Modern Pensées

Reconsidering theology, philosophy, culture, economics, and politics

Secular Worship Services, Part One: The Grammys

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Stained Glass Macklemore Ryan Lewis Madonna at Grammys 2014

The longer I live the more convinced I become that all of life is worship.  The only thing that changes is the object or subject of our affection.  With such a view in mind, you begin to see liturgies emerge in common cultural forms.  Liturgy is just a fancy theological term for a customary worship service.  This post is the first of a series of posts examining several common secular worship services in America.  Later posts will examine the Superbowl, the Oscars, Disney, and college football.

I caught the lion share of the 2014 Grammy’s after the fact, hence the tardiness of this post. I’ve never been super big on all the hype, pomp, and patting on the back – not to mention the huge amounts of filler, commercials, and non-musical content.  What was particularly interesting was the sharp focus of the Grammy liturgy.  The whole show was bizarre, raunchy, and exactly what you would expect as a liturgy of the secular decline of the West.  Pop culture in particular has embodied the descent of Western civilization back into a season of sensate culture.  The liturgy roughly follows something of Western Christian worship service:


LL Cool J rehashes more or less the same speech he gave last year about how music unites humanity.

Call to Worship

Beyonce – Drunk in Love.  Visuals are inappropriate for print here.  Suffice to say that it is an ode to drunken fornication.  Beyonce’s visuals matched the raunch of the lyrical content.  More of the same Cold War sexual arms race for Western attention.

Worship in Song

Katy Perry – Dark Horse.  This performance was equal parts Illuminati (cue the conspiracy theorists) and witchcraft.  It featured more of the same attempts to distance herself from her evangelical upbringing by summoning disparate and cliche ridden neo-pagan mixed metaphors.

Katy Perry Burning at Stake at Grammys 2014


Macklemore, Ryan Lewis, and Madonna – Same Love.  The sermon came from Queen Latifah.  The concert hall is visually transformed into something like a cathedral and a kind of wedding ceremony ensues.  We are invited to take part in the sacrament of the 33 heterosexual and homosexual couples as they exchange their wedding vows.  You can watch it here:


Nine Inch Nails – Copy of a.  This final performance was drenched with irony from Trent Reznor.  The lyrics heavily resound with a scathing critique of our sensate culture and reverberate with echoes of Ecclesiastes:

I am just a copy of a copy of a copy

Everything I say has come before

Assembled into something into something into something I am never certain anymore

I am just a shadow of a shadow of a shadow

Always trying to catch up with myself

I am just an echo of an echo of an echo

Listening to someone’s cry for help

There is nothing new under the sun…

Check back for the next in the series.


Written by Michael Graham

January 29, 2014 at 4:41 pm

Best Links of the Week

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Ronnie Smith

Anita Smith, widow of Ronnie Smith, wrote a brief yet beautiful letter to the people of Libya

Brilliant, snarky, and scathing OP-ED from David Brooks in NYT entitled, “The Thought Leader

Barna research supports evangelism on dramatic rise among millennials and in decline among boomers and busters.  If true this flies in the face of a lot of the sound bites regarding “millennials.”

Dalrock on the economic fallout of a culture that is hostile to husbands and fathers, “Progress

Washington Times – “Half of America Strips Religion From Christmas

Apparently researchers in the Pacific Northwest have figured out how to quasi-efficiently produce crude oil from algae

Some really helpful infographics on the state of religions in the U.S.

Francis Chan in a brutally honest piece, “Why It’s So Easy for Leaders to Fake It

Camille Paglia’s piece, “It’s a Man’s World, and it Always Will Be

Interesting interview with Ethan Hawke in Esquire, “What I’ve Learned

I am a sucker for amazing time-lapse:


Best Links of the Week

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The Shire - Lord of the Rings Fake Travel Poster

Great fake travel posters made by artist Ali Xenos.  There are some great ones of Rivendell, Tatooine, Dagobah, and Winterfell.

Kevin DeYoung on the New-Calvinism

‘Gravity’ Spinoff: Watch the Other Side of Sandra Bullock’s Distress Call – Jonas Cuaron’s seven-minute companion short, filmed in Greenland and featuring Bullock’s voice

Brutal personal piece on about one young man’s battle with our present culture of death – “I Lost My Daughter to the Culture of Death

Modalimy – Co-parenting for those that want children but not a relationship or marriage.  You really cannot make this stuff up.

Nelson Mandela:  A Candid Assessment” – from Catholic site Crisis Magazine

Interesting piece from personal finance blog Mr. Money Mustache entitled, “Get Rich With:  The Position of Strength.”  Makes some salient points. – just click on it, especially if you are a Home Alone fan.

