In which I mourn the loss of the silence.Read More
I really can think of no term more degrading to a human being and his fundamental incapacity for grasping philosophical, even scientific, concepts than Atheist. Can you imagine any assertion more narcissitic, more arrogant, more absolutely nonsensical than that of the "knowledge" that something doesn't exist? That something has never existed? That something can't exist? Why they haven't blasted all claims of their own existence for their incessant screamings of their own omniscience I will never understand.Read More
Once upon a time, scientists were merely God-lovers who wanted to understand how the stuff God made worked. "You've given us some awesome stuff here; mind if we open it up and take a look at how You've wound the gears?" we asked.
"Go ahead," God said.
And then something happened.Read More
Last time, we slogged through the gritty and imperviously dark Noah, which I unashamedly and unambiguously loved. So I only figured it fair to talk this week about the movie across the hall (such rich symbolism in so mundane a place as a movie theater!), God's Not Dead... which I didn't hate as much as I had planned to. But I don't think that this film is what people say it is.Read More
Ah, smell that? It's the sweet smell of backlash.
I've heard it for months already, honestly, which is interesting, considering the topic of today's discussion is a rather new addition to the cinematic repertoire of our world's theaters. By "rather new," I mean it opened to the masses this weekend.
I've debated how I want this to be, whether it should be a film review or a critique of Christian culture; praising or bitter or benign. Perhaps it will develop as I write.
Spoiler: I am a Christian, and I loved Darren Aronofsky's Noah.Read More
..."Nowhere in these weeks have I posted an article about 33 Christians sentenced to death in North Korea and said, "God is good all the time; All the time, God is good." Never have I looked out at a homeless population preparing for another bitter snap of cold with nothing but the clothes they survived the winter with and a donated blanket and said, "God is good all the time; All the time, God is good." Nor have I been diagnosed in an untimely fashion with a disease that will kill me, been spat upon for my beliefs and threatened to have my family murdered, looked into the face of a 12-year old victim of sex trafficking, been broke enough to wonder where this week's food is coming from, or witnessed the rise of a dictator using the name of my God to propagate genocide and stood tall, proclaiming, "God is good all the time; All the time, God is good."Read More
This has been several weeks in the making. In this post, I'm going to handle a huge topic with as much tact as I can muster, but there's a line between causing people to stumble and showing just how far that line stretches. This is an unbelievably dark topic, and this reads as an exposé (sort of), but I've been working a while on forming my thoughts on this, which are here presented for you.Read More
“My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of his presence? The incarnation is the supreme example; it leaves all previous ideas of the Messiah in ruins. And most are ‘offended’ by the iconoclasm; and blessed are those who are not.” -CS LewisRead More
There is magic in grief like there is magic in love. There is magic in mourning like there is magic in celebration. There is magic in the cracks in our systematic understanding of the world - for they are cracks that cannot be described by lists or equations but rather by poetry; they are cracks that cannot be filled by experiments or textbooks but rather by God.Read More
Defining Terms It's interesting that the term "Church Musician" is a thing, because two words together have rarely carried such enormous weight as these.
Church: - could refer to something generally "religious," - something established as a tax write-off, - to the body of Christ, - to a sect of cultish crazies, - or really any number of things in between.
Musician: - Someone with a penchant for understanding melody, harmony, and expression of feeling through tonal quality, - a person connected to some abstract muse or well of inspiration, - or (in some people's minds) simply someone possessing the skill of playing an instrument.
Church Musician: - Someone who plays music exclusively in churches - Someone who plays music, and church happens to be one of the places he plays - Someone who learned 4 chords and finds it acceptable to consider himself qualified to lead people before the Creator of music with no discernable passion, no evident display of intentionally honed musical skill, and the acceptance of a complete lack of innovation for the sake of perpetuating an increasingly stale "genre" of musical expression.
Music in Church
"The Church" remains today one of the most misunderstood things around, especially in a society completely saturated with it. A church is a place you go, a building to have a wedding in, redemption for Saturday night, the place that houses a man who does exorcisms, a brick-faced structure with a steeple, a clever source for punch lines on boards out front trying to convince you to venture inside, etc. Church is an event to invite your "lost" friends to. An alternative for teenagers to hanging out downtown in parking garages.
Church is safe.
I'm not going to build the case for "the church is not a building, it's the people" here, because it has been done a thousand times before far more eloquently than I would, and frankly I just don't feel like getting into it (because I'm trying to make this week's post shorter than last week's 2100 word colossus).
