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Some thoughts on worship

This post has been on my mind for quite some time now. Most Sundays (regardless of the church I attend) are reminders of the poor quality of worship-song writing in our mainstream-evangelical culture. I frequently find myself distracted during worship, unable to sing a chorus again or compelled to skip portions of verses I dislike. Such distractions take my mind of God. I confess I’ve done more than my share of griping and complaining about praise songs. Although griping is enjoyable; I doubt it is beneficial for others or my own spirit. To make matters worse, I frequently wrestle with whether I or the song writer is to blame for my poor attitude during worship. “Maybe if I were just more aligned with the Holy Spirit, I would be able to worship authentically to this song too,” I sometimes think. And anyway, should Christians even be critical of other believers’ attempts to write and sing to God? This is at least an area on which to tread lightly – such criticism may not be mine to make. Because of these cautions, this topic has sat on the blog side-burner for quite some time.

Yet the same songs, choruses, and phrases that bothered me years ago still grate against me today. This post is an attempt to constructively lay out pitfalls in worship-song writing and leading that cause me to be distracted during worship. It is not meant to disparage any particular song or song writer. Perhaps if we, as Christians, are more reflective about what our worship should be, and what songs are beneficial and supportive of authentic, true worship, we might write just such songs. So the following is a list of seven factors I’ve noticed in common praise songs that detract from the worship experience for me.  The list is arranged from the least-bad to worst offense.

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Russo-Georgian war as a signal of balance of power shift?

That is the arguement of this fascinating article by George Friedman.  The article is, by far, the most compelling and realistic (using both the regular and international relations definitions) description of the war, its causes, and its strategic and political ramifications for international relations.  Here are a few blurbs:

“The Russians had changed dramatically, along with the balance of power in the region. They welcomed the opportunity to drive home the new reality, which was that they could invade Georgia and the United States and Europe could not respond.”

“In other words, the Russians have backed the Americans into a corner. The Europeans, who for the most part lack expeditionary militaries and are dependent upon Russian energy exports, have even fewer options. If nothing else happens, the Russians will have demonstrated that they have resumed their role as a regional power. Russia is not a global power by any means, but a significant regional power with lots of nuclear weapons and an economy that isn’t all too shabby at the moment. It has also compelled every state on the Russian periphery to re-evaluate its position relative to Moscow. . . .

The war in Georgia, therefore, is Russia’s public return to great power status. This is not something that just happened — it has been unfolding ever since Putin took power, and with growing intensity in the past five years. Part of it has to do with the increase of Russian power, but a great deal of it has to do with the fact that the Middle Eastern wars have left the United States off-balance and short on resources. As we have written, this conflict created a window of opportunity. The Russian goal is to use that window to assert a new reality throughout the region while the Americans are tied down elsewhere and dependent on the Russians. The war was far from a surprise; it has been building for months. But the geopolitical foundations of the war have been building since 1992.”

Uncle Dan’s little buckets of wisdom (Pt. 1)

I now have two young nieces who are growing up in a very strange world. Uncles have two main roles in supporting their nieces and nephews. First, uncles are expected to give advice regardless of the quality of the advice and the appropriateness of the situation. Second, every niece or nephew is entitled to at least one crazy uncle, about which she or he can tell ridiculous stories to her or his friends. I feel it is now time to begin fulfilling my uncling duties, and so with this post I embark on a series of advice columns for my little nieces which will hopefully provide little buckets of sanity and sagacity that they can carry around with them wherever they go.

Bucket #1: Everything tastes better with ranch. It’s true. Don’t fight it. It is a fact of life. In fact, I’m pretty sure that when God told Moses that He would bring the Israelites into a land “flowing with milk and honey” He was referring to Buttermilk Ranch dressing. Read the rest of this entry »

How Obama did it

Today’s Washington Post has a fascinating article that details the Obama campaign’s strategy throughout the primary process.  The focus on small caucus states appears to have two causes: first, the campaign sought to compete where Clinton was weakest; second, the campaign focused on exploiting the electoral rules to grab every spare delegate.  The former reason motivated the campaign to send volunteers and staffers to small, solidly Republican states like Alaska and Kansas, where the campaign could beat the Clinton machine for the hearts of those voters, many of whom rarely get a chance to play a role in Democratic Party presidential politics.  The latter reason caused the campaign to zero-in on the different delegate formulas.  For example, the story explains that Obama won more pledged delegates from Nevada than did Clinton, even though she won the vote in the state, because his support was concentrated in districts in which an odd-number delegates could be given.  The strategy certainly paid off, although just barely.  Another factor that the article does not mention is the psychological role of winning primary (or caucus) after primary. Obama rattled off a string of 10 primary and caucus victories after Super Tuesday; the news coverage produced by that string, even though some (Utah and Nebraska) of those states were small, heavily-Republican states, was incredibly important to convince super delegates and voters that Obama was winning the nomination.  This undoubtedly helped his candidacy’s viability and his own electability image.
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A little over a week ago, E and I decided to unplug our TV and stick it in the basement. We would experiment with TV-free living for a week and then evaluate the situation. Ten days later the TV is still in the basement, and I think it will stay there, perhaps for good.

I must clarify something up front: it isn’t as if we are going without television programing this week; we’ve been catching up on our favorite shows like The Office and Scrubs but by watching them online rather than on the television. My brother-in-law also loaned us the first season of Lost, through which we have slowly been making our way. So, in a sense we’ve been watching plenty of TV. Still, this experiment has had noticeable effects on our lives: the largest and most important of which is that we’re happier. Read the rest of this entry »

Why support John McCain?

I’ve been asked this numerous times over the last few weeks. There are plenty of issues I could list to answer the question – McCain has been right on Iraq, truly wants to stop wasteful spending and is willing to do so, and lines up with my own opinions on social issues – but those issues weren’t the driving force behind my support. The real reason I voted for McCain was because I like the man; I trust him.

I like him even more after Tuesday night’s victory in New Hampshire. While Obama was vacuously spouting about how “yes, we can!” create change and Hillary was thanking New Hampshire for helping her find her voice, McCain spoke about his philosophy of governance, about the moral responsibility of serving his country, about the need to fight against Islamic terrorists, and about America’s potential greatness. In the speech, above all else, McCain sounded humble, a virtue rarely seen in politics. Read the rest of this entry »

Plan 3 wins out (unfortunately)

In Linn County on Tuesday, voters decided, in a special election, on a new form of county government. Up till this point, Linn County supervisors have been elected at-large from the county. Recently, all 3 supervisors have lived in Cedar Rapids, leaving the suburban and rural parts of the county with no representative looking out for their interests. After three years of petitioning, activists managed to do two things: 1) increase the number of supervisors from 3 to 5, and 2) call a special election to institute a district form of representation (Plan 3), where the county would be separated into 5, roughly equal districts. Candidates for supervisor must run for the district in which they live; citizens vote only in the race in their district.

I agree with those pedaling these changes in county government that the current system was biased against non-urban voters. At-large elections were not representing interests of the northern Linn County. But Plan 3 was not the only option. Read the rest of this entry »