#250: Original Worship Leader Ted Sandquist

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #250, on the subject of Original Worship Leader Ted Sandquist.

The peculiar thing about Christian rock music in the 1970s is that it was almost all evangelistic.  As I noted before, during the Jesus Movement if you were a musician it was assumed God had called you to be an evangelist, or at least to play at evangelistic rallies to attract unbelievers to hear the message.

Today the expectation is entirely different.  We expect our musicians to lead worship.  It doesn’t even occur to us that this puts them squarely in the realm of pastoral ministry, but helping people approach God is the task of pastors, and that’s what worship leaders do.  In the seventies we didn’t really have these–even Chuck Girard’s previously mentioned Sometimes Alleluia isn’t really so much a worship song as a song about worship, an instructional as it were.  Yet one person appeared on the scene who understood that not all music ministry was evangelistic, who led worship and who wrote and recorded songs that were focused on worship.  His name was Ted Sandquist.

Sandquist was a leader in a community that had its own place in the history of the Jesus Movement, The Love Inn in Freeville, New York.  One of the other leaders there was Scott Ross, who as a radio disk jockey came out of the drug culture into being an evangelist, reaching into schools as part of an anti-drug program.  Guitarist Phil Keaggy (still to come in our series) was also there for a time.  It was something of a community or possibly commune dedicated to the pursuit of Christian faith and practice, something like a modern version of a monastery but without the gender restrictions.  Its very name hints at the connection between the hippie movement and the subsequent Jesus movement.

I mentioned having heard Sandquist and spoken with him after a concert he and Keaggy did somewhere in north Jersey; those comments are mentioned in web log post #163:  So You Want to Be a Christian Musician, and are what I most remember about him.  However, I was exposed to his album of the time, The Courts of the King, and remember Lion of Judah from it.  He was accompanied by the people at Love Inn.  I sang and played his song All That I Can Do many times before I recognized that the melody came from another famous bit of worship music (I have since wondered whether he or anyone else ever realized it).

Yet the best song I ever heard from Ted Sandquist goes by several names.  I knew it as Eternally Grateful, but I see online that it was also known as I Am Grateful, I Am, You Are Messiah, You Are, and I Am Eternally Grateful.  It was co-written with Keaggy–and there is not a single copy of this song anywhere online that I can find.  It was released on his 1984 album Let the Whole Earth Be Filled, but Jeff Zurheide and I were singing it at least a decade before that.  Its absence from the web is a serious loss to Christian worship music.

*****

The series to this point has included:

  1. #232:  Larry Norman, Visitor;
  2. #234:  Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael;
  3. #236:  Reign of the Imperials;
  4. #238:  Love Song by Love Song.
  5. #240:  Should Have Been a Friend of Paul Clark.
  6. #242:  Disciple Andraé Crouch.
  7. #244:  Missed The Archers.
  8. #246:  The Secular Radio Hits.
  9. #248:  The Hawkins Family.

#249: A 2018 AnimeNEXT Adventure

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #249, on the subject of A 2018 AnimeNEXT Adventure.

Last year in An AnimeNEXT 2017 Experience I reflected on being a guest of the convention–a minor guest, listed as staff, but brought there because as a role playing game designer I hopefully add something to the experience of convention goers.  I’m looking at it through a different lens this time, hoping to give something of my own experience.

I suppose the story really starts months ago.  Last summer, shortly after my guest appearance at AnimeNEXT, I was hospitalized for emergency surgery and lost quite a bit of time recuperating.  Complicating it greatly, two days after I was hospitalized my wife fell and broke a hip and a foot, and was also hospitalized for emergency surgery followed by extended rehabilitation.  In what would have been a comedy of errors had it not been so serious, three of our sons were working at cross purposes trying to resolve issues with the house so that we would be able to maneuver in it while convalescing, with wheelchair and walker and such, and when I came home in the middle of this it was in an uproar.  I don’t know that I contributed much to it, but after perhaps a week my wife came home, and I was there for a few days helping her get settled before I returned to the hospital for another couple weeks and she was struggling to get along without me with the help of two of those boys and a neighbor friend of theirs.  We took a long time to convalesce, and things are still not entirely normal–which meant, among other things, that I had serious doubts about whether I would be able to get to the convention myself, and whether she would be able to manage without me for a few days.  She still doesn’t drive, even though she’s back to work, so I have to drive her.

I’m not sure whether it was the last week of April or the first week of May, but one night when I drove my wife to work the most reliable car we have broke down, and that put a dent in our transportation.  I had one of my sons pick me up, and used a different car in the morning to retrieve my wife from work, and AAA towed the car to the nearest AAA approved service station, which happened to be a few blocks from home, which was quite convenient since work is fifty miles away.  I was beginning to worry that I wasn’t going to make it.

Why should I worry?  Well, if you read the aforementioned linked article, you know that I was present in 2014 and 2017, but that in 2015 and 2016 last-minute disasters prevented my attendance.  I thought we were potentially facing another, particularly since one of the cars on which we rely belongs to a son who spends the school year driving around the country in a company car and then uses his car, which is legally my car so that he doesn’t have to pay insurance and garage fees during most of the year just to have it, for the summer.  So I was anticipating losing a car, on an uncertain date, complicating transportation further.

