A Dovetailed Life

The things that interest us weave us together to create who we are.

Why Christian Music Is Essential

I literally remember the moment.

It was on a school field trip and all of my peers had their Walkmen and assortment of CDs with them. One of the greatest pastimes of such trips was, as kids do, compare and contrast the assortment of CDs each friend had brought with them. I remember my friends having CDs of The Smashing Pumpkins, Blink 182, Smashmouth, Green Day, Nelly, and many other secular albums that were often stamped with that ‘my mom doesn’t know I have this’ EXPLICIT stamp.

My collection of CDs, though, was quite different. It was made up of dcTalk, Michael W. Smith, Newsboys, Steven Curtis Chapman, and many others. I loved that music. It was the music on the radio I listened to and I listened to it constantly. That fact alone was not enough though to keep me from being embarrassed when I was around the kids with the ‘cooler’ music. I was so embarrassed that I even moved dcTalk’s albums to the front of my CD binder (remember those things?) because their album artwork would at least look cooler than Michael W. Smith’s. The horror as a youngster of being caught listening to music that wasn’t ‘cool’ was more than I could bear.

I liked my music. I just wasn’t proud of it.

One peer even said to me (I remember this word for word), “I like the music to Christian music, but the words suck.” To which I responded, “Oh yeah, I only listen to the music anyway. I don’t listen to the words.”

Wait, what?

What kind of an idiot was I? You don’t listen to the words!?!? What a MORON!!! Of course you listen to the words, Bryant! That’s the whole point!!!

But, you know, saying that would have meant that I submitted to the lyrics that he said, “sucked.” I would not be caught doing such a thing as that.

(In seminary we talk all the time about pop Christian lyrics ‘sucking.’ But, we speak of them in terms of theological shallowness, not in terms of whether they are cool or not.)

I really was stupid. Either that, or I didn’t realize the truth behind our faith. The truth is that everything we do forms who we are. The way we worship in church forms us into who we are. The things we watch on television form us into who we are. The things we read form us into who we are. The same is true of the music we listen to. These outside influences affect the way that we interact with God, each other, and surrounding communities.

This is why Christian music is essential. We need something that defines the Church and the disciples of Christ lest we risk allowing our children (and, let’s be honest, us) to be influenced by other non-Christian, non-Holy influences. I no longer worry about whether listening to music that speaks the Gospel is cool or not, because I know that what I listen to is forming me into who I am. And, forgive me, but I’d rather that influence be something inspired by Christ rather than the sinful ways of the world.

Therefore, I give praise for the witness that Christian music, in whatever form, style, or genre, provides.

The next step, as we often lament in seminary, is to actually say something. “Falling in love with Jesus” was ok when we first realized the issue of American music. Now, it’s time that we take this formative aspect of music one step further and use it to form disciples who can actually articulate something theological. Our next step is to recover the depth that many of our founders clung to.

Wouldn’t that be something!

-B

A Struggling Quest for Identity #GC2012

I thought about writing my reflections on the General Conference of the United Methodist Church 2012 here. I actually did write my reflections on it, for a class. Below are not those reflections. I figured that anyone reading this likely read my tweets and Facebook status updates throughout the conference’s ongoings and is also likely unwilling to listen to me rant about something that to them seems trivial. So, instead, I thought I’d present what I see to be an overarching problem with the United Methodist Church.

The United Methodist Church, as it stands today, has one large problem: it doesn’t know who it is.

The UMC (then the many forms of the methodist movement and the Methodist church) was both fortunate and unfortunate to have grown up around the birth of America. This means that values based on personal rights and liberties were, from the beginning of American Methodism, engrained into who the church was. To this day, this influence can be seen. The UMC still practices ways of democracy. The UMC constantly bickers about fairness and control of leading ecclesial (church) authorities. Let’s face it: the UMC is a post-Enlightenment church heavily influenced by both the good and bad of American Christendom. It is not the Catholic or Anglican church and, to a very certain extent, is very proud of this reality.

The Methodist church in America has been through trial after tribulation after trial after crisis. Methodism in America has dealt with slavery. It has dealt with civil rights. It has dealt with feminism. It has dealt, and is dealing, with homosexuality. In fact with the exception of homosexuality, the UMC has been a leading charge in America, seeking to bring personal liberties and rights to all. It’s as if ‘all means all’ has been written into a little bit of Methodism throughout America’s narrative.

But, recently, Methodism has lost its cultural footing. As a church that once pressed the westward American movement, it struggles now to gain or maintain a foothold in what it used to have significant influence on: culture.

Simply put, the United Methodist Church is not culturally relevant anymore. It’s not even, as a whole, socially relevant anymore. My diagnosis, again: it doesn’t know who it is.

We’ve seen this before. After Steve Jobs left Apple (mid 1980’s), the company began a downward spiral. It produced tons of products. It ventured into commercial areas it had never been. It tried new things without worrying about quality. It forgot the mission the Steves had set out for it since the beginning: make good products. Jobs used to tell this story about when he got back to Apple (late 1990’s) where he asked the employees that had stayed why they had done so. Their response? “I bleed in six colors.” (A harkening to the old Apple logo) They, evidently in the minority, could still sort of remember who Apple was.

Jobs used to tell this story alongside one about how he preached the future of Apple to his employees once he returned. He said that it became clear that if it was a zero-sum game and for Apple to win, Microsoft had to lose, it was clear that Apple was going to lose. “Apple didn’t have to win!” Steve preached. “Apple had to remember who Apple was!” Jobs always said that the only thing Apple focused on was “making great products.” That’s it. If Apple was under Jobs’ leadership, they would be about making great products and little else. Their identity was found inside of making great products. That’s who Apple was.

