On German-Themed Hymns

This upcoming Sabbath we have a theme of Germany for our pot luck and variety show, so as the songleader for services I am choosing hymns that have a German theme. I thought it would be worthwhile to look at this subject as well by writing a bit about it, for your own amusement and edification if necessary, as a way of pointing out that quite a few such songs exist in our hymnal and many of them have an interesting history.

God Our Father, Christ Our Brother (Hymn #149) has music from the Ode To Joy, from Ludwig (von) Beethoven’s unfinished 9th Symphony. It happens to be a popular hymn for European integration efforts as well, for what it’s worth. Interestingly enough, From The Realms Of Unseen Glory (Hymn #161) is given the same origin for its music, though the music has been adapted in this case by Edward Hodges in 1824.

We Are God’s People (Hymn #133) has music written by noted German composer Johannes Brahms with a theme taken from his fourth symphony, and has been a choral mainstay for a long time, though here again the lyrics were written by a non-German (this is a pattern we will see repeatedly), namely Bryan Jeffrey Leach.

From All Who Dwell Below The Skies (Hymn #95) again has German music, this one the tune Lasst Uns Erfreuen published in the “Geistliche Kirchengesäng” in Cologne in 1623. The words are by the noted psalmist Isaac Watts.

I Sing The Mighty Power Of God (Hymn #145) again has German music, this time the tune Ellacombe from the Gesangbuch der H.W.K. Hofkapelle of 1784, arranged by William H. Monk in 1868, with lyrics again by Isaac Watts.

Glorious Things Of Thee Are Spoken (Hymn #128) has German music composed by Franz Josef Haydn with lyrics by the English anti-slavery poet John Newton, most famous for writing the lyrics for “Amazing Grace.” The music has had a more complicated history. It was written originally as the tune “Gott Erhalt Franz Den Kaiser,” a hymn in honor of the then Austrian Emperor. The tune, though, has also been used for other songs, perhaps most notably the German national anthem Deutschland, most famous for its opening lines “Deutschland, Deutschland Uber Alles.”

There may be others, but this is enough for one Sabbath, I suppose.

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Album Review: Janet Jackson

Janet Jackson, by Janet Jackson

Janet Jackson, contrary to popular belief, did not begin her music career with the album Control. That breakthrough album was her third album. Her first album was released when she was quite young and as a self-titled album it was not an accurate reflection of how her career would go. Despite the fact that the album had several songs that charted in the bottom half of the Hot 100 as well as on the R&B charts and dance charts, and thus helped to prefigure the sort of success that she would have in all of those genres in the future, and even though it received some critical praise, this is not an album that Janet Jackson has chosen to have remembered in career retrospectives to this day. Is this a fair judgment or not? Let us discover it.

The album begins with “Say You Do,” a sweet-voiced song where Janet Jackson seeks love from a would-be partner, an appealing enough prospect. “You’ll Never Find (A Love Like Mine)” has an appealing early 80’s R&B sound and production. “Young Love” is catchy and infectious as a dance track, if a bit repetitive. “Love And My Best Friend” is a sweet and gorgeous ballad about finding love with one’s best friend, a pleasing sentiment. “Don’t Mess Up This Good Thing” is the first of what would be many songs that hint at Janet’s impatience with a no-good lover. “Forever Yours” is a song about eternal faithfulness and love sung in a rather breathy and sweet voice with ballad production. “The Magic Is Working” has some funk instrumentation along with some excellent backing voices to an appealing song about falling in love. The album ends with “Come Give Your Love To Me,” the first of many songs that would show Janet’s enduring search for love.

It is a bit unfair that this album has been neglected to such an extent as it has, with some songs having less than 100,000 plays all-time on Spotify. While this album did not have the success of most of her later material, three of the songs on this album hit the bottom half of the Hot 100 and hit songs like the dance and R&B charts, and if the album did not sell many copies it deserves to be better known than it is. If you are expecting from this debut an earthshaking album, it is a disappointment, but if you want a debut that is pleasant to listen to as someone who is a fan of adult contemporary and R&B and dance there is a lot to find appealing here. Janet Jackson was still finding her voice–she was still a teen when this album came out–and she set paths and approaches in this album that would continue throughout her career, which makes it all the more worthwhile to see how early these themes and perspectives began. If you wanted to see where the legendary Janet Jackson started at as a musician, this is a bit less than 40 minutes of music in eight songs that introduces a great musician to the world.

