Thinking Out Loud

July 12, 2010

Rock Music and Pornography: Parallels

The 1960s was a time of accelerated social change in Western Europe and North America.   No chronology of those times is complete without some reference to the role that popular music played in both reflecting and shaping those times.

As folk singers protested Vietnam and The Beatles sported longer hairstyles, the church began to establish its somewhat defensive posture; and by the end of the ’60s, the psychedelic branch of rock music combined with the message of free love to confirm all their worst fears.     Any band with guitars and drums was immediately caught in the line of fire.

The actual music form itself was no different than the modern worship that was played in the church service I attended yesterday.   The drums, bass guitar, electronic keyboards, lead guitars and rhythm guitars would later be regarded as morally neutral.

By the 1980s we began to hear a redefined meaning to the term “rock music;” it wasn’t the music itself, but the performers and their lifestyles and ideals; it was the attitude and the surrounding culture.   The music itself — the notes, the harmonies, the rests — were simply the wave which carried youth culture along; in fact it was the youth culture itself that the church had really been afraid of all along.

The eventual emergence of Christian rock wasn’t so oxymoronic.   It showed the spiritual neutrality of the musical forms, and showed that those forms could be used to carry a positive and even Biblical message.

Over two years ago, I posted a rough manuscript online of a short book titled The Pornography Effect:  Understanding for the Wives, Mothers, Daughters, Sisters and Girlfriends. Part of the reason that I’m still looking for a publisher for the print version is that some people disagree with the book’s basic assumption.

I believe that the visual images that one thinks of when they hear the term “pornography” are not the ultimate core issue.    I do believe that they are addictive, that they are exploitative and that they can be devastating to men (and women) and especially teens and pre-teens.

But like the music issue of the ’60s, I think we may be focused on the wrong target.   (The parallel ends there however; I don’t foresee those images appearing in our worship services 25 years from now the way that contemporary music styles are part of modern worship.)

Just as rock music is about lifestyles and ideals and attitudes, pornography changes the worldview of those who partake.   Again, I think that the point in my manuscript that some people can’t get past is the idea that text pornography — chats, forums, stories, blogs, etc. without pictures — is every bit as serious a threat as sites with various types of pictorial images. If not more so.

click image to orderThe Church’s response is to think in terms of pictures and videos (a concern not to be minimized) and think in terms of addiction (an issue to be taken seriously) but to neglect what exposure to porn does in terms of how men look at their wives and girlfriends, and even their sisters, daughters and mothers.   (The promotion of incest is a major agenda on many websites.)  Perhaps we’re more concerned with the physiological sexual response than the brain ‘wiring’ or brain conditioning that is at work here.   Perhaps it is easier to choose a target we can see than consider the more serious concern which is invisible.

Pornography has even changed the expectations men have as to what constitutes normal sexuality within marriage.   (And, as we’re seeing, increasingly changing the expectations of women also.)   The result is an increase in unusual requests and even demands in the bedroom.   But it also causes men to think nothing of considering an office affair; it causes boys to make advances toward their sisters; it causes heretofore straight individuals to nurture same-sex attraction.

It’s the 1960s all over again.   The “Summer of Love” of 1969 is back with its message of free sex without consequences, but aided by a new technology tailor-made to get that message to the widest audience.

It’s the escapism drug-of-choice; with each dosage customized to meet individual desires.   In online pornography nobody ever gets pregnant, no STDs are spread, no one is arrested for rape or indecent exposure, no small children are ever left without a daddy.

Hedonism is the reigning philosophy.

Jesus said He came so that we might experience life to the fullest; however the “abundant life” is also the “narrow way.”  Countering the ‘message’ of pornography isn’t about saying “don’t look” anymore than putting up a wet paint sign on a freshly whitewashed fence is going to accomplish “don’t touch.”    Pornographers, advertisers and fashion designers will continue to keep pushing the envelope.   Men’s thoughts will continue to stray.

