Category Archives: Pop Culture

The Padres in Brown

The San Diego Padres, also known as the hard luck Padres, los pobres Padres … you get the picture. San Diego fans are acquainted with grief. Even now, the Friars are sitting on a .447 record for the season with no hope of postseason play. This is about average, actually, since as of 2015, their all-time win percentage stood at 46.4. But, there’s always next year (and there always will be). Needless to say, the Padres haven’t made a name as an aspirational team like, for instance, the New York Yankees—the most successful team in baseball historically, with an all-time win percentage of 56.9 and a whopping 27 championship titles.

But never fear, because there is something the Padres can do to improve their image. I’m talking uniforms. The Padres should bring back the brown.

A few years ago, I’d never thought I’d say that. In 2004, when Petco Park opened for the first time, the team uniforms also got a makeover, and the colors were changed to sand (a light tan), navy blue, and white. I really liked it. It looked subdued and professional, and incorporated the seaside location of the gorgeous new park. I thought they should never change it. But the Padres have never stuck with one uniform for too long. After several years, the sand was replaced with light gray. This looked nice, but maybe too subdued. Maybe even … a bit boring.

Let’s wind the clock back a little. I’m not going to fact check this, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the Padres, though a young MLB team, born in 1969, have altered their look more than any other MLB team. (The Yankees never have in over a hundred years, and the they won’t, either.) In the spring of ’69 the brand new Padres sported brown and gold. They wore some combination of brown and gold for quite some time, adding orange as an accent color in 1980. Beginning in 1985, the Padres dumped the gold and used brown and orange on pinstriped jerseys. In 1991, the brown was ditched and the Padres thence used navy blue and orange, retaining a white home jersey with pinstripes, but blue pinstripes. (Perhaps thinking this was the secret to the Yankees’ success.) Remarkably, the Padres kept this basic look until 2003.

In 2016, the Padres gave a nod to the past in two ways. One was introducing a light yellow-orange as an accent color. The ball cap with a white S and yellow-orange D was reminiscent of the ’90s ball caps. Also, they introduced a brown and gold home alternate jersey, worn on Fridays. This is paired with a brown and gold cap resembling the cap worn between 1972 and 1984. The yellow-orange was a one-season deviation, but they kept the browns in 2017. And you know what? Those alternate jerseys look good!

Brown, properly executed, has at least three things in its favor. One, it recalls our roots. The Padres began in brown and used it a primary color for 21 seasons. In this way, it makes sense. This would not be an arbitrary color change, but a deliberate shift towards something that is culturally San Diegan and identifiable as such. Which brings me to thing number two: brown is unique. No other MLB team uses brown. How many teams use blue? About half of all the teams! Brown and gold uniforms would stand apart. Third, when done right it looks good. Really good. (See 1972 for how not to do it.)

Naturally, I have my own ideas about implementation. I don’t want some kind of “replica” jersey. It would be a modern iteration, using brown and gold as the coloring scheme. Pants would be white or gray because colored pants don’t go over well in baseball like they do in football. Don’t know why; they just don’t. But I’m not the only one with ideas. Below are a couple fake mock-ups of what this might look like.

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This mock-up is created by a guy named John Brubaker. He calls is a “little PhotoShop dream of a better looking team.”

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This is also a mock-up by the same guy. Now, below are some real pictures of the Padres’ current brown alt jerseys:

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Don’t those look good? These shouldn’t be the alt jerseys. These should be the main jerseys! We should lose the blue and reform our identity around the brown. We need to stop the changing around all the time (like the yellow-orange from last year). When someone asks what the Padres’ colors are, the question should have a simple answer―something you can take to the bank, something that identifies the franchise, linking it to the past and carrying on as long as balls and strikes, innings and outs, stolen bases and double plays shall endure.

https://www.gaslampball.com/2015/1/8/7514153/padres-brown-uniform-mockups-by-john-brubaker-are-awesome

http://www.bringbackthebrown.com/

http://caglaze.cts.com/

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The Supremacy of God In Hip-hop

A recent evangelical conference associated with the National Center for Family-integrated Churches recently caused an unwelcome stir among believers when a panel of speakers was asked to comment on Christian rap music. I have seen the video of the panelists’ responses and was surprised, upset, and discouraged to hear them one by one in unanimity offer blanket denouncements, sometimes in very strong terms, of Christian hip-hop. Thankfully, there have been a number of appropriate responses by well-respected Christian thinkers, including one by Albert Mohler and a statement approving of Christian rap by Samuel Waldron, who was also a speaker at the NCFIC conference, but not on—and, I believe, unaware—of the small panel that addressed Christian rap. There have also been apologies offered by the host Scott Brown, and by at least one panelist. Additionally, a discussion with Dr. James R. White of Alpha and Omega Ministries and rap artist Shai Linne regarding this topic is planned for later today. I happen to know that James White has a positive view of several current Christian rap artists, who produce excellent biblical material.

