When Intellectual Safety Kills

People like safety. They like the comfortableness of it, the self-validating nature of it, the superiority of it in a world that is anything but safe. However, in most cases the illusion of safety is more highly prized than the reality of it. We surround ourselves with other likeminded individuals who hold similar mores, political ideologies, theologies, and worldviews, giving ourselves the impression of ‘safety’ through mutual validation.

However, like with most idols, this kind of ‘safety’ dehumanizes people. The opposing party, group, movement, culture, race, or denomination, becomes condensed into, and defined by, a stereotype. Keeping those we disagree with at arms length is ‘safe’, it is ‘comfortable’, and it permits the continuing illusion of  doctrinal and cultural superiority. This ‘safety’ also destroys meaningful dialogue because a genuine challenge to an established stance is seen as combative and a personal attack. When we identify ourselves with a specific group -and by identify I do NOT mean casually associate -any attack made on that group becomes a personal attack. Whether it be liberal vs conservative, Protestant vs Roman Catholic, pro-abortion vs pro-life: the list could go on and on -when you say I am ‘X’, any attack on ‘X’ becomes an attack on you. This is especially true in Christian circles which often demonize each other, as well as take worldly definitions with which to define themselves (conservative, liberal, etc…). We forget that when Joshua asked the angel of the Lord, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?”, the angel did not respond to the question, but simply stated, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the LORD. Now I have come”(Josh. 5:13-14). God was not bound by the human definitions that Joshua used (Israel vs. Canaanite), but rather is only defined by himself -God is on his own side.  Similarly with Jesus, the ultimate divider in his ministry was not between Jew or Gentile, clean or unclean, but between those who believed and those who did not. Christ alone is the ultimate one by whom we as Christians should identify, and any earthly categorization should be secondary to this -a very distant second. Jesus went to those whom the Jews despised and hated, explicitly because he was doing the will of his Father and that mattered more than any cultural, political, or misguided religious categorizations of his day.

Christ went to the outcast, the disenfranchised, and the poor of his time, bearing the good news of himself. He gave no heed to whether they were like him, or whether it was culturally acceptable, but only looked to his Father’s mission. We are called to be like Him first and foremost. We are not first Americans, or conservatives, or Reformed, or pro-life, or black/white/Hispanic/Asian, legal/illegal, rich/poor/middle-class, but rather Christians. Putting aside these human classifications does not mean we turn a blind eye to evil (Jesus certainly didn’t), but it does mean we are free in Christ to genuinely engage with all men, women, and children everywhere: in safety and without fear.

 

 

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TYCHO

Music elicits moods. A power-metal battle hymn will make you feel strong and impervious, the string section of Vivaldi’s ‘Winter’ will make you feel anxious, and Tycho’s synth-filled soundscape will make you feel relaxed in its vastness. Since I work in an open office floorplan, the incessant chatter can often become distracting and a handy pair of earbuds has become invaluable. However, much more so than in college (when music made an excellent study aid), various styles of music have proven themselves to be even more distracting than the people around me. Anymore, when I need to withdraw from the hubbub of office chatter, I turn to a variety of genres including power metal, hard rock, and most recently—electronic.

Because electronic is a very expansive genre, and one I know little about, most of my listening knowledge has come from artists I have stumbled across or learned about from others better versed in this style of music than myself. With roots going all the way back to the 1960’s with bands like Kraftwerk from Germany, the genre has a vast, but pretty short, history. The style of music has been typified by the use of synthesizers to produce tones and notes, but today it encapsulates a much broader swath of music—all of which is produced using some variation of live and computer generated instruments and sounds.

One group that falls within the ‘electronic’ genre, called Tycho, produces music using a mixture of both synthesized instruments (hardware synths) and regular instruments (e.g. electronic guitars, drums, etc.). The group is primarily known for using lots of ambient melodies and is incredibly relaxing to listen too. The band’s lead, Scott Hansen, also designs all the merchandise and album covers himself in an effort to present a visual image that is consistent with the sonic nature of his work—efficient, clean, and pleasing. Tycho makes for excellent working music due to their relaxing and clean sounds, but also contains the depth that makes attentive listening rewarding.