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That They May Be One As We Are: Part Two

In our exploration of how the relationship between God and man helps to illuminate concerns about larger issues, including questions about the nature of unity and diversity in God and the church, both of which are rightly considered to be mysteries, let us begin by looking in an unusual place and perhaps what may seem to be an unusual subject, and that is the question of what one is forbidden to worship and what one is obligated to worship in the book of Revelation. Since we are looking to relate questions of God and mankind and questions of unity and diversity, and how it is that a study of prophecy can relate to questions of seemingly esoteric theology, Revelation is a good place for all of these mysterious issues to be addressed in ways that can shine a light in multiple areas at once.

Let us begin with the question of the negative. What things are we absolutely forbidden to worship in the book of Revelation? One of those things is angels. There are, of course, two types of angels. Of demons, there is one reference to worshiping demons that takes place in Revelation 9:20-21, which reads: “But the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk.  And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.” This suggests to us that the worship of the last days of mankind will be of a kind that actually worships demons, and that this demon worship is also related to sexual immorality, theft, murder, and sorcery, which is a word connected with the making of potions and possibly to the abuse of drugs and other chemicals. These are all characteristic sins of our times, and it is telling that the Bible connects these sins and crimes which run rampant in our society with the unrepented worship of demons.

If demons long for worship and it is improper to worship them but also common for people to do so in decadent ages such as our own. How do angels respond to the offers of worship? We find out in two passages towards the end of Revelation. Revelation 19:9-10 reads: “Then he said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!’ ” And he said to me, “These are the true sayings of God.”  And I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “See that you do not do that! I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”” A similar event, with a similar response, happens in Revelation 22:8-10: “Now I, John, saw and heard these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who showed me these things. Then he said to me, “See that you do not do that. For I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.”  And he said to me, “Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand.”

The angels in both cases, who are godly angels and not demons, both reject the worship of John, who is admittedly awed by all that he has seen in this vision. Instead, they properly direct John (and indirectly the reader of this book), to worship of God alone, stating that no man or angel is worthy of worship but only God the Father and Jesus Christ are. One of the things that makes demons fallen beings is their desire to receive honor and worship that is due to God alone. This plays into the other thing that is forbidden to worship but is worshiped frequently throughout the pages of the book of Revelation, and that is the beast system that rules over mankind during the last days, and is emblematic of the heathen and ungodly and authoritarian governments that have long ruled over mankind and that are making a comeback in our present evil age.

To discuss the worship of the beast in depth is beyond the scope of this particular examination, but it is worthwhile to note that this practice is so notable that it pervades the writing of Revelation, and it is worthwhile to at least note how extensive this problem is. Revelation 13:1-17 introduces both a false political and religious system that work together to enforce compliance and that prevent people from buying and selling unless they worship the beast, and even to the point of being put to death if they refuse to worship this ungodly and wicked system: “Then I stood on the sand of the sea. And I saw a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads a blasphemous name.  Now the beast which I saw was like a leopard, his feet were like the feet of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. The dragon gave him his power, his throne, and great authority.  And I saw one of his heads as if it had been mortally wounded, and his deadly wound was healed. And all the world marveled and followed the beast.  So they worshiped the dragon who gave authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?” And he was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies, and he was given authority to continue for forty-two months.  Then he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme His name, His tabernacle, and those who dwell in heaven.  It was granted to him to make war with the saints and to overcome them. And authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation.  All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. If anyone has an ear, let him hear.  He who leads into captivity shall go into captivity; he who kills with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints. Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth, and he had two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon.  And he exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence, and causes the earth and those who dwell in it to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed.  He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men.  And he deceives those who dwell on the earth by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who was wounded by the sword and lived.  He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed.  He causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads,  and that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.”

What we see is something that happens from time to time in human history, and that is the way that worldviews and political enforcement on people to accept the sovereignty of mere human beings–and corrupt and satanically inspired human beings at that–has often come with the rule of people who seek to blaspheme God’s way and persecute God’s people and take upon themselves regard and respect that is only due to God above. There has always been a desire among wicked leaders to be seen as gods in the flesh–a tendency that goes back to the beginnings of human history, and those who have refused to follow in such devotion to the false messianic state and its god-kings, be they called Pharaohs or Emperors or by some other name, have found themselves to be exiled, imprisoned, persecuted, and put to death for their refusal to worship idolatrous and arrogant rulers.

