Being real & vulnerable

Some topics I touch are ones I should probably stay away from.  “Vulnerability” might be one of those.  Inimitably and famously, Brené Brown has given talks on this topic, touching something deep within many of us.  Surely no one like me could add anything worthwhile to her research and insights on this topic.  On the other hand, it might just be that I can note and transmit something very important, being an under-informed but sincere, sometimes-earnest observer of people and culture.  I’m betting many of you will agree that the following material about vulnerability and the pressure of social media is on track.

A book by Donna Freitas is titled The Happiness Effect:  How Social Media Is Driving a Generation to Appear Perfect at Any Cost (Oxford University Press).  Freitas, also the author of Sex and the Soul, “comes from an epicenter of sociological research on adolescents and young adults, Notre Dame’s Center for the Study of Religion and Society.”  She conducted 200 interviews of university students.

The Happiness Effect is organized around the topics covered in these conversations.  Each chapter overflows with personal stories, making the book an enjoyable read.  But on a deeper level, Freitas has a theory to test.  She contends that headline-grabbing abuses like bullying, stalking, and sexting are not the greatest dangers that social media poses for young adults.  Rather, they distract from a more insidious phenomenon:  the drive to look perfectly happy, all the time.  (emph. mine   -bc)

. . .

As Freitas puts it, Facebook and Twitter are, in a way, the anti-confession, the places we pretend that we have it all together as though we were the gods of our own future.  The gospel challenges the assumption that confessing weakness and need makes you a failure. . . .

– Andrew Root, Reviews, Christianity Today, March 2017

“Church” has for decades (centuries?) been a place for facades, for hiding.  The age-old story of the stereotypical, churchgoing family yelling at each other, slamming doors, stewing in silence all the way to the church building, then putting on fake smiles and acting as though “God is good all the time” is anything but humorous.  Despite encroaching reports of the likes of emotional illnesses, divorce, pain from LGBTQ concerns, human trafficking, and more, some Christians are still fixated on the need to “celebrate Jesus.”  This celebration sensibility comes from reasonably good, yet partly shallow theology and from good-hearted people.  I, on the other hand, resonate more with the need to be communicative, “real,” and vulnerable, sharing every emotion and experience, not only the nice ones.  I’d go further, too:  lament and other negatives need some affirmative action in churches.  In other words, there’s already enough celebration and praise, way too much slap-happy trivia and hype, and not nearly enough honesty.¹  Let the vulnerability emerge.

Facebook is not the only venue through which anti-confession (falsely presenting oneself and one’s situation as marvelously in control and persistently happy, as though there is no weakness and need) rears its head, but it’s a nearly omnipresent one.  Most of those I know are both well acclimated to FB and/or aware of its limitations and potential fallout.  Let us use it well (and not too much).  Let us share the great pics of our kids and our food creations, and maybe an interesting selfie or two (up to two, not two hundred, thank you very much).  Let us share our inspiring thoughts for the day and our scriptures.  But let us also share² our weaknesses, our vulnerabilities, and even our griefs.


¹ Our chosen, local church takes as its moniker “Historic Faith – Honest Fellowship – Humble Service.”  It makes quite a nice triumvirate, I think, and here, I would call every reader to the “honest fellowship” part—honest both with God and with other believing journey partners.

² Facebook allows one to share selectively, i.e., via private message and to specific individuals or groups.

Of distance and connection: prologue

I have decided not to post the first version of this post.  It dealt with connections and relationships in terms of Facebook, and it was long.  Facebook does have implications as a connective relationship “tool,” and it was of some value to me to take stock of my Facebook friends, the highly valued connections there, my perceptions of others’ use of Facebook, and more.  In the end, I have decided all that was of little value to anyone else, though, so I’m not posting the whole thing.  The excerpts below, about 1/4 of the original, can serve as a prologue to the next post that will include a relatively transparent poem.

When Facebook came on the scene, new possibilities for connection arose.  I myself was a little slow on the draw but once asked a close friend to show me the merits of FB.  Soon after, I signed up and began to use it.  I had long been one to reach out to connect and reconnect, and this was a tool that could be used toward that end.

. . .

From my vantage point, the primary reason for FB is relationships with people (not faces).  There are relationships undergirding it all.

