Monthly Archives: September 2011

“Christian” Music

Marc Barnes on has a few posts  discussing the problem with Christian music on the radio. In the end, his biggest problem is that it lacks authenticity as many bands produce music in imitation of a pop form that is more designed for mass consumption (and thus profits) than it is for serious reflection on the awe of God, which would produce beauty.

Selling out is a problem for every art form, but I’m not sure it alone explains the current dreadful state of Christian music. While reading these posts, it occurred to me that there was a problem with Marc’s analysis. When we discuss Christian music on the radio, perhaps we need to start out by a critique not of the music aspect of it (which Marc does exceptionally well and far better than I could) but with a critique of the “Christian” part. It seems to me that when I listen to powerful. encouraging. KLOVE! I’m not getting a Catholic perspective. I’m not sure a Catholic perspective is even allowed. What I’m getting is at best “mere Christianity” but at times general evangelical Protestantism.

This seems to present a few problems for an achievement of real beauty. In regards to the absence of Catholicism, Catholics who wish to make it on radio suddenly find themselves stripped of a lot of their material. Mary, the Eucharist, the Saints, the Mass, the Sacraments etc. are all topics that can’t be used. While that still leaves plenty of material, there’s stilla problem: it’s natural for a Catholic to talk of Mary are the Eucharist when talking of the love of Jesus; by getting rid of that stuff it becomes more difficult for Catholics to talk about Christ’s love. The act of making something “merely Christian” always avoids the truth by avoiding those areas of the truth where there is disagreement among Christians. To diminish the truth is to diminish beauty and this is all the more true from the Catholic perspective.

But more troubling is that mere Christianity or evangelicalism has a tendency towards a trite emotionalism anyway. The focus of the evangelical is the act of salvation in which theologically a heap of dung is covered by the snow of grace. After this covering, the person is forever saved. While Protestants obvious think that grace is awesome (or amazing), that’s kind of underwhelming compared to the Catholic teaching whereby through the sacraments a heap of dung is converted not covered into real pure snow. That is, the transformation is considered greater in Catholicism, the power of God all the more awesome.

Think of Catholic literature here. The Mestizo & priest of Graham Green’s Power and the Glory, Gollum & Frodo of Lord of the Rings, the various characters of Flannery O’Conner and Walker Percy. There’s a lot of struggle there yet even despite that tremendous struggle we get heroes: the bad priest dies a matryr, Frodo destroys Sauron, etc. (though I would probably have a harder time finding heroes in O’Conner’s and Percy’s work). That transformation & victory over struggle is possible (or perhaps natural) only from a Catholic point of view.

Also worth noting is the Protestant tendency towards fideism. If you don’t see the world with both faith & reason you tend not to look in the universe with the same awe. Think of the difference between “wow, there’s a theology of the body such that my body works best when I act in accordance with the natural law and God’s teaching” and “I shouldn’t have sex outside of marriage b/c the Bible says so.” The first one can produce a good song; the second one not so much.

In short, the limitations of Protestantism (and “mere christianity”) are going to affect the ability of its musicians to express beauty in an authentic way. To be sure, there is beautiful Protestant art & music but it’s a lot harder to get there.

And this is BEFORE we decided that all Christian music has to be powerful and encouraging, defined as “the messaege is Jesus loves you.” This is probably more a critique of KLOVE than anything, but it seems like the songs I hear on the radio have two purposes: (1) to be played to hurt teenagers at retreats to try to inspire them to convert and/or (2) to be played as feel-good Jesus-loves-you booty-free music for moms and parents in the car. These are not bad objectives; helping kids know Jesus loves them or allowing people radio music that isn’t antithetical towards truth are good things. But this is hardly the full scope of Christian music.

I noticed in Marc’s piece there was discussion about how there is a tension between rock with started out as rebellion and Christian which emphasizes obedience. While that tension is there, how on earth is Christianity not rebellious, especially in this day and age? Almost every politician, every program, every piece of art, seems to be enticing us away from holiness and into prideful individualism and materialism. To be Christian today entails rebellion and non-conformity with the status quo. While I like Flyleaf and Firelight’s  work as Christian rockers (generally not played on KLOVE), I’m also thinking of Danielle Rose’s “Crucify Him” where she identifies many of the areas of society where we continue to sin and crucify our Lord.

A lot of people need to know that Jesus loves them. But a lot of people also need to know that Jesus because he loves us is calling us to conversion, which is a nice way of saying you are a sinner, and you need to repent. As I mentioned earlier, this is something Catholic literature does especially well (namely, critiquing the absurdities of our secular society and the areas of needed conversion) but maybe for one or two songs it’s not a topic worthy of Christian radio.

