Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Top Posts of 2010

I was going to post my “Best of 2010” review by linking to selected posts in which I made particularly good and timely points, or in which I demonstrated of superb writing and lucid thinking, or which were poignant analyses of social and cultural issues of our day, or in which I exposed the foolishness and fallacies of the “wanna-bes.”

It would serve the purpose of upping my page view count serving my readers by reminding them of how great and indispensable I think my own writing is important things that every one should already know but probably forgot.

So I have studiously reviewed my posts from 2010 for the last thirty seconds or so (which is all the time I have for consideration of self-production for the sake of self-promotion … I must move on to something more profitable, like studying the back of the judge’s head who is just three booths away from me facing the other direction).

Having performed this studious review, I have concluded that it would be impossible to select the best from the rest because they are all so good.

So I commend to you The Best of Stuff Out Loud—2010 Edition.

Caveat Emptor.

In the Diner

Things are picking up now. The noise has increased.

When I first got here this morning there were three of us, and Vicki the waitress. (I doubt she prefers “server.”) Now the judge is here, Ernie, and a few others.

Compared to last year this time, there are some empty seats.

Two regulars passed away this year. One was a Korean War vet. He was a court officer here in the city in his retirement. He always sat the third seat from the end at the counter. Every day when he left he would get a couple of pieces of bread to feed to the birds outside. About a year ago he lost his lower leg to diabetes. Earlier this year, he passed away.

Richard just passed away last week. He always sat in the very end seat at the counter. He always bought a paper that got passed around after he read it, and he played a little pocket video poker game quite often. He would help out with little things like cleaning the bathrooms and mopping the floors. I think it was in exchange for his coffee. He had gone in the hospital around Thanksgiving time with some pain. I am not sure if they ever figured out exactly what was wrong.

A few other regulars are no longer regulars. Job situations changed from their close place of work next door to a place on the other side of town. So rather than coming in and hanging around for a cup of coffee throughout the day, they don’t come at all. (Though having written this, I see him sitting in the back booth. First time in months that I have seen him in here.)

Of course there are some who got miffed at various things in the diner. They no longer come. In some ways I say, “Good riddance,” though a people conscious pastor probably shouldn’t say stuff like that.

All of which reminds me of the passing of time and the passing of relationships. I knew all these people to one degree or another. I knew them because we came to the same place at the same time.

And now they are no longer here.

It’s only me.

What will another year bring? Who will come into our lives? Who will pass out of them?

Only God knows. We will soon find out.

And perhaps a year from now we will sit here and wonder where So-and-So is, or what happened that That-Guy-Over-There.

So redeem the time. Make the most of every opportunity.

One day it will be the last.

Monday, December 27, 2010

On Classical Music

I finally got a chance to watch this this morning. It’s excellent and instructive in a number of ways which others have pointed out. I would venture to say that most people who claim to hate classical music have probably never listen to much of it, if any.

What this reminds me of is the fact that music communicates without any words whatsoever. Chopin doesn’t need lyrics to tell us what kind of emotions or attitude to have during the music. Words or explanation can enhance that, to be sure. But no one listens to this Chopin prelude to get hyped up for a basketball game. Listening to this piece tells you why without any explanation.

It reminds me of another of my favorite pieces of music, the Moonlight Sonata. One only needs to listen to it to understand why it’s not entitled “Victory Parade” or “Wedding March.” It does not need a single word to communicate to us how utterly incompatible it is with either occasion. It’s not even “Sunlight Sonata” for obvious reasons. And my guess is that has nothing to do with culture. It’s instinctive.

This short lecture also reminds me how effectively music communicates expectations. This lecturer demonstrates that when he asks everyone to sing the next note, and everyone knows what that note is … Except it isn’t. Chopin actually goes somewhere else.

In musical terms, I explain it this way. The tonal, or the I chord (for instance, the C chord in a piece written in the key of C) clearly signifies the end of a phrase (and often a piece). So when a piece goes to the F chord (or the IV chord, so called because it is four musical steps up from the I or the C chord), everyone knows that it isn’t the end. There needs to be some resolution. But no one has to explain that. It needs no words. The music itself tells you that. There’s nothing immoral about a IV chord. It is a necessary part of any music. It just doesn’t fit in certain places. (This can be easily demonstrated on a piano or guitar, but I don’t feel like recording that here and now.)