. . .

Some share personal things, including health-related situations, and that can connect us with one another’s struggles despite physical distance.  Being a somewhat private person, I tend not to share much personal stuff very often myself, not wanting to appear to be crying for help or publicly revealing one of my many weaknesses.  I acknowledge, though, that what I might find borderline inappropriate may actually indicate strong senses of relationship for others.

. . .

Some, ostensibly the “FB introverts,” like to keep their lists relatively small, while others have thousands of “friends.”  One personal friend I was fairly close to for about a decade only uses FB for family.  Others, such as yours truly, have little to no family as FB friends.  This might seem odd to many, but less than 3% of my FB friends live within an hour of me.

. . .

Facebook cannot by itself satisfy the need for relationship; it is but a fragment of a vast matrix of varying levels of connection in today’s human existence.  Connection . . . and distance.  Yes, distance.  I can sometimes scroll through my FB feed and feel almost isolated.  I don’t have values similar to a lot of people out there—perhaps even the lion’s share of my own FB friends.  We all have some background, mutual friends, or some other connection—musical and/or Christian and/or school-related or what-have-you—but people travel their own paths. . . .

I could write of telephones and Bluetooth while traveling, of letters and e-mails, of visits and wished-for visits—and regrets about visits.  Each person has his own set of experiences, of connections, and of distance, whether they are all recognized or not.

Relationships are funny things.  Relationships can be the glue of life or a daily curse—and everything between.

~ ~ ~

Soon I’ll share a transparent quasi-poem (chiastically arranged! . . . that’s especially for the few friends with whom I’ve connected deeply around scripture).  I’ve been stressing over sharing this poem for a couple of months, and I’ve been slow to post it because of thoughts of . . . you guessed it:  relationships with others.

Verbosities: comments about words and silence

“I have often repented of having spoken.  I have never repented of silence.”

~ Henry Suso, “Christian Mystic” and author of Little Book of Eternal Wisdom, who died in January 1366 (with thanks to JD Blom)

~ ~ ~

shh

I blog a lot.  Too much.  I have lots to say, and not enough time to say it all.  Yet I spend too much time saying it, without any assurance that it makes any difference.  Perhaps repentance is needed more than I’ve realized — in the more literal sense of reversing course, more than abject contrition?

I wonder whether I should be silent more.  I am comforted, in a strange way, by the knowledge that some of my posts may not be seen by many people.  On the other hand, thinking and writing about important things is a far better escape from vicissitudes and daily burdens than Netflix dramas (which I also indulge in).  On the third hand, scripture has strong words of caution for teachers, whereas streaming reruns were not explicitly predicted by Jesus, Paul, Peter, Luke, John, or James, as far as I can tell.  Maybe the world and I would be better off watching more TV?

I do think a lot about things that matter, and I am gratified to know that even a couple dozen readers will almost always be pondering the things of the Lord along with me, whether they agree or not.  A core reader-group includes some who pretty much always, or at least often, glance at what I write, and many of them comment to me privately, or on Facebook, if not on this weblogsite itself.

Some of my essay-ettes may be seen by scores of people.  Several dozen — 78, currently — people unknown to me are “following” my blog, yet I have reason to believe that only a dozen of these who have “found” me have any genuine interest in the kinds of things I write about.  Rather, I suspect many are tied into some meta-blogging operation that automatically “likes” and “follows,” in order to hook me and others into connecting to their blogs — blogs that are in existence to sell stuff.  Whatever.  Maybe one of them will be drawn to consider Jesus newly at some point.  (I have reciprocated with a few of them who do appear to have genuine interest.)

fbNot understanding the vagaries of Facebook’s algorithms, I am convinced that, every few days, more than 100 of my 400+ FB friends, including some family members, 1) see that I’ve posted another article on WordPress and 2) once again ignore the article.  They might like a sound byte once in a while, such as when I posted 100 words on discouragement and encouragement directly on FB the other day.  But they either don’t take the time to read my longer, more significant WordPress posts, or they don’t have the interest.  Do they mutter to themselves, “There goes Brian again” and move on, or do they not even consciously notice?

Probably, they have too much noise in their lives and need more silence, not more words.