To say that the UMC is not in the same place would be an effort to evade the truth. Little is wrong with the Wesleyan theological heritage of the UMC. Little is wrong with the connectional heritage of the UMC.

What’s wrong with the UMC? It doesn’t remember who it used to be. It has, because of its love for tradition and unwillingness to move and groove, forgotten that it used to write the American narrative before other groups. It has forgotten that it used to write the culture instead of the culture writing it. It has forgotten that it used to be full of innovation. It has forgotten that it used to be evangelical. It has forgotten that it used to be vital.

The UMC struggled at General Conference over the last two weeks to make any progress toward the future. It chose (because of a host of reasons) to maintain a structural format based off coroporate models that are now half a century old. It chose, in large part, to ignore the essential part of its future: young clergy. With the strange exception of ‘guaranteed appointments’ for elders, the UMC made very little progress in reshaping who it is and, because of this, must suffer the consequences over the next four years until issues can be brought forth once again.

News flash: four years is too long in today’s world. Change was needed and it was needed fast. And it failed, motion after motion, amendment after amendment.

The UMC used to find its identity in strong Wesleyan theology that pushed the culture and innovated before it could. It was able to articulate new, sometimes controversial, ideas better so that the culture understood them in light of Christ rather than in pure Enlightened thought. Somehow, as a church, we have managed to live more into the Americanized version of who we are rather than the Christian version.

The church has simply forgotten who she is.

I fear it will get worse, too, as we become a more global church. As our surrounding culture begins to deal with what it means to have a global economy, it is faced with ways to run the economy. It chooses the easiest, cheapest route almost every time. What a time for the church to lead the way! Perhaps then we wouldn’t struggle with the ethical violations! But, the church, forgetting that it used to shape the way, does not. And instead of the world realizing who the world is, the world simply thinks its way is normative. How sad a day.

I feared that change would not come at General Conference 2012. I feared the the church would be stuck in a rut because of its inability to remember who it is. I had little idea however about how bad it would actually be.

‘Where’s God in this?’ you might ask. God’s here. Have no fear. The Spirit is moving somewhere. But I don’t believe United Methodism to be any sort of sacred thing. It can die. The Gospel will continue on. The Spirit will continue to carry it. The travesty is that the UMC actually has some interesting things to say about the Gospel.

If only it could remember how to say them.

-B

 

AT&Terrible

It was September 11, 2009.

I was newly married and was beginning to learn what it meant to be an adult. But, I was still tied to my parents’ cell phone plan. In fact, it had not been too long since my parents had graciously purchased me the first Android phone, the T-Mobile G1. Truthfully, that G1 was the entire reason for this debacle.

I was on my way to the Apple store for an entirely different reason. And, as I drove toward the Brandon Towne Center, my G1 rang. I answered (a rarity for me). And then, I lost the call (also a rarity on T-Mobile). I looked at my phone. It said…and I quote…”Application: Phone has frozen”

My one selectable option: “Force Quit Application: ‘Phone'”

I looked at Allison and said, “Baby, I’m gonna walk in there and buy an iPhone and be rid of this headache.” Surprisingly, she didn’t stop me. All she said was, “If you do, I want one too.” I walked out of the Apple store, new toy in hand, convinced that if I “didn’t like it” that I would “return it within 30 days no questions asked.”

Right…

I never looked back. It took me all of 45 seconds of playing with it that night to know we’d be back to buy another one very soon.

The infamous catch: the iPhone was only offered on AT&Terrible. After hearing horror stories about the company left and right, I remember saying to someone on the phone (after the purchase), “I just signed a contract with the devil.”

It is that very contract that brings me here today. That very contract, those infamous two-year agreements, and the enticing ‘grandfathering’ of certain features has kept me with the company ever since. Since then, the iPhone has released on two other US carriers, Verizon and Sprint, and has sold spectacularly well despite certain hindrances to those carriers’ service.

Up until this point, I’ve been allowed to keep my “Unlimited” data package that I originally signed up for back in 2009. This is not only no longer available on AT&Terrible, Verizon, or T-Mobile (the only main US carrier to feature unlimited data for the iPhone is Sprint and most have said that its speeds are abysmal), but it is coveted by every user who was enticed by AT&Terrible’s ‘hotspot’ feature and immediately lost their unlimited data.

Until recently.

Lately, AT&Terrible has been cracking down on their ‘bandwith hogs.’ AT&Terrible has been forcing some users to have their data throttled to unusable speeds because they were ‘using too much bandwith for their area.’ As you can imagine, it lit up a storm. Some guy even sued them (and won) because he says they broke the contract.

So, AT&Terrible (understandably in a problematic place…people want fast data and they want lots of it) has changed their policy.

The New Policy:

  • Previously ‘granfathered’ users won’t have their data throttled until they reach 3GB a month.
  • This is true for every user nationwide.
  • The ‘unlimited’ plan costs $30 a month, matching the $30 3GB a month plan they currently sell.
  • With a limited plan, the user has an option to buy unthrottled data for an extra $10/GB.

It seems fair, doesn’t it?

In many ways, I suppose that it does. AT&Terrible needed a way to make this more fair, and they came up with one. Good move, buck-os.

Except for one thing – customer loyalty.

I once told an AT&Terrible manager on the phone that I don’t stay with his service for the call quality, reliability, or widespread coverage (ALL THREE OF THESE SUCK COMPARED TO THE OTHER OPTIONS)…I stay because I stupidly signed a contract to be there and they were the only company that carried the iPhone…and because they still offered unlimited data. And, for the most part, I had good experiences with their customer service (I was approved for two iPhone 4s in the store by a manager…who didn’t have to do what he did…after having spent 5 hours on the phone with customer service the weekend before. I greatly appreciated his kindness.).

