Friday, December 29, 2006

I find myself exploring my music collection again, having just added two new selections--The Killers' Hot Fuss, and The All-American Rejects' Move Along. I believe it's possible that The All-American Rejects are rejected (ha ha) out of hand by purist fans of the genre--whatever it is--because the vocals and production are so clean. But it's melodically beautiful to me. And anyone who knows me knows clean production moves my spirit. [Side rant: I hate when people get pretentious about popular music. I automatically hate Radiohead since some fans seem so intent on defining themselves in opposition to others' tastes. Not fair, I know.] Fitting that I have Creed playing right now. I figured out why so many people liked/like Creed, including myself:

1. Clean production
2. beautiful guitar arrangements
3. Spiritually ambiguous lyrics that hint at a kind of inoffensive American evangelicalism.

(3) could be bad...hmmm.

And did you ever notice that, as popular mainstream music went through its singer/songwriter phase in the 70s (Carly Simon, James Taylor, Jim Croce, etc.) Christian Contemporary Music went the same way? But--and this is the relevant point--pop music shifted to so-called "arena rock" in the late 70s and early 80s (Journey, Foreigner, Def Leppard) with CCM following. And mainstream Christian music seems locked in an epic battle between those two. This decade seems tilted toward arena rock in CCM (Third Day, David Crowder, Passion Worship Band). Or maybe we air our frustrations in brooding singer/songwriter outlets ( e.g. Derek Webb) and we express our spiritual highs with operadic rock arrangements. To me, a well-played electric guitar expresses awe and power very well. It makes a lot of sense that corporate worship music would take this form. I understand many people never liked that kind of music. However, a great chunk of these people (anecdotally, at least) seem relentlessly cynical, destined to dismiss commercial music (and its more spiritual cousin) of this type as hopelessly contrived and unreal. Creed seemed to be attempting to bridge the euphoric/operadic and the brooding in the same band. It may well be true that Scott Stapp is a pretentious dolt, as some claim, but he and his pal Mark Tremonti merged these things well, in my view.
Another example is the self-titled debut of Weezer from 1995, referred to affectionately by fans as "The Blue Album." I sense no overarching philosophical contribution on that record; it's a bunch of catchy songs with beautiful guitar backing. These guys figured out that music resonates with people on a level so powerful that one could write a song about surfing--and a nonsensical one at that--and nobody will apologize for loving it. I'm pretty critical of moronic worship music. On the other hand, it has to be simple enough to strike at that non-intellectual core of ourselves. Singing doesn't arise from the intellect, in my opinion. A guitar riff is not nuclear physics.
We worship with every part of ourselves, true. But Christian corporate singing is for all of us, irrespective of intellectual acumen, in a way that nothing else can be. Perhaps that's why a lot of people are glad for doctrine-warriors who insist upon truth and depth, so that the doctrines and experience of God's people become as immediate as the affections that are moved by singing (or guitar riffs).
"Horse-hockey, JK. You just want us to like your crappy, emotional guitar rock." Guilty. But I'm trying to make a point. Maybe we're made to feel awe and strong positive emotions. To end on a humorous note, how many rock critics are closet Journey fans because they feel compelled to be cynical and skeptical? Or how many refuse because it seems inauthentic to be awed, or to say something is pretty?

Saturday, December 23, 2006

I was reading Reason magazine online yesterday, and it made me mad. (Reason magazine is published by people who call themselves "libertarians"--advocates of largely unregulated capitalism, personal liberty, and a radically smaller federal government.) I don't disagree with Reason much, as my friends know. But this opinion concerned Terri Schiavo. You remember her, the severely disabled Florida woman who was at the center of a battle to remove her feeding tube, because she was allegedly brain-dead. I saw video footage of Terri--some current, some from several years back. I can't escape my initial reaction: "She looks alive to me." And I can't see the argument that she wasn't alive, nor that her 'quality of life' was so poor that we're saving her and ourselves pain and trouble by ending her life. I thought the Roman Catholic teaching on life and death was especially on-point here--embodied in a homily by (I think) the Archbishop of Denver, Colorado. He said that removing a feeding tube was an extra step beyond letting life take a natural course unto death (such as removing a ventilator) and would be the taking of a life. There are many people who have to eat in creative ways--why is this unique? None of us would live without food. Plenty of us breathe without assistance. Terri Schiavo did. I don't know if it is a betrayal of libertarian political philosophy that the US Congress intervened to prevent the removal of the feeding tube. I do believe that removing it was wrong, and I do sympathize with, and support, those who opposed its removal. I don't care if, as the piece suggested, it cost the Republicans their congressional majorities, or that it cost President Bush his sky-high approval ratings at the time. It was right to err on the side of life, of humility. It was right to affirm that God determines when we live or die, not us, with our subjective ideas about when life is "worth living." Dr. Kevorkian got paroled yesterday. If it was moral to deny food to Terri Schiavo because people (courts, Mr. Schiavo, etc) were able to rightly able to discern the value of her life at that time (allegedly zero), it was also moral for Dr. Kevorkian to help people end their lives, if this logic holds. But remember the outrage against Kevorkian? The entire nation was united in its condemnation. Why? You tell me, world. What is the difference between a man determining the value of a life, helping to end it, and another man who does the same for his wife? Kevorkian still belongs in prison, and so does Michael Schiavo. There's no difference at all. In fact, Kevorkian has more mitigating factors than Schiavo and the Florida courts, in that he claimed to obtain consent from patients. (Still wrong.) But we're hypocrites for pretending that one belongs in jail and the other should be hailed for protecting his wife from religious zealots by killing her.
She's long gone, and I'm still mad about it. Sorry if that puts me outside the mainstream, or makes me a zealot. Indeed, you could make the argument, consistent with limited government, that the state of Florida abrogated its responsibility to protect one of its own citizens under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, thereby compelling the US government to intervene. The same constitutional rationale undergirded integration in the South in the Civil Rights Era, when assorted state officials violated the rights of Americans, then attempted to hide behind 'federalism' and limited government. That is, a state's power ceases when it violates the rights of citizens. And the national government, entrusted with those same responsibilities of safeguarding citizens' rights, may exercise power when others fail.