The genre of electronic music contains a huge variety of artists, sounds, and sub-genres, and people will be drawn to it for a variety of reasons. Mine is probably not as idealistic as most—just wanting something to block out the cacophony of the office-space; however, by pursuing it I have discovered bands like Tycho, that present a beautiful artistry in their melding of old with new, acoustic with digital, and audio with visual.

A Question of Love

“Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been fathered by God and knows God. 8 The person who does not love does not know God, because God is love.  9 By this   the love of God  is revealed in us:  that God has sent his one and only  Son into the world so that we may live through him. 10 In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice  for our sins.” -1 Jn. 4:7-10, NET

After reading the above passage recently, the following question struck me: in the context of saving faith, is the appropriate question “do I love God?” In Christian circles, whenever welcoming someone into the church, talking about ones faith, etc., this is the go-to question: do you love God? However, should the question rather not be the more fundamental, “Does God love you?” Must it not be the latter, for 1 John 4:19 says, “We love because he loved us first.” Even in light of passages such as Proverbs 8:17, “I [God] love those who love me,” which seem to intimate the contrary, are, on closer inspection, not actually doing so. For if God in his wisdom and sovereignty can lovingly elect sinners before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4-6), does this not necessitate His love coming first? Proverbs, rather, is speaking of the proper heart and outward response to God’s love. This outward demonstration of love toward God signifies the love that was already at work in our hearts: our love is a natural fruit, a necessary response (Matt 12:33, 13:23). The criticality of this question is rooted in the fickleness of man and the steadfastness of God. For a salvation dependent upon human love is bound to fail. For before any time is passed our affections are drawn to many things: food, public image, lust, slothfulness, selfishness, but thanks be that while our love is weak and wavering, God’s is most steady.

Our love is a fruit, a natural and necessary response to the love God has extended to us, a Christian that claims Jesus and continues to live on with no fruit calls into serious question the veracity of their faith. However, the first question does not address the true source of faith -because that rests in God alone. We must never confuse which love saves and which is a response. For if we look at our own fervency for assurance it will always leave us doubting; by resting in God’s love, only then can we find the solid rock.

“It is a blessed thing when the faithful soul in prayer fixes his uplifted eyes of faith on Jesus only; when he does not look about him to lay hold on his own scattered thoughts, nor behind him at Satan who threatens him with the thought that his prayer is in vain, nor within him at his sloth and lack of devotion; but looks up to Jesus, who sits at the right hand of God and makes intercession for us.” -Bo Giertz, The Hammer of God, p. 202

A Voice for Modern Times

Introduction

Hailing from the same recording label as Beautiful Eulogy, Propaganda brings a frank conversational style to his discussion of a variety of issues. While analysis of our current social crises is driving many to socialism, nationalism, hateful sectionalism, and any number of other responses, Propaganda presents the issues in their true light–analyzing them not from the purely human-centric perspective, but under a perspective shaped by the Bible.

Content

Propaganda has released a number of albums over the past several years, many of which deal heavily with various issues in society. His latest album, Crooked, is much the same, but after watching events unfold over the past few years with more careful attention than before–riots, shootings, elections, transgender controversies, injustices–his latest songs have carried a weighty relevance for me that few musical albums have before. His song “It’s Complicated” addresses how multi-faceted and complicated people are, and how much greater the image we are made in is than the ones we try to create for ourselves:

We may scratch ourselves raw to erase the image we were made in
Smoke, snort, sex or drown out the silence
We may waste our life savings on makeovers
To try to rhinoplast our daddy’s nose away
But no nip, no tuck could cut away the sense of obligation
We are becoming what we are not
But what we are is inescapable
You are a masterpiece fighting to be a silly selfie with a hideous filter
You are heavens handmade calligraphy
Slumming it among papyrus fonts

The song “Crooked” addresses the injustices and the lack of compassion that has been shown to many in the African American community. However, while anyone can sing about the problems in the world, the Gospel never lets us despair. Similarly, Propaganda’s songs, while painfully honest at times, are incessantly upward-focused toward Christ–we are all sinners in need of the same Savior. Whenever an artist goes to the source–to Christ’s goodness and man’s sinfulness–only then can a real, constructive, healing dialogue begin. This is something that Propaganda does well–seeing beyond the surface level differences to the underlying issue that plagues us all.

