Tag Archives: groupthink

Lunch with Nicholas Wolterstorff

Nicholas Wolterstorff is coming to APU. He’s a very distinguished Professor of Philosophy, most recently teaching at Yale. He’s written extensively on religion and reason, on the rationality of Christian faith, and on the possibility of aesthetics in art. He’ll be giving two lectures, tonight and tomorrow night, both in Munson Chapel, starting at 7PM. Tonight’s lecture is titled “Speaking up for the Wronged”, and tomorrow night is “Love and Justice.” Come if you’re interested.

But the thing I’m really excited about is happening tomorrow at noon. I’m having lunch with Wolterstorff. Well, me and the rest of the music faculty, but I’m still gonna pretend that the two of us are on a date. He’ll see by my eager smile and witty repartee that the rest of these people are mere distractions, and the two of us will escape away together to a pine-covered hillside, where we’ll talk for hours about realism in art, epistemology and religious experience, universals and their implications for ethical norms, just the two of us …

… did it just get awkward? Why the uncomfortable silence, everyone?

Anyway, I’m throwing this out to our wide reading audience, those of you who troll by the RSS feed and keep tabs on us from afar. I know many of you have read Wolterstorff’s writing. In fact, it was a reader here who first introduced me to his writing. If you were sitting down to lunch with him, what would you ask? Any burning questions about ethics, art, religious knowledge, any of those kinds of things?

I promise to dutifully report back to you every sparkling gem of wisdom that falls from his hand. And to leave out the awkward intellectual man-crush stuff.

Planned Downtime

Addison Road will be down this weekend. I’m switching over to a new server, with significantly faster load times, and less crappy downtime.

Please get all of your snarky comments posted here by tonight at 10pm, or risk getting that shakes until the site comes back online.

In my cart so far…

So, it snowed last night…just enough to be pretty (which now, a few hours later, means it’s one giant, sloppy, unpretty mess). The snow reminded me that winter has in fact, just begun. Given that I’m a poster-child for SAD, I’m planning ahead and doing some book shopping so that if (hahahahahah!) or rather, WHEN the dysfunction rears it’s ugly head on day #4 of rain (who am I kidding…I mean day #2!) I will at least have some good reads lying about. Better to bury one’s head in a book than just, ya know, bury it. So here’s what’s in my cart so far:
Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith
I’ve read zero Rob so far…I’m curious…and anything with “repainting” in the title is bound to resonate with me…I repaint often. (Which is another way of saying I paint badly quite often.)

Sadly, that’s the only mommy book I’ve added so far. (Thus, this post.) The only other things in my cart are three children’s books about Thanksgiving. (Thanks Aly…I finally checked out the Squanto book you recommended.) Like I said, I’m planning ahead.

I thought briefly about adding Foucault’s Pendulum as per a recommendation on a friend’s facebook page, but this sentence from the review sent me back to the children’s section: “This complex psychological thriller chronicles the development of a literary joke that plunges its perpetrators into deadly peril.” That is soooo utterly unappealing to me. And I don’t even feel compelled to apologize for my lack of intellectualism. (Mark it down.)

So, who has some reading recommendations for me? I’m aiming for somewhere a bit beyond Squanto for children but below the psychologically thrilling Foucault…it’s a big target…surely some of you can help! Lest my brain moss over in this perpetual winter drizzle, do comment soon! Thanks. (I thought about this and this, but I dunno….I guess I kinda want something more….fun.)

Run Zane, run!

Sir Ken Robinson’s talk entitled “Do schools kill creativity?” may be old news to many, but I just discovered it today via this place. I think I love this man. Or, at least his message.

I’m almost always angsty in regard to my children’s schooling. I think, wonder, question, ponder, imagine and pray (sometimes in that order and sometimes in the reverse order) about it nine days out of 10. I’d guess that this intense preoccupation is deeply rooted in my own schooling experiences, but maybe not. Whatever the case, I think about it a lot. I desperately want my children to have a positive schooling experience. That sounds so generic and vague but it (“positive”) truly is what I mean—in the biggest, best sense of the word. Of course I want them to learn stuff, but I’m passionate (again with the overused and thusly generic sounding word) about them learning about themselves as created, creative beings and learning how to think and learning to love learning and acquiring and nurturing internal resources that will both allow and spur them on to be the best versions of themselves possible. Oh my, I feel a preachy, esoteric fight song coming on.

Presently, our six-year-old son attends first grade at a local private Christian school. It’s been fine. A bit costly and fine. It’s not perfect and I don’t expect to find a perfect school. Duh. We’re trying to “take it one year at a time” as many parents say and we are glad that in this day and age (and state) there are so many great schooling options.