Friday, December 01, 2006

I was thinking about Counting Crows, and this great batch of lines from a song of note: She looks up at the building/says she's thinkin' a jumpin'/she says she's tired of life/she must tired of somethin'. I can think of exactly twice in my whole life when the thought of ending it all crossed my mind. (That still probably means there's something horribly wrong with me. Fine.) But it's weird how Jesus being Lord is this ever-present reality saying, "No!" to that kind of thinking. I didn't even know or belong to Jesus that first time. But somebody told me somehow that I'd miss out on something important, that my life had true consequence. Our true hope in life is resurrection and consummation. It's not really religious or theological at all in the end. Just reality.
I'm not even remotely sad about anything, in case you're wondering. I was just reflecting on how pain and suffering has seemed to bring clarity to me in my life. Because we all seem to be yearning for love, to receive it, to give it, don't you think? At the margins, we disagree about what love is at times, but just like Supreme Court Justices watching porn, we know it when we see it.
What is the last day, if not the ultimate victory of (God) Love? The hard part is convincing people (ahem, myself) where the true love resides. We have this intuition for it, but it's wildly inconsistent. Left to ourselves, we'd never find love. I'm casting my lot with Jesus again, right now. Each day, I see myself turning elsewhere for love, etc. but it ends with no finality, no victory.
Maybe I am a fool, but the Jesus I read about in the New Testament seems capable of keeping promises. Worth betting on. I can't get it out of my head: "What if this thing [the NT] is true?" (If so, that old covenant is true also.) So, if I were to announce the truth of these covenants, that God is real and has spoken, and will judge the world, it doesn't seem like there's room to be the societal glue social scientists are always claiming preachers have been. Good thing, seems harder than teaching from the Bible. Thus concludes a long winding treatise about nothing.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

An extremely rough beginning to an essay I'm preparing...

1 Corinthians 11:23-30 In Brief

Before beginning the task of exegesis, it seems proper for me to explain my choice of this passage, as well as to establish some possible applications for future ministry. In this, we ought to find the endeavor both stimulating and rewarding.
This particular passage is set in a specific context, one limited by the sins of the Corinthians described in the preceding section, verses 17-22. In short, there was a lack of sharing at the common meal that coincided with the Supper, making a mockery of their equality in Christ, divisions, and a general lack of awareness as to the Supper’s purpose. Bruce noted that the verbs in the first part of verse 23 (receive, deliver) indicate the transmission of oral tradition. Also, the words following (and those in Mark’s Gospel) were established parts of the liturgies of churches. That is to say, the occasion of the meal was, in some manner, more weighty than other meals the Corinthians might have attended. It was meant to be culturally distinct, defined by the culture of the new community created by Christ and his work on the cross. I think it’s no great leap to suggest then that Paul intended the rest of this section to correct the sins detailed in v. 17-22. In light of that reality, we should expect that the benefits we receive from reflection upon these verses (and observing the Lord’s Supper) will be the direct opposite of the sins of the Corinthians: unity and love instead of division, mutual care and edification instead of humiliation, and reflection upon, and thankfulness for, the faithfulness of Christ in dying for us.
From the first moments I’d heard of the communion rite, I was fascinated. Even before I believed in Christ, I have wondered at its mystery, and was intrigued at the fierceness of the disagreements over its meaning. It seemed logical that those differences must be consequential, if it would cause Christians to avoid communing together. Though I am cognizant of the power of sin, I did not, nor do I now, dismiss the matters as the confused babblings of a squabbling family. Still, the more interesting question is, “What is God’s purpose in giving this ritual to us?” Is there an overarching principle, a thing to hold true, which comes from participating that might even transcend the disagreements? Does communion preach to us in a way that our favorite teaching elder cannot? The answer is emphatically, “Yes!” Or in fact, we can say that faithful preaching of the Word acts in concert with God in the sacrament to the great blessing of God’s people. I happily defer to Thomas Watson on that score. I think observing the meal has three main results, all interrelated, that I have personally observed: first, it is a confirmation of individual and collective identity in Christ; second, it is a reflection of unity in the bond of love; and third, it empowers and clarifies mission, both individually and collectively. Assuming all that is true, I want to get inside that, to see such a thing work itself out in my life, and in the lives of others. I also see, upon reflection, that none of those things can occur without the Holy Spirit. Indeed, these tasks seem uniquely suited to Him. This must be why Watson and other Reformed theologians insist that Christ is present—by the Holy Spirit. If the Eucharist helps us in any way with identity, unity, and mission, the Spirit’s presence is not a paradigmatic afterthought; He’s a necessity. It is a tragedy that a certain love of Holy Communion can become a superstitious observance with alleged salvific import. More tragic still had been a lack of reflection upon the sacrament by Protestant brothers who were (and are) sharply critical of Roman dogma on the matter. If my remarks and exegesis aid in a greater appreciation for the Supper, thanks be to God.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Ever since I embraced conservative political thought, it seemed very important to dissociate legitimate policy discussion from the baser inclinations of man. That is, it's not hard to arrive at a decidedly non-liberal issue position from a bad motive. Have you ever talked with someone who agreed with you for all the wrong reasons? That's upsetting. But I still think that a robust conservatism can embody all the good things we can envision. That's why it pains me to write what will soon follow. But first, let me heap a pile of scorn onto those candidates who tried to downplay/weasel out of their support for the Iraq war. The candidate I am about to mention is no exception.
Even so, the painful reality is this: Lt. Gov. Michael Steele lost the Maryland Senate race because he is black. Mr. Barone of Fox News did faithfully report that Steele was dramatically underperforming in Republican strongholds across Maryland. It cannot be said that the "Democratic year" was responsible, because GOP candidates lost moderates in this last cycle. There was not, in my view, a fall-off of committed supporters nationwide. But Democrats simply closed the gaps on perceived weaknesses, winning Bush moderates.
I'm more than prepared to vote for a nonwhite candidate who shares my views. The GOP to a man and woman will say that it's ready, pointing to every nonwhite Republican officeholder in existence when prompted. I've done this myself:) But how many Maryland Republicans hesitated? Are we ready for the day when the party's symbols are people of color? If we truly believed half the stuff we say about the universal applicability of conservative principles, we'd be ready now.
Don't hear what I'm not saying. I'm not saying the GOP should have more people of color for its own sake. But what I am saying is this: If racism was not the cause of this, what was? Who the heck is Ben Cardin? If the governor of that state can survive that bad night as a Republican, why not Steele?
Feel free to send any thoughts to

