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From can't read to don't read, and its affect on worship songs

Update, Tuesday, April 11: Oh the shame. How could I have possibly missed my misuse of the word "affect" in the title of this post? "Affect" is a verb. I should have used "effect." Oh well, maybe my error was only noticed by a few. Mea culpa.

I don't like the song "Good, good Father." It's one of those songs which is so vague, it could be sung about a human father. I was wondering yesterday as we sang, what kind of spiritual truths the song actually teaches. He's a good father. Okay, fine. What does that mean? The song doesn't really delve into specifics. In fact, it doesn't use the word "God" at all.

There has been much written about worship songs. Tim Challies had an interesting article recently about the impact of digital technology on the use of the hymnal. People are divided over the matter. He doesn't think we should go back to hymnals. I don't know as if it's a matter of "shouldn't" or "can't" go back. What would happen if we did go back to them other than just a barrage of complaints? His observations are worth considering.

The reality is that worship music is influenced by the nature of popular music, so that when we get tired of singing a song, we need to find another. And if we must keep producing new songs every few months, is it any wonder they may not have a lot of depth?

At one time, literacy was not universal. The ability to learn about God had to be found through the preached word and through hymns. For someone who could not read a word, he could hear a word and learn a spiritual truth. These days, it isn't really a matter of can't read, but don't read. There is a reason why literacy programs are pushed forward. If a child can sit in front of a device which reads to him, is there any incentive to be a good reader? I love audio books, and it is often a much different experience to listen than to read, but I only listen to them when I can't hold a book; like while driving, riding the stationery bike, or knitting.

What happens when people don't read a lot and are faced week by week with worship songs that tell them little about God? Or only emphasize the subjective, personal aspect of our faith? We won't learn objective truths about God; we will learn about our experience of God or how we feel about God. 

I would like to suggest something which is probably shocking: I think that potential worship song leaders should expose themselevs to a lot of good literature; especially poetry. Seeing how great writers used words helps us write good material.

And what about learning to read music and understand theory? These days, if you can strum a few chords, read a chord chart, and find a YouTube video, you can proclaim yourself a song leader. A pastor goes to seminary to get biblical training. If we are going to add someone to the leadership of our church who focuses on the music, why not expect him to have training in that area? It is false to say that all someone needs is sincerity. To believe it is one or the other is a false dichotomy.

When my daughter was about seven or eight years old, she loved the song "Wonderful Grace of Jesus." In those days, people knew the parts, and it was a really enjoyable song to sing. My daughter actually said one Sunday that she hoped we would sing it. If worship songs are less about what God has done and more about how we feel about it, what are today's seven and eight year olds learning? It's worth thinking about.


Getting over eschatophobia

For the last two weeks of my Systematic Theology class, we're looking at eschatology. I am waiting to have all of my questions answered, and my position solidified. That is definitely tongue-in-cheek. During a discussion in a class on Augustine last semester, Dr. Haykin said it took him seven years to arrive at a certain view on eschatology. In the past few years, I've given it precious little thought.

One thing we looked at first was the reality of extremes. There is "eschatomania," where eschatological views are the sum of one's theology; everything revolves around it. Then there are those who hold to "eschatophobia:" they're afraid of even talking about it, because of the difficulty surrounding the doctrine. I can understand that apprehension. I appreciated the comment from my textbook:

In some cases eschatophobia is a reaction against those who have a definite interpretation of all prophetic material in the Bible, and identify every significant event in history with some biblical prediction. Not wanting to be equated with this rather sensationallist approach to eschatology, some preachers and teachers avoid discussion of the subject altogether.

I understand that sentiment of looking at the end times and the tendency to assign an eschatological significance to every news story that comes along. My concern with this came to a head a number of years ago when some of the young people in my church, having been exposed to dispensational teaching all of their lives, came to the conclusion that Tony Blair, who was then Prime Minister, was the antichrist. 

I think I have had a case of eschataphobia these past few years.

