Malcolm Gladwell

My favorite podcast—since the day it launched—is Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History. I’m always excited when a new episode auto-downloads on my phone, and I rarely let an episode sit an entire day.

This week’s episode is entitled “The King of Tears,” and Gladwell’s premise is that country music is the best genre for connecting with people and eliciting emotional responses. It’s another fantastic episode, but about halfway through, I realized: “Uh oh. He’s wrong on this one.” Here’s why.

It’s the kind of mistake you’d have to be steeped in a certain tradition to recognize, and I happen to fit that demographic. I was raised on CCM (Contemporary Christian Music), a genre which shares the same fatal flaw as country music. And this flaw is tricky. It makes you think the music is powerful and moving, but it’s actually a shortcut. It short-circuits the creative process, and robs the listener of something vital.

What Gladwell loves about country is what people tend to love about CCM: it tells powerful stories. It gets into the details and draws you into a specific situation:

“The thing that pushes us over the top into tears is details. We cry when melancholy collides with specificity. And specificity is not something every genre does well.”

Ok. I’ll follow him most of the way on this point. Details matter for good art. To create in God’s world, we have to dig into the real STUFF of creation. Get our hands dirty. Work with the raw materials. That requires making abstractions concrete. It’s taking an idea and incarnating it—wrapping it in flesh. This is what it takes to make art live.

Travis Tritt

But I refuse to concede that the kind of specificity that country music traffics in is better—or more emotionally attuned—than what rock music (or other genres, for that matter)—offer.

For Gladwell, rock music is subordinate because it tends to be vague and repetitive in subject matter. (That’s an unbelievably broad generalization and far from true in many cases, but let’s let him run for a moment.) So he contrasts the intricate details of country ballads with the “vagueness” of the song “Wild Horses”:

“That’s how you get tears. You make the story so real and the details so sharp and you add in so many emotional triggers that the listener cannot escape…[It’s] far easier just to fall back on the bland cliche that ‘wild horses couldn’t drag you away.’ Country music makes people cry because it’s not afraid to be specific.”

But no.

Country music suffers the same flaw as Contemporary Christian Music, and this is what Steve Turner calls the fatal tendency to SPELL. IT. OUT. Art works by indirection. Art shows more than it tells. A sermon works because a preacher explains a passage or concept in detail. Understanding is a primary goal. But art leads you into contemplation. It’s a journey, an experience, a question, a “what if?”

Many country songs tell stories (sometimes good stories!), and you get to enjoy hearing the story unfold. You can be moved by the story, but you don’t find yourself reflecting, wondering, or soul searching. You’re moved emotionally in the same way that a story out of Chicken Soup for the Soul moves you. It’s all spelled out for you, and you get to respond in a sappy way.

This is the same impulse that has defined CCM. It has to be clear, it has to be positive, and it usually has to invoke God at least 2.5 times per song. There’s nothing wrong with clear communication, but as I’ve written elsewhere, co-opting an art form and making it a vehicle for a sermon diminishes the power of that art form (though it might remain interesting a sermon substitute).

We could also dismantle Gladwell’s argument this way: some of the most emotional music ever written is classical. Can Gladwell (or anyone human) listen to Mozart’s “Lacrimosa” or Bach’s Mass in B Minor or Smetana’s “Moldau” and not well up in tears? Please. It’s incredibly rich emotionally, but the words are not English. There is specificity, but it’s not specificity in the characters or references that create the emotion, it’s the specific relationships between the notes and tones that does the emotional heavy lifting. I’m sorry, but Gladwell’s premise is so demonstrably false.

So what’s the takeaway? I’ve written at length about this over the years, but: Christians ought to be among the most creative people on earth because of our connection to the Creator and because he has called us to continue his work of creation (when God placed the first humans in the garden, their task was to “work it and take care of it” (Gen. 2:15)). Yet tragically, we have in some senses come to be categorized by a genre of music that shies away from creativity, that values lyrical formulas over artistic craft. I lose interest with country music for this very reason. I love sweet little stories, but if there’s nothing to ponder, if everything has been spelled out and I’ve been told how to think and feel, if there is no mystery to capture my imagination, then I can listen to the song once and move on. And that’s a great definition for bad music.