From there throughout the remainder of Revelation, up to Revelation 20, the worship of the Beast or the worship of God becomes the litmus test of humanity during the last days. Revelation 14:8-12, for example, reads: “And another angel followed, saying, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.” Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.  And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.” Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.” Those who worship God eschew worship of the beast and his image. Those who seek to avoid the wrath of human governments who demand worship from those they should be serving instead face the wrath of God. To belong to the New Jerusalem as citizens and as future kings and priests is to be a vagabond, stranger, and pilgrim in wicked and corrupt human nations. Ultimately, people will be forced to decide whom they worship and serve and will not escape consequences either now in one case or afterwards in the other.

Revelation 19:20 tells of the fate that ultimately befalls the beast and the false prophet who have demanded to be worshiped in a way that belongs only to God above: “Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone.” And in Revelation 20:4-5, we are told for the final time : “And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.  But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.” To be sealed into the first resurrection requires a rejection of the corrupt ways of the world, and to be viewed as fit to judge the world and its rebellious and wayward inhabitants. In such a contest there is no neutrality.

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Album Review: Dream Street

Dream Street, by Janet Jackson

Janet Jackson’s second album was an attempt to gain success for her as a solo artist, but like her debut it was not a very successful album commercially. That said, it is an easy enough album to enjoy if you like 80’s pop and dance music as I do. While Janet Jackson’s third album would catapult her into the public consciousness as a woman who wanted to take control of her own fate as an artist (more on that shortly), it is well worth pondering on where Janet Jackson was when she made that album. She was an artist who had made two albums that flew beneath the radar but she already becoming a pro and knowing what it is that she wanted (and what she did not) from her experience in the record industry. If this album doesn’t have any lasting hits that people tend to remember, how does this album deserve to be seen and remembered today?

Dream Street is all of nine songs at less than forty minutes of length, and so it presents an album that is definitely not full of bloat, and fully four of the songs on the album were released as singles. “Don’t Stand Another Chance” is a pleasant song to listen to that showcases Janet’s confidence in herself and became a top ten R&B hit in 1984. “Two To The Power Of Love” is not necessarily memorable, but as a duet with noted English singer Cliff Richard it is an enjoyable love song. “Pretty Boy” is not too dissimilar to the sorts of sexually charged funky songs about attractive people that Janet Jackson would make throughout her career, and it too has pleasant production and singing, going on for six and a half minutes. “Dream Street” represents a contrast between fear and anxiety, set to an appropriately anxious disco beat, and it was another single from this album. “Communication” expresses Janet’s hope for her message to be spread by technology to allow herself to be heard and to bring people together to increase intimacy, relevant concerns then and now. “Fast Girls,” the third single of the album, expresses Janet’s belief that sexuality and sweetness could be combined in a way that avoids slut shaming. “Hold Back The Tears” is a highlight of the album, about her desire for emotional control. “All My Love To You” offers a discussion of love devotion. Album closer “If It Takes All Night” is another song about love and romance that really works as well.

In looking at Janet Jackson’s musical career, I think this is an album that really gets unfairly forgotten. Even if one looks at Control as the beginning of Janet Jackson’s peak period, this album is clearly an important precursor in setting up themes of love, respect, and communication that would be vitally important in Janet’s career as a whole. To have this album written out of the narrative of Janet’s career simply because the album didn’t sell does a disservice to the way that this album showed Janet’s marked growth as a worthy artist and her growing familiarity as an R&B artist that would give her a solid base to allow for her crossover smash working with Jerry Jam and Terry Lewis and taking control of a career that was clearly on the rise. Janet was not yet known to the general public from this album, but she was already showing that she had something to say, as long as others were willing to listen.

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That They May Be One As We Are: Part One

As I was reading a book about a particular subject that has long been viewed as a demarcation between those who are orthodox and those who are heretics, I was struck by the way that many of the problems and tensions that exist when people try to define and explain the nature of God are similar problems when we look at the nature of the Church and of its relationship to Jesus Christ as well as the nature of the destiny of believers as becoming members of God’s family. Given that the study of the nature of God is often viewed of as belonging to the past, in a research of patristic documents as well as the thinking of scholastic philosophers and more modern ones, it is helpful to add an element of prophecy to the discussion of the nature of God given our future inclusion in it.