Friday, November 10, 2006

Take a gander at this comment from Newsweek. What a pathetic parade of mindless words. If anyone cares to examine the foolishness with which the last Iraq conflict was concluded, we ought to lament what is about to occur in Iraq. The very same fools who didn't finish the task the first time are about to 'finish' it again--further undermining the president's efforts there. More importantly, our premature leaving will dishonor our country again, as in Vietnam. But Ms. Davis feels a need to preen, and take cheap shots at the First Family. Whether we have lost our will to succeed in Iraq based on bad news reporting, or the mounting toll, Mark Steyn was right: This is 'the end of the American moment.' Why should anyone trust America's word? If a strongman kills the budding democracy there in Iraq, who among us would celebrate? But we have killed it. We killed it on Tuesday night. When its great champion surrounds himself with those who would have never given it a chance, when the one man who symbolizes this great change is shown the door, Iraq--that our soldiers have fought and died for--is dead.
The election was a somewhat bitter pill the other day, but there were a ton of bright spots (mostly) unrelated to policy. Consider:

--This January, a woman will hold the Speaker's gavel for the first time ever as Speaker of the House. (And that is good, even if I don't think in group identity terms.)

--An ardent Catholic anti-abortion Republican lost his Senate an ardent Catholic anti-abortion Democrat. I'm not Catholic, but in terms of life and death, more ardent Catholics=better country.

--Heath Shuler, an evangelical Christian and former NFL quarterback, was elected to the House.

--Arnold is still the Governator. I probably wouldn't vote for him, but hey, doesn't it just prove how great (and frankly, cool) America really is?

--We got to see Bill Kristol become the John Madden of political coverage.

--Continuing my unrestrained endorsement of Fox News, (sorry) have you ever been as comforted by so dour-seeming a man as Brit Hume? But admit it, he's endearing.

--Our country has grown in its attitudes so much that we were able to vote for and against a whole slew of black men, as well as others of various hues.

--The election was brief enough that CNN did not lose any anchors to hyperventilation. It was a close one, however. And isn't that silly? Just relax.

--The White House was antsy, so...Bush ordered chicken tenders. Exactly. Cures my nerves every time.

--Unless you were still unaware, the country was reminded that Morton Kondracke is not a brand of chewing tobacco.

--Michael Barone is the Jack Bauer and Chuck Norris of political analysis rolled into one.

--Shep Smith brings some Mississippi Favre-magic to the anchor chair.

--Juan Williams is reliably partisan, yet likable and informative.

--The "I made Reagan turn in his Grave" award goes to James Webb.

--Joementum finally struck.


--Lynn Swann will be back on football games very soon.
I face the daunting task of exegeting (er, extracting the meaning out of) 1 Cor 11:23-30, as I have said. As I looked at a few commentaries, it seemed interesting that the sins mentioned just prior had little to do with minor errors in practice; rather, they were reflective of a disregard of the inherent dignity present in their brothers and fellow communicants. I'll not comment much further, as to avoid having to cite someone! But interesting it is to note that, in order to observe rightly, we must consider others. Indeed, consider them better than ourselves. And Christ the Anchor holds us together. I don't know myself without somehow knowing and loving my brothers and sisters. I cannot know Christ without taking a moment to ponder those others for whom He also died. If Christ gave his life without hesitation, how can I bring a charge against another without seeing my sin first? Is this not what we were taught? I use high words because this is not a time to be unclear.
I must say that I'm not sure that "Each man ought to examine himself" has anything at all to do with my approximation of personal sin, or whether I have reached a point of theological understanding about the Supper. (Though, if I treated it like a trip to Showbiz Pizza, I'm likely guilty of the body and blood.) Must I know the Mystery? Must I come into worship free of all guilt? No. But let me look to Christ, the Author and perfecter of our faith. Let me love my brothers and sisters without reservation. Let the Lord bless me, and tell me whose I am. Let us not fear. And let us go forth to love and serve the Lord! (Thanks be to God.)

Saturday, November 04, 2006

I was searching for a notebook; it's a notebook that would contain my notes and reflections on four English renderings of 1 Cor 11:23-30 (look it up for yourself) as a small part of an exegetical paper I'm writing. In the course of my fruitless searching, I found some music: She Must And Shall Go Free, by Derek Webb. I said, "Geez, I haven't listened to this since 'W' carved up a certain French-looking Senator from Massachusetts." I thought it had been lost or stolen. So, I put it in my computer, 'ripping' the tracks to my extensive library. Now, before I say this, let me say this other thing: I am a HUGE fan of Caedmon's Call. I believe the whole gaggle of them are among the more accomplished songwriters and musicians on the planet at this point in time. And Mr. Webb deserves 99% percent of the praise he's received. That said...
This album in spots is insufferably pretentious. At what point, and by who's urging, did Derek Webb receive an anointing as a prophet to the American evangelical church? Did you, or someone you know, ask him to do this? More importantly, to what end? Considering Derek's (and my own) confessional context (theologically conservative, evangelical, and Reformed) does anyone seriously think that this group of people is too easy on themselves? I can say from experience that these people need to think more of Christ, and frankly, less time pondering their wickedness. This is because we Presbyterians (and various other Reformed peoples) never seem to engage the practice with the right heart, that is, repentance and celebration. But we know how to feel guilty, and to show other people how guilty we feel. This record is a guilt-trip of the highest order. There really isn't enough celebrating God in Christ here. Ironically, the most joyful songs in this whole set have lyrics penned by someone else (the title track, and "Awake My Soul") I'll give him a pass on the personification of Jesus, dangerous as that is. But one can't tell at times which one (Jesus or Derek) is speaking. Consider: "Beloved, these are perilous days/your culture is so set in its ways." And, "I'm turning over tables in my own living room." And the second, set in the context of the song ("Nobody Loves Me"), Derek seems to relish making his fellow pilgrims uncomfortable. In short, Jesus Christ loves American Christians way more than does Derek Webb. No surprise there, I guess. But Webb sure could learn about grace (and humility).
But I'm no authority. I still enjoy it overall; it's just so cool and hip to bash one's culture, lament capitalism, and fear patriotism, that it's hard to view the music as prophetic when those formulations are so widespread. It's three years hence, and it all seems canned. (And kinda leftist)