Many years ago, in my first year at the University of Waterloo, I attended a Bible study. I had been a Christian for less than a year. I remember I was shocked that the leader of the study didn't appear to share the views that I had been taught. Note the significant phrase, "that I had been taught." I had not come to these views on my own. I was a very young believer, so it was not surprising. It's all part of the process of growing in our faith. About fifteen years ago, while homeschooling, I was shocked to hear that some Christians don't believe there will be a rapture. My church places a huge importance on that teaching, and I was not sure what to think. So, I really didn't think much at all.

And now in these last two weeks (which is surely not enough time) I must look at it. And I've decided that it's not all that scary after all. I am not sure where I will land. I think I need to give it a lot more consideration than a few days. The lesson in all of this is that we must sort through these matters on our own. And we have to be intellectually honest enough to admit when opposing views challenge us. I feel quite comfortable following the example of Dr. Haykin, and giving myself a little time.


Cellphones, conferences, entertainment, and hockey

I got my first smart phone over six years ago. Prior to that, I had a regular cell phone, and used it very little. When I got a Blackberry, it opened up a whole new digital world, and it provided an instant distraction to most aspects of life.

Attending conferences like T4G and The Gospel Coalition drew my attention to how often our phones are out. I will be honest, I don't like live Tweeting conferences. If someone I know is doing it, I mute them until the conference is over, because it clutters up my feed. 

I have been in movie theatres and restaurants where the patrons are totally disengaged from the entertainment but are uploading pictures or taking selfies. Thankfully, movie theatres encourage you to turn cellphones off. But as soon as the light goes on, the phones are out. I've done it myself.

Last night, I went to a hockey game in Buffalo. We had excellent seats, two rows behind the penalty box. It is so much more fun to watch a hockey game at that level, because it's more apparent how fast they are skating, and you can see how hard everyone is working. I told my husband that I am spoiled now, because I don't think I'd want to go to a live game again if I have to sit in the nosebleed section. These tickets were part of our anniversary celebration, so my husband didn't spare expense. Knowing that these were not the cheap seats, I was taken aback (although, in retrospect, I shouldn't have been) at the couple in front of us.

Now, when I arrived in the Key Bank Center, I took a few pictures for friends and uploaded them. But after the game started, I didn't really look at my phone except to take note of how my son was faring babysitting the dogs. The game was too much fun. Throughout the majority of the first period, this couple took repeated selfies, videos of themselves, and were otherwise engaged on their phones. The woman, especially, went through numerous drafts of her and her companion before she finally was satisfied with the picture. While they slowed down with the pictures in the second period, I don't think the woman ever put her phone aside. She always had it out. All I could think of is, "These tickets aren't cheap. Why would you waste money to focus on your phone and not the game?"

This is not new. Of course, I'm aware that this is pretty typical conduct. I had just never seen it to such an extent. The entertainment is almost secondary. What is more crucial is that we tell everyone what we're doing; show everyone what we're doing. I don't know why I was surprised. Perhaps this couple (who were likely in their 30's) has lots of money and can afford to pay a lot of money for hockey tickets and then not even watch the game for most of it. We don't have that luxury. We don't do this often, and it meant getting home at 1:00 a.m. and then getting up for school early. I wanted to enjoy every minute of the game. And I did. Even if my team did lose.

If someone does something and does not put it on social media, it does happen. Really. I did attend that game last night, and even if I hadn't put up a picture on Instagram of Max Pacioretty, I still would have been there. Conferences will still go on, and speakers will still speak if we don't live Tweet their sessions. It really does generate in us a narcicissm. The world can't want to hear from me. My friends can't wait to hear from me. This is not true unless it's been put on some sorts of social media outlet.

It was a good reality check for me. How often do I do that? Probably more than I should. The next time I go to a movie, I'm going to leave my phone at home.


Bring back the status report!

Some of my blogging friends and I used to share status reports. That has fallen by the wayside for the most part, but I'm going to resurrect it today. This is part of the ordinary life we all love.