I use a lot of words, and I think about a lot of words.  Words that teach.  Words that describe and enhance music.  Words in songs.  Words in scripture.  Words in Spanish or French.  Words in Greek.  Hebrew and Aramaic words that were translated into Greek and then into English.  And, oh yes — words that spring from the veritable font that is the mouth of my neophyte-linguist son.  (I never thought one so young would be interested in synonyms and meanings, as he is.)

The above paragraphs are musings about wordiness — and, indirectly, about silence.  One irony is that, in spite of all my word production, there is a lot of sonic silence.  (A profound poem, found in this post from more than four years and four million words ago, reminds us that in silence, we find God.)

And sometimes, a deafening silence on topics that I think might have provoked some holy noise.  Maybe some responses are occurring silently, in the spiritual realm.

In the end, all creation will cease speaking and writing and yelling and cursing and whispering and gossiping.  No more instructions or essays or research papers or reports or emails or commentaries.  In the end, we will fall silent in the finally humble, worshipful realization of God and the return of Jesus, our Christ.  

And then . . . no need for explications and definitions and laments and defenses and prophecies or any other verbal responses . . . then, only worship, whether silent or loud, forevermore.

_____________________

For the next several days, I plan to be silent here myself, but I have set up several prayer posts in advance.  These will not be my words; they are words from a gem of a book called Pillow Prayers.  These are richly beautiful thoughts that have touched me in these current days — times in which I often feel weary, even broken, and very dependent.  I hope these prayer words touch you, as well, spurring you to worship, as well.

Voices: the height of eclecticism (Montoya, Delay, Paul, and Fred)

This post assembles some diverse voices:  Inigo Montoya, Lisa Colón Delay, the apostle Paul, and Fred Rogers a/k/a “Mr. Rogers.”pbride1

If Inigo Montoya of The Princess Bride had been confronted with references to so-called social networks, he might have said this (a quip to Vizzini, to the little dude who kept saying, “Inconceivable!”):

You keep using zat word. I do not sink it means what you sink it means.

I commend this brief blogpost on social networks to my readers:  http://lisadelay.com/blog/2013/06/06/likes-vs-hugs-upgrade-your-reality/.

A “social network” is at best a shadow of the real thing.  As fellow¹ blogger Lisa Colón Delay warns, let’s not allow our media of choice to make “shallow mockeries of communion and fellowship.”  Real relationships may be enriched by technology, but they are neither subject to it nor bound by it.  Hear Paul to the believers in Thessalonika in the following quote from one of the two earliest surviving Christian texts:

But as for us, dear friends, we felt like parents who, in a very real sense, had our children ripped away, right out of our arms. We could not see your faces but our hearts dwelled on you every minute. We were simply beside ourselves in our longing to see you!  We tried our hearts out to come see you—I, Paul, countless times! But Satan got in our way.  Think about it—when we stand in the presence of our LORD Jesus at his Parousia, will you not be our very pride and joy? Will you not embody our hope? You know you will! You are the ones who make us beam with happiness!  (1 Thessalonians 2:17-19, Coffee With Paul Translation, © Gary D. Collier)

We might imagine a Paul who would have used FB and even Twitter (okay … maybe not Twitter — it doesn’t allow enough linguistic characters per concept).  But can you imagine a Paul who would have satisfied with nothing but electronic media?

To conclude . . . please notice the words of the beloved Fred Rogers of the erstwhile PBS television show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.  Rogers stated,

I went into television because I hated it so, and I thought there’s some way of using this fabulous instrument to nurture those who would watch and listen.

Now there’s a perceptive, missional heart.

===========

¹ I doubt Lisa would prefer my adjective “fellow” here.  I mean no disrespect to her gender.  I tried other words and couldn’t find any as apt.  Plus, I don’t care too much about gender-inclusive language; for instance, for me, it will always be correct to use masculine pronouns as neutral.

It ain’ all it’s cracked up to be

Digital technology.  It’s not that it leaves much to be desired itself—my goodness, it can manage some impressive feats these days.  But it does break down a lot.  I use enough digitech to know these things — some of its capabilities and quite a few of its limitations — although I remain pretty ignorant of substrata such as computer gaming.

