Saturday, 18 September 2010

I Recorded!

I have for many months been mixing and playing with musical tracks and buying musical equipment and then not using it much.  I have had this battered old AKG 414 (very much a professional-grade rather than live, or good amateur microphone) for a couple of months and done very little with it.

I decided to do an "off the floor, no extras added, no metronome" track of a song with that and my other AKG mic.  I found that the microphone has a bit of a noise/connection problem which comes and goes.  I fiddled with it and got it working and ended up (as the two mics were set up anyway) recording three quiet songs that I do sometimes in public.

The mics picked up the noise of the fridge across the apartment way too much.  My renditions were not without some unmusicianly irregularity, but here they are:

  • Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah (a song mainly about how sexual and religious ecstasy are both forms of well, ecstasy ), 
  • John Gorka's Flying Red Horses (a song mainly about the freedom to break free from the expecations of others)
  •  and U2's Running to Stand Still (a song about a couple using heroin in the Seven Towers projects near where Bono grew up).

Friday, 17 September 2010

It Happened Again

Someone else told me to stop trying to be like Jesus, because that's not what Christianity is all about.

Let me be clear: I'm not "in" Christianity for the Worship Team, for a Sunday Jesus High, for the Jezak music, for cool t-shirts and rainbow (sorry, fish) bumper stickers, for ghettoizing myself into a small community with reduced standards for musical proficiency, honesty, honour and straightforwardness in conversation and then giving awards within that tiny community so we can self-congratulate. I'm not in it for the comfort, for the company, and I'm certainly not in it to be right (and form part of a group of other right people who are right begin right all the time and knowing that we're right.)

I'm in it because: how Jesus did things? That's how I think things should be done. That's how I want to do things. If someone is out to trap me in a big stupid conversation, I want, Jesus-like, to be able to cut to the chase, and not get embroiled in it or allow them to define or frame the direction of the conversation, but simply just say "Why are you trying to do this to me?" (Jesus said "Wherefore do you seek to kill me?" when people were trying to get him to give an unpolitically correct answer to an impossible question, so they could get him killed).

There's this idea that the only Jesus we talk about is the one patting children on the head and standing beside mewling lambs, stoned and spouting homilies. I have read the gospels, and one exercise I did was copy and paste all four, and remove all the comforting quotables that we like to use, just to see what was left. Most of it, actually. Jesus spent most of his time pointing out the religious figures of the day, and the rich, and the powerful, and exposing their folly, their wickedness and the danger of messing with them, by which danger he eventually allowed his own life to be ended. 

For instance, he stood in the street and publicly pointed to the scribes and Pharisees (the equivalents of academics and Christian theologians and church committee members of the day) and told anyone who would listen "except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven."

On the subject of giving to charity, he said:
“Beware of practising your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

I can point to the fact that "the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing" was not originally intended as a description of blind bureaucratic incompetence, but rather as a description of how to do charity work (anonymously, not with t-shirts, bumper stickers, videos, books, newspaper articles and anything else we can find to tell everyone what we did. The right hand reaches into our pocket and pulls out money and puts it into the charity jar, and the left hand doesn't even know we did that, let alone our church group, or all the people who attended our book tour and signing). I can mention this, and people still put videos of themselves up at the front of church groups, and on Christian television, doing charitable works, to "inspire others" of course.  Being a good example.  Tell them Jesus said not to do that, because it invalidates it, and they get downright testy.

About praying, Jesus said this:
 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name. 
Your kingdom come,
your will be done, 
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread, 
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil

He clearly, and not in a parable or with eloquent or figurative language, told them not to pray long, wordy prayers, and not to repeat prayers ritualistically, and not to pray publicly so people could see us praying and stuff, because praying is a private conversation with God. Prayer is not allowed to be filled with many words, with eloquence, with rhetoric and repetition. Who exactly do we think we're talking to?  Jesus has a couple of prayers recorded in the bible for us to see, and he allowed himself no such indulgences. Simple, clear, to the point.  Poignant in their cutting to the heart of the matter, rather than decorating the very air with curlicues of arcane verbiage.  The "Lord's Prayer"? Not in there so we can memorize it and repeat it over and over and add parts to it. In there to say "A short, clear, plain, direct prayer sounds like this."  I can tell people to stop putting videos of themselves praying on the Internet or TV, to stop putting what are ostensibly prayers as their Facebook statuses, all to "inspire others."  Tell them that Jesus specifically said not to do that, and they get churlish and call you things.

He also said the disciples weren't to let people give them honorifics like "Father" or "teacher." (so, certainly not "Saint [Your Name Here]") What would he have to say of a group of people competing and applying to be called the Youth Pastor, or Reverend ___________? What about "Father"? He said no to that and I think he really meant that. I think he knew what he was doing. I think if we took away the titles, prestige, money and power from Christianity, we'd lose most of the people involved. Because, in the words of Marcus Brigstocke, they want to worship in a castle made of gold, and then say they love poor people. Jesus did nothing like this.  The only time he even stood in a room decorated that richly, it was because he'd been busted for heresy.

