It was the bullet and the cell phone.

Look, I can deal with a flying dude in a suit made out of unobtainium who never gets really hurt, ever. I can deal with all the ridiculous stuff surrounding Batman, but what really ruined The Dark Knight for me was the fingerprint off a fragmented bullet and the cell phone sonar thing.

I mean, come on.

Cops and Pastors

I think we have a problem with cops and pastors. I don’t mean that cops are having problems with pastors and vice versa, but that we choose who should be a cop and who should be a pastor based on criteria that don’t really match up with their real-world performance.

For instance, if you ask cops what they spend most of their time doing, you’ll find out it’s paperwork and relational work. Very, very little policework involves things like running, jumping, wrestling, and bench pressing. Why then do we choose cops in very much the same way we choose soldiers? After all, the EMF/SWAT version of policework we see on television is in reality a very constricted, minor part of real policework. From what I understand, police spend a lot of their time resolving disputes. Do you really need to be able to wrestle a bear to resolve a dispute? (Keep in mind that, at least here in Canada, the cops are also the ones with the guns.) This is why I think women generally make better police officers than men; also, it’s a tragedy when policewomen try to bitch themselves up enough that they can run with the dudes. If anything, they can probably do their job better than the guys anyways.

The same thing applies with pastors. Where I come from, the most spiritual, well-mannered men are advised that they should go to seminary, where their heads are filled with facts, and the come back to a doctrinal examination after which they’re called to a church. Is it a co-incidence then that most of these pastors aren’t good at preaching or relating to people? After all, what is being a pastor about, really, if it’s not leading people to a closer walk with God? And what is leading if not teaching and inspiring?

We pick our cops as if they’re soldiers. We pick our pastors as if they’re professors. Is it just me, or is there something wrong there?

The solution is, of course, to widen the pool of potential cops and pastors. You can certainly have a SWAT team, and you can certainly have masters of theology, but must every potential recruit be a potential SWAT team member or master theologian? I don’t think so. It certainly doesn’t seem to be making those professions any better.

I think the police force could use fewer beefy adrenaline monkeys and more level-headed problem-solvers. I think the pastoral corps could use fewer theologically astute snooze-fests and few more dynamic individuals who have the ability to teach, the ability to inspire people and engage them in their faith, and if possible both.

25 Facts About Me

Thanks for tagging me, Mr Steve Talley. I’ve needed to write something lately.

1) I think that a person can hold two opposing ideas in their head without having any cognitive dissonance whatsoever. You don’t have so be special to do so, you just have to be human. I think a lot of people have a lot of this going on and don’t realise it at all.

2) I bought an iPod once, thinking I would use it. I haven’t really used it and I’m pretty glad I only sprung for the 1gb model. iPods are useless to me.

3) Since I was 7, I’ve read Swiss Family Robinson 34 times. The last time I read it was last year, in the summer.

4) Laura and I went on our honeymoon to Cuba. We forgot to bring a camera. I think we were just so overwhelmed with being married that we just didn’t think about anything else, or at least not anything very clearly. Part of me is glad that we don’t have pictures so it remains one of those pleasant memories; the other half of me knows that one day I’m going to start forgetting things and I’ll wish with 100% of my being that I had pictures at that point.

5) Sometimes I think that there are certain bloodlines that don’t deserve to be propagated. I’m glad I don’t get to make those decisions: I would be incredibly harsh on my own relatives.

6) I don’t really like children. I can picture having some one day, but I think I’ll have to be a bit of a different person to raise them properly (or at all). Thankfully it doesn’t take long for me to become a different person, which is scary when you’re married to someone. When you’re married to someone that wants kids it’s more like a catch-22.

7) Back in the day I used to believe that any person could marry any person and they’d probably get on just fine. Having been married for a while to Laura, I almost want to believe that there’s one person for everyone. I mean, sure, there are some major dimensions in each other that we don’t understand (I have, for instance, never been able to sustain one of those conversations that starts with bread and ends with how our friends’ children look nothing at all like them), but that makes it all the more interesting, right? In most other areas we’re so closely tailored to each other it almost looks like we were designed for each other. Which is freaky, and I understand in some sort of predestination sense that that is in fact true, but from a human perspective? Freaky. Yet I still can’t bear to bring myself to believe that ridiculous modern trope of “completion” and “other half” and whatever other crap so many people believe about love; I think I’ve settled on some sort of compromise in which some people are better for each other than others.

8) I love semi-colons. I really do. If you aren’t using semi-colons, you’re missing out on life. Somewhat ironically, this paragraph doesn’t have any.