I’m glad that Malcolm Gladwell tears up when he listens to Garth Brooks, and I thank God that many Christians are inspired when they listen to CCM. But we can do better. And thankfully, we often do.

[While this should go without saying, I’m obviously just sharing my opinion here. Please feel free to happily disagree. And if you want to learn more, I’ve written a ton about these concepts here.]

Brene Brown has become a rockstar! Her TED talks have amassed 28 million views, and three of her books are #1 best sellers on Amazon. The reason for her popularity is simple. Brene Brown speaks on a topic that deeply affects everyone—shame.

We all dread that painful sense of unworthiness and rejection, and work hard to hide our shame from others. The human experience with shame goes all the way back to the beginning of time. In the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve hid and covered themselves after disobeying God. Hiding and covering—the two trademarks of shame (Gen 3:7-8). Ever since then, the human family has been eager “to make a name for themselves” (Gen 11:4). So what is the cure for this pervasive dis-ease of shame?

Over the last couple of decades, shame has been the domain of psychologists. Both Christian and secular psychologists talk about empathy, vulnerability, connection, and friendships as solutions for shame. Obviously, those are all good things, but they address symptoms more than root causes.

The shame we sense before other people is a mere symptom of our larger problem—our shame before our creator, our disunion from God. Our sin exposes us to spiritual shame. Jeremiah confesses, “Let us lie down in our shame, and let our dishonor cover us; for we have sinned against the LORD our God” (Jer 3:8). Ezekiel used the imagery of harlots, the most disgraceful members of traditional societies, to expose Israel’s sin, “How sick is your heart, says the Lord GOD, that you did all these things, the deeds of a brazen whore. … So be ashamed, you also, and bear your disgrace” (16:30, 52).

The answer for this shame is not just vulnerability or empathy, but the work of God to remove our objective disgrace and to restore honor. God reverses our status from the pit of shame to a position of divine honor. This facet of the gospel is incredible news for the 80% of the world living in an “honor-shame culture.”

In summer 2015 I taught an elective course at EBC titled, “Theology of Honor & Shame.” During the break on day one, an elder lady graciously informed me that she was “skeptical of this honor-shame stuff.” Then during a break on the final day, the Asian-American gal sitting next to her thanked me, “I always assumed the more I wanted to follow Jesus, the more I had to become Western. But everything you said about honor and shame in the Bible explains my culture. I see how to follow Jesus as an Asian!” When the skeptical lady heard that, her opinion changed. Honor and shame are not just cultural or psychological categories, they are profound spiritual realities addressed throughout the Bible, and speak to the very heart of global cultures.

Students’ final assignment for the class was to creatively present the gospel in honor-shame terms. EBC student Zech Hogan made “Healing Honor”—a powerful (and short!) video. This video is an excellent illustration of the ultimate solution for shame—Jesus’ honor. Perhaps it too can get 28 million views! Enjoy watching!

Looking Back on 2015

Spencer MacCuish —  December 15, 2015 — Leave a comment

God has been doing some amazing things through Eternity Bible College. As we look back on 2015, God’s faithfulness is clear. In this short video, Spencer MacCuish, our president, explains some of the milestones we crossed in 2015 and looks forward to some of our prayers for 2016. Please watch this video and prayerfully consider how you might partner with us in this.

Looking Back on 2015 from Eternity College on Vimeo.

Rarely is training glamorous; rarely is it exciting. Training is usually incredibly difficult and labor intensive. Seasons of training are hardly desirable but almost always necessary. The most compelling part of robust training is often seeing what is being produced. Here is an example of what is being produced from Eternity Bible College.

Lucas Everett is part of an amazing legacy. Over forty years ago his grandparents started the first school for deaf children in the entire country of Mexico, Rancho Sordo Mudo. As a result of this ministry, the deaf of Mexico had an opportunity for education. They now had access to vocational training. But even more importantly, this meant that the deaf people of Mexico could learn about the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the very first time.

Lucas’ father, Luke, continued the Everett legacy of faithfully serving God at Rancho Sordo Mudo. God has given Luke an incredible story, and an amazing ability tocommunicate that story. As a result, awareness of the ranch has grown substantially and now has hundreds of graduates and over 40 fully residential students annually.