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The St. Louis Cardinals face the New York Mets in the first game of the National League Championship Series tonight at 7:19. The Cards will win in 5 games, and I have five reasons why:

5. The structure of the series. The 2-3-2 format of home/away games means that even in the worst-case scenario (for the Cards) after two games, the Cards can steal the series lead with three home wins.

4. Jim Edmonds. He's gonna catch everything in center field. And though the national media makes much of his apparent decline offensively, he has a unique knack for clutch hitting.

3. Starting pitching. Jeff Weaver will begin for St. Louis against Tom Glavine. This is the only matchup which even appears to favor New York. Yet the Cardinals have fared well against Glavine, and Jeff Suppan was the best pitcher in the NL over the second half of the season. Chris Carpenter is in top form. New York cannot counter with a comparable ace.

2. Albert Pujols. Can utterly alter a game with one swing. The most game-winning hits this season belong to Pujols.

1. St. Louis fans. Busch Stadium is analogous to Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City for the NFL: A nightmare for road teams. St. Louis is America's baseball capital; the fans make it so.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Brief Eulogy and An Evangelical Confession

I barely know the name of Oriana Fallaci. I know she’s an author who, in brief, wrote in defense of the West and capitalism. From her perch either in Tuscany or New York City, she often urged her native Italy to shed its socialism and embrace closer ties with the US. From what I was able to glean from reports, she had the guts to call Islam stupid, and present it (at least its most dominant forms) as a direct threat to society as we know it. Sure, she and I could find things to agree upon politically, but people who stir the pot semi-constructively at least are cool in my book. We lost her on September 15. We’re not perfect as a nation, or as a Western culture, but maybe it is time to stop apologizing, in terms of asserting our right to exist. Neither our colossal failures, nor others’ perceptions of those failures mean that we must assent to self-flagellating nihilism.
Though I do respect human beings and the questions of existence that must be confronted by people from day to day, I would share Fallaci’s antipathy toward a certain world religion. If religion were the National Hockey League, this “faith” would not be winning the Lady Byng Trophy (awarded to the NHL’s most sportsmanlike player each season). It’s definitely impolite to say such things. Apparently in Italy, it’s illegal. No matter.

Monday, August 28, 2006

After spending an evening at the home of a successful businessperson, the fellas and I went to Harpo's to sing karaoke on Saturday. Jay said he'd buy me a shot of something if I sang "Cherish" by Kool and the Gang. You all know I'd do it anyway:) So I did. I wasn't terribly impressed with myself, but I love that song. Apparently, so did the rest of the bar. (On the other hand, we took the place over.) I'm always singing it, which suggests two things, both of which are true: I love memorable love songs with catchy choruses, and I'm a hopeless romantic, bound for some kind of puncture to my sappy idealism. Lord-willing, it will happen once I'm stuck with her, and I love her too much to run away. Marriage, in other words. Perhaps that is its own foolish idealism. No matter. I strike thee down, cynicism! I laugh in thy face, devil, destroyer of all good things.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Rev. Travis Tamerius is writing a book about savoring God in the ordinary things of life. I eagerly await his return from sabbatical, and the opportunity to discuss the things he's found. For all I know, he's back now. Anyway, my ordinary things consisted of drinking a beer with my brother, discussing our business, and surveying the National League pitching matchups for the evening. Do you think that with all the trouble and pain in the world right now, I should concern myself with baseball? Actually, I do. There are legions of people who could care less about baseball, or any other sport. That's regrettable, since we are not simply creatures of intellect, but of passion and emotion. Since I can't seem to connect with Mozart or Dali, I find kinship with Pujols and Maddux. (Note: Maddux has yet to surrender a hit since being traded to the Dodgers.) Bono lent his voice to some commercials touting soccer's ability to stop wars, so I feel fairly safe mildly asserting baseball's value in the life of an ordinary person. There are three indisputable facts I know:

1. Jesus Christ is the one and only Savior of sinners;
2. There is baseball in Heaven;
3. Natalie Wood would lose a narrow contest for 'Most Beautiful Woman Ever' to my future wife, whose identity remains unknown to me.

That is all.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

I'm gonna go running willy-nilly through the theological forest for a little while, if that's alright. It all started in Greek class, looking at 1 John 2:2. If you are familiar at all with the Calvinist-Arminian controversy, this will be enthralling. If not, I'll do my very best to come up with something humorous along the way. In English, 1 John 2:2 says, "He is the propitiation/expiation for our sins, and not only our sins, but the sins of the whole world." I put both words there because big things are hanging upon which one you choose. It is, as they say, the whole point. Little note: The NIV rendering of the word in question (transcribed, 'ilasmos') as 'atoning sacrifice' sort of dodges the issue, but garden-variety definitions of atonement and propitiation are useful. (You may notice that atonement and expiation mean the same thing.) My sense in reading these is that expiation/atonement is a kind of general cleansing, while propitiation denotes a more personal reconciliation from a specific sin. That is, it's relational and covenental. Would you be suprised to learn that Roman Catholic theologians prefer 'expiation' while Protestants (and especially Reformed) prefer 'propitiation'?
My required Gingrich-Danker lexicon says 'expiation,' so that was exciting. Here's my theological wondering: Was Christ's death merely a general sin offering for the whole world, or was the death of Christ an actual reconciliation for those who believe? What I am finding is that there is no easy answer. It seems that both are true.
I loved that my instructor had a homily of sorts last night, cautioning us not to force John into our theological paradigms. The freedom to hold interesting truths in tension is the groundswell of unity in the body of Christ. When we do this well, our theology can truly become doxology. How great is God, that the selection of one word in one verse sends the best theologians into joyful contemplation of the mysteries of Christ for centuries! We do not always love well, nor dispute well, but what a comfort it is, that these two camps are both right in some important ways, to the benefit of the as-yet converted and the glory of the Father.
The only thing I know for a certainty is that God has obligated us to believe in the Son in order to receive eternal life. Since we're obligated, Jesus' death grants us nothing unless we believe. But how precious is that blood for those who believe!
If you've been wanting to be reconciled to God, there's only one way: Jesus Christ.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

