Reliable and faulty methods for measuring the faith of yourself or another

Is it legitimate to try and measure faith?

Can we measure saving faith?
Not really. That’s God’s job alone.

Can we measure faith in action?
Of course! We are all the time anyway.

The trick is, there are poor and misleading ways to measure or discern your own level of faith or the faith of another and there are better more reliable methods. I will provide some examples.

How to discern or measure faith?

Poor and potentially misleading ways:

  • Affirming denomination doctrinal distinctives.
  • Conforming to sub-culture approved consumption and lifestyle.

Examples:

  • Going to church every Sunday without fail, maybe even if you have the flu.
  • Being frugal. Owning a small house. Buying really inexpensive groceries and not having credit cards.
  • Voting for Republicans and owning lots of guns
  • Voting for Democrats and protesting foreign wars
  • Women wearing long denim skirts, men having long beards, and homeschooling your kids.
  • Praying before meals. Fasting twice a week (Extremely important in Ethiopia)
  • Having daily worship with your family – singing and doing devotions.
  • Reading through the bible in a year.
  • Having tons of kids or adopting kids.
  • Being well-read and well-educated (in traditionalist circles)
  • Ignoring the news and secular media and reading nothing but the Bible (some charismatic circles).
  • Attending a Christian school
  • Not owning a television. (or more recently, not owning a smart phone).
  • Staying close to your extended family after you are married and supporting them (some cultures).
  • Moving out on your own and being self-sufficient after you are married (USA).
  • Loudly affirming the importance of certain doctrines: Young Earth Creationism, End Times Rapture, Predestination, speaking in tongues, the authority of the Pope, plurality of elders, etc.

Any of these could be good things born out of faith. But they could also be merely attempts to fit in and be accepted by your peers. Or worse, they could substitute for real faith. The Pharisees that Jesus criticized had these sorts of things in spades but they did not love God. This kind of metric is unreliable.

Good and reliable ways:

  • Fruit of the spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.)
  • Observing behavior and habits over a long period of time (many years)

Examples:

  • Love – having your friendships and family life characterized by love.
  • Joy – being content with what you have. Not envying others.
  • Peace – tending to bring peace to your home, workplace, and anywhere else you go rather than chaos and agitation and drama.
  • Patience. Patience with your husband. Patience with your wife. Patience with your kids when you just stepped on a Lego. Patience with your annoying coworker.
  • Kindness – Don’t be a jerk to other people at work. Empathize with those in need. Be generous with your money.
  • Faithfulness – Can people trust you? Are you dependable?
  • Gentleness – Being slow to anger. Not getting violent, with your fists or with your words.
  • Self-control – Not being addicted to things. Not talking too much.

It’s important to note the exhibiting these things with consistency over the course of many years. That is a good measure. People have good days and bad days. So if someone you know is acting like a jerk. They may be having a bad day. If they are like that all the time, then that is worth considering.

God has given each of us a measure of faith (Romans 12:3-6). The degree to nature of it will vary throughout the body of the church. Nevertheless we, should desire greater faith. Let us pray and ask God for this.

A Prayer

God our father, we trust in your goodness. We trust in your grace. We trust in in your Son Jesus Christ who gave his life for us. We believe that your Holy Spirit has been working in our hearts in the past and also is today. We ask that you would give us more faith. Like the man that spoke to Jesus and said “I believe, help my unbelief”, I ask that you would increase our faith. Increase our faith such that it would spill out into kindness, love, joy, and peace in our lives and in the lives of those around us. Not because we need to do more stuff for you to love us, but because we love you and desire to live more holy lives for your sake. We can do this only by your mighty power O God. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

How the rise of DJs shows how the pop music sausage has always been made

This week EDM (I grew up saying ‘techno’) artist AVICII died rather tragically. But why even talk about this guy at all? Consider his most recent hit ‘Wake Me Up’: He doesn’t sing on it – the husky vocal are provided by soul singer Aloe Blacc. In fact, Avicii (whose real name is Tim Berling) doesn’t sing at all. He doesn’t play any instruments on the recording. He wrote the tune – sort of. Blacc and frequent collaborator Michael Einziger are also listed as writers. He’s the producer. But it’s his name on the single. Why? Is that fair? Does that reflect the truth?