I held out till 2011, believe it or not, before getting involved in texting, but I’m now pretty adept with my smartphone.  On it, I use a decibel meter, a notepad, a calendar app and widget, a flashlight and compass, a metronome, a tuner, a major-league baseball app, a calculator, the Google Drive app that allows me to work with documents descending from the cloud, and mapping/GPS/location applications including AAA TripTik™.  There are the weather and news apps that I use once in a while, a Bible app, the ability to search for WWW-based info on the fly . . . oh, and of course the WordPress blogging app.  I still resist thumb-texting, since it’s too slow for my taste — I dictate texts with the voice recognition software and edit with my thumbs when necessary.  All great stuff, if it serves us instead of the other way around.  (BTW, Twitter is a no-go for me — I have so far opted out of it because it’s just one more thing to do and seems to offer an even more truncated, ostensibly up-to-date-but-ever-more-shallow pool of information bits.)

But digitech ain’ all it’s cracked up to be.  For instance, it claims to get, and keep, us in touch with people.  Does it really do that?  No, we do that—whether our effort takes the form of handwriting a letter and affixing a stamp to an envelope, calling and leaving a voice mail, texting, Facebooking, or actually stopping by in person.  And you know what I’ve noticed about myself and a bunch of others?  While physical location doesn’t seem to matter as much as it used to (for example, I don’t even think about whether a call is “long distance” anymore), it sometimes takes some kind of physical proximity for me to think about someone and make the effort to keep in touch.

For instance, I’ll drive through a corner of Ohio and think of a friend who lives there and give her a call.  Or I’ll be in Kansas City and suddenly remember a friend there.  Or I’ll hear about an event in Texas and look up a guy I used to know there.  Maybe I’m weird.  (Maybe more than “maybe.”)  But do you notice the same kind of thing?  Regardless of the cyber-reality that pervasively affects our world today—a shrinking, digitally connected world that has the theoretical capacity to keep people in touch, regardless of geography—we are still pretty geographically oriented.

Do you have a bunch of Facebook friends that merited one or two catch-up messages when first friended, but with whom you have no ongoing contact?  How much better is that than the ol’ telephone?  Of my 330 FB friends, I think

  • about 200 connections have resulted in no real, relational contact at all
  • about 100 involved one or two quick, substantive interchanges, but no ongoing contact
  • a couple dozen have involved  to my learning of news bits that touched my heart, or informed me, or led me to prayer, or some combination of the above
  • only about a half-dozen relationships have truly been enhanced through the FB technology

Technology (dare I point the finger specifically at the ever-encroaching Facebook?) that purports to eliminate distance between people really doesn’t.  Plus, all the new activities possible during our days and evenings because of microchips mean that “down time” (originally a technologically based term) is harder to come by than ever, and relationships can doubly suffer because of encroaching technology.  Does anyone else worry about the creeping inability to focus on the person across the room from you, because of IM dings and tweets and ringtones and that nagging feeling that if you don’t put something into your digital calendar right then, the sky is gonna fall?

Whether it’s Facebook or your smartphone or computer keyboard or your copier or your doorbell, it’s all bound to be cracked or broken at some point.  And it seems to me that it’s all more easily associated with our brokenness as a race than with our redemption or potential.

Of meat, butchers, and butchery (3 of 3)

[Caveat lector fortis:  If you’re a card-carrying member of the Christian Right, or if you feel your brand of patriotism is the only authorized brand, or if you have close ties to the military, or if you’re otherwise annoyed by people who take unpopular opinions (why read this blog?), you might want to skip this post.]

This all began with commentary on the “Star Spangled Banner,” and it began on Facebook, not on WordPress.  I was just blowing off steam, but the steam blew too high, and in too many directions.  The meat analogies come today, at the end!

PART THREE

Again, from a FB post of mine:

I choose non-military and non-politically-involved ways to be a decent citizen and even to love our country and believe I have every logical and biblical right to do so.  It wasn’t my intent to get into the nexus of war and Christianity on Facebook, but I guess I could! … Let’s put this junk aside, OK?

My interlocutor:

Ok but ALOT of people have died and maimed for their country and this song is a rally point for them….  Peace brother!

