Devotional Thought: Freedom

Are you the kind of person who tends to blame yourself for everything? If so, then you’re a lot like me.

Like the song says, when something goes wrong, I’m the first to admit it. I’m always second-guessing myself in every area of life. It ranges from the trivial (did I get everything right on that quiz?) to the less trivial (have I done wrong by a friend?)

It doesn’t really matter how unjustly I’m treated. It doesn’t really matter how obviously I’m in the right. I will always find some way to excuse the other party, particularly if that person is someone I look up to or trust. Whatever has gone wrong, in the end it must be my fault, somehow.

Recently I came to a point where I was finally able to let go of something I’d been beating myself up over for a long time. I realized the truth—that I was not guilty. I was free. I didn’t have to carry around that burden anymore. Even though the truth was something sad that I hadn’t wanted to admit, it freed me from that burden.

If you’re clinging to needless guilt, let go of it now, today. There are plenty of crosses you will not be able to avoid bearing in life, crosses God means for you to bear. Don’t add ones of your own making.

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The Week In Review #17: Dove Awards Talk, Doug Wilson on Lent, and More

It’s been a long week, but I feel ready to tackle my midterms. Looking forward to a weekend of rest and preparation. Meanwhile, let’s look at the week as it went down in the rest of the world…

*Devin McGlamery is back on the bus with EHSS, but he’ll have to keep his arm immobile in a sling for three weeks, then go through half a year of physical therapy. Moral of the story: Maybe intense weight-lifting isn’t such a good idea?? We wish Devin the best as he continues to heal on the road.

*Dove Awards: Kyle Boreing has the scoop here, showing that southern gospel is faring rather well as far as Dove nominations are concerned, with nominations in several major categories like Song of the Year (“Please Forgive Me,” “Celebrate Me Home,” “I’ve Been Here Before”), Group of the Year (Gaither Vocal Band). Also, I saw on Beyond the Ashes’ twitter that they’ve been nominated for New Artist of the Year. In the Song of the Year category, “Who Am I” was also nominated, but I have no idea why, since it’s a decades-old song that just happened to be covered  by Jason Crabb in 2011! At any rate, I’m still plumping for “Blessings” to take home the bird this year. It’s the strongest nomination by a margin. (By the way, can somebody, anybody, explain why this bit of pablum continues to get recognized by anyone and nominated for anything, let alone a Grammy AND a Dove?)

Also, Wayne Haun has raked in his usual dozen or so nominations, though Jason Crabb’s publicist apparently jumped the gun by saying that Crabb was leading the number of nominations. His eight are impressive, but still, Haun is leading by a very wide margin. I’m not sure how this happened or how involved Jason himself was in the press release, but I hope someone gets this right.

*Some of you may or may not have been following the story of pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who faces execution in Iran for becoming a Christian. His execution order was just recently issued. We should pray that his life will be spared, but we should also pray that he will come to a fuller knowledge of God than he has now, since he disavows the Trinity. On one hand, his willingness to suffer martyrdom should be rightly admired. On the other hand, there is a sense in which he isn’t a true Christian. Either way, he needs prayer.

*Here is a great and very funny article by Doug Wilson on the potential dangers of fasting over Lent. Anyone with Catholic friends will completely relate to this.

*While browsing through Kevin DeYoung’s archives for February yesterday, I saw that he posted a couple more great car ads from the Super Bowl. I still haven’t found anything to top Ferris Bueller’s return, but these are pretty good:

*And finally… this blog has a birthday coming up! Be watching for a special post next week. 🙂 Just so there’s no confusion, I won’t be doing a giveaway or anything like that, but I do want to thank some people properly. So, as I said, look for that next week—in fact, Monday if I’m not mistaken.

It’s an open thread! What do you want to talk about?