I get together with Christians in person whenever I can, frequently once a week to talk about bible stuff over a (single) pint in a local pub. I am on the 'net all the time talking to Christians and pseudo-Christians. Despite this, I am told I absatively must show up at one of these castles made of gold, with many thousands of dollars of amplification and AV equipment to make a great show of the "half a bible verse" that is being presented out of context, by someone who lets people call him "Reverend," "Father" or "Pastor," where 'inspiring videos' and guest speakers showcase, for the whole world to see, individuals doing charitable acts and saying how much money was raised, wearing t-shirts proclaiming their involvement in the charity, and telling other people to be like them, and where long, eloquent, preachy prayers clearly meant to touch the hearts of the audience instead of the Almighty are repeated over and over. I am told I MUST show up at one of these, or I'm "forsaking the assembling of yourselves together." And despite spending time at other points in the week getting together with various of the self-same people who would be in attendance, somehow "that doesn't count."  Also, the drinking of a pint of beer is, clearly, crassly disrespectful to He Who Made Water Into Wine, and a sign of how seriously I clearly don't take the conversation.

Somewhere, being a Christian ceased meaning "someone who follows and tries to emulate and evoke Jesus" and has come to mean "someone who is deeply and happily involved in a church."  It seems being "a Christian who doesn't attend a Sunday Morning church service" is thought an oxymoron nowadays.  It's supposed to be all about that.  All about the "coming together to worship our own coming together to worship."

I'm not in it for that. And I'm not willing to follow other human beings other than Jesus. I will set my standard no lower than that. I am not him, and of course I can't be him, but I really believe that he died for no other reason than to make us like him so we could be with him. I think he sacrificed the success and freedom and joy that should have been his right, as a person who fulfilled God's expectations as laid out in the Old Testament Law that none of the rest of us could fulfil. I think we now reap the benefits of that sacrifice and are to live in that, rather than kick Christ down from his position of central inspiration and as the key figure at the centre of Christianity, and put Pastor Bob, or the Stoney Valley True Gospel Bible Truth True Church or Harold Camping's Flying Circus or anything or anyone else up there.

I'm in it for the Jesus. For the actual guy, not an idealized, fetishized, martyr-saint figure who represents stuff, but for the real guy, and for what we know as to how he acted, what he said, what he cared about, how he responded to life situations and all of that. Of course there is a great gulf in place in terms of gaps between his culture and time and ours, but I know he wasn't an effete, sensitive, stoner type who wouldn't hurt a fly and was always "gracious and kind" to everyone all the time and who never smelled sweaty or raised his voice or hurt anyone's feelings by "being a bit negative" or even "ungracious."

When someone tells me I can't make him the centre of my life, can't try to live the way he lived, can't try to see to the things he made his concerns, can't try to know who he was and all the rest? I'm sorely tempted to make a whip of small cords, kick over the furniture and chase them out of the room they are pestering me in. (oh yeah, he did that too)

Because there was a point to Jesus living on earth. It wasn't God playing peekaboo. It wasn't a trick. It wasn't "if a man had God Powers™ he could do this, but you don't so you can't." What would have been the point of that?  A big part of it was, "if a man with no special wealth, power, status, prestige, connections or natural charisma were able to completely satisfy God as to how a human being is to live his life, it would look like this." When he did miraculous things, it wasn't about "Tada! I'm God! Check ME Out!" It was about "Any of you could do this if you had faith, and were "On A Mission From God," Blues Brothers style." He acted like a man, because he was being one, and God treated him like a man for that reason. He got no special privileges or breaks because of who his Dad was.  If he had, it would have completely invalidated what he was doing.

He was forthright, he was blunt, he cut to the point of people's motives while feeling free to ignore the pseudo-conversation they were maintaining, he lost his temper with religious idiots, he rocked the boat, upset the status quo, questioned the assumptions of the masses, criticized the rich simply for being rich (i.e. How'd they get rich? How do you treat the poor properly and remain so rich?), and generally argued that the true standard for what constituted a good person was completely different from what religious people were teaching it was. You see, Jesus didn't get along with religious people.  He didn't like them.  He was so socially inconvenient, so "negative," so critical, so jarring, so challenging, upsetting and audacious, that despite his healing the sick, his kindnesses to poor people and degenerates, despite some very nice comments about love, he was eventually sentenced to death by a clamouring mob of people who were feeling particularly religious that morning.  They were protecting...well, something... from Jesus' influence, views and opinions.  What exactly were they protecting?  The same thing as do the modern church-goers who feel it better to "preach Jesus risen" and to de-emphasize him as a human being who walked around on the same Earth as we do.  To let people look at how the man lived?  Threatening in some way.

