Musings, Nits, and Praises: October 2006

Musings, Nits, and Praises

A farrago of all things deemed blog-worthy by a music-loving, poetry-writing, humor-seeking English teacher


I'm at a low point right now. In fact, it's fair to say I'm mired in angst. As a Christian, I've always known that in serving an omniscient and omnipotent God that we as finite beings will find His ways nearly inscrutable. Thus, when it comes to the problem of suffering in the world, it has always been relatively easy to say, "God is sovereign; we can't ever fully understand His ways." If God indeed exists, then that answer is entirely valid.

But what do we make of a verse like "
Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven"? Obviously God isn't a blessing soda machine, where we insert our prayer and He automatically dispenses a blessing. (Incidentally, a verse that has been added to "The Wise Man Built His House Upon the Rock" that says "The blessings come down as the prayers go up" rubs me the wrong way.) But given that plenty of sick people that faithful people have prayed for have died, we look for a deeper interpretation such a passage. Back in March I wrote a blog about this very same scripture and suggested that given some of the surrounding verses, James seems more concerned about spiritual healing. Perhaps James is, in fact, saying just that, but are we looking for a deeper interpretation because our gut tells us that James is wrong? The interpretation that James is stressing spiritual healing usually rests on "If he has sinned, he will be forgiven." Is it not possible that James is saying that faithful prayers will heal a sick person and that if the person's illness was a result of sin, then his sins will be forgiven, too?

I don't keep tallies on how many sick people we (whatever church or churches pray for a given person) pray for wind up being healed, but it seems the healings are few and far between to the point where the cynical side of me wonders if they may not just be chocked up to coincidence. (I'm just speaking from my own experience.) Now, of course, you have to consider the fact that all people die, so obviously at some point God will choose not to heal someone. Well, the inevitability of death is an easier thing to accept when we're praying for an elderly person to be healed. If the person is healed, we feel our prayers have been answered. If not, we can say, "Well, it was his time" or "He lived a full life." But what do we make of everyone else? A few years ago in Austin, a man in his late 30's at our church was diagnosed with cancer. He and his wife had a toddler and an infant. We prayed earnestly for his healing, but after several months, he died. Yes, God is sovereign, but where is His love and mercy in that situation? Where?

In May I learned that a friend of mine from college was diagnosed with a recurrence of cancer that had spread to several places in his body, including his brain. As if facing life-threatening cancer wasn't bad enough, he and his wife had just had their first child. Of course, many people (myself included) have been ardently petitioning God for his healing since then. As is the case with nearly all cancer treatment, it's been up and down for him. The first "check up" a few months ago yielded mixed results. He's set for another check-up in November. His wife provides updates on his health on their family blog, and the past few updates have broken my heart. To hear that he's discouraged at God's lack of intervention to this point has caused me to pause and reflect a lot on God the past few days. For those of us praying for him, we know that God certainly has the power to heal anyone of anything. Yet, when I think about all the times God has not healed the sick person, I realize that there's also a very real chance that he will die. Again, how would that show God's love and mercy? How could a loving and merciful God not heal a 30-year-old husband and father?

Pondering those questions is what has brought me to this point of angst. Three years ago (around this time of year, in fact), I reached the emotional nadir of my life to that point. Not "feeling" God was present, not having any emotional connection to Him, I attempted to rationalize my faith. Now, I believe there's plenty of logical reasons to conclude God exists, but ultimately I reached the limitations of reason I had known I'd reach in the first place. No one can prove God. And that's when I began to wrestle with some disturbing thoughts: "What if God is make believe? What if we believe in God just because it makes us feel better, because we want life to have meaning, because we're simply afraid of death?" Morbid perhaps, but they are questions I think most believers skirt. Thanks to some thoughtful counsel from some older Christians and an eventual recapturing of "feeling" God to some degree, I rose from my mire of doubt.

Unfortunately, I've been nearly right back at that nadir the past few days. The problem with the aforementioned disturbing questions is that they can't be answered from the believer's standpoint or the non-believer's standpoint with absolute certainty. Low points like this, though, make non-believers' claims seem a bit more credible. Nonetheless, faith can never be proof. Of course, that statement forces me to wrestle with the certainty expressed by the writer of Hebrews in 11:1. If Paul wrote Hebrews, how could he not be sure--seeing Christ on the road to Damascus, as well as his vision of heaven. That then begs the question as to why God doesn't give us much more overt "signs" than He does. Alas.

