Thursday, July 20, 2017

Dunkirk

So, Dunkirk.  There's a lot to say here.  And before I do, there will be some spoilers here, but if you know your history, you already have the spoilers.  That said, I'll try not to spoil it for you.

First off, if you don't know what leads up to the movie, you might be a little lost- so let's clear that up first.  Here's a super lightweight rundown of what goes on before the movie starts you off:

In 1939, Germany invaded Poland.  At that point, war was basically declared throughout Europe with most countries declaring war on Germany.  Italy, Lithuania and Yugoslavia sided with Germany; Switzerland, Finland and Sweden decided to sit it out.  At first, Germany paid no attention to the west- all eyes were focused east, towards Russia (who Germany had an non-aggression pact with at the time- which ended with Operation Barbarossa in September, 1940) and France decided that they were in peril (which they were) and asked the Brits for help.  Beginning in early 1940, the British Expeditionary Forces (BEF) started sending troops to France for her defense.  It started out slowly, and the Brits were mainly staged along the Belgian border where they did.....well, not much at first.  It was all a fairly civil affair, with an occasional skirmish here and there.

But, without much warning, in early May, 1940, the Germans attacked France, Belgium and The Netherlands, and when they did they were met by 10 divisions of BEF and a large number of French forces.  At this point in the war, Germany "had it going on", having much more seasoned and better trained troops for the fight.  (Remember- German troops had been fighting since the Spanish Civil War in 1937)  They were able to (relatively) easily push the BEF and French forces back to the northern coast of France towards Calais.  At the same time that the Germans were pushing these forces back into France, an entire other German army had advanced in the west, captured the ports of Boulougn and Calais and pincered the BEF forces at Dunkirk, just a few miles east of Calais.  A total of 400,000 men were stuck on the beach with nowhere to go and the Germans kept pounding them- literally as they sat like ducks on the open beaches.  The Germans had complete control of the air and a tremendous amount of U-boats (subs) in the area that basically were unopposed in sinking whatever they wanted to.  With the Germans closing in, it looked like all was lost- until German General Ruhnstedt order the advance to be stopped.  To date, no one really knows why he ordered the halt, but Hitler at first agreed with the order and then changed his mind.  During the stop of that advance, the BEF was able to shore up their defenses and start working on an evacuation plan.

And this is where the movie drops you in.  But mind you, the "war movie" aspect of this movie isn't really what it's about- I mean, there is a war going on, but.....well, we'll get to that.  Let's go with the war stuff first.

I'm a HUGE stickler for accurate representation when people do movies about historic things, especially WWII.  I've got a friggin' eagle eye for all kinds of things like whether or not the uniform colors are right, the gear they carry, if they're wearing their uniforms correctly, the trucks, the tanks- I can spot a fake a mile away.  I can also spot a bad process, salute and slang - especially the Germans (because I'm fluent in it) - and if the transgression is bad enough (meaning "not really that bad" or "it doesn't really affect the movie") it'll ruin the whole thing for me, and everyone within earshot of me will know about it.  Yeah.  I suck that way, and I've ruined many a movie for my wife in doing this.  I can't help it, tho....

So, how did Nolan fair on this?  He didn't miss a single, solitary thing.  He even got the squadron tail numbers on the Spitfires right.  The ME-109's (the German fighter planes) had the correct period markings and were the correct variants for that year.  The British destroyers (they were actually old French ones that they doctored) were appointed correctly.  The British AA (anti aricraft) guns were right, and the soldiers were carrying the correct rifles, gear and ammunition.  The sounds of German artillery rounds as they came in were correct.  And here's the best part- the sound made by the German Stuka dive bombers were frighteningly accurate- you see, the German pilots had sirens attached the bomber's wheel fairings to make this awful screeching noise as they dove on their targets- and Nolan got that completely correct.  (BTW- there are no known actual Junkers JU87 Stukas still flying, so whatever they used for them, they did a good job on them.  CGI?  Maybe.  I couldn't tell- it was that good)

In short, Nolan nailed that part of it, and I think that's a great thing, because to do all those things meant that he respected the story enough to make it look and feel correct, right down the most minute of details.

But, here's the deal: even though those things are important to me, the fact is that the overall tone and thrust of this movie makes those things completely unimportant- even to me.

And that brings me to the "not a war movie" thing I mentioned earlier.  This isn't a war movie- it's a disaster movie wrapped up in a war.  And that makes it very different.

In every war movie I've ever seen (and that's A LOT OF THEM) there's always one guy who knows something about what's going on in a larger-than-life kind of way.  I've never been in combat, but I have some very close friends who are decorated combat vets from some recent wars, but also friends and relatives who have fought in Korea, Vietnam and in WWII (and on the German side at that) and the one thing they always tell me is that when you are in combat, there may be someone who knows what's going on, but they're not talking.  Yes, there's a team mentality, but the fact of the matter is that actual combat is so traumatic and brutal that even the most hardened of soldiers stop talking and just start reacting.  As a rule, when you meet a former combat vet, they really don't have a lot to say about the combat- they'll talk about the buddies they lost or how bad the food was and how tired they were, but the actual fighting- nothing.

That's because it defies description.

Most of the guys in the BEF in 1940 were between the ages of 18 and 22.  (Most soldiers are of that age, actually- a guy John Wayne's age did NOT serve in a front line, and if he did, it was because he pissed someone off and got sent there as punishment, not a commanding officer)  In addition to literally just being out of high school, these kids didn't have a ton of experience in combat, either in serving or even hearing about it, since Britain hadn't had a real fight in almost 25 years at that point.  To say these kids were "green" is a vast understatement.  And more than that- they had just been through 3 weeks of constant harassment by artillery bombardment, strafing by fighter planes, dive bombers, snipers, tanks and landmines.

