on worship, singing, and the gathered church

It’s not a particularly new concern, but I think the current state of singing in churches is something that needs attention. My own context is a relatively independent evangelical Protestant church with little history or tradition beyond the past 10-15 years, so that affects my perception of the situation. I hope it’s different in other places, but from all accounts I’m hoping against hope.

There’s a substantial conflation of “worship” with “singing” which causes a lot of issues. Typically the reasonably aware church leader will eschew it, noting that the preaching of the word, communion, and serving in different roles are ways to worship, but the way each aspect of a weekly gathering are denoted would show, I suspect, that invitations to worship are almost exclusively given in reference to singing along when songs are performed.

Another frequently observed concern is the performance mentality of much that passes for congregational music. A friend who teaches music has noted the tendency of bands in church settings to almost completely fill up the space available for sound, so that the voices of the people singing are crowded out and pointless. That doesn’t promote participation.

Thin songs, in terms of both content and music, are another barrier to singing. There are exceptions, but too much of what gets put forward for singing lacks much to recommend it either from what’s being communicated by the words or how it can be sung by the typical person in attendance. Modern music written and played on radio stations is often not that appropriate for group singing. It’s interesting to note the number of traditional hymns being reworked by current composers. Perhaps there’s a nod to what’s being missed.

Could the culture shift again? I hope so. My memories of congregational singing when I was growing up are mixed. Overall, though, the effect of the time spent singing then was rather different that the effect now, and something important is missing and needs to be refreshed.

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on faith, practice, and social goods

It should be a fundamental principle that belief is predicated on truth, not pragmatism. That being said, it is certainly the case that belief and practice that are aligned with truth will be pragmatic, in the sense that long-term success and flourishing will be inevitably undermined when thought and practice are based upon falsehoods.

That is preliminary to reflecting on this brief memoir in the New York Times on the divergence between white working class people and genuine engagement in religious faith, especially evangelical faith and practice. The author notes not only the benefits to himself of his evangelical faith when he was growing up, he refers to research regarding the positive correlations of religious engagement and social outcomes.

We always need to be sure not to suggest faith because of what someone can gain from it; that’s not actually faith. It does seem worth considering, though, whether the research demonstrating the improved life conditions of the faithful should play any role in the consideration of questions of faith. The benefits are not exclusive to Christian faith, it seems, so it wouldn’t settle any question between faiths. For the broader question of the nature of the universe we inhabit, whether it is strictly mechanistic as atheism would have it, or whether it is in fact a universe that includes a personal spiritual element, there would seem to be important knowledge to be explored.

h/t MereOrthodoxy.com for the link to the essay.

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on the blessing of fatherhood

I’m very blessed as a father. Of course this all starts with the blessing of being married to a wonderful woman. We recently celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary. I would not be the father I am without her, for the biological reasons, of course, but also for reasons of how much I’ve learned from her and with her about caring for others.

It didn’t actually start, though, with marrying Michelle, since my own life is a blessing of being the son of wonderful parents, who I’m fortunate to still have living and active. They are the quintessential salt-of-the-earth type of people, and most of who I am has been built on the solid foundation laid by them. I can’t express my gratitude enough.

Life is a blessing, and a blessed life that the one I’m living is indeed a miracle. How much of a miracle is engagingly illustrated in this Fathers’ Day essay by R. S. McCain. It’s a celebration of life, and it’s something worth pondering.

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on Facebook and newness

I’ve been reviewing my Facebook time-line as an exercise in self-reflection, looking back on things I’ve found interesting or important or entertaining enough to post over the years. I’m feeling very ambivalent about Facebook these days; I think my departure from the service is imminent.

It’s somewhat ironic, then, that it’s a result of my Facebook timeline that I’m again aware of this reflection on Facebook and its ethos from a few years ago. The focus on what’s new, and on immediate reactions, is very real. It creates problems, too; there have been a lot of intemperate posts after recent news items that are both uninformed and inappropriate, leading to a lot of unnecessary hurt. It’s among the many reasons I’m pretty sure I won’t be a part of it much longer.

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on required readings and eternal things

Intellectuals in the West have long had an affinity for what C. S. Lewis referred to as “chronological snobbery,” the unreflective assumption that what is more recent and modern must be better than what went before. Our entertainment driven culture takes it the next step by forgetting most anything more than a few months in the past.

But it will be those in touch with the reality of the world as it is and has always been who will thrive regardless of circumstances in which they find themselves. Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The Gods of the Copybook Headings” should be required reading along with Postman’s book, I think.

Let the one who has ears to hear, hear.

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on the state of public education

The fiasco that is increasingly the norm in public education in the United States is not particularly a partisan issue, as far as I can tell, though of course the teacher unions are among the biggest donors to the Democrat Party and its candidates. It doesn’t seem to be paying off.

Anyway, the increasingly centralized control of public schools is creating a situation where actual teaching seems to be stifled more and more in favor of reading scripts to students and running through checklists of curricular activities. There’s a huge difference between standards in the sense of “Here’s what students need to learn; teach it to them” and “Here’s what we want you to teach students and here’s how it has to be taught to them.” Unfortunately the latter approach seems to be the favored one by the current administrative Zeitgeist.

It’s driving good teachers out of the field, as this article out of Florida describes. If my impression of the situation in the two other states where I’ve had close contact with public school teachers is any indication, though, there’s nothing particularly unique about Florida.

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On distractions and the political class agenda

Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death should be required reading in our entertainment/media saturated society. As bad as it was when he wrote, it’s gotten worse, and it’s led to important changes to the society and cultured foisted upon the bulk of the citizenry by the self-anointed “Ruling Class” (to coin Angelo Codevilla‘s term).

Hanlon’s razor reminds us not to attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence, but we shouldn’t rule out malice either, and there is evidence of deliberate work being done to undermine institutions at the foundation of the United States. Here’s a very interesting piece by the Anchoress on Patheos, reposting some reflections from several years ago on the subject. Lots to consider.

h/t Instapundit

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managing student interaction

At this time of the school year I’m always pondering ways to improve student interaction with the class, including performance and timeliness on submissions. Forcing them to actually talk with me and address their issues and concerns might help. Here’s an interesting example of a teacher who did that. I may have to consider it again.

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why language and thought matter

As amusing as this election cycle has been at times, largely due to the clever trolling that has accompanied the presence of Donald Trump, it does demonstrate that the society of the United States has weakened to the point that it won’t hold together in the ways it has up to now. This country has flourished as a collection of people working together to advance certain ideas, which enabled it to overcome significant demographic fissures. To point out that the careful consideration of ideas is not the key to success in the current political moment in the United States is to point out the obvious.

That Donald Trump’s imminent nomination by the GOP demonstrates a political party adrift is also obvious, and it would seem to be the fruit of a failure to defend ideas and the language with which to articulate ideas. Jeff Goldstein at his Protein Wisdom blogs tries to impress the importance of that point here (language warning).

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Why self-censorship matters

In a time when feelings seem to be the most important thing about a person, this article takes a very different line, but in light of the way attitudes of victimhood can lead to strong forms of censorship, it’s worth considering what’s happening to our ability to talk about serious issues.

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