Me:

Thanks for the peace wish. I feel a little better. I would ask you now simply to remember that my comment was about the song and the immature … okay, *disrespectful* … performance of it.  Although I do not value military service or sacrifice *for country* since those are not values I find in scripture, no disrespect for those who lost life was ever intended.  Any anthem can, and probably will, become a rallying point, as you say, but that says more about the rallyers and their desire to rally than about the content of the song.  I maintain that it was a bad idea to make that song the national anthem!

Further commentary:  the expression “rally point” set me off a bit, logically.  It’s not as though the fact — and I do, by the way, take military veterans’ identifying in solidarity with the national anthem as a fact — has anything to do with whether or not military service is inherently justifiable, or whether such activity is approved for the Christian.  How military veterans feel is simply how they feel, and how I feel is how I feel.  The a priori existence of differing feelings doesn’t make some of them correct and the others incorrect.  My summary would be this:  whatever “rallying” occurs in the hearts of military veterans gives a nod to human bandwagon mentality, i.e., to the group of rallyers who wanted to rally, and to their affiliative feelings in said rallies, and to their philosophies and values–rather than to the relative logic or illogic of military service.

Now, by way of contrasting the 1st stanza and this one:  I find the butchery of our national anthem annoying, but I find the “butcher-y” thoughts of the third stanza (previously essentially unknown to me) of the song absolutely grotesque and repulsive:

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Allow me to paraphrase, and to sermonize, by repeating my Facebook commentary on the above words:

The whole third stanza, for crying out loud and bleeding on the ground, says “You Brits got what was coming to you, and your blood washed your filthy footsteps since we beat you, you suckers.”  I challenge you to defend that.  And then I challenge you to praise God, in the same breath, as the next words of the song do, for His supposedly deciding to raise a human nation up above another human nation through war over a supposedly just cause (a thought from the fourth stanza … and we must ask just in whose eyes?).   “Conquer we must” (also from the fourth stanza)?  How far away from “Manifest Destiny” (and massacres and genocides in our land and others across the globe) is that?  I am NO student of history, so I’m probably opening myself up to more verbal laceration here, but so be it.

Now, to soften things just a tad … I did backpedal a bit w/regard to the first, familiar stanza, while continuing to flow, not so sanguinely, in my general vein (artery?):

To call attention to watching over ramparts (whatever they are) to see gallantly streaming colors, I suppose, is fine.  And there’s probably more to the general solidarity–suggested by the perennial, steady waving of the flag–than I have realized.  I have never been inspired by the suggestion that glaring, red rockets and bombs are the events that define my country, and those lines distract me from what I now see is more the point of the first stanza—the query as to whether the flag is *still* waving over our land.  For me, and this is just me, the “flag was still there” line is pretty unifying, but I wonder whether most people can even hear that line apart from the preceding warlike imagery, which is especially divisive in the current decade or three.

Another Facebook person:

Move to North Korea for a while…. maybe when you get back, you’ll have a deeper appreciation of what YOUR soldiers in YOUR country have done for YOU……

My reply:

I don’t want to move to North Korea, or Libya, or Croatia, so I won’t.  I might like New Zealand or Switzerland or something else (having had the blessing of traveling abroad just a bit does expand one’s horizons, just as it makes one appreciate this country), but staying in the U.S. is OK by me.  It’s a messed-up country, but it’s my country, and most of what it offers is better than what I know about most other countries.

As I said earlier, I choose other ways to be a good citizen … but will never, as God gives me breath, pledge allegiance to a country over allegiance to God.  Those with personal ties to the military will naturally have heartstrings that get tugged by positive, or negative, thoughts and suggestions about the military.  Others without such ties may be influenced to have similar feelings.  From a secular perspective, this is all fine and good.  But these are preferences and choices and opinions, not absolutes.  Everyone has a right to an opinion, for now, and all of our opinions will ultimately be enlightened, in the next life.

I concluded by pointing out different ways I choose to love my country — including two American concert themes this fall, and loving travel experiences and sights in 48 states.

If I’m wrong on any or all of the above.  I’m simply wrong.  Obviously, I don’t think I am, but if I am, it won’t be hard to accept in the light of the face of God, to be seen after this world, with all its beauties and its terrors, passes away.  God’s will and His desires must continue to be the driving force for every believer.  We will get things out of kilter, and we will err.  Our responsibility is to be faithful to Him and His Kingship, as we have light and grace.