There is now no advantage to having stayed with AT&Terrible. Looking forward, I’m looked at the same as the guy who has been with the company for 20 years, and the woman who signed the contract last week. Me, who stuck with the company when large numbers of customers declared an exodus to go to Verizon last January, is looked at the same. I have no pull, draw, or extra weight given to my account. I am much like the rest of the world.

I know what you’re thinking…that’s fair.

But fair isn’t what creates great customer interactions. Fair isn’t what convices the user to stick with a company. Fair is a nice concept, but it ends up not appearing fair to much of the people who thought they were giving you the benefit of the doubt when the world turned on you. Fair isn’t a real thing.

When Apple replaces your iPhone for free when they didn’t have to, that’s not fair. That’s Apple being a stand up company. Does it cost Apple more? Sure. Does it make it harder for them? Sure. Why do they do it? Not because it is or isn’t fair. They do it because they want to keep you as a customer and they’re going to do everything in their power to convince you to fall in love with their product and company. I go to a certain dry cleaners not because they were fair to me, I went because I liked the work and they went out of their way to make it better, not fair, for me.

Fair is stupid. The world isn’t, never was, and never will be fair. It sounds good, it really does. And we are invited to truly believe it. But it simply isn’t how American society has ever worked.

Better is what companies should go for. Not fair. Fair is what governments should go for, not companies.

Companies should try to win over consumers. The only reason I stick with AT&Terrible now is because they still have the fastest 3G network. You’d better bet that once Verizon’s 4G LTE network takes off on a greater scale (like it already is doing) that AT&Terrible will be fighting for my business.

Because at this point, Unlimited data is simply a thing of the past.

-B

 

My iPad 3 Event Predictions

Last night sucked.

But, the good news is that Wednesday brings a new day and, perhaps more importantly, a new iPad for the whole world to see and bask in the glory of.

It seems a popular pastime to read rumor blogs and sites on days leading up to the big Apple announcements. I do quite a bit, and I suspect that even Joe I-know-nothing Schmo is even remotely aware of some of the features of the new iPad.

My intention is not to guess feature-by-feature, though I will. To me, the new features seem fairly obvious. While Apple has a history and passion for surprising the tech industry with new innovations (who saw the Smart Cover coming?), I suspect that most of what we will see on Wednesday will not be as shocking as other Apple events. I’d like to take some guesses at how the event will roll out. Then, maybe I’ll come back here and judge how I did.

  1. The stage is sure to be set with a giant Apple logo on the screen, as it always has been. They’ll be playing a mix of Adele and perhaps some other new, hipster artist over the PA. The room will be dark and there’ll be some chairs, just as Steve sat in for the original iPad introduction. There’ll be some iPad 3s (or whatever they’re going to call them) on a table near the side of the stage for demo purposes. They’ll, of course, be covered in black sheets.
  2. The lights will dim and Tim Cook, the new CEO, will come out and greet the crowd. Apple typically begins with news about the company and it has been far enough from their quarterly earnings report that they’ll have some updated numbers about the business. Tim will run over how well the iPhone and iPad are doing, emphasizing the recently passed 25 billion app downloads. Apple has sold over 50 million iPads, and I suspect that that’ll be a large part of the numbers presentation.
  3. Tim will even speak to how well the Apple TV is doing. I should make this clear, I doubt that we will see an actual Apple television set at this keynote. If there is an update to the product line at all, it will likely be an A5 chips that powers it, 1080p output, and perhaps a few more services integrated in. I suspect that they’ll announce a new model Apple TV box (one that connects to your TV via HDMI) but it will be a minimal upgrade. This event is about the iPad, not the Apple TV.
  4. Tim will introduce Phil Schiller, Senior Vice President of Worldwise Marketing. Tim Cook is a nice guy and definitely a wiz at organizing a company, but Phil is the presenter. Phil is, in my opinion, the only executive that can hold a candle ate Steve’s presentation style. Phil will be the one to introduce the new iPad.
  5. Phil will talk a bit about the success of the iPad and present some very high sales numbers that perhaps Tim had eluded to earlier. Don’t bet against them talking about how the tablet competition can’t keep up. He will absolutely also talk about the popularity of the new iPad Textbooks and present some spun numbers that will actually be very low but will seem high. Phil can spin numbers like few others.
  6. Then, he will begin to talk about the new iPad. He will talk about how great a product the iPad is and how it is changing the way that people interact with content. He will likely show a video about how the iPad is changing lives. Expect the video to be touching to your senses.
  7. “Then, we thought to ourselves, how can we make this magical device even better? We have come up with a ton of new ways, and we will focus on many of them this morning,” he might say. What will it be called? My guess is either the iPad 3 or, more likely, the iPad 2S. He will show it and it will look a whole lot like and iPad 2.
  8. “The first revolutionary change…our unbelievable Retina Display. The Retina Display on the iPhone 4, 4S, and iPod touch is just gorgeous. It’s something you have to see to really believe. It’s the only display that truly lets you read from your phone as if you were reading from a printed page. It is phenomenal. Now, we are bringing that display to the iPad. It doubles every pixel to present things you might never have imagined. It make reading on the iPad the most enjoyable reading experience you’ve ever had.” Apple keynotes are known for their superb use of hyperbole.
  9. Demo of the Retina display a la the iPhone 4 announcement. Hopefully without the “Turn off your wifi” moment.
  10. Next, the dual-core A5X processor. Phil will talk about how fast it is, dual core, with updated graphics. I’d imagine the new graphics will be about 7-9x the graphics performance of the iPad 2. “This thing just screams. And, mixing this with the retina display creates an amazing gaming experience.” Also, I expect an update to the iMovie for iPad software.
  11. Demo of the A5X processor, done by game makers like the makers of infinity blade or Electonic Arts. If new iMovie software, a demo would go here as well.
  12. Next, Cameras. The iPad 2 cameras are horrible for everything but FaceTime, so a camera update is entirely needed. I’d expect a camera upgrade to the level of the iPhone 4, but not the 4S. They’ll show some gorgeous pictures of what can be done with the iPad cameras.
  13. Along with that, a new app. iPhoto. Scott Forstall will likey come out for this. The photos app for iPad is simply unable to do anything like iPhoto for the Mac can do. Because Apple insists on photos being tied down to apps, the third-party offerings are insufficient. I don’t expect this to be a separate purchasable app, this will be an updated version of the ‘Photos’ app that already resides on your iPad.
  14. Next, Siri. Siri, at least for dictation, makes too much sense to leave it out. Scott will either stay out or Phil will welcome him back out to talk about how much better Siri has gotten and how pleased customers are with it. They’ll do a thorough demo of Siri and if I were you, I’d expect several new functions for Siri that will ship on the iPad 2S. Perhaps coming later via a software update to iPhone 4Ss. Sorry iPhone 4 users, I doubt Siri is ever coming to your phone. iPads are used differently that iPhones so this will be an interesting place for innovation on Apple’s part.
  15. Next, LTE. Phil will be back. He will talk about the popularity of the 3G iPads and how quickly companies like Verizon are building out their LTE networks. I suspect that the 3G in these models will be like the iPhone 4S and be compatible with both GSM and CDMA. Not sure what to guess about whether or not you will still have to choose Verizon, AT&T or Sprint, like you do on the phone. No contracts though, that’s for sure.
  16. Battery life. The iPad 2S will have the same 10 hour battery life. Which, if you think about it, is quite a feat.
  17. Then Phil will talk about price. Price is easy. $499 16GB. $599 32GB. $699 64 GB. Add $129 to each to get the Wifi+3G+LTE versions. Same pricing as before. The iPad 2 will continue to remain available for $399 at 16GB only.
  18. And that’ll be it. There could be some sort of surprise attachment or accessory, but for the most part, the event will be pretty standard. Phil will invite everyone to the hands on demo center and a few lucky journalists will go home with loaner models with which to reveal.
  19. Release date? I’m guessing March 16th. If they do a pre-order (unlikely), it will start on the 9th.