But I will come out and say that I believe that the church, even in a somewhat dumbed-down context, is extremely important. We have a luxury that is unprecedented and not by any means universal. Especially in the South, we have incredibly nice buildings where we are free to gather, teach, worship, and pray as we please, whenever we want. In this context, as has been standard since the formation of the church, it is important to note the importance and place of musical worship (I think of Paul and Barnabas singing in jail). Music is used because it offers connections that words cannot muster to the Divine, and has been proven to be so for ages. Worship is not Music, though Music can be used to worship. Again, I've talked about this before, and often, so I shan't do it again here.
This it the age of Youtube, where you can learn literally anything in the amount of time it takes a video to buffer. Guitar, piano, calculus formulas, bombmaking, DIY robotics, film editing, sound recording, etc. You name it, there's someone there to teach it to you for free. It is a seriously wonderful thing (which I say without even a taste of irony), the age of knowledge and information, because nothing is out of the realm of possibility.
What IS a problem, however, is the idea injected into the collective consciousness that knowledge = expertise. Or even proficiency. "Master modal scales in ten days!" boasts one video on Youtube. "Learn how to play Lead Blues Electric guitar!" "Understanding Jazz theory." We operate under the assumption that knowledge a musician makes.
Further than that, we classify music (correctly) as art, and art (incorrectly) as un-critiquable. I'm not getting into Aesthetic discussions of art vs. craft, because I believe that each requires portions of each other to be true - and music is certainly a shining example. The assumption is that music can't be "better" or "worse," simply "different" or "more approachable" or "prettier sounding." It's untactful to say "that sounds terrible," for it will be countered with, "well, you just don't understand."
It's easy to fall to this relativistic trap with something as objective as music because there's not a commonly accepted standard for "goodness" or "badness." For example, one can judge how good or bad an archer is by how many times he can hit a target from a certain distance. A mathematician by if his solution checks out with the equation. A basketball team by if they beat other somewhat equally matched basketball teams.
So does it make a guitarist a good guitarist if he can match a guitar solo with 100% accuracy? Does it make a song good if it gets caught in your head? Or is music judged based upon what it is designed to be: communication? Do we connect with music because of the technicality of its performance or because of the emotion it conveys?
And could it be said that the better musician is the more "natural" one, that isn't stuffed with theory and filled with scales and surrounded by black dots and stems on staved paper? Or does it require a bit of effort and attempt to supplement the talent that already existed? As a music major in college, I averaged 3-5 hours a day in a room with a metronome, a guitar, and a piece of music. While I do not ever pretend to even be close to the best in the room, I do feel as though considerable effort merits considerable respect, much to the dismay of current hipster art culture. It is not merely enough to be good - you must be consistently good and demonstrably innovative... and innovation only comes with knowing what has been, which only comes through practice and study.
So we have arrived at last. The point of the verbose lecture.
I have perhaps mentioned it before, but something a few years spoke volumes about the state of church musicians (or at least those involved). The Black Eyed Peas were delivering a remarkably underwhelming halftime performance during a Super Bowl and one of my friends tweeted: "It sounds like the Black Eyed Peas hired the church sound guy with a 'great heart.'" I enthusiastically chuckled and gladly retweeted it, because it says something about the expectations and the skill level of church musicians. That kind of thing can be said and not be untrue because we have lowered our expectations in order to allow those who want to help out a shot at doing so.
Do not misread this: I am incredibly grateful for volunteers - without them, next to nothing in the church would get accomplished. But I think that there is a compromise to be made and an expectation to be raised. Simply because somebody is not being paid for something does not mean that they are to be excused from professionality and criticism. We dont' know how to say "no" to people because we are afraid of hurting their feelings. Because we feel as though we can't infringe upon that "uncritiquable" strata of art creation. After all, that is elitism and elitism is bad.
But if I were taking volunteers for a medical clinic and found somebody who was inept at even drawing blood, I would have no problem saying he is not a suitable candidate to remove an appendix.
Similarly, if I were approached with two guitarists to play one Sunday morning, one a veritable virtuoso from birth, who can play a piece of music after simply listening to it once who hadn't so much as hit "play" on that week's set and another who sat and struggled through that set hour after hour until it was a part of him, I would take the latter every single time. Struggle produces beauty and competence, encourages humility, and mirrors the kind of professional attitude expected in every other walk of life.