I got inspired to write another post about popular music. I don't remember when I bought The Collection by Amy Grant. Maybe Rev. Russ Ramsey told me to buy it when I said, "Heart In Motion kicks the living crap out of all her Christian stuff." I took it as a challenge. Anyway, I had never listened to any of it until tonight, except for "Sing Your Praise to the Lord" and "El Shaddai."

So I heard this song called, "Where Do You Hide Your Heart?" and it was OK, but I had a funny thought: Doesn't it sound like Amy got mugged by Christopher Cross and Jeffrey Osbourne on the way to the studio?

"SAAAAAILLLLLLLLING, takes me AWAAAAAAAAAAAAAY, to where I always heard it could be..."

"On the wings of LOVE, only the two of us together, flying HIGH..."

For those untutored wretches (great insult, John Calvin) out there, those quotes are from the two biggest hits by the aforementioned "muggers." If you know these songs, you are aware that they hail from the furthest reaches of Soft-Pop Land, one of my favorite places to vacation. (ha ha)

Before you snicker, consider that many current artists gain the inspiration for their "cutting-edge" work by taking sabbatical in Soft-Pop Land. Like I'll bet The Bee Gees are in Mettalica's music collection. That is unless Lars felt compelled to sue them for trying to occupy the same universe.

Oh, that reminds me, I could have listed Amy Grant's Heart In Motion as a comeback from Christian music oblivion, but I nearly forgot, great as it is. For proof, take note that Grant's greatest hits collection (the 'secular' one) contains half the tracks from Heart In Motion.

Not that I have anything against Christian music. I am a Christian, and music is natural and even commanded of us. But the reason most people say that it 'sucks'/'did suck'/'will continue to suck' is that it often sounds like we don't even believe what we're saying. That goes deeper than music, but it comes out clearer there. Quit lying to us all. I know that if the right buttons are pushed, I'd see you, Twila Paris, (just an example, put your guns down) passed out drunk on a bar stool [or insert obviously sinful behavior here]. So why don't you sing about that? Not that you did that, but that you do understand why someone might have done such a thing. If they don't believe you when you say what a sinner you are because it doesn't seem real, why would someone believe what you say about Christ?

The most authentic CCM song I've personally ever heard is "We Are Not as Strong as We Think We Are":

With these our hells and our heavens
So few inches apart
We must be awfully small
And not as strong as we think we are

That song's so real, it scares me. I'm not even willing to confront this contradiction most of the time.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Music Post, ctd:

Best Song By A Guy Never Heard From Again:
"Walking In Memphis," Mark Cohen

Best Album By an Artist Better Known for Attractiveness:
"The Woman In Me," Shania Twain

Best 'Crossing Over from Christian Music Oblivion' Album:
"House of Love," Amy Grant

Best 'Secular' Song By Amy Grant:
"I Will Remember You"

Really Good Vince Gill Album:
"When Love Finds You"

Best Year For Music During My Lifetime:

Best Environmentalist Song:
"Conviction of the Heart," Kenny Loggins

Best Boyz II Men Imitation Group:

Best Song That Sounds Like It Was Written/Produced By The Bee Gees But Wasn't:
"Officially Missing You," Tamia ("All I hear is raindrops/Falling on the rooftops/hey baby, tell me why'd you have to go?/'Cause this pain I feel, it won't go away/and today...I'm officially missing you..." Great song, check it out.)

Instrument I'm Playing When No One Is Looking:
Air Keyboard

and finally....

JK's (that's me) Favorite Song of All Time:

"End Of The Road," Boyz II Men

Some of you may be let down, figuring I'd pick some old famous song, to try to curry favor with strangers. But alas, not the case. Test me sometime by playing that song. I'll sing along every time, even if you played it 5 times in a row.
Music post.

Top 5 Sappiest Songs Ever:

5. "That's What Friends Are For," Elton John, Stevie Wonder and Dionne Warwick
4. "I'm Still In Love With You," New Edition
3. "Ballerina Girl," Lionel Richie
2. "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now," Starship
1. "Cherish," Kool & The Gang

Be not deceived into thinking that I'm embarrassed; on the contrary, I love these songs dearly. Onward:

Song Most Often In My Head:
"Daughters," John Mayer

Top 3 Babyface Sound-Alike Songs: (but not him)
3. "Nobody Knows," Tony Rich Project
2. "Lost In You," Chris Gaines/Garth Brooks
1. "Breathe Again," Toni Braxton

Top 5 Musicians Reviled By Critics (and loved by me)
5. Mariah Carey
4. Jason Mraz
3. Creed
2. John Mayer
1. Toby Keith

Genre that is misunderstood the most:

New Music (to me) That Is Expanding My Musical Horizons:
Saves The Day

My Kindred Spirit in Sappiness:
David Foster

Song That Makes Me Wish I Were Married:
"Always," Atlantic Starr

Legendary Band I Dislike Most:
The Rolling Stones

3 Artists Whose Music Influenced Me in Early Childhood:
Marty Robbins
The Eagles
Ben E. King

Favorite Female Singer:
Martina McBride

Favorite Artist with Differing Political Views Than Me:
John Mellencamp

Favorite Political Song with which I Disagree:
"The End of the Innocence," Don Henley

Favorite Agreeable Political Song:
"The Angry American (Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue)," Toby Keith

Song Which Could Double As the National Anthem:
"God Bless the USA," Lee Greenwood

Top 3 Songs I Find Emotionally Difficult:
3. "Have You Forgotten?," Darryl Worley
2. "Tears In Heaven," Eric Clapton
1. "The Living Years," Mike & The Mechanics

Song So Good it Could Not Even Be Ruined by Celine Dion:
"All By Myself," Eric Carmen/Celine Dion

Guy Compared To Barry Manilow Who's Way Better Than Barry Manilow:
Lionel Richie

Best Soundtrack From A Bad Movie:

Best Song From A Brooke Shields "Skin" Flick:
"Endless Love," Lionel Richie & Diana Ross

to be continued...

