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Monthly Archives: July 2010

Scrutinizing Simplicity

Anyone familiar with Christian worship music of the past half-century or so may have noticed that much of it is simple and repetitious. Are those characteristics – simplicity and redundancy – present because

a) some/many Christian songwriters don’t think their audiences can learn anything complicated,
b) some/many Christian songwriters are incapable of writing anything complicated, or
c) both of the above?

Take, for example, this Sunday School chorus (which includes motions/choreography):

First Stanza:
Read your Bible, pray every day,
Pray every day,
Pray every day;
Read your Bible, pray every day
And you’ll grow, grow, grow.

And you’ll grow, grow, grow;
And you’ll grow, grow, grow.
Read your Bible, pray every day
And you’ll grow, grow, grow.

Second Stanza:
Neglect your Bible, forget to pray,
Forget to pray,
Forget to pray;
Neglect your Bible, forget to pray,
And you’ll shrink, shrink, shrink.

And you’ll shrink, shrink, shrink.
And you’ll shrink, shrink, shrink.
Neglect your Bible, forget to pray
And you’ll shrink, shrink, shrink.

Another one to the same tune (also with motions/choreography):

I will make you fishers of men,
Fishers of men,
Fishers of men;
I will make you fishers of men
If you follow me.

If you follow me,
If you follow me.
I will make you fishers of men
If you follow me.

One more Sunday School oldie (you guessed it: this one has motions/choreography too):

Stanza One:
Peter, James and John in a sailboat,
Peter, James and John in a sailboat,
Peter, James and John in a sailboat
Out on the deep, blue sea.

Stanza Two:
Jesus came, walking on the water,
Jesus came, walking on the water,
Jesus came, walking on the water
Out on the deep, blue sea….

I’ll spare you from the half dozen or so verses that follow.

Perhaps someone will argue, “Well, those are kids’ choruses. They’re simple because that makes them easy for kids to remember.”

Fair enough. If that’s the case, then what’s the rationale for these choruses – typically sung by adults?

Lord, how I love you,
You have done so much for me.
Lord, how I love you,
You have done so much,
So very, very much,
So very, very much for me.

Or this one:

God is so good,
God is so good;
God is so good,
He’s so good to me.

I love him so,
I love him so,
I love him so,
He’s so good to me.

He answers prayer,
He answers prayer,
He answers prayer,
He’s so good to me.

There’s more to this one, too, but I think you get my drift. Here’s another “adult” worship chorus:

Move, Holy Spirit, move in my life;
Move, Holy Spirit, make me like Christ.
Move, move, move in my life;
Move, move to make me like Christ.
Move, Holy Spirit, move in my life;
Move, Holy Spirit, make me like Christ.

Some of you may remember this one from the Gaithers (who else?), which was a hit in the 70s (I’m not exaggerating – this song was very popular in evangelical circles; it was even the title song in a cantata):

Alleluia,
Alleluia,
Alleluia,
Alleluia.

Alleluia,
Alleluia,
Alleluia,
Alleluia.

The genius (if one wants to call it that) of this song was that any four syllable slogans/mantras could be tacked onto it and sung as additional verses. So, people made up all sorts of verses to go with it:

I love Jesus…

He’s my Savior…

Clever song leaders would make up four-syllable mantras (or draw from a stock of mantras they knew) and keep this one going through half-a-dozen, a dozen, or even more repetitions. Then, when the song leader was ready to wrap up the song, the instruction would be called out, “Alleluia,” and people would sing the original chorus again. Really clever song leaders would stretch out the ending by calling out, at the end of the repeated “Alleluia” verse, “Once again, a capella.” Instrumentalists would create variety alleviate boredom by changing keys every now and then. Not-so-good instrumentalists were just stuck playing in the same key, over and over. Poor musicians were stuck playing the same exact arrangement, note-for-note, over and over and over….

I could go on, but you’ve gotten the point: a lot of Christian music is little more than repetitious drivel. At the beginning of the post, I asked whether simple songs like these indicate simple mindedness on the parts of the songwriters and/or the people who sing them. After I typed a few of the lyrics, another thought occurred to me: perhaps the purpose of the trance-inducing monotony of such songs is to lull people’s minds to sleep and make them receptive to the nonsense that will follow in the forms of scripture lessons, dogmatic sermons and biblical homilies. Or, even if mind-numbing is not the intention of such songs, it may well be the effect.

