Sunday, May 17, 2015

"But I don't believe what they believe..." redux

A little over a year ago I posted a piece about the theology of one of the local megachurches - Eternal Punishment and the Local Megachurch in which I questioned whether the member of that church really believe that their "unsaved" neighbors are all going to suffer eternal punishment in hell.

I had a vacation week this week and we were in town on Sunday and attended that church.  The church scene in greater Santa Barbara is dominated by a couple of megachurches and it seems that the individual congregations go in and out of style.  When I speak to the families whose children attend our nursery school and ask whether they're a part of a local religious community, about 1/2 say they attend whatever megachurch is in style at that time.  The church we attended this morning is the in style church now and it showed.  There was a line of cars waiting to get into the parking lot.  The average age was significantly younger than Cambridge Drive and there were scores of pregnant women, toddlers, and kids. The sanctuary was very full.

This morning's experience felt authentic.  I felt the genuineness of the worship leaders and deeply appreciated that.  Signage was poor.  A first time visitor could easily get lost in the shuffle but that is part and parcel of a megachurch.   There were bits of the service that literally made no sense (communion was just weird), but the biggest problem for me was the sermon.  The preacher spoke on John 12:27-33 and said the passage addressed two questions: why did the cross have to happen and what did the cross accomplish.  The sermon was consistent with the statement of faith I read a bit over a year ago.  The woman who spoke (yes, a woman) talked about the purity and justice of God requiring the death penalty and that Jesus "had to suffer for a day so we would not have to suffer for eternity."  I'll let the logic behind some of the arguments go but the theological underpinnings I find really problematic.

The preacher presented the defining characteristic of God as being purity... and the purity is so pure that it is literally immiscible with the sinful nature of humanity.  Why is the cross necessary according to the sermon?  Because God's purity requires wrath and justice, which in the case of human sinfulness equals death and eternal punishment.

I found myself wondering how many of those young mothers would pour out wrath on their children regardless of what they had done.  Earlier in the service, members were asked to share scripture passages that gave them comfort during difficult times and one quoted Matthew 7:9-11
Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? 10 Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
You can see the inconsistency here... especially since these words were spoken by Jesus long before the cross.

Again, I found myself wondering how many of those in the congregation actually believe in a God whose wrath is so all consuming that the only answer is the death penalty or eternal agony... and if that penalty is meted out on one who is innocent, then all the better.

Sorry... that i not the God I believe in.

I would argue that the defining characteristic of God is love and that by its very nature love is never immiscible.  Indeed, that is the very message of the incarnation.  In my theology, God's love requires forgiveness and reconciliation not punishment.  The cross is not punishment for human sin but the example of human sin and the example of love that goes so far as even to suffer.  It is God reaching out to us no matter the cost.

Just like the other local megachurch we attended a few years ago, I found myself wondering why the folk are there.  This one did feel authentic... at least it has that going for it and it is possible that much of the congregation actually agree with the theology that came from the pulpit this morning.  On the other hand, if they do not believe that message... you can draw your own conclusions.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

The problem with the police

Police violence, particularly against black men and boys is a serious issue and must be addressed.   The fact that Baltimore has a black mayor and black police chief clearly shows that police violence against black men is not so simple as blaming a bunch of white racists for acting inappropriately but race cannot be ignored as a factor (see more below).  Race is not the only issue though and as some of my racist friends are quick to say, "White people get killed by the police too." 

Let me begin by saying that for most of my ministry I have had police officers who were members of my congregations.  To a person they were dedicated, conscientious people who took their jobs very seriously and truly wanted to do the right thing.  Still, the officers I have known well struggled with the issues below.

Back in seminary I did a stint as a student chaplain in a mental hospital.  It was a formative experience for me in many ways and I learned more from my supervisor, Bob Cholke, than I could begin to share.   One thing he said was very relevant to the problems we're seeing with the police today.  After working a few weeks at Haverford State Mental Hospital, Cholke said, "Be careful... if you spend much time here, you'll see everyone as crazy."  It was true.  As I spent more time with the mentally ill folk in the hospital I began to see that they really weren't that different from everyone else I knew.  It was a short jump to seeing everyone else I knew as like them... crazy.  I think the same is true with police officers.  They spend a lot of time with bad people and it doesn't take long until they see everybody as bad.  They would argue that at times their very lives depend on seeing the worst in the people they encounter.  That may be true, but it does change the way they see everyone and the ways that they interact with the public.

Race is clearly an issue in our culture and we often characterize criminals as being people of color.  You see a violent crime drama on television and there is a good chance that the criminal is not white.  Turn it around and people of color are seen as criminals regardless of what they have done.  This happens even with police officers who are black.  Add this to the sense above that everybody is a criminal and you've got a recipe for problems. 