There are a variety of reasons why this is a worthwhile endeavor. For one, sometimes in order to better understand a mystery we must expand it. A great many things appear more mysterious to us than they have to be because we are looking at too narrow of a context and fail to consider the larger picture. We presuppose that our understanding is correct and then hunt for proof texts, rather than reading with an eye towards picturing the whole biblical context or even the local context that governs the meaning of particular statements and approaches. We set passages in opposition to each other or simply fail to account for passages which have a strong bearing on the subject at hand, and so we come to incorrect conclusions because we do not have all of the puzzle pieces together that we need in order to come to the correct picture, and our speculation that fills in the rest does not often match the reality at hand.

When we expand the question of what the Bible says about the nature of God to how it will look in the future when mankind enters the family of God when believers receive eternal life, we are led to a variety of questions that help illuminate how it is that the question of the unity and multiplicity of God that bedevil attempts to simply our understanding of God while avoiding heresy can be resolved in a variety of ways. And indeed, the fact that the same questions and concerns come up about the Body of Christ as come up about the nature of God offers us an understanding that relating to the question of unity and difference is not something that is an esoteric concern of interest only to theologians or philosophers, but rather is of interest to ordinary believers. Similarly, prophecy, which is often relegated as a matter of speculation, is vastly more interesting when we recognize the way that it corresponds to our interest in developing our relationship with God and Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. That which we often view to be very separate in the Bible ends up being connected in strange ways.

With this understanding we must offer some caveats, though. There are aspects of our relationship with God, present and future, that do not correspond to the experience of Jesus Christ. Where we may be tempted to present our entrance into the family of God as merely adoptionist, there is still a genuine begettal process in believers through the Holy Spirit that is distinct from this view. Similarly, we must reject an adoptionist view of Jesus Christ’s own eternal and unique process of begettal from God the Father, to say nothing of his preexistence which is not matched by our own experience. On a more fundamental level, there is a great deal the Bible itself tells us that we do not know or cannot understand fully as human beings with limited experience and understanding, and given that we lack the insight of Paul or John when it comes to understanding God and the relationship between God and mankind, we must retain an attitude of humility and an acceptance that there are some mysteries that we cannot yet solve given our limited information and our ability to comprehend what is far beyond our level. This exploration will not attempt to solve those mysterious or make everything seem rational, but at the same time it will not cultivate a desire to seek out poor logic or nonsense reasoning for the sake of being deliberately mysterious.

What we will do is not to give a detailed map of the depths of such matters of theology as the nature of God, but rather what we will do is plumb the depths, note where we are in deep water, and explore the relationship of various passages together that relate to the question of what we will become as human beings when we enter into the Kingdom of God based on what is said in the scriptures. And in exploring that question we will simultaneously explore those areas where an understanding of the relationship between God and man helps us to illuminate questions about God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the workings of the Holy Spirit. Some of these matters we will explore in great depth. Some of these matters we will only touch upon slightly, and we will see just how large of an examination it ends up being in all. With that said, let us begin.

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Pinochle Season

While I missed the first pinochle party of the current season in our local congregation, last night I was able to make it to the event hosted by some friends of mine where fourteen of us (one new player, one observer, one helper, and the rest playing pretty consistently) enjoyed hand after hand of some pretty exciting pinochle, for those of us who like that sort of thing. Once we arrived at the hosts’ house, we began by some conversation and waiting for those who came later, then we had a tasty pot luck dinner and more conversation, and after that we divided into groups of four and set out to play. One of the people sat on the couch while her husband played and one new person was helped out by a close friend of mine who happens to be very good at the game.

My own play during the course of the night was okay but hardly spectacular. I won about half the sets I played, going 1-1 at each table over the course of the night, which is about at my level of play, to be fair. For the most part, we keep our playing in such a fashion that few people have a terrible night all the way through of playing, though some people do manage. Winners move from table to table, and losers stay, and both switch partners which usually keeps some people from dominating the entire evening. It is interesting to see how the game works with different partners. I tend to be a rather cautious bidder for the most part myself but at the same time I had some good hands and was able to help my partners for most of the evening. If I am relatively recent at playing pinochle I have played enough similar games (like spades) to recognize the general strategy of helping a partner win books and points, and generally I enjoy being pretty strong in the meld game as well, all of which helps. A couple of times I was able to help set someone even before the playing started because I had the cards in my hand that the overzealous bidder was trying to get from their hapless partner, and that is always a satisfying feeling.