Then a few weeks prior to the convention I ran out of printer ink.  I was in the middle of printing the first draft of the next novel for online publication, and I’m collaborating with someone on this one, so an exchange of printed pages has been part of the process.  Printer ink might not be that important, but it is important, and with the car in the shop (for the entire month) and an expected cost estimated with a variable of about two hundred dollars more or less, I had to be careful about spending money.  HP makes a reliable all-in-one printer which I’ve been using for near a couple decades now, but they have a policy of underpricing their printers and then overpricing their ink cartridges.  Complicating it further, apparently the cartridge mine uses has become less commonly used, so that it wasn’t on the shelf at my local Walmart when I finally decided I needed to buy one.  The convention was two weeks away, and I went online and found a place that sold their own replacement cartridges, and ordered some.  They arrived about a week before the convention–and two out of two black cartridges were defective, in different ways.

I will credit SwiftInk for great customer service.  Their online help gave me suggestions for trying to make them work (cleaning the contacts), and when these failed promised to ship replacements immediately, which they did.  Unfortunately, those replacements did not arrive until after the convention began, so I had no print capability.

If somehow you don’t know, I go to conventions to run Multiverser, the roleplaying game I co-authored with E. R. Jones.  I take a stack of books; they’re out of print, and I don’t have any copies of the rules other than my own, but I have several of the world books and a couple others.  I also have a small (probably twenty-two pocket) file case in which I have a lot of papers, including unpublished worlds that I use, worksheets for magic skills, and on-the-fly character creation papers.  As noted, last year when I returned from the convention there was a lot happening, and I wound up hospitalized not too long thereafter, and never gave another thought to those books and papers.  At least they got put away–the suitcase that I used was left in the living room until one of my sons decided to move it outside to get it out of the way, and when I found it this year it was ruined.  It went through my head a couple times in the hectic days before the convention that I ought to find the books and papers and make sure I had everything, but then part of me was uncertain I was going to go at all, and part of me recognized that if I didn’t have printouts of the needed papers there wasn’t anything I could do about it anyway, not having printer ink.

Complicating it further, as the date approached it became known that my wife, who works alternate weekends, would be working that weekend.  At first I thought that was the kibosh, but I realized after mulling on it for a few days that the convention started early Friday, with staff arriving starting Thursday night, and ran through Sunday morning; Sunday was the quiet day, generally.  If I could check in on Thursday night I could be active on Friday and up until lunchtime Saturday, get home in time to get organized and have my wife at work Saturday night.  I was not able to get confirmation for that from, well, anyone anywhere, but it became my plan, at any rate.

Transportation was settled a couple days in advance.  The car that was in the shop was going to be finished that Thursday, and my son whose car it is and I would retrieve it and bring it home.  He and his wife were interested in playing at the convention, so they were going to drive me in and back; as it turned out she was feeling ill the day I had to go, but he still did the driving for me (again, thank you).  He dropped me at Bally’s, where I was billeted, and I told him to stay in Atlantic City until he heard from me in case something went wrong.

Something did go wrong, but first I stood on line for probably half an hour.  I was very irked when a young and not unattractive girl took advantage of the attentions of a young man to cut in line right in front of me, but stifled my passive-aggressive tendencies and waited until it was my turn.  Then they asked for my ID.  I had not driven myself to Atlantic City, and I did not have a current copy of my license on my person.  With all the hospital visits and doctor offices wanting my ID, it got separated from my wallet and I wasn’t carrying it.  I had two older licenses, but the hotel would not accept these despite the fact that they were photo IDs, because they had expired.  They were not unsympathetic, and attempted to call the person running housing for the convention, Connie Ngo, but Connie didn’t answer her phone.  I was stuck.  I couldn’t keep my driver in the city all night, but I couldn’t send him away without knowing I had a room.  I texted him to return to get me, and started toward the exit; but I remembered that I had Connie on Messenger (because I had wanted to confirm that there would be no problem with checking in on Thursday night), so I messaged her.  She responded to the message and called the desk clerk, and I was approved and given a room key.

We were four to a room, technically, but only one of my roommates had arrived, and one had had to cancel at the last minute, and the remaining one I did not see until Friday night.  My roommate introduced himself by first name only, and I admit that it takes me several tries to learn names, and I only saw him awake one other time when I was barely so myself.  He offered a variety of snacks he brought from home.  I stuck one of the two key cards they had given me in a pocket and tossed the folder containing the other on the dresser, and never saw it again, but I slept with the card in my pajama pocket and kept track of it all day (I have this freaky thing about losing keys).  I laid claim to one of the beds and slept until morning.

At this point I’ll say a few words about the hotel.  I was in the Sheraton last year.  The room at Bally’s was considerably nicer.  I think the room itself was larger, and it had a couch large enough for a bed in addition to the two beds (and the first roommate had brought his own cot) so we didn’t have to share.  The bathroom is larger, with a large shower stall.  I had some concern that there were no safety railings inside the shower (I’m getting old, and am not always completely steady on my feet), but that’s often the case.  The Sheraton, as I recall, had a shower/tub, but I’m a bit tall for most bathtubs and so prefer showers.  It was overall a nice room.  I do not know, however, whether that’s because all the Bally’s rooms are nicer than the Sheraton rooms.  I was in the Garden Tower, and it may be that those are better than the standard rooms.