So while we do need to tell the world that,

  • pornography is an addictive behavior;
  • as an addiction it is subject to the laws of diminishing returns; the addict is never satisfied;
  • with God’s help you can be set free;

we also need to be proclaiming,

  • the version(s) of sex depicted online does not generally represent God’s intention for sex;
  • many of the subjects in online images are being exploited or being forced to participate; it’s not true that “nobody is being hurt”;
  • the movies and stories are unbalanced; they don’t show disease, unwanted pregnancy, loss of self-respect, or ruined lives;
  • if you keep watching, the images are changing you; as you give more time to worship at the altar of porn, the pornography effect is a sacramental effect; as you receive it, you’re allowing it to shape you and define you;
  • those so exposed need to recognize, confess and confront how pornography has so changed their worldview; both in subtle and greater degrees;
  • the consequences of long term exposure to the larger society is that it places that society in a downhill spiral (what pilots call a ‘graveyard spiral’) from which there is no recovery apart from dramatic repentance followed by dramatic intervention from God (or what might be called “a turning” or “revival”)
  • because it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness; more energy needs to spent promoting models of modesty, purity and chastity; and less energy on appearing spiritual by simply “denouncing” porn;
  • in the end, pornography is not the problem; the human heart is deceitfully wicked; the core of the problem is human rebellion against God;
  • finally, we need to proclaim the omnipresence of God; men and women need to be reminded that God is constantly sitting next to us as we click the mouse, turn the scroll wheel and stare at the monitor; His Lordship has to extend to be Lord over the URLs we visit daily.

Allowing myself to be a spokesperson on this topic has had to involve some awareness of its magnitude, and I think the people who say there are 200,000 pornographic websites online are terribly low in their estimating.   I believe the person who suggests 1,000,000 might be more accurate.

This means that realistically, we’re not going to see an end to pornography any time soon.  (Although, I applaud those who faithfully file objections to blog hosts, internet service providers, and search engines; each day sites all over the world are shut down because of their counter-measures; and even some of the most liberal pornographers recognize a need for someone to be applying the brakes, though often for different reasons.)

What we can do is build resistance (not immunity) to it.   We can recognize that just as the music debate really wasn’t about the musical forms itself, the sexual ethics debate is not about this picture or that video.

It’s a battle for the mind.

It’s a battle for the heart.

Want to study more on this?  Here’s an article also posted today on the complications of leaving internet choices to filtering devices.


March 31, 2010

“Out Like a Lamb” Link Day

Except that I don’t think March rolled “in like a lion;” at least it didn’t here.   And why does this phrase borrow the Biblical “lamb and lion” imagery anyway?

There’s something unsettling in the contrast of having April Fool’s Day directly adjacent to Good Friday.   Perhaps with that in mind, I thought we’d lead off with this picture:

She looks real, doesn’t she.   This “cybernetic human” can act surprised, or angry, or any other emotion you want to program her to express.   Unveiled in Japan on March 16th, you can see more robotics at Boston.com’s Big Picture site.

And then there’s this picture, source unknown, of the “Love Chapter” from I Corinthians expressed as a tattoo:

Not sure which translation this is, but then again, that raises the question:  Are there King James Only tattoo parlors?   If not, someone’s overlooking a major market.

Which brings us to this T-shirt:

But I’m getting distracted; we really should move on to the links:

  • John Piper’s unexpected seven-month leave of absence — starting May 1st — was probably the story of the week in the Christian blogosphere.   How will the multitude of his followers get by without their weekly dose of J.P.’s encyclicals?    Read the official announcement at Desiring God.
  • Speaking of the Pipester, here’s his rant on the whole Emergent church movement, which he figures is due to implode in about six seconds from now, with some additional commentary at Tall Skinny Kiwi.
  • Theological finger-pointing at the Emergents continued over at Harvest Bible Chapel in NW Chicago on a recent Friday night Q&A session with a Moody Professor speaking for the anti-Emergent side while to balance things out they had… nobody.   JR looks at this rather one-sided presentation in this report.
  • Blogger Michael Krahn becomes a guest columnist at Canada’s Christian Week website; suggesting that all that technology has convinced us that we can’t sing.   I wish this article was a bit longer, because there are implications for church worship that might have been considered in a longer piece.    Check it out.
  • And speaking of things from my home and native land, I want to totally show off Canada’s national Christian magazine, FaithToday.   They’ve just started doing digital issues and if your internet connection is up for it, here’s a look at the March/April edition.
  • One of my favorite authors, British humorist Adrian Plass joins with Jeff Lucas — who pastors on both sides of the Atlantic — are joining together for a new book, Seriously Funny. “Made up a letters between the two, ‘Seriously funny’ is an honest look at life, love, book-signings, Christian ‘celebrity’, church…”   Check out the announcement at Christian Today.
  • Here’s a follow-up to yesterday’s piece here on foot washing.   Only this one, from last year, was a drive thru foot washing.    Seriously.
  • With all the interest in the Twilight books and movies, the Christian Post decided it was good time to interview former vampire-genre writer Anne Rice.   Actually, they were promoting the I Am Second testimony website.
  • Mark Sayers — whose DVD The Trouble With Paris was reviewed here — is up something big with this mystery project, Bordertown. You’ll have to sign up for the e-mail announcement.
  • I usually lose patience waiting for their web server to keep up to speed, but for what it’s worth, GodTube is back.   Apparently, like New Coke, the brand switch to Tangle didn’t take.  John Scaddington reports.
  • Described as “a little free-will humor;” the image below is from the blog Mockingbird.