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Back somewhere in the archives of this blog, I posted a paper reacting to a Robert Wuthnow book. Wuthnow is (the second half of the title was ‘Spirituality in America Since the 1950s) a Religious Studies professor from Yale. Wuthnow’s main contention seemed to be that spiritual life in this country broke down into those with ‘dwelling’ and ‘seeking’ ways of conceptualizing relation to God or the Other (if you like). In brief, dwelling was stable, familiar, and generational; seeking is transient, fluid, and in search of a spiritual high. He went on to say that the seekers wanted stability and familiarity, and some dwellers felt their spirituality was stale, or focused on preserving a social order they knew. Fairly ticked off about the lack of depth in pretty much everyone profiled in the book, (either Wuthnow’s fault, or the people) I sought to defend what I understood as the gospel. I called it in part, “A Spirituality of Dwelling in the Incarnation.” We need stability, we need to stop wandering. But what keeps our dwelling from being dull, lifeless, or misdirected? I think I found the answer: God with us. That is what the Incarnation teaches us. God isn’t out there somewhere; he was and is right here. I was just beginning to understand the brilliance of this. So, whether we rest or we journey, we are God’s. We need not fear. America and baseball could pass away (may it never be! Ha ha) and I’m just fine. May I believe this!
I got a little annoyed just now; looking through my music files on my computer, I noticed that Windows Media Player had labeled the genre for Jim Brickman’s Destiny as, ‘New Age’. “Well, that’s unacceptable,” I thought, conjuring images of hippies praying to rocks and sticks. “I know Jesus, and if Jim wants to pray to rocks, or have other fans who pray to rocks, well, I guess I can’t stop them. But I can’t look at that.” So, I changed it to ‘Instrumental.’ Which isn’t strictly true; 7 or so tracks have guest vocalists. But hey, Jim plays the piano. Thinking that ‘piano’ was too much of a stretch for a genre, I made my choice. Irony to God’s glory: as I type, “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey is playing. Don’t worry, I won’t:)

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

O Lord, overcome me. End my sin and rebellion with your ever-present love. Purify me with your Spirit. I need you now, Amen.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

The Confusion of Church and Politics in America

No, this is not a screed arguing for ‘separation of church and state,’ whatever that means. And it’s not a call for Christians in America to be more leftist (necessarily). And this is most certainly not a call to be more rightist, though we know where my heart is, don’t we? I’m angry about 1 thing today: how we bring political words into the way we speak about God and each other. Have you ever heard someone say, “I left a liberal church/denomination”? I’ve done it millions of times myself. But don’t we mean ‘unfaithful’ or ‘apostate’? Why don’t we say this more often instead? But many of us use ‘liberal,’ wondering why we get identified with the Right. Granted, a lot of us are right-leaning politically, but not all. And in fairness, there’s nothing liberal about it when people abandon the truth of the gospel. Nothing good or progressive at all.
Therefore, I commit myself to not using ‘liberal’ when describing apostasy or error. And I feel bad for liberal groups about to receive these sorts of people too, even if they don’t. Postmodernism destroys eventually everyone and everything with which it is associated. Think about this next time one hears a person proclaim himself or herself free of belief in ultimate Truth. Then politely ask such a one why he or she is so outraged about female genital mutilation, or working conditions for the poor in a less-developed country. A robust, healthy leftism can’t even survive nihilism. And at the heart of a belief in nothing is self-absorption: “Nothing matters except me.” Self-worship is the gravest sin. Apostasy is self-worship.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Speaking of Babyface, he's my other favorite artist behind Brooks. If you're not into R&B/lite soul, this could be your gateway. I would highly recommend 1993's For The Cool In You, which gave us 5 R&B/pop hit singles, including: the title track, "Never Keeping Secrets," and the haunting, "When Can I See You". Frankly, the albums beginning with 1989's Tender Lover, the aforementioned For The Cool In You, and 1996's The Day, make up perhaps the best three-album set released by someone other than Brooks or George Strait. Here is a partial list of the songs written or produced by Babyface in the 1990s for other artists:
"Change The World," (performed by Eric Clapton)
"Take A Bow" (Madonna)
"Breathe Again" (Toni Braxton)
"End of the Road" (Boyz II Men)
"I'll Make Love to You" (Boyz II Men)
"Baby, Baby, Baby" (TLC)
"Pretty Girl" (Jon B)
"These Are The Times" (Dru Hill)
"My Heart Is Calling" (Whitney Houston)
"Never Forget You" (Mariah Carey)
"Water Runs Dry" (Boyz II Men)
"Exhale" (Whitney Houston)

I chose these songs because they are ones I heard and liked before I knew who had written them. I should have guessed! Babyface's strategy is twofold: 1. An addicting chorus; and 2. Set up the opening of the song melodically (usually with a keyboard) in such a way that by the time one hears words, one is already hooked! Babyface's influence extends even into country music, as you will know by the anecdote I am about to relate. CMT was reviewing the videography of a singer named Terri Clark. She's had many mid-level country hits, including a fairly big one called, "Now That I Found You". Terri said in introducing this video that it was a touching love song with a great chorus, and "it reminded us of Babyface." (paraphrase) Check him out. He deserves the label of music legend.
Music fans, we need to have a talk. Perhaps I should have said 'pop music'. More specifically, those people who consider themselves fans of a certain music legend named Garth Brooks. I've heard one thing these many years: "Man, I love Garth, but the Chris Gaines album was horrible." To which I can only reply: YOU'RE ALL INSANE! Honestly, it's one of the best recordings I've ever heard. The story that came along is irrelevant; it was a movie project collaboration with Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds that fell through. (You can hear a testimony to Babyface's pervasive influence on the second track, "Lost in You." Vintage.) I took Brooks' advice: I just listened to the album, willing myself to imagine a new artist that I'd not heard. If that were the case, every music fan in America would say, "Wow, pretty good for a first time." And it was a first time, because it's a pop album. Admit it, the Chris Gaines record is better than the copy of Jennifer Lopez' On the 6 you bought, still hoping your friends will never find.