One thing that bothers me, though, is that if you wanted WiFi you had to pay for it separately.  McDonalds and Walmart can manage to give their customers free WiFi.  I’m not sure why one of the biggest casino hotels in one of the major resort centers in the Western Hemisphere can’t manage such a trivial amenity–but indeed I was reminded that the same rule held at the Sheraton last year.  I’d have used it to watch Netflix on my Kindle, I expect, but I had had the foresight to download a couple things to the Kindle for that purpose in advance, and I could handle Messenger, which I also have on the Kindle, on my phone.

I awoke alone, and had not yet checked in with the convention staff, but I took time for prayer and study and got a shower and a respiratory treatment before packing the essentials and walking the several blocks to the Convention Center.  That is one advantage of staying at the Sheraton:  it is physically attached to the Convention Center, being right across the street and having an enclosed pedestrian bridge between the second floors of each.  That doesn’t mean it’s close–it’s a long walk inside the Sheraton just to get from the rooms to the bridge (there are banquet halls between the two), and I remember lugging my gear using a wheeled cooler as a handtruck and case between the buildings.  I knew that there were free buses between Bally’s and the convention, but that you had to have your convention ID to use them, so the first time I had to walk.  Had I been earlier the night before I could have checked in there, but I was slow packing everything (the suitcase having been ruined, it took a while to settle on a high-quality reusable grocery bag for my clothes) and thought getting into the hotel was more important.  I made the walk to the center and found my way to operations, which was in the same room as last year, and was soon properly badged.  I then found Kat, my boss as head of Tabletop Gaming.  She was telling one of the photographers to get some pictures of how overcrowded the board game room already was on Friday morning, to show that our department could make good use of more space.  I told her I was going to take the Jtney (the bus) back to Bally’s and return with my thirty pound box of books, dice, and game materials, then grab some brunch somewhere.

Time to address the food.  That was an issue last year.  It was considerably better this year.  Instead of providing scheduled meals they gave us eight vouchers, each good for up to fifteen dollars at any of the several food outlets in the Convention Center itself except the Beer Garden.  Breakfast was still a challenge, as reportedly only one of those outlets opened early, and it sold out of breakfast sandwiches quite quickly both days I was there.  I was late enough on Friday that they already had their lunch menu going, and I bought a personal pizza, a cup of coffee, and a single-serve Minute Maid Tropical Blend juice, which was fourteen dollars and change–but hey, they must pay exorbitant rent to have space inside the convention center.  When I got back to the table, though, I already had players waiting, and so I sipped my coffee while running a game for a couple hours, and then when they scattered to other convention attractions I ate a cold pizza with a bottle of juice, and can’t really speak to the quality of the pizza.  The next morning I was earlier; they had gluten free bagels, which I decided not to eat (and was told my someone that this was a good decision), but instead got two cinnamon danishes, a small Jimmy Dean bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit, coffee and juice.

By Friday afternoon I had heard that there was a place to buy food inside the dealer room, so I decided to try that next.  They were a pirate-themed grill, and advertised steak sandwiches and burgers.  I asked for one of their ten dollar bacon sirloin cheeseburgers, and was told that they were out of bacon, so I went with the eight dollar version without bacon, added lettuce, onion, mayonnaise, and catsup, with a bottle of Minute Maid Orange juice and a cup of hot chocolate, self-served.  It was rumored that their fries were good, but at five dollars I could see I wouldn’t be able to buy a drink and stay within the voucher.  Anyway, the burger was large, tasty, and filling, and I went back the next day.  At that point I was preparing to leave the convention, my ride being almost there, and so I spent two vouchers to get two bacon cheeseburgers and one without bacon.  I gave one of the bacon burgers to the son who drove to get me (and he devoured it in the street before we drove away, but said it was really very good, but economical as he is he would not have paid ten dollars for it; I figure that’s a good price for deluxe burgers nowadays, and again they have an incredibly high rent on their space).  I brought the other two home and shared them with my wife, who is not a fan of bacon.  The grill bent over backwards to make it possible for me to transport these, which were usually served in open topped boxes, and should be commended for that.  I left my remaining coupons with Ahmetia, my co-host in the RPG room, figuring she could use them.  Because of the high prices, I often saw people using a fifteen dollar voucher plus a bit of pocket cash to pay for their meals, and while I avoided that I did so partly by not buying some things I might otherwise have eaten.  That’s not a complaint; I tend to overeat anyway, and didn’t really need the fries.

By now I have this entirely out of sequence, but that’s not really a problem.  I’ve left out the games, only hinting at them to this point.  Time to remedy that.

By the time I got to the table with my pizza late Friday morning, Navya and Cory were waiting, and I began the character creation process.  Ahmetia, who has several years of Multiverser play under her belt, is very good at selling people on playing at my table, and Kat reminded me that she played a session at Ubercon a decade ago and thinks it’s a really great game, so I get referrals.  As we were moving forward with their character papers, Johanna arrived and joined us.