~ ~ ~

Now for the meat analogies promised in the slug for this lengthy mini-series!

The meat

The substance of our national anthem is questionable, at best.  I speak here, primarily, both of its (entire set of) lyrics, and its vocal range.  It is tainted meat to begin with, if not spoiled meat now.

The choice of butchers

Why must major events choose pop artists to sing a song they can’t sing well?  As my wife and a Colorado friend have pointed out in particular about the a cappella enterprise, it is not well served by people who can’t sing a) without amplification and reverb and such, and b) without loud bands backing them.  Sports events, convocations, etc., hear me:  if you insist on using the national anthem without accompaniment, you ought to choose a singer, or group of singers, or players, who can do the song justice without electronic aids.

The enterprise of butchery in perpetuity

I’ll often be the voice of anti-tradition.  My suspicion may not be true, but I suspect that a lot of the baseball players who line up on the base paths or sit in the dugouts during the national anthem are a) tired of it, and b) not in sympathy with some of the sentiments of the song.  Why not change the tradition?  Let’s hear something else, or nothing at all, for awhile.  While I’m at it, “God Bless America” is overused, too.  Let’s get back to “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

Way to go, Cardinals, by the way.  A great American baseball town, and a downright-nice story, given the whole wild-card, comeback story of the season and post-season this year!

Of meat, butchers, and butchery (2)

[Caveat lector fortis:  If you’re a card-carrying member of the Christian Right, or if you feel your brand of patriotism is the only authorized brand, or if you have close ties to the military, or if you’re otherwise annoyed by people who take unpopular opinions (why read this blog?), you might want to skip this post.]

This all began with commentary on the “Star Spangled Banner,” and it began on Facebook, not on WordPress.  I was just blowing off steam, but the steam blew too high, and in too many directions.  The meat analogies are to be saved for the end, by the way.

PART TWO (probably the most substantive of the three, and also the most succinct)

Back up a step.  My intent in the first rebuttal had been to give two reasons why I think it’s a stupid/bad national anthem:  1) it’s hard for most people to sing, and 2) it “senselessly glorifies war.”  Here’s my FB friend’s reply to that:

Go to your nearest Veterans Hospital the next time they have a music presentation, request the National Anthem be sung.  Then when finished stand up and say it’s a stupid song because it glorifies war and then see what happens to you.  You’ll see how America feels about it I’m sure…

So I’ll find out how “America” feels?  Really? One particular, war-mongering president rather preposterously used to presume he was speaking for all Americans when spouting opinions, and other presidents have done the same.  If this is my country (and it is), then to say “America” feels this way when I don’t is tantamount to saying, “Pack up and leave this country” … which is something I was once told to do by someone a lot closer to me than the above interlocutor, but that’s beside the point.  Anyway, here’s my next reply, after expressing regret that all this was rather public on Facebook:

What veterans in a veterans’ hospital might think of my statement or the national anthem is merely their opinion (not America’s as a whole).  Mine, too, was merely an opinion.  I don’t have to like the song, and you don’t have to like the fact that I don’t like it.  But neither do you have the right to call a brother an idiot.

My reply amounted to a rebuke, and its bold statement stems from my belief that Christian relationship transcends all others.  In other words, no matter what the friend thought of my opinion, and no matter how wrong I might have been, he was in the wrong for calling me an idiot.  This relates to my view on Christians and government, Christians and military, Christians and sports, Christians and entertainment, Christians and work … Christians and just about anything:  essentially, in whatever sphere you’re thinking and operating, the Christian element or aspect must supersede all others. If a (perceived) conflict arises between philosophies, it’s no trouble for me to ditch the other one in favor of what I see as the Christian one.  This is not to say that I enact these priorities perfectly.  Far from it.  But my human inability to be consistent does not change the reality.  On some level, no matter how much one might disagree with my particulars, any Christian worth his salt will have to agree here.  This über-significance of what one sees as God’s principles  could be said to may be seen to might be analyzed as principles that must win out.