What do you think? Is the monotonous, mind-numbing simplicity of much Christian music a sign of simple mindedness, a sinister plot, or an unintended (but beneficial, to the church) consequence?

– the chaplain

 
25 Comments

Posted by on July 11, 2010 in music, rationalism, religion

 

How Telephone Solicitations Should Be Done

Now, this is how it should be done! I just finished a pleasant telephone conversation with someone hitting me up for a charitable donation. Yes, you read that correctly. A stranger asked me for money, and not only am I not pissed off, I’m actually quite impressed. The reason for this is that my experience tonight was vastly different from the deacon’s experience with the Virginia Democratic party two years ago (which was, sadly, typical of most of our experiences with telemarketers and their ilk). During that conversation, the solicitor didn’t understand that the word “no,” actually meant “no.” That is, the solicitor didn’t understand the meaning of “no” until the deacon told him that the hard sell was pushing him farther away from supporting the Democrats at all.

In contrast to his experience, I just spoke with a representative of NARAL, who didn’t argue with me at all. She opened by thanking me for my past support of the organization, told me about some recent anti-choice legislation that has been passed in Nebraska andOklahoma, then asked me for money.

I gave her my second standard response to phone solicitations: I don’t make financial commitments over the phone, please send me something in the mail. (My first standard response is to hang up as soon as the caller identifies the group he or she is representing.)

Most phone solicitors balk at this request. They give me a song and dance about how expensive it is to print and mail stuff, people are slow to respond, or don’t respond at all, and it really is very safe to give my credit card number to a stranger claiming to be Jean from NARAL. This caller didn’t do any of that.

Instead, she said, “Okay. Since you don’t give money over the phone, we’ll remove your name from our call list and send a pledge card in the mail.” She then confirmed my mailing address and asked me to return my donation within 2-3 weeks.

No hard sell. No, “give us the money now, we can’t wait two weeks and besides, we know you’ll forget to mail the money later.” No guilt (police and firefighters excel at guilt; well, they try to excel at guilt, but what they actually excel at is pissing me off). Just a pleasant thank you for your support and we’ll honor your preferences. That, my friends, is how telephone solicitation should be done.

– the chaplain

BONUS MATERIAL

I have to tell the story of a special solicitation the deacon got at about 2:00 a.m. one Saturday night/Sunday morning. When the phone rang, the first thing we both thought was “I hope nothing’s wrong with anyone in the family.” He ran to the kitchen to answer the phone, then crawled back into bed a minute or two later without saying a word.

After a few seconds of silence, I said, “So, who was on the phone? Is everyone okay?”

He chuckled and said, “It was just Priscilla the Prostitute.”

I answered, “Who?”

He explained, “When I answered the phone, she said, ‘Hi! I’m Priscilla the Prostitute. Is there anything I can do for you tonight?’ I told her, ‘No, but thank you for your generosity’ then hung up.”

I stared at him for a few seconds (with some difficulty, as it was dark) , then said, “You must be telling the truth; there’s no way you could make up a story like that off the top of your head at this time of night.”

Then we both rolled over and went back to sleep. To my knowledge, Priscilla never called again.

 
9 Comments

Posted by on July 9, 2010 in life, society

 

Comic Gem

I was reading Phantom of the Opera the other night when I came across a bit that tickled my funny bone. In the aftermath of a harrowing experience in a cemetery, Raoul is being interrogated about the event when the following dialog occurs:

Q. Are you at all superstitious?
A. No Monsieur, I am a practicing Catholic!

Am I the only one around here who finds the implication that religious belief does not entail superstition hilarious?

– the chaplain

 
8 Comments

Posted by on July 7, 2010 in atheism, humor, religion

 

Roman Holiday

Even though I had almost no access to either cell phones or the Internet last week, I had plenty of electricity. The combination of abundant free time, my computer and electricity gave me the opportunity to organize the photos that the deacon and I took in Italy last spring. The video below gives a glimpse of what we saw while we were there.

Stay tuned for Venetian Romance in a few days.

– the chaplain

 
7 Comments

Posted by on July 6, 2010 in travel, video

 
 
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