I think people are going to feel Steve’s absence. The last product announcement was a day before Steve’s death and I just suspect that it’ll be felt worse here than before.

I think some will come away feeling disappointed with the event, because it won’t be as flashy as we expect. The Retina Display is going to be amazing and the device is going to truly scream. The graphics will be astounding and there’s surely some exciting new software possibilites coming. All in all though, I wouldn’t expect to be blown out of the water.

If all this comes true, would this be a device worth getting? Definitely. Worth updating form our iPad 2? Maybe. One thing is for sure, they’re going to sell a lot of them. Millions. And they’ll sell them fast.

Would you get one of these iPads?

 

-B

 

The Greatest Love of All

I’m not one of those people who, when a celebrity passes away, writes on Facebook something along these lines, “People die every day. Why does the world stop when these overdosing celebs die?” I try not to judge people who do, but it’s not something I’ve felt the need to say. And so, I write here not to disparage Whitney Houston’s name, simply to call attention to the shaping and forming of our culture through music (which, arguably, music does).

People look up to many celebrities. Singers look up to singers. Athletes look up to athletes. Comedians look up to comedians.  Perhaps it’s because they’re simply good at their craft. Perhaps it’s because they see a little bit of themselves, and a lot of their potential inside of the talent of these celebrities.  Perhaps it’s a way to live a life they’ll never have, vicariously.

I’ve refrained from commenting much on Whitney Houston’s death. I’m saddened by the reality of her life, her dependence on substances to counteract an abusive marriage, and a talented soul lost from this world.  For many obvious reasons, her death reminds me a lot of Michael’s death and that only brings sad feelings to my heart. It’s such a shame.

However, I was watching YouTube this afternoon and came across this tribute by PS22 (who I have included man times here and on Facebook; I think they often do a stand up job at recreating pop tunes):

 

They do a phenomenal job here and are well led.  The female soloist is something else, too.

Every pop artist has their ballad that stands out for them.  It often separates them from the rest of the artists and solidifies their place in history as a phenomenal singer. Whitney, as I see it, had two: “I Will Always Love You” and the one above, “The Greatest Love of All.”

What’s most interesting to me is that Whitney set a place for black singers such as Jennifer Hudson and Beyonce to become as accepted and popular by mainstream media and popularity as they have been.  Whitney came out of church, gospel-singing background and blew the world away with her incredible range, passion, and natural phrasing. She had a huge voice and knew how to use it. Her level of stardom, in many ways, is untouched.

But, if we are going to see this song, “The Greatest Love of All” as a song that was defining for her career and thereby defining for our culture, I think it’s important to examine the text for what it is, especially because of its placement of a bold statement within the title. The Greatest Love of All. If that statement doesn’t shock you into listening to it, you ought to wake up. The song title makes you want to listen to find out what it is she is going to define as the ‘greatest love.’

She starts by singing, 

I believe that children are our future

Teach them well and let them lead the way

Show them all the beauty they possess inside

I’m tracking. I agree. Show the children the beauty they possess inside? Yes, Whitney. (Whitney didn’t write the song, but she’s singing it so I’m going to speak as if she agrees with the text.  Especially because the story is that she fought for the chance to record it against Clive Davis’s wishes.)

But then, we start to separate. She sings:

 

Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be

 

Pride is a weird thing for me.  Our Christian tradition teaches that pride is a bad thing. Our American tradition teaches that pride is how you get somewhere in life.  Without confidence in what you do, in America, it is hard to succeed. The song assumes that pride makes things easier.  If I’m confident and prideful in what I do, life becomes easier. This is a humanist message, not a Gospel message. This is reliance on the individual, rather than reliance on the grace of God.