This darling, beloved, love-him-so-much-I-can-hardly-stand-it son of mine talks almost all the time. If he’s thinking it, he’s saying it. I think it would drive even Jesus himself bats. We’re trying to help him with this way in which he relates to life and processes information as we don’t want the poor child to drive everyone around him bats. It occurred to me this evening, as I listened to Sir Ken’s speech, that perhaps I should be helping dear son learn how to be an amazing orator, speaking with authority since he so loves to do it. He also loves to run. He can run quite fast and for a suprisingly long time. We recently made a path around the back half of our property (1.4 acres) for him to run. He enjoys it, but still likes to go to a park or track where he can just run sraight and fast and flat out for, like I said, a fairly shocking length of time. It’s like he just comes alive when he gets to runrunrunrunrun. So what is second grade at the Christian School he attends known for? Sittin’ down and shuttin’ up. Hmmm.

So, what say you about elementary education?

Site Redesign: Reader Input

There’s a blog redesign a comin’ probably during finals week of this semester. WordPress has upgraded their software several times since the last update, and our current design no longer works. Also, creating new blog designs is the greatest means of procrastination ever, and Lord knows I’m not about to start grading thesis papers until at least 3 weeks after final grades are due.

So, blog redesign. Like all good blog dictators, I realize that it is occasionally important to appear concerned with the ill-informed and petty views of your consumers, and to that end, I’m looking for some feedback from you on what does and does not need to stay.

What do you think, addison roadies? Still like the taglines, or time to go? 3 from the archives still something you use? How often do you use the search feature? Any festive color suggestions? Let me know what you think is important to include on the public face of our little inter-web community, and what you think should be shaved off like 4-week old back hair.

Come on baby…

Hey Roadies…

So, here’s the scoop:

My beautiful wife of 8.4 years and I have spoken a couple of times on “Date Nights” for local groups. The basic gist is the importance of romancing your significant other, as well as creative ways to do so, long after the proverbial “honeymoon” is over.

I’ll post again next week, and tell a bit more of what Rona and I actually talk about, but I was hoping you guys can give us a hand for our next speaking engagement. With complete understanding of the can of worms I’m about to open (given the high average intelligence and the low average maturity of the Addison crew), I pose the following question:

How do you continue to light the fire in your significant other?

Sincerely,

Matty

Why Be Virtuous?

Posts in the Music and Ethics: Blog Dilemmas series

  1. Why Be Virtuous?
  2. Ayana and the Sacred Song
  3. Music and Ethics: With Strings Attached

As part of the Music and Ethics class, I post something on the course blog each week for the students to read, consider, and then comment on. This is the first of the blog assignments, and I thought it would be interesting to post it here as well, for you folks to interact with:

Blog Assignment #1: Why Be Virtuous?
In class today, I gave you Plato’s view on the interaction between virtue and the human soul, and how a life lived excellently must mean a life lived with virtue. Plato’s is not the only view on the matter, of course. There are other views, by other smart people, on the meaning and purpose of virtue.

Let’s start off the blog assignments by reacting to a few of those perspectives. Here are four statements on reasons to be virtuous. They aren’t quotes, they are my own paraphrases of the views held by different philosophers:

  1. “The best reason to be virtuous is because of the nature of the human soul – we were created to be virtuous, and we do damage to our own nature, our own souls, if we deceive others and act with cruelty.” (Plato)
  2. “The best reason to be virtuous is because of God’s decree – He commands us to do certain things and not to do certain other things, and out of either love or fear, we ought to obey his commands.” (William of Ockham)
  3. “The best reason to be virtuous is the force of social pressure – if you are dishonest and cruel to others, society will shun you, and your capacity to enjoy life will be diminished.” (Ayn Rand)
  4. “The best reason to be virtuous is for the cause of greater social good – society as a whole is better off when people are honest and compassionate toward one another.” (Peter Singer)

There are certainly more options than the ones I’ve presented (include the option to say we shouldn’t be virtuous!), but let’s start with these. Which of the four statements above seems the most true to you? This isn’t a survey, don’t just jot down your answer; give us a little insight into why you think your option is the best choice.

Next in series: Ayana and the Sacred Song

Groupthink: Superbad vs. High School Musical 2

Two pieces of vastly different, youth-marketed media ruled this past August weekend.

OMG.

Or, if you’re talking about Superbad: OMFG

Superbad, the latest from Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen, and the rest, surpassed everyone’s expectations and made $32 million dollars in it’s opening weekend.

High School Musical 2 obliterated all previous records and cemented itself as a full blown pop phenom, becoming the highest rated basic cable program of all time, and the second highest rated television program (cable or not) among 9-14 year olds, behind only the 2004 Superbowl. Yay for my bank account.

I had a few thoughts.