In the movie, Nolan recreates the absolute DREAD from the kids by having almost no dialog.  Short of Hans Zimmer's percussive score and the screaming of overhead Stukas, there's almost no noise and no words.  He heightens this sense of foreboding by using overly long, single shots with no dialog for many, many minutes.  The beach at Dunkirk is full of queued up soldiers, staring at the sea and not saying a word, which adds to the surrealism.  Also to heighten the whole sense of confusion, we don't know many of the soldier's names or backgrounds.  (Cillian Murphy is credited as "Shivering Man")

The story is told from 3 viewpoints- land, sea and air - and at times it's a little confusing as to what you are watching.  That also adds to the overall confusion of trying to figure out how to get 400,000 men home- which is so close they can all see it.

This movie is what I'd like to call "an ant colony" movie- we don't have any larger-than-life characters here.  We have a tremendously large group of very scared little boys who just want to go home alive and have no idea how to do it- and while these nameless, faceless boys scurry around to find a way they look like ants in a colony.  They have a basic hierarchical structure that they obey, but they will throw aside the rules in a hot second if that means that there's even a chance they can get home, which makes the ant colony seem formless and void.  Nolan keeps that pressure on you like a vise, relentlessly throughout the picture; ever tightening to a climax we just can't even imagine.

As a pure war movie, this picture fails epically- but as a picture of society at it's level worst and just trying to function it succeeds wildly.  I was absolutely enthralled throughout the movie, because it has a rich undercurrent of double-entendre mixed up with a sense of dread I've never actually experienced before.  Yes, there is a triumph of human spirit here and that is palpable, but what's very cool about that is that the characters get to see a bit of that themselves and are surprised by it in the end.

To the Brits, the 8 days between May 28 and June 4, 1940, Dunkirk was considered a colossal military failure on a monumental scale, and is still held that way by the British Military to this day.  Nolan doesn't stray far from that notion, but this move is far from a failure, and is without a doubt one of the finest "military focused" movies I've ever seen, and is Nolan's absolute best work to date.  If he doesn't get Academy Awards for this, there is absolutely no justice in this world.

A++



Friday, December 9, 2016

WORSHIP – PART 3: Dispelling The Myth Of Formula

In this installment, I would like to dispel the idea of trying to apply a formulaic approach to worship, and why doing so is actually dangerous.  The reason that this is important might not be immediately obvious, so let me try to explain.

What is a Formula?

Simply put, a formula is a pseudo-mathematic concept that allows the user of the formula to achieve consistent results with a dynamic set of input criteria or stimulus.  Things like “2+2=4” are simplistic approaches that we all know, but things like “if I hit my head really hard against a brick wall, it’s going to hurt” are also considered formulaic- but in a more applicative sense they are really “stimulus and response”. 

The Point of Reduction to Formula

Like I said, the point of formula is to be able to know a particular outcome given a set of mitigating input or stimulus.  There is nothing wrong with trying to approach things in the fashion, because like it or not, human beings embrace the idea of formula approaches all the time, whether they realize it or not.  If we take that to place of a group event like a concert, we know things like “when the lights go down, the show starts and we clap” or “when the band finishes, stay put for the encore” – things like that are actually formula.

While there is nothing wrong with a formulaic approach, there is a serious flaw in trying to always apply formula where the input series is too rich and varied, especially when the user of the approach assumes that it’s more important to just achieve a higher number of like responses that to really consider the formula’s appropriateness in the first place.  When the higher number approach is applied in a worship setting, it’s especially inappropriate- but why is that?  What is so wrong here?

Simple: our response set should always equal 1.  And that 1 is God, not the congregation.

But, there is an undeniable and appropriate metric in looking at your congregation as a response set, albeit a lesser one to be concerned with.  In actuality, the congregation is the only immediately tangible response that anyone is going to see or hear- it’s not like God shouts thru the PA, “Hey- that was GREAT!” – or if He does do that, I’d suggest a CAT scan might be in order…..but I’m starting to digress.

The trouble here is that when a formula is applied by someone who is only considering their thought processes as the “success” measure – or to put it another way – when most of the congregation likes a song that you like and that is “success”, and you measure that “success” at the same time saying things like “well, the rest of them just didn’t get it”, whether you like it or not, the important response set of 1 is actually getting missed.  Worship is exactly like driving a car on a freeway- if you manage to miss all the other cars and only hit a part of your bumper on 1 car, you’ve driven badly and you’ve had an accident.

A Personal Example of Inappropriateness of Formula

Years ago I was part of the orchestra at The Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California for a live simulcast Christmas concert.  I was the sole upright bassist in a 20-piece orchestra, and since I was alone, I was placed at the edge of the stage.  At my feet was a television monitor that was showing the simulcast of the live TV broadcast that was happening.  During the service, one of the songs that was on the list was “What A Mighty God We Serve”, which as some may know is kind of a country-ish 2-step song, and an orchestral arrangement was supremely lame.  The conductor and most of the orchestra members had made fun of this song choice during rehearsal.  So, when the tune launched, I rolled my eyes and went into the 2-step, and no, the camera did not catch me rolling my eyes.

The song is really easy, so I didn’t really have to read the music, and I started glancing around at the other orchestral members.  More than a few of them met my gaze with a slightly wry, bored grin and a hunch of the shoulders, and I felt somewhat vindicated- the tune was terrible.  I glanced down at my chart, because I had forgotten which repeat we were in, and that’s when the TV monitor at my feet grabbed my attention.

There, onscreen, was a woman who had to be in her early 80’s.  I couldn’t place where she was in the sanctuary and I didn’t know her.  But she was singing the song exuberantly and clapping her hands out of time.  Joy was all over her face.  She stopped clapping, and raised her hands and shut her eyes and actually kind of danced in place.  And, all the while this was happening, tears were streaming down her face, making a mess out of her carefully applied makeup.  She didn’t care- she was enrapt in the moment, and was singing to her God.  I was met with an immediate thought, and I remember mouthing that thought silently on my lips-

I am an insufferable shithead, and I am wholly unworthy to be on this stage.

This song meant something to this woman, and it wasn’t her that didn’t get it- it was me that didn’t get it.  Moreover, if I were to be measuring my success the right way, then this wasn’t a base-hit – this was a grand slam homerun, because we offered something to someone who clearly needed it, rather than what I mandated that they needed.  This was a watershed moment for me- I had been playing music in church for years and thought I knew what was what, but I learned in that one camera shot that I was suffering a near-fatal case of rectal-cranial inversion, and that, in reality, I knew nothing at all.

