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Singing lies is OK


There’s a very powerful and popular quote by A.W. Tozer (referenced, for instance, here) that goes like this:

“Christians don’t tell lies – they just go to church and sing them.”

Provocative, not politically correct, that much is certain. Whether it reflects reality is a different question.

Are we singing lies?

Yes, many of us will have sung “Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by thy help I’ve come“, without knowing what an Ebenezer is. I sure did. (by the way, Ebenezer means “stone of help”, as in 1 Sam 7) – but is that a lie?

Let’s go one step further. I used to have my own personal doubts about “Better is one day in your courts” – because it felt like rejecting our life here on earth. After talking to friends about it, I realise I wasn’t understanding it properly and was more over-theologising than anything else. I still find it hard to sing “Break my heart for what breaks yours” – because I have some (limited) experience of that, and I’m not exactly looking forward to it. (Seriously, do you really want your heart broken?)

Whether because we don’t understand it, or don’t agree with it on theological or personal grounds, there are many reasons we can disagree with worship songs. Does it means I’m lying when I’m singing them?

It comes back to the nature of worship as an attitude. Worshipping Jesus means turning to him in humility and in love. Worship is both a direction and an attitude of humility. I’d say it’s more of a lie, then, to pretend to be worshipping when all you’re doing is picking and choosing theological statements, than to sing a line you don’t quite understand.

Here’s a few questions:

  • would you be quite so picky about singing Psalms? And if not, why not? *
  • do you think the Psalmist went back to his composition and made sure it was conforming to dogma?

Now I’m not saying we should undiscriminately accept all worship songs, or that there is no reflection to be done about them. However, when we are approaching our worship from the perspective of someone who is in control of what they sing… well, that’s turning the whole worship process on its head. And it’s missing the whole corporate aspect of worship. So even if you don’t really believe or understand what you’re singing, go back to it – talk to your pastor about it, inspect it in the light of the Gospel, do all of that. But do it after worship: don’t approach worship with a suspicious mind which controls what it takes and rejects from what’s on offer.

In more fancy words, dogma stems from doxology – not the other way around.

* Okay, I’m not saying the latest Hillsong album should be included in the canon. But unless you’re being very cynical about the production of worship songs, you will generally admit these songs may have been written with the help of the Spirit.

Christianity in the online world

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I was offered to give a talk last Thursday at Christian Focus, at Warwick Uni. As blogging is something I started to take more seriously over the past few months, and because it has become more important in my life, I felt that it would be a good opportunity to personally reflect on how this online-ness fitted in my life. I also thought that, as several initiatives such as try to work out ways to use the internet to evangelise, and as viral videos such as this one recently took my facebook wall by storm, it would be good to share these insights with my student friends.

I recorded the talk, most of which you can listen to here, but will outline some of the points below:

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In short, I think that being online changes our life, and in particular our Christian life, in three main ways:

1. Anonymity

The Internet brings the possibility of anonymity. This has its blessings, as it is a safe environment to go to, without the constant fear of losing face or standing: on the Internet, through anonymity, you can ask questions you wouldn’t necessarily dare to ask. Our prayer requests online can become more sincere and personal as the risk of losing face disappears, and as the need to look holy subsides.
It is also a safety net for experiments, such as, for me, this blog when I started it: I did not know where it would lead, but if I failed, I could always start something else and just forget about this blog. This is a luxury in many real-life cases.
Of course, it also is an open door for trolling and abuse, and ill-thought harsh words. And as there is no relationship involved, the receiving of the message is completely dissociated from its broadcasting.

2. Increased choice

This dissociation also happens in real life, when people choose books, or churches: choice happens in real life as well as online. But, online, the pool from which we choose is much wider. A better fit to what we resonate to, is available. The people whose blogs I chose to follow and regularly read tend to post content to which I would say “yes! that makes sense!” than those that would make me go away troubled. Maurillio Amorim recently posted about the illusion of knowing what we want and how, effectively, through giving us more choice, we are denied real influence.
I don’t only choose what I read. I also choose what I write. The capacity to edit is part of that choice.
What this means at the end of the day is that my Internet experience of Christianity is very much me-shaped. I take on what mirror images of me say and believe it to be influence, while I dismiss more easily the bits that I disagree with.

3. Constant fragmentation

This ability to switch off is present everywhere. We have browsers with many tabs (as I’m writing this, I have seven tabs open, and I got distracted by something and now have twelve) and compartmentalise the discrete bits of information into those very short-term placeholders. As such, this information is only affecting us at the surface level, for a very limited part of our identity. Moreover, online, we share information – and the exchange has a tendency to remain at the cognitive level.
Online, we get the illusion of being completely engaged, because we are reachable 24/7, and because we have access to stuff at our own convenience; and, worse, we get interrupted from real life experience by texts/emails/other online elements. That fragmentation is threatening to be pervasive into our own lives.

How have you seen your identity change when online?

A few thoughts about Lent

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Lent is just over. This period is associated with disciplines, generally giving up something like chocolate, caffeine, facebook…

My Lenten observances started off as in-jokes, generally involving France. This year, though, I couldn’t think of anything humorous to give up, so tried on a more “serious” Lenten discipline.

And over the course of this year’s Lent, I picked up a few things:

1. Lent is about yourself.
There are probably some heresy points in that statement, but I believe that when you embark on a Lenten discipline, it is not for the glory of God. It is about self-denial, or self-imposed discipline – in short, about yourself.
Some disciplines, like taking on a more intensive prayer routine, can be beneficial to your faith; but a simple discipline is, in its own right, not related to God: by being more disciplined, you are not made more acceptable in His sight.

What this means, practically, is that you can fail. Nibble on the odd bit of chocolate, make the odd innuendo, etc. But that failing to observe your discipline should not lead you to question your acceptance by God, or make you feel more unworthy. Nor should your success make you feel worthier.
So why do churches encourage Lent?

2. It is a great way to uncover and break free of addictions

When I’m addicted to something, I tend to pretend I’m in control and the addiction does not exist.
Giving up, say, innuendo for Lent, and realising how hard it is to change that behaviour highlights areas where, sometimes, sin has a hold over you*.

But I have found this Lent that it became easier to observe the discipline the further I went into Lent.
For that reason, I would encourage anyone observing a Lenten discipline they find difficult to keep up with to also keep it on Sundays.

3. It does make you look forward to Easter!

Probably not in the right way, though ;)

4. Finally, Lent is not just about giving stuff up.

Giving up being French for Lent may seem ridiculous. Okay, it is ridiculous. But the way it worked was, we had a Lentmug, where we’d put 20p at every failure to observe the disciplines we had taken on. The money would then go towards a charity.
Lent is about giving as much as it is about self-denial. What you give up sometimes leads to savings; and those savings can then be given.
That’s the spirit behind some initiatives like The Lent Experiment, where rather than giving stuff up, you are given every day two acts of kindness to choose from. I’ve tried to do it a few times, but always end up discouraged because I failed to look it up every day or just didn’t get around to it.
What have you learned this Lent?

* I call it sin because it has a hold over you. We should no longer be slaves to any of our passions (see Col 3:5)