  • Although both films are marketed at different audiences, (tweens for HSM2, older teens and early 20s for Superbad) there will be scores of young people who see both, and for whom both pieces of media will be internalized and mimicked. We can expect random outbursts of singing, dancing, frivolity, as well as bad McLovin impersonations for months to come.
  • Youth media has both matured and gotten soft all at the same time. People saying that HSM2 is the new Grease have forgotten how sexually provocative and naughty Grease was. They’ve also forgotten that the actual story of Grease is pretty dumb, lacking anything even resembling a genuine emotion. The kids occupying the alternate universe of HSM2 are actually given real things to think and feel, and sing about, albeit perkily. The writers and producers are actually making an attempt (in a mass market, squeaky-clean way) to give their young audience something to process. In the real world, the Wildcats would be singing about the first time Gabriella gave Troy a blow job. It would be soaring ballad, no doubt.
  • At the same time regarding the evolution of youth media, Superbad is (on paper) more disgusting, immoral, filthy, explicit, and deviant then anything John Hughes or Amy Heckerling put on screen in the 80′s and 90′s. In practice, I think it’s a sweeter movie (and more honest about how life actually works) then any of those PG and PG-13 rated farces where all parents are idiots and jerks and the kids know everything. John Hughes movies weren’t really about growing up, they were about declaring a state of perpetual immaturity apart from your hypocrite parents.
  • One of the recurring themes in Judd Apatow’s canon is the delayed maturation process of men in this culture. Knocked Up, which I adored, actually made me weep due to the loving, honest, painfully funny depiction of what happens when a man-child actually has a child. The crassness serves as a backdrop to explore this really interesting idea of what happens when men deal with each other, but refuse to actually deal with women as equals, and deal with sex issues with people who are equals and not objects.

So here’s my groupthink question: Has media aimed at kids gotten generally better or worse? Or both?

P.S. I am not actually recommending Superbad, if you were wondering. The language and situations are… really foul. I laughed at some of it, and I was actually quite moved by the simplicity and honesty of the ending, but there were not enough laughs between squirms for me to sit through it again, or tell you that you should go see it.

P.P.S. You should see Knocked Up, however, as the emotional payoffs are as big as the laughs. If you have a problem with honest observations of how single heterosexual non-Christian men living together behave, give it a second thought.

P.P.P.S. I am heartily recommending HSM2, but actually on DVD would be nicer for me… what with the royalties and all. My interests are conflicted, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong.

The Weakness of God

Posts in the Sermon Prep: Our Father series

  1. Our Father, Who Art In Heaven
  2. The Weakness of God
  3. Our Father: Sermon Final

I heard someone once describe having your first child in this way: you feel like you’ve given fate a hostage, and you will never be safe again.

It’s an apt description. One of the mysteries of love is that it connects you to the well-being of the person you love. With Gretchen, my wife, her joy and pain affect me, not in the same way that they affect her, but in some degree they have an impact on my own joy or pain. In the same way, my love for Sophia, our daughter, connects me to her joy and her pain. I am personally invested in her well-being, because of my love for her.

That makes me vulnerable to things that I wouldn’t otherwise be vulnerable to. Up at the cabin in Santa Cruz, there is an old library-style ladder from the living room up to the loft. Sophia learned to climb it over the past few weeks, and now she scampers up and down at will.

I get nervous, every time. I’m not likely to fall and hurt myself if my foot slips on the ladder, but for her it would be a disastrous fall. What’s not danger for me, is danger for her, and so I become vulnerable to it. Even though she herself is unaware of the danger that she’s in, I am vulnerable to it.

On his own, apart from us, God is invulnerable. Because he connected himself to us by way of love, he has made himself vulnerable to pain, sorrow, suffering, hunger, grief, and the myriad of broken tragedies that inflict our lives. God made himself weak with love for us.

Previous in series: Our Father, Who Art In Heaven

Next in series: Our Father: Sermon Final

Our Father, Who Art In Heaven

Posts in the Sermon Prep: Our Father series

  1. Our Father, Who Art In Heaven
  2. The Weakness of God
  3. Our Father: Sermon Final

I’m preaching again on Sunday. Just starting to gather some thoughts, and put them out here for public comment, as usual.

This time, I’m splitting a two-part series with our youth pastor, who preached last week. He has been married for less than I year. I’ve been a father for a little over two. We thought it might be interesting to reflect on things we’ve learned about God as newly minted participants in our respective roles. Not “Here’s how to be a husband” or “Here’s a message on how to raise your kids”, Lord knows we have little enough to say on either subject. Instead, the idea is more along the lines of “Here are some things about God that I’m beginning to think about differently since becoming a husband / father.”

So, my turn at bat this Sunday. I’ll post some of the ideas that are percolating as they develop. Stay tuned! Stay alert! Stay pretty! Daddy and Mommy will only love you if you are pretty!

Next in series: The Weakness of God

20 things to do while you’re waiting for your fans to show up

I’ve been trolling the posts that I missed while I was out of the country, and ran across Chad’s post about firing up Ye Olde Indie Bande. Rather than giving a specific response to his request, I thought I’d give this, a general list of things to move your music project forward.

Most of the things on this list are the result of observation – APU is like a petri dish for watching the launch of music careers. We have around 50 people at any given time who are trying to become viable artists in the commercial music world. They range in success from those who are signed and touring in support of great projects, to those who can’t even get a pay-to-play booking with 300 other bands at Chain Reaction, and I get a front row seat to their process. They come talk to me about what works, what doesn’t, and I get to listen to their experiences and cull from that data.