You’ll remember I said that the printer mattered.  My On-the-Fly Character Creation system uses four printed sheets on which players record information.  The fourth sheet is the simplest, being there strictly for the world list and stage number.  The third is equipment and the second skills, and of course you can have multiple sheets of skills and equipment.  The first, though, is the most complicated, with name, aliases, attributes, averaged attributes, best relevant attributes, bias levels, weaknesses, and character description all mapped onto a single page–and when I opened my file, I had only the second and third pages printed.

It wasn’t a disaster.  After all, I know what goes on the first page, and I had a couple of yellow pads, so everyone wrote out the first page longhand.  There was a second problem, that I had only one pen, and my first two players had no writing implements; I discovered another, though, an old four-color pen, in the game materials box, and when the third player arrived she had her own.  Not long after that, Ahmetia delivered a handful of pencils and some scrap paper, which was a big help as the weekend continued.  We put together their character papers, started them on the Tropical Island, and got them all gathered together with Michael di Vars, who explained to them what was happening.

I had eight players over the weekend, seven of whom sat and listened to Michael explain that they had died and any time in the future that they die they’ll come back to life in another universe just like this time, and not one of them balked, called him crazy, or demanded proof of this insane explanation.  Ah, well, it’s fun when it happens, but I’m not going to spoil it.  I was working out where each of the original trio was going to go next when they died, but suddenly they all had to run before that occurred, the game ended, and I ate my cold pizza and ran to the loo.

I returned to find Corderro waiting.  We got him up and running on the Tropical Island, and he had a long conversation with di Vars and then asked if the senior verser would be willing to spar a bit in unarmed combat.  As it happens, di Vars is extremely good at many weapons across the technological spectrum, but never really took much interest in unarmed hand-to-hand.  Corderro was high level professional, third degree black belt in a martial arts style.  At hand-to-hand he was fifty percent faster than di Vars with a very slight edge on accuracy, with the result that he outfought the killing machine in two one-minute rounds.  He lasted long enough for the volcano to blow, took a nasty rock to the head, and was out of the world–but also decided to leave the game there.  That’s a bit of a shame, because I knew where I was going to send him.  (Hint:  he has a beard.)

I’ll interrupt this recounting of games to recount the night.  I was the first one back to the room, partly because after seven I figured there was no point in starting a new game, I got and ate the aforementioned cheeseburger, and called it a night.  I moved my box of books to the board game room, which gets locked overnight, and took my bag of personal effects to the Jitney to ride back to the hotel.  I wasn’t up long, taking time to find something innocuous on the television that would lull me to sleep (Transformers, which I’ve seen before), set early alarms, and went to bed.

An hour later I was awakened by banging on the door.  It took a moment to get organized and answer it, and I almost didn’t catch the departing offender, but it was the roommate I’d met accompanied by the roommate I hadn’t met, having gotten themselves locked out.  I let them in and went back to bed, only to have my cell phone ring while I was getting in.  My youngest son, who lives not far from Atlantic City at the moment, had apparently not realized that I was going to be at the convention this weekend, and having failed to get his mother on her phone decided to try mine.  We talked for several minutes, and apart from me suggesting that if he couldn’t reach his mother he should try his brother I don’t remember any of it.  I then settled down to sleep.

Someone silenced the television at some point, but I was asleep by then.  I noticed it in one of my brief periods of overnight awareness.  I think I awoke before my alarm; in any case, I was the first up, and I packed my things, left the room, went back because I realized I’d forgotten my bottle of Barq’s Root Beer and discovered that I’d also forgotten my box of tissues, and then went downstairs and checked out of the hotel.  It was not quite seven thirty, and the buses didn’t run until eight, so I got some prayer and study time on a park bench near the hotel parking garage entrance under the shelter of the building as it poured rain a few dozen feet away.  At eight I walked the short couple blocks to the bus stop, boarded a waiting Jitney, and was soon joined by a crowd of others headed to the convention.  I had promised Kat I would text her when I was up, which I did around seven-thirty but with the caveat that I wasn’t going to get there until the buses started, and she said she was already awake and working on getting the room unlocked.

I put my stuff in the RPG room, but the board game room was still locked; I asked someone working that room to bring my box to me when it became possible, and went to obtain the aforementioned breakfast.  Returning, I did a bit more study while nibbling on part of the breakfast, but then Steven arrived.  I still didn’t have my materials, but there were pencils and pieces of scrap paper on the table, so I set aside my breakfast and attended to starting his character sheet.  The books came, I got him started on the island, and Hannah and Tia arrived.  I had actually bumped into them twice in the halls, and Hannah must look like someone I know because I thought I recognized her, but apparently she’s not who I remembered.  Having met me and introduced themselves, they came to try the game, so I started setting up their papers.  Having finished their first page, I turned to their skills, still juggling Steven through his time on the island, and Austin arrived and joined the character creation process.  I was hitting my stride, though, and got that moving well.  Steven met di Vars, and got a feel for what was happening, but then said he had to leave just about the time I was launching Tia, then Hannah, then Austin.

