Guilt by Association – or – Liberal Use of the Word ‘Independent’ Probably Means You’re a Liberal

An article I read recently about how young evangelicals are moving away from the religious right made me think. Certainly, I have abandoned my conservative evangelical roots to a large degree in recent years.  For the last 10 years I’ve staunchly stood by the claim that I am a true independent.  But recently I’ve stepped back and evaluated my life and it seems all the evidence suggests that I am, in fact, a liberal.  What’s sadder is that I can’t help it.  I just like the wrong people and the wrong things.

For instance:

I like the media.  I like newspapers and magazines.  The first thing I do in the morning is log on to multiple news sites and willingly subject myself to all of the liberally tainted contents therein.

Similarly, I like journalists and journalism.  Two of my best friends are journalists.  And not for Fox News.  In fact, I like journalism so much that I minored in the subject in college.  Not only that, but I was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.  And I enjoyed it!  

I like NPR.  I appreciate the in-depth news coverage.  I even made a donation once.  I like ‘On Point with Tom Ashbrook’, ‘Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me’ and ‘This American Life.’  All of it left-leaning and publicly funded!  For shame.

I like 3o Rock. I think the show is brilliant.  I laugh at Alec Baldwin’s satirical portrayal of a conservative.

Not liberal enough for you?  How about this?

I like The Daily Show. I think Jon Stewart is funny.  And not in a “he’s a great comedian, but he doesn’t really know what he’s talking about” kind of way.  I actually think he makes a lot of good points!

I like Boston.  Moving up to ‘Taxachussetts’ is one of the best things that’s ever happened to me.  I have a wife, a job, a ton of friends with whom I hang out and play sports and party liberally. Even if I left Boston, it wouldn’t help because…

I like The Ocean.  There’s really no chance of me getting away from living in a blue state (with the possible exceptions of Savannah, GA or SC or FL if they swing back the other way).

Think all this is bad?  It gets worse.

I like theater.  On certain evenings, I have a strange penchant for going out and watching flamboyant liberals prance around on stage.  I even studied playwriting at Boston University.  So not only do I like watching plays, but I like writing them too.  And when they are produced, I just give more flamboyant liberals more reason to prance around in front of impressionable crowds.

I like punk rock.  I know in its original form it espoused anarchy (which takes the conservative notion of ‘small government’ to its ultimate extreme) but over the years punk has repeatedly railed against social conservatism, conservative politics and the church.  Bad Religion is my favorite band.  They are atheists, for crying out loud!  Do you know what it’s like to grow up a Christian and have Bad Religion be your favorite band?  Talk about an identity crisis.

But wait, there’s more.

I like academics and academia.  I loved college – the classes, the new experiences, the ivory towers of liberalism.  In fact, I even taught in the left-leaning halls of the university system for several years as an adjunct professor of English.  Talk about a damning resume.

I like Barack Obama.  I voted for that ‘extreme liberal socialist’.  (For the record, I liked McCain too.  I thought he could’ve been a great president and I wish the Republicans had nominated him back in 2000 when he ran against Bush in the primaries. But of course he was considered too liberal in a lot of ways.). But, yeah, I voted for Obama. Obama! I liked the way he conducted his campaign, but worse yet, I liked his ideas.  I actually felt like if they were put into practice, America would improve! I don’t know why I didn’t feel frightened of terrorists or outraged by immigrants. I don’t know why I didn’t feel the current flushing us down the toilet of moral decay.  The liberal media probably blinded me to it.

I like Wikipedia, which I’ve heard is secretly run by liberals.  But I think it’s probably the greatest website ever invented.  I’m blind to the way it’s subtly brainwashing me.

I like Kurt Vonnegut – without reservation.  He is probably my favorite author.

***

As I scan through my life – the ins and outs, the daily rituals – I’m hard-pressed to find anything in my life that I enjoy that could be considered properly conservative.  I like the Economist, which is supposedly right-wing but what’s right-wing in the UK is a lot different than what’s right-wing here in the states.  I like Jesus, who I grew up believing was a conservative, but he seems more liberal to me all the time – telling us to give all our stuff to the poor and freely extending his grace to people who haven’t even worked to earn it.  It’s like some kind of forgiveness welfare program.

About the only thing I can say I definitely like that I know a lot conservatives also like is fishing.  Consider it my way of reaching across the aisle.

It’s been oddly refreshing to let go of all the pretense and just flat out admit that I’m a liberal.  It’s something people have probably suspected about me for a while, but I’ve never admitted it to myself.  What’s more refreshing is the realization that it’s really not my fault.  Maybe it’s some sort of genetic deffect or a yet-to-be classified disorder.  But I just have an innate tendency toward the wrong stuff and the wrong people. So until they find a way to shut down the ‘liberal gene’ I guess I just have to accept who I am and try to make the best of each day.

