The State of Christendom in Contemporary American Culture: Part One

Recently a friend of mine who has been struggling with alcoholism lost his job, lost his car, and was forced to sleep outdoors. Logically, he figured this might be a good time to check into a rehab.

Finding an affordable Christian rehab, he did so.

When queried at the intake as to his religious beliefs, he specified a Native American religion that had been handed down through his ancestry.

“Well you can forget about all that stuff right now!” they replied.

This naturally struck him as a bit disrespectful, as well as unrealistic.

“The only way you’re going to get into heaven is by accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and all that other junk is of the devil.”

Again, my friend found this quite off-putting. But he followed through.

He further reported that in the next two days, he was told that Covid 19 is a hoax, that the vaccines are deadly, and that all gay and trans people are going to hell. On the third day, after enduring a four-hour sermon, he walked out.

And I can’t say that I blame him! I’m a person who considers the Bible to be my primary source of moral authority and practice. And yet, I would have gladly taken my sleeping bag out into a field somewhere, rather than to tolerate such a barrage of brimstone.

People often perceive decisions such as my friend and I would make as “impatient.” But consider the kinds of things with which one has to be patient in such a scenario:

Steady indoctrination against one’s lifelong values that has nothing to do with the reason why one is in rehab.

According to the basic text of Alcoholics Anonymous — otherwise known as the “Big Book” — an alcoholic is “a person who has lost the ability to control [their] drinking.” This loss of agency with respect to alcohol implies that alcoholism is a condition — not a choice. This is why it is often referred to as “the disease of alcoholism.”

If a person has a disease, then they are in need of healing. I think it’s safe to say that the power of healing and the power of indoctrination are just about direct opposites. Indoctrination – of any kind – does not heal. It wounds.

A sense of being forced to make a decision by people who cannot possibly make that decision on one’s behalf.

You can’t force somebody to accept Christ. Jesus comes into people’s lives when He chooses to.

When I came to Christ in the Spring of 1983, I was completely alone inside my rented cottage. Sure, Christians had witnessed to me. Sure, I had been drawn to a Bible verse, here and there. But at about one in the morning on a certain unknown date, I read a passage that so eerily applied to my exact situation at the moment, that I was moved to take that Bible down to an all-night restaurant, where I opened it to the Book of Isaiah. Convinced of its power and beauty, convinced that it represented the power and beauty of Jesus Christ, I accepted Christ the following morning.

To my view, God chose that moment to convince me. From there, I did the rest.

Many of the tenets espoused have nothing to do with the Bible or with Christ. This is dangerous.

We see this happening all over Christendom in contemporary American culture. Preachers from certain pulpits preach just enough “love God, love your neighbor as yourself” to appeal to parishioners who truly seek to do good things — and throw in a little hate against gays and hate against women while they’re at it. Those in the pews are often susceptible to both. They frequently fail to “swallow the meat and spit out the bones.”

Someone in a very vulnerable position, such as a homeless alcoholic seeking recovery, might be particularly susceptible to false teaching. They might soak in the truth of the Gospel along with the balderdash, and be challenged to discern between the two.

A sense that one has willfully entered a program in need of true help, and instead is being hurt more than one is helped.

I have seen this happen far too often.

A sense of disappointment that these people are “supposed to be Christians — supposed to be about love.”

I find this occurring less often than some decades ago. Less and less in our culture is the word “Christian” associated with someone who seeks to love God and love one’s neighbor as oneself. In the 50’s, when I was growing up, people used to say things like: “Hey thanks! That was really Christian of you!” Meaning, a good deed had been done.

Nowadays, I meet lots of people who, when they hear the word “Christian,” are much more apt to think of someone who imposes their values upon others, rather than lives those values themselves.

We who believe in Jesus need to take a hard look at where our churches may be headed. Even in the 80’s, when televangelists were first on the rise, and a gigantic sweep of conservative “born-again Christianity” seemed to consume the nation, I felt there was something wrong in the emphasis.

Specifically, it was not enough for me to have “accepted Christ.” I was also strongly influenced to accept every tenet of the Republican Party — even those with which I disagreed.

I consider myself to be a believer who has accepted Christ – who changed his worldview one morning, and never changed it back. But this particular believer cannot believe what has happened to Christendom in contemporary American culture.

This piece was first published last Thursday on Spokane Faith & Values.

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Gratitude List 1797

(1) The A&W opened up again after being closed several weeks due to understaff. So I was able to have one of their nice fish sandwiches. Then at the Recovery Center there was apple pie and a banana. So I got to start off with three healthy things in a row.

(2) I’ve run four miles four times in the past 32 days since I’ve been at it again, in addition to many shorter runs, bicycle rides, and brisk walks. Very thankful for vigorous exercise, and for the beautiful days we’ve had lately to motivate it.