The militarization of the police intensifies everything.  I remember hearing a commentator watching the police in Ferguson who said that when he was in Afghanistan, he was less heavily armed on patrol than the police were on the streets of Ferguson.  When the police arrive in full combat gear, that elicits a response that is not good.  It intensifies the sense of an us/them divide.  It escalates the potential for problems.  We all know that the police are supposed to protect and serve but the military is there to engage an enemy.  Some years ago I heard Ray Bakke say that the future of urban ministry was in the hands of women because men tended to escalate the potential for violence.  The softer approach of women lessened the tensions.  How much more true is it that a heavily armed police force in full combat gear escalates things as opposed to a softer presence?

The solutions are not simple and they are not without cost.  A softer police presence may indeed make the job of the police more dangerous.  It may also make the general public less likely to suffer from violence by police officers.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Life Gets in the Way

Bless me father/mother/brother/sister for I have sinned...

I have been really negligent of my blog recently... my last post was January 29th and the one before that was December 17th...  It isn't that I have had nothing to say.  There has been a lot going on in my life and a lot upon which to reflect.  Theologically, I've been thinking about a lot.  My work at the church is very positive these days and I'm feeling good about things there.  I've been working more at my fretless bass playing and I'm feeling really good about it.  Watching my two grandchildren grow and change really is the joy of my life and is simply transcendent.

Life is good... and full... but at the same time I find myself wasting more time these days and I'm not sure what that is about.  I'd like to be spending more time practicing bass (and find more opportunities to perform on it).  I should be writing more here and I even have an idea for a book that has been floating around for a couple of years without me doing anything on it.  I'd like to spend more time playing with Corwin and Khloe or at least be more intentional about it.  I worry terribly about both of my children and their families but really have no solutions to offer either and sometimes that immobilizes me a bit. So I have been spending too much time in completely non-productive activity (which isn't to say that all non-productive activity is bad, we do need some).

So, this post comes both as confession and as commitment to get my butt back in gear.  Check back in a week or so to see whether it has worked.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Music, Copyrights, and Money

Sam Smith has a great song getting a lot of play on the radio these days called Stay with Me and which is nominated for a Grammy.  There are two phrases (six notes) that match a song by Tom Petty which you can hear in the mash up below.

Evidently someone discovered the similarities and Tom Petty & Jeff Lynne were added as co-writers of the Sam Smith song and will receive a percentage of the song's income.  Nobody says that Sam Smith copied the line or stole anything but the other two are still receiving royalties because they own that six note phrase.

Here's the problem... as long as one stays with a single key, there are only a limited number of notes that can be placed in a limited number of orders.  Add the way that western music works and the way that pop music works and things become even more constrained. 

Here's another video mashup that shows this issue in a funny way.

and yet another one

Search for Pachabel's Canon rant on youtube for yet another....

Now, I'm a song writer and I believe that artists should own their work.  I also have a BA in music.  I remember a composition class where the prof made a statement that struck me as odd... and I expect an understatement.  She said "every melody that could possibly be written was written by the 14th century."  That is, every melody you ever heard was a copy of something written long, long ago.   I am sure that if we looked a bit we could find another instance of those 6 notes in the Sam Smith/Tom Petty song.  It is a great little line and it was not original to Tom Petty.  If you're a songwriter, everything you have ever written has already been written by someone else.  Here's the point though.  That doesn't make you less of an artist.  You still have taken those same six notes and given them new life, new meaning, and new emotional content.

So here's my rant... to own those six notes (which is what is being acknowledged here) is just ridiculous.  I would say the same thing about DNA and any number of other examples of intellectual property.  The laws need to be updated to reflect the reality of the situation. 

For a bit of fun, Jon Stossel recently wrote a column on intellectual property.  I think it is the first (and like the last) time I've agreed with him. 

FWIW, I prefer what Sam Smith does with the 6 notes over what Tom Petty did.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

NBD (new bass day)

Boy it's been a long time since I've posted anything... and it isn't because nothing has been happening.  Life has been rich, full, and busy.  So this post is going up because it is an easy one...  I'll try to get some other new ones up soon.  There is a lot to write about.

I've always loved the sound of a good fretless bass.  They allow an incredible amount of control over the envelope of the sound from the shape of the attack to the sustain that you just don't get on a fretted bass.  It begins with the singing tone referred to as "mwah" by bass players but goes well beyond that.   All of that control requires... control on the part of the player and there is the issue of intonation.  With no frets, moving your finger a fraction of an inch takes you into or out of tune.