Tim Hawkins On Overly Long Songs

Whenever I feel physically, emotionally, and/or spiritually drained, good comedy really helps lift my spirits. I felt that way last night, and I was searching for some Tim Hawkins clips I’d never seen before. Among many others, I came up with this, in which he abridges some classic (but lengthy) songs—specifically, into a single verse apiece:

He should do this with “American Pie,” or anything by Johnny Cash or Bob Dylan… come to think of it, most folk or Western ballads could probably use the Tim Hawkins treatment. And there may be a few southern gospel songs that could use trimming too… Any other suggestions? 🙂

Masculinity, the Church, Post-Modernism, and Southern Gospel

John Piper has apparently upset some feminists. Recently, he made some rather direct comments on the masculine nature of Christianity. To quote directly:

God revealed Himself in the Bible pervasively as king not queen; father not mother… The second person of the Trinity is revealed as the eternal Son not daughter; the Father and the Son create man and woman in His image and give them the name man, the name of the male…God appoints all the priests in the Old Testament to be men; the Son of God came into the world to be a man; He chose 12 men to be His apostles; the apostles appointed that the overseers of the Church be men; and when it came to marriage they taught that the husband should be the head. Now, from all of that I conclude that God has given Christianity a masculine feel.

Well. You can just imagine the howls of indignation from Rachel Held Evans and her ilk. Of course Piper is spot-on, but naturally many will disagree.

Meanwhile, a certain blogger who shall not be named has offered his own take on the controversy as it relates to southern gospel. As an English professor and a post-modernist, his reaction is really rather typical. But it’s tricky. It’s slimy in a subtle way. So today I’d like to unpack it a bit for the benefit of my readers.

You see, when a liberal encounters something that clashes with his preferred political tastes—whether it’s in literature, in the culture, in the Church, or what have you–he can react in one of two ways. First, he can have an immediate negative knee-jerk response, i.e. “Such-and-such is terrible because it’s [fill-in-the-blank–sexist, racist, etc.] We must write books and articles shouting from the rooftops how terrible such-and-such/so-and-so is.”

Or, he can say, “Well… such-and-such seems bad on its face. But under the surface, there are all kinds of fascinating tensions and sub-texts that make it far more complicated and nuanced than the average layman might think. Really, we can’t be too simplistic, and having made a study of these underlying tensions, I’ve concluded that such-and-such should be received positively, whether it was meant to be or not.”

For example, consider this in the area of literary criticism. A passage of Shakespeare annoys the first group of liberals because they think it’s sexist. Up goes the cry, “Shakespeare is sexist!” But along come the post-modernists to say, “Wait a minute, wait a minute. I think you’re unaware of the sub-texts. Really, when you get under the surface of this passage, you discover that Shakespeare isn’t a sexist after all.” Because the Muse is liberal, you see, and because Shakespeare is great, Shakespeare must be a liberal at the end of it all. Otherwise he couldn’t create such great art. His artistic impulses are carrying him leftward whether he wills them to or not. So they do a post-modern “reading” of Shakespeare in order to “find” what they think has to be there.

This is what passes for respected intellectualism in the disaster that is our modern educational system—a disaster that would be laughable if it weren’t so profoundly and harmfully influential. And it’s what our blogger who shan’t be named is doing with southern gospel. In fact, it’s exactly what he’s doing with southern gospel. He begins by taking Piper’s quote as a sort of evangelical template for accepted gender roles. But then he says that even though fundamentalists would like to believe things are that simple, because such a foundation of “absolutes” gives them “security,” things are not as they seem. He then discusses ways in which he sees southern gospel “upending” the standards of this traditional template, e.g., the popularity of groups with a female lead singer, the fan love for tenor singers (“the man who sings like a woman”), and emotional songwriting (like Marshall Hall’s “When I Cry”).

Now of course that’s a lot of… I’m going to restrain myself here… baloney sausage. But you have to get inside the post-modernist’s head to see how this works. Yes, it’s twisted. Yes, it’s ridiculous. But you see, they’ve got to find the… here comes the word… “subversive” forces at work in whatever they’re analyzing. (That word by the way is explicitly used in the blurb for said blogger’s upcoming book, which should be a textbook example of this kind of analysis in its full glory.) The southern gospel culture isn’t so sexist and hypocritical after all. It’s so much more interesting than that. It has to be.

