Has Oregon Made Me A Liberal?

I moved to Oregon from Indiana in early 2001. In Indiana I was a die hard Reaganite right-wing conservative, avid Rush Limbaugh listener, with just a slight tinge of Ayn Rand libertarianism in my blood. As we were planning to move, my friends and family jokingly predicted that I would become a liberal in Oregon, what with the state's reputation for progressive policies regarding physician assisted suicide and medical marijuana. Oregon must be full of hippies and gays, I remember being told. Watch out!

Well I now wonder if the predictions have somewhat come true. Am I more liberal? Is Oregon to blame?

As a conservative, I used to characterize my approach to the problems of poverty with the well known phrase "tough love". I focused my thinking on one primary idea: the personal responsibility and/or culpability of the poor. Because of this, I was unconcerned about helping the poor with their physical needs, and less compassionate toward them in general, and more interested in their personal lives and decisions. Did they use drugs? Were they drunks? Did they quit school? Did they have children out of wedlock? Did they somehow choose to be poor? Of course they must have. It was their fault, and I would be a fool to let myself be taken advantage of by someone like that, by helping someone who was just going to use my money or gifts to subsidize their degenerate lifestyle. I thought that any help I might give them would be short-lived at best, and wasted at worst. I thought they needed tough love. Jesus commanded us to love the poor. There is no escaping that, even for a conservative. So "tough love" is the best love we can give the poor. Right?

But even in Indiana my heart had begun to change I began to see that Jesus was not someone who questioned the lifestyle choices of those in need. And he never commanded us to do that either. When he saw a need, he met it, with love. Rather, the people Jesus questioned were the rich and the powerful. It was their lifestyle that he examined, whose hypocrisy he decried, not that of the poor and broken. But somehow as a conservative I had gotten that backward.

But perhaps my biggest falling out with conservatives has been on the issue of abortion. And I say that because I feel duped, perhaps even lied to. You see, I was told that voting conservative would make a difference. I thought voting Republican would cause the number of abortions to be reduced, perhaps even dramatically so. I thought voting for a Democrat meant that abortion would be promoted and increased, which I definitely didn't want. That's what I had been led to believe.

But the statistics show just the opposite. During the 12 years of the Reagan and Bush Sr. administrations, the number of abortions stayed constant at around 1.5 million annually, even reaching their highest annual figure ever recorded at just over 1.6 million in 1990. It was not until the Clinton administration that abortion figures began to significantly decline. During Clinton's eight years, abortions dropped from 1.5 million at the beginning to barely over 1.3 million at the end, a reduction of almost 300,000 per year.

In contrast, these reductions in annual abortions almost disappeared during the latest Bush administration. Even with the aide of significant conservative majorities in the House and Senate during this time, abortions flatlined at 1.2 million with only a slight downward trend of less than 90,000.

It doesn't look like voting conservative during the last 30 years has made any difference in the number of abortions. Yet I had believed that voting conservative was the ONLY way to make progress on the abortion issue. Because of abortion, I thought that voting for a democrat was morally wrong. In fact, I felt so strongly about abortion that I could be persuaded to support Republican candidates solely on that issue alone, even if I disagreed with them on a great many others.

Now I feel used. I feel like the abortion issue was a red herring, a wedge proffered by conservative politicians to woo me to their side. I wonder if they really care that much about it? They speak as though they do, but they sure haven't accomplished much. In fact, I wonder if they have made it worse?

Republicans speak so strongly about overturning Roe v. Wade and making abortion illegal that I think progressives are afraid of giving them ANY concessions. For example, enacting federal legislation banning partial birth abortion seems to make good sense. It is a brutal practice with questionable necessity, so why are so many progressives against it? I think because they see it as a battle against Republicans in the war over Roe v. Wade. If they agree to a partial birth abortion ban, that would be a win for Republicans, and who knows what might come next? So they vote against it, and no progress is made. I think if Republicans would refocus their efforts on reducing abortions rather than overturning Roe v. Wade, then perhaps the two sides could be more trusting of each other and the country could actually make some positive progress on the issue. Thus far, Republicans have made no progress at all on abortion. The increasing political gridlock seems to be diminishing their chances for success. And I am beginning to question whether they care more about the million dead babies each year or about getting my vote in the next election.

I find it interesting that my eight years in Oregon have almost identically matched the eight years of the Bush administration. A strong Christian man proudly proclaiming the name of Jesus has left his promises of compassionate conservatism and faith based initiatives largely unfulfilled. Instead we are left with a fearful nation, afraid of war and terror, and afraid of a failing economy. The policies and actions of our country have not been more conformed to the teachings of Jesus as I had hoped. Duped again.

So the predictions have somewhat come true. But no, I don't think it is Oregon that has made me more liberal.

Does Contemporary Worship Focus Too Much On Me?

Have you heard this question before? Is it a valid complaint?

Let me say first that I am rapidly growing tired of all the complaining going on among Christians. Have you noticed that an entire industry has grown up around complaining? Entire books, blogs, magazines, and radio programs have centered themselves around what they view as wrong. Megachurches are wrong. Joel Osteen is wrong. Fundamentalists are wrong. Liberals are wrong. Evangelicals are wrong. Their theology is wrong. Their practices are wrong. Emerging is wrong. The Shack is wrong. Postmodernism is wrong. Music is wrong. Intentions are wrong...