In 2009, Luke and Lucas visited Eternity Bible College; soon after, Lucas enrolled and began his training. Four years later, Lucas went back to the Ranch, degree in hand.

Lucas now serves alongside his father in caring for the deaf children. Lucas has served as a teacher, dorm parent, and spiritual mentor to many at the ranch. In addition to serving the students and staff at the ranch, Luke and Lucas are actively engaged in opening other schools for the deaf across Mexico and into Central America. Consistent with the original vision for Rancho Sordo Mudo, this is all being done so that the deaf community can learn about Jesus and be equipped to engage society.

In order for Lucas to be able to actively engage in advancing the Gospel within the deaf community, he needed to be trained. He needed to be equipped to know the Bible well. Eternity Bible College provided that training so that Lucas could think and respond biblically as he leads aspects of this important ministry. As significant as the training itself has proven in Lucas’ life, it’s also true that Lucas could not be doing the work he does if he had accumulated college debt.

Reflecting on his son’s leadership at the ranch, Luke says:

“It has been a beautiful blessing to see Lucas transformed into the Godly man he is because of God and Eternity Bible College. I was really sick and incapacitated during our first week of school at the ranch, and Lucas stepped right in, picked up the mantel, and ran with it. I’m not just saying this because he is my son (many have affirmed this), but Lucas is an amazing Bible teacher. I love hearing him ‘bring it’ to our staff every Sunday. He has such enthusiasm and joy when he is preaching/teaching, and his appetite to continue learning encourages me. Lucas has taught me a lot.”

It is exciting to see the role that Eternity Bible College gets to play in helping equip people for lives of Gospel service. The desire at Eternity has always been to provide biblical training without student debt. Will you consider an end of year gift or a recurring monthly gift to help further the mission of Eternity Bible College?

Learn more about investing in Eternity here.

We want God to do the spectacular through us and around us. Of course we do. I can remember times when I’ve read Acts and then prayed that God would shake our little prayer meeting room, just as he shook the room the disciples were praying in.

We read about the miraculous things that God is capable of, that he’s unleashed on the world before: fire from heaven, healing, literal resurrection, stopping the sun, parting the seas, etc. etc. etc. God has done such amazing things! It’s natural to read about these things and then long for God to do these same things in our lives today.

God is still capable of these things. Why not now? Why not in our lives?

Charlton Heston Parting the Seas

It’s not wrong for us to long for God to do the miraculous. But we do miss something important when we expect God to work in spectacular ways. Here’s why.

Everything God does is miraculous. Everything he does is filled with love, is saturated in power, runs counter to our natural way of thinking, undermines the evil that stains this world, brings life out of death, shapes us in ways we could never expect or even hope for. This is as true of the fire he sent from heaven to ignite Elijah’s altar as it is of the wife who somehow finds the strength to respond patiently to a difficult husband. It’s all miraculous. It’s all grace.

Missiologist Paul Pierson says it well:

“If we constantly want God to do something spectacular, we have to ask why. While we remain open to the spectacular and the extraordinary work of God, we must not forget that the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, etc. We are called to embody those in our lives and in the life of the Church. In these days, love, joy, and peace may be the greatest miracles of all!” (The Dynamics of Christian Mission, 235).

When we are expecting the spectacular, we are setting the terms in our interaction with God. “God, I want you to act, and I want you to act like this…”

I do think it’s amazing that God once parted the sea for Moses. But that wasn’t common, even in Bible times. And when we consider that the biblical storyline covers thousands of years, the huge miraculous events recorded in the Bible are not as “common” as we might assume as we read it.

Again, this is not to say that God doesn’t act miraculously now. It’s simply a corrective to our assumptions, our expectations. We ought to be crying out to God when we’re in need. But we also ought to allow God to respond as he chooses.

Your situation may seem huge and impossible, and you may be inclined to believe that the only way God could solve your problem is by doing something spectacular and showy. But perhaps God has a better way. What if God answered your prayer by “subtly” changing your heart, rather than “spectacularly” changing your circumstances? Both are equally miraculous—surely it takes as much divine power to change a human heart as to calm a raging sea.

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