Nonetheless, I feel compelled to offer a few thoughts of my own. One reason is because I feel strongly about the Christian artisan in general. Another is that I have personally been greatly blessed by the music of several contemporary Christian rap artists. In fact, I have been more blessed by their music than by any other form of Christian pop music. So let me address some thoughts offered at the conference.

It was repeated by a couple panelists that it is not only important what we say, but how we say it. That is, form matters. Form as well as message should be under the authority of Scripture. To this I give a hearty Amen. How this indicts Christian rap was never really explained, and I can’t figure it out myself. It would certainly prohibit handing out tracts at a bikini car wash, even though that might attract more people. It would likewise prohibit using force or violence to evangelize. When it comes to music, this principle becomes a little more esoteric. Certainly, any art produced by a believer should aspire to recreate, as Albert Mohler said, what is good, beautiful, and true. There are some forms of music that I believe are not beautiful. They involve screaming. But even here, I would hesitate to take a dogmatic stance. Mohler further pointed out that even the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, who made music explicitly in the service of the Lord, was accused in its time of “using crude structures, lowly themes, and of borrowing from unworthy musical sources.” This does not necessarily mean that no form of music is unacceptable. But anyone who listens to the Christian rap on the market, with an understanding of the genre, cannot accuse it of being ugly. It is well made and a joy to listen to, in addition to carrying a wealth of truth.

Bach, as we saw, was accused of “borrowing from unworthy musical sources.” Here we see another accusation offered by the panel at the NCFIC conference, when the cultural origin of hip-hop was mentioned. Certainly, hip-hop originates from anything but a Christ-centered milieu. Indeed, rap music often entertains some of the most unchristian themes and images in all of pop music. How then can believers in submission to Christ embrace this musical style? They can because the style is not the message. Opera often has very sensuous messages, too, but it does not mean opera cannot be used to glorify God. To see this issue from an alternate angle, let us take the example of the Christmas holiday. A couple years ago, I was confronted by a coworker about celebrating the holiday. She was a fellow believer and had seen some material denouncing Christmas, explaining its pagan origins and the pagan roots of common Christmas symbols such as wreaths and evergreen trees. She asked me to watch the presentation, which I did. Looking for help on this subject, I ran across some articles by the Christian Research Institute (with Hank Hannegraff). In one place he observes that

Sometimes it is urged that to take a pagan festival and try to “Christianize” it is folly. However, God Himself did exactly that in the Old Testament. Historical evidence shows conclusively that some of the feasts given to Israel by God through Moses were originally pagan agricultural festivals, which were filled with idolatrous imagery and practices. What God did, in effect, was to establish feasts which would replace the pagan festivals without adopting any of the idolatry or immorality associated with them. It would appear, then, that in principle there is nothing wrong with doing so in the case of Christmas.

This, now, is actually one of the things I celebrate about Christmas. The holiday, created by the Christian church, supplanted pagan festivities. This is not merely using a pagan practice to facilitate Christian observances, but rather, it is a kind of conquering. This same thing can be done for opera; it can be done for pop-rock; it can be done for poetry; and it can be done for rap. Christians should not only be producing rap—they should be producing good rap, and when they do, they take one more part of the world from the god of this world and there plant the flag of Christ.

