Like visiting your Home Church

I didn’t grow up Christian, but for those who did, the experience of leaving home and eventually returning to visit, including a Sunday morning spent in your home church, is probably familiar. For most everyone I know, they left home to go to college, so in theory they became more educated, and along the way they generally became less conservative, began to enjoy a different style of worship, and generally identified less and less with their home church. Returning brings a mix of emotions, from peace and security that carried over to childhood, to trepidation and anxiety about being accepted after having changed so much, and maybe some frustration or bitterness that the home church hasn’t changed. It’s a weird combination of joy and fear and nostalgia.

That’s what I felt last night listening to the Mixtapes last night at Patton Alley. That music was my safe space when I was in junior high and high school, and the alternative and punk rock of the mid-to-late 90s and early 2000s gave me permission to stop caring what other people thought, to become my own person, and choose the type of life I wanted to live. Listening to a lot of my old favourite songs last night, none of which I had heard performed live before (and the band was awesome and did a fantastic job), was my version of visiting the home church. The nostalgia brought a mix of peace and joy mixed with sadness and loss.

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That feeling when something in your life just clicks

Earlier this year, our bass player at church went on hiatus. His wife was pregnant and they were attending all sorts of classes and getting things ready for the impending day of baby. I had started playing djembe with the worship team to help fill in when we were lacking percussion, but since our drummer had returned, I thought I might take a run at playing bass. I had only played on Rock Band before, but everyone told me that it was pretty much the same. I didn’t believe them, but I didn’t see any harm in trying.

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Musical AI Makes Anyone a Musician

Setting aside the observation that “anyone is an artist if they’re making art, even if that art is rubbish,” I couldn’t help but wonder as I watched this video. In drawing, or painting, or writing, you can call yourself an artist if you’re making something, but you won’t gain admiration or accolades for poor work. In music, though, technology is reaching a level that it can correct trash and make it pretty nice. Artists like T-Pain rely on this with autotune, and LaDiDa commercializes it both inexpensively and to a far greater extent.

Music is, at its heart, mathematical, which makes improving it through technology achievable. But how long before art or wordsmithing is analyzed enough for computers to make the same advances in those mediums?

I feel this really reinforces my motivation for writing. Before long, you’re not going to be able to make [much] money by making art because anyone will be able to do it, and do it easily. There are more books published every year than in all the previous years combined. Anyone can make a song, and getting them is already trivial. Why should we pay significant sums of money for skills that are no longer the sole domain of the skilled?

If we are going to produce art, we’ve got to do it because we enjoy it. If you’re doing it because you want to make money, look around: before too long, there won’t be money to be made.

Why I Hate Special Music

We were leaving the Vineyard last Sunday and it hit me: there had been no “special music.” There had not, in fact, been special music any Sunday we’d been there, and I hadn’t missed it at all. Truth be told, it was wonderful.

“Special Music” is that awkward point in the church service where you aren’t actively worshiping or learning, and everyone sits down so they can hear someone or a small group of people (or the whole choir, whatever) sing for a while. It’s generally passive, unless your church is the sort that claps along, and it is not uncommon for this to come during the time of putting-money-int0-a-plate/basket.

Because I love worship, singing, and music (and though I use those three words consecutively, I do not mean to imply that they are synonymous), I always hate times of special music. It feels like I’ve been told to sit down and shut up, to stop worshiping, and to enjoy the concert they’re putting on.

I get that the person(s) involved in the special music aren’t generally that vainglorious, but I do question whether such times are edifying to the church body. Recognizing that we all worship somewhat differently, I think participatory worship is, at the least, the way to go. And though special music is often a bit of a stretch from our usual worship fare, I have never seen any reason that the congregation can’t be participating in it.

Why shouldn’t we be stretched in worship? Why shouldn’t we be pushed beyond the normal songs we sing or know? Why should participation be discouraged as we’re all told to sit down and listen? I’d rather stand, sing, stamp my feet and raise my hands, and worship the Lord.

After all, He’s the reason I’m here, not the music or the singer.

God is Love?