 

Everybody’s searching for a hero
People need someone to look up to
I never found anyone who fulfilled my needs
A lonely place to be
So I learned to depend on me

 

I assume that because Whitney desired to sing this song that these lines, perhaps more than any other within this piece, resonated with her. It, to me, shows two things: a reliance on herself (obviously), and a direct rejection of any Christian role model (i.e. Jesus).  I appreciate the honesty within the lyrics, but the lyrics suggest a solution that is not Christian (remember, the tradition that Whitney was raised in) in any realm. Reliance on self? Once again, this is a humanist argument. Our hope is that a born-again Christian would have someone who fulfilled their needs, Jesus. And, with that, the Church.

 

She continues:

 

I decided long ago, never to walk in anyone’s shadows
If I fail, if I succeed
At least I’ll live as I believe
No matter what they take from me
They can’t take away my dignity

 

This is almost at the crux of the song. This continues to emphasize this complete and utter reliance on the self. More than that, though, the use of the term “believe” makes this a stronger position. It may not quite reach the lengths of spirituality, but it’s clear: the writer of the song thinks that if you believe in yourself and have dignity, you might not always succeed, but you will be…better. This is an American idea to be sure, but seems to stand in complete conflict with the Christian message. Indeed, Christians are to walk in Jesus’s shadows.

 

But there’s more to this line before we move on. I read these lines to be an “us against the world” type argument.  This is intriguing to me because that has many parallels to the argument of Christianity. We have a better way of life, you do not. Come join us and put your faith, hope, and trust in the Savior of the world. This message: if I put my faith, trust, and hope in myself…and believe in myself…then I’ll have a better way of life than the world. The world may be out to get me, but that’s ok…I have myself. This, again, emphasizes where the trust is placed. Christianity claims Christ. This song claims the self.

 

Because the greatest love of all
Is happening to me
I found the greatest love of all
Inside of me
The greatest love of all
Is easy to achieve
Learning to love yourself
It is the greatest love of all

 

And here we are. The definition of the ‘greatest love of all.’

 

Friends, learning to love yourself is not, as I see it, the greatest love of all. The greatest love of all is the grace of God. The grace that is poured out on a broken humanity that confesses its sins and seeks to live in communion with Christ’s offering.

 

The song, for the listeners, is a lie. It spreads a reliance on humanity, on the self, and the good works of said people. It delivers a message of hope that resides completely within the self. It places trust on the individual. And because of that, it is in direct opposition to the heart of the Christian message: Jesus is Lord.

 

“But Bryant,” you say. “This song was written by someone struggling with cancer who may or may not have been a Christian. She was in the midst of a crisis and writing honestly about where to place her trust. In her against the world, she finds the strength within herself to survive. How beautiful of a message?!?!”

 

I respond: This is not a beautiful message. And it is in direct conflict with where we should be.

 

The movement towards a trust in the individual rather than a higher power is a move that the Enlightenment granted humanity and may never ever be able to be taken away. Songs like this destroy the Christian message and focus: Christ. They enable humans to understand that they’re able to battle whatever they’re fighting (whether it is cancer or something less tragic) simply by believing in themselves.

 

The Christian Scriptures teach us that when humanity ran from God and placed their hope and trust in other things it always went worse than if they had placed their trust in God in the first place. This is a message that obviously wasn’t written into Whitney’s narrative, because I imagine this song would have struck a different chord with her than it did.  It’s sad. And, inevitably, the trust that Whitney placed on herself and the things of this world came to cause her death. It’s sad, very, very sad.

 

I do believe that children are our future. If we teach them well and let them lead the way, we are in for a wonderful ride. But, the beauty within them that this song talks about OUGHT to refer to the beauty that God placed in God’s children, not the beauty within their humanity. Humanity is fallen, God is holy. Only a trust and belief in God can give true hope and love. That is the greatest love of all.

 

Why does this matter? Because music shapes our culture.  Therefore, music shapes us. I’d prefer that Christianity define “The Greatest Love of All,” not Whitney. 

 

Lord, help our unbelief.

 

-B

Why Apple’s Supply Chain Problem is Such a Big Deal

If you clicked this link, your thought was likely, “Bryant’s a fanboy, let’s see what kind of spin he puts on this horrific topic.” Or, you might be someone who has tweeted to me, emailed to me, or trolled my Facebook timeline with this NY Times article released the other day.

The gist of the article is this: Apple employs hundred of thousands of poor Chinese workers who spend their entire lives connecting cables inside of iPhones for very little pay. The article goes further than that though, too. The article makes the pronouncement that Apple cares very little about the working conditions of their supply chain and you should feel guilty for owning an iPhone, iPad, or iPod. Here’s a taste:

Employees work excessive overtime, in some cases seven days a week, and live in crowded dorms. Some say they stand so long that their legs swell until they can hardly walk. Under-age workers have helped build Apple’s products, and the company’s suppliers have improperly disposed of hazardous waste and falsified records, according to company reports and advocacy groups that, within China, are often considered reliable, independent monitors.

Tim Cook, the newly appointed CEO, made it clear in an email to employees that he was ‘outraged’ by the accusations that the article made and was deeply offended. It’s not hard to see why…The New York Times and Apple have mostly had a very cordial relationship. The NYT’s website is included in iOS’s default bookmarks and Steve often visited their site first when demoing a new product. The Times was quick to adopt the iPad as a way of releasing their content and the relationship has worked for the betterment of both companies. Everything seemed fine.

Until this.