Austin made a comment about having to leave soon, so I ignored the die roll and had him reach di Vars first.  He decided on cautious discretion, and remained behind the tree line watching.  Tia, second to arrive, decided that she needed help more than caution, and called out, receiving an invitation to join him.  By the time Hannah arrived, she could see Tia sitting by the campfire, and as they were friends before the verse they recognized each other.  Austin left the table, and di Vars explained things to Tia and Hannah, and then before we got much further they, too, said they had to leave.

I feel a bit foolish that I did not mention it to Navya, Cory, and Johanna, but perhaps they’ll find their way here somehow.  Corderro jogged my thinking, so I invited him, Steven, Austin, Hannah, and Tia to continue play on the M. J. Young Net Forum.  I know several of them wrote that down, but as I write this none of them have arrived.  That’s kind of a shame, because I know where I want to send several of them, but we’ll give them some time to find their way.

I’ve got one other aside.  Last year, within minutes of my arrival, I saw a girl in costume who would have made a good picture for my character papers for Lauren Hastings.  She looks a lot like most representations of Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft, so I often find pictures that work.  This year I saw someone, not quite as good but passable, again as I was headed for check-in.  Again I never saw her again.  It prompted my brain, though, to consider that I should look for people who might be suitable images for those character papers.  After all, Slade looks a lot like Thor, I’ve got a couple of American soldiers, someone might come as a sprite which would be good for Derek, Shella is a witch, and I’ve recently added a few characters including a dark-haired Arabian princess.  I saw no one the entire time who fit any of these images.  It was a bit disappointing in that regard, but then I’m not all that well versed in anime and recognized very few of the characters I did see.  Someone was Deadpool.  That’s about it.

When I got home, the household was hoping that since I had left the convention already I could run a game for them.  I somewhat wearily with apologies explained that the reason I was home was because I had to get some sleep and do the work driving that night, and then tackled what had to be done to be ready for that.

I must also thank Kate and Tris for holding down the kitchen in my absence.

Here’s hoping that I can do another convention next year, if not sooner.  I don’t know that I would say I have fun, but it is a high point in my time to be reminded that people like the game, even if it didn’t sell terribly well.

I think that about covers it all.  Thanks for reading, and thanks again to the convention for inviting me again.  Here’s hoping that I was not more trouble than I’m worth, and perhaps there will be another invitation next year.  It’s an interesting way to spend my birthday weekend.

#248: The Hawkins Family

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #248, on the subject of The Hawkins Family.

Like Andraé Crouch and his sister Sandra, this family brought black gospel into contemporary Christian music–and they also put it on the charts on secular radio.

Within the black gospel world the name is Walter Hawkins and the Hawkins Family, or Walter Hawkins and the Family, Bishop Walter Hawkins noted for several albums, including the Love Alive series.  However, his older brother and pianist Edwin Hawkins separately formed The Edwin Hawkins Singers, and their recording of Oh Happy Day, a nineteenth-century spiritual, reached number four on the United States singles chart, number two in the United Kingdom and in Ireland, and number one in France, Germany, and the Netherlands.  (I’m sure we had one of his albums at the radio station, but I can’t figure out which one it was; we did not have a copy of the hit single.)  Edwin was involved in twice as many albums as his younger brother, although many of them as producer for someone else, or director of other musical ensembles.

The talent didn’t end there.  One of the memorable albums we had was the self-titled debut Tramaine, from Walter’s wife.  Its opening cut, Look At Me, was an upbeat jazz/scat influenced pleasure that felt right at home among contemporary Christian songs of the day and blended black gospel stylings into a bouncing rhythmic toe-tapper.

The leading black gospel artists of the day generally produced poor quality recordings, the muddied sounds of a choir and band recorded live in an empty hall with two microphones and too much ambiance.  The Hawkins family got beyond that, with technical quality in the recordings appropriate to the time, multiple-track recording and mixing.  You can hear the professionalism in the product–not just good singing and playing of good music, but good production values.  We were at times pressured to play certain leading black artists whose records were a bit of an embarrassment despite the quality of the music, but nothing by the Hawkins family was ever substandard.  Light Records did well with them, and we never hesitated to play what they presented.

*****

The series to this point has included:

  1. #232:  Larry Norman, Visitor;
  2. #234:  Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael;
  3. #236:  Reign of the Imperials;
  4. #238:  Love Song by Love Song.
  5. #240:  Should Have Been a Friend of Paul Clark.
  6. #242:  Disciple Andraé Crouch.
  7. #244: Missed The Archers.
  8. #246: The Secular Radio Hits.

#247: The Homosexual Wedding Cake Case

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #247, on the subject of The Homosexual Wedding Cake Case.

The case, as decided by the United States Supreme Court, is MASTERPIECE CAKESHOP, LTD., ET AL. v. COLORADO CIVIL RIGHTS COMMISSION ET AL., 584 U. S. ____ (2018), and it is one which I, at least, have eagerly anticipated.  It is the case in which the baker was convicted of violating the civil rights of a gay couple by refusing to design a wedding cake for them, on the grounds that it was an artistic expression which violated his rights of freedom of speech and religion.  It had been expected to help find the point at which religious objections to homosexuality would or would not stand against legal rights of homosexuals, although it does not seem to have done so.

