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Tuesday
Aug292017

The fear of being alone

Do you mind being alone? I have no problem with my own company. I do enjoy being with people, but I also like being alone. My husband is even more comfortable being on his own. Part of my Church History class this semester involves having eight hour class sessions. I don't ever worry about him being without me.

I think we're losing the ability to be alone comfortably. The fact that introverted people must speak out to defend their view testifies to this. I don't ever remember even 15 years ago so much discussion about being introverted. The free flow of information through the internet has made it seem almost abnormal to prefer being disconnected from others. The world is always on. One can get up in the middle of the night, turn on her computer, and interact with people she doesn't know and never will know. She can debate with people on social media sites. She never has to feel alone.

Technology always changes relationships. The Industrial Revolution changed how families balanced work and home. Radio, television, and telephone intruded into our homes, affecting whom we let into our private circles. The trend continues as we allow information not only into our homes, but into our heads every minute of the day. That changes how we react to people. While my parents were here for my son's wedding, my parents and I were having coffee together, and I was showing my dad my iPad. He then asked me about some of the settings on his iPhone. He's 80 years old, and it doesn't stop him from using technology, but my mother refuses to engage with it. She did a crossword puzzle while my dad and I chatted, but I know she felt excluded. We have to be careful in situations like that.

The internet has provided ways for women to have community with one another, and for my part, I'm grateful for some of the connections I have made. There are about five women with whom I have kept a very consistent connection with over the years. Interestingly, they are women whom I've met face to face, embraced, and spent time with. But, eventually, online-only connections tend to fade. At first, those faded connections made me feel discouraged, but I have to be realistic about such things and remember their value and place in my life. If I find lasting community online with women, that is lovely. If it doesn't last, that is okay, too. 

Yesterday morning, I read Psalm 16. It is one of my favourites. One of my dearest friends, when she was a young bride, would meditate on it when her husband was away for long periods; especially this verse:

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

There are times when I must actively seek the pleasures of being with the Lord. Thinking about him. Pondering him. Wondering. There are times when I know that God is keeping me solitary for a reason. I fear that the availabilty of "community" for women online has made us less inclined to value solitude.

The availbility of online connections means that we don't ever have to be alone. Yet being alone can be exactly what we need. It reminds us of our sufficiency in Christ. It reminds me that the only person in the world who will always be there, and will always have my best interest at hearts is Christ himself. That's a good lesson to learn.

Monday
Aug282017

The function of privilege in writing

I've been marking my way through Scarlett Doesn't Live Here Anymore, by Laura Edwards. It's a really good book. She has done her homework. A thirty page bibliography: that's research. And I suspect it wasn't put together in a hurry.

Leaving a Legacy of Words

The book discusses the effects of the Civil War on women of the South. This includes upper class white women, poor women, slaves, and free African American women. As you can probably guess, while the upper class white women bore their share of burden, it was the poor women who really suffered. At one point, Edwards points out that wealthy women did with new clothes; poor women often did without, period.

Edwards relies a lot on the accounts left behind by two women who were from the planter class. These two women left behind rich information. Generally speaking, women left practically no information, so when something is uncovered, it's valuable. However, when it comes to the poorer classes of women, the likelihood of finding much primary source material is highly unlikely. The reason? Poor women couldn't read or write for the most part, and even if they did, their lives were so laborious that there was very little time for writing. Even given the fact that the Civil War meant that wealthy white woman had to attend to more domestic duties than before, there was still an expectation that she would not do it all. She would have time to write things down. If there are details of the lives of poor women, it's likely from accounts which have been passed down to family members or it's cited from a public source, like a newspaper.

It's Not a Level Playing Field

My daughter made a comment about this: she said "Representation and expression follow lines of privilege." And I think she's on to something. It is similar today.

While we have better access to education, we don't all have the same amount of time. As young girls learning, we don't all have supportive parents who cook our meals so we can do homework, or even parents who care how we do in school. Of course, poverty affects education. But further to that, being able to find the time to write as a grown woman is also a function of privilege.

Let's say Woman A and Woman B have basically the same intellectual ability to write something. If Woman A has to work three jobs because her ex-husband never comes through with the child support, how would she find time to write? If she doesn't have a strong network of friends to fall back on, she will probably do very little writing, no matter how much she would like to. And of course, when we get outside of North America, the disparity is even greater.