  • Our cartoon this week is from For Heaven’s Sake; reproduced here not because it’s anything you haven’t seen before, but so that you can copy and paste it to that person in your e-mail list who needs a not-so-subtle prod.   Be tactful.   Okay, maybe there’s no way to be tactful and send this out at the same time…

  • Finally, the I Can Has Cheezburger (aka Lolcats) people have a new site, My Food Looks Funny. Maybe if the western world only ate as much as the person did who carved this, there would be enough food for everybody!



March 19, 2010

Recurring Death in the Family – Guest Post

Sometimes when you lose a relationship with a church it’s like a death in the family.   We’ve been going through that loss for the past two weeks now, but because of our long history with the place, we’ve gone back several times for another run at it, which means that this death for us has been somewhat recurring, much like the plot of The Terminator.

Much of the bridge burning took place on Thursday, March 4th at a meeting my wife was summoned to attend, and nearly a full fortnight later, she finally committed her thoughts to writing on her blog.   Although it’s longer than many of my own posts, I wanted to kick off the discussion with her version of it, and then come back tomorrow with an objective discussion of some of the other issues her meeting raised.


By Ruth Wilkinson

I’m reading a book right now called Introverts in The Church by Adam S. McHugh. McHugh is a pastor and a self identified introvert who has struggled with the American-extrovert personality of so much of the Church.

It’s a very cool read for someone like myself. We’ve grown up in the church being told, explicitly and implicitly, that to be introverted is at best a character flaw and at worst a sin.

It’s refreshing to read a book that takes us seriously, as a group of people whose brains are hardwired differently from those of the majority, with strengths and weaknesses, beauty and pitfalls.

Especially after the latest chapter in my adventures with the churchIusedtogoto.

I used to be a volunteer worship team leader there and got fired by a pastor with whom I’d had some philosophical differences. He and I are friends again, both of us now being ex- of the aforementioned church.

But at the time, and since, I’ve mourned the loss of that ministry. Leading worship in a congregation is something I love love love doing. I told someone lately that losing it was like losing a finger. Especially since it ended so abruptly with no chance to say goodbye.

So I took a risk recently. I got in touch with the people at the churchIusedtogoto who are in charge of these things and asked them whether I could come back one time. Just once, to have a chance to stand in that space once more, to lead worship with a bunch of people I care about, and to close the door for myself. (more…)

March 2, 2010

Hymn Wanted: Any One Will Do

Filed under: Church, music, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:30 am

As you can expect, there are a lot of discussions in our house about music, particularly church music.    Both of us listen to a lot of it and both before and after getting married we have extensive experience doing all sorts of musical activities in all kinds of churches.   We’ve even done some stuff together, though the whole isn’t always better than the sum of the parts.   We agree on some things and we disagree on others.

But there are a few things we agree on:

  1. We both generally like modern worship music; and
  2. We both feel that unless churches move forward into 21st Century culture (note that I did not say “the world’s culture”) our churches will eventually die off numerically and in terms of relevance.

So you would think we would be very happy to see churches making the switch from the gospel hymns of the early 1900s to today’s modern choruses, right?

Well, not necessarily.