Style

Having listened to a decent amount of rap over the years, Propaganda’s style has always struck me as being more on the, excuse the vulgarity, “wordy” end of the spectrum. While with some rap you can get lost in the rhythm and easily follow the lyrics, with Propaganda the words are much more forward and require constant attention. This is by no means detrimental, but does mean he should not be played as “background” music.

Conclusion

Whenever discussing social issues, the Gospel must be the linchpin of any discussion. Without it we simply become driven by anger and pain. Without Jesus we all become content with playing in the mud, not imagining the amazing vistas of possibility. Propaganda brings the Gospel with his music, and this makes every issue he tackles, no matter how difficult, horrendous, and muddy it may seem, one that points us back to the Great Physician. He is a much needed voice in modern times.

Why couldn’t you just hug me?
Look me in the eyes and tell me love is lovely
Ribbons in the sky that Stevie Wondie flung me
Sing lullabies to the son you brung me
But your eyes just won’t keep they mouth shut

[…]

I could tell the future, we’re a broken record
I’ma say something then I’m gon’ regret it
And you’ll put up a wall and I’ma try to wreck it
Love is not love if it’s never been tested

-Bear With Me

Fado

On our last night in Lisbon, Portugal, my brother, myself, and 10 other world travelers made our way to the upstairs dining table at a small local restaurant. After filling up glasses of wine and beer, accompanied by sides of bread, cheese, and fried cuttlefish, the lights were dimmed. Soon, in came two guitar players accompanied by a couple singers, and thus began a night of Fado music.

Fado is a Portuguese genre of music originating in Lisbon during the early part of the 19th century. Meaning ‘fate’ in Portuguese, this genre is often characterized by bitter sweetness -missing something that has passed on. However, this westernizing of the translation doesn’t really capture the full depth of the meaning, because not all Fado can be characterized as sad. An example our guide gave was: “It is like being sad to leave Lisbon to have to return home, but at the same time looking forward to getting back and being excited about the future”.  The Fado we heard was very much about setting a mood: the lights were dimmed, and the style of singing of both the male and female singers was very emotional.

After performing for two twenty minute sessions, the musicians retired, and the night was over. One by one various members of the group headed back to hotels and hostels through the moonlit streets of Lisbon with the haunting sounds of Portuguese music lingering in their ears.

Some brief thoughts on death

And he [the thief] said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’” For the past several months my community group has been going through the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Through this study we have gotten to discuss and explore the Biblical basis for many different parts of our faith, and this past week one of the questions discussed was number 37, which deals with the benefits believers, at death, receive in Christ.

Up until last weekend, death was not a topic I had given much thought too. Maybe due to my age, or a general carelessness, the question of what exactly happens when we die had never crossed my mind with any seriousness. However, after reading through question 37 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, the issue was placed front and center:

37. What benefits do believers receive from Christ at death?
A. The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united in Christ, do rest in their graves, till the resurrection.

Here the topic of what happens to believers at death is addressed directly, and the answer is divided into two halves: the first focusing on the spirit, and the second on the physical body laid in the ground.

A good passage to read to understand the first half of the answer is Philippians 1:21-23, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” Here we see that Paul believes that at death he will be with the Lord Jesus Christ in paradise. This is in contrast with many views such as those of Roman Catholicism, ‘spirit sleep’, and the idea that we just cannot ‘know’ what will happen after death.

Whenever looking at the second half of the answer, a good explanation to understand the importance of the physical body being united to Christ in hope of a future resurrection can be found in 1 Cor. 15:12-14, “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” Here Paul demonstrates the importance of the physical resurrection. Unlike many religions, Christianity does not downplay or minimize the importance of the physical—after all God made man and woman with both souls and physical bodies in the beginning.