Let me close with a candid word from my own experience: One of the reasons why I was initially attracted to southern gospel was because it seemed like a much “manlier” genre than, say, CCM or praise and worship. Or, to be more specific, what CCM and P & W have become in the last decade or so. I was so sick of the effeminate singing, the effeminate songs, the cheap emotionalism. I was sick of dudes with bad hair and torn-up jeans singing love songs to Jesus. But when I watched this video clip, I felt like I was standing in front of an open door. There was a whole world of music out there that I had never explored. And it looked promising. Much more promising. From there, the rest is history. (And please, for those of you who just can’t wait to spill your insinuations about how southern gospel is really infested with homos… save it. I’m not denying that there may indeed be some, nor am I denying that this is a problem if true. But pointless gossip is worse than pointless. I for one am content to enjoy the many perfectly normal men who are singing good, manly music.)

So, that’s about the closest you’re going to get to a review of our blogger’s upcoming book from me. I have no intention of wasting pennies or seconds on it, because I can already recognize it for the insignificant bit of post-modern clap-trap that it is. If you were planning to spend your own time and money in that way, it’s none of my concern. (And I know that Daniel Mount is bravely volunteering to do so for the purposes of reviewing it.) However, I do encourage you to spend that time and money elsewhere. I believe it will be better spent that way.

The Week in Review #16: NQC News, Devin McGlamery Update, Grammys Talk

*NQC has announced a new awards show. Naturally this will be seen as a replacement for the Singing News Fan Awards, which now appears to have landed in Dollywood indefinitely. The question is… do we need it? DBM has a discussion on his blog. Read the comments thread for further details from Clark Beasley himself.

*The second piece of NQC news, which I am MUCH more excited about, is a GVB Reunion showcase encore. It was such a smash last year somebody had the bright idea of bringing it back. Guy Penrod apparently WILL be at NQC, but so far it’s too early to specify who will or won’t take part in the showcase. However, I think it’s safe to say that there will be many eyebrows raised and questions asked if Guy doesn’t participate. Hopefully this means they can stage songs they didn’t stage last year, like “I Believe In a Hill Called Mount Calvary,” “The Old Rugged Cross Made the Difference,” or “It is Finished.”

As for the other no-shows last year (including former tenors Jonathan Pierce and Terry Franklin), I think it’s an open question whether they’ll come, but I would be very happy if Terry could somehow squeeze it in around his worldwide ministry schedule. I joked on Swain’s blog that fingers crossed, Terry won’t be in Uzbekistan or something during NQC week. 🙂 His voice is still supple and strong after all these years, and he would add immensely to the showcase.

*Devin McGlamery had surgery on his left pectoral muscle this week and is recovering at home. He’s still in a lot of pain, and he’s been fighting nausea on top of that, so continue to keep him in your prayers.

*Want to see Wayne Haun smile? Finally, you can. Shhhhhh, no comments on the fishiness of the photo.

*Poet Voices: I will be watching one of their re-launch concerts this evening and writing something up afterwards. Who’s planning to be there with me? [Update: The concert for Saturday night has been canceled.] [Further Update: Technical problems plagued the ASGM team, and they were unable to broadcast on the 19th either. I don’t know if the 17th was a success or not.]

*I didn’t watch the Grammys, and I don’t really give a hoot about Chris Brown, Nicki Minaj or whoever has been making recent Grammy headlines. Perverted products of a perverted culture. Though I am disgusted by liberal Christian attempts to guilt-trip other Christians into “forgiving” Chris Brown, just like the Grammys “forgave” (read: re-marketed) him. Number one, why exactly do WE have to forgive Chris Brown, especially when some of us barely give any thought to his existence, and number two, since when has renewed elevation and celebration coupled with trivialization of past wrongs become the new definition of “forgiveness?”

Meanwhile, the really big news from the Grammys as far as I’m concerned is that Laura Story’s song “Blessings” captured top honors in the “Contemporary Christian Song” category. I am blown away. Not only am I blown away by the fact that a good quality Christian song became popular enough to be nominated for a Grammy (especially looking at a few of the other nominees), but I’m blown away that it actually WON. Way to go Laura. You can read a nice piece on her win here, which also details some of the backstory that inspired the song. In celebration of her victory, here is “Blessings”:

I hear this is also becoming a popular worship song, so the wasteland that is contemporary P & W has gotten a little boost in quality too.

The Best of Praise & Worship, Hymns and Southern Gospel—Your Picks?

In view of Daniel Mount’s most recent post, and in view of the fact that I have little time to write these days, I’m going to let my readers write the interesting stuff here for me.