Aside, but obviously related, if you think about it:  are you aware that there are believers out there who question the Lutheran notion of sola scriptura (only scripture)?  For centuries the Roman Catholic institution asserted its traditions and practices as superior to the Bible. Some examples:  prayer to “saints” and to Mary, the immaculate conception (which refers to the supposed sinlessness of Mary herself), indulgences, the authority of popes, and infant baptism.

If one finds human tradition to be on equal footing with scripture, lots of problems come into play; it’s a whole different ballgame!

Oh, and we will get to the anthem and baseball, but not for a bit yet.

To be continued …

Of meat, butchers, and butchery (1)

[Caveat lector fortis:  If you’re a card-carrying member of the Christian Right, or if you feel your brand of patriotism is the only authorized brand, or if you have close ties to the military, or if you’re otherwise annoyed by people who take unpopular opinions (why read this blog?), you might want to skip this post.]

This all began with commentary on the “Star Spangled Banner,” and it began on Facebook, not on WordPress.  I was just blowing off steam, but the steam blew too high, and in too many directions.  The meat analogies are to be saved for the end, by the way.

I gave far too much attention to the performance of the national anthem this past week, having spent some good hours with the World Series, and having been subjected to typically poor renditions of the anthem a few times.  It all started with what I thought was an innocent, entertaining Facebook status update on Monday night, after hearing Demi Lovato sing the national anthem:

Brian Casey … thinks the national anthem is a stupid song and isn’t sure why he gets upset when would-be singers butcher it at the World Series.

This touched off a near-firestorm of response from people I know, or sort of know, or used to know.  Most kind of agreed, or at least knew where I was coming from:

“It’s the American Idol mentality. They have to make the song their own. NOPE!! Just sing it.”

“Well, she did butcher it!!!”

“Stupid a capella!”

I got a few requisite “Like” clicks.  But a few were upset, and this quip came from an old friend:

You think our National Anthem is a stupid song? Sometimes you are an idiot, really.

My reply:

Gee.  You must be having a day–sorry to have ticked you off, but yeah, I do think it’s a stupid song.  It senselessly glorifies war and is vocally untenable; my opinion is that “America, the Beautiful” would have made a better national anthem.

That reply was a big mistake.  The non-musicians started crying, “Flagrant moving violation! You’re just talking like a musician.” (You hear this kind of thing in church circles whenever you use some modicum of your expertise to try to improve something for the masses, no matter how careful you’ve been not to sound like a know-it-all.  The defensive idea that we can’t gain from hearing someone else speak out of his experience and knowledge hurts us all.)

I even got an opera-singer friend (I have more than one of those … odd variety, they … but they do exist!) to register that singing the “Banner” is really as easy as “Twinkle, Twinkle.”  To which I had to rebut:

Mark, we could talk about the fact that everyone puts an extra note in on the word “banner” and feels called on to improvise melodically and rhythmically in styles that are for me cliché and even embarrassing.  Or the range of an octave and a fifth (Canada’s anthem’s range is a 4th more manageable, for instance), and the fact that so many people have no idea where to start our anthem, so that they can be heard with reasonable tone on “say” as well as on “free.”  Or the practice of “belting,”–or, as last night’s World Series singer (Chris Daughtry, apparently a quasi-celebrity in Missouri) did it, “chickening” by shorting out and crackling in a faux “stylism.”

You’re right, of course, that a trained singer typically does it well.  I would add that I’ve heard it sung with class and skill and artistry–and that a trained singer has more than an octave and a half of useful vocal range.  I’m moderately vocally trained, as you know, and have almost that much range, but most people don’t.  Maybe I’m off base on this, but I figure an anthem needs to be singable by “the people,” which is what makes something like “God Save the Queen” (is it the British anthem? I’m not even sure) a better choice, in my estimation.  Haven’t you heard enough soloists butcher our song to agree at least with the suggestion that it’s not in the “doable” range of the common person?  If not, maybe you haven’t heard enough of us non-vocalists recently!  🙂  Or, we can just disagree.

To be continued (the meat analogies are at the end) …

P.S.  Decided to take the plunge and read this, despite falling into one of the categories listed at the top?  Not sure what there is to be upset about yet?  Well, the musical stuff kinda stops here, and the controversial material begins tomorrow.