Just because someone's a great carpenter doesn't mean that I'll give him credit for a house he didn't work on. Just because someone is a naturally great walker doesn't mean he deserves praise for walking well.
Especially in the church, for the reason that you should do ANYTHING in the church, excellence in all fronts should be expected. In the "Christian" music industry, infamous for its sub-par quality lyric and song content, we should have extra motivation to produce the best possible product, spiritually AND physically. Don't pretend that there's not a difference between a good band and a good "Christian" band (though this playing field is quickly leveling out and is not nearly as universal an assumption as it used to be). Don't pretend that there's not a difference between a good movie and a good "Christian" movie. And don't let anybody tell you that you can't be the one to raise these expectations.
This is long and ashamedly rambly. I was just in quite a rambly mood today, I'm afraid. Please read it all, for I have several times and am not yet dead, but know that I won't be offended if you turn it off halfway. Not everyone can handle the burden of truth being poured onto them.** **That was purposely arrogant and inflammatory. I'm trying to catch your attention by being humorously cocky and reproachable right off the get-go. If that didn't work, here's some wisdom from Doctor Who, which should interest every single one of you:
"Have you ever seen monsters?" "Oh yes." "Are you scared of them?" "No. They're scared of me." - The Eleventh Doctor
Doctor Who and Introduction
It is without shame that I tell you I am veritably enthralled by the long-running BBC Television show Doctor Who. I cannot pretend to be a Who-hipster, for I was not alive when it started, nor can I say that I've been a member of the Whovian society for any long period of time. Quite the opposite, in fact: it has been only a few short months. But in these few short months, I have found myself doing very little besides reading profusely, writing (I figure now, while I have the time, means, and motivation, is when I should write that book), and watching the Doctor save the universe in countless situations infinitely more creative than my feeble mind could contrive, and in the meantime highlight the beauty of humanity and their intense dependence on something bigger than themselves.
In the section quoted above, a little boy caught in the middle of a crisis involving your run-of-the-mill otherworldy Who beasties is talking with the Doctor. He senses the threat and accurately gauges the immediacy of the situation, but asks, in a moment of seeking reassurance, about the Doctor's history of dealing with similar things. The Doctor, famous for having dashed alien hopes of universe-domination, foiled plans of genocide, and saved his numerous companions' lives time and again, responds with confidence and appropriate swagger, then characteristically smirks in the face of evil.
Confidence is praised nowadays; misplaced or inappropriate confidence is arrogance and foolishness. We see both in the lives of athletes, in the style of movie stars, in the words of introverted twenty-somethings on blogs on the internet. We are quick to call it "arrogance" in other people, but just as quick to call it "confidence" in ourselves. We are quick to think ourselves unworthy of either, and quick to overcompensate.
Perhaps it is that our mirrors are rather cloudy and dishonest. Perhaps it is our eyes. Whatever the case, one thing is certain: I see a whole lot of loathing and so little efforts for improvement; I see a whole lot arrogance and so little preparation.
What This Is Not, and What This Is
I am not thinking today about image or self-confidence along those lines, necessarily, though those thoughts do come to mind. It deserves a whole spot of its own and is quite pressing, I'm afraid, though today is not the day for it. This is not about the back-end, or how you look at yourself in light of who you truly are, for that is only the second half of the problem. This is not about vanity or even necessarily physical things
What I am addressing is what I see when I look at the majority of my generation. I see a group of people content to be what the generation before them handed down, who can honestly say that apathy is a virtue. Who socially network rather than figure themselves out. I see a generation with access to more information and knowledge than any that has come before them, yet more ignorant than any about how to use it. I see boys seeing domination as strength and girls seeing beauty as worth. I see people who think doing something worthwhile means doing something worth Instagramming; I see people for whom thoughts are merely Tweets. I see an age of humanity defined by what somebody else has said rather than what they have worked for.
And I see so few confronting it. Too many of us see "comfortable" as a good thing. So many think that because their faith is not shaken, it is sound.
We have lost all concept of self, because we have plenty of things to distract from it... and they are sneaky things, at that: the conception that you are what your Facebook says you are or that who you are is defined by your job. Instead of asking ourselves, "who am I?" we post pictures of ourselves and say, "this is who I am."
There is a discrepancy there, and it is extremely bothersome.