One of the panelists said that the only defense he has heard for Christian rap is that it is redeeming rap. He opined that in the Bible, redeeming results in “fundamental change,” (his own words), and that he doesn’t see this change in Christian rap. Let me try to unveil the folly of this opinion, if it is not openly apparent. Redeeming cannot mean a “fundamental” change. It does not mean this in Scripture. Redemption means a buying back. It is a restoration. It is fixing that which is broken, not destroying it and starting over. Now, the Christian rap I listen to is absolutely 180 degrees different in its message, posture, and worldview from the rap on the radio (and the rap on traditional radio is the milder stuff, believe me). The only thing that is the same about it is that it is still rap. If this panelist means that to redeem an ungodly art form, it must be so changed that it is no longer that art form, then that is not redemption at all. It is simple rejection. If God “redeemed” us in that way, then we would all be annihilated and replaced with new people. God does not do that. Instead, we are transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, we are mended—we are restored back to what we always ought to have been, and a fundamental change has not taken place because we are still fundamentally the same persons we were to begin with (again, if we are not, then we have not been redeemed). What this panelist must have really believed is that rap itself is not redeemable. I do not believe that. In fact, I believe that the use of rap for the sake of Christ and the gospel is not only acceptable, but is a manifestation of the dominion of the kingdom of God in the world as rap is taken captive to obey Christ. And I believe this is true in every instance where something good but perverted that was once the domain of Satan is usurped by Christ followers and put in the service of the kingdom of God.

Another objection raised by the panel was that making rap was following the world. Indeed, it was called a cowardly following of the world. Perhaps these panelists were unconscious of the fact that by wearing modern suits and ties, they too were following the world. My point is that once any activity that the Bible does not declare sinful is labelled following the world, where does one stop short of monasticism? Making movies with Christian themes, or using a harpsichord to play a Christian song is also “following the world” strictly speaking, but it is certainly not following the system of the world that is opposed to God. We must be careful to properly define what it means to be following the world. A Christian who makes rap with sensuous, greedy, violent, or boastful lyrics to fit in with his friends or with their expectations is definitely following the world. On the other hand, a Christian who makes rap that declares the true attributes of God is not following the world, even though his music is certifiably rap music. Why? Because the rap music itself is the Lord’s, and it can be used to promote either worldliness or godliness, just as 17th century tunes can be used to promote worldliness or godliness. In fact, I would here like to reiterate that when a Christian makes any artwork, it should be made well, to the best of his ability. The Bible tells Christian musicians to play skillfully (Ps. 33:3, 47:7, Ex. 1 Chr. 25:6,7). Should we expect Christian rap that is well made to sound anything like the rap of the world—say, Jay-Z or Eminem? Yes, of course, because it’s good rap qua rap. As it is evaluated even by those who do not know God but do know rap, it should be deemed quality, because it has been made as unto the Lord.

One of the most encouraging things I could hear that is related to this was from an African American friend of mine at my old job. He was big time into hip-hop music. He read XXL magazine. I introduced him to Lecrae while giving him a ride home one time. Later on, I made him two mix CDs of some of my favorite Christian rap songs from a variety of rappers. Once he got around to listening to the first one, he told me it was “awesome.” He couldn’t believe how good it was. I was so proud to hear it. Friends, that’s how Christian rap ought to impress itself upon the world—as being, not merely tolerated by the church, but attended to with the attention, skill and production value befitting those who labor as slaves of the master Jesus Christ and work their crafts as unto him. I do not say that rap is inappropriate for Christians; I say that poor rap is inappropriate for Christians.

Finally, let me testify to the incredible upsurge of Christian rap within the last decade or so. Like I said, this music has richly blessed me personally. I have marveled at the quantity and quality of the content of contemporary Christian rap. So much of it has been so theologically rich and accurate, that listening has been like attending mini Sunday school lessons. The true gospel and ecclesiology, soteriology, hamartology, anthropology, etc. that I have heard in the music of rappers such as Flame, Trip Lee, Shai Linne, KB, Tedashii, Beautiful Eulogy, Lacrae, Sho Baraka, Ambassador, and (if you want to get a little old school) Cross Movement, has stunned me. These artists are for the most part Reformed, and familiar with Christian documents that are hundreds of years old, as well as being well taught and articulate in doctrinal truths. It is ironic to me, that such messages have come from such an unexpected place: hip-hop. But it is like the Lord to raise up unexpected sources of clarity, teaching, and edification. I see the sovereign prerogative of God, if not the humor, in what the Spirit of God is doing through the work coming out of so unpredictable a corner of the musical and cultural world.