Yes, I think so and it’s probably more truthful than things have been in the past.

In recent years many people have expressed their dismay at the rise of DJs in pop music. “Don’t these guys literally just get up an play records? I could do that! How can we call them artists? Where are the REAL musicians – you know the ones that sing and play instruments and stuff? Who are these posers?” These are maybe legit questions, but they have a flawed premise – that these pseudo-musician/producers were not there before. In fact, they’ve nearly always been there behind the scenes, sometimes calling the shots, and often the chief creative force behind many of the pop and rock acts you know and love from the 2000s, 90s, 80s, 70s, 60s, and so forth. The producer/writer/technician has for decades been largely invisible to the public. Now though, whether through internet fan sites, the proliferation of artist interviews and memoirs, or wikipedia, the veil has been lifted higher than before and more people are aware of how the sausage is made in the music industry.

That hit song from Selena Gomez was first shopped around and even recorded with Rihanna, Ellie Goulding, and Demi Lovato first. Who ended up “getting” the song may have more to do with who was lined up to do the choreography for the music video that month than anything else. Bruno Mars may be presented as a lone talented genius, but it’s a little hard to take that idea seriously when you realized his latest single ‘Finesse’ has no fewer than eight people on the songwriting credit (Bruno Mars, Philip Lawrence, Christopher Brody Brown, James Fauntleroy, Johnathan Yip, Ray Romulus, Jeremy Reeves and Ray McCullough II). Along with this wider awareness by the audience, we’ve seen more producers come out of the shadows and name themselves as the artist rather than a proxy singer/dancer/model.

Some would say that our age is an especially artificial one, where all we consume is highly processed and contrived. Hip hop or dance music made from cut-and-paste samples on a laptop is supposedly a chief example. I wonder though if perhaps our age is sometimes less artificial than in the past. The sausage was always there, we were just oblivious to how it was made and so imagined that it wasn’t sausage but something authentic and organic. I think sometimes we still don’t want to know. We would rather maintain the myth that art comes from the descending muse and not from just a lot of hard work. Full stop. When we know better though, we’ll give things more accurate names. I think we’ll all know the names of more music producers in the coming decades, not fewer.

Pressure to perform vs. thankfulness, OR “check your privilege” vs. “count your blessings”

I scribbled the following down after reading the intro to Alan Jacob’s excellent newer biography of C.S. Lewis, The Narnian.

That Lewis wrote many of his books – much of his best work, amongst constant interruption and surrounded by family challenges, is of great interest to me. On the one hand, it means that “I have no excuse” for not producing and exercising creativity when I am (seemingly) surrounded by them. But from that analysis comes just more pressure to perform and despair upon reflection. But is there another angle to this story? Yes – one of gifts, one of grace. Despite all these things, Lewis was gifted a great many things by God, even in the midst of endless trial and tedium. From one view, he was a brilliant self-made man. From the other side, someone who, whatever his talents, had all of his best things pretty much just handed to him.

I have often felt the latter about my own successes. The year I received a raise that nearly doubled my income as a young man, I did not feel like I deserved it or had striven toward it, but rather that it had fallen in my lap. My wife has stuck with me though I don’t deserve her affection. I feel that I have been given very excellent and interesting children, through no doing of my own. I think I have substantial wealth and freedom in my current career and home, but where did it come from? Because I kick so much ass? Nothing of the sort. Whatever ass is being kicked, the boots are not my own, though I sometimes mime the swinging of my feet.

Upon reading this, someone may spit out a curse followed by a comment about how I should perhaps be “checking my privilege”. But that’s in fact, in a sense, exactly what this is. I think the flip side of the coin engraved with “check your privilege” reads “count your blessings”.

The moment when music production is demystified

As a teen in the mid-nineties, I spent several years imagining myself to be a recording musician. The centerpiece of my activities was a massive Turtle Beach sampler/synthesizer full-size add-on card in my PC with a whopping 32 megs of expansion memory. I met a group of folks online in a seedy IRC chat room with similar ambitions and who traded pirated sound bank CDs in the mail since everyone’s dial-up internet was much too slow at the time. One of the discs I was able to collect and experiment with was a popular collection of drum loops called Liquid Grooves.