Friday, May 26, 2006

A few suggestions, if I may, for the troubled but proud Kansas City Royals baseball team:

1. Trade Mike Sweeney. This in no way impugns Sweeney, but he makes too much for this team. Even if the trade value is low due to his injuries and age, the money saved will be worth it.
2. Re-acquire Jeff Suppan. He's the kind of pitcher the Royals need: always keeps his team in the game. And since his stats aren't that impressive, he won't break the bank.
3. Hire a great pitching coach. Dave Ricketts or Leo Mazzone (masterminded all those Braves division titles) can't be that attached to their new jobs.
4. Keep Reggie Sanders. The guy wins wherever he goes. It's clubhouse chemistry. That is the beginning of winning: a clubhouse full of guys who like each other.
5. Don't trade any minor-league prospects, ever. Even if St. Louis offers Pujols, don't do it. Most especially not pitchers, ever.
6. Stop making excuses. Oakland and Minnesota are consistently good with similar financial constraints. And a little winning will help revenues!
7. Be willing to tilt most of the payroll toward the starting pitchers, once good ones are found. This is why KC is bad: no starting pitching.
8. Ask San Diego what they want for Tim Stauffer. Unless they say, 'prospects' or 'cash,' give them what they ask for. This kid is going to be a star starting pitcher.

The ideal but plausible KC starting rotation looks like this:
Zack Grienke
Jeff Suppan
Tim Stauffer
Sidney Ponson
Mark Redman (he's not as bad as his stats suggest)

Do indeed thank STL for their generous contributions to future Royals success (Both Ponson and Jeff Suppan pitch for the Cardinals now). I think this rotation could be very good, if a bit unnoticed. But unnoticed is how one wants its starting pitchers when one shares a league with the Yankees.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Does anyone read this? Does it matter to me? Why or why not? Do ladies read this, like eligible, attractive ones? Is my secret crush reading this right now? Does she know of her status? Does she care? Do I care? I don't know. Should I set it aside to "focus on God"? How do you tell if someone is attracted to you? Do ladies cover it up in spiritual encouragement like guys sometimes do? In a way, I hope so. It makes me feel not as alone in my stupidity (idolatry, ahem). What does 'tradition' mean in the letters to the Thessalonians from Paul? Did Paul have a last name? Did he write 'apostle' on everything next to his name? Was he a bishop? Was he a presbyter? Was he a brother who led the congregation in singing once a month? Or a pulpit minister? (That one's for you, misguided congregationalists.) Was there anything remotely close to Coca-Cola in first-century Judea? Did they advertize? What did Judas Iscariot do for fun? Did he drink the first-century Coke? What was the hymn the brothers sung before they went to the Mount of Olives? (When our Lord was betrayed.) Is it still sung? Was it a 'traditional' version, or did some guy from the Judean Passion Worship Band take a run at it? Did Jesus write hymns? Did He automatically know all the words to all the hymns? Did Jesus tell the disciples which ones were about him? What was Jesus' favorite joke? Can we assume it was really funny? Did Jesus ever play checkers (or the equivalent) with kids? Did he let them win? Could Jesus run fast? Could he dunk a basketball? Is that a trivial question? No.
If you ever find yourself in Columbia, Missouri, there's more than a few things you ought to do. For instance, your trip would be more complete if you stopped at CJ's on 7th and Broadway for some chicken wings. Or a morning of worship at Christ Our King Presbyterian could change your world on a quiet Sunday. But I want to tell you about a man named Robert Collins. He's a history professor at our quaint University, and he's bleeping incredible. As a friend noted, he actually defends his positions during lecture. The stereotype of a professor filling young minds with his unsubstantiated (usually un-American) opinions doesn't apply to Collins. When I took his History of the 1960s, sure we dealt with the dominant liberalism of the time, giving it a fair airing. Then we critiqued it! Our class had to read Radical Son right alongside The Things They Carried. He even said some nice things about Nixon (which, even from my right-wing perch, takes some doing.) Collins will not be lambasted by the College Republicans (or the Democrats, for that matter) any time soon. And it was damned interesting all the way, I must say. Good job, chief. Keep up the good work, and please don't retire! If you're a student, take the class, or another he teaches. If you're a visitor, politely ask the folks at Jesse Hall if you can drop in. More than worth your time, I'd wager.