A few weeks back we were in a church service where the pieces just didn’t fit.   We have had some talks with the leadership of this assembly, and we know that they very much want to move things forward.   We know that they recognize that the very survival of their local congregation is contingent on change.

But there are right ways and wrong ways to accomplish such a transition, and the worship format of this particular service that Sunday was doing a disservice to both young and old.

Reasons?

  1. Instrumentation:   Piano, organ and drums.   Seriously.   No, wait; it’s so bizarre I have to say it again:  Piano, organ and drums.
  2. Song selection:   Worship choruses that would have worked well just about anywhere else but where we were.

The second factor is key.   A worship leader should be choosing songs that give the congregation the words and voicing to express something back to God in awe and gratitude for all that He is and has done in their lives.

It’s not enough just to track the CCLI Top 25, or read The Sunday Setlists weekly, as much as I value those resources.   It’s not enough to choose the worship songs that are your personal favorites.

It’s a matter of finding what are the right songs for them.   This means individually — having selections that work for different people represented — but also, chiefly, collectively.

Many modern worship compositions are written in a “hymn style.”   Many others are what I would call “recurrent,” that is, they’ve been around for a longer period and have achieved a “quorum of familiarity” among the people present.   Others are simply what gets played on the Christian radio stations where you live.   There’s even some hymns that are being remade with slightly different rhythmic patterns and extra tags, bridges or codas.

All these songs are “safe” for transitioning a congregation that has been locked into prewar (World War II, not Iraq) worship patterns.

I hate to say it, but the hearts of the people at the worship time we attended just weren’t into it.   I’ve never said this before, and I may never say it again, but I wish we had just sung some hymns.

Modern worship, incorrectly chosen as to its suitability to a particular congregation, is probably just as out-of-place as many of those early 20th century gospel hymns.

You have to choose right.

July 12, 2009

Sunday Setlist Surprise

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:58 pm

Fred McKinnon

A special welcome to all of you who have come here via Fred McKinnon’s worship blog, and especially The Sunday Setlist post for July 12.   You’ve just been blogjacked, but don’t worry, your computer isn’t going to start playing a Rick Astley song or anything like that.

Here the scoop:   Sunday Setlist is going to celebrate its 52nd installment next weekend, and while on holidays this week, I had a bit of a vision about the idea of Sunday Setlist as a one-hour weekend program on Christian Radio.   Modern Worship is a driving force in many of our churches and the people in the pews often share the same passion for it as the people on the platform.

Here’s the deal:   Someone — maybe Fred himself — hosts a one hour program on a network like Salem or KLOVE or several independent stations consisting of commercial recordings of three or four of the most recurring worship songs from the previous week’s setlists from churches in America and around the world; two or three recurring ‘up and coming’ songs; and then one church’s setlist is highlighted in its entirety along with the comments by the worship leader, copied to audio via a phone interview.    The show could also contain a “story behind the song” feature if time permits, as well as a quality recording of an original worship song some church is using.

The title and motto would be:  “The Sunday Setlists — Featuring Choice Material from Worship Leaders in The U.S., Canada and Around the World.”

Possible?   Some stations are dying for more weekend program features.   You guys reading this are all “in the biz” so to speak and know the contacts needed to make it happen.  Remember, it’s not about broadcasting individual church worship bands — Christian radio is only so progressive —  but using the recordings that enabled you to select the songs you already are using.   That way the show can be assembled quickly from the lists you post the week previous.

I know this is rather extreme; but I see “The Sunday Setlists” starting on a small list of stations by early as this fall, and growing into one of the top Christian weekend radio shows very quickly.

For those of you who didn’t come here from Fred’s blog, take a minute to visit The Sunday Setlists here.

July 10, 2009

A Merry Heart Does Good Like Medicine: Friday Funnies

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:49 pm

For about two decades of my life it was completely impossible for me to read this aloud without completely losing it…

Violin Concert

Around 1955 a Rumanian gentleman was owed a favor by the celebrated violinist, George Enesco. He was persuaded to give violin lessons to the gentleman’s untalented son.

Three years later the father insisted he give a public concert, saying, “His Aunt said that nobody plays the violin better than he does.” Although Enesco feared the consequences, he arranged a recital at the Salle Gaveau in Paris. Since the soloist was unknown no one bought a ticket.