The Swelling Hurricane
I dropped a sentence a second ago as sort of preparation for where this was headed, as a gust to store up some energy in these sails. I'll say it again here: So many think that because their faith is not shaken, it is sound. I spent a good deal of time in the Philosophy and Religion department at UTC (since I studied Philosophy) and noticed a particularly fascinating trend: that the grand majority of people involved in it were vehemently atheistic, both professors and students alike.
What happened is they started asking questions and seeking answers anywhere they could find them. And when they couldn't find them easily or the conventional answers of their small Baptist churches just wouldn't cut it anymore, they conceded defeat to the overwhelming pangs of despair. They looked at one group of people claiming Absolute Truth and saw a completely different group halfway across the world and 8 million people big claiming a completely different Absolute Truth and decided everyone was wrong. Or they succumbed to the problem of evil: If one of two contraries is infinite, the other is destroyed. God is infinite goodness; if there were God, there would be no evil. There is evil; so, therefore, there is no God.
The arguments against God are powerful and persuasive, indeed like monsters in the closet of an 8 year old are when it's dark and he's trying to sleep. But they're embedded everywhere, and we're trained not to fight them. We yell at characters in poorly written horror movies when they decide to go towards the creaking under the stairs or the moaning from the attic. We're embedded with a fear of evil and the desire to run when it's scary.
To keep a consistent theme, though: The Doctor tells us, "Never run when you're scared." (Rule 7)
There is a storm in the air, horesemen afoot, and the battle for belief is raging.
And we who believe are not winning.
The War Without a Winner (or, apparently, a study in alliteration)
Sam Harris wrote in his book Letter to a Christian Nation that it is religion, belief, "god" that has poisoned our world, incited wars, dumbed the people, and placated a mass of people to the point of wasting their lives chasing invisible friends and waiting on some future judgment that will never come. Christopher Hitchens calls belief irrational and destructive. Richard Dawkins calls God an unnecessary invention by people incapable of handling reality.
And more believers are believing them every day. The armies are being stacked in their favor, because believers are being convinced by faulty rhetoric that Christ and Reason cannot exist together. That metaphysics and God are equivalent, and that they have a place in haughty classroom discussion and nowhere else. But the thing is that the opposition is using recycled arguments to attack Faith, and Faith is using recycled arguments to respond. We're stuck in a loop with one side crying, "you're ugly!" and the other sticking their fingers in their ears shouting back, "la la la, I can't hear you!"
We've both become dull and insulting: the attackers of Faith have betrayed their god of Reason and the believers their God of Truth.
Here is the bottom line. Christians have become comfortable with their churches and their ideas that God is a exactly the thing that they imagine, so when something comes along and challenges the toy box they keep in their prayer rooms, they panic.
There is a fallacy in the study of logic called the Straw Man. It's basically as you would imagine: to "attack a straw man" is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by replacing it with a superficially similar yet unequivalent proposition (the "straw man"), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position. Unbelief attacks Christianity based upon the constraints it has put upon it. Based upon what Christians have made it. It attacks tradition rather than Truth, because Truth is contested only by fools.
Jesus said that His purpose on Earth was to bear witness to Truth, which is why the Jesus we have constructed that exists to ease pain and hug people crumbles under attack. Straw men have no backbone, no substance, and burn easily when touched with fire.
But Christians are doing little to counter it. Instead of arming ourselves, learning the things of God rather the things we've constructed of God, and worshipping Jesus as Truth, we trust in the easy thing - which is also the easy thing to attack, and the easy thing to lose faith in. With a faith in the same Straw Man that is easy to attack comes all of the terrible things we write eloquently to fight: we succumb to vanity and pornography and insecurity and fear and addiction the thought that our dirty pasts are insurmountable and we're not rescued by our god because he's warding off crows from crops. Misrepresentations of God are being attacked because misrepresentations of God are being followed.
So what are those of us who wish to counter unbelief to do? We must figure out what we stand for and then stand for it. We cannot be told answers, we must search them out. We can't be handed faith, we must work it out for ourselves with fear and trembling. We can't forget that something obtainable can be taken away, so we must grasp it ever tighter when the threat of its removal comes upon us.
We must stand with the confidence that we lack, because monsters won't shy from uncertainty. Confidence comes through preparation, and somebody who tells you that God will give it to you just because you asked for it is lying to you. God will do His part - He's told you that.
But the ability to fight a war doesn't come from lying in bed. We must take up arms and learn to use them, study the opposition's tactics to be able to counter them, and face the beasties in our closets atop their black horses and say, "I'm not afraid of you because I know you. You can't say something to dissuade me because I know what you will say. You can't take away my God because He gave you the Reason you think refutes Him."