[podcast]https://mstublefield.com/podcasts/godislove.mp3[/podcast]

As an opening to our weekly college ministry meeting, Brian showed a music video he had found on YouTube that proclaimed “God is love” and that “He loves everyone.” The song was decent and the video was well done, so when I got to work the next day, I found myself looking it up so I could watch it again. While waiting for the video to load, I began to browse the comments down below and was a little surprised at some of the negativity. Contradictory to the message of the song, someone named JesusFreakRKG had posted that God is not, in fact, love and that the video was harmful and wrong.

As I read over JesusFreak’s comments and those who replied to him, I realized that the names looked familiar. It finally dawned on me that JF is the little brother of a friend of mine, so I sent the video to that friend and we later had a long conversation on the subject of “God is Love.”

The arguments against the video are reasonably sound, Biblically-speaking, but perhaps a little too restrictive of God’s sovereignty. Regardless, when deciding where to begin my Online Bible Study, I thought that 1 John would be an excellent place to start examining the nature of God and his love and/or hate.

1 John 1:1-4

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our  joy complete.

This concept of the “Word of life” hails from the Gospel of John, where he speaks at length about the Word of God, and this passage is generally interpreted as speaking metaphorically about Jesus.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.

John achieves a variety of things with these two short sentences. First, he links Jesus (the Word) with the creation of the world and specifically with the book of Genesis in the Hebrew Bible where God creates by speaking. Each creation phrase begins with, “And God said,” with all of creation springing into being in response to God’s statements. Second, John intimates that Jesus was both the word spoken as well as one with God, neither greater nor less than, but equal to the Father. And third, John states in verse two that Jesus, or the Word, was with God in the beginning, a statement that is later used by the Council of Nicaea to disprove Arius and state that Jesus was not created down the line, but rather was always with God because he is God.

To Bible-believing Christians, at least mainstream ones, this is all old-hat. We’ve been told that the Holy Trinity is just how things are, so we know (or think we do) that Jesus and God and the Holy Spirit are all the same. John, however, is writing to people in the first century of the Year of our Lord when Jesus had just been a guy they saw walking around, giving out fish and healing lepers. If they were reading John’s letter, they had presumably heard that Jesus had risen from the dead, but it’s still quite a leap to go from “resurrected” to “God Almighty.”

Though it mattered a great deal then, does it still matter now? As I read the verses over and over, letting them resonate in my head, I decided firmly that they do.

One of the great joys of Christianity is knowing that we have a God who is sympathetic to our weakness because he was tempted just as we are. Jesus does not respond to humanity as one completely removed from humanity, for he descended to live a mortal life as a human for thirty-some-odd years, and was subjected to all manner of temptation and cruelty during that time. Though he never sinned, he knows and understands the struggles we face.

But it’s not like he just finally figured this out. God knows all things at all times, and when he spoke the world into creation, he knew what was going on. Jesus was there at the beginning.

This has two implications. First, that God created the world knowing 1) what we’d be faced with, but also 2) what we could overcome. He has balanced all things so that we can manage, and though life is almost unbelievably difficult sometimes, God’s strength will carry us through because he designed it that way.

Second, and perhaps more astonishing, is that God let things go down this way at all.

Let me try to put this into a brief timeline to highlight how crazy yet awesome this is. ((I had intended to expand on this in the podcast, but then got distracted by God’s crazy-awesomeness and lost track of what I was saying. Perhaps another time))  Before God created the world, he knew everything. He knew that we would sin and be separated from him, he knew that we would subsequently suffer, and he therefore also knew that he would forgive us and provide the means to rejoin him. God knew that he would sacrifice his son, himself, to pay the price of our sin. He knew that the very Hell created to hold those angels who had rebelled would be the place of punishment for our sins, and would therefore be the place his son would have to endure for three days. And he also knew that despite the resurrection of Jesus, there would still be many, many people who would ignore, avoid, or turn away from his love.

This is all very intricate, complex stuff with a difficult web connecting and justifying all decisions. Each statement in the above paragraph could each have their own subsequent blog entry (or four) explaining why things had to be that way. Let’s try and stay on this topic to the end, though.