So here you go – 20 things to do while you’re waiting for your fans to show up. The first 4 are in order of importance, but everything after that is in wild brainstorm mode.

  1. Change your mindset. Once you’ve recorded the album and rehearsed the band, you’re no longer an artist, your full-time career is now marketing and sales. Congratulations – you’re now a small business owner!
  2. Get on iTunes and other online distribution sites with tunecore.com
  3. Upload your music to last.fm. Your music gets placed on a playlist next to well-known artists with a similar style. I can’t think of anything more valuable to a starting artist than song placement in proximity to fans that don’t know you, but that already like what you do. In fact, move this up to #2 – I think last.fm is more important than getting on iTunes.
  4. Put together an EPK. Make it downloadable from your website.
  5. Send the EPK to your very local paper, the one that writes about school board meetings and the farmers market, along with a friendly email suggesting why your story isn’t the typical I-wanna-be-a-rockstar band story. Local papers are receptive to ready-made content (nice pictures, packaged story), and it will give you some experience in talking to the media about your project in a way that doesn’t come off as pretentious or vain.
  6. Update your website blog. (you DO have a blog on your website, right?) Frequent updates help with your search engine ranking, and you want to be on the first page of results for fans who go googling for your website.
  7. Get your social networking sites up. Make sure you have a presence on MySpace, Facebook.
  8. Find 10 blogs that you think your potential fans might read. Make an interesting comment on a post. When you fill out the comment details (name, email, URL) insert the link to your website. If people who read the comment find it interesting, they’ll follow the link back to your site. Don’t promote yourself directly in the comment, just make it interesting and relevant to the post.
  9. Somewhere in-between iTunes and Last.fm is Aimestreet.com. You upload your music, people can discover it and download it for free, or a few pennies initially. As it becomes more popular, the price increases. It rewards people for becoming early fans, and rewards artists for gaining in momentum. I love this distribution model, and it’s gaining a massive following among fans.
  10. Find 5 podcasts (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) that talk about music in your genre. Email the host to ask if you can send them a CD (or links to the album online). Express your interest in being interviewed for the podcast.
  11. Locate 3 artists in your region who are in a similar market (both in size and genre). Check their tour schedule for venues, and start cold-calling. The place they play today is the place you should be playing 9 months from today.
  12. Do a process audit on buying your music online. How hard is it for fans who get to your website to actually purchase your CD? Can they choose a process they are already familiar, or do you force them to do something like download iTunes, or signup for Paypal? It should be as simple, quick, and intuitive as possible for someone who already wants to buy your product to actually buy your product.
  13. Can you accept credit cards for live sales at your concerts? Have a laptop with a wireless connection to Paypal Virtual Terminal, so that you can.
  14. While we’re talking merch table, how easy is it for people who get to the table after the show to continue their relationship with the band? There are 3 pieces of critical info you should have from every fan – name, email address, and zip code. Why zip code? If you’re playing a show in San Jose, every fan with a zip code that starts with 950XX, 951XX, 940XX or 943XX should get a personal email inviting them to the show. Any fan living in Phoenix should not. Excel, or really any spreadsheet program will let you sort data this way.
  15. Put together a list of 10 known artists that you think would have potential cross-over fans. Start a series of posts on your website reviewing their latest album. Be positive, if you can. You’ll start to get links from their fans doing google searches for album reviews.
  16. Take that same list. Find out who manages each of those artists. (Google is your friend). Send an introductory email to the manager, making specific mention of the artist you think is similar, and ask if you can send an EPK.
  17. Head to your myspace page. Find 5 well-known artists who are in your same genre with a large fan-base. Check out the fans who are commenting, and send 20 of them them an invitation to become your friend. Cross-over, cross-over, cross-over.
  18. As an artist, you have 3 products. Your recorded music, your live music, and your community. Does your website allow simple, intuitive access to all three products? If not, time to stop treating your business like a hobby, and hire a real designer.
  19. Setup a google alert for your band name, or for links to your website. If somebody says something about you, or links to you, you should be the first to know! This allows you to be proactive about building relationships with potential fans.
  20. Change your mindset. You’re now a small business owner. If you want this to be your full-time job, treat it like a full-time job. Manage your time and your goals. Put in 40+ hours a week. Run this business.

So what are your thoughts? Do any of these strike you as essential? Or as complete time-wasters? What would you add to the list if your were launching your own band? How have other bands or artists found you, and turned you into a fan?

Comment away, my friends.

The Abyss and The List

into the great wide open  // under them skies of blue  //

out in the great wide open // a rebel without a clue

Tom Petty

Into the abyss I plunge.  Structure is gone.  Deadlines are gone.  No teaching pastor will be calling me to talk about the message.  No ladies from the worship team are calling to see if there’s going to be a rehearsal.  On Sunday, we will simply arise, and go to church.

Or not.

We’re in uncharted waters, now.