Why God is Not Formulaic

This brings me to my uber-point- if the congregation is not the important part of the sought-over response set, then we need to understand how God does not respond to our meager understandings of stimulus/response.

First off, as you know (if you’re reading this far) God is the creator of the universe.  We’ve all heard that before, but if you really believe that, and you can acknowledge that the universe is a somewhat complex thing, then the very nature of God would be at the very least as complex as the universe.  That’s obviously an over-simplistic statement, but you get the drift here.

Second, since God knows all of us personally and better than we know ourselves, and all of us have slightly different stimuli that can bring a myriad of responses, we have to acknowledge that the input set for our formulaic approach to worship has a completely uncontrollable scope, and we cannot possibly hope to understand a response set for success from a “veritable plethora” (thank you, Carl Sagan) of possible responses.

Third, even if God, as the response-prime set were to respond to our stimuli, how arrogant are we to think that God can be controlled in this fashion?

Preparation vs. Manipulation

After spending many, MANY years doing the worship thing (in many, MANY different forms) I’ve come to see the hidden danger in the formulaic approach to worship- and let’s get one thing straight here:

When I use the term “worship” here, I am not necessarily talking about the playing of music.  My use of that word here is the totality of a congregational interaction, from the music to the message, and including all the other trappings- greeting, announcements, small groups, missions- all of that is “worship” – or rather, it should be.

And this is danger- we’ve separated and compartmentalized it, and that is wrong.  We are supposed to do everything in a spirit of worship.  But, what we’ve done in our formulaic approach is to compartmentalize the idea of “worship” as a singular act of singing songs.  With that compartmentalization, we have also compartmentalized the thrust of that action.  While singing songs of worship is supposed to be an act of preparation for the congregation to enter into the presence of God, we use this formula now to manipulate the congregation to “get them ready” – and make no mistake, there is a difference.

There is a fine line between the idea of preparing a group of people for a task and manipulating them to all be in the same frame of mind for a task- let’s be honest - they can and do roughly equate to the same thing.  The issue here is not with that preparation, but rather it’s the spirit with which it is done.  Since most of the worship I’ve seen is pulling tunes that are “popular” in some circles, I would suggest that the preparatory ideas are actually secondary and the manipulation is more for my aforementioned topic of “perceived relevance”.  When it comes to how “worship” (the act of singing songs) and how it relates to the rest of the service – specifically the message – that is almost completely ignored if the music directory can’t find a “popular” song in some radio playlist or can’t find a SongSelect “chart” to play.  They’ll force feed something that has almost no real meaning with regards to the rest of the service – or worse – they don’t realize that the meager lyrical content (that will be repeated over and over like automatons) has as much to do with the message as playing “Love Stinks” at a wedding reception.

If the music isn’t relatable to anything else that is going on in the service, or if it merely chosen because it is “popular”, then simply put the preparatory nature of worship is not there, and the worship team is doing nothing more than attempting a mass congregational manipulation and trying to measure their “success” by how many of their friends say “that was AWESOME”- and by hearing that, they assume success with absolutely no thought to the people who didn’t think that.  If we follow on down this trail, you can see why measuring “success” by the slickness of the new jumbotron, the slickness of the announcement video, the pastor’s penchant for nothing more than sermons that alliterative titles and no substance- all of that is completely hollow.

And in the meantime, our response-prime set – God- is basically being ignored.

What Do We Do About It?

Rather than just gripe about it, I intend to try and fix this and I do have suggestions for this- simple, tangible solutions.  To get there, we need to go back and take a refresher course in the actual meaning of worship.  We’ll do that in the next installment, Part 4: Why Do We Worship?  Who Are We Playing For?

Thursday, December 1, 2016

WORSHIP - PART 2: What's Wrong With Worship Today?

The short answer: Nothing.  Wait.  Everything.  Wait- what?  Who’s says what’s good?  Or who says what’s bad?

Wow.  That was clear as mud, huh?  (this is probably why I’m not a professional writer…..even if I do think I write gooder than others do…..)

This is a difficult topic to make into some kind of esoteric, individualized grandstand topic.  It’s really easy for people to say, “oh, you just don’t like the music” and leave it at that.  Let me be clear on this part of the topic- it’s not that I don’t like the newer praise music.  It’s not that. 

It’s that I hate the newer praise music with a passion that burns brighter than the sun in late July when viewed from the bottom of Death Valley while standing under a giant magnifying glass. 

I hope I cleared that up.  Moving on.

Here’s why that’s so important- worship music today is a microcosm of what is wrong with the church as a whole today.  It’s pablum.  It’s grossly over-simplified.  It utterly lacks depth and impact.  It’s the same thing over and over again.  It’s hype.  It’s messy but claims to be “cleaner” and “simpler” and “more accessible” but in reality it is ill-contrived, formulaic drivel that has no real topicality.  It has been reduced to (and, yes, I’m thinking of a certain South Park cartoon episode even as I write this) nothing more than initially filthy R&B music with the nouns changed from “her”, “she” and “baby” to “Jesus”. 

Look- I said from the outset I was going to offend.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Oh- and I’ve heard all the arguments, too. 

“Hillsong United sells more records worldwide than…..”

“It appeals to the masses……”

“I really feel connected…..”

Geez.  Give me a break.  Those are probably the most myopic reasons anyone can ever give.  Bands like KISS and Abba have sold more records of single albums than Hillsong United ever will.  “It appeals to the masses” can equally be applied to Britney Spears, Justin Bieber and American Idol.  And, “I really feel connected” can be applied to all kinds of things like mass riots, genocide and a host of other things.

The really scary part of this is that almost no one can really explain why this is so important, especially within the church and especially when talking about worship.  But, folks- yes, I do know the answer to this, and I expect many people reading this know the answer to and don’t/can’t admit it.  So, here goes:

We (the church) want to belong to the world at any cost.

There.  I said it.