Even today, the BSR, who is quoted heavily throughout the Times’s piece refuted much of its claims. I suspect that we haven’t seen anywhere near the end of this.

As a point of reference, here’s a short clip of Steve Jobs reacting to the Wall Street Journal’s questions regarding the suicides and suicide attempts by Foxconn employees a while back:

Again, we haven’t heard the end of this. As we shouldn’t.

The poor workers. They’re worked hard, worse than many Americans will ever work, and when Apple wants to lower production costs and raise quality of the products, something’s got to give. The media is beginning to claim that the cost of these two desires is human lives and well being. In fact, the NYT titled their piece, “In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad.”

It’s linkbait, but it starts a good conversation. Why is this so important? Why does Apple take the heat?

Sure, it’s because theyre bigger than everyone else. That’s what got Nike in so much trouble. Sure, it’s because they are a hugely profitable company. They made more in profit than Google brought in total last quarter. Sure, it’s because people love their products. But I think this has become a bigger deal for another reason.

I think it’s because their products speak a bit of hope.

Andy Crouch referred to this phenomenon when he spoke about the gospel that Steve Jobs preached in a piece immediately following Steve’s death. I don’t agree with the correlations that Andy drew throughout the entire piece, but his general thesis is good. Steve had a different, often better, way of envisioning how a human interacts with a product. (Andy’s piece comes off a bit harsh at times, though I know that Andy is an Apple fan because when I saw him speak live once he referred to his MacBook Pro as the true representation of ‘perfection’ on earth.)

Apple’s mindset has always been about Thinking Differently. Using a computer sucked until 1984 when the Macintosh was introduced. MP3 players sucked until 2001 when the iPod and iTunes made it possible to actually enjoy listening to digital music. Cell phones sucked until 2007 when the iPhone finally made a smart phone easy to use. Tablets sucked until 2010 when the iPad reimagined what a tablet was and how humans interact with it.

Steve’s quotes. Apple’s marketing campaigns. The products themselves. All of these presented nearly hyperbolic statements about what it was like to use an Apple computer and how much there was to love about them. Sites like “CultofMac.com” and documentaries like “Mac Heads” and terms like “fanboy” are signs of the effectiveness of this message. (I’ll admit, I often get accused of buying into the Apple gospel more than the Jesus Gospel. I’d argue that that might be because Apple is better at presenting it than our churches are right now, but that’s an argument for another day…)

When you use an iPhone, you fall in love with it. Or, most people do. Apple is no longer an electronic company; they become an ideology, a mindset, and a way of life. Apple has engrained this “Think Different” message into our understandings of who they are as a company. When we love their products, we want to believe that the truly are better than everyone else. In every single aspect.

Yet this Foxconn situation seems to be the same as everyone else. I remember getting in trouble at a young age and my first response was to say that ‘everyone else was doing it!’ To which my parents were quick to point out, “Perhaps, but you’re better than that.” These poor (literally) workers in these factories are indicative of what is wrong with the world we’re in and we’d like to think that Apple can rise above those problems. For God’s sake, they’ve risen above it with all of their products!

I hope Tim and Steve are (were 😦 ) right that they are actively working to take greater measures in treating their workers fairly. They’re certainly working to spread a good word about how much better they are than many other suppliers. I hope that what they say is true, is true, and that it will continue to get better quickly.

Apple has nearly $100 Billion in the bank. If there is one company who can actually Think Different when it comes to this type of labor ethics, it’s Apple. They have the means.

I’d like to see them turn this around. Not just politically. Not just through marketing. I’d like to see them make gigantic strides and stand up for the right and well being of humans.

Because that’s what Apple does. They Think Different.

Please, dear God, don’t let that thought leave with Steve.

B

Emulating the Greats

Adele is, without a doubt, the best artist of 2010 and 2011. She’s had nearly half her album 21 hit the top of the charts and it seems like everyone everywhere has at least heard about her canceled tour because of the strain her voice has been under.

Everyone seems to be covering her now. I’ve shared some of my favorites on this blog.

This kid below evidently won Austrailia’s Got Talent. I found the video when I was bored on YouTube. Skip forward to 2:00 to see him actually sing.

 

The funny thing is, I actually don’t think he’s that good of a singer.  Sure, he’s far and away better than I was at that age and is far and away better than probably 100% of his peers, but he’s pitchy on most of the songs I’ve heard him on, and they tend to all be a tad too big for his voice.

It’s true that he has a huge voice for a 14 year old.

But there is one thing that he has that I think of as enviable. Listen to the way he emulates Adele’s voice. It’s incredible. He gets her accent (much different than his Australian accent), he gets her voice pronunciation, and he captures he presence inside of the piece, though it’s not her singing it…it’s him. It’s remarkable really. Listen to Jennifer Hudson pop out of this one below.  Again, skip the crap at the beginning.

 

 

He’s actually a really good singer, despite what I said above. I find it most remarkable that he is able to contort his voice to the style of the original artist in ways I could never dream to. It’s an incredible talent.

He’s also like the Australian Justin Bieber, except that he can sing.

 

-B

Jesus > Religion (?)

Give the next four minutes to this video, even if you have already seen it. It’s best to watch or read things several times in order to think critically about them. And, strap in, this is a long post. I hope you enjoy it, though.

It’s been ‘liked’ on YouTube over 160,000 times and ‘disliked’ on YouTube over 19,000 times. It’s been shared on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and YouTube time and time again. Most commentary thus far has been divided as to whether or not this ‘message’ is acceptable. Herein lie some of my thoughts. Feel free to read them, wrestle with them, agree or disagree with them, and challenge them. This is an important topic for our time and we would do well to approach in this conversational way.