(3) Played my third service at the new church yesterday, Did a Shaker tune, “‘Tis a gift to be simple” for a prelude, having heard mention of it during Sunday School. Also enjoyed the adult Sunday School, which they call “Faith Explorations.” Then they decided to start the Choir up again, and asked me to sing bass. The church makes me feel warm inside.

(4) Had a nice Zoom conversation with my lifelong best friend on Saturday. It’s great to have reconciled, and our friendship is stronger than it ever was before.

(5) Had a great conversation with one of the Kids who has struggled with an issue I myself have struggled with. She and her sister and sister’s best friend may join me in forming a support group to address this issue. Also very grateful for the Kids, as always. Life has its challenges, but there is joy and promise — where they can be found — if we seek them.

“The sun never stops shining. Sometimes, clouds just get in the way.”
— Anonymous

Re: Name This Tune

I’ve received a number of equally correct answers to the question I asked in the previous post. However, since I also asked the question to the 150+ recipients on my Friday Piano List, I’m going to wait a while before revealing the answer. The “winner” will be the first person who told me the original, single-word title. This occurred at about one in the afternoon today.

New Lyrics Update

In a certain school of thought having to do with musical theatre, the composer-lyricist writes the music first — having a general idea what the song will be about — and then writes the lyrics second.

I’ve talked to a lot of singer-songwriters who think this is totally backwards, But there’s a method to the musical theatre mania.

Cole Porter was one such composer. All those great tunes — “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” “Night and Day,” even “Love for Sale” — were once instrumental pieces of music with no lyrics whatsoever. I am of his school of thought. If I were to write the lyrics first, the music would suffer. I would be trying to squeeze music to previously provided lyrics. As a composer, it would seem as though it wasn’t even my own music. The lyrics would also suffer, because they wouldn’t have the benefit of there being good music already prepared to match them.

Now, I realize that my argument is illogical such far, because I have made no effort to demonstrate the primacy of music over lyrics in the little world of musical theatre that lives inside my head.

Therefore, I can only make too more-or-less empirical observations:

(1) I very much enjoy finding lyrics that match my previously composed music. Yesterday I did it twice — I finally wrote lyrics to “I Know Who You Are” and “Bone of My Bones” — two songs whose music I wrote in Berkeley in 2016. And Keva’s going to sing them, and I’m jazzed.

(2) Whenever I have written a musical play, people invariably report that among the three main components of a musical theatre libretto — book, music & lyrics — the lyrics are the best. With The Burden of Eden, for example, people mostly said: “Lyrics are outstanding, script is very good, music is kinda so-so.” For Eden in Babylon, it was mostly: “Music is great, script seems all right, but man those lyrics!”

Now I don’t want to toot my own horn here, but if there were ever a renaissance of a culture that had an appreciation for traditional musical theatre mores, I would be right there. Since there isn’t, I just want to thank everyone who has purchased our Keva album, and let you know that the lead sheets to “Bone of My Bones” and “I Know Who You Are” are in her inbox, as we speak.

Two down, three to go.

Keva Album Update

Here’s the situation on the album Keva & I are releasing.  You can hear the first song “Time Will Tell” without paying for it.  But you can only hear it three times for free.  To download it, you have to pay $3 USD for it.

If you download it, you will also receive full lyrics to each song, as well as a brief history of the songs — when they were written, who else has performed them, and so forth.

You can click on the thumbnail to get the entire album.   

Right now there are five tunes on it, all for $10.  Ultimately, there will be ten songs on it.  If you buy it now, you get all ten songs for the same ten bucks.  If you wait until all the songs are on it, you may have to pay more than ten bucks.

Finally, if you wish to pay more than $3/song and $10/album, feel free. Many of us are strapped these days, however, so I can understand if you don’t. But I hope you will kindly consider supporting this endeavor at this time.

Gratitude List 1796

(1) Sleeping much better lately, including an eight hour bout last night. This may be due to my exercise program. The four mile run on Wednesday was particularly exhilarating, and three mile brisk walks before bedtime have helped as well.

(2) I have 153 subscribers on my YouTube Channel now. (Last I checked it was just over 100.) This is motivating me to practice more regularly on the grand piano at the church, and also invest in some new duds. (Getting more plays on my SoundCloud too).

(3) Had a great experience playing at a nursing home yesterday afternoon (an ongoing volunteer gig that Cody landed for me). Exchanged numbers with the pastor, who had just ran a half-marathon and whose Christian leanings are akin to my own. Also got the number of the lady who runs the program, a widow whose husband was involved in Theatre Arts at WSU, and who herself is a musical theatre choreographer. Turns out she shares my philosophy.

(4) Keva & I are both jazzed about doubling the size of the current BandCamp album. I’ve been writing lyrics to some of the music I wrote in Berkeley, and this one tune is coming out quite nicely. It’s jazzy and suits her voice. Haven’t done this kind of lyric-writing in a while. It’s been a rush to get back in the groove.

