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Tuesday Miscellany (A Whisper and a Scream)

It’s Tuesday morning and I’ve, um, been thinking some thoughts. Nothing well-formed enough for a substantive post on its own, but a few loosely connected fragments that need to be expelled from my brain so I can move on to other things…

***

I have just clicked away from a lime-green window on my screen. In the center of the screen was the logo of a butterfly. Underneath were the words, “You are free from sportsnet.ca.” A few years ago, I voluntarily subscribed to a service that deliberately and specifically restricts my freedom. I had noticed that in moments of boredom or frustration or lack of inspiration, I was finding it too easy to drift off into the world of social media or news or sports websites. Some people have the self-discipline to just correct these kinds of tendencies on their own. Others download programs like Freedom.

And so now, I have a whole list of news and sports websites that I am periodically free not to consult for anywhere from 2-6 hours, depending on how I set the parameters. And—shocker!—I am invariably more productive and focused during these time periods.

We hear a lot about “freedom” these days. While I have sympathies with some of the concerns being voiced by the convoys and the protests, it seems to me that it’s a truncated form of freedom being advocated for (note well: “truncated” does not mean “unimportant”). It is largely freedom from, not freedom for.

Freedom from matters. We absolutely need the freedom to make our own choices and to not have crippling and incoherent restrictions upon our lives. But we must also remember that our freedoms do not begin and end with personal liberty and the absence of any and all constraints. Sometimes constraints can serve a higher purpose (like the program on my computer). Sometimes our liberties can lead us down destructive and self-serving paths. True freedom is always for something higher.

***

There’s a lot of sneering in our public discourse these days. There are just so many idiots out there who don’t, can’t, won’t think properly about all the issues that matter most (i.e., the ones I think are most important!). Richard Beck’s piece today should be required reading for all of us who are inclined to sneer.

Beck is pondering the immense popularity of reviled figures and trends as disparate as the psychologist Jordan Peterson, mega-church pastor Joel Osteen, and Hillsong worship music. Each attracts a great deal of sneering from the smart set. Jordan Peterson is alt-right puppet, Joel Osteen is a snake oil salesman peddling your “best life now,” and Hillsong music is bubble-gum worship pop lite. These kinds of critiques are a dime a dozen. I’ve even (cringe) contributed to the noise myself.

Beck’s point is a rather stark and simple. We need to do less sneering and more striving to actually understand the cultural moment and the ways in which real human beings are striving after meaning and hope. He uses the example of a bunch of liberal seminarians going to Home Boy Ministries in Los Angeles (a gang outreach organization started by Fr. Greg Boyle). The gang member who gave them the tour said that the person who had the most impact on his life was (you guessed it) Joel Osteen. Not exactly what the seminarians wanted to hear. Joel Osteen was the very opposite of what they aspired to be.

And yet, as Beck says, we need to understand our context:

Many people have never experienced a stable family where they heard constant and unconditional messages of positivity, praise, and encouragement. Most people never grew up hearing “You can do this! You got this! I believe in you!” But you know who says that, over and over? Do you know who believes in you? Joel Osteen.

Beck concludes his piece thus:

What I’m saying is WIPE THE DAMNED SNEER OFF YOUR FACE AND LOOK AT THE CULTURE! If we took a moment to think like a missionary there are some things about Hillsong, Osteen and Peterson staring us in the face. Things we need to address, like any good missionary would, if we want to get a hearing for the gospel in this culture. But we can’t see any of this because our seminary degrees have turned us all into elitist snobs.

The modern world is suffering, staring into a void of meaninglessness where something true, beautiful and good once existed. Families are broken. Depression, anxiety, suicide, loneliness and addiction at high tide. And if you look out upon all that pain, with a compassionate heart and the mind of a missionary, there really is no mystery as to why Jordan Peterson, Joel Osteen or Hillsong are so popular. This, dear pastors, seminary professors, and church leaders, is our mission field. Let’s stop sneering and get to work.

What is true of Peterson, Osteen, and Hillsong could obviously be applied to other popular figures and movements drawing critiques from other perspectives and positions. Basically, it can apply anywhere we are tempted to sneer instead of understand.

Read the whole post. Seriously. And stop sneering.

(I needed to hear this post as much as anyone, in case you’re wondering.)

***

Pearl Jam was one of my favourite bands as a young adult. Their sound was new and electric, full of rage and angst and passion—everything that so many young men are drawn to. I’ve followed their career and listened to their music for most of my life, although they’ve never improved upon their first 2-3 albums in my view.