9) If I could pick any age to live it, it would be the 1920s. This is also Laura’s pick, oddly enough. I think, though, that the 1920s I have in my head is very different from the 1920s as it existed in the real world.

10) There is a very active world inside my head. You don’t want to know what goes on there. Sometimes I think I’m closer to normal than I think, but when I say something odd, people react negatively; I wish I could figure out if that’s because they’re the same way and overcompensating, or because they’ve genuinely never had a strange though in their lives. I realise this entire bullet point makes me sound like I have Asperger’s. I truly hope I don’t.

11) Books annoy me. The ones I’m supposed to like in order to “get” modern literary culture are the most boring, annoyingly cloying slog-fests imaginable. It seems that I find more enjoyment from low-brow hack-work than from what so many call “art”. I guess that’s okay, but I’m still puzzled about what they see in it. If it’s not enjoyable, why read it? Or do they really enjoy it? How? Then there are those Bourne novels that I swear you have to be only semi-literate to like. I guess I’m a half-snob.

12) I wish I could have one of those Star Trek experiences where you inhabit someone else’s body and then gain a better understand of what it’s like to be them and the plot resolves while you glow with new-found empathy. That never seems to happen, so I’m trapped over here trying to understand why you suck so much.

13) I’m a snob. I’m a snob about being a snob, though, so I think snobs suck pretty hard. This goes back to bullet point #1, maybe?

14) Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to watch much television, listen to much radio (except for 1010, and even then just the conservative talking heads, a phrase which on second though really doesn’t apply much to radio), listen to much music, or generally experience culture in any way. This is fine; I don’t begrudge my parents this at all because so much of it seems like crap to me. Yet its left me with this culture void where I don’t get jokes about the 80s and 90s, don’t understand the references, and what little I do know is basically from modern pop-culture referencing older pop-culture. I only started listening to popular music something like 10 years ago, and most of that was Christian music, most of which was complete shit. (If you want a reason to dislike Christian music you’re unable to find any reasons in scripture — because it isn’t there, you nitwit — try disliking it because almost the entire genre is offensively without artistic or any other value.)

15) I’m like to make people laugh. I identify strongly with the character of Chandler Bing on Friends, but not simply in “humour as a defense mechanism” sort of way. If you’re looking for a real me underneath the humour you’re liable to be very disappointed. I can be serious at the drop of a hat if that’s what’s called for, but at the end of the day cracking jokes is part of my identity. It helps that Laura has a wonderful sense of humour; I’ve dated girls who didn’t find me the least bit funny, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s pretty much a moral failing on their part.

16) I used to be that guy with the strong opinions, but I’m not that guy anymore. Okay, I am, but I have strong opinions on different things now. All those arguments we used to have in church on minor theological point? I’m sure they’re important and I’m sure someone has to hash those things out, but those things aren’t important to me anymore. This doesn’t mean that I’ve become some sort of post-modern weed-smoking hippie guru chanting nonsense at the moon (I’m pretty sure that’s Sigur Ros, actually), but I’m not entirely convinced that life is a series of either right or wrong decisions whose gravity can only be measured insofar as you can tease out the logic and argue the facts. Some things just aren’t wrong or right because they weren’t made wrong or right. Some things are definitely wrong and some things are definitely right. Those are the important things.

17) I disagree with President Obama on many issues. Yet it seems to me that his time in office is a needed relief from the Bush administration. Bush’s terms were so awful that words almost don’t do them justice. Plus, any of the words that I could use are almost certainly not fit for public consumption.

18) There are times when I think I do too many things almost well enough to do publicly, but none well enough to be proud of. If I’m any indication, all those Renaissance Men were driven to distraction by the desire to do everything.

19) I haven’t a clue what to write here.

20) I wish creativity could be turned on like a tip. I admire and dislike those people who can effortlessly bang out a decent tune, but I’m glad I’m not one of them. I like having to wrench out words like prying up flagstones.

21) I own three cats. Or three cats own me. You decide.

22) I love Monty Python SO MUCH.

23) We have about two meals of real food left in the house. I fear we may starve soon.

24) I have never watched a horror movie in my life and I don’t intend to.

25) I got spam (actual spam!) for Christmas from my brother-in-law. It’s not good stuff.

I have a dream.

I have a dream that one day there will be a People’s Church on one side of a road and a Robot’s Church on the other side of the road. I have a dream that though relations between the two will be tense at times, the bonds of ecumenical love will prevent any major conflicts from escalating and destroying the human race.