Friday, March 31, 2006

I agree with Martin Luther; Scripture is the final authority because its main subject is God, reconciling all men to Himself through Christ. You’d better come up with a better answer than “just because” when an unbeliever asks why he or she should believe the Bible. This is the real reason why Protestants call the Bible the Word of God. But how many know that? Not too many, I’d judge. It’s not that I’m so smart, but reality’s contours are marked by this: a personal God revealing Himself in history. The Ten Commandments are useless if they weren’t written by God, and a reflection of His character. Seriously, what use does anyone have for manmade rules? Press some fake right-winger about this; you’ll see that they’ll blather on about ordering society, preserving the Republic, and saving families. But equally as obvious will be that noticeable lack of contrition, (repentance) and personal extension of the forgiveness of sins. Such a person doesn’t know Jesus; he is a means to an end. Law and grace are linked; without this, the Law is only death. If it were up to me, only baptized disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ would be allowed to invoke His Name in a political argument. Both sides would possess theologians, and these people would take turns critiquing the other. If you said, “Why, that’s not very Christian!” the very next question should be “How?” or, “Why not?” The obvious point is this: the political Right in America does not have a monopoly on truth, Scriptural or otherwise. But the Left in large measure has declared itself hostile to Christianity, and this makes it extremely difficult to package those arguments within a Christian worldview; as a result, when Christ is invoked, it’s facile, superficial, and otherwise reductionist. Jesus becomes warm and fuzzy, a glorified Oprah-watcher. If the right-wing Jesus wears a Microsoft hat while waving the American flag, the left-wing Jesus is a sissy, too compassionate to call anyone wrong about anything. But Jesus is bigger than all of this! You know where I stand by now, and mainly because compassion is not incompatible at all with various rightist positions; what is more, I found many more noble sorts on that side than is generally believed! As for the Left, truly Christian left-leaners already make common cause with rightist Christians on scores of issues (thinking of life and death, or human rights), and I’d be thrilled to respectfully dispute with a candidate of that description. (Many say President Bush fits this; no kidding) Can we have Bill Clinton back? Boy, I wish he hadn’t cheated on his wife. Then righties could not have so easily dismissed his confession of faith, which I fervently hope is genuine. Billy Graham is a Democrat. He was also friendly with the Republican of Republicans, Ronald Reagan. (Democrats just discarded all warm feelings for Billy Graham!) I like Jimmy Carter. No, I love him as a brother. At the same time, he might be among the most politically inept presidents in our nation’s history, in my opinion. The Left needs a new Bryan, a Niebuhr; Leftist but orthodox to the core. The Right needs a Mother Theresa; an identifier with the poor. Undercut the Left’s alleged monopoly on compassion. In short, both sides need to destroy the stereotypes of themselves.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

It all began when a friend asked me to look at a book (nice phrase, 'look at a book') for his class--what Mizzou was calling Religious Studies 104 at the time--"The Many Faces of Christology" (the study of interpreting Christ and His work). The introduction struck me, because the author said that he had wrestled through doubt in his twenties, proclaiming himself a Marxist. Yet, he continued to receive Holy Communion, saying that it eventually became a confirmation of his identity. The discovery was union with Christ, and it had never been broken truly. (Marxism in truest form is openly hostile to the gospel; incidentally, so is the humanistic basis of some forms of libertarianism, e.g. Objectivism) As I realize that the plain offer of the gospel is manifest in the bread and cup, it is also apparent that the eucharistic celebration is the confirmation of my identity, of my place in the body of Christ, and the heart of our mission. We cannot make disciples if we do not know whether we are disciples. Fellowship, indeed! But the Protestant caveats regarding the Supper are wise; shortcutting the obligation of faith by way of the sacrament is arguably a more damaging error than bare memorialism. Zwingli (and others) should acknowledge their errors, and join us at the card table. Exhibits 1 and 2 in the Church Museum of Destructive Errors should be memorialism, and the Council of Trent. You Catholics out there know very well that the earliest Protestant Reformers weren't heretics! Bother dogma. A certain German friar may have been impetuous, uncharitable, and downright ornery, but he had a point, in doctrine and in practice. (Did you type 'obligation of faith' up there? What sort of Calvinist are you?--ed.) The Arminian kind! Just kidding, Missouri Presbytery! (God-willing, my future colleagues.) Should I start submitting this website to my elders? Crap, I hope not.
The dumbest rap song I've heard in the last hour: "I'm in Love with a Stripper," by some guy.

The best one: "When I'm Gone," by Eminem. If Christians stop moralizing for five seconds and actually listen to what people say, we'd love them like Jesus does. There's real life and real pain in this guy's songs. I want to preach to him and hug him every time I hear one of them. My advice is to listen past the bad words, and remember that a real person wrote this whole thing. (And in this case, they tend to be very autobiographical.)

Monday, March 06, 2006

What is inerrancy? What do people mean when they say the word? Does it mean the Bible is an instruction manual? What can we say about a specific text’s application to our lives? Does submitting to the Bible as the only authority lead to an unreasonable doctrinal subjectivism? Do we all become our own popes? Is it good to have one authority (a pope)? Why do we trust the Scripture? Why should we? Is it possible to believe in a Great Tradition of Christian Orthodoxy while holding Scripture paramount? Is there healthy, responsible non-Catholicism out there, or should we all just submit to the Vicar of Christ, and repent for following the man who ‘trampled the Lord’s vineyard’? Am I scaring anyone yet? Am I scaring myself? Yes. Why do “restorationist” (or New Testament) churches scare me more than the Roman Catholic? Why do I feel as though I will never preach or teach anything good that hasn’t already been said? Am I OK with that? Absolutely. Why do I love authority, legitimately constituted? Why do I love creeds? Why do I love history? Why is the history of bold confessions for the sake of Christ also the history of vain, destructive division? Why do I feel like a member of every Christian communion on Earth, yet I’m part of only one? Am I happy in that place? Yes. Why? Why am I a mystic, and a passionate defender of orthodoxy at the same time? Why does the phrase ‘Bible-believing’ fill me with dread? Why does setting Scripture aside or explaining it away fill me with equal dread? Why didn’t anyone tell me that purity and peace were so hard to fight for? Why were some of the great theologians of the past two centuries socialists? Why doesn’t that make me mad? Why does that make me curious, yet dismissive at the same time? Is it OK to love President Bush, even knowing I’d do things differently? Is it possible to be a Christian and a Republican (or a libertarian) at the same time without confusing the two? Should I vote in the next election? On what basis should I vote? Why am I impressed with Barack Obama? Is it because he’s good-looking? Is it because he’s black? Is it because he’s a living, breathing episode of The Cosby Show? Is he for real? Do I love my country too much?
Why do I love the Eucharist? Why does it seem cooler to call it that? How do I worship Christ in the sacrament? What was Ulrich Zwingli thinking? Why am I feeling Lutheran right about now? Why is Psalm 45 even in the Bible? Have you read that before? Did it bother you?
Am I supposed to preach? How do I know? If I’m not a pastor, why do I think like one? Why do I feel like one? Why do I teach things without even trying, like it’s a part of me? Why am I happy when I do that? Is that a calling, or simple vanity? Why are my heroes preachers, or Brett Favre? Does Brett Favre love Jesus? Does he want to? Will he play again? Why does that make me sad if he doesn’t? Why did I write this? Was it a waste? No.