Oh, I know that a lot of people are going to rail against this full-on.  You can if you want to, but if you’re really honest with yourself, you’ll admit that when Hillsong United does sell all those records, you find some kind of gratification that the world has acknowledged something you like, and you feel better about having made the choice in the first place.  Still fighting me on this?  Just stop it and back up a second, and try really hard to not equate the fact that you are a Christian and therefore saved with the idea that somehow this means that those ideas are ok because you are a Christian that is saved by Grace.  I got news for you:

You’re still a sinner, and you’re still capable of the same amount of corruption as everybody else.  And, that doesn’t change because you call yourself a “Christian”.

So, yeah- I’m saying that if you think that worship music is more relevant today because of the above arguments, you are wrong.  Period.  Just wrong, and you need to get over it. 

(At this point, I feel the need to point out that I said I wasn’t going to pull any punches when I started writing this series.  It’s about to get a whole lot worse.)

The church, as a whole, has found it absolutely necessary to sublimate every single thing it does in order to “appeal to the masses”, and since corporate worship is the cornerstone for the western church (way more so than solid teaching or theology) it begins there.  It began with the “seeker sensitive” movement of the late 80’s and early 90’s, and has morphed slightly into something even more pablumized like smaller churches attempting to become larger ones like Willow Creek or Hillsong.  We’ve gotten into the mindset that unless we directly correlate absolutely everything we do with today’s pop culture, we’ll be seen as “non-relevant” or “not hip” and people will leave- but in doing that, we actually make the people who have been in the church their entire lives feel “non-relevant” and “not hip” so they leave.  And, somehow that’s ok?  Huh?

It’s now as though unless your church isn’t filled with 18 to 30 year olds you’re not “successful”.  If you don’t do things that directly appeal to millenials, you’re out of touch and non-relevant.  Yes, I totally get that the generation I’m speaking of is growing larger by the moment while my generation is steadily moving towards room temperature and the generation before that has largely already kicked that nasty oxygen habit.  The issue here isn’t one of generation, but rather the lack of finding value in the entirety of the congregation and serving it. 

Let me try this another way: worship today is about serving the ones that agree with leadership’s vision and no one else.  If you don’t agree, then leadership sees YOU as the problem, not themselves.  In fact, it’s rarely ever even examined any other way.  “Oh, you know- that guy’s old and he doesn’t like what we do here, so he can just go somewhere else…..” – who hasn’t heard that in their own church?  Better yet- who hasn’t been guilty of saying that?

Right here- this guy has said it.  Hell, I’ve done worse than that- I’ve engendered it many times.  I admit it, and I admit that I was wrong to do so.  If you are one of the people that I have somehow marginalized like this, I apologize and if you are someone that I work with and I do it again, I actively ask that you call me on it when I do it, and I don’t want you to be kind about it, either.

So why did I do it?  Because it was easy. 

And this, right here, is the crux of the problem- easy.  It’s really easy to only want to partner with a small group of select individuals that agree with you.  It’s a LOT harder to work with those that don’t, and in a church congregation there is disparity and diversity in it’s rawest forms and those people have just as much right to be there and have their needs attended to as the ones that do agree with you.  Worship – real, authentic worship – is hard, hard, messy work because it’s all about people, and people are messy and hard to deal with.

As worship participants, we have completely lost sight of this, and it translates everywhere if you know where to look.  The music is easier, the charts are “easier”, the technology is easier, the communication methods are “easier”- we’re so concerned with being “relevant” that we never actually stop to think if we are serving our entire congregations or just a select few.  We can plan a service that is so complicated that a year’s supply of Ritalin won’t begin to cover the attention deficits we create, but we never stop to wonder if that’s what our congregation needs.  We can create elaborate and hip videos, use the technology we have access to to make our meager bands on Sunday morning sound like the London Philharmonic by using loops, and we can obsess about “dead air” during a service, but we can’t be bothered to consider the ones who don’t agree with what WE are “trying to do” because the mission has become the mission, and Jesus is very often marginalized in the process. 

As the church, we are supposed to be set apart from the world, not trying to garner its favor by turning everything we do into something that looks like a major concert event.  But, instead we have somehow decided that it’s more “relevant” to be “relevant” by the means and measures of the world, and the whole time our congregations actually do suffer for it.

And, before you say something like, “that’s not my church” – ask yourself this: are you saying that because you are part of the agreeing crowd?  If that’s the reason, then you are actually part of the problem.  That is, unless you want to do something about it by rolling up your sleeves and getting dirty.

Hey- this whole topic is difficult.  I get it.  And I know that I sound angry in this installment, and that’s because I am.  Yes, it’s partially because I am now in the generation that is being ignored in a lot of cases.  It’s really more because I realize that the excuses being given by the people who do this are bullshit at the very core.

If you find yourself being angry at what I’ve written here, all I can say is that being angry is part of taking the easy road.  If we can’t talk about this honestly, then I am forced to wonder what the hell we all do this for in the first place.  People are messy animals and have warts and horns and things we don’t want to see – especially ourselves – but if you are a worship participant in any form, you signed on to work with these messy animals, and to think that there’s an easy way to do that makes you delusional.

If you are someone who organizes worship services, or even just participates in them, there is nothing wrong with some introspection here and you know that.  No doubt, I’ve ruffled some feathers here, and as I said when I began this series, I will not apologize for that.  A good feather ruffling is necessary sometimes, and just because the writer of this blog has been a “behind the scenes” player in a lot of this doesn’t make my viewpoint any less valid.  I understand your job is difficult, but so is mine in supporting you and I dare say that the job of supporting you is even harder for a congregant who feels like they are on the outside looking in.  All I would ask is that you consider those people – even before you consider me – because those that are on the outside don’t really like being there.

WORSHIP - What To Expect

Just in case you might be thinking that this entire series is going to be nothing but sour grapes, I actually do have a plan here.  Here’s the parts to the series, and I’m going to try to get these done one per week, as time allows:

PART 1:
Why Am I So Passionate About This?

PART 2:
What's Wrong With Worship Today?