The media has called this a “narrow” decision, and many have asked how it can be “narrow” if it is a 7-2 vote.  The narrowness is entirely in what was decided.  Virtually nothing concerning the balance between religious freedom and homosexual rights is solved by this case, which in its majority opinion decided only that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission seriously violated the protected religious freedom of the baker, Jack Phillips, and so its ruling could not stand.  It observed that in Colorado in the year these events occurred such a refusal was reasonably understood to be legal, although it might not be so now (because Colorado had not legitimized homosexual marriage at that time and has since done so).  However, the case is a slap in the face of progressivist atheists who want to force the opinions of religious conservatives out of the political and commercial arenas.

Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the court, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Breyer, Alito, Kagan, and Gorsuch–six votes for the majority opinion.  Justice Thomas filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, which gives seven votes for overturning the Colorado decision, and Justice Ginsberg dissented, joined by Justice Sotomayer–but the splintering went beyond that, as Justice Kagan wrote a concurring opinion in which Justice Breyer joined, and Justice Gorsuch wrote a concurring opinion in which Justice Alito joined, so we have five written opinions on the matter, and a very small sliver of agreement on the issues.

Justice Kennedy begins by clarifying that in all matters in which religious liberty is at issue, the State is required to be a neutral arbiter showing a respectful attitude for the expressed religious beliefs of the parties involved.  It is certainly possible that a businessman might be compelled to provide services to which he objects, provided that the law is religiously neutral and does not directly attack his beliefs.  The problem in the Masterpiece case is that far from neutrality there was evident animosity toward religion.  In the first hearing, one of the commissioners said that Phillips can believe “what he wants to believe” but cannot act on those beliefs “if he decides to do business in the state.”  The same commissioner restated that view moments later, according to the record, saying “[I]f a businessman wants to do business in the state and he’s got an issue with the—the law’s impacting his personal belief system, he needs to look at being able to compromise.”  At the next hearing, a different commissioner was recorded saying

I would also like to reiterate what we said in the hearing or the last meeting.  Freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the holocaust, whether it be–I mean, we–we can list hundreds of situations where freedom of religion has been used to justify discrimination.  And to me it is one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use to–to use their religion to hurt others.

Kennedy noted that this twice disparages the baker’s religious beliefs, first by calling them “despicable”, and again by claiming they are mere rhetoric having no substance or sincerity.  None of the other commissioners present objected to these statements, and they were never repudiated in the record that included appeals courts in Colorado and an appeal to the Supreme Court.

Yet if we think this is just rhetoric, that somehow the expression of such hostility toward the baker’s religious views did not indicate judicial bias against him, Kennedy goes beyond this to observe that the same commission during the same period of time considered three other cases in which bakers who declined to make cakes for specific groups were cleared of any wrongdoing based on their claim that it would have compelled them to make statements they regarded offensive.  In all three cases, the bakers had been asked to make cakes expressing anti-homosexual views, and refused to do so.  The commission in those cases concluded that the bakers could not be compelled to express opinions they considered offensive.  In this case, however, the commission claimed that the opinion expressed on the cake would be attributed to the purchasers of the cake, not the baker, and so his speech was not protected.  Further, in the other cases the commission said that the fact that these bakers were willing to sell other products to the customers absolved them of the charge of refusing to do business with those customers, but in this case they said that Phillips’ willingness to sell birthday cakes, cupcakes, cookies, even shower cakes, was irrelevant given his refusal to make a wedding cake for them.  The lower court, it was noted, dealt with this in a footnote, to the effect that the cakes requested in the other cases would have required expressing offensive statements, but the one in this case did not–which, as Kennedy notes, is passing judgment on the religious values of the baker by declaring that what he finds offensive is not offensive.

Thus the case that Phillips’ won is in essence that his religious views were mistreated by the judicial process, which should have accorded them greater respect–particularly as the commission for the protection of civil rights in this case is also charged with protecting the civil rights of religious groups.  The point is made that this case says nothing about how such cases might be decided in the future, but that the religious views and liberties of individuals involved must be respected and treated impartially by the government.

So, what about all those other opinions?

Justice Kagan makes the point that the decision is limited specifically because it is based on the express bias of the adjudicators.  She asserts that the commission could have treated the religion issue respectfully and impartially and still reached the same result, and that the other cases can be distinguished on the basis that the bakers would not have made cakes with those messages for any customer, but Masterpiece would have made wedding cakes for heterosexual customers.

It is a slim distinction, which Gorsuch rejects in his concurring opinion.  He first notes that when religious rights are threatened by legal action, strict scrutiny applies–the government has a heavy burden to prove complete neutrality in regard to religion in the case.  He is satisfied that the majority opinion reaches that result.  As to the cake, Gorsuch agrees with the baker in distinguishing a heterosexual wedding cake from a homosexual wedding cake, against Kagan’s view that a wedding cake is a wedding cake, and the distinction is prejudicial against the customer.  Yet Kagan asserts that requiring a baker to make an anti-homosexual cake with messages the baker finds offensive is something that baker would not do for anyone, and thus distinct–but in this case, she is making a distinction where in the other case she is generalizing.  That is, the baker is being asked to make a cake with a message written on it, and if the message is not an expression of the baker’s beliefs he cannot discriminate based on the message.  If a baker can say he will make a cake with the message, “Congratulations on your fiftieth wedding anniversary and enjoy your cruise” but he won’t make a cake with the message “Homosexual perverts will not possess God’s kingdom”, he is discriminating based on his own beliefs, making one message cake for one customer but not making another message cake for another customer.