Last week, Pearl Jam’s lead singer Eddie Vedder released a solo album called Earthling. It’s pretty good, in my not-so-humble opinion. Vedder is (incredibly) in his 50’s now. Like most of us, his music and his message have changed a bit over the last few decades. He seems less angry, although no less passionate. Maybe he’s made peace with a few things that kept him up at night as a young man. I don’t know all the specifics and I probably shouldn’t presume to speak for him, but it seems to me that this trajectory is as it should be. It would kind of a shame if we were all singing precisely the same tune in the same way at 55 as we were at 20.

At any rate, I have particularly been drawn to the first song, “Invincible.” There are a few lines in it that I love:

At the core of the cosmos
We are so much more than particles
Sonic to the subatomic
You are a whisper and a scream…

You are light, you are principle
When you love: invincible
Our shared light indivisible
When we love, we’re invincible

We live in a moment when we could probably all do with more whispering when we’re tempted to scream (and occasionally screaming when it would be easier to whisper). We also live in a moment where we all have a deep longing to know that we are more than mindless particles, that we we are somehow deeply, intimately, and inextricably connected to a story of Light and Love. Who knows what might be possible if we we actually believed this and lived in response to it? It might not make us invincible, but I daresay we’d be in better shape than we are now.

15 Comments Post a comment
  1. howard wideman #

    The poisonous diesel fumes affecting downtown Ottawa convoy children upset me. Today I called Brad Howland easy kleen company in Sussex corner new Brunswick hoping he could get the message to convoy leadership. Thanks to your lethbridge police for putting those weapons in lockup 

    Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android

    February 15, 2022
  2. jc #

    The hard part here is applying that particular concept of Freedom to the reality of the last two weeks and two years.

    Should I be free to cross borders unvaxxed in a the cab of a semi? What harm do I pose others by leaving or entering my country that way? If there is harm does it reach the threshold whereby my comings and goings need to be regulated from on high? The answers to these questions may depend on what date you ask them.

    If I disagree with that particular restrictions put on you by government do you have a right to voice that opposition in the streets or at the borders? Do we only allow that for causes we like or do we allow people we don’t like to participate in civil disobedience.

    Canada is having its ‘Martin Gurri’ moment that has been taking place for at least the last two decades maybe more. Funny that after Jan 6 Canada thought unstable democracy was just an American problem.

    February 15, 2022
    • Yup, these are all of the hard questions that ought to be discussed in adult ways by people in a civil democracy. As you say, the events of the last few weeks are removing some of our illusions about how stable our democracy actually is.

      February 15, 2022
  3. Even Beck’s, “mea culpa” reeks of judgement and betrayal. Indicting the religious chattering classes, of which he is a charter member, with his new found populist piety.

    Better to put the finger on your friends, before your friends out the finger on you.How sadly predictable.

    Jc, if you are still asking wether or not vaccination status has anything to do with transmission and risk to others, I suggest Mattias Desmit’s theory as a possible explanation.

    Howard, you insuffarable twat, the havoc Covid mandates wreaked upon the lives of hundreds of millions of children world wide, most of them already disadvantaged, by authoritarian elites, whose own children, experienced very different outcomes, is the greatest tragedy of our times. …while you prattle on about diesel fumes… Look in the mirror, Howard and introduce yourself to a man who clearly doesn’t give a shit.

    February 19, 2022
    • Beck reeks of judgment, does he? I wonder how a casual reader might characterize some of your recent (or not so recent) comments?

      Your ad hominem attack against Howard is unacceptable. While I think the views behind the invective have some merit, you seem unable or unwilling to communicate in respectful ways. I think it might be time for you to move on to other forums.

      February 19, 2022
      • I am not a person who seeks noteriety, career and recompense from my opinions,…any opinions, but especially my spiritual ones.

        As I understand the Spirit, to do so would be an affront to the word and will of God.

        If you wish to understand the gross failure of evangelization in modern times, look no further. We have our answer.

        Do I sin? Yes. Can words expressed in truth and love be at times, harsh? Yes. The phrase, “brood of vipers” comes immediately to mind or the language of “cutting off limbs” and “putting out eyes” in response to avoiding sin, another.

        Am I always able to distinguish the difference between sinful judgements and appropriate rebuke? Not always, but I’m getting better.

        The cancer at the heart of modern spirituality is our collective refusal to recognize Satan, both in us, and around us.