About this same time is when I first began listening to Celtic music. Maire Brennan had just released a new solo album, which I quickly ordered on CDNow.com (long before it was bought out by Amazon). Listening through it, something sounded familiar. Yes indeed – several of the tracks were built on samples from Liquid Grooves. It was one of those key memorable demystifying experiences when you see how the sausage is made behind the scenes of some piece of art. “Hmmm, maybe producing music is not quite as mysterious as I thought.” I said to myself. Forget all this talk about genius and inspiration. If you can break it down into small enough pieces, it doesn’t seem so daunting or impossible. It’s just hard work to do well. If it made sense for an internationally respected singer to use a stock drum loop instead of write and craft an original percussion part and hire a drummer (or drummers) to play it, well who was I to argue? It sounded good.

Jesus the communicator considering his audience

Both of the following passages were gospel readings in the lectionary this past month. In both of them I noticed a curious element – God’s immediate awareness of who was listening to him and his on-the-fly adjustment of his speech to better communicate to them.

Mark 8:31-33
And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He spoke this word openly. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”

John 12:27-36
But Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.
“Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.”
Then a voice came from heaven, saying, “I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.”
Therefore the people who stood by and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to Him.”
Jesus answered and said, “This voice did not come because of Me, but for your sake. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” This He said, signifying by what death He would die.

In the first passage from Mark 8, Peter takes Jesus aside and chastises him. Perhaps Jesus is about to reply to him in a more gentle or private way, but when he looks around and sees the disciples right there listening in, he switches tactics and rebukes Peter openly with the now famous “Get behind me Satan!”. It’s remarkable when Jesus talks like this as its not the usual mode we see in the gospels. But here he decides to make more of a spectacle and we are told why. It was the context of who was listening in. I think we can conclude that if Jesus had been sufficiently alone with Peter, his reply would have been different. Context matters.

In John 12, we find one of only three times instances where God speaks directly and audibly from heaven. Afterwards though, Jesus lets the people know, “Oh, by the way, that voice wasn’t for ME. I didn’t need to be reminded or assured or anything. It was for YOU all standing around listening. So pay attention!” Apparently, Jesus felt the need to clarify things for the people listening, lest they jump to a wrong conclusion (e.g. “angels are speaking to him or something”). It depended on who the audience was.

Jesus’s words are now dry ink on the page and the canon of scripture is etched in stone. Does God then still adapt his words to each of us today? I think so. The Holy Spirit does this when we meditate on his word. He brings certain things to the forefront. He guides us to skip over parts that may distract or confuse us at the moment. We probably don’t even realize when this is happening. I believe this kind of selective awareness when we read the bible does not originate entirely within our own psychology, but is actively directed by a third party – the third person of the Trinity. If Jesus were physically here with us in the same room in a conversation with us, he would do the same thing – adjust his words to best fit the listener and the situation.

Robot Coffee in Tokyo

My oldest son and I were in Japan last week and got to have coffee served to us by a robot. I’ve posted the video below. Now the technology itself is nothing impressive and robots with similar abilities have been around since the early 1990s. BUT, it was still fun to interact with one in the wild!

Books read in 2017

There was a lot less blogging but more reading this year.