Before Gorsuch explores this he notes that the commission changed its legal standards between the two kinds of cases.  In both cases, the persons most likely to purchase the type of cake in question were members of a protected class.  In the case in which the commission agreed with the bakers that the message was offensive, they said that there had to be a showing of actual animus toward the class for the charge to stand; in the case in which they disagreed with the baker’s views, they said that such animus could be presumed by the recognition of the effect on the protected class.

Justice Thomas agrees with the court in its assessment of the religious prejudice, but he asserts that the baker’s freedom of speech is also impinged in this case.  He notes that the Colorado Court of Appeals agreed that Phillips’ work was expressive, crafting individual wedding cakes for customers, meeting with the couple and working to express them in the artistic project that is their cake.  He demonstrates that a wedding cake itself is a communication that a marriage is occurring.  Ultimately, he holds that freedom of speech must allow persons to refuse to create anything that expresses endorsement of a view with which they disagree, even if it is a culturally favored view.

Justice Ginsburg disagrees.  She says that notwithstanding Phillips’ claims, most observers would not recognize a wedding cake as expressing a message, and certainly not a message from the baker.  She says that the evidence of bias is insufficient and there is no significant hostility toward religion here.  She then makes the same argument made by Kagan, that a wedding cake is a wedding cake, which as has been shown is flawed.

In conclusion, the case does rule that religious opinion, including specifically Christian opinion that homosexual marriage is immoral, is protected and should be treated with respect.  It does not rule that Christian bakers can en masse refuse to make cakes for homosexual weddings, but that if they do so any legal action taken against them must be adjudicated impartially and with respect for the religious views of the bakers.  Depending on the circumstances, the baker might still be compelled to make such a cake or punished for refusing to do so.

The conflict continues.

#246: The Secular Radio Hits

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #246, on the subject of The Secular Radio Hits.

I suppose we can call it one of the weird side effects of the Jesus Movement, that there were a few songs that made it on popular secular radio that people thought were Christian.  Most of them were not, but they are worth a quick look.

Lawrence Welk once described Brewer & Shipley‘s One Toke Over the Line as a “modern spiritual”; it is evident that he didn’t understand this song about having gone too far with a drug, written by a couple of folk singers when they were high, entirely as a joke which put them on the charts partly because even radio station program directors had no clue what it meant.  It is not a Christian song despite its references to “sweet Jesus” and “sweet Mary”.  (The Lawrence Welk show video is hysterical for its complete ignorance of the meaning of the song.)

Although many Christian artists have covered it as a song about Jesus, James Taylor’s You’ve Got a Friend is entirely about human friendship.  That’s not a bad thing; it’s even a Christian thing.  However, it is not a Christian song, but a song written (and originally recorded) by Carole King, in response to the line in Taylor’s Fire and Rain about not being able to find a friend.

Paul McCartney has said that The Beatles hit Let It Be probably would not have been half so successful if it had not been that coincidentally his own mother’s name was Mary.  The religious connection is read into it by the hearers; this was just advice that his mother had given him growing up.

Alan Parsons, whose The Alan Parsons Project song Eye in the Sky was their greatest hit, has complained that his lyricist Eric Woolfson writes terribly obscure lyrics.  This song is about dropping a lover, and reportedly heavily influenced by Woolfson’s obsession with the ceiling cameras in casinos.

One of the great rock classics which was never released as a single but makes great popular songs lists anyway, Led Zeppelin‘s Stairway to Heaven seems on its face to have something to do with, well, getting to heaven.  It probably does, but not in any Christian way, the composers being influenced by writings about supposed ancient Celtic magic.

You can be excused if you think Norman Greenbaum’s biggest hit Spirit In the Sky was a Christian song.  Unfortunately, Greenbaum is Jewish, from an Orthodox family.  He wanted the song to capture the imagery of the westerns on which he was raised, the notion of “dying with your boots on”, and he says he used Christian imagery because he had to use something and that made sense in the setting.

Kerry Livgren was asked whether KansasDust in the Wind was a Christian song.  He says not really.  It was written during his search for meaning, which he documented in his book (co-authored by Kenneth Boa) Seeds of Change.  I read the book decades back, and remember only fragments, but Livgren became a Christian, and Kansas started doing songs with lyrics Christian enough that vocalist Steve Walsh was uncomfortable and left the band, to be replaced by John Elefante.  Eventually Livgren and Dave Hope left to form AD, and after the band dissolved Elefante reportedly had a career as a CCM soloist I never heard, and to serve as producer for several Christian rock bands I did.  I think Livgren also released a solo album, but I don’t remember it.