Let me finally defend hip-hop in particular as a channel for gospel truth. Hip-hop seems specially suited to the task of proclamation for a couple reasons. First, hip-hop songs are all about the words. The beat and the instrumentation are present, are there to be heard, and are an essential part of the production, but unlike a classical piece or most other forms of music, the words are the main focus, the central piece. Take away the words from a rock-and-roll song, and you still have rock-and-roll music. Not so with rap. In rap, the words make the style. Rock is music with words. Rap is words with music. Second, in terms of sheer word count, rap is especially equipped to divulge messages at greater length than other pop music. Rap songs fit many more words in the same amount of time as other forms of sung music, and hence are more able to “preach” than other forms of music.

Upon watching the panel yesterday, I was not only disheartened, but embarrassed. Let me say that I would not be embarrassed if the men making the statements were not my brothers in the faith, at least as zealous as I am for the lordship of Jesus Christ. But I think their answers were informed more by prejudice and misunderstanding than the Bible. To close, I am embedding a few videos of rap songs that have encouraged me in the faith, and I hope will likewise encourage you. These videos merely scratch the surface.

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Pirate Radio

Pirate Radio wasn’t a bad movie. It was interesting and had some very likeable and unlikeable characters and other characters that had likeable and despicable sides to them. But what I noticed was the way the movie depicted two very unhealthy extremes. It showcased the dehumanizing lifestyles of the excessively strict and the excessively libertine.

Alistair Dormandy, an English bureaucrat, represents the legalistic way of life, and at one point even quips, with visible pleasure, “If you don’t like something, you simply pass a new law making it illegal” (the basic logic of liberal progressives in the United States today).

Life on the boat, on the other hand is as free from moral laws as Mr. Dormandy’s life is free from freedom. But contrary to creating a wonderland, the lack of any moral lodestar here gets people deeply hurt–and confused.

Whatever else the movie may have communicated, I liked how it allowed us to see how flawed and how destructive these two extremes of restraint and autonomy can be. Of course, most people do live between them, society itself usually providing the guidelines of what is considered normal behavior. But even here there is an absence of true guidance. It turns out that it is only in Christ and the law and liberty that he brings can we find a new and balanced way to be human, since “he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord” and yet “likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ” (1 Cor. 7:22).

Eminem Grows Up?

A music review: Recovery by Eminem

Marshall Mathers, a.k.a. Eminem, is flatly one the most talented rappers there is in terms of his ability to puts words together and spit them out in unbroken streams of rapid rhyme. But as anyone who has followed his career can tell you, Eminen is also negative and vulgar. There can often be perverse elements of violence or violent sexuality as a regular part of his recipe. His hit single “Stan” is a prime example, though such elements pervade his Relapse album. Even the title of the CD, Relapse, reveals that, although he had entered rehabilitation for his alcohol and drug problems, that project was to be a collection of songs about defeat rather than victory. And so it is, with his perversity in full swing. But could he have been reaching out or hiding behind an image? The song “Beautiful” may offer a clue, where he says he’s been hard to reach, and even contemplates hanging up the microphone for good. There he admits that he “hides behind the tears of a clown.” It is often the most insecure children at school who act out.

More clues show up on his 2010 album, Recovery. But before we get to them, some general comments. Recovery is less shocking. The perversity, the violence, the graphic content—it’s much sparser on Slim Shady’s latest offering. Yes, there is some sexual content. One only need look to tracks “W.T.P.,” “Seduction,” or “So Bad,” but it is not as perverse or violent content. It’s regular party life stuff you would expect from non-christian people. Still wrong, but normal. Graphic elements are still present on a number of tracks, but those elements do not define this album; they are not by any means the main focus of the album. Mostly, it is about recovery, and the whole selection is permeated with a change in attitude and the determination to follow a new direction in life. This change in course is perhaps dramatized in the opening song, “Cold Wind Blows” as Eminem starts out with some of his usual fare, until he is suddenly struck by lightening. Eminem says, “Lord, forgive me for what my pen do”—that is, for what I write—to which God responds, “This is for your sins I cleanse you. You can repent, but I warn you, if you continue, to hell I send you.” This is an implicit recognition that Eminem knows he deserves divine retribution and needs forgiveness. Of course, I’m not going to read too much into the exchange (it is not as though Eminem gets squeaky clean after this), but it is unexpected and interesting to note.