The bottom line is that God 1) wanted us to have free will, 2) wanted us to have a relationship with him, and 3) had to provide a means to forgive sin that would be meaningful to us so both justice and mercy could occur. The means of achieving all this is Jesus. He was the Word spoken and he was the sacrifice needed.

This is the Word of which John writes in 1 John 1:1-4. John saw Jesus. He heard him, ate with him, touched him, walked with him, and knew him as a friend. And John wants to share those memories, stories, and wonderful revelations with us so we might have fellowship with him, with God, and with the greater Church.

God’s joy is complete when we, his followers, are in fellowship with each other and with him. It is the reason we were created, for God certainly didn’t need us. But he desired and loves us, and so by entering this fellowship, we bring joy to the Father. What’s more, though, is that John assures us that joining the fellowship of God will likewise bring us joy.

A life with Jesus is a life fulfilled, more pleasing and wonderful than you can imagine. John saw it and shares it through his first letter following his gospel of the life of Jesus. Next week, we’ll dig into verses five through seven of chapter one.

Genius Review — iTunes Automagic Playlist Generator

It's like Pandora, but with music you already know you like.
It's like Pandora, but with music you already know you like.

Having recently purchased an Apple Macbook, I thought I’d give iTunes another shot. The last time I had used iTunes was about three years ago following my first iPod purchase. Beholding the shinyness that all the cool kids had been using for years, I poked around, marveled at the quick downloads of podcasts and music, and generally enjoyed the experience. There are, of course, some things about iTunes that absolutely infuriate me (DRM, poor file management, duplication of tracks, etc.), but it’s obvious that this product demands you drink the Kool-Aid, and if you do, it’ll be a wonderful, magical ride.

Part of my impetus for purchasing an Apple computer was because I want an iPhone sometime in the future, and if I’m going to drop that much cash on a portable device/phone, I want to get all the functionality I can out of it. Therefore, I transferred my 12+ gb of music to the Macbook and imported it into iTunes to see how it worked, as well as to prepare for iPhone syncage when that glorious day comes.

Immediately following import, I decided I wanted all the cover art for my discs, so I told it to pull those down. Of course, iTunes demanded I register an account with the iTunes store (requiring my address, credit card number, and a vial of blood from our first born), but then happily opened its vault of artwork to me. It then asked me if I’d like to turn Genius on.

Genius is a relatively new feature in iTunes that looks at your music collection and compares it to the collections and playlists of other people. This means that you have to send information about your music library to Apple, which made me a little nervous (though I do not pirate music, or anything else as a general rule), but I went ahead and agreed to the ToS so I could find out what this thing does. Like any proper geek, my curiousity grabbed me by the throat and drug me along.

Overall, it’s been an extremely pleasant experience. When listening to a song, you can hit the Genius button (located in the track information pane at the top or at the bottom right of iTunes) and iTunes will instantly generate a playlist for you of songs similar to the one you were listening to when you hit the button. These playlists are usually about an hour and a half; I’m not sure if that’s because there’s a preference somewhere that dictates the length of the list or because I don’t have much music, but it’s sufficient for my purposes. If you like the playlist Genius produces, you can listen away, or you can run it again and again to generate slightly different lists.

Mix, match, and re-arrange, and you can also save these as permanent playlists. Of course, Apple also displays the Genius sidebar with recommendations of other albums similar to those you’re currently listening to in a bid to get you to buy some music. But it’s not really in my face, doesn’t pop out or anything, and all-in-all, I’m liking Genius. It’s like Pandora, but with only music I already know I like.

Genius doesn’t supplant Pandora, and I don’t view them as being in competition. Pandora allows me to listen to a lot of bands I either haven’t heard of or wouldn’t otherwise hear, and I’ve bought a few albums through Pandora of bands I just fell in love with after hearing a few of their songs. But Genius is a wonderful compliment to Pandora, and the fact that it’s local (requiring no Internet connection) and isn’t streaming (so there’s no buffering) is really nice.

No, iTunes isn’t the greatest music player ever (it’s probably not even in the top 5-10), but Genius is a great feature that will keep me opening it time after time.