“Then you must accompany him on the piano,” said the boys father, “and it will be a sellout.”

Reluctantly Enesco agreed and it was. On the night an excited audience gathered. Before the concert Enesco became nervous and asked for someone to turn his pages. In the audience was Alfred Cortot, the brilliant pianist, who volunteered and made his way to the stage.

The soloist was uniformly bad and next morning the music critic of ‘Le Figaro’ wrote: “There was a strange concert at the Salle Gareau last night. The man whom we adore when he plays the violin played the piano. Another whom we adore when he plays the piano turned the pages. While the man who should have turned the pages played the violin.”

March 3, 2009

Guaranteed to Embarrass Entire Denominations and Entire Races

Filed under: Christianity, Humor, music, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:12 pm
YouTube Video of the Week
Okay, you people still on dial-up better thank me, because I’m really close to breaking the rule and start embedding videos.   This one is new, it posted to YouTube just two weeks ago;  I haven’t seen it on other blogs, but I can assure you it’s going to be going viral very soon.    It is simply called Breakfast Song and it gives new meaning to miinimalism in music (especially the backup vocalist); though it may be the deep theology that grabs most of you.    You can check it out here.

December 22, 2008

Cutting Edge Instrumental Church Music

Filed under: Christianity, Church, Humor, music — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:00 pm

I first became aware of John McPherson’s Close to Home characters through a number of collections released in the 1980s through a Christian book publisher.   In the intervening years, I’ve noticed the comic pops up here and there in a more diverse number of newspapers and publications; but you don’t have to look long to find that John has covered a church-related theme.

Check out recent strips at GoComics/CloseToHome here.

close-to-home

Why Not to Use Recorded Music at Funerals

Filed under: Christianity, Church, Humor — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:00 pm

Chuck Warnock blogs this story yesterday at Confessions of a Small Church Pastor.   I immediately sent it off to several people who like e-mail forwards!

movie-poster-wizard-of-oz-judy-garlandThe Wizard of Oz is on tonight for the gazillionth time, and it reminded me of a funny story I heard a couple of years ago.  We were in Nashville for a sad occasion — the funeral of a family member.   Debbie was responsible for the arrangements, and we got to know the funeral director pretty well.  He told us this story one afternoon:

A family had made arrangements for the funeral service of the matriarch of the family.  When asked about music for the service, the family commented that their mother’s favorite song was Somewhere Over The Rainbow from The Wizard of Oz.

Of course, no one could sing it like Judy Garland, so they decided to use the CD soundtrack from the movie.  Somewhere Over The Rainbow was to be played as the casket was rolled into the chapel.

Everything was ready for the service to begin, and the funeral home started the CD.  But, for some reason the family lingered, delaying their entry and the entry of the casket into the chapel.  Somewhere Over The Rainbow played over the chapel speakers, as the captivating voice of Judy Garland sang a mother’s favorite song.

Just as Somewhere Over The Rainbow was ending, the family was ready, the chapel doors opened, and the casket was rolled in.  Unfortunately, no one stopped the CD.  As Judy Garland’s voice faded away, the next track on the CD kicked in.  Ding Dong The Witch is Dead blared out in the serenity of the chapel to the chagrin of family, friends, and funeral home.  Fortunately, the technician stopped the CD before the munchkins all began to sing in unison, but the damage was already done.

And that, my friends, is why I do not like to use recorded music at funerals.

December 5, 2008

Songs That Take On Special Meaning

Filed under: issues, music — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 4:44 pm

Have you ever known a song that:

  • didn’t have any special production values
  • wasn’t featured in your favorite movie
  • lacked a beat you could dance to
  • wasn’t that band’s best known song
  • didn’t evoke any strong feelings at the time

…and then, years, even decades later, the song just comes back to haunt you with a meaning you never could appreciate before?   Consider this Three Dog Night classic (originally from the Hair soundtrack) in the light of where you’re at today:

How can people be so heartless?
How can people be so cruel?
Easy to be hard
Easy to be cold

How can people have no feelings?
How can they ignore their friends?
Easy to be proud
Easy to say no

Especially people
Who care about strangers
Who care about evil
And social injustice
Do you only
Care about the bleeding crowd?
How about a needing friend?
I need a friend
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