(5) I often get a little tear in my eye when I think about the Kids. They could have just gone their way after the workshop and had nothing further to do with me. But they didn’t. And now that we’re not under any particular pressure, I find all the relationships to be much more rewarding. God is Good.

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New Album (Me & Keva)

If anyone wants to support us, click here and take it from there. For $10+ USD, you’re not only getting the five tunes currently on the album, you get the next five for free. Or $3+ per song.

I wrote all five of these songs in the 70’s except for “Daylight” whose music I wrote in 1982 with lyrics added in 2018. Histories of each song are included with the album, along with lyrics to all songs.

The next five songs will consist of stuff I wrote between 2013 and 2016 in Berkeley. It will be a month or more before they are released. So you’re getting a sneak preview.

I’ve removed all free versions from everywhere, except for one YouTube of “Time Will Tell” that’s been widely distributed and well-received.

Please consider supporting this endeavor at this time.

Please donate to Eden in Babylon.

Barriers Toward Escaping Homelessness

This Wednesday’s podcast is a recording of a Zoom meeting held on October 1, 2021 involving Amber Peace, the Recovery and Special Programs Coordinator of the Latah Recovery Center in Moscow Idaho; Shaun Hogan, the Crisis Services and Volunteer Coordinator of the Center, April Hawley, an LRC employee, two young students named Laura and Ashley from Lewis & Clark State College, and myself.  All incidental music is from The Burden of Eden © 1994-2008 by Andrew Michael Pope.

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Gratitude List 1795

(1) I found double-sided tape at the dollar store which makes it really easy to post all these positive reminders on the wall facing my desk. The positive reminders say things like:

— In your anger, do not sin
— Don’t be overcome by evil, but overome evil with good.
— Run Read Rest Recover
— Create Beautiful Things
— Don’t Postpone Positive

These reminders are incredibly helpful, whilst I work.

(2) Yesterday I really freaked out when I thought I had washed a pair of pants with my wallet in them and that both pants & wallet had been stolen from the laundry room. When I finally stopped freaking out and decided to go into town anyway, I casually reached for a pair of socks in the top dresser drawer and discovered that I had unconsciously neatly folded the pair of pants (with washed wallet as well), and placed them beneath all the socks and underwear. Needless to say, I was really grateful. (All the cards still work, too.)

(3) I went downtown to pay my rent yesterday and learned a great lesson while I lingered. The downtown situation increases my anxiety so hugely it’s best to avoid it as much as possible. I again found myself taking my mask on and off neurotically depending on whom I thought was judging me which way. As I rode away from downtown and hit the trail on my bicycle, the glaringly bright sky immediately turned to a mellow pastel, and my spirit was soothed in a way reminiscent of San Francisco.

(4) Another great lesson was learned last night as I found myself stressing over the podcast soon to be released, again running counter to the ideal of maintaining a quiet life in my retirement. Abandoning the anxiety, I took a brisk three mile walk between nine and ten at night. On my return, my spirit was at peace — and I more-or-less magically knew how to make the podcast better!

(5) The first podcast involving staff members of the Latah Recovery Center discussing the barriers faced by homeless people will be posted at high noon today. Don’t miss it! I have never encountered anything like it, in all my day.

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Gratitude List 1794

(1) This coffee tastes really good this morning.  I invest in Seattle’s Best Portside Blend, and try to make it just right.  A decent cup of coffee really gets the day started on the right foot.

(2) Slept seven hours solid last night, the most sleep I’ve achieved in a single shot for a while.  A good night’s sleep has a way of making me feel “normal.”

(3) Started my new church job officially yesterday.   Played my first service at the United Church.  It went seamlessly.  Also I really enjoyed Jodie’s sermon.  Tuning into her, I realized she has a great gift.  That’s always been the best part of a church piano job — the part where I get to leave the piano bench, take a seat in the pews, and listen to the pastor’s sermon.  I also am happy to find that, after all these years, my sight-reading skills are still intact.  Moreover, the congregation truly appreciated me.

(4) Interestingly, Ian from our circle also started his new job yesterday — as the pianist at First Presbyterian Church.  I am happy to have been able to help First Pres find a piano player, and very happy to have been instrumental (no pun intended) in helping Ian land his first job.

(5) On Friday, I participated in a Zoom meeting involving two staff members from the recovery center, a Center employee who is currently homeless, and myself, as we addressed the concerns of two students from the State College who were curious why health care is so challenging for homeless people to attain.   It evolved into a much broader discussion on the theme of homeless rights.  I excitedly found the time to edit it for this Wednesday’s podcast, adding introductory music at the beginning and inspirational music at the end.   Best of all, I left the meeting with a renewed sense of hope.  And I enter the new week with focus. 

Great effort is required to arrest decay and restore vigor. One must exercise proper deliberation, plan carefully before making a move, and be alert in guarding against relapse following a renaissance.
— Horace

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