In life terms, I explain it this way: You are coming down the steps in the middle of the night and you think you have reached the bottom. And all your weight is positioning itself for that next step which is exactly on the same level as the last step. Except that there is one more step. I did this one night. I fell on my face in the living room floor. Fortunately there was no one there to see it, and if you ever repeat this story, I will deny it. But suffice it to say that I had an expectation that wasn’t met.

Music does that. It creates expectations, without any words. And when those expectations aren’t met, it jars us a bit at some level.

His playing of the Chopin piece is great in that in the middle of it there is a distinct section that gets a bit more energetic, or dare I say, agitated. And yet no one needs to say, “Here comes the agitation, or the change.” We don’t need words. The music itself tells us that.

Another one of my favorite works is Holst’s The Planets. Fabulous music, in my opinion. Particularly Mars. Compare that with the Chopin Prelude that is found on this video. And ask yourself which you would put your baby to sleep with, and why. And it won’t take an advanced degree in music to answer that.

So what’s my point in this whole thing?

My point is that the idea that music is “amoral” and can be used for anything at anytime depending on what words you put with it is so utterly absurd that it is laughable that anyone suggests that. Music needs no words to communicate with us.

By saying that, I am not saying (at this point) that any type of music is inherently sinful or wicked. That’s not my point at all. I am not even saying that the response to music is universal … that all people in all cultures understand music the exact same way. My point is that some types of music are inappropriate for some things, and we do not need to lyrics to know that. It is self-evident.

(BTW, listen to this and try to figure it out before the words start. And don’t cheat by looking at the mouseover that shows the link. Seriously, it makes me laugh how utterly incompatible the music and the words are. And at this point I am not saying anything about the music style.)

Now there is a lot of meat here to chew on and expound on and my point isn’t to do that. Perhaps later I will broach this again.

I would only say this: Don’t say that music is amoral and that any type of music can be used for anything depending on what words you put with it.

No thinking person believes that. If someone does believe that, it’s only because they aren’t thinking. They are simply trying to defend the indefensible.

Strong? Sure. But self-evident.

And if you doubt that, go look and see what type of music they play at different times in their day and in their lives. See what they put their babies to bed with and what they put on the Ipod to exercise to. See what they listen to when they are emotionally down. You will see that they instinctively know that certain types of music create certain types of atmospheres and moods.

Music communicates in and of itself. It teaches us what to think. BTW, that’s why movie music works. It teaches you what to think about what is going on on the screen in front of you. The narrator need not say, “Be scared right now.” The music says it all by itself. 

I wish I had a good ending for this, but I don’t, so let me just get to the I chord and say “Bye for now.”

$180,000 in Detroit

This is what $180,000 will get you in Detroit.

No, not the houses. The artwork.



And this is what you get?

For far less money those houses could have been turned into livable houses instead of displays of people’s weirdness and lack of aesthetic judgment.

I know I am revealing that I am not much of an artist, but give me Rembrandt or Ansel Adams over this junk (literally). Or Monet even. I would even take Rockwell. Or one of my favorite paintings, Nighthawks. (I am not sure why I like this picture. It just conveys an eerie sense of loneliness and hopelessness for the man sitting alone.)

For $180,000 those six artists could have been hired to do something productive for the community. They could have been given real jobs. Have them hang a sheet of drywall, or teach them to replace an electrical socket or something. Paint a wall or mop a floor.

Of course, I am all for the free market, and if I could have gotten a bit of this money for something like this I would have taken it. So I don’t begrudge these artists for taking the money of someone who lacks the sense to put it to good use.

But having spent the last six weeks or so working on my house and actually turning it into something livable for far less money, I know $180,000 and a few mediocre skills combined with a willingness to try a few things can actually turn into something acceptable. Grand even for that amount of money.

Or you can find someone to give you a bunch of money to clean out a trash dumpster and hang the junk up in an abandoned house.

One day I will post a few pictures and you can compare my artwork to theirs and see if I should have gotten a bit of the handout.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Honestly, People, This Is No Excuse

One blog author, after letting go with a rather unseemly phrase (Not like “you’re now going to hell” unseemly, but just “that was really juvenile” unseemly), excuses it by saying “I’m being as honest as I know how to be.”

I wonder what that means.

Is honesty really a skill we learn? If this guy keeps growing will he learn more? Can he add to this knowledge base so that he knows how to be honest in a different way?

Or is honesty a set knowledge base? Is there impossible to learn and grow?

And is honesty really an excuse to be a jerk?