  • Translating the Message, Lamin Sanneh
  • All Creatures Great and Small, James Harriot (read aloud to the kids)
  • The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen
  • The Reason for God, Timothy Keller
  • Taking God at His Word, Kevin DeYoung (partial)
  • Evidence of Satan in the Modern World, Léon Cristiani
  • Psychology & Christianity: Five Views, Ed. Eric Johnson
  • African Friends and Money Matters, David E. Maranz
  • Beyond Surgery: Injury, Healing, and Religion at an Ethiopian Hospital, Anita Hannig
  • The Horn of Africa: State Formation and Decay, Christopher Clapham
  • Delighting in the Trinity, Michael Reeves (partial)
  • The Westing Game, Ellen Raskin (read aloud to the kids)
  • Towards an African Narrative Theology, Joseph Healey and Donald Sybertz (partial)
  • The Prince Warriors, Priscilla Shirer and Gina Detwiler (read aloud to the kids)
  • The Fruit of Lips, Eugen Rosenstock Huessy
  • Songs of Distant Earth, Arthur C. Clarke
  • The Forbidden Door, Jeanne K. Norweb (read aloud to the kids)
  • Weep Not, Child, Ngugi wa Thiong’o
  • Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll (read aloud to the kids)
  • Creed or Chaos?, Dorothy Sayers (2nd time)
  • Three Days in the Life of an African Christian Villager, Jim Harries
  • The Celtic Way of Evangelism, George G. Hunter III
  • The Chains of Heaven: An Ethiopian Romance, Philip Marsden
  • Rework, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
  • The Master of Wisdom, Jeanne K. Norweb (read aloud to the kids)
  • The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Mark Manson
  • Reviving Old Scratch, Richard Beck
  • Danny, The Champion of the World, Roald Dahl (read aloud to the kids)
  • Communication in Mission and Development: Relating to the Church in Africa, Jim Harries
  • The Night the Bear Ate Goomba, Patrick McManus (partial, read aloud to the kids)
  • Finding God, Larry Crabb (2nd time)
  • The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary, Simon Winchester

Time and Rockstar: Simultaneously lamenting and celebrating the sexual abuse of women

In 2017 we saw an explosion of wealthy and powerful men exposed in public as serial sexual abusers, using their positions and influence to prey on vulnerable women. Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, and scores of others in the media and entertainment industry were revealed to be, behind their feminism-affirming public personas, a parade of dicks and dirtbags. It’s not like this is anything new or that even a fraction of a percent of the foul play made it into the limelight, but it was a sizable enough portion for many folks to take notice. Time Magazine, highlighting the phenomenon, decided to make the “Silence Breakers” – the women who risked their livelihoods to fight back – the official “person of the year” on the cover of their latest issue.

Oh look, there’s Taylor Swift there on the cover too. And what’s on the radio right after her song? The new hip hop tune ‘rockstar’ by rappers Post Malone and Savage 21. It’s been playing at least once an hour on the local top 40 station every day in December. When I open up the iTunes store on my phone, a full-size ad for the album covers the screen. It’s just coming down from #1 on the Billboard charts. Let’s briefly take a look at the lyrics, shall we?

I’ve been f**kin’ hoes and poppin’ pillies
Man, I feel just like a rockstar

Drankin’ Henny, bad bitches jumpin’ in the pool
And they ain’t got on no bra
Hit her from the back, pullin’ on her tracks
And now she screamin’ out, “¡No más!” (yeah, yeah, yeah)
They like, “Savage, why you got a twelve car garage
And you only got six cars?”

Here in the rockstar song, we have the celebration of a rich and powerful man, bragging about having sex with a woman he just met, pulling on her hair while she is, literally screaming, “No more!” – essentially, “Stop it!”. The hell is going on in this song? Sounds like as soon as this gal can wrestle herself away from the abusive “Savage 21” or whatever the artist calls himself, she should join the #MeToo movement and get the community support she needs to face her abuser. Maybe she can get on the cover of a magazine for it. But nope. She’s in the song, as we pay millions of dollars to make this track #1 and honor the (real or imagined) escapades of these young men.

This kind of gangster storytelling and gloating has been standard schmandard fare in rap music for decades. There is nothing new to see here. The only point I want to make is the incredible amount of cognitive dissonance it takes to hold these two things next to each other in the mainstream media with seemingly no sense of irony. By “mainstream media” I don’t mean some amorphous blob of stuff I just don’t happen to appreciate, like some old man yelling “darn kids, get off my lawn!”. I simply mean, in the simplest sense, national television, national syndicated magazines, news, radio, and top reach brands on the internet.

There, in front of the nation, side-by-side, literally seconds apart from each other we find the following: a concerned-looking journalist interviewing an actress who was pressured to sleep with the director in order to be cast in a movie. Immediately afterwards, the top song on pop radio plays as bumper music, blasting with a catchy drum rhythm: “I’ve been f**kin’ hoes, green hundreds in my safe, hundred bitches in my trailer, tryna grab up on my pants”.