I could probably go on, but the point is that the failure of Christian music is often tied with failures in Christianity. Pursuit of mainstream success is a part of that, but it’s our modern fear of saying anything really Christian lest we offend as well as the theological presumptions behind a merely Christian radio station that have prevented Christian musicians from producing the kind of beauty that their subject deserves.

P.S. I should state that simply because one is Catholic that does not mean that their music is better than a Protestant’s. Catholics have shown themselves quite capable of producing material that is trite and flat.

P.P.S. I leave unanswered the question of “If Protestantism is such a hinderance towards real beauty, then how can a Catholic musician find the success necessary to maintain a livelihood?” I’ve noted that a lot of bigger Catholic artists try not to advertise their Catholicism too much, presumably for fear of alienating the folks who buy Christian music and organize music festivals. I’m not quite sure Catholics are ready to have their own radio station but perhaps separation from KLOVE would not be an inadvisable goal.


A Closer Look at College Realignment

We’ve heard about super conferences. A lot of people hate the idea, and their concerns are worth noting. They fear the destruction of traditional rivalries and geographic continuity that has made college football great. Most of my catholic college football fan friends note that subsidiarity ought to be considered in light of this.

I don’t see anything wrong with the current alignment, but since the Big 12 is imploding due to Texas’s greed, I wondered whether super-conferences would destroy what I loved about college football. When I started looking through the scenarios, the answer I got was “well, not necessarily.”

To start, let’s see what these 4 16-team conferences would/could look like. To make this, I based it off of what appear to be the likely realignment scenarios from the rumors. I also decided that Texas & Notre Dame would not be independents. I also presumed that conferences would not vote schools off the island to make room for better candidates. New additions are in italics.

Now this is based off the idea that the ACC consumes the Big East, which becomes a basketball-only conference. Under that thinking, Kansas St. and Cincinnati would join/continue with the Big East in basketball and play somewhere else like C-USA for football (there’s been rumors that Iowa St. may get invited to the Big East too, but I consider that unlikely).

Now, let’s look at the conferences one at a time. Continue reading

TAC College Rankings 2011: Week 1

College Football has returned! There’s a lot going on off the field, before we get to the happenings on.

First, the alternate uniforms trend is getting despicable. I don’t mind a slight change every now and then that has a purpose or harkens back to tradition. LSU’s been lucky in this regard, but most have not. Oregon, Boise St., and Maryland had uniforms that looked like they were designed by an eight year old in that they have a creative idea but lack restraint or tact. Boise St. Broncos? Let’s have a HUGE BRONCO covering THE ENTIRE HELMET! Georgia? POWER RANGER! Maryland’s flag. Let’s have the FLAG EVERYWHERE! HELMET GETS A FLAG! SLEEVES GET A FLAG! SHOULDERS GET A FLAG! SHOES GET A FLAG! To me, the best uniforms are not these loud monstrosities but the ones that are classic and understated. I’m not saying you can never have alternate uniforms, but there’s a way to play with tradition (think Georgia’s black unis) rather than blow it up entirely.

Speaking of blowing up entirely, how about the Big 12? Because Texas wanted to be independent with a scheduling arrangement, we seem destined towards the super-conferences of 16. I don’t like the trend, although I will enjoy playing the Aggies in the SEC. Still, one of college football’s greatest strength was its regional locality, and the bigger the conferences get the less strong it becomes. I do wonder whether if we get the 4 16-team conferences people are discussing whether that will pave the way for a playoff. It’d be feasible, as you’d only need an extra game somewhere.

Now to football. We had a surprising number of upsets and losses in the top 25 for week one, as #3 Oregon, #16 Notre Dame, #19 Georgia, and #14 TCU lost and Auburn and USC barely escaping. Part of that was a few teams being willing to schedule opponents with a pulse in Week 1, with the drawback being a loss. However, everyone on that list lost to a BCS opponent or a ranked team. A few more teams play real teams next week with the marquee matchup being South Carolina v. Georgia for the lead in the SEC East race. To the rankings!

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Small Miracles

The divine art of miracle is not an art of suspending the pattern to which events conform but of feeding new events into that pattern.

CS Lewis



My sainted mother taught me how to drive, and I was a hideously bad driver at first.  She would take me out to drive and come back and take a “nerve pill”, as she called the tranquilizers that she reserved for encounters between me and the horseless carriage.  I improved with time, I certainly couldn’t get any worse, but my mother remained nervous about me having some mishap on the road.