"Can't we all just get along?"

This idea that modern worship songwriters have written too many lyrics about themselves seems to me just another boxcar in a long train of criticisms voiced by Christians about other Christians. As a songwriter myself, I understand how personal songwriting is, and I am not overly concerned about it being "too much so".

I take my cue from David, who wrote many Psalms and who wrote extensively about himself and his encounters and experiences with God. The Psalms are full of personal pronouns. Did David use the word "I" too much? Of course not. It would be silly to accuse David of that. It is silly to accuse ourselves of that.

The human experience is universal. David's experiences relate to us, just as our experiences relate to others'. They are shared, even if at times on a metaphorical level. Still we draw great meaning from them and understand them deeply as they apply to our lives today. If we think our worship leaders are singing too much about themselves, perhaps we should strive to make the words our own? Should we be willing to sing the songs personally, and make them mean what they need to mean for us, to understand what is shared between us, and glorify God for it? Perhaps it is our own self-centeredness, not that of the Psalmist, that stands in our way?

Nietzsche and Gear Lust

Nietzsche's "typewriter", the Hansen Writing Ball

Sometime in 1882, Friedrich Nietzsche bought a typewriter—a Malling-Hansen Writing Ball, to be precise. His vision was failing, and keeping his eyes focused on a page had become exhausting and painful, often bringing on crushing headaches. He had been forced to curtail his writing, and he feared that he would soon have to give it up. The typewriter rescued him, at least for a time. Once he had mastered touch-typing, he was able to write with his eyes closed, using only the tips of his fingers. Words could once again flow from his mind to the page.

But the machine had a subtler effect on his work. One of Nietzsche’s friends, a composer, noticed a change in the style of his writing. His already terse prose had become even tighter, more telegraphic. “Perhaps you will through this instrument even take to a new idiom,” the friend wrote in a letter, noting that, in his own work, his “‘thoughts’ in music and language often depend on the quality of pen and paper.”

“You are right,” Nietzsche replied, “our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts.” Under the sway of the machine, writes the German media scholar Friedrich A. Kittler , Nietzsche’s prose “changed from arguments to aphorisms, from thoughts to puns, from rhetoric to telegram style.”

From Nicholas Carr’s essay in Atlantic — Is Google making us stupid?

When I read this I was reminded of how much my playing has been influenced by the kind of music gear I have owned over the years. Imagine trying to learn pinch harmonic squeals playing a Fender Squier Strat with cheap single coil pups through a $50 Gorilla 1x8' combo amp. "How come I don't sound like Dimebag Darrel?!"

My first tube amp was a Laney AOR 30 combo. I vividly remember being blown away by the tone quality, playing the Sweet Child O' Mine riff and thinking "that sounds like Slash!" I remember spending days experimenting with my first Boss delay pedal. It released creativity I didn't know I had. I remember my first American Strat, and how my double stop blues bends finally had that chimey Stevie vibe.

Nietzsche believed that his typewriter influenced his thinking. His composer friend believed that the quality of his pen and paper had a similar influence on his musical thoughts. And I believe the same is true with today's music equipment. A high quality guitar and amp CAN improve your playing. If you are serious about your playing, they are worth the investment.

Of course, I have definitely been accused of Gear Lust, the compulsion to frequently purchase new music equipment in the never ending search for new sounds, new tones, and new ideas. For example, I have spent several years putting my latest pedalboard together, collecting just the right assortment of pedals and tweaking the signal chain back and forth, buying boutique cables and connectors, only to scrap it for the last two months because I'm now preferring the dynamics I get plugged straight in to my amp. And all this after buying a TC Electronic G-System a few years ago and returning it after a month because I thought the digital converters were sucking my tone.

Yes, it can go too far.

But at the same time, I have no doubt that the quality of my guitars, amps, and effects has played a significant role in my evolution as a player and writer. There are songs I would never have written if a certain chord hadn't sounded a certain way at a certain time. Sometimes I find new creativity in my soloing simply from the way my Marshall 4x12" pushes the air, or the way my TopHat tube amp sustains and feeds back.

And over the years, I have experienced how quality gear has influenced my desire to practice and improve. There are so many obstacles that cause young talented musicians to give up playing. Maybe they just never heard themselves sound as good as they really were because their gear couldn't make it happen? Would I still be playing now if I had just stuck with my Squier and Gorilla? I doubt it.

So this one is for the parents. Do you have a young player in your house? Support them. Help them get the gear they need to sound as good as they can. If you buy high quality used gear at a good price (not new gear at music store prices!), you can almost always get most of your money back on eBay or craigslist if the kid decides to quit. But don't let the gear be the reason that they quit.

And if you're a player, believe me when I tell you that high quality gear WILL make a difference in your playing. Spend the money. Get the good stuff. You won't regret it. But be sure to buy used gear. Almost all of my gear is used, especially the major components like guitars and amps. You're not a collector, you're a player. So let someone else ding that new guitar for you and save some bucks. When I buy used I shop Craigslist, eBay, and local used guitar shops, and I try to shoot for around 50% of the new price. It takes a little more time to find a good deal, but its worth it.