Now, the clues I mentioned. They begin right away on the second track, “Talkin’ 2 Myself,” where Eminem says, “I just want to thank everybody for being so patient and baring with me over the last couple of years.” He says he was “goin’ through growing pains, hatred flowing through my veins, on the verge of going insane,” and, speaking to himself, “you’re lying to yourself, you’re dying, you’re denying, you’re health is declining with your self esteem, you’re crying out for help.” Further, he admits he had “become a hater” and had “put up a false bravado,” that he has a problem and he should do something about it instead of feeling sorry for himself. To sum it up, he says his last two albums didn’t count. He says,

I’ve come to make it up to you now no more f—-n’ around.
I got something to prove to fans ’cause I feel like I let ’em down.
So please accept my apology. I finally feel like I’m back to normal, I feel like me again. Let me formally reintroduce myself to you. For those of you who don’t know, the new me’s back to the old me and, homie, I don’t show no signs of slowin’ up.

Clearly, he is setting the stage for the rest of the album.

Tracks six and seven are the most significant songs on the album. As if it weren’t obvious, track six is plainly called “Going Through Changes.” In it, Slim talks about his struggle with pills and the temptation they present. He talks about contemplating suicide, but again reaches out. He says,

Why do I act like I’m all high and mighty,
When inside, I’m dying? I am finally realizing I need help.
Can’t do it myself, too weak. Two weeks I’ve been having ups and downs, going through peaks and valleys.

But in the end, he remembers the things that matter most to him, his relationships, his baby girls—especially Hailie—and it motivates him to change, even though “heaven knows I’ve never been a saint.” “My friends can’t understand this new me,” he says, but he nonetheless exhorts himself to “be a man.”

Track seven, “Not Afraid,” is what I consider the centerpiece of Recovery. The chorus, or hook, goes like this:

I’m not afraid to take a stand. Everybody, come take my hand. We’ll walk this road together, through the storm, whatever weather, cold or warm. Just letting you know that you’re not alone. Holler if you feel like you’ve been down the same road.

The bridge adds,

And I just can’t keep living this way, so starting today I’m breaking out of this cage. I’m standing up, gonna face my demons. I’m manning up, Imma [I’m going to] hold my ground. I’ve had enough, now I’m so fed up. Time to put my life back together right now.

Worth quoting is a large portion of verses two and three:

And to the fans, I’ll never let you down again. I’m back. I promise never to go back on that promise; in fact, let’s be honest, that last Relapse CD was “ehh.” Perhaps I ran them accents into the ground. Relax, I ain’t going back to that now […] I’m way too up to back down, but I think I’m still tryna [trying to] figure this crap out. Thought I had it mapped out, but I guess I didn’t. This f—–g black cloud still follows me around but it’s time to exorcise these demons. These m———–s are doing jumping jacks now!

And

It was my decision to get clean, I did it for me. Admittedly, I probably did it subliminally for you, so I could come back a brand new me. You helped see me through, and don’t even realize what you did, believe me you! […] No more drama from now on, I promise to focus solely on handling my responsibilities as a father. So I solemnly swear to always treat this roof like my daughters and raise it. You couldn’t lift a single shingle on it, ‘cause the way I feel, I’m strong enough to go to the club or the corner pub and lift the whole liquor counter up, ‘cause I’m raising the bar. I shoot the moon, but I’m too busy gazing at stars, I feel amazing.

In “Cinderella Man,” Eminem realizes that not everyone gets a second chance, and says he’s not going to blow the one he got. “Love the Way You Lie” and “You’re Never Over” even get emotional. They’re very open songs about some of Eminem’s issues. In “Love the Way You Lie” Eminem is lamenting destructive patterns of behavior in his relationship. It’s almost heartbreaking how he feels sorry for what he continues to do. What he’s really doing is coming to terms with his own depravity, and he admits that when it comes to love he is “blinded.” He also says, “But you promised her, next time you’ll show restraint. You don’t get another chance; life is no Nintendo game. But you lied again. Now you get to watch her leave out the window. Guess that’s why they call it window pane.”

“You’re Never Over” is almost a virtuoso piece for Eminem’s polished rap craft. But in it, he talks about the loss of a loved one. He says,

So, God, just help me out while I fight through this grieving process. Tryna process this loss makes me nauseous, but this depression ain’t taking me hostage […] I know I’m never gonna be the same without you. I never woulda came in this game, I’m going insane without you. Matter of fact, it was just the other night I had a dream about you. You told me to get up, I got up, I spread my wings and I flew. You gave me a reason to fight. I was on my way to see you [that is, I was going to die, probably speaking of suicide]. You told me nah, Dudey, you’re not layin’ on that table. I knew I was gonna make it. Soon as you said “Think of Halie” I knew there wasn’t no way that I was gonna ever leave them babies, and Proof. Not many are lucky to have a guardian angel like you. Lord, I’m so thankful, please don’t think that I don’t feel grateful. I do. Just grant me the strength that I need for one more day to get through.