Interesting piece in the Atlantic dealing with Clickbait and UpWorthy’s game changing headlines

Best Links of the Week

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The World as 100 People

The World if There Were Only 100 People

Fight Club sequel plot revealed

Great article by J. Budziszewski entitled, “Why Hooking Up is Letting You Down


Article from the Polaris Project on “Human Trafficking Trends in the United States

Great long-form piece from Sports Illustrated entitled, “The Book of Tebow

Solid article from Kevin DeYoung entitled, “Seven Thoughts on Pastors Writing Books

Written by Michael Graham

December 5, 2013 at 3:52 pm

Best Links of the Week

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Meyers Briggs Income Analysis Infographic

Washington Post infographic on how much income based on Meyers-Briggs personality category

NPR piece “Forget the 50 States, U.S. is Really 11 Nations…

WSJ piece – “Andrew Huszar: Confessions of a Quantitative Easer

Master of Many Trades” – how humans are meant to be natural polymaths and not just specialists

Really interesting piece on Fourier Transforms – “The Math Trick Behind MP3s, JPEGs, and Homer Simpson’s Face” (HT: @joecarter)


Written by Michael Graham

November 12, 2013 at 4:07 pm

Posted in Culture

Pandora’s Inbox

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Pandora's Inbox

If you are at all like me, the first thing you do in the morning is turn off the alarm on your phone… and then check your email (or maybe Facebook if you are a millennial).   I think this unconscious routine began whenever I owned my first smartphone.

Unconscious Routines

I’ve come to realize the moment I check that iDevice that I have mentally begun my work day.   I have opened Pandora’s Inbox.  The inertia of the click of that little icon does not stop for the rest of the work day.  I become mentally and spiritually rutted in thinking about the latest plate that needs spun, fire that needs put out, or wires that need uncrossed.  It was not healthy.

I recently consciously stopped this habit and have committed to disconnecting from the Matrix until I have spent time in prayer and God’s Word.  I am not doing these things as a form of legalism (and technology is not evil), rather I am recognizing it is what my soul needs to be a healthy human  and not some zombie or Borg-like being.

Renewal of Heart and Mind

I am desperately in need of the mind of Christ and the renewal that takes place when I quiet my soul before God.  My joy in Christ depends on the renewal of my heart and mind, particularly in the casting of my burdens and anxieties on Jesus.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. – Phil. 4:4-8

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. – Matt. 6:33-34

Praise God that His mercies are new each morning and that God has special tailored grace for each day.

Maybe you do your devotions in the evening or at some other point in your day.  I do not think that you need to do the same thing that I am doing.  However, from one beggar to another – this has helped me find my daily bread.

As good as I think I am at compartmentalizing, once I open Pandora’s Inbox I have fallen down the rabbit hole of my work day.   Whether you are Crazy Busy, compulsively checking your inbox/social media, or just trying to stay ahead of the pile – let us continue to avail ourselves of God’s grace.  Otherwise we will find ourselves breathing by wires…

Written by Michael Graham

October 23, 2013 at 3:27 pm

Busyness, Rest, and Faith – Part 1

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I can guarantee that you have this exact conversation in the last week:

You:  How are you doing?

Other Person:  I am good.

You:  How was your week?

Other Person:  I am really busy…

Dangers of Busyness

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about busyness and how unhealthy it can be for our souls.  There are several negative things that can happen to us by living perpetually with a high “busyness quotient”:

-Danger of relational isolation

-Danger of increased anxiety

-Danger of thinking we are more important than what we are (pride)

-Danger of no rhythm of rest

-Danger of burnout (emotional, physical, spiritual, and relational)

-Danger of joylessness

Self-Awareness and Busyness

My experience is that oftentimes there is also a significant gap between perception and reality on “busyness.”  Here is what I mean?  The number one person who will identify themselves as being “busy” is the undergraduate college student who has 15hrs of class, maybe 30hrs of study time and over 50hrs of discretionary time per week.  On the flip-side, oftentimes the busiest people – people with less than 10hrs of discretionary time per week – often continue to pile more and more on their plates because they fail to self-diagnose how over-loaded they really are.

If you have 50+hrs of discretionary time per week you aren’t busy.  You probably need to volunteer and stop spending some much time self-medicating on _________________________ (insert whatever you self-medicate on here – video games, TV, sports, food, addictions…)

If you have less than 10hrs of discretionary time per week you are too busy and your soul is in danger.  Please step back and think of some things that aren’t non-negotiable.  Learn to say “no.”  Be careful not to think of yourself as being too self-important.

Jesus and Busyness

The God of the Universe took a day off every week.  Jesus got alone and away from the crowds and away from the ministry.  He is/was way more important than you.

You were meant for the rhythm of rest that Jesus did.  God gives rest to his sheep.  God feeds his sheep when they rest if you trust Him.

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. “For My yoke is easy, and My load is light. – Matthew 11:28-30

So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. – Hebrews 4:9-11

I passed by the field of a sluggard, by the vineyard of a man lacking sense, and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns; the ground was covered with nettles, and its stone wall was broken down. Then I saw and considered it; I looked and received instruction. A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man. – Proverbs 24:30-34

And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. – Matthew 8:24

And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. – Mark 6:31

How is your “busyness quotient?”  Why do you like being so “busy”?  Are you self-aware to your current status?  Do you manage your time well?

Time is perhaps the most precious commodity that God has given us.  What is time for?  Who do you trust your time with?

Written by Michael Graham

September 16, 2013 at 4:27 pm

Posted in Christian Devotion, Culture

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