Now I wouldn’t say this guy was being a jerk; he was just being juvenile.

But often, particularly in personal relationships, “as honest as I know how to be” is an excuse for “I just unloaded my own personal grievances with you in a way that really hurt you but you need to just deal with my jerkness because ‘I’m being as honest as I know how to be.’”

I think “honest as I know how to be” becomes an excuse for a lack of discernment and judgment about what to say and how to say it. It becomes an excuse for self-centered verbal barrages without consideration of grace and tact.

And I think we can do better.

I think we need to learn the grace of speech seasoned with salt. We need to learn that the tongue is like a wildfire that destroys. It can destroy lives and people, relationships and futures.

Or it can build and edify. It can dignify and honor.

Use it well. Use it honestly. Use it with discretion.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Let Me Be the First to Say It

The days are getting longer now.

Officially, the winter solstice is tomorrow, but the sunset times (the length of day most of us care about) began to get later in the last few days.

Before we know it, the kids will be going to bed in daylight. Or at least we will be telling them to go to bed while it’s still daylight.

It does seem to me like time flies faster than ever these days. It is hard to believe my little Pinkling turns 2 today. Happy birthday, little girl.

But time flying is a good thing during the winter. It gives us hope that before long the bitter cold will break and the leaves will start to bud.

In another interesting coincidence, for the first time in a 456 years, the winter solstice coincides with a lunar eclipse. You can get up with me at about 3:00 am to see it. Of course, if I am not there right at 3:00, please start watching without me. I will be along shortly, I promise.

And hey, enjoy that extra sunshine out there today, folks.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas for Dummies*

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us,
and we saw His glory,
glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. …
No one has seen God at any time;
the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father,
He has explained Him.

John the Apostle, John 1:14, 18


*The title is probably trademarked somewhere. I use it here because I think it is a great series of books, or at least a great idea for a series of books that takes unfamiliar things and explain them simply.

I think we are hardpressed to find a more clear and simple explanation of Christmas than what John gave us in his gospel account.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


A man recently wrote an article suggesting that the doctrine of the Bible is important enough to separate over.

Another man writes an article disagreeing with the first man on certain things (though it is not clear the the second man even understands the point of the first man) and complaining, in part, that the first man did not cite any Scripture in support of his position.

However, the second man cites no Scripture in support of his own position. All he offers us are his own opinions. Sure he sprinkles a few references in, but in reading them, it is easy to see that they do not support the second man’s opinions. In other words, not once does he show where God says what he says.

And that, friends, is ironic.

Of course we all know that there is a reason why the second man does not cite any scriptural support for his position. It is because there is none. Not one verse of Scripture can be marshalled to support this man’s doctrine.

And in so doing, he proves the point of the first man’s article. These types of people have added to the Scripture and then demand that all who disagree with them are in error.

And that, friends, is priceless.

In fact, the second man says at least one thing that is plainly and demonstrably not true. He says concerning the first man that “In part 22 of his series he dismissed the need to expound on 2 Thess. 3.”

Yet in the part 22 that I received, here’s what the first man actually said:

These fundamentalists correctly insist that certain Scriptures do require the limitation of fellowship with professing brothers who sin (1 Cor. 5:11; 2 Thess. 3:6, 14; et al.—my present purpose is not to expound these texts). These passages must not be dismissed …

When you compare the two statements, you can easily see that either the second man either can’t read, didn’t read, didn’t understand, forgot, or lied. I won’t hazard a guess as to which is true, though some options are worse than others.

But clearly the first man did not “dismiss the need.” He in fact emphasized the need. He said these passages must not be dismissed. Now, “not” is a short word, and easy enough to miss, I suppose. But it is an important one, I would say.

Now the question is, should any one listen to anyone who cares so little about the truth? It wasn’t all that long ago that I was lambasted for calling into question this second man’s honesty and integrity.

Turns out here’s part 2 of the proof that I was right.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Point People to Jesus

Borchert comments on John 1:8 where it says, “He was not the Light but he came to testify about the Light”:

This verse has great continuing relevance for the church because of the temptation for Christian leaders to assume a status of being more than witnesses and to pretend to speak personally with the authority of the light. In such times Christian leaders need to hear the warning that they are not the light but are merely humble witnesses to the light. (Borchert, John 1-11, NAC, p. 112)

This was modeled by John the Baptist in John 3:26-30. John’s disciples complained that John’s followers were going over the Jesus. “John,” they said, “you are losing your crowd to the other Guy.”