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Why Was I Raised Evangelical? – or – What I Think I’ve Learned From 70’s Movies

I have an unsubstantiated, somewhat out-there theory regarding some possible socio-political influences on my Evangelical upbringing. Basically, I blame the 1970’s.

Now I wasn’t around for any of the 70’s, so all of my primary sources are the films of that particular decade.  But something happened during the 70’s that gave a lot of people from my parents’ generation cause to do some major life reevaluation and ultimately turn to Jesus. And I think there are a lot of clues in these movies.

Recently, I was watching the 1976 film Network when it dawned on me: The 70’s sucked! This fantastic movie contains the iconic quote, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it any more!”  This, I think, is how a lot of people felt during the seventies and the phrase served as a rallying cry for the masses in Network as people watched and identified with the ravings of a news anchor descending into madness.  The film also features a violent, ultra-left terrorist group, early discontent with globalisation as a major American corporation is sold to Saudi Arabian investors, and the dramatic desensitization of people through popular media.

I don’t want to give away the ending, but let’s just say the film does not end happily.  Then I started to think about other movies from the 70’s.  The Godfather. Godfather II.  The French Connection.  China Town.  Apocalypse Now.  Taxi Driver.  Godfather I and Taxi Driver have arguably the happiest endings of all, but that’s not saying much.  SPOILER ALERT – Michael wins his war on the five families but is still left without a father or brother.  And the praise for DeNiro’s character’s heroism in Taxi Driver seems tacked on, especially since we know he’s more angry than courageous, simply disgusted by the moral emptiness of the city.

Happy endings were hard to come by in the seventies. The films were mostly dark both in color and subject matter. The line between hero and villain was often blurred. They were largely bleak and devoid of hope. Compared to these movies the Gospel message must have been pretty appealing.

That’s actually why the original Star Wars movie was such a big hit in 1979.  After a decade of tragic endings and moral ambiguity, the American Public was ready for a straightforward, action-packed, good vs. evil, western/martial arts movie that happened to take place in outer space. Star Wars, to its original audience, was an enormous breath of fresh air.

But that was after an entire decade of suckiness.  It seems to me that the some pretty exciting stuff happened during the 60’s but it kind of peaked at Woodstock and it was all downhill from there.  The things that the 60’s romanticized took an ugly turn in the next decade.  Happy hippies twirling in fields via recreational drug use gave way to an epidemic of crack addiction in major cities. The sexual liberation of the 60’s was replaced by an HIV/AIDS panic, explicit pornography and discos where people would apparently do coke and have sex with each other (if the E! True Hollywood stories are to be believed). Fortunately, we’ve classed things up a bit now.

And weren’t there a lot of serial killers in the seventies too?  Two more contemporary  movies, Summer of Sam and Zodiac, remind me of this fact.  Worse still, you had Charles Manson using the lyrics of Beatles’ tunes as motivation for his murders.  Talk about ruining the sixties.

Annie Hall demonstrates how throwing off the shackles of society’s rules to seek your own happiness devolved into a neurotic over-obsession with self-actualization. The characters all follow their ‘analysts’ advice and end up jeopardizing their own happiness by over-thinking it. Even comedies didn’t have happy endings in the seventies.  Ugh.

In a way our culture has returned to morality a bit since then.  We don’t have much ultra-left-wing violence.  Protests, at least in our country, maintain relative peacefulness.  We don’t do drugs or have sex in public (at least its not a prominent thing, anyway).  We’ve cleaned up Times Square (a pretty apt metaphor I think for removing ‘sin’ from the public space or at least the public eye)  and I think we’ve realized as a culture that some amount of restraint is desirable in both public and private life.

My parents have always said ‘liberal’ as if it was a dirty word.  I have to admit I’ve been somewhat baffled by this.  But I think when my parents rant and rave about ‘liberals’, they have the seventies in mind.  The seventies were about as ‘liberal’ as I can imagine.  The were ‘liberal’ to excess. And I believe most of our parents acted pretty ‘liberally’ in the seventies and then thought better of it.

So for having lived through the seventies, which as far as I can tell completely sucked, I suppose I need to cut my parents some slack.  But I think also that they need to recognize that that era is over.  The United States has changed.  Movies today by and large have happy endings.  And even the raunchy comedies (Knocked Up, Superbad) end up coming down on the side of love, family values, loyalty and moral choice.  These days, the good guys win.  Our society has learned from its mistakes.  We’ve grown.  We’ve compromised.

It’s time to forget the stupid, sucky seventies and move on.  And that may mean stepping back and reconsidering our faith on contemporary terms; viewing it in a less reactionary way.  It’s not as simple as an us vs. them mentality anymore.  The secular world is no longer spiraling down a liberal toilet bowl as I was taught growing up.  And while that makes things more complicated, I think it’s ultimately something to be thankful for.  It’s a new challenge.  And it’s our responsibility to step up.

Correction: The original Star Wars was released in 1977, after not quite an entire decade of suckiness, not 1979 as previously reported in the above post.