I wrote this blog out of a desire to vent and out of a hope that some readers may have found themselves in a similar place at one time or another. To me, one of the most poignant moments in the gospels is in Mark when a man brings his demon-possessed son to Christ to be healed, and he says to Christ, "I believe. Help me overcome my unbelief."

May the man's words be a prayer for us all.

To Blog or Not To Blog: A Rebuttal to Kevin Denee's "Blogs-and God's Youth"

As a Christian who maintains a regular blog and teaches teenagers, I shuddered a bit when I read this article by Kevin Denee. It reminded me a great deal of the old-school tracts that assert the inherent evil of moviegoing, dancing, drinking, etc. I do not question that Denee is well meaning; however, I find his tone condescending and his argument flawed.
Denee reaches the following conclusion:

"Because of the obvious dangers; the clear biblical principles that apply; the fact that it gives one a voice; that it is almost always idle words; that teens often do not think before they do; that it is acting out of boredom and it is filled with appearances of evil--blogging is simply not to be done in the Church."

He adds, "Let me emphasize that no one--including adults--should have a blog or a personal website (unless it is for legitimate business purposes)."

Denee bases this assertion on his examination of eight dangers of blogging.

The Obvious Dangers
Denee begins his argument by addressing obvious dangers to blogging--sexual predators, lack of parental oversight, and indecent content. (Note: Denee treats weblogs and social networking pages synonymously.) Denee notes that many teens make themselves more susceptible to sexual predators by providing personal information on their sites. He's right, but posting personal information on a site demonstrates someone's foolishness, not an element of evil inherent in blogging. As for the other two dangers, certainly anyone that has so much as an email account is all too aware of the glut of sexual content on the internet. A good firewall mitigates some of the problem, and parents actually paying attention to what their kids are doing would help even more. The fault of a parent is not a sign of evil in the medium.

An Era Grows a "Voice"
I don't agree with Denee's interpretation of the seven churches mentioned at the beginning of Revelation, but the crux of his argument on this matter is that blogging "makes the blogger feel good or makes him feel as if his opinion counts--when it is mostly mindless blather!" He goes on to assert that teen blogging does not have the capacity to positively affect society because it is puerile. I'm sure Denee would agree that since God is the Creator and He created humans in His image, people have a desire to create--literature, music, art, architecture, photography, carpentry, etc. Therefore, to suggest that a teen's emotional musings are entirely void of substance is akin to telling a toddler that his crayon drawing is rubbish. I'm not suggesting that all written expression has technical or aesthetic merit--I've graded my share of horrendous compositions in my seven years of teaching. Furthermore, I'm not suggesting that an expression of one's feelings serves as valid argument. However, writing, just as playing an instrument, playing a sport, or learning any activity, requires practice. It's possible that a teen who begins writing hackneyed narratives might evolve into a writer of great substance at some point. Even if a teen never hones his or her writing skills, that doesn't mean their desire for expression is any less valid. Ultimately, Denee fails to prove how "having a voice" is sinful. Bad writing isn't sinful--well, maybe if you harm someone by forcing him to read it.

Openess and Privacy
According to Denee, "Propriety, decorum, and decency are not elements considered on blogs." Having read plenty of decent blogs and maintaining such a blog myself, I beg to differ with his sweeping assertion.

Denee posits that maintaining a blog is self-promotion and vanity. I must concede that when I write an article that I hope it's well received and people think I'm a good writer. And, sometimes, I do get a bit full of myself if I feel I've written a particularly good piece. However, pride is something people struggle with in numerous aspects of life. In any of my pursuits, I try to carry myself with humility and to live to Paul's calling in Colossians 3:17: "Whatever you do in word or deed, do it as service to the Lord, giving thanks to God the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ."

Idle Words
Denee states, "Blogs can be summed up as people talking about almost anything, but really nothing." He then cites Christ's words in Matthew 12:36: "But I say unto you, that every idle word men shall speak, they shall give an account thereof on the day of judgement." Contrary to what Denee goes on to suggest, Christ isn't warning against rambling about your favorite food or a love interest. In the preceding verses, Christ rebukes the Pharisees for their hypocrisy and explains that a good man will bear good fruit but an evil man won't. In other words, someone's actions are a reflection of what is in his heart. Therefore, in this context "idle" is best defined as "ineffectual" or "fruitless," not "trite." If someone espouses a faith in God but doesn't live that faith, he will be subject to judgement. In fairness to Denee, plenty of teens (and adults for that matter) blog about things of little depth. However, this shallowness demonstrates the vacuousness, pleasure-seeking mentality that increasingly pervades our culture. It isn't confined to blogging. Furthermore, he ignores the fact that there is no shortage of bloggers who poignantly articulate their thoughts on faith and other significant matters. For example, a friend of mine from college is battling cancer. His wife maintains a blog to provide updates on his treatments, to share their struggles and joys, and to request prayers. The thoughts expressed in her blogs are moving testaments of their faith. As for teens, several of my students (past and present) post blogs that display remarkable depth. I doubt they're the only teens in America who do so.