I remember going to a Big Daddy Weave Concert. I love them. Soooo good. And they began singing a song, one they covered from another worship artist, “Fields of Grace.” In Big Daddy Weave’s version of the song resides a line that goes like this:

There’s a place where religion finally dies.

And I remember Mike Weaver (the lead singer) prefacing the line by saying, “This is my favorite line of the song.” The spirit in which it was sung now seems strange to me. I once was sold on the concept of “relationship, not religion” but I’m now more convinced that that notion cheapens the Christianity that both Jesus and Paul called for.

Which leads me to this somewhat bold statement: The man in the video was too caught up in praise given to him for his skilled rhyming that he forgot to actually check his statements and definitions for consistency.

The problem with the video above is that it seems to go one way…and then another. He claims that Jesus and Religion are on opposite sides of the ‘spectrum’ but he also points out that your religious affiliation on Facebook doesn’t make you a Christian. Wait, what? How are these tied together?

It becomes necessary to define ‘religion’. (Good rhetoric makes use of loaded, ambiguous terms like ‘religion’ and, well, ‘Jesus’ because you can begin to redefine them in your own way in order to make a point. Not defining them within an argument not only makes the problem worse, it threatens to destroy the terms entirely.)

It seems to me that this man considers ‘religion’ to mean: a facade that followers put on that masks their spirituality. He’s not even close to suggest this. Get religion out of the way because JESUS is what is so important. He seems to be saying that you don’t need religion if you have Jesus. In fact, he blatantly says that at the beginning of the piece. He says,

What if I told you that Jesus came to abolish religion?

(I desire to respond: I’d tell you that you were wrong)

If anything, I think, Jesus came to reform religion. Jesus came to correct religion. Jesus came to show humans how to live life. This was a large part of his ministry on earth, including his preaching. Jesus did not come to abolish religion, he came to serve religion. In one sense, he came to serve as a means of growth throughout that life.

So truly, ‘religion,’ for Christians, is the means by which we worship God and grow further in the likeness of Christ. Religion encompasses sacraments like communion and baptism. Religion involves a confession of sin. Religion encourages prayer. Religion encourages accountability. Religion is a way of life, and a way to grow into a Christ-like life.

Now, his courageous testimony is notable and honorable. I always am moved by people who had a huge transformation toward Christ-like living in their lives and are willing to speak openly and honestly about it. BUT, because he has this…he operates out of a mindset of grace.

Truly, surely, GRACE is a large part of the Christian story. Paul tells us that we are sinful people, in need of grace. Theologians have told us throughout time that that sin is covered by grace. Though it’s disagreed on exactly HOW that grace functions, all Christians agree that the life of Jesus, the death on a cross, and resurrection have something to do with the grace required for eternal salvation. Even our friend in the video remarks that salvation is not based on “my merits, but Jesus’s obedience alone.” AND HE’S RIGHT.

Jesus’s obedience to do the will of the Father, to face death, has a great deal to do with our salvation. This, I believe, is true. And I can’t name you a Christian who thinks that YOU can earn YOUR OWN salvation. That idea was pretty much outlawed in Christian circles a LONG time ago.

But, he’s still confused.

His points are right. We do need grace. That has been taken care of. Christians should live holy lives, not just consider themselves saved because of their Facebook information. Christians should tear down the facades. Christians should be open and honest. Christians should practice grace.

BUT THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT ‘RELIGION’ IS!

That’s the calling Jesus placed on us through his preaching. That’s the call Paul placed on us through his letters. That’s the calling our pastors place on us every Sunday. Religion, the practice of worshipping and becoming more Christ-like, is defined by all these things that he outlines. Religion is not just perfume on a casket, it is the burial ceremony and the tears shed for the loved one.

So, you’ve probably reached the same point I have.

He’s a good poet. Spoken Word is popular now. Rhetoric is easy to come by with ambiguous language. Good speakers can catch and win over a believing audience just by the tones of their voice.

But this does not excuse us from watching our words.

Statements are bold. And when they’re attached to art, they become MORE powerful.

Definitions are important. Because we use them to communicate effectively.

So ‘religion,’ as it stands, maye be a used up, dried out word that offends people. And…perhaps we need a new word. But people, good people, Christians in fact, use the word ‘religion’ to speak about how they’re growing into a Christ-like life.

And so to make a statement that Jesus > Religion is simply unfair. Jesus and the Christian religion are intimately tied together. Religion is a way of life. Religion is the VERY thing this man is calling for. Jesus did NOT hate religion. Religion is a means to Jesus, and if approached in that way, those liking and disliking the video can actually come upon common ground.

Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

As a writer, I can relate to this guy a lot. I often write papers that make awesome points that contribute to the exact opposite of my thesis. I end up at the end of the paper saying, “Wait, where’d I go wrong?”

I just tend to think that this is dangerous for the future of the Church. Influencing this many people and convincing them that ‘religion’ is wrong is scary. Very scary. We do need Jesus. But we also need prayer. We need accounable discipleship. We need confession of sin. We need baptism and communion. These are elements of religion that most in the Church are unwilling to let go. Because, for them, this is where Jesus is. This “Jesus and Jesus alone” mindset is ok, but only if religion gets included in the definition of ‘Jesus’.

-B

On PS22 and Music

If I had one criticism of PS22 and their teacher, it’s that he is probably not teaching proper singing or performance techniques to them at a young age. Its common thought that this creates ‘bad’ habits that will influence the art in a negative way, later.

I was thinking that as I watched this.

And then I thought, “so what?”

There are probably many many children singing in children’s choirs around the globe inside of Universities, etc. that don’t enjoy the music they sing. I think I’d argue that that fact is more destructive to the art than something like PS22 is.

When musicians come to hate music, it might be one of the saddest days on earth.