Eminem, as he put it, is going through changes. Obviously, the last couple of years have been a difficult time, and his emergence from a dark valley is apparent in Recovery, even as the name of the album itself is hopeful. Eminem has been described as being authentic. A lot of people seem to call negativity authenticity automatically. I don’t. I think Recovery is possibly Eminem at his most authentic. When you’ve made a living being hard, being arrogant (in an older song he claims he’s better than 90% of rappers out there, which is likely), and being tough, it’s takes a measure of humility to admit you’ve been wrong and you need help. Maybe that’s why Recovery sold over 740,000 copies in its first week.

Celebrate America at the Backyard Barbeque this Afternoon. But in these walls, Celebrate Jesus

The fourth of July is a time to celebrate. Americans on this day celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which marked the official break of the American colonies from increasingly heavy-handed and unreasonable British rule; and that fissure of political bonds is surely a good excuse for Americans to throw a party. But as the fourth falls on a Sunday this year, I am especially reminded that it is not a good reason to throw a party in church. For that, there are better reasons.

The church I used to attend celebrated Independence Day in church every year. God and Country, they called it, and in fact, the banner on their website now flatly says, “Celebrate America: July 3 and 4”. I do not like church-bashing and that’s not really my intent. My formative spiritual years were spent at SMCC and the roots I acquired there were good. But may I suggest that their God and Country worship service is completely inappropriate. The spectacle SMCC puts on during the July 4 Sunday worship includes awarding active and retired military personnel, playing the military branch theme songs, the unfurling of one of the largest American flags I’ve ever seen, and actual fireworks in the sanctuary (!). It’s a pretty impressive pageant, but as I have learned more and more about my own faith over the past five or six years, it actually begins to break my heart that faithful men would treat the service this way.

Sunday worship, you see, cannot be hijacked to “celebrate America.” How can it be? It is already a celebration! It is indeed a celebration of a kingdom, a nation, a commonwealth—but a kingdom, nation, and commonwealth that transcends any and all geopolitical borders. God in Christ was reconciling the world to himself. He is forming for his own possession a holy nation, a royal priesthood, from people of every language and tribe and country (1 Peter 2:9, see also Eph. 2:12-13). When I step into the the house of the Lord on Sunday morning, there is no American; there is neither Jew nor Greek, but all are one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11). When I step into the house of the Lord, I am Christian, and am spiritually joining with fellow citizens around the world—citizens not of the U.S. (or China or Bolivia), but of heaven (Phil. 3:20)! I am an assimilated member of the one holy catholic church, the church universal, the church global, which God purchased with his own blood.

God calls us to celebrate every week the fact that we have been grafted into this worldwide nation, adopted into this family and sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise. He calls us to confess sin and receive forgiveness, to sing songs, to pray, to hear the public reading of Scripture, to hear the Word preached and taught, and to receive the ordinances of baptism and communion. With all that going on, what room is left to celebrate a temporal geopolitical entity? Such is not just inadvisable, I believe it’s wrong. I thank God for the confidence I have that when I attend my church today, the fourth of July will not be more than mentioned in passing. I go celebrate the same things I celebrated last week, the same things I will celebrate next week. After all, this is church.

Let’s be perfectly clear. I love the Fourth of July. I have a sensible quantity of nationalism in me. If I weren’t working today, I’d join my family for hamburgers, potato salad, and fellowship in a house dripping with red, white and blue. I’d watch the celebratory fireworks give brilliant bursts of color to the night sky, and begin to get sentimental when I hear “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free!” It’s appropriate to thank God for shedding his grace on this land. But you cannot bring that into the worship service. It would be completely out of place; a misuse, in fact, of that time that is given to us to worship, and to worship in the manner God has laid out for us in the Bible. Here, we celebrate not only a holy nation, but her King. Here, we celebrate Jesus.

Eisley Grows Up

Eisley has always been able to manufacture a good hook and raise it aloft with ghostly vocals, but it is in Eisley’s second studio album, Combinations, that they really come into their own. The music is less sing-songy than on previous offerings and the lyrics more substantial. If you have never been introduced to this family band, give them a listen.