For those of you just joining our regularly scheduled program, here’s the situation.  Last year, we made this record.     It was an art project, meaning we didn’t have any expectations for it.  We weren’t thinking about the future, or marketing, or careers.  We just made a record for art’s sake, because we missed recording original music.

We thought it was pretty good.  We did a couple of concerts, and lo and behold, other people thought it was pretty good too.   Come December of ’06, my poor little psyche was just about fully cracked from eight years of Professional Christianity, working as a worship pastor.

In January of this year, I resigned, effective as of July 1.  In those five months, we packed up our belongings, rented out our condo, moved back to my parent’s house, did Easter, did the Agape Singers mini and summer tours, and I was done.

My new job is Band Promoter.  I have zero training.  I have only hunger, and it’s gnawing at me, and it will not be easily satiated.

I don’t fear the lack of steady income.  I don’t fear the uphill battle.  I don’t fear the rolled eyes when someone asks me what I do for a living, and I respond… I’m in a band.   What I fear is The Abyss.  I fear not knowing what to do next.

My first order of business, in an effort to begin charting a course towards success, has been making The List.  We got a good piece of advice several months ago from a friend who said, “Make a list of everyone you know who might be able to help you in any small or significant way.  Any church.  Anyone you know in the industry.  Anyone.”

I want to make The List a public project.  If you like The Dailies, and you want to help us out, and you have any ideas of where or for whom we should play, spit them out.  I’d love to hear what’s on your collective mind.

No distance is too outlandish, no lead too obscure.  I know Mike has a stack of ideas for the group for internet promotion, but what about the rest of you?  Which APU people are scattered across the fruited plain, just waiting the opportunity to book some old friends?  You know someone at a radio station?  You know someone who might like our music?

Let’s feed The List.

Addison Road Informal Focus Group, Round 1

Hypothetically, let’s say we’re naming a church congregation. It’s tied to a university, so there will be an on-campus gathering, but there will also be a location in a high end retail area. There are 5 names in the running. Contribute your untailored thoughts.

Adytum Mission
The Ark
Table 412/ Table Four Twelve
The Narthex
abbey west

ok, go.

iTunes Tuesday: Chrisette Michele

I know Aly really wanted us to start “Penal Substitutionary Atonement Theory Tuesday“, but it just seems like a lot of work to do actual thinking about theology every week. Instead, how about this? Tuesday is when the new free iTunes tune drops (see sidebar). That seems like a pretty good way to spend 10 minutes on a Tuesday morning, listening to a new song, and talking about it.

Chrisette Michele

So, this week, the new artist is Chrisette Michele. First of all, I hate her. Not her music, her as a person. I firmly believe that people who use off-brand spellings of their name do it just to upset me.

The song is “Your Joy”. I’m not usually a cynical or jaded person, but I just can’t shake the feeling of heard it already the whole way through the song. Everything seems very formula. The production is clean, nice little double tracked acoustic guitar (I’ll give you three guesses on who produced it … starts with “B”, ends with “abyface”). Her voice is great; she has a “tone” knob on the side of her vocal chords, and can dial up the timbre on demand. Too bad about the song.

I dunno. I’m not thrilled. Man, I was hoping iTunes Tuesday would start out more exciting than this. Maybe I should stir up some controversy. “Chrisette Michele eats babies!” There. That should give the people something to talk about.

Evangelizing The Evangelist

This blog was supposed to be about the opening of summer movie season. It was supposed to be a hip, geeky, yet cynically detached commentary on the marvel that is big budget summer movies, and how they take over my mind even at age 30.

That will have to be another blog.

Friday night, we went to see the 10:40 show of Spider Man 3 at Mann’s Village Theater in Westwood Village, CA. Yeah, Yeah… The Chinese is more famous across town, and The Dome is pretty hip, but The Village is still the granddaddy, for my $10.75.

The Village seats about 1,400 people, so on an opening night for big movie like SpiderMan, the line literally can stretch around the block. The Opening Night Line Squat is one of the great Los Angeles experiences, and I fear it’s dying as they insist upon building carbon copied megaplexes by the truckload. Who wants to wait for three hours when it’s showing on 12 screens starting every 15 minutes at The Grove?

Soulless yuppies. You know nothing of sacrifice.

Anyways, I’m old school, and Erica and I are parked on the street, finishing our CPK take out, and waiting for our friends to join us when two casually dressed young men walked up onto the sidewalk. One of them hung back, and the other pulled out three strings of different lengths as if to do the old, “Three strings of different lengths that somehow all becomes one length,” trick. He held them in his hands and began to address the crowd with an authoritative voice.

“Good evening, I want to take a few moments of your time to talk to you about something very important, but before I do, I want to let you all know that I’m not drunk, or high, or dangerous…”

You know how Peter Parker has his spidey sense? I have that too, but it’s for spotting Christians.