Sitting: at my desk, looking out a grey morning. April showers are bringing in May flowers.

Finished: my tea. Yorkshire Gold, my favourite.

Awake: despite having risen at 5:00 a.m. My puppy was quite indignant that I ignored his barking which began at 4:30, but I made him wait.

Satisfied: that I got up at 5:00 a.m., because I have got a lot done already.

Perplexed: at an article I read called "Purgatory for Everyone," by Jerry Walls, who is a Protestant who supports purgatory. It is for my theology class. We have to summarize and evaluate the article. I would love to submit only a brief comment: this guy is wacky. Don't think my prof wants that. I don't know why Walls just doesn't become a Catholic.

Anticipating: a few things. My 30th wedding anniversary is on April 18. Tomorrow, in celebration, we're going to a hockey game in Buffalo to see my Montreal Canadiens. Now that they've clinched their playoff spot, I can relax. At the end of April, we're going to see my parents in Saskatchewan for my dad's 80th birthday. I can't wait to see the big sky.

Nostalgic: for homeschooling. I babysat three homeschooled kids yesterday. It was a blast. I really enjoyed helping them with their work and then playing together. I really love tutoring kids one-on-one.

Still convinced: that homeschooling is a great education choice for those want to and are able to do so.

Hoping: I can get a lot of work done in the next day and a half. I have an assignment due, and I'm bogged down with reserach for my term paper, and while I'm so excited for the hockey game, I have to make sure it doesn't encroach too much on my workload.

Looking ahead: to spring! As I type, I see a Robin perched on my garage roof. They have been plentiful this week. Spring is coming!


Absolute power corrupts absolutely

I just finished reading Proved Innocent. It is the autobiographical account of the unjust incarceration for 15 years of Gerry Conlon and four others who were accused of bombing a pub in Guildford, England, in 1974. The bombings hastened the passing of The Prevention of Terrorism Act, which gave law enforcement officials extended powers in the arrest of potential terrorists. Conlon's father and other family members were also falsely accused and convicted. Conlon's father, who was already ill, having had one lung removed, died in prison.

I had seen the movie In the Name of the Father, but of course, the book was different. The account of what the prosecution suppressed is more detailed in the book than in the movie. And the cruelty and violence Conlon and the others received was graphic at times. In the movie, law enforcement officials coerce Conlon into confessing by threatening to kill his father. In reality, they threatened to kill Conlon's mother and sisters. While being questioned, Conlon was never allowed to sleep in his cell. If he did fall asleep, guards would create noise, telling him he could not sleep. The other three members of what became known as "The Guildford Four" had similar treatment. After his release, Conlon's life was not free from grief and struggle. He struggled emotionally until he died in 2014.

This is what happens when governments are given extensive powers and when those powers reside alongside public hysteria. Absolute power is always a bad thing when given to men and women. People may have good intentions and may be really convicted that there is threat which needs to be squashed, but fear and a sinful heart make for a very bad combination. Fear can be a deadly thing.

This book made me think of the reality of sin. It is pervasive. And it is not just "them" who struggle with sin. Christians are not immune. Why are we surprised when Christians sin? Perfection is not going to happen in this lifetime. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can have victory from sin, but our natures have not changed. We see daily Christians behaving badly.

I don't remember what I was reading, but something over the weekend made me stop and wonder if those who believe in Calvinistic doctrine actually believe in Total Depravity. Do we take our own sin seriously? We often underestimate ourselves. We may think we know how we will behave in a certain situation, but we don't have foreknowledge. Surely I am not the only Christian who has done something and thought, "Why on earth did I do that?" 

We need to be aware of being too self-satisfied; too sure. We need to stop expressing shock when sin happens. And we need to stop looking at others and saying, "How on earth that so-and-so do this or that?" It could just as easily be us doing that shocking thing. There is a reason by the Lord's Prayer includes petitions for forgiveness and freedom from temptation. Practicing virtue and holy character is crucial, but it also must live alongside exhortations to flee from sin.