If anything, performances like these are creative, unique, and stretching across boundaries. Right? I can see some of these kids rushing over to their friends’ house after school and being super jazzed to load up YouTube and show their friends what they did at school that day.

These are kids. And they’re excited about what they’re doing.

That’s the future of America, I think. Creativity is key. Technology (because it is simply an embodiment of creativity) is key. Fine arts (because they are simply embodiments of creativity) are key. The study of maths and sciences (because they are products of creativity) are key.

And so when I cringe to see the kids moving their bodies so much, I have to stop and think…”how proud are these kids of their work?” or “how much will the enjoyment of this experience influence their lives in the future?” You can experience the excitement within the last few seconds of the video. Sheer joy.

Because in the end it doesn’t matter if they’re singing Mozart or Lady Gaga (though it might be nice for them to understand both forms of the art); they’re singing. They’re practicing. They’re performing. And they’re enjoying it.

And, better yet, they’re doing what they do…well. We don’t have enough of that in today’s world.

It’s cool stuff. It really is.

-B

I really don’t like the song that much, despite its catchiness. Gaga wrote the song with her dad taking shots on the piano after her grandfather died. I just don’t, quite…get it. It doesn’t speak any sort of message that I would consider life changing, and I don’t think the lyrics are very poetic at all. Also, the music video was ridiculous.

Regardless, though, the act of singing it is moving something inside of these two groups. It’s weird to think that something’s moving inside of these groups when the lyrics to the song suck. But, you know, perhaps that speaks to the power of music within the soul. It probably does.

Reflections on Branches UMC in Florida City, FL

The Wesley Fellowship at Duke, of which I am fortunate to serve as an intern from the Divinity School, took a small, but strong, group to Branches UMC in Florida City, FL this past week for a winter break trip.
 
Branches UMC is a United Methodist Church in Florida City, FL (about an hour south of Miami, right next to Homestead).  Most will remember the area in relation to Hurricane Andrew in 1992. To say that Hurricane Andrew devastated South Florida is an extreme understatement. Homestead was pretty much wiped out.  Ever since, Florida City, thanks to help from the US government, has had a rebirth of its economy. It’s impossible to fully grasp the amount of impact Hurrican Andrew had on the area without being there. Everything, in one way or another, reminds visitors of the devastation. 
 
Branches UMC also houses a mission program within its walls, one of three Branches sites within South Florida. This mission program was our main focus throughout the past week.
 
For years now, Branches has provided an after school tutoring program for the community’s children.  They tutor every child, help them with homework, pick them up from school, and act as a bit of a liason between the church, the schools, and the community. It’s an incredible witness to the community because it is a place free of gang violence, drugs, and other issues. It’s a large undertaking for such a task, but the staff and volunteers at Branches are there every day, rain or fire, to minister to this community.
 
As you’re probably aware, South Florida is ethnically diverse.  While English is still the “main language,” nearly everyone is somewhat bilingual and many businesses operate almost completely in Spanish if at all possible.  But it’s not just, English or Spanish, White or Latino, or Latino or Black either.  These generalizations do little good. There are Cubans, Hondurians, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Haitians, as well as a representation from every race, country, and nationality.  These people are different than those they see around them and they’re conscious of this fact.
 
Because of this, the large collection of ‘illegal immigrants’ (more on that term another time), the extreme poverty, and other aspects such as weather and climate, South Florida is a type of place that you may not be used to in any way.  As a white male, though I grew up in Florida, I was very underprepared.
 
But it’s not just race.  It’s also class. There are the extreme rich (though most of them live closer to Miami).  There are the extreme poor (many live 10 to a small house). There are those who run their own bakeries (and there are some really good ones), and there are those who can’t find work.  There are skilled day laborers that stand on the street waiting to see if there will be any work for the day (and their stories will bring tears to your eyes), and there are those who drive fancy cars and have season tickets for the Heat.  Perhaps our whole world deals with these issues of class, etc, but the racial tensions within South Florida seem to make the problem even more…real.
 
To make it one step worse (or perhaps in some ways…better) the church burned in 2010.  
 
The whole church, more or less, went up in fire, destroying everything. 
 
And here’s where I’d like to dwell for a moment.
 
Obviously, the fire is a defining moment in the church’s history.  But not because it changed them. I see it as definining because of the way they reacted.  From the morning after the fire the pastor, Audrey Warren, stood before the communion table and said, “Don’t come for communion if you are unwilling to forgive whoever has done this.” Imagine the rage in your heart if everything you had worked for had been burned. Now imagine a complete and utter message of immediate forgiveness.  I think that’s what Jesus used to speak about.
 
This church sings songs with lyrics like “out of the ashes we rise,” “you fail us not,” and “you’re bigger than the battle,” in ways that I could never dream to.
 
They begin worship with the call, “God is Bigger” and respond, “All the time.”
 
Because God is bigger than a fire.  God is bigger than lost computers, guitars, and desks.
 
And they recognized that.  Immediately.
 
Because they’re here, for a purpose, and are working to do whatever they can to make some sort of difference.  Because it doesn’t matter if the parents have ‘papers’ or not…these kids are in school.  Because the Gospel matters just as much in this church as it does in any other place in the world.
 
There was a fire. It happened.
 
But that wasn’t so important.  That moment when a child’s face lights up because he finally understood it was important. That moment when they came together as a community over a campfire to sing songs about making beautiful things out of the dust was important. That moment when they welcomed strangers on their staff retreat so that they could learn just a little bit more about what they do was important.
 
Branches is a family. A family of Americorp workers.  A family of staffers.  A family of volunteers.  A family of college kids just trying to have eyes opened toward the work of the Church and future of the Gospel. A family of ministers and those in need of that ministry.
 
It’s an amazing place and you ought to go.
 
-B

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