Salvation is not through works - do not think that I'm trying to say anything of the sort. But it is true that the children of God will be known by their fruit. Take a step back and look at yourself. All aspects of it. Look at who you are at school, at home, on the internet, and tell me what is being glorified: you, your Straw Man, or God? It's one of the three, I promise.
Because I am occasionally up to date with pop culture and whatnot, I will start this out with a bit from the newest attempt to redeem the story of Spiderman from the unbecoming path that Sam Raimi sent it down. Marc Webb, the director, says that he inserted a speech in the last portion of the film which was from a lecture that one of his professors gave about the nature of fiction and storytelling (source). The gist of it is this (because I've only seen the movie once and can't seem to find it quoted anywhere): it has been said that there are seven different plots in all of storytelling - Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, The Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy, and Rebirth. But in reality, there is only one plot in all of history: "Who am I?" It makes more sense in its unraveling. It is a question that is asked not of just every literary character, but every flesh character alive in the stage of the world. It is the root of every philosophical project (why am I here?), every scientific inquiry (how can these extraordinary things around us relate to me?), every artistic endeavor (how do I express this thing that's inside of me, and thereby discover the reason it's there?), every compliment and every insult that causes us to smile deep into the night or lie awake with a mirror fogged by an incorrect or malicious observation passed off as truth. It is what causes progress. It is what incites despair. The search for the answer to this question is one of the things that unites people across cultures, locations, and religions.
Some avoid it altogether. They choose to answer the question with "I'm someone who would rather not worry about it." It's a painful, humbling question to answer, so for a lot of people, drowning out the small voice that asks it when the activity around you gets quiet with noise in any form it embodies is the least painful thing to do. Some glibly dodge it: "I'm just me." Some defer it: "I can be whoever I want to be." Some despair: "I'm not worth it."
This is not about how to discover who you are. If you'd like to read what I have to say about that, I have a rather old thing I posted on Identity that may slake your appetite for a moment. But if it does not, I have provided on this site many an opportunity to contact me and request unduly long-winded attempts at forming answers, or, at the very least, beginning discussions. What this IS about, however, is Truth.
Yes. Here's the skinny: we are creatures fashioned in a way that we have a thirst for the stuff, and it has been hidden from us because of our unworthiness of its presence. Truth demands purity and there is nothing of purity in us, so there is nothing of Truth that we can comprehend. Truth disappears the closer we get to it because we use magnifying glasses to inspect its various parts rather than ladders to step back and see it more wholly. We get caught up with answers to "who are you?" such as "I am a musician" or "I am a businessman" or "I'm somebody who has dreams" and forget the part that's "I'm created for a King." We lose ourselves in minutiae when we haven't yet found ourselves in the Plan.
What was my King's purpose on Earth? "The Son of Man came to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Well, yes. But no. "He came to bridge the gap between man and God." I see you went to Sunday School, but not quite. "He came to die on the cross for my sins." Cute, and correct, but not what I'm looking for. "For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world," He said to Pilate, "to bear witness to the truth."
Imagine if this were said about you: "There was a man (or woman) sent from God, whose name was _______. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but he came to bear witness about the light."
Listen to this Hindu prayer, the cry of a nation searching the hearts of 330 million gods for what so many of us (claim to) already have the answer to in One: Lead us from Untruth to Truth, from Darkness to Light, from Death to Immortality.
When you ask yourself "who am I," is it that you mean "what do I do" or do you mean "do I bear witness to the Truth?" What do your actions tell you? Do you speak with love or bitterness? Reason or conceit? Do you live in a way that people will think "what is he pointing to? Because it sure isn't himself." Do you react with a grace that makes others ask "Where are her eyes? Because she sees something bigger than I do."
In the vein of last week's post, read the lyrics to the chorus of Oh, Sleeper's "In The Wake Of Pigs" and tell me if it's not the song you want your life to sing to anybody who can hear:
"You are not alone in the eye of the darkest storm We are the lighthouse shining a lamp from the shore To bring your journey home You are not alone, use this song to lead you home We are what's left of the love that can pierce through the callous Life you spent undone We are the legacy, that's left to breathe the wind to sail you home"
Will we be lighthouses? If so, shine. If you won't, you're either the wind stirring the sea, the waves battering the hulls, or the rocks that will wreck the boats of those trying to find the Shore.