One of the remarkable things to me is that pinochle season tends to be a winter event. There is only so long where sunset is early enough to get enough people over to a house and able to play enough games. Even last night it was nearly 11PM by the time I started driving home, and I didn’t realize it was quite so late until I got in the car and looked at the clock. From what I have seen, at least, in my limited experience with the pinochle culture of the Northwest, the game tends to be hosted people who live in somewhat peripheral geographical areas of the congregation. My first games were at the far north of our area, and last night’s game was in the eastern regions. The night I missed because I was in the Dalles previously that began this year’s season and the next event, scheduled in two weeks, are both on the southern periphery of our congregation as well. I find it curious that peripheral hosting locations should be so common when it comes to the sport. I do not know if there is some relation between the two but it is at least suggestive.

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On Lumping And Splitting

When I was a young person and downloading music files from various sites on the interwebs, one of the irritations I had to deal with was the labeling of the music files. As one might imagine, I would look for specific songs by specific artists, and very frequently I would find that the songs I downloaded were in fact incorrectly labeled. Just about every song that was viewed as a comedy or novelty song seemed to be labeled as a Weird Al song, to give but one example. One of the things that I found to be a frequent problem was the issue of lumping and splitting. When we are faced with the way that the world looks, it is a problem that we can either lump things that belong to different sources or individuals together (as with the “Weird Al” songs) or we can split things that belong together, like the various songs made by Prince with different acts or under different names.

We find this problem to be a particularly intense one when we look at the problem of ancient history and texts. There is a historian that I follow on a website (and who has graciously cited me as a source for at least one of his papers) who has a bit of a problem as a lumper. He looks at ancient history and finds people who have similar roles or make similar arguments in text and lumps them together as a single individual. Recently, I have been treated to several essays by this person that have claimed that various historical personages were fiction, especially Philo. Now, there are certainly some elements that Philo had in common with Paul, who the author are lumping together. Both of them have an interest in the intersection of Greek literature and rhetoric with Jewish history and law, and both of them had an interest in promoting the interests of the Jewish people in a cosmopolitan and Hellenistic world, and both have to some expect been deeply misunderstood because the contemporary reading audience has little knowledge or sympathy with biblical law as a whole.

It is a particularly unfortunate thing to claim that Philo does not exist and to conflate him with Paul. This is unfortunate because while Paul’s nephew was relaying information to him about the plotting of the Jews as is recorded in Acts, and thus acting to safeguard Paul’s safety while he was in prison after being arrested under false pretenses at the temple, Philo had a different life. While Paul was still alive, Philo’s grandson was one of the Roman governors of Judea, while Paul himself was notoriously not married (for whatever reason) while spreading the good news of Christianity. However similar the two of them were in terms of their religious paths and in their desire to preach biblical truths in the idiom of the dominant culture of the time, both were real people who lived different lives with different fates, and the fact that there were many similarities between the two does not mean that they can be conflated into one person.

The reverse is similarly a problem when we look at the Bible and see that some people attempt to split what is a unified and coherent whole into disparate parts. Most notably this was done by those people who hold to the documentary hypothesis that there are four supposed sources of the law (labeled as JEPD) that are stitched together by what they view as an incompetent and bungling redactor. Similarly, there are people who view the book of Isaiah as containing three texts because of their disbelief in predictive prophecy. In these cases we see that splitting is a problem as well because for one reason or another people do not recognize a coherent whole as such but seek to break it down into smaller chunks.

Whether one’s native bias is to lumping or splitting, it is best to avoid distorting our picture of reality this way. There are often a variety of different voices with similar perspectives and approaches that say similar things, and it is best not to assume that all of these voices are in fact one voice that is being repeated over and over again in different guise–although this sort of thing does happen from time to time. Similarly, the same people may write very diverse material that people have a hard time believing is all connected. I know such a thing is the case when it comes to my own output as a writer, as people would not be inclined to see the coherent unity that exists in my own body of creative writing. To the extent that we see things that are not the same as similar and things that spring from the same source as dissimilar, it is worth investigating why this is the case rather than to lump and split without insight.