        The modern world and the leaders pushing our present political narratives, knowingly in some cases, unknowingly in others, serve Satan.

        If you are an agent advocating on behalf of our present political narratives, knowingly or not, you serve Satan.

        So I proclaim to you, brother and any other reader interested, these are words I have been given by the Spirit to share. Make of them what you will.

        Pray and test them.

        February 20, 2022
      • I don’t feel compelled to pray or test the spiritual merits of any statement that declares in advance that those who do not agree with it are servants of Satan or “insufferable twats.” Sorry, I just don’t.

        You can compare this kind of venom to Jesus all you like (“brood of vipers,” etc), but the crucial difference is that Jesus was the infallible Son of God and you are not.

        I repeat, please do not speak in this way to people in this forum any more. There are plenty of places on the Internet where this kind of language will find a welcome home, but not here.

        February 20, 2022
  4. We serve two masters in this life, the Lord Jesus Christ and Satan.

    In the end, we serve only one.

    We exist as two inner entities in this life, the soul and the ego.

    In the end, we remain only as one.

    Do our choices edify the Lord Jesus Christ and our soul, or Satan and our ego?

    Now is the time. Decide.

    February 22, 2022
    • Do our choices edify the Lord Jesus Christ and our soul, or Satan and our ego?

      A great question. Here are some of the verses that I seek to allow to dictate my choices and to demonstrate which master I serve:

      James 1:19-20: “You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.”

      Matthew 5:19-20: ” But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.”

      Matthew 5:43-45: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”

      James 3:8-10: “But no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.”

      February 22, 2022
      • Yes, these words are true. These are the words I need to hear. Thank you for taking the time to share them with me., Ryan.

        There is a warrior in me, to be sure. I see evil and our indifference to it, consuming us all. There are days I want to shout it from the rooftops. There are days when I spoil for a fight.

        I see as Desmet sees, as Malone sees, as Kate Wand sees; I see mass psychosis. In the language of our faith, I see the the spirit of the anti-christ among us.

        What does a person do when they are convicted that the final battle has begun?

        Some days, I think harsh language is neccessary, might even be useful . A, “slap in face” meant more to wake people up to the the spirit thatt envelopes us, then it us to offend them…thank you also for acknowledging the merit of some of what was said and distinguishing that from my harsh language….a phyrric victory. More harm than good?

        Truth be told, I’m still uncertain

        I shall seek council from and offer confession too, the Lord. If after that I feel there is more to say, I will say it.

        Ps. Please ask, Erica Johnson, if you know her, to make her concerns public, in this forum. Privately messaging my fiance, however well intended, isn’t a healthy way forward.

        February 23, 2022
      • I don’t know who Erica Johnson is or what you’re referring to (nor do I need to).

        February 23, 2022
  5. Ok. Erica messaged us and sited this thread and you as Pastor.

    February 23, 2022
    • I obviously have no control over who reads this blog or how they use it.

      February 23, 2022
      • ♥️ our words can come with a price.

        February 23, 2022
      • Howard, I apolgize for my words. If they were hurtful I am sorry. If they were counter productive, I am sorrier still. I can only hope you are wise enough to recognize that a few innappropriate words pale in comparison to the to issues presently confronting our world.

        Unfortunately you became a proxy of sorts for my bewilderment and outrage over the mass psychosis and cognative dissonence that has matastisized within the body of public discourse and the western world.

        Perhaps, I am learning, however stubbornly I sometimes oppose my soul, that courage in faith, (love that may require martyrdom) trumps courage in the political realm. ( an indifference to others that may lead to unneccesary violence)

        What personally offends me most of all, sometimes to the point of offending the Gospels, is the general lack of courage that is so pervasive in our societies….there is so much that could be said here….but I tell you truly, if we do not find our courage to unashamedly defend the Gospels and announce over and over, in the public square, our allegiance to Christ, we shall be swept away.

        The time has come. The war is here.

        So preachers, the time is for preaching. Expounding on the word with holy boldness.

        Believers, believe! Commit publicly to your beliefs, without shame or insecurity.

        And with regard to all things, pray! Pray! PRAY!

        Let prayer be the first thing you do as an indivudual, when you rise. Let it be the last thing you do before sleep and take every opportunity, as they present themselves, to pray together as a community, during the day.

        It isn’t the amount of time spent or the eloquence of your words that matters. It is the sincerity of your heart.

        God is with us, if we acknowledge His presence and our allegiance.

        Who can stand against us. ♥️

        February 24, 2022

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