Occasionally, I will see women writers on Twitter or Instagram sharing photos of their laptops as they sit in Starbucks, writing, comfortable that their children are being cared for by a husband, friend, or family member. These are the women whose books women are reading. They come from, by comparison, a position of privilege. The question I ask myself is would a Christian woman who works multiple jobs and has barely a moment to herself be able to relate entirely to the woman who has more privilege? Is she reading that kind of book or does she feel disconnected from such a reality? Does a woman who is in poverty read such books? Are the women writers who are privileged to write (whether it is because they have time or because they know someone in the industry who can help them) merely preaching to the choir? It is a question I ask myself on occasion.

I know very little about the publishing industry, but after following a Métis writer for a while, I get the sense that there are barriers for minority writers, never mind minority women. I suspect that there are similar hurdles in publishing in general, including Christian publishing. 

Be Discerning

Of course, this does not mean we should not read books written by Christian women, no matter their socioeconomic position. What it does mean, though, is that we have to consider the source of the material. In literary interprertation, there is a school of thought which thinks that the author is not intimately connected to her work; that the reader's response is more crucial. I don't buy into that at all. And I have seen from personal experience that sometimes, because a writer comes from a particular place, I don't find her work as compelling as someone else might. 

As we read and determine what is true and what is not, we need to remember the source. We have a tendency to embrace someone's work in its entirety without reminding ourselves that it could be received by someone else in a completely different way. Books present an individual's view of truth, but it isn't The Truth. For that, we must turn to Scripture. 

Sunday
Aug272017

Why Do Gentile Nations Rage?

Based on Psalm 2. You may be familiar with the tune from Charles Wesley's "Jesus, Lover of My Soul."

From The Book of Psalms for Worship

Why do Gentile nations rage,
And their useless plots design?
Kings of earth in schemes engage,
Rulers are in league combine.
They speak out against the Lord;
His Messiah they defy:
"Let us break their chans and chords,
Let us cast them off," they cry.

He who sits in heavens laughs,
For the Lord views them with scorn.
H will speak to them in wrath,
And in anger He will warn:
"Yet according to My will,
I have set my King to regin;
and on Zion's holy hill,
My Anointed will remain."

"I the Lord's decree make known;
This is what he had to say:
He declared 'You are my Son;
I have brought you forth this day.
Ask of Me and You'll I'll make
Heir to earth and nations all.
Them with iron rod You'll break
Smashing them in pieces small.'"

Therefore kings now heed this word:
Earthly judges come and hear.
Honor Him, His wrath to turn,
Les you perish in your stride,
For his anger soon may burn.
Blessed are all who in Him hide. 

Tuesday
Aug222017

Be known by the people you know

Quite a few years ago, I was having a chat with my pastor, and I was really surprised when he said he'd never heard of Mark Dever. What? I, in my discovery of all things Reformed, could not believe it. Sure, Dever was not as well-known as R.C. Sproul or John Piper, but I was surprised.

Christian circles are actually pretty small, and just because a lot of Christians have heard of someone, it doesn't mean everyone has. I'm pretty sure that if I were to go out on the streets of my little town and take a poll, most would not know who Mark Dever is, if any. And most, if any, would not know who John Piper is. Now, if I asked if they knew who Taylor Swift was, that's a different story (for the record, I am no fan of Swift, but because of her recent court case, her name was first to pop up in my head as an example. This post is not an endorsement of her).

When we put something online, there is a feeling that we're known. It's like being given our own little speaker's corner. Here in Canada (and I don't know if it's done elsewhere), one of the television networks used to have kiosks on various street corners in Toronto (and I think, Vancouver) where people could record themselves talking about something. If it was outrageous enough or interesting enough, the clips would be broadcast on television, during a segment, obviously, called "Speaker's Corner." Having a blog or using social media is like Speaker's Corner daily; except, of course, for the crucial difference that most people won't ever read our blog posts. Even the "big" bloggers still don't reach people in the way that really famous people do. And even people like Taylor Swift are likely unknown in countries which don't have a steady flow of information. I suspect my Compassion child, who comes from Uganda, doesn't know who she is.

For all that we are aware of this reality, we still tend to post things on our blog, or say things on Twitter, or post pictures on Instagram which reveal that we believe we are known by everyone; as if someone is waiting for our next utterance. In most cases, it's likely that if we stopped posting to our blogs or tweeting that in a few days, people would stop thinking about us. Perhaps even sooner. I don't think about 99% of the people whose blogs and tweets I read beyond that moment of reading. Just because we can read our own blog posts or tweets doesn't mean someone else is reading them, too. And it doesn't mean we are known.