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Album Review: Cuts Like A Knife

Cuts Like A Knife, by Bryan Adams

If his self-titled debut album was and largely remains forgotten except for those who are aware of Bryan Adams as a songwriter like the bands who covered his compositions, and his second album crossed over onto the mainstream rock charts but was not and remains not a popular album, Bryan Adams’ third album made him well-known as a popular artist, something that would remain true for another fifteen years or so (we will have more to say about this later) and contains a quartet of songs that are relatively well-known even today. At this time, Adams was still an up-and-comer, and this album reflects a maturing process but also demonstrates that even at this early phase of his career he already had a lane that he was carving out that mixed straight-ahead rockers for the men and sensitive love ballads for the ladies, a balance that has served many rock acts well and served him well in his own very successful career. This album demonstrates that he was beginning to find his range and target demographic successfully and at the very least is an album that one can point to as a major step forward in his visibility within the world of the popular music of the 1980’s. But how is the album artistically?

The album begins with “The Only One” reflects Adams as someone who almost has it made and his determination to hold on to someone who he is starting to fall in love with by promising her that she is his only one. “Take Me Back” is a soulful rock song that portrays the narrator as being in the position to take back an errant partner who promises that she has changed her ways. “This Time,” one of this album’s popular singles, shows Bryan Adams committing to make a woman his own this time. “Straight From The Heart,” the most successful single from the album and perhaps my favorite song of his all-time, shows Bryan Adams’ commitment to an ideal of sincerity and candor in his relationship. The title track then follows with its commentary on the way that life and love simultaneously bring pleasure and pain. “I’m Ready,” a song which was put on his Unplugged album later on, is surprisingly like a Foreigner song in this context, a driving mid-tempo rocker about the narrator’s readiness for love. “What’s It Gonna Be” is another rock song that features Adams challenging a would-be partner to make up her mind. “Don’t Leave Me Lonely” similarly features Adams in a combative mood demanding both his freedom from a partner as well as her commitment not to leave him lonely. “Let Him Know” has an interesting set of group vocals about an indecisive woman who does not appear to be taking Adams seriously. “The Best Was Yet To Come” closes the album on a melancholy and reflective mood about a woman who missed out on her opportunity, presumably with the singer.

If you are a fan of Bryan Adams’ later music, this is certainly a worthy album to look at. As is the case with his earlier albums, you get a real good sense of where Adams’s headspace was at when he was making this album. You can almost sense that Adams knows that he is about to break out into a big star and that confidence at his growing success that he experienced with his previous album and that was expected here is seeping into his behavior with women. Rather than coming off as desperate as he did early in his career, he has a lot more bravado, a lot more confidence, and he takes a much harsher and more aggressive attitude towards the reluctant and ambivalent women around him than he did earlier in this career. If this seems like a mixed blessing, it certainly is striking and the album hits an honest mood of where Adams was at on the brink of mainstream stardom.

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Circles Around This Town

What is it that we want from other people? One of the characteristic communications problems I find in dealing with others is that there is a mismatch between what people want and how they expect to get it. I do not consider myself a particularly difficult person to deal with for people who have any sense, but at the same time I also know myself to be a fairly prickly person much of the time, and that can lead to predictably negative outcomes when certain situations occur. If we want positive interactions with other people and want something from them, it generally behooves us to conduct ourselves in such a way that we will not hit others where it hurts and not alienate them. Yet sometimes people are looking to justify their own negative feelings by striking out against someone and then blaming them for not being friendly and cooperative, which is bad in two senses. For one, it is generally transparent that someone was being disrespectful and it is usually considered understandable to be less than gracious towards those who are impolite towards us. For another, it is just not a very successful strategy to alienate those from whom we are looking for some sort of aid or assistance.

Let us put ourselves in the position of a gatekeeper, someone who controls access to that which is wanted by people in a given situation, such as money, information, power, responsibility and the like. Most people who have political sense, and even those of us without a great deal of it, will tend to know who it is that has this particular power. Whether we are interested in gaining something for ourselves or whether we are more interested in determining who it is that has power and can give that power to others so as to avoid that power being used against us, generally speaking it is a wise thing to know who has the power to make one’s life better or worse and then respond accordingly. And if we want such people to respond positively towards us, it is particularly important that we know what it is that will lead them to think more favorably or unfavorably of us, and within the bounds of being people of high character present ourselves in the best motives possible.