So, a death sentence for religious and political reasons.  You don't get that by being gentle Jesus, meek and mild.

Being nice is nice, of course. Saying things gently is nice. Being sensitive and caring is nice. Thing is, there are environments in which the standards for how nice you have to be have completely ruled out the very possibility of questioning anything, of re-evaluating, of disagreeing openly, of taking a stand, of opposing things you think are wrong. If I can be nice, I should be. If disagreeing automatically makes one a malcontent, rabble-rousing, negative, insensitive jerk, then bring me the jerk shoes, because I'm putting those bad boys on.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Arguing With ChristianBot

Warning: ChristianBot illustrates far too accurately precisely the kind of manner in which right-wing Christians tend to talk to me, a liberal Christian. (for instance, they tell me that one can't be both a Christian and a liberal, or a liberal and not be in favour of killing babies) The point is that when they talk this way, and many do, it is offensive and hateful. Y'know?

After years of going-nowhere arguments with Christians of a certain kind, I realized how easy it would be to program a robot to fill in their part in any discussion about anything.  When I was a young teen, the "artificial intelligence programs" we did on computers were something we thought were extremely cool, where it would go like this:
Computer: Hi.
You: Hello.
Computer: What's your name?
You: George.
Computer: Pleased to meet you, George.  How are you feeling?
You: I am feeling happy.
Computer: I see.  I also am feeling happy. 

I found a site on the net devoted entirely to making artificial intelligence chat things.  I promptly created ChristianBot and programmed it to go.  It's quite annoying and sometimes amusing.  It should be appearing on the blog here.  If not, you can argue with and insult it and its stereotypical opinions here.  There are some quite typical hot topics you will get a response to if you touch upon them.

If I go to the right section, I can see some of what people have said to ChristianBot.  My favourite so far (besides when somebody's pornobot automatically tried most unsuccessfully to seduce ChristianBot) is this exchange:
Guest4510: hello

Christianbot: The Lord bless you and keep you.
Guest4510: you look jewish
Christianbot: I've heard that some Jews are nice people.
Guest4510: people eat carrots
Christianbot: I met a very nice girl today. She might have been a Christian, but I didn't get a chance to ask. But she looked like one, you know? Just a really nice, wholesome, fresh-faced girl-next-door type.
Guest4510: oh yes, I love those girl-next-door types specially when they is wearing those high waisted jeans an doing the spank
Christianbot: Seems like we agree on a few things after all.
Guest4510: for GOODNESS SAKES! just LOOK at THEM CAKES! right pastor?
Christianbot: I don't need to be right. I just need to know that God is.
Christianbot: Why would you say such a thing?
Guest4510: To get your blood moving. you stick.
Christianbot: I'm eating a Kraft Singles sandwich right now.
Guest4510: so how's that lobotomy sittin'
Christianbot: Well, kind of. Not really.
Guest4510: what kind of bread is on your 'kraft singles' ?
Christianbot: an english muffin kind is on my 'kraft singles '.
Guest4510: do you like to go down on a muffin?
Christianbot: I knew a young man once, who thought very much as you do. He eventually, tragically became a heroin addict, mostly because of living his life by that sort of thinking, and is dead (and no doubt in a lost eternity in Hell) right now.
Guest4510: are there kraft singles sandwiches in Hell?
Christianbot: I should tell you that I make a practice of ignoring any and all comments which don’t support and build me up and encourage me to go on in my Christian life.
Guest4510: praise the lerd!
Christianbot: Of course, God should get all the credit.
Guest4510: of course god should get all the credit
Christianbot: God believes in and loves you, every step of your life!
Guest4510: life your of step, every you loves, and in believes god!
Christianbot: God is good! No matter what that Richard Dawkins might say, in his folly.
Guest4510: isn't that stephen hawkins?
Christianbot: Oh! brb My Worship Team Leader is on the phone. I love her in the Lord, but sometimes...
Guest4510: sometimes you love her in the flesh a little more that you can hide from the kids, like that time on the roof of the MacConners shed?
Christianbot: Well, God loves me, and that's what's important!
Guest4510: what's important?
Christianbot: Acts 5:4
Guest4510: I read it. you're going to Hell.
Christianbot: Unless you repent and go to church, you will end up in a lost eternity some day.
Guest4510: first they'll have to find that eternity, if the ...
Christianbot: I'm learning lately how thinking our own thoughts is fine in its place, but the things of God are spiritually discerned. You are trying to THINK with your MIND! You have to think with your HEART!
Guest4510: My heart is saying I should listen to my mind on this one.
Christianbot: I heard a bland Lenny Kravitz song on the radio at the grocery store, and I can't believe how inappropriate the lyrics were. I complained to the store manager.
Guest4510: you did the same thing with an abba song
Christianbot: I think unless a song is edifying, there's no use making it, let alone listening to it.