If you could pick just three favorite contemporary praise songs—your ripest picks—what would they be and why? (Note: I am using “contemporary” loosely. It seems only fair to allow you to pick stuff from the 90s/80s, since southern gospel has such a rich history. This means you can include something like “Great Is the Lord.”)

If you could pick just three favorite southern gospel songs—again, prime cuts—what would they be and why?

Now let me ask another question: If you tried to compare the worship songs with the gospel songs in terms of quality, do you think you could? Or would you feel like it was an apples and oranges question?

Here is a harder question. Try it with HYMNS and southern gospel. Three hymns, three southern gospel songs. Can you do it now?

Whitney Houston, RIP

Dead at 48, a legend of pop music, many regard her as one of the greatest female voices of all time. Her life stands as a sad witness to Satan’s destructive work on those blessed with great fame and fortune. I do not know her fate, for it rests in the hands of God only. But I know that the memory of her voice will live on for many more years to come. Here she is, in her prime, singing the National Anthem as only she could.

The Week in Review #15: This and That and Paul Simon

I’m bone tired right now and just getting some tidbits from the week together. It’s been a long week… full of lots and lots of school and lots and lots of Paul Simon music. I’m a new fan, a bit late I know. Anyway I’m positive I couldn’t have survived this week without him. There were many beautiful moments when his music wove its way into what would ordinarily have been mundane, everyday occurrences—cleaning the bathroom, driving home from school, doing my homework… That tends to happen for me with good music. I’m constantly listening to something or other, so whatever I listen to essentially becomes the soundtrack of my life.

So what’s new in southern gospel or the world in general? Let’s see…

*It’s not too late to win a free online ticket to a Poet Voices concert. Follow the link here.

*The mother of all Best of Johnny Cash collections is in the works. Hat tip, DBM, read more about it here.

*Southern Gospel Critique really is all the way back now, and we SINCERELY hope they’re never hacked again!

*From assorted Facebook posts, it looks like Devin McGlamery of Signature Sound hurt himself while lifting weights and tore a muscle in his chest. He wasn’t present at their most recent concert [Update: Actually he was there and did sing a song, but sat out most of the evening.], and it looks as though he’ll need surgery. Keep Devin in your prayers! Ouch.

*Speaking of Signature Sound, their brand new album Here We Are Again is now available at all retail outlets. Go get it! It’s really good. I expect most of you have already read my review, but in case not, read it here.

*David Bruce Murray is just going ahead and saying it: Ernie Phillips… the Kingsmen… reunited… as Bill Gaither would say, why not?

*In the world of politics, Obama’s outrageous new health-care regulations have united Christians across the country in protest. The Senate Democrats successfully blocked a Republican attempt to repeal it. Big surprise there. This news item has happened to coincide with the fact that Susan G. Komen allowed itself to be arm-twisted into continuing to fund Planned Parenthood. You know that passage about crying “peace, peace” when there is no peace? Yeah, about that…

*Either I’m too tired to keep looking, or it’s been a quiet week. I’m guessing both. So I will leave you with… Paul Simon. This was the first song I heard from Graceland, and from that moment, I was hooked. As a matter of fact, that album just celebrated its 25th anniversary. There was something about the music of the song, it just put inexplicable tears of joy in my eyes because it was so richly infectious. I don’t know whether it was the horns, or the bass, or the “Ta-na-na-na-na…” or the wonderful, impossible blending of them all together.

Does everybody know what I’m talking about? I mean everybody here know exactly what I’m talking about?

***

It’s an open thread, which means you can talk about something else besides Paul Simon if you want to.

Online Concert Ticket Giveaway: Poet Voices

ASGM is partnering with Southern Gospel Yankee to offer five free online tickets to one of Poet Voices’ upcoming re-launch concerts! Simply be one of the first five people to click on this link and register. You have three dates to choose from—February the 17th, the 18th and 19th. All concerts begin at 6 PM. There will also be a Q & A period with Phil and the other guys afterwards.

Life Lessons From the Gipper On His 101st Birthday

Today is the 101st anniversary of the birth of my all-time favorite President (as you can see on my “About” page). His name has become legend. If I were to say it among a random group of Americans, anyone would know immediately who I’m talking about. But fewer people are familiar with who Ronald Reagan was before he became President, particularly before he began his political career.