It is not, apparently, all that easy for people to do this. One of the more negative consequences of the egotism and self-centeredness that is so characteristic of this present evil age is that people expect and even demand that they be as unpleasantly honest about themselves, show no concern about the sensitivities and sensibilities of other people, and yet expect those people to act according to our own interests when we have shown no care or concern for theirs. If we assume that people will be hostile to us and our interests, then it is perhaps natural that we should act without caring or being concerned about what they like, but in so doing we commit the cardinal sin of acting in ways that justify their hostility towards us after the fact. If we are spinning narratives about what we want and what we expect from other people, we need to be aware that our narratives are honest about what we have done and what factors have led to the sort of contretemps we may have other other people whose assistance may have been useful to us before we alienated them.

I do not say these things because I am somehow some sort of great communicator. In fact, I have always considered myself to struggle with communication to a degree more than most people around me. What these struggles have led me to do is to study the issue and to better know myself and figure out what aspects of communication have proven to be so troublesome. If it is difficult for us to communicate perfectly with others, there are certainly things we can do in order to avoid kneecapping ourselves when it comes to our interactions with others. Understanding what we want out of a given interaction is a good thing, and understanding as much as possible about the people we are working with or trying to build relationships with is another. If neither we nor others are necessarily going to be entirely candid about the depths of who we are, it is at least generally the case that being observant and reflective can allow us to know far more than we often do. And when we are dealing with matters of great importance and delicacy, that is often enough to make considerable difference. Simply thinking and being aware of what is beyond ourselves is often an important and necessary step forward. If we want to run circles around this town, the least we can do is avoid continually spinning our wheels.

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Can’t Help But Be A Target

One of the more ominous scriptures in the Bible can be found in John 15:18-25, which reads: ““If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.  But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me.  If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin.  He who hates Me hates My Father also.  If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin; but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father.  But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, ‘They hated Me without a cause.’”

It cannot be ignored that we live in a world that is increasingly hostile to God’s laws and ways. There have always been aspects of God’s laws and ways that have rubbed people the wrong way. Racists have always rejected the fact that God has grafted people into Israel by virtue of their commitment to His ways without holding their backgrounds against them or relegating them to a second-class status. Those who sought to oppress others have always neglected to remember that while God affirms authority, it does so with limitations and does so for the benefit of those who are ruled rather than for the selfish benefit of the corrupt rulers themselves. Yet most societies have paid at least lip service to the scriptures, however they lacked in compliance to it, because they recognized that the authority they sought to wield would be benefited by people being godly and peaceable and law-abiding, even if they themselves did not govern their own conduct by biblical law and morality.

Those of us who are student of history, especially the melancholy history of believers in the last two thousand years or so are quite aware of the fact that for much of that history believers were either actively persecuted by the authorities of church and state or lived in isolation in remote places where they could live in peace for the most part because the places were too remote to be under the close supervision of powerful enemies. We have, for the past few hundred years, largely been free to worship God throughout most of the United States and even many of the colonies before independence, on account of the memory that many people had over their own persecution in Europe and their desire to make the colonies and later the United States a safe place from the religious oppression that made Europe so hazard. Unfortunately, we live in an age where many foolish and ignorant and wicked people desire to imitate the corrupt ways of European elites, and such a tendency is hostile to the freedom of those who seek to obey God and follow His ways. We have already seen that these tendencies have led to immense state-sponsored hostility against the preaching and proclamation of God’s ways as they relate to areas of personal morality in such countries as Canada and Australia.

The conditions by which people are free to worship God in spirit or truth are very limited. One must be in a realm that abjures the use of force and coercion to seek religious uniformity for what will inevitably be a mistaken religious worldview. The sort of religious uniformity that has been sought throughout history through coercion has been wide ranging, whether one looks at the contemporary state of the world or looks at the behavior of states throughout history. There are a variety of reasons why this is so. For one, believers in God’s way hold to a higher law and a higher authority above the church and state, and those human authorities who want to be the highest authority will often find themselves hostile to those who reject such claims. For another, the laws and ways of God have always presented a challenge to the sins of the larger society around them. Few societies in this world and throughout history have appreciated the moral poking and prodding done at favored and cosseted sins that is done by those who have a consistent and thorough biblical worldview. Such realities mean that those who sincerely believe and genuinely understand and seriously strive to follow God’s ways cannot help but be a target for the corrupt and ungodly leviathan state. Consider yourself warned.

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