I’m not making this up. Let me suggest that the first problem (sexual abuse by powerful men) cannot improve simultaneously while we ramp up the artful idolization of sexual abuse by powerful men. This isn’t rocket science. The first one isn’t going to get better while the second one gets worse. They’ll either both continue to get better as sexual morality is held in higher esteem or they’ll both get worse. You can’t effectively honor women on the cover of the final Time magazine while simultaneously dishonoring them in the top song on pop radio. The two things cancel each other out. To heal the world we need a deeper and more excellent approach.


Postscript: Yes, I realize the song ‘rockstar’ may in fact be tongue-in-cheek, that is, intended to be satire. It is certainly interpreted by some to be. I suspect it is to some degree, but regardless, the overt sexual violence in it offers a stark contrast to the sympathy with the abuse victims it sits next to. I also don’t buy this line of reasoning as an excuse in general. For example, I think the 2014 film The Kingsmen ultimately glorified debauchery, even as it satirized and critiqued the real debauchery of James Bond films.

Blog shuffle

Not many people read this blog of course, but occasionally a friend or acquaintance will go to look something up and they will inevitably have trouble finding it because the root of the domain points to my old coffee enthusiast blog, which I no longer update. This is the “main” blog, but it’s lived for years in a subdirectory.

Well, they have now essentially traded-places. The coffee blog can still be found at /coffee and simply typing in the domain (moscowcoffeereview.com) will take you here. That should avoid some confusion in the future. I probably should have done this eons ago!

‘Solemn’ as feast, not just fast

My friend Austin posted this except from the preface that C.S. Lewis wrote to Paradise Lost.

Like solemn it implies the opposite of what is familiar, free and easy, or ordinary. But unlike solemn it does not suggest gloom, oppression, or austerity. The ball in the first act of Romeo and Juliet was a ‘solemnity’. The feast at the beginning of Gawain and the Green Knight is very much a solemnity. A great mass by Mozart or Beethoven is as much a solemnity in its hilarious gloria as in its poignant crucifixus est. Feasts are, in this sense, more solemn than fasts. Easter is solempne, Good Friday is not. The Solempne is the festal which is also the stately and the ceremonial, the proper occasion for a pomp–and the very fact that pompous is now used only in a bad sense measures the degree to which we have lost the old idea of a ‘solemnity’. To recover it you must think of a court ball, or a coronation, or a victory march, as these things appear to people to enjoy them; in an age when every one puts on his oldest clothes to be happy in, you must re-awake the simpler state of mind in which people put on gold and scarlet to be happy in. Above all, you must be rid of the hideous idea, fruit of a widespread inferiority complex, that pomp, on the proper occasions, has any connection with vanity or self-conceit. A celebrant approaching the altar, a princess led out by a king to dance a minuet, a general officer on a ceremonial parade, a major-domo preceding the boar’s head at a Christmas feast–all these wear unusual clothes and move with calculated dignity. This does not mean that they are vain, but that they are obedient; they are obeying the hoc age which presides over every solemnity. The modern habit of doing ceremonial things unceremoniously is no proof of humility; rather it proves the offender’s inability to forget himself in the rite, and his readiness to spoil for every one else the proper pleasure of ritual… . You are to expect pomp. You are to ‘assist’, as the French say, at a great festal action.

This is great on several different levels, so I wanted to save it here. It informs my recent foray into Anglican worship in the past month and why some parts feel uncomfortable to me (or others!) when it seems like they shouldn’t be.

It also makes me realize that I said my line about “solemnity” totally wrong when I played Theseus in A Midsummer Night’s Dream last year. If only I had known!

For in the temple by and by with us
These couples shall eternally be knit:
And, for the morning now is something worn,
Our purposed hunting shall be set aside.
Away with us to Athens; three and three,
We’ll hold a feast in great solemnity.

Because, in my head, “solemn” only ever meant something like “grave”, I couldn’t bring myself to say this line in anything but an over-serious manner. It should have been more joyful. More feast, less fast. Sometimes worship, even in heavy formality, should be the same thing.