One other song will be mentioned here, because it made #3 on the pop charts in the U.S., #1 in Canada, and was a genuine Christian song.  Ocean (pictured) is usually identified as a Canadian Gospel band, and although Put Your Hand in the Hand was a cover it was their version of the song which was heard by most people.  Unfortunately, the business side of the business cheated the artists of a lot of money, and they gave up on the music world without producing another hit.

So in conclusion the Jesus movement did have some impact on putting Christian music on secular radio, but not really all that much.  Oh, there eventually was more, but we’ll get to that.

*****

The series to this point has included:

  1. #232:  Larry Norman, Visitor;
  2. #234:  Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael;
  3. #236:  Reign of the Imperials;
  4. #238:  Love Song by Love Song.
  5. #240:  Should Have Been a Friend of Paul Clark.
  6. #242:  Disciple Andraé Crouch.
  7. #244: Missed The Archers.

#245: Unspoken Prayer Requests

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #245, on the subject of Unspoken Prayer Requests.

In Matthew 18:19f, Jesus says (in the Updated New American Standard Bible), Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.

From this we quite rightly have prayer meetings, gatherings in which believers share their concerns, needs, troubles, and pray for each other, believing that God will answer.  This is good.

However, it often happens at such meetings, and in church services when prayer requests are elicited, that someone will make what they have come to call an “unspoken” request.  It comes down to “I want you to pray with me, but I don’t want to tell you why.”  I have some serious theological problems with that notion, which I will explain here–but I recognize the importance of being able to ask for prayer without sharing secrets, so I’ll address that as well.

To begin, when we agree together in asking, as that verse says, it inherently means that we are agreeing, that is, knowingly asking for the same thing.  It is difficult on its face to see how I can agree with you in prayer about something you’re not telling me.  Of course, you will say, God knows what it is that you are asking, and I can just agree with that.  Yet can I?  I think scripture says otherwise.  In I Corinthians 14:16, after discussing the notion of someone praying in tongues in the presence of someone who cannot interpret and therefore does not know what is being said, Paul writes Otherwise if you bless in the spirit only (that is, in tongues), how will the one who fills the place of the ungifted say the “Amen”…?  “Amen” means “I agree” or “so be it”; it is in essence saying “yes” to what has just been said.  Paul’s point here is that if the other person doesn’t know what you just prayed, he can’t agree with it.

If that applies to praying in tongues, where something actually has been said but I don’t know what it is, then certainly it must apply in “unspoken” prayer requests, where nothing has been said but I am asked to agree.  I can’t very well agree with a prayer without knowing what is prayed.  What am I praying?  “Lord, I agree in asking that nothing be done for this person”?

Further, in II Corinthians 1:11, Paul talks about people agreeing in prayer while apparently great distances apart from each other, saying you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many.  That is a very significant statement, because it partly explains why God is more likely to answer a prayer where people have agreed than a petition from an individual.  God wants the credit.  When He does something on our behalf, He wants us to thank Him, and the more people thank Him the better He likes it.  It’s called “giving God the glory for what He has done”.

That means that any time you ask anyone else to pray for you, you take to yourself two obligations.  The second, the one obvious in this context, is that you are obliged to return to that person, or those persons, and tell them about God’s answer to their prayers so that they can give thanks.  If you’re not going to do that, there’s no reason for God to bother answering.  The other is inferred from it:  if you want people to be able to give thanks for the answer to their prayers, you have to tell them for what they are praying.  If I am praying some sort of “I agree with whatever it is he wants even though I don’t know what it is” prayer, then I’m not in a position to know whether that prayer has been answered.

Yet of course we should bring our burdens to each other and pray for each other and get prayer from each other.  Still, we are all going to have difficulties which we rightly prefer not to share publicly.  Sometimes we are going to have prayers that involve other people, and would require the sharing of secrets that are not ours to divulge.  Sometimes our prayers will involve matters that are delicate, which would become a root of gossip or disrupt our lives or the lives of others were they to be revealed.  Sometimes the need is embarrassing, and it would be better for all not to speak of it openly.  How, then, do we get prayer from others in these kinds of situations?

One option, of course, is to choose your prayer support more carefully.  The prayers of a close friend, a pastor or priest, someone you can trust to keep a secret, are as good as those of a crowd of strangers, and you can share your situation with these people in sufficient detail that they know what they are praying.

Another option is to consider what it is that you really need, and remove the lurid details from the request while still making the request:  “I am facing some difficult decisions and need wisdom.”  “I have to make some hard choices and need strength to do what I need to do.”  We can pray for you to have wisdom, strength, guidance, patience, endurance, joy, whatever it is that you actually need in the midst of whatever you’re not telling us.  You can return and tell us how it worked later, and again omit the details that aren’t relevant to our ability to give thanks for the answer.

If somehow you can’t do either of those things, then maybe you need to consider what it is that you’re asking, and whether it is something God wants for you.  Unspoken requests make sense when you’re asking for something good and right in the midst of something difficult and embarrassing, in which case you can skip the context and get to the request.  They make no sense when you’re asking us to agree in prayer with you for something we would immediately recognize is not something to ask of God.  That is probably not the case for most “unspoken” prayer requests–but how would we know?

So I will gladly pray for you (I’ve said as much previously, and given my conditions), but I want to know what I’m praying.