John’s response was simple: “That’s my purpose. I did not come to gain a crowd, but to give the crowd away. I am not the bridegroom; I am only the friend. He must increase. I must decrease.”

We would all do well to remember that our job is to point people to Jesus.

Resist the temptation to become an authority. Point people to the one who is.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Pardon Me?

Apparently, according to some, the church should accept racial division in the church.

Well not exactly but one pastor writes an article that complains about the following line from the affirmations and denials of Together for the Gospel:

We deny that any church can accept racial prejudice, discrimination, or division without betraying the Gospel.

This author goes on to say,

Who can argue that the church should accept discrimination and racial prejudice, but to say that “division” betrays the Gospel is to say exactly what the New Evangelicals said in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. Division over error is how the Gospel (which by the way includes the whole of Scripture, not just salvation truth) is kept pure and protected for God’s glory, yet we are led to believe that “division” betrays the Gospel. Unity at all costs is the heart throb of New-Evangelicalism.

What’s the problem?

Here’s a pastor, trying to influence people, who has painted a picture for his unsuspecting readers that simply is not true.

You see, the T4G statement cited has nothing to do with division over doctrinal error. It is about division over race. You can read it for yourself right here. And when you do, it is easy to see that this author has clearly misrepresented what the denial is all about. I wouldn’t think it would be that hard to read the 112 words that make up Article XVII (17 for those who don’t know Roman) and understand what it is talking about.

If you can’t follow it there, let me simplify it for you: Article 17 is about race, not doctrine. It affirms that any church that separates or divides on the basis of race is denying the gospel. In other words, you cannot legitimately cite Article 17 from T4G with reference to separating over doctrinal error. It is not addressing that point.

Furthermore, if you are familiar in the least with the T4G men, you know that these men all have a commitment to fighting doctrinal error and even separating over it. In fact, they do it in a way that is much more public than many fundamentalists, simply by virtue of their visibility. The author references this issue with one of these men in his article apparently fails to understand what actually happened. In fact, one of the complaints about these men is that the T4G speakers are all Calvinists and they have not invited any non-Calvinists to share pulpit fellowship at the conference. In other words, one of the complaints is that they have separated over the issue of Calvinism, at least in this conference.  Separatists complaining that others have separated from doctrines they consider to be wrong. Ironic, eh?

Now, to be clear, while I have greatly enjoyed the preaching at T4G, I think the T4G men are deficient in some of the ways they go about this doctrinal separation. I do it differently, and think they should. But to say that they don’t believe in separation over doctrinal error is simply wrong.

I don’t think this pastor is intentionally misrepresenting this. And I don’t think he is arguing for racial division in the church. I simply think he has an axe to grind, and he is reaching for anything that might help him make a point he wants to make. He doesn’t care enough to understand what the point of Article 17 is all about.

I don’t know this guy, at least to my knowledge. But doesn’t he have some friends who would read this article and point out that he has made this error? Apparently not because I first saw this article a few weeks ago, and I noticed this; now it remains unchanged. I assumed that this pastor’s friends would have pointed it out by now so it could be corrected. But apparently no one has. Today, it has been republished on another blog of questionable repute that quite frequently misrepresents people (myself included) in an attempt to bolster the blogger’s own (misguided in many cases) opinions.

Listen, there are some reasons to be concerned about some of the things this author talks about in the article. But he could have, and should have, made that point without this error.

You don’t help your point when you support it by misrepresentation of another.

Hopefully someone in this man’s circle of friends and relationships will point this out to him.

But I won’t hold my breath that any change will be made. It’s not the fundamentalist way. We have learned too well that when you say something, you stand by it no matter what. And when someone points out the weakness, you double down and say it louder.

I am sick to death of this kind of stuff. I am sure that I have been guilty of it at times, and when I find out I am, I try to go back and fix it. I have on different occasions edited my own articles here when I find out something is different than what I said. I have even removed articles for that reason.

Here’s my point: We, as preachers and teachers of the Scriptures, of all people should have a higher commitment to truth. And faithfully teaching the Scriptures is incompatible with misrepresenting what others believe.

Let’s do better than this, people. 

NB – After writing this this morning and saving it for posting, Dave Doran has written a similar article posted at SharperIron. Our articles were written independently. In fact, Dave hasn’t talked to me since I beat him 2&1 a few weeks ago.