She died at 48 on Easter Sunday 1984 after a heroic battle with cancer that lasted a year and a half.  For the remainder of my life I will remember the courage, grace and humor with which she fought the disease that took her life.  Cancer conquered her but it did not defeat her spirit.  For her last two weeks of life she was hospitalized in a coma.  My wife and I would stay with her during the day and my Dad and brother would take the night shift.  Come what may Mom was not going to die alone.  On Easter morning, as my wife and I approached my mother’s room, my brother came running out to get us saying that Mom was waking up from the coma.  We ran into the room, and Mom’s eyes were open.  She looked at the four of us, said that she loved us all and died.  I told our priest about this and he said that we had been granted a great privilege that morning and I agreed with him.  I regard this as my first encounter with the miraculous. Continue reading

Post Debate Thoughts

I made a semi-serious New Year’s Resolution not to discuss or even read about the presidential campaign until Labor Day.  I didn’t quite live up to that resolution, but I have managed to steer clear of the discussion far more than I would have thought possible.  So tonight was the first of the presidential debates that I have seen.  Below are my thoughts on how each of the candidates fared.

One general comment: the debate moderators were horrendous.  It seemed that about half of the questions were addressed to Rick Perry, and just about less than half to Mitt Romney.  In fact the first ten minutes were essentially just a sparring match between the two.  The most embarrassing part of the evening was when they trotted out a newscaster from Telemundo just to ask a question about immigration.  Just awful.

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NFL Power Rankings

Real football is finally slated to begin tomorrow night with the meeting of the previous two Super Bowl champions.  Instead of doing a division-by-division breakdown, I’m simply going to list the teams in order from 1-32.  This is simply my list as we’re not repeating our efforts last year at TAC to do a weekly power ranking poll.  I might revisit the list during the mid-season, but for now this is how I see the season playing out.  As is done with fantasy rankings, I’m breaking the teams out into tiers. Continue reading

Employment for All: A Response

Last week, Alex of Christian Economics wrote a piece arguing, on the basis of both catholic social teaching and modern monetary theory, for the government to act as an employer of last resort. In this post, I’d like to respond to several aspects of his argument. This kind of exchange is always challenging as on the one hand I want to give the fullest possible justice to Alex’s argument, but on the other in an internet debate it seems impossible to respond to every point without both sides getting totally bogged down in novel-length posts. As such, this post will be comprised of several titled sections dealing with different aspects of Alex’s post which I thought most interesting to present counter-arguments to.

The Purpose of Unemployment: Why Looking For Work Is Work
Just a couple months into my first full time job, I was laid off. It was 2000 and the tech bubble was in the middle of bursting, and I was a college senior trying to work full time while finishing off my last few classes. The web hosting company that I was working for had built itself on an unsustainable business model so one day my whole office showed up to work and found out that every single one of us was laid off. Even though I was young enough and my expenses were low enough that I could weather joblessness fairly easily (despite not qualifying for unemployment since I hadn’t been working the job long enough) if was definitely one of the uncomfortable experiences of my working life. Looking at the job listings was infuriating — it seemed like there were dozens of jobs that I could do (and, of course many, many more which required experience or qualifications I didn’t have) but they remained steadfastly silent as I sent out applications and resumes. It only took me a few weeks to find a part-time job at similar wages, and only a month longer to find a full time job that actually paid slightly more than the job I’d been laid off from, but it seemed like a very long time.

I bring up the personal angle because it seems to me that job searching serves very different purposes for the individual job hunter and for society as a whole. Continue reading

The Great Pig War of 1859

The United States and Great Britain after the War of 1812 frequently came into conflict during the Nineteenth Century, and it is a medium sized miracle that one of these conflicts did not end in a third Anglo-American War.  The most surreal of these conflicts, beyond a doubt, is the Pig War of 1859.

Both Great Britain and America claimed the San Juan Islands lying between Vancouver Island and the then Washington territory, and the islands were settled by British subjects and American citizens.  On June 15, 1859 Lyman Cutlar, an American farmer on San Juan island, came out and found a pig eating tubers in his garden.  This was not the first incident involving the wayward pig, and Cutlar shot the pig, killing the porcine invader.  The pig was owned by a British subject, Charles Griffin, who took umbrage at the slaying of his wandering porker.  The two men had words about the pig.  British authorities threatened to arrest Cutlar, and the American settlers called for American military protection.