Similarly, name dropping doesn't mean we're popular, too. Seriously, if you know someone who is popular in Christian circles, more power to you. I hope you enjoy that connection. But it doesn't make you well-known, nor does it obligate others to get to know you.

We should desire to be known by those who are right in front of us. We should desire to be known by the people whom God has placed in our lives, face to face, right now. I've been guilty of caring more about what my online friends think. I am ashamed to admit that I've been obtuse to the fact that I've been doing it. We can build some great connections online, but they will never be what they can be if they were face to face.

The truth is, online connections are easier because they require less effort, and I can protect myself. The real test comes when we have to live side by side and people see our warts. We have the perfect excuse to not have to drop everything to care for an online friend, but what about those friends who have needs, and they're five minutes across town?

At time, I find it challenging building relationships. We have to open up, to expose ourselves. But at the same time, I've come to see what is lacking in a strictly online friendship. While I continue to build those online connections, it should never be to the detriment of the others. It's something I'm continuing to learn. 

Tuesday
Aug152017

Want to write a hymn? Learn poetry

The September/October issue of Touchstone has a great little piece by Anthony Esolen regarding hymn writing. He echoed many things I have thought myself, but he's a great writer and says it much better. 

Now, this assumes that one wants to write a hymn. Most of what is produced today is referred to as a worship song, not necessarily a hymn. I wonder if that is deliberate; hymns are associated with the old and stodgy, so better to call it a worship song. Anyway, I don't know if the rules apply to what we consider choruses, but I don't see why they couldn't. I think all music sung in church should follow these guidelines. 

Become Conversant With English Poetry and English Meter

Some songsters seem to think that a creative aura floating a few feet over the head and a knack for sort of  rhyming are enough to get them started. That’s a little like saying that we should let you paint the walls of a church be- cause you can name most of the colors in the big crayon box. 

Poetry is an art; the raw stuff of the art is provided by your language. But you’re no more an artist in language because you talk all day long than you are a musician because you whistle in the car. There’s no way around it. You must steep yourself in English verse, and see—rather, hear—what centuries of artists have done with the sounds and shades and gleams and feints and glories of our words before. 

I agree that song writers could benefit from understanding poetry. Poetry is hard. It takes thought. Good songs benefit from rhyme, meter, and rhythm. What better place to learn than poetry?

Attend to the Musical Structure of Hymns

You can tell at a glance when a hymn is not a hymn but an off- Broadway show tune. It has bizarre intervals and strange syncopation and time-changes and ties of a half and an eighth and three-quarters of a sixteenth and who knows what. It “wanders” melodically ad lib. It cannot be sung by a congregation.

I think many of us have been in a service where the only ones who can seem to follow the song are the ones leading it. Give me a simple, repetitive, singable tune any day. There is a sentiment out there that reptition is bad. It can be, but when we're storing up biblical truth it's extremely helpful. Does it not follow that having good worship songs stored in our heads is also good? One of my most UN-favourite Christian songs is "Good, Good Father." I don't like the words at all. But it has a repetitive tune. Inevitably on the days when we have to sing it, I have the tune rolling around in my head. If only there were better words attached to it.

Immersion in the Bible

Finally, Esolen encourages the writers to meditate on Scripture, "as Christ did, and the apostles, and the poets after them." I cringe when worship songs contain only vague references to the Godhead. My church has sung songs where the only indication that the song is actually Christian is the presence of the capitalized "You." It is as if they afraid to use words like Christ, redeemed, or crucified. 

What has happened in church music is that its creators try to make it sound like popular music. Doesn't that mean it has more appeal? Perhaps. But one thing I ponder often is the fact that Sunday morning worship, a time with God's people, is supposed to be a calling away from the rest of our lives. It is a time devoted to worship. There is nothing inherently wrong with writing a worship song in a contemporary mode, but I believe we have gone overboard.

When I was in my firs year of university, I told my roommate that I had to sing at church but didn't know what to sing. She, not a Christian, suggested John Lennon's "Imagine." Sometimes, some of the songs we sing today aren't too far off from that.

The idea that everyone can do everything because we all have the freedom to do so trickles down to the fact that we refuse to recognize that there are some people who simply can't do a particular thing. I can't write a worship song. I don't have the ability to do so. And if I wanted to try, I'd labour long and hard to do it, and I'd take Esolen's advice.