Retraction – or – Do you worship like a Sex Pistol or a Megadeth?

If you know me at all you probably know that on numerous occasions I have vehemently denounced what might be termed ‘comentemporary praise and worship’ music.

The funny thing is that I used to religiously attend an all-singing/prayer Sunday evening service known as ‘catacombs’ when I was a student at Gordon College.  This service was basically an hour straight of these ‘contemporary praise and worship’ choruses.  I went every Sunday night for three years.  Three years.  Then one Sunday I snapped.  It just hit me that every single song was terrible.  They were simplistic, sappy, self-centered blather.  So I walked out and I never went back.

I think part of what turned me off to praise music was the fact that I could actually sing it well and play it on the guitar.  I’m not a great singer or a great guitar player.  Yet I’d find myself harmonizing and belting out the notes with little effort.  Once, a girl even complimented me on my voice after the service.  I basically thought, ‘If I can sing this stuff, it must be terrible’.

Another issue was the lyrics.  They were like magnet poetry.  The words were all just given to you in a box and all you had to do was rearrange them to make a new song.  Lots of times they didn’t even rhyme.  I chafed at the perpetual apology of ‘I’m Coming Back to the Heart of Worship’ who’s second line repented ‘I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it.’  First of all, any writing teacher will tell you never to use the word ‘thing’ in an essay, let alone a piece of poetry.  Second, this vagueness leaves the audience to assign their own sins to the ‘thing’ and have to come up with some new hypocrisy to swap in week after week.

Another lyrical issue is the fact that sometimes it is hard to tell whether the songs are about God or some romantic liaison.   I remember standing next to my friend Grant in church one Sunday morning and the lyrics, “Have your way inside of me” were projected on the screen.  I remember being horribly ashamed at the sexual connotation I assigned to the line… until Grant leaned over to me and whispered, ‘Dude, that line is really sketchy.’

And so I wrote off praise music altogether.  Until this past Sunday.

I was at Dane St. Church and there was this adorable little emo-praise band leading worship – a talented bunch who rocked the house in a way that made me uncomfortable on behalf of the more elderly and infirm among us.

“You might not know a lot of these songs,” the lead singer said. ‘No kidding,’ I thought. “But they’re really easy to learn,” he went on.  And they were.  I found that I could easily sing all the notes and even anticipate where the melody was going, even on the first run-through.  By the third chorus I knew it as well as ‘This Little Light of Mine’.

That’s when the virtue of praise music finally hit me.

For years, I have been an avid punk rock fan.  Yet metal has never appealed to me.  Indeed, both metal and punk tout counter-culturalism and rebellion, but fandom in these genres is mutually exclusive.  You just can’t like metal and punk.

Now I’ve thought this over and even wrote a paper about it for a college course.  The appeal of punk is that there is no real distinction between audience and performer.  At most underground punk shows, the band plays on a very short stage or actually on the floor, among the crowd. The songs are incredibly simple.

So simple in fact that metalists often sneer at punk-rockers.  Metal is meant to be showy and flashy, as well as loud and abrasive.  Metal bands ask not only to be identified with, but to be worshipped for their amazing chops, licks and time signatures.  You might commonly hear the phrase ‘gods of metal’.  You would never hear about a ‘god of punk’.

Now I attend an Episcopal Church where we sing wildly difficult tunes in odd time signatures; notes just all over the bars. And I love it.  I love the technical challenge of it.  I love that the lyrics are poetry I couldn’t even hope to aspire to writing.  I love that the notes push me to the top of my limited register.  And the organ postludes?  Holy Mackeral!  They actually sound like metal sometimes with these horrific minor chords and sixteenth-notes flying all over the place.  And talk about loud. That pipe organ wails.

And praise music is just the opposite of all this.  It’s simple both to play and sing.  It’s easily accessible to the masses.  Even the most vocally challenged among us can sing most praise songs reasonably well.  The lyrics don’t contain any talk of ‘bulwarks’ or ‘ebenezers’, opting instead for simple words of hope and praise that can be shared by everyone in the crowd.

I realized on Sunday that all these years I’ve been contradicting myself.  Why is it that I love the Metal of worship music, while I love the Punk of rock ‘n roll?

It’s because I am a snob.  Admittedly, when I hear the sorry crooning of a tone-deaf man or woman I think like the disciples did, “Who sinned, this man or his parents?”  Now I’m not a great singer, but not being able to sing would be one of the worst punishments I can imagine.  Singing is probably the only thing I enjoy and still do well during Sunday worship services.  So I cling to it.  I have an attitude about it – a highfalutin, holier than thou attitude.

So I’m sorry.  I can’t say I’ll become a fan of ‘contemporary praise and worship’ based on this revelation.  But I apologize for my negative attitude and I will try to respect it from now on as a way for people to come together for a common cause, with a common attitude and a common ability to achieve a common good.

Just… work on the lyrics. Deal?