Free Speech and the FCC

Congress shall make no law […] abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.

When people, even people who have the power of addressing many others via various media outlets, begin to say things that I don’t like, there are two ways I can react. Either I prefer that their ideas be engaged in a free and open interchange of ideas, or I prefer that their voice be squashed. The latter may be superficially gratifying, but it goes against everything I believe about how society should operate.

Right now, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, with about thirty other organizations, have written to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) asking them to grant their “Petition for Inquiry on hate speech in media.”  The petition was filed in January 2009. Inquiry on hate speech? What is this, the Inquisition? The NHMC insists that hate, extremism, and misinformation have been increasing and that the “current media landscape is a safe-haven for hate and extremism.”  While having no clue what extremism they’re talking about, I must add that I know popular media outlets are very selective about what they report, how they report it, and often, supposedly hard news programs add a lot of commentary. (Even a quick perusal of MRC.org will leave you no doubt.) In addition, the commentary programs can become vitriolic or unreasonable. I’m not defending [insert news outlet here].  I’m defending free speech. In other words, I believe that the FCC should not be involved in either regulating what things are said on television and radio (or any other medium) or mandating that counterpoints and opposing views be aired. (How they could do this is a mystery). I believe that it is of no concern to any government agency what people say, or with what intent.

People have the right, and must have the right, to say hateful things, to try to convince people of false things, and to say inflammatory things—even if with the specific intention to inflame.  Maybe people shouldn’t say such things. But people have the right to say things they shouldn’t. If they don’t, we must ask, who decides what is okay to say, and on what basis? If you’re okay with some speech being shut down, what will you do when they come to shut you down?

Furthermore, fairness should not (and anyway cannot) be imposed by the government. “Fairness,” if it must exist, should come about much more organically: by the freedom of those who disagree to express their views as much as anyone else! No speech should be either supported or suppressed by the government. If there is a grossly overwhelming bias towards, say, a particular stand on an issue or a particular political leaning in some region or among some demographic, it is the government’s duty to… do absolutely nothing about it. They have other duties altogether. The letter written by the NHMC says that “as the [FCC] deliberates how the public interest will be served in the digital age, it should consider the extent of hate speech in media, and its effects.”  No, actually, it shouldn’t! Besides, “hate speech” is code for “speech I don’t want people to hear because I disagree.” Bogus designations like “hate speech” open the door to shutting down all kinds of speech—whatever is deemed unacceptable by those in power at any given time. It’s a hideous idea that the FCC would consider implementing any actions in accordance with NHMC’s asinine requests, and hopefully they are not. If we lose freedom of speech, we lose the freedom that undergirds all the others.

If you disagree with a point of view, engage it in rational debate, don’t silence it. Silencing opposing views reveals the weakness of your own view. The NHMC has the right to express its frighteningly oppressive views. And I have the right to express my views. At least for now. And my view is that First Amendment rights are vital to any society that wants to call itself free.

Determines His Steps

As a Christian, I believe–indeed, I am set free to believe–that everything that happens is in some way meant to be, that all things occur according to the counsel of God’s will, by his direction. As a Christian I am set free to believe that everything happens for a purpose, even if that purpose is beyond our ability to comprehend.

People in general, it seems to me, have a very hard time letting go of the idea that at least some things happen on purpose, some “coincidental” events that make a world of change in a person’s life, events that one cannot imagine not happening. And this was one of the subtler points in 500 Days of Summer. The movie might have ended very cynically, and nearly did; but it just couldn’t go through with it. It had to cling to the notion that, if not everything, certain punctuated points along the timeline of experience are guided by, well, by–something. It is altogether too dismal an outlook to see no purpose or guiding principle to the occurrences that shape our lives most dramatically. It is too bleak. We cannot endure the thought. But why not? Why not? Something there is that doesn’t love purposelessness. That wants to break through that darkness with some glimmer of light, and believe despite unbelief that there is an end toward which we are each traveling. That we are nudged here and there in the direction of this end by, who knows!–God, the Fates, the universe?

This vague sense of meaning is like an altar to an unknown god, but I can tell you who he is. Proverbs 16 is as clear as it gets. Yahweh “works out everything for its proper end,” and although “the lot,” a game of chance, “is cast into the lap,” its “every decision” is from the Lord. “In his heart,” we’re told, “a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”

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