Yet I have a premonition that a tense stand-off might envelop the two churches, and after Sunday school one day there will a horrific explosion of violence as the robots and the humans fiercely debate their respective doctrines. The robots (whose doctrine consists of farming humans for energy) and the humans (whose doctrine consists mainly of not being farmed) will war in a war to end all wars, a war the survivors will of course call, “The Catechism Cataclysm”.

Observations on worship teams.

Right now I’m part of the worship team at Churchill Meadows Christian Church in Mississauga, and I was part of the Freshwater Christian Church worship team before the two churches merged into on combined identity. For the most part, working with the CMCC team has been absolutely wonderful, and I’m really glad to have the chance to use what skills I have as part of the team.

Being part of the whole thing, though, has led me to some observations about our team in particular (observations that would probably be pretty boring to most people, on the whole) and observations about worship teams in general. The general observations are what I’m most interested in, and I think you might be too.

Most worship teams are awful. Just completely awful. They’re awful for several reasons. First, they don’t have the skill as musicians. Second, they have no concept of what it takes to make a good worship team. Third, they don’t have any concept of good music.

My personal opinion is that if you aren’t any good, you shouldn’t play. You’re going to distract from worship, not aid it. After all, isn’t that what worship bands are there for? It’s an aid, to lead in worship, to help the church as a whole worship God. What form that takes is largely irrelevant (though of course there are excesses I won’t even touch on here). The fact is, if you’re distracting people from worshipping, you’re being counter-productive and should remove yourself from the team, or be removed from the team.

This doesn’t happen often enough because team leaders don’t understand what makes a good team and what makes good music, two things I think are closely related. A lot of bands simply throw as many people as they can must up on stage and get everyone to play their hearts out. Though this might seem like a great idea (what’s better than people playing their hearts out?), it usually isn’t. It takes a lot of practice and a good deal of synergy to work as a team, to understand what each other is doing, and especially if you don’t have a lot of time to practice, to know each other well enough that you can predict the direction of the music.

That becomes more difficult the more people you have in the team. Fewer in this instance is almost certainly better. If you have a guitarist, a bassist, and a drummer who are really tight, you don’t need to throw in a percussionist, a pianist, a vocalist, and some interpretive dance. Not only will this make playing together, really together, harder, it’s going to make everything harder. The more instruments you have, the more setup is involved, the harder it is to mix well, and the worse the band is going to sound as whole. It’s just really hard to have seven people making great music.

Not only that, every song has a different feel and a different way it can be played. Some songs are guitar-driven and should stay that way. Other songs are keyboard driven, hymns in particular, and no matter how you try and spice them up, they should stay keyboard driven. When you have six, seven, eight people, everyone has the tendency to play at once. Not only does this generally make an awful din, it does disservice to the songs you’re playing.

I say this as a keyboardist who finds himself almost always superfluous. We have a lead guitarist/vocalist, a backup guitarist/vocalist, another vocalist, a bassist, a drummer, a percussionist, and a keyboardists. Personally, I think that number of people is absurdly hard to make good music with. The leader of a band of that many people is going to have to be good at arranging music and the players themselves will have to practice a lot. Barring that, people are just going to have to sit out a bunch of songs. The leader is going to have to tell his band that they can’t all play at once, that some people are just going to have to sit out some songs, and that if they want a pleasing sound instead of a jumbled cacophony, they’re going to have to put some limits of who’s playing what when.

Of course, this doesn’t happen for a variety of reasons. It goes back to leaders not knowing what good music is, or leaders simply not wanting to hurt feelings or cause conflict. I mean, sure, it’s possible that you’ll find eight people in your church who can play together naturally and not sound like a bunch of monkeys beating on tin cans, but how likely is that?

Some worship teams aren’t awful, of course. If you do it right, you can make really, really good music and aid in worship at the same time. You can be innovative and fresh without being obtrusive and annoying. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen, mostly at churches who have an artistic vision for their worship teams, who have a large talent pool, and who have leaders who aren’t afraid to tell some people to stop playing or dial it back.

If I could say one thing to worship teams around the world it would be this: Bigger isn’t better. Bigger is almost always worse. Think about what you’re trying to do and do that. Put some thought into it. Make a structure and build around it. Figure out what style of music you want to play and then do what you have to in order to play that music with skill and restraint. Don’t just throw people at a stage and hope that they’ll work well together. Figure out what works and go with that. If something isn’t working, don’t do it. If you don’t know what good music is, don’t be in a band. If you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t be in a band. If you don’t know how to co-operate, don’t be in a band. And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, don’t lead a band, for goodness sake!

In the end I ask this: Is the tendency toward bigger bands really better than a solitary pianist or a three-piece acoustic band? If it isn’t, why are you doing it?