PART 3:
Dispelling The Myth Of Formula

PART 4:
Why Do We Worship?  Who Are We Playing For?

PART 5:
Is Bigger Really Better?

PART 6:
To Obey Is Better Than Sacrifice

PART 7:
The Performance vs. Worship Conundrum

PART 8:
Words Or Music- Which Is More Important?

PART 9:
What Does Success Look Like?

WORSHIP–Overview and Part I: Why Are You So Passionate About This?

Over the years, I have run my mouth time and time again about the topic of worship in church.  Numerous times during my rants and raves, I’ve been asked to write down what I’m talking about, and a recent post on Facebook by some friends really spurred me on to finally doing it.  But, before I do, I wanted to give a brief overview of what I intend to cover in my little “series” – mainly to provide context, but also to warn folks.

The first warning is this- if you aren’t the least bit interested in worship music or playing in church, then this will be extremely boring, so just don’t bother.

The second warning, tho- I am probably going to offend some people deeply with what I’m going to say.  In fact, I absolutely guarantee it.  More than that- I’m not going to be apologetic about it.  What I’m attempting to do here is to spur some thought on this matter that is very, very close to me and I intend to pull no punches here.  It’s not that I seek to cause pain or even be controversial, but as someone who has spent 40+ years playing all kinds of music – worship and otherwise - and has done so largely behind the scenes, I think I have a rather unique viewpoint that has been pretty much disregarded of late, and might prove to be expository.  Exposition is sometimes painful- I don’t wish to cause this pain, but I’ll tell you right now that it’s gonna happen, so just be ready.  I’m also pretty sure that this will cost me some playing time and I dare say a few “friends”, but I really don’t want to remain silent on this any longer.

Everything is discussable, however, and I welcome any and all discussion on these matters.

Before I begin, I want to give some context: I am not a Biblical scholar nor am I a pedigreed theologian.  What I intend to talk about here is more “behind the scenes” stuff that a lot of folks don’t want to necessarily talk about- but I have no intention of doing this as a dissertated series.  This are things that have come from my POV and I have seen the first-hand fallout (both good and bad) of these things over many, many years.  What I am, however, is an educated and skilled musician and audio engineer who has more than earned his stripes in order to voice these opinions.  So, let’s get to Part I:

Part I: Why Are You So Passionate About This?

A few years ago, when I decided to get out of playing regular worship services, I wrote a series of articles about my journey.  The thrust was to point out that not only had I “been there, done that, bought the t-shirt” , but that I had actually helped build the actual t-shirt factory.  This was really more a passive/aggressive way of me giving myself the “out” I needed in order to move on.

What I didn’t say in that series is this: participating in worship services at a musical level actually saved my life.

Now that’s a pretty serious statement to make, but the fact of the matter was that I was a drug addict who considered himself to be a Christian (and I still maintain that I was, too) but had some self-destructive habits in his life.  Yeah- we all have those, but this was a little different: it could have literally killed me.  It never did, though - I never overdosed; I never lost a job; I wasn’t homeless; I had lots of friends- in fact, I actually had a good time being that addict, truth be told.  But, the inescapable fact is that this behavior would have eventually led to my death.  And I knew that- and more than that- I wanted that.

Let that sink in for a moment- I was an addict, and a musician, and a Christian, and I wanted to die.

Lest you think this is a trite story, no, I didn’t not start playing worship music to save me or my soul- I was actively playing it WHILE I was an addict.  I can’t tell you how many times I would show up at church to play stoned or drunk out of my mind and was barely functional.  I did it a lot.  I mean a lot.

We could go in to why I was a drug addict, but that would be a very deep tangent.  Rather than avoid the topic altogether, I will say that my mother was a prescription drug addict.  After she divorced my father when I was 7 years old, she married an incredibly angry man who physically abused (beat) me for many years.  My mother also beat me many, many times.  I ended up abusing drugs for all the reasons you’re thinking and more- but we’re not here to discuss that, and that’s all the farther I intend to go on that topic.

When I first got cleaned up, I had to stop playing in church for a bit because no one trusted me, and they shouldn’t have.  I don’t begrudge them for that (and I didn’t then, either) but what I found was that I was aching to actually play music that had a depth to it that transcended just making semi-linear noise with other people.  Music has always been something spiritual to me, regardless of it’s impetus.  When I got clean and re-dedicated my life to God, I needed to play for Him rather than myself.  I would try very, very hard to consecrate anything I played for God- and in a largely secular arena that was sometimes difficult to do.

Before I thought I was really ready to return to playing in church, I was asked by people in my church to do so.  I told them no.  Not yet.  I had a feeling I would be “let know” when the time was right.  And, that happened, too- and I’m not gonna lie and tell you that it was some magical, epiphanal moment when it happened.  It literally happened one day when I was talking to a friend who happened to be a choir director at another church who had asked me to do some choral transcription work- and I just asked her, “So- do you need a bass player?” – and that was it.  I went back.

However, what I found when I did go back was epiphanal.  Here I was, surrounded by people who’s same purpose was mine.  Everyone wanted the same thing.  It wasn’t richter jazz-fusion, either- it was for a performance of a JS Bach piece – and for some reason I just “got it”.  Not the music, and not the performance of it- it was kind of on another plane, much, much deeper than that.  I knew that Bach had written absolutely everything for God (he famously signed the bottom of his scores “für die Herrlichkeit Gottes im Höchsten”, or “for the Glory of God in the Highest”) but I didn’t really get what that meant until I cleaned my act up and re-dedicated myself.  I’m not even sure I can explain that now, some 30 years later.

In doing this – waiting to get myself right – I realized that I would never go back to being that addict again.  Yes- I did stumble a few times, but always momentarily and always with immediate accountability – but not because I was scared of the potential outcome, but because I never, ever wanted anything to come between me and that feeling of “got it”.

So, sure.  One could make the case that I have limited objectivity due to a life changing event on a certain topic, and they would be right.  But ask yourself this question: does that make me less qualified to want to make this type of experience any less?  Does my prior experience here invalidate the subsequent experiences?  The answer here is a clear and resounding “no”, and the reason I can say that without any reservation whatsoever is because time and time again, I have first hand witnessed what that spirit of “got it” has done for me and done for others even and especially when I wasn’t looking for it.

