I’ve been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy reigns
Unending love, amazing grace

“Like a flood, his mercy reigns” is a mixed metaphor.   It is saying that God’s mercy is like a reigning flood.  But floods don’t reign.  This is like saying, “Like a flood, his mercy shines.”  Or soars, or melts, or skates.

Floods flow.  They overwhelm.  They cover and destroy.  They glut, stream, spate and surge.  For various reasons, none of these work very well as a replacement for reign–but, hey, it’s very is hard to write good poetry.

If we are going to add choruses to the old hymns, indeed if we are going to write worship songs at all, they should be the best we can make them, in every way possible.

Tomlin attempts to provide an emotional high in the singing of “Amazing Grace,” but this mixed metaphor makes this possible only if the worshipers don’t think about what they are singing.  It seems to me that we ought to sing songs that are like a symphony firing on all cylinders.

It seems to me that the songs we sing in worship should help to draw out whole being into the worship of our Gracious God: hearts, minds souls and imaginations.Click To Tweet

In my series The Poetry of Worship, offer ways we can improve the lyrics of the praise and worship songs we sing.  More importantly, I explain why we ought to.

 

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