Death is something that men have feared for thousands of years, and yet the Bible shows us that God, in Christ, has made a way of life. By studying this catechism question, and more importantly the Biblical passages that it draws from, we are reminded even more of the love that God has shown us—a love that enshrouds his people now, in the grave, and ultimately to the end of times and the resurrection.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person, though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die, but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” Romans 5:6-11

Some Theological Resources

As has been made quite apparent probably from previous posts, podcasts have become a staple of my weekly routine, and I am constantly on the lookout for new content from different people. Thanks to a friend, I have recently come across several from various denominational backgrounds but wanted to mention two of them here:

The Reformed Forum:

Hosted by (you guessed it) a group of Reformed pastors from all over the U.S., mostly from the OPC and PCA, this site seeks to offer solid analysis and discussion of theology from a Reformed perspective. The topics and discussion might be described as ‘academic’ to some degree, but this does not mean that they are not accessible or eminently practical. In fact, Reformed Forum is clear in their desire that theology should be practical and have feet—lived out and impactful in daily life.

The Thinking Fellows:

Hearkening from a Lutheran background, this podcast is currently doing a series on various Christians throughout church history. Beginning with Saint Augustine, Johan Arndt, and Gresham Machen, this series is looking to explore, at a high level, many different men throughout history who have played important roles in the growth and doctrines of the church. The show is very approachable, and in their archives they have many podcasts that discuss a variety of contemporary and theological topics from a Lutheran perspective.

Who are you?

‘Who are you?’ While quite formulaic in today’s culture and typically resulting in a formulaic response, this question, taken to its logical conclusion, points to a much deeper and foundational idea: that of identity.

The Problem

Identity is certainly not a new topic of discussion; however, it has lost none of its relevance or importance to contemporary conversation. As Americans, this battle for identity has been playing out in very real, tangible, and heartbreaking ways -ways that have become more and more visible as time has gone on. Slavery, while in many ways a result of cultural perversion and economics, was at its core an identity problem: defining men and women based on biology (skin color, physical ability, mental acuity, race, etc…), rather than on any reference to the dignity that God has given all mankind by the fact they are made in his image. Abortion, at its root, is a question of identity: whether an unborn baby is merely a clump of cells with no inherent selfhood of its own, or the converse position, “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:16), where at conception we have identity given by God himself. Transgenderism is inherently an identity problem: defining ourselves in ways that completely divorce us from any scientific and spiritual standard of reality (Macarther). However, while these are all examples of high profile and visible identity crises, it often takes more subtle forms. When asked to describe myself, my past and who I am, descriptors such as introvert, single, family guy, etc.etc tend to be some of the first used. Many people do the same: identifying themselves by their work, friends, hobbies, relationships, parents, organizations, entertainment preferences, and preferred foods. Not everything people identify with is ‘positive’, sometimes people identify themselves (whether they admit publically or not) by the ways others treat or treated them, or even by the things in their lives that they are most ashamed of: sins or failures in their pasts. While reality dictates that all of these things do indeed affect us, if this is where our ‘identity’ ends, then we are just as divorced from reality as the most insane person.

The Solution

Identifying the self with causes, relationships, and any number of other things is inherently insufficient in itself, and leads to the same core problem found in slavery, abortion, and transgenderism: man, left to his own devices, provides no absolute for defining identity, but subjects it to mere practicality, politics, and selfishness. So, where does one look for identity? For all men, believer and unbeliever alike, it is found in God alone. Calvin addresses this whenever discussing self-knowledge:

“True self-knowledge only comes after first contemplating the face of God and then, afterwards, looking into ourselves. We as sinful men think of ourselves as righteous, holy, and just, and when comparing with the world around us, can find ways to rationalize this belief. If our behavior is at least some better than another’s we have ‘justification’ for our self satisfaction[…]so long as we keep our mind within the confines of human pollution, anything which is in some small degree less defiled delights us as if it were most pure ” ~Institutes, Bk 1, Ch1, Sctn 2