Think Before You Do
Denee argues that since teens are often capricious, blogging can be dangerous. Yes, teens are often capricious, but so are many adults. Yes, it's unwise to act solely on emotion. However, people are less likely to act rashly when they express themselves in writing rather than speaking. Nonetheless, people will at times write or post something with little if any thought for the consequences. Acting without thinking is often foolish and sometimes sinful, but it does not suggest an inherent evil in blogging. It suggests the fallen nature of man.

Denee suggests that blogging is not an effective use of a Christian's time. While I agree that sitting in front of a computer for hours on end isn't an effective use of one's time, maintaining a blog doesn't necessitate hours of time--not to mention my point that a blog can be used to glorify God. Furthermore, we are bombarded with things that distract us from doing God's work--television, entertainment, work, and even sometimes family. The sin lies in making such things our priority, not in the things themselves.

Appearances of Evil
Denee cites I Thessalonians 5:22, "Abstain from all appearances of evil." He then explains to ways in which a blogger can give the appearance of evil. One way is posting photos or other material that could cause the viewer or reader to question one's character. This is a valid point to some extent. I've confronted a few of my students over the years about objectionable things they've posted that conflict with their espousal of faith. However, again the wrong lies in the use of the medium, not the medium itself. Denee also warns that a viewer may interpret a questionable pop-up ad as the work of the blogger himself. Anyone who has used the internet for longer than thirty seconds should be aware of pop-up ads, so I don't how his argument carries any weight.

Ultimately, Denee's article reeks of legalism. Throughout the gospels Christ makes it clear that He calls us not to man-made restrictions and observances, but to Himself. Furthermore, he fails to recognize the potential for Christians to use the blogosphere as a medium for sharing Christ.

Pete Yorn's Nightcrawler

Pete Yorn could've just as easily entitled his remarkable 2001 debut musicformelancholytwentysomethingswholiketheirsingersongwriterswithsomeoomph. Well, maybe musicforthemorningafter is a better title after all. Yorn's fusion of rock, folk, and synth pop set him apart from many of his singer-songwriter contemporaries, whose spare acoustic musings sounded lovely in a living room, but lacked the power to keep a crowd on their feet. Unfortunately, Yorn couldn't conjure the same verve for 2003's Day I Forgot. He showed himself once again to be a more than competent songwriter, but much of the album felt uninspired. On his latest album, Nightcrawler, Yorn recaptures much of the vitality of his debut while expanding his musical boundaries.

With the album's opening track, "Vampyre," Yorn makes it clear that he intends to expand his sonic palette. Backed by only an acoustic guitar, he barely rises above a whisper as he sings the opening lines, "In the beginning they had positive traits." By the end of the song, the soft tones have given way to distorted guitars and throbbing drums, as Yorn delivers the closing lines with a tremulous wail. On the riff-driven "Policies" he utilizes an eclectic blend of instrumentation, including clips of distorted trumpet, and proves a political song can, in fact, be fun.

Yorn doesn't abandon more straightforward pop songcraft, though. Songs like "For Us" (the album's first single), "Undercover," and "Maybe I'm Right" demonstrate his knack for memorable hooks and powerful choruses. The man knows his way around an acoustic song, too. On what is possibly the album's finest song, the folk-tinged ballad "The Man," Yorn enlists the help of Natalie Maines, whose harmonies beautifully complement Yorn's plaintive vocals.

Nightcrawler has some missteps, though. Yorn's experimentation sometimes yields skip button-worthy results, particularly on "Same Thing," which sounds like a Depeche Mode B-side, and the insipid "Georgie Boy." The second half of the album lags a bit at times, too, with a couple of songs retreading earlier ground, most notably the washed-out "How Do You Go On?" which recalls the superior "Maybe I'm Right."

Yet, when Yorn is at his best, which is the case on the bulk of the album, he crafts songs that feel fresh each time you hear them. Whether Nightcrawler is Yorn's best work is debatable, but it's undeniably good.

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