“…I want to talk to you about something tonight that shouldn’t be at all offensive to you. I want to talk to you about heaven…”

You’re made, dude. I’ve so got your number. He continues on. He’s loud, clearly going to take the confrontational approach, people are trying to ignore him uncomfortably or just staring with outright contempt on their faces and all the while those damn strings in his hands are just flopping to and fro with each gesticulation. Why me, Oh Lord? You may be thinking that what I’ve quoted thus far doesn’t sound offensive, and to be fair, I’m gonna do my best to not over tell this story. Just know that his countenance was oppressive, and, in my opinion, his choice of words didn’t help.

His buddy is hanging back, watching, not four feet from me. I shoot Erica a glance that says, “There are 1400 people in line, and this guy pulls up next to us… is it some sort of sign?” We’ve been married 8 years, we’re getting good at communicating sub-verbally. Her look says, “Go for it, this guy’s kind of pissing me off.”

I sidle up and decide to flash my Christian Credentials. “So… you guys with Campus Crusade or YWAM or something?” His look was classic. I might as well have drawn a fish in the sand. “Uhh… no, we’re sorta on our own. He’s my brother, and I’m just observing. He goes to Master’s. One of his classmates is around here somewhere.”

Master’s. Bingo. A single two syllable word rules out the Crazies, the JW’s, the Mormons, and, of course, Pastor Smiley.

For those of you who are unwashed heathens, The Master’s College was founded by one Pastor John MacArthur in Santa Clarita, California. JohnnyMac is a bit of a conundrum for me. He’s a Biblical scholar of epic proportions, and he’s a great teacher. He’s pretty hardcore Calvinist, and takes the idea of the inerrancy of Scripture (an idea in which I believe, if it matters to anyone) to untenable extremes.

The thing about Master’s and the church he pastors, Grace Community Church, is that they’re cults of personality. People who attend there have this vague air of superiority about them. They call JohnnyMac their “Shepherd.” Speaking with one of them, and I know a few, you get the distinct impression that everyone else who attends other churches or Christian colleges are… well… just a little weak in their faith. Sometimes I wonder if the word “Master,” is referring to Jesus, or MacArthur.

So… back to our story, our preacher. He’s a MacArthurite, and I know that there’s gonna be no arguing with him. I step back to my wife and listen a bit more. He’s moved on to the strings now, talking about Romans, how the one who has been sinned much (short string) has been forgiven much, and I can just see it coming. He’s gonna get to sanctification by grace just as he magically makes all the strings the same length. Glory, Hallelujah.

Did I mention he’s yelling? Well, he’s on the street, and he’s yelling, eyes strangely vacant, doing the schpeel. I’m watching him, talking on my cellphone, guiding in our friends who’ve never been here before, watching the crowd getting agitated, etc.

Erica turns to me and says, “Are you gonna say something to him?” What would I actually want to ask this guy, I think to myself. I don’t want to argue theology, or mock him. I’m not interested in making a spectacle of myself. I’m not interested in associating myself with him, but I’m not interested in kicking his ass, either.

So, I raised my hand, he recognized me, and I asked him the only question that I was genuinely interested in asking. “So… I’m wondering how you reconcile this approach with Jesus’ words about approaching gently, as well as some pretty specific guidelines about this sort of thing given in the epistles.”

I zinged him, and broke his flow, but he was right back at me, suspiciously quickly. “Well, there’s a long history of street preaching, Jesus did it himself, as well as the apostles and people like John Wesley and Charles Spurgeon, but I’ll talk to you later.” And then he was back on track. I was just dying… he actually invoked Mighty Spurgeon to rebut me. How classic. Phil would be so proud.

At this point, our friends had arrived, and there were hugs and greetings around. “What’s this guy’s story?” They asked. “Oh man.. he’s from Master’s, and he’s kind of a dick, and he wasn’t able to answer my question…”

I notice the preacher’s brother inching in to get a good listen, and he addresses me this time. “You’re pretty judgmental, man, and you just misrepresented what happened to your friends. He’s able to answer your question, it’s just that you interrupted his talk, and he didn’t want to get distracted…” I cut him off.

“Exactly. I interrupted his talk, his prepared schpeel. You know what else, man? I didn’t misrepresent what happened. I told these people, my friends, knowing their context and personalities, exactly what they needed to hear to know my take on this situation. See… these are my friends, and I know them, and I know how to communicate with them… so what you hear and what they hear are two radically different things.”

“Oh.” He said. “I guess you’re right.”

He had a gentle face. A kind face. I decided to out myself.

“Dude. I know you guys. I know that you don’t know me, but I know you. I’m a worship leader at a theologically conservative baptist church. I’ve been a Christian all my life. I know all about Masters, and your boy JohnnyMac (I actually called him JohnnyMac… which made his face go three shades of pale), and you can either believe me or we can sit here and debate theology until we’re blue in the face and then you’ll believe me that I know what I’m talking about.”

He looked offended. “You don’t know anything about us!”

I have a freakish ability, in extreme situations, to say exactly what I mean to say. It doesn’t happen all the time, and I cannot, for the life of me, control it, but every so often I manage to get my thoughts out in one, long, semi-coherent stream of consciousness.