Ronald Reagan spent most of his young life in Hollywood, carving out a respectable niche for himself while rubbing shoulders with a lot of famous stars. He was never a great actor, yet he had charisma and a natural presence on screen that endeared him to viewers. But more importantly, he built a reputation as a genuinely nice guy. He offered advice, but it was never the kind of “advice” that was designed to put him in the spotlight. He was always helping the other actors, always working with a mind to what was best for the picture as a whole.

In 1949, he worked in a brilliant film called The Hasty Heart. It came at a low point in his life and his career, but he turned in one of his most memorable performances. However, it became clear that the real star of the picture was a young rookie actor named Richard Todd (who would earn a richly deserved Oscar nod for his moving portrayal of the lead character, a young soldier who doesn’t know he’s dying). Was Reagan jealous? Looking back, Todd recalls that Reagan “couldn’t have been nicer to a complete unknown.”  Interestingly, there’s a letter Reagan wrote while he was President where he says almost the exact same thing about working with Humphrey Bogart in the late 30s. Bogart was established, but Reagan was just starting out. Yet Reagan recalls, coincidentally with almost the exact same wording Todd used, that Bogart “couldn’t have been more helpful to a beginner like myself.” Not every actor was this generous and humble (Errol Flynn for one had a rather different attitude towards Reagan, particularly when Reagan started to get more fan mail than he did), but Bogie was. That little “chain” intrigued me: Established Bogart encourages young Reagan, and then a decade and a half later an established Reagan turns around and pays it forward to another young actor.

That sort of chain can be forged anywhere. No matter what your field is, when you invest yourself in the young “unknowns,” the young “beginners,” you have no idea what that simple kindness might mean for somebody years down the road. That young “beginner” you helped will never forget what you did for him, and one day when he makes a name for himself, he may well turn around and pass your gift along to someone else. It can even happen in southern gospel. Humility is the key. The moment you start thinking it’s all about you is the moment you stop giving of yourself to others. Reagan was a team player in the best sense of the word.

Another notable characteristic of the young Reagan was that he was always committed to doing his best in whatever he did, no matter how small. I’d like to quote from something he wrote just before going off to the army reserves in 1942. It was a magazine essay that he titled “How to Make Yourself Important.” But the title was really a bit of a joke. Listen to what Reagan has to say here:

I hold that all this business about making yourself important by means of externals is no good. Clothes, being seen in the Right Places, show, swank–No! … Nor do I believe that you have to be a standout from your fellow men in order to make your mark in the world. Average will do it. Certainly if I am to serve as my own guinea pig for this little homily, it will have to do it…..

Lots of kids write and ask my advice about how to make their mark in an indifferent world….So what I’d like to tell ‘em is this: Look, you must love what you are doing. You must think what you are doing is important because if it’s important to you, you can bet your last ducat that other people will think so, too. It may take time, but they’ll get around to it…

Reagan goes on to talk about playing “B” pictures and working his way up:

Thanks to some good advice from a guy named Pat O’Brien [the actor who played Knute Rockne in Reagan’s breakout film], I played those “B’s” as if they were “A’s.” You see, the boss only goes by results. If I do a part carelessly because I doubt its importance, no one is going to write a subtitle explaining that Ronald Reagan didn’t feel the part was important, therefore he didn’t give it very much….

And at the end, he talks about his future:

Uncle Sam has called me, a  Reserve Officer in the Cavalry, and I’m going off to war, still true to my precepts: (a) to love what you are doing with all your heart and soul and (b) to believe what you are doing is important.

Again, so true, for everything in life—including music. Are you a talented young singer looking for an opportunity to show what you can do? Are you a little-known group patiently waiting for your big break? Then take Reagan’s youthful advice to heart: Love what you’re doing, and play the “Bs” like they’re “As.” If you’re a hopeful teenager, and somebody invites you to sing at a nursing home, go and give it everything you’ve got. If your small trio or quartet is invited to sing at a church and only two dozen people show up, sing like you’re on mainstage at NQC. If you truly believe that you are doing something important, people will see that, and more importantly God will see that. If you are faithful in a few things, wherever God has planted you, then He will reward you with many things.