By August 10, 1859, 461 American soldiers with 14 cannon confronted five British warships carrying 2,140 men.  Fortunately, both sides exercised restraint and no shots were fired.  James Douglas, the governor of British Vancouver, ordered British Rear Admiral Robert L. Baynes to land Royal Marines on  San Juan island and engage the Americans.  Baynes flatly refused, saying that for two great nations to come to blows over a squabble over a pig was foolish.  London and Washington were equally aghast at the idea of going to war over this case of porcinecide, and General Winfield Scott was sent by President Buchanan to Vancouver to negotiate with Governor Douglas.  Agreement was reached that the British and American forces would be reduced to a 100 men each on San Juan island while negotiations were underway between the countries.  Ultimately third party arbitration, by Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany, led to the islands being awarded to America in 1872. Continue reading

Becoming My Father

One of the more annoying and awkward moments of my life was watching the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards with my dad.  We had two cable-ready televisions in the house, and I guess my mother was watching the other one.  So I had to endure three hours of my father’s ongoing social commentary during the show.  Here was a show that featured performances of bands I actually wanted to watch: Def Leppard, U2, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and, most importantly, Guns N’ Roses, yet my father had to interject himself every thirty seconds to express his contempt and disgust for what was happening on screen – except for Eric Clapton performing “Tears in Heaven,” because evidently Eric Clapton was the only artist who had debuted since Django Reinhardt that didn’t draw my father’s ire. Continue reading

And a Happy Labor Day to You Too Hoffa

James P. Hoffa, current boss of the Teamsters’ Union, and son of former boss of the Teamsters, and gangster, Jimmy Hoffa, whose mortal remains no doubt reside in various locations around the country courtesy of his gangland cronies, took the opportunity yesterday to declare his Union members an army for Obama and to spit on the morality of the mothers of those who oppose Obama.

I look forward with eager anticipation to the civility police on the political Left in this country swinging into action and condemning Hoffa’s use of gutter language and apparent confusion of next year’s election with a war.

Obama got the endorsement of the Teamsters in 2008 by suggesting that he was open to less federal oversight of the Teamsters.  The federal oversight has been going on since 1991 as part of an ongoing effort by the feds to rid the Teamsters of mob influence.  The Teamsters’ Union has long been opposed to the federal oversight, for reasons that I will leave to the perspicacity of my readers.

President Obama, at the rally where Hoffa gave vent to his inner thug, immediately condemned the intemperate remarks and renewed his call for greater civility in politics.  Naah!  Actually President Obama praised Hoffa. Continue reading

The Fighting SeaBees

Construimus, Batuimus (We Build, We Fight)

At the outset of World War II, the Navy faced a task of unbelievable difficulty.  Around the globe, and especially in the Pacific, the Navy would be fighting in regions practically untouched by the modern world.  Everything to support military operations would have to be built from scratch:  bases, ports, airstrips, and an endless parade of other facilities.  The task was daunting, perhaps impossible.  However, the Navy had a secret weapon:  the American worker.

Forming Navy Construction Battalions, (C-Bs), the Navy turned to the civilian construction trades and asked for volunteers.  The response was overwhelming with civilian workers flocking to the task, and placed under the leadership of Navy officers.  These were older men, the average age of the volunteers being 37, and masters in their trades.  They formed the bedrock of the eventual 325,000 men who would serve in the Seabees during the War.  By V-J Day they had completed construction projects on six continents and 300 islands, many of the islands bearing strange and unfamiliar names like Guadalcanal, Tinian, Saipan, Tarawa and Iwo Jima.  They went about their work often under fire, sometimes participating directly in combat, and usually in conditions that were miserable beyond belief.  Tropical jungles, deserts, alpine mountains, arctic wastelands, nothing stopped them from doing their jobs, and usually completing their tasks ahead of schedule. Continue reading

September 2, 1945: Japan Surrenders

A fascinating newsreel of the surrender ceremony aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.  Note that MacArthur hands pens after he signs to General Wainwright and General Percival.  Both men had been prisoners of Japan for most of the War, and their gaunt skeletal presence at the surrender ceremony was a tribute to the Allied POWs who had been treated with a brutality scarcely believable.  MacArthur’s closing remarks deserve to be remembered:

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Pope Benedict Asks for Forgiveness

Last week, Pope Benedict XVI told the annual gathering of his “Study Group” (some of his former students) to ask God’s forgiveness on behalf of generations of “cradle Catholics” who have failed to transmit the faith to others.

No doubt, evangelizing others is an important dimension of Catholic life, as Pope Paul VI reminded the Church in his 1975 apostolic exhortation, Evangelii nuntiandi:

…what matters is to evangelize man’s culture and cultures (not in a purely decorative way, as it were, by applying a thin veneer, but in a vital way, in depth and right to their very roots), in the wide and rich sense which these terms have in Gaudium et spes, always taking the person as one’s starting-point and always coming back to the relationships of people among themselves and with God. (#20)

Where evangelization first takes place is in the home as parents evangelize their children in the Roman Catholic faith and its practice.  Today, the most-often heard lament is that Roman Catholic parents, in general, are not evangelizing their children and, of those who do, they are not evangelizing their children in the Roman Catholic faith and its practice but in some generic form of Christianity that emphasizes democratic values and aspirations.

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