I cut him off again, and said something along the lines of, “Dude, I’m not saying I know you, or your brother. What I am saying is that I know the Scriptures, we’ve read all the same books, and we most likely know some of the same people, as it’s a small world, after all. I know where you’ve been, what you’ve heard, and how you think. I know you’re a five point Calvinist, that you believe in the complete inerrancy of Scripture, that you believe we live in a corrupt and wicked generation that needs the gospel thrown at them so that the elect can be called out.”

His eyes nearly bugged out of his head when I managed to get “Elect” in there. He didn’t really say anything, so I just kept letting him have it, “You know what man? I do street evangelism. I direct a youth choir, and we were ministering to the homeless and addicted not two weeks ago.”

I don’t remember exactly where he stopped me, but he said something like this, “So you’re a Christian, huh, and yet your judging us for trying to do God’s work and present the Gospel…” Chad was not having any of this.

“The gospel is good news, man. Good news. Your approach sounds a lot like bad news. Your approach is scary and intimidating. The first thing that I did when your brother started his speech was check both of you for weapons or bombs. These people spent thirty horrifying seconds wondering if their friends were gonna read about their bloodied bodies in the morning paper…”

He stopped me, saying something like… “That’s not fair, you should see some of the other street evangelists we’ve met, calling women sluts and telling people they’re gonna burn in hell…(at this point, I must have rolled my eyes, thinking that he wants brownie points for their ability to not refer to women on the street as sluts) my brother wants to talk about hope!”

I came back with this, perhaps my best and only constructive point, “If you want to preach at people about hope, here’s how you do it. Go to your church, or friends, or something, and get $100 in $1 bills. Put them in a bucket, and make a sign that says ‘For the homeless’ and then park it here in this same spot and just open the Bible and start reading… oh I dunno… the book of John. Instead of alienating people, you’ll serve two purposes: they’ll be grateful to you for stopping the homeless people from continually harassing them for change, and the Holy Spirit would convict us about our own lack of generosity towards them. The door would be open for you to talk about anything you want.” Then I kind of got a little mean, but to the point, “The question is this: are you really interested in impacting people, or do you just get off on being right?”

This hurt his feelings, I could tell.

“You’re not being fair, look over there,” he said. His brother had moved from a crowd address to an animated conversation with one guy in line, of course the one who was most vocal in his protests and jeering. “They are having a real conversation.” I remember thinking that it looked like a conversation with a lot of pointing, which often means it’s not a real conversation, but rather two concurrent arguments with pauses.

I could tell he was struggling with me. I’m guessing that arguments on the street don’t usually involve people who can give a concise explanation of TULIP. “Look,” I said, “Maybe this is how God wants to use you to reach people. Maybe you have to go through the theatrics of the cold open in order to have one real conversation a night. However, you picked this one random spot in the world and it just happened to be next to me, and God wasn’t gonna let me get out of here just ignoring you. I knew I had to talk to you after about fifteen seconds of hearing your brother talk.”

“Most of these people think you’re crazy, or stupid, or annoying, or just a couple of assholes, (a well placed cussword always throws fundies for a loop) or even dangerous. Heck, you had me worried, and I’m on your team. It only took me two questions to get a clear picture of where you sat theologically. You throw out a passage from Romans, and they have no idea what you’re talking about. They have no context, no understanding, they don’t even know what that is. We’re in a post-Christian environment, so you can’t use the Scriptures in the public square like Spurgeon did and expect to get the same kind of traction. I’m not saying that Scripture has lost it’s power, or that we have to sterilize it or dumb it down, but we must be wise as serpents, harmless as doves. Give some thought as to what Paul was talking about when he said he tried to be all things to all people.”

I had talked myself blue by this point. I wanted to try and wind it up. “Look, it’s clear that you’re doing your best to serve God, and I’m glad for that. I apologize for coming on so strong, and it’s clear that you’re decent guys, and maybe we’ll just have to agree to disagree on this.”

He agreed, said “God Bless You,” and I think he meant it, and I returned the same to him, and I meant it.

I resumed The Hang with Erica and our friends, and waited for the line to go in. Street Preacher still was engaged in his conversation with Pointy Finger Man the whole time. His brother moved over there and listened in. When the line finally went in, Street Preacher walked with Pointy Finger Man all the way to the entrance and said goodbye. He passed me and said, “Hey man, I’m sorry I didn’t get to talk to you.” I smiled and thought to myself… I don’t know if that’s true… ask your brother.

I told this story to Mike yesterday, and he laughed at the part where I was trying to flash my Christian Badge in order to get this guy to talk with me as a peer, and not a potential convert, (which, of course, is at the heart of the problem…) Mike said, taking on my role for a moment, “Brother… I understand that burning in your belly… lemme get you a Tums.” I laughed.

I’m gonna post and tag this thing, and, who knows, someday Street Preacher or his Brother may find it, and realize it’s them. They may take issue with my description of the events, or our conversation. If they do, they should comment here, as while I’ve done my best to preserve the content, it was going fast and furious, and often the line between what one actually says and what one thinks after the fact becomes blurry.