And now, some 33 years after that, I am literally watching one of the most unique and life-altering art forms die and become non-relevant.  Yes, I said “die”, because that’s exactly what it’s doing.  The worst part of it is that it’s dying because we as musicians are killing it.  No, I don’t think that this is God’s doing (forget the idea of ‘seasons’ here) and I don’t think it’s the work of Satan, either.  It’s US that’s doing it- because we’ve somehow decided that there are rights and wrongs, do’s and don’t do’s, trappings we have to have and formula to play it all out and measure “success” as though it’s a number.  We, as a church, have completely lost touch with the idea that we have an individual community to serve within our congregations, and we do that by trying to be like other churches in order to garner that success.  We ignore the needs of that community wholesale in the form of doing things like making Sunday mornings into something that looks like a sporting event, and when anything or anyone challenges that idea we’ve started saying things like “they’re prideful” or “they’re just trying to draw attention to themselves” without any consideration at all.  As musicians and worship leaders, we try for “easy wins” for our participants in the form of non-challenging music and non-challenging messages in the hopes that a constant state of kum-by-ah will enamor people enough to decide to pick up an instrument or twiddle with knobs on a weekend without practicing or knowing what they are doing.  We’ve created a faux hierarchy of certain people in certain positions that are more important than others, but we dare not speak of that until things get challenged, and then our teeth get bared and people leave.

It’s easy to say that since the church is run by sinners (since all of us are) that we can and will have problems.  That’s a true statement, and it’s always going to be the case, but what I’ve seen recently is the delivery of that statement and a hunched set of shoulders to go with it as though we just have to accept it.  And if we don’t, we’re a “malcontent” or worse- our faith is questioned.

And worship music – whatever its form – is at the center of all of this.  The fact is that more people leave churches over the topic of the music played than they do for bad teaching or theology.  As musicians, it is incumbent upon us to provide what needs to be provided- but we are always told that our job isn’t that important; until it is. 

I just can’t stand by and watch this happen.  I just can’t do it.  Yes, my life would be infinitely easier if I just rolled with these punches, but for me it’s all about the authenticity and “realness” more than it is about just placating.

So, here we go, folks.  Buckle up- or not- you don’t have to read this.  I might be the most arrogant guy on this particular rock in space for thinking for a moment that anyone would be interested in what I have to say here.  It’s gonna be 100% me trying to help, but also 100% cathartic, too. 

All I hope for is that someone, somewhere will at least take the time to think about this, because if they do then it was all worth it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

a supposed conversation (a work of fiction)

It’s 8:41AM on Wednesday, November 9, 2016.  I’ve just finished my 8AM scrum call with the members of my dev team, where much of the conversation revolved around the election and almost no talk of work – and my cell phone rings.  It’s Dad, and it’s his every-4-year post-election morning call.  I settle back in my chair and take a nice long drink of my now lukewarm coffee.  This is gonna be good.

“Hey!  Somehow, I knew you’d call.” I answer.

“You didn’t really think I would miss this chat, did you?”, Dad says.  I can hear him smiling.

“So…..how long did you watch last night?  Was there much yelling at the TV?”, I ask knowing at least part of the answer.

“Not a lot of yelling.  Some hand wringing for sure.  I think I fell asleep right around the time Wisconsin went to Trump.  I still can’t believe that happened.” he says, flatly.

“Can’t believe what?  Wisconsin or Trump?” I ask.

“Well……both.”, he replies.

“You voted for Hillary, right?” I ask.

“Of course I did.  Did you vote for ‘The Donald’?” he asks.  He never refers to him as anything else, and he always votes straight Democrat ticket.

“Absolutely not.  That guy is a fool.  I actually voted for Johnson.”

“Well, I’m just glad you voted.  Weren’t you afraid of wasting your vote?” he asks, wryly.

“I gave that some thought.  I don’t look at it that way.  I’m just tired of the establishment, and I just cannot stand the thought of another Clinton.  I would have happily voted for Bernie.  If there was a Bush in the running, I couldn’t have voted for them, either.” I answer.

“That’s my boy.  Any vote isn’t a wasted vote.  I’m proud of ya.” he says.  Not the answer I expected.

“I’m really curious as to what you think happened here?” I ask.  I’m genuinely confused.

“That’s the real question now, isn’t it?  I think what we just saw was a replay of the 1948 Truman and Dewey election.  The press was so sure that Dewey was gonna win, they all but called it for him before the vote was cast.  You’ve seen that famous picture of the Chicago Daily Tribune, right?  I remember that really well.  My dad brought one of those papers home.” he says.  I’ve heard that story so many times.

“I have seen that picture many, many times.” I reply.  “I have never understood how the Tribune could have made that prediction.  Didn’t it take a long time to get election results back then?” I ask.

“It did, but that apparently didn’t matter to them.  Remember that Chicago wasn’t exactly the bastion of political reality back then.” he replies, laughing.

“I’m curious as to what Grandma and Grandpa’s reaction was to that headline.  Were they happy about who actually won?” I ask.

“They weren’t exactly happy and they weren’t exactly sad.  The whole country was still very much for anything having to do with FDR, and Dewey’s campaign seemed to not be very in touch with that.  I think my folks were more worried about Dewey being out of touch than they were about Harry.” he replied.  That makes sense, knowing my grandparents.  They were die-hard Democrats.

“So, where did the Dems go wrong?” I ask.

“It’s probably a bunch of things.  My guess would be that they tried to force a candidate that no one was really terribly interested in.  She was perfectly capable of doing the job, and would have done a great job, but after that news came out that the DNC kind of railroaded Bernie, it seems like they lost steam.” he says.

“Would you have voted for Bernie?” I ask.

“If he were the candidate, I would have.  I voted for Hillary in the primaries.  I don’t think Bernie could have won, though.  He was too old.” he says.

“Yeah, but wasn’t Reagan older?” I ask.