Only by “contemplating the face of God” can man gain any real understanding of who he is, how broken he is, and where his true identity is found. Because all men fell in Adam, they are ultimately defined by that fall apart from the grace of God: men living in active and willing rebellion. That is the identity of every man, woman, and child on this globe proceeding from natural generation -none is innocent. However, there is  another identity offered, one made possible through the sacrificial death of God himself in Jesus Christ. For those who believe, although still living in the realities of the fall, identity is found in Christ and his victorious and finished work. We are no longer vessels of destruction, but rather vessels of mercy (Rom 9:23-24). In the end, at the root of all, one of these two realities defines us, not our family, age, work, social circles, organizations, causes, etc. Either Adam or Christ.

Conclusion

The question of identity is incredibly important, and yet it is very easy as Christians to fall into shallowly defining ‘self’ in just the same way the world does: by starting with ourselves. Jesus is the answer to man’s broken identity, the anchor which alone can provide the mooring where men and women can thrive and by His grace become ever more as they were originally designed. Apart from Him we are all but rebels and traitors, destined for wrath and torment, and justly so. Who are you?

 

Colony House

A Little Backstory

A friend recently introduced me to an excellent video interview between Eugene Peterson and Bono discussing the Psalms and how modern music should draw more from them (see interview here). During the interview, Bono made a broad statement questioning the authenticity/honesty of the majority of Christian music, and while I would agree that a lot of mainstream ‘Christian’ music is pretty anemic, an article on the interview by Andrew Peterson (here) offered an alternative perspective that I have found provocative and helpful. All that to say, Peterson’s article also provided a list of what he called excellent Christian music, and so I decided to track down some of the bands that he mentioned beginning with one called ‘Colony House’.

Colony House

Based out of Nashville, TN, Colony House has been making music since 2009. Made up of a quartet of musicians, including two brothers, they sport a clean indie-rock sound. As of now, only two full length albums exist (one that just came out this year), and so I have only listened to When I Was Younger which was released in 2014.

The band has a bright sound that was surprisingly appealing to me -especially since I tend to prefer heavier and darker music. However, despite their brighter instrumental sound, the lyrics address a wide variety of struggles: loss, love, the future, growing up; thus providing depth and making the songs eminently relatable. In fact, the lyrical/music combination packs a punch similar to the rawness of a lot of modern hiphop/rap artists while providing what is arguably a more musical experience. Part of what makes their music so appealing to me is that they can sing about very real struggles, but do so in the context of redemption and the hope that we as Christians have in our Savior.

While Colony House is only the first band on Peterson’s list that I have explored to this point, I have to say that they are excellent and worth a listen. With their bright and approachable sound, lyrical depth, and redemptive outlook, they offer a beautiful, authentic, and relatable album that can be enjoyed for both its musicality and content. Now on to the next artist on Peterson’s list.

History in Bitesize Pieces

The Thanksgiving to Christmas season means an increase in time spent travelling for most people, and while music or books on tape fill that well, podcasts are another great way to spend the time on the road. One such podcast that is excellent for longer drives is Hardcore History.

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History, along with literature, has always fascinated me. However, pulling out an actual history book after a long day at work is pretty much a futile effort -like the church history book I started months ago and have yet to make major headway in. That being said, much of the time I spend in the car each month driving to see friends or family affords an opportunity to listen, and Dan Carlin’s history series has proved to be infinitely informative….and entertaining. Each podcast or ‘series’ is about 2.5+ hours long covering topics from Genghis Khan, to the Persian Empire, to medieval Europe, to 20th Century history. Also, on his website he lists all of his sources, and provides links to the various books from which his information comes. Much of what he discusses are the less savory or well known aspects of history, hence the title ‘Hardcore’ History. However, as such he provides insight into topics that are rarely covered in-depth elsewhere -like the Persian Empire (and not the Greek interpretation of it).

If you have a long commute, or maybe a weekend trip coming up with the holidays, consider giving Hardcore History a try instead of the book on tape or cd. It will be informative AND entertaining, and is a great way to learn something new about our past without having to pickup a college history book.