Of course, after I left them, SpiderMan 3 melted several dozen IQ points from my brain, so that may factor in as well.

It’s not enough to mean well, guys. How did that conversation go with Pointy Finger Man? Is he coming to church next weekend? Has anyone ever actually allowed you to be their friends once you were done with them? What’s the deal with the string thing? Why do you have to have a prepared schpeel? Why won’t you answer my question in front of those people? It was a fair question. Why are you more interested in how Spurgeon or Wesley did it then how Jesus, Peter and Paul did it? Street Preacher’s Brother mentioned those giants of the reformation way more often then you mentioned Christ Himself, and it showed. Remember Jesus? He was pretty smart. He didn’t get killed because he was a reckless idiot. He was killed because he was changing people’s minds by the truckload, and he scared the hell out of the establishment. Annoying the establishment doesn’t make you like Christ, it just makes you annoying.

Are you actually interested in impacting this culture, or are you only interested in being theologically correct?

A Wiki-mencement Address

graduation appleToday is graduation day at ye olde APU, and it represents my first complete cycle of teaching. The graduating class of 2007 were freshmen in the fall of 2002, when I taught my first class of Intro to Music Tech as an adjunct.

From the very beginning, this blog has tried to give a little something back to the childrens. On this hallowed day, as we pause to reflect on the bounty and beauty of a life unfolding, I wonder if you, the wizened readership of this fine blogging institution, might have a few perfunctory words to pass along to the new generation, coming so eagerly to take your gigs away?

Groupthink: Send the Songs, My People!

sheetmusic back bOK, kids … everybody know what time it is? That’s right, it’s time for you to help Mr. Michael Lee do his work! For free!

Settle down, kids. No, there are no snacks. No, Timmy, I will not cut you in for points on the backend … Timmy, where did you learn about that kind of thing anyway? Oh, your last name is Mottola. Well, that explains a lot, Timmy.

For the rest of you, here’s the assignment. I need you to help Mr. Lee think of songs for his little singing group to perform. Think big guitars, drums, a very cool band, and 6-part vocal harmony tight enough to peel the lipstick off a pig. No, Timmy, I wasn’t making a joke about your daddy’s ex-wife.

So, if you had that kind of group, heading out on the road to perform concerts for medium-size churches, and also doing some stints as a high-school camp worship band, what kind of rep would you throw at them?

Anything. Anything at all. It doesn’t have to already be arranged for that kind of band + vocals, it can be a song that you think could be arranged well for the lineup.

The floor is open. Hit me.

Mega Super Lotto Time!

335 million

The estimated jackpot for tomorrow night’s Mega Millions Lotto is 355 Million Dollars.

26 Annual payments of $13,653,846.

Assume a 40% tax rate, that’s $8,192,308 per year after taxes.

$22,444 per day.

$62 each and every minute.

Our ING savings account gets 4.5% APR. Interest on just the first year’s payout would be $368,653.86

If you invested the entire amount at an APR of 7%, by the time you got the last payout, the compounded total would be $604,977,188.41

So … what would you do with that kind of money?

Groupthink: Music Small Groups

APU School of Music is relaunching their summer small groups.

Back in the day (pull up a rocking chair and a glass of lemonade, you youngsters), APU used to put together groups of singers and instrumentalists, pack them into vans, and send them off across this great nation to sing in churches, schools, camps, wherever they could get a concert booked.

As the school of music grew, and started to outgrow some of the constraints of its church-music roots, the budget for summer small groups got redirected to other scholarships, projects, and ensembles that fell more in line with the core disciplines of the school. The small groups eventually faded away into the stuff of legend.

Well, they’re back. With a vengeance. With a President-of-the-University mandate, and the sweaty wad of cash that comes along with it. Seems that somewhere along the line, the administration realized that summer small groups were one of the strongest recruiting tools around, and that it might be in the University’s interest to start funding them.

So, for the first time in about 5 years or so, two summer small groups will be out this year, canvasing the states, playing in churches and schools and camps.

tour van

I’m posting this here because a lot of the old APU gang that hangs out around here spent time in those vans, doing those concerts, and you brought back stories. We used to talk about things we would do differently if we were in charge of small groups, or things we wished that the booking agent, or the faculty adviser, knew about what it was like to be on the road.

Well, I’m on the flip-side now. I’m not in charge of the new small groups (as far as I know – I’m junior faculty, I don’t always know what I’m being volunteered for), but I am going to be involved in the process. And, I want to bring the experience of having been on the road in that van back to inform the way the new small groups are constructed.

So, help me out. Give me memories, regrets, ideas you had that you wish had been implemented, complaints, best-things-ever, worst-things-ever, what you would do if you had the keys to the kingdom, that sort of thing. This isn’t just limited to former small group members, by the way, or even just to APU-ites. If you have $.02 to throw in, throw it in! It would be great to hear from some people who are in church ministry, involved in booking artists or school groups, and to get your perspective on things you wish people knew.

Get your groupthink on!