“I honestly don’t remember who was older, but the Democrats have had a habit of always wanting someone younger since JFK.” he says.  “Besides, you’re asking about a Republican.  I can’t answer that because I don’t think that way.  Those people are crazy.” he says.

“Nice.” I say.

“But, seriously, I don’t think that Bernie was electable, but not just because of age.  I think his ideas are not really in keeping with the rest of the people he’d need to be working with.” he continued.

“I agree with that, unfortunately.” I answer.  “I gave that some thought.  If the Dems didn’t field Hillary, who would you rather they have fielded?”

“The fielded the right candidate.” he answered.

“So what went wrong?  Why did this happen then?  No one saw this coming.” I ask.

“I really think what we saw last night was more of a rejection election than anything else.  Hillary has made a couple of major mistakes like the email thing and her handling of Benghazi.  I don’t think she did anything illegal on either of those, but the way she handled it wasn’t very good.  She always seemed to appear above it all to me.  I think the American people saw that, too.  And then there’s the problem with the Mid-West.  She didn’t do well in most of it.” he says.

“Yeah.  I know.  It always seems like the Dems ignore fly-over country, but Barry did that, too, and still won over Romney last time.” I say.

“I really wish you wouldn’t call him ‘Barry’.  It sounds disrespectful.” he says, admonishing me.

“I just call ‘em like I see ‘em.” I reply.

“Mr. Obama has done some great things for this country, you know.” he says.  He’s angry.

“Name one thing.” I say.

“Obamacare is a great thing.  He’s gotten your children insurance.  He’s gotten the economy back on track after George ruined it for everybody.  He’s united his party during a very difficult time, and he’s made a lot headway in getting moderates a voice in the government.” he says, flatly.

“I don’t see it that way.  Obamacare is nothing more than a tax being paid by people who can’t afford it in the first place.  And the economy didn’t tank because of W.  It tanked because there were a lot of greedy bankers in this country that made bad loans, and everything tipped over.” I retort.  I hate it when he brings this up.

“Yeah, but it happend on George’s watch and he didn’t do enough to stop it when it did.” he replies.

“He was working with an all Democrat House and Senate.  And, as you like to point out, that’s where the money is.” I spat out.

“Whatever you say.  All I know is that we’re in a better place for Mr. Obama than we were before he was elected.”

“Are we?  The Dems just cratered, Dad.  Did you forget?” I reply.

“No, I didn’t forget.  Do you want to hear what I think happened last night, or do you want to try and teach me history?” he asks.

“I do want to hear what you think.” I say, backing off.

“So, you know the farmers.  They always think no one cares, and they are always just about to go out of business, right?” he asks.

“Yep.  I know that well.”  I reply.  I’ve heard this first-hand since a lot of my family are farmers.

“They are always looking to blame someone for that, and the US Government has always been a favorite target.” he replies.

“But what is different this time?  They blamed ‘Mr. Obama’, too.” I say.  I have my fingers up in the air doing air quotes.

“I think what they did was to more actively vote against Hillary instead of voting for The Donald.”

“That seems like an over-simplification to me, Dad.” I reply.

“I think it’s really that simple.  You have a better idea?” he asks.

“I really don’t.” I say.

My coffee is now ice cold.  Great.

“Ok, I have another question.  What do you think is going to happen with a president named ‘Trump’”?  I’m baiting him.

“Absolutely nothing.” he says.  That surprises me.

“Why do you say that?” I ask, confused.

“Because The Donald has made way too many enemies.  No one is going to help him do anything.” he says.

“Yeah, but the Congress is all Republican.” I say.

“He’s made way too many enemies there, too.  Remember him holding up Mr. Graham’s phone number during the campaign?” he says.

“I don’t.” I say.  I didn’t pay much attention to Trump during the campaign.

“Well, he did.  That was pretty low, and he made the whole campaign very personal.” he says.

“Oh, and Hillary didn’t?” I ask.  Wait- am I defending The Donald?

“No, she did, too.  In fact, that’s probably the single biggest thing she did wrong.  She should have ignored him and let him dig his own hole.” he says.

“So you’re saying that he won’t get anything done, then.” I say.

“Not much, I think.  He’s gonna have a heckuva time getting anyone to do anything he says.”

“What about executive orders?  Can’t he do that?” I ask.

“Those are very much double-edged swords.  The rest of the government really doesn’t like it when the President does that, regardless of their party.  They want to have a say in things, and if they don’t get it, they pout.” he says.

“Yeah, but he can still do it.”

“And, when he does, it makes it that much harder for him to push through real legislation.  Every time he does that, he makes himself a target by the powers that can impeach him, too- and you just know that they’re just looking for a reason to do that.  Constantly embarrassing people like that is not a good thing.” he says.  That makes sense to me.

“What about things like gay rights, illegal aliens, the Wall and mass deportations?” I ask.

“Those are things that could happen, actually.  He could sign an executive order to do some of those things, but the problem is that he won’t be able to sustain it.” he says.

“How’s that?  If he writes the order, they have to do it, right?” I ask.

“They do and they don’t.  He can start things moving in a direction, but someone has to pay for it.  That’s where the Congress comes in.” he says.

“Yep.  And they’re all Republicans.  That’ll be easy.” I reply.

“Not so fast, junior.  There’s an election coming in 2 years for House seats, and a lot of folks are really, really nervous about keeping their jobs right now.  If they think that supporting The Donald is going to cost them votes and their job, they’re going to think about making that decision at least twice.  And, once he doesn’t get his way on an executive order, that makes it easier and easier for people to refuse him when he issues more of those orders.” he says.

Holy hell.  He’s right.

“So, what you’re saying is that he’s going in as a 4-year lame duck?”

“Not exactly that, but pretty much.” he says.

“So what worries you about him?” I ask.

“His mouth.  He has no filter and he doesn’t act like a President should.” he says.

“And, that’s all?” I ask.

“Ha!  Hardly.  The man is a walking hormone.  He can’t keep anything to himself!” he says.

“Isn’t that the same thing as ‘his mouth’ being the problem?”