I've owned two in the past.  One simply was a lousy instrument and nobody could have made it sound like what I hear in my head.  The other was a decent bass.  Of course the real piece was that I wasn't really a bass player when I owned either one.  Over the past few years, as I've been playing bass in the church band, I'm becoming a real bass player rather than just a guitar player, playing at bass.  I'm hoping to have some more opportunities playing bass as a backup player for local singer/songwriters.

A second piece has come into play.  Bass guitar builders are much more adventurous than guitar builders and bass players likewise.  This allows the builders to push the envelope a lot further than guitar builders from interesting designs to multi-string extended basses (some of which have as many as 21 strings - here's a link to a video of a Bee Bass 9 string from NAMM if you're interested).

Bee Bass GrooveBee
One company called Bee Bass builds some instruments that really catch my eye aesthetically and sound really, really good.  While I would have loved to own one, even though they are priced reasonably for the quality, they still are priced beyond my budget at this point so they really didn't even inspire any GAS (guitar acquisition syndrome) in me... until I saw that the builder - Fred Bolton - had a demo instrument up on e-bay for a silly good price.  Nobody bid and the auction ended.  Fred posted the bass again at a lower price.  I remembered a similar situation with my first Lowden where it had presented itself when I wasn't looking for a new guitar and that Lowden changed the direction of my playing forever.   I couldn't help thinking that this Bee might do the same thing for my bass playing.  I bid.  I won it and became the owner of a fretless Bee Bass GrooveBee.  It sounds killer and I think it is a beautiful piece of art even before it is played.

I'm in love with it even as it challenges me to be way more careful of my technique and aware of my intonation which was never even an issue with fretted instruments.  I'm working at both.   The bass inspires me to work at both so that makes it easier.   Here's a video of my bass made by the builder... you can hear the mwah.  What you don't hear is how aggressive the low end can be.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Would you hire a...

If you were in charge of hiring an executive for a company that manufactures automobiles, would you choose an Amish person who believes that cars are an offense outside of the will of God for the world?  Of course not.  The assumption would be that at the very best, that Amish person would do a lousy job.  At worst, he would actively try to sabotage the efficient running of the company.  It would be stupid to hire him regardless of how good a businessperson he had been, his personal character, his other skills, his integrity... you would be hiring him to do something that at his very core he believed is a worthless or even evil endeavor.

Why then would any vote for the current drop of Republicans?  Their philosophy of government goes back to that famous Grover Norquist quote - "I'm not in favor of abolishing the government. I just want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."  That was underscored by the economic ideas of Milton Friedman who taught that government intrusion in anything is problematic and that free markets always work and are the only thing that works.  The Republicans simply do not believe the government has any role other than the military and even that, they have gutted and privatized to a significant degree, handing off many traditional government functions to private contractors whose primary allegiance is not to the public good but instead is to maximizing profits.  The response to Hurricane Katrina was not ineptitude of the government, it was a logical expression of the idea that private for profit enterprise should do everything and there is no government role. 

Yes, our government is dysfunctional right now... but it large degree that is the plan of Republicans currently in office.  Put in more and things will become even less functional because they do not believe in government.  They want to shred all public safety nets - social security, WIC, welfare, etc. etc. because they do not believe that is the role of government.  They want to destroy public schools and replace them with private ones because they do not believe it is a government responsibility to educate our children.  They want to remove agencies that check our foods and drugs for safety because they believe the free market will take care of that.  They want to gut any support of government sponsored scientific research, allowing companies to research only what is immediately profitable for them.  They want to add more Supreme Court Justices who support a corporatist state where billionaires and multi-national corporations are unfettered.  The list goes on. 

There are Republicans who are good people but as a party, I say this with fear and trembling, they are working to shred everything that makes for a civil society.  I would not hire someone who does not believe in cars to run an automotive company.  Why in the world would anyone vote to put someone in office to run the government when their sole intent is to destroy the government or at least shrink it until it can be drowned in the bathtub?

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Life... Rich... Full...

It has been a while since I've posted anything here.  Life has been full and a bit crazy.  My son, John, got married.  Cheryl and I celebrated our 41st anniversary.  My grandson, Corwin, hit his first birthday.  And life goes on in the midst of all of it.  I am so, so very blessed and so full of joy.

I have to say again that this grand-parenting thing really is wonderful and Corwin brings me more joy than I can say.  I'm looking forward to his cousin Khloe arriving sometime within the next few weeks and watching my heart expand even more.

In the meantime, here's a fun video of Corwin.  A few weeks ago I had a great gig with a wonderful singer named Stefana who pushed me out of my wheelhouse a good bit as she does a lot of Middle Eastern flavored music.  Corwin loved her music.  Part of my process of getting ready was just to listen to the tunes while reading through the charts.  Whenever I would do that, Corwin would sing along.  Here's a little clip of him doing just that.