“Maybe.  Yes.  No.  Er…..I guess.  All I know is that I’m pretty sure he’s going to say something terrible to someone important, and that’s not going to go well for anybody.” he says.

“At last!  Something you and I agree on!” I exclaim.

“I dunno.  Mr. Johnson said some things that made me cringe on an almost daily basis.” he says.

“And he was a Democrat.” I answer.

“Barely!” he says.

“So, do you think we’re going to get 4 or 8 years of Trump?” I ask.

“No one knows the answer to that, but I’ll be surprised if he makes it 4 years.  I’m way more interested in Mr. Pence than The Donald.  I think we’re gonna need to know a lot more about him.” he says.  He can call the VP by name, but not Trump.  Funny.

“You think it’s likely that he’ll get impeached?” I ask.

“Pence?  No.  I meant The Donald.” he says.

“I know what you meant.  You think Trump will be impeached?” I ask.

“I think we might see it happen, actually.  It’s really, really hard to do, but The Donald does seem to be someone who will motivate people.” he says.

“That’s funny.” I reply.

“Not really if you think about it.  When Johnson was impeached back in the 1800’s, it was very messy and ended up being something of a joke because it was toothless.”

“And Johnson was never removed from office, either.” I reply.

“Nope.  In the end, they just couldn’t get it together, and we ended up with Grant because he was a war hero and not much other than that.  And, he was an absolute abysmal choice.  He spent most of his time in office drunk, and got nothing done.” he says.

“Kind of like Trump?” I ask.

“Worse.  Grant did things like perpetuate the Indian Wars and had a lot of people killed as a result.  I don’t see The Donald doing that.” he says.

“I don’t either.  At least I hope not.” I say.

“Nah.  Even The Donald is not that stupid.  At least I don’t think so.  There’s too many other things that would get in the way of that like the ACLU.” he says.

“Ah, yes.  The Anti-Christian Luciferian Union.” I say.

“Yeah.  Right.  At least I know where you stand on that.” he says.

“I’ve made no secret of that.” I reply.  “So where does this leave us, then?” I ask.

“We’ll just have to see.  All I know is that we’ll survive this.  It’s gonna be interesting, that’s for sure.” he says.

“Yeah.  We agree on that.” I say.  Its now after 9.

“Dad, I gotta scoot.  Thanks for the talk.” I say.

“Anytime.  Bye-bye.”

“Bye, Dad.  I love ya, even if you are a Commie.”

“I love you, too.  In spite of you actually being a Republican and you just don’t want to admit it.”

Monday, November 7, 2016

well, we’ll see

So, tomorrow it all ends.  Personally, I can’t wait.

The thing is, I’m pretty sure it won’t end.  DT hasn’t got a chance in hell of being elected, despite the media saying the race is “close”.  When he loses, I’m 100% sure he’ll contest it.

Remember- the goal of DT is to accumulate attention and money no matter how he does it.  I’ve been convinced since 2013 that he’s really in this for the book deal, and there’s a ton of Kardashian-watching sheep that will buy this book and make him richer.  That’s the goal right there, kids.

Now, when he contests the election, the media is going to ignite a veritable firestorm and say things like, “this has never happened before” and that we are on some kind of legal precipice.  The short and non-dramatic answer here is that elections have been contested before, and the losing party does not have to acquiesce to make the election legitimate.  The phone call from the losing candidate to the winning candidate is nothing more than political theater and holds absolutely no legal context for the finalization of an election.  It’s just gonna be a “sore loser” thing, because once the Electoral College and a judge certifies the election results, that’s it.  It’s over, and that’s all there is to it.

So, when this happens, don’t panic in the least.  I’d go further and suggest a quick change of the TV channel to something more topical and accurate, like Golden Girls or M*A*S*H.

The other side of this is even more interesting.  If, by some chance DT does win, it is absolutely, positively not the end of the world or the US.  If you paid attention in US Government class in school (ahem) you know by now that the POTUS is the weakest 1/3 of the US governmental body, and all the crapola that DT (and HRC) and every single other POTUS candidate has ever thrown out there as “policy” takes votes everywhere to happen.  DT has absolutely no friends in Washington, and while I typically hate the whole “political machine”, it will prove extremely useful in quelling DT’s hysterical policies.  No one will side with him, no one will vote for anything he proposes, and if he does win he will be the single most flaccid POTUS we’ve had since Warren Harding.  And, for those of you who are sheep and believe the whole “but he has his finger on the bomb” BS that you’re being fed, think again- the US Armed Forces has safeguards in place that are not being mentioned by the media (or HRC) that keep him from just launching a nuclear attack on anyone.  He won’t build a wall, he won’t deport anyone – he can’t because for him to do it means that he has to control the money – and he doesn’t – and he has to have votes – and he won’t have them, either.

The other thing to remember is that there is legal recourse in this country to recall a POTUS- impeachment. 

No listen carefully here- to date, there has been no completely successful impeachment against a sitting US President.  There have been a total of 3 attempts: Andrew Johnson (right after Abraham Lincoln), Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.  None of them were actually impeached and removed from office- and Nixon’s proceedings never even started because he stepped down before it could start.  Impeaching a POTUS is an incredibly difficult thing to do from the standpoint of having to have all the resources lined up PERFECTLY to do it.  In the case of Johnson and Clinton, there just wasn’t enough people in agreement to get it done, and the initial cause on both proceedings was too ambiguous for people to really get behind.  DT has both a foot that likes to live in his mouth and absolutely no friends on The Hill, and when (not if) he steps in it, I think we’ll actually see it happen and he will be removed from office.  That’s ok with DT, because he gets another book deal out of it.

What I’m getting at here kids is this: the difference between tomorrow and the next day is absolutely nothing, regardless of who wins.  The media will have you believe differently, and since most people only seem to care about the actual state of governmental affairs when there’s an election on, the media will be able to cultivate that panic.  Don’t be fooled.  Read your history, the Constitution and realize that the guys that wrote that document and formed the idea of “checks and balances” were getting us ready for a day just like tomorrow.