Sacred Cows

Coffee idolatry

JT’s Between Two Worlds is one of the pillars of the Christian blogosphere. Today he shared a little link to this article on sacred cows – and coffee in particular.

While I can appreciate where the author is coming from – I do like my coffee. More than most. It stings a little to see coffee lumped in with U2.

What you find on many websites is some kind of description like this: “I love reformed theology, U2, anything by Steven Soderbergh, and a fresh cup of joe.”  Or maybe: “My interests are theology, issues of social justice, Beastie Boys, and an Americano from (fill in neighborhood coffee shop here).”  Or perhaps: “Can’t resist a good Bonhoeffer quotation, Edwardsean philosophy, and a venti mocha with light whip.”

You get the point. Here’s the thing about this situation: there’s nothing ironic or unique about liking coffee. We all like coffee. Coffee is good. Made well, it’s really good. It’s kind of like saying you like bread. “Anything by Piper, Band of Horses, and Pepperidge Farm rocks my world.” Everyone likes bread. And everyone likes coffee.


Crap Sound 2

Wow. So I stirred up a hornets nest of angry female commenters (and one male), eager to defend U2’s honour.

And I regret nothing.

I thought about it, and for a while I decided that I was being harsh, that it’s wrong to judge people on the basis of their musical taste. But then I decided that’s exactly what I do. I am unapologetically prejudiced when it comes to Music. That’s why I own a T-Shirt that says “I hate the bands you like” and another that says “you have bad taste in music”… In fact. If you like U2 you should go to this site. Consider it an online support group.

I measure people – and how much I have in common with them – by what’s on their CD shelf, iPod, DVD rack or book shelf. And why shouldn’t I. You no doubt judge me on things equally superficial.

Will I not love you on that basis? No. Robyn had some Christian music CDs when we started dating – and some equally embarrassing music, and I have the Backstreet Boys as a musical skeleton in my closet. I still love her (and she me), though we disagree.

For those not reading the comments here’s some of what went down (well, what I said… other people can make their own points known in the comments – or on their own blogs)…

“Understanding that something is a subjective taste should not stop me objecting to the subjective taste of others.

I don’t like modern fashion – should I not be allowed to voice my opinion on that? Besides, I see providing all these alternative bands as a public service to my readers.

I wonder too, if the label “alternative” could just be applied to “those bands not trying to be U2″.”

Here are the things I’ve actually said about U2 (in the comments on other posts):

  • “If you listen to U2 your musical taste is boring and your (clef) palate undefined.”
  • “This article pretty much sums up why I don’t like U2 ”
  • “They’re also not very good. Musically or lyrically. In my opinion. They are champions of inoffensive blandness.”
  • “I’m happy for you to like U2. I’m sure you have reasons. I don’t like U2.”
  • “It’s where I write my opinion. On things. Like U2. And how they should retire. They used to be cool. Now they’re old men. ”
  • “I wonder too, if the label “alternative” could just be applied to “those bands not trying to be U2″.”
  • “Why listen to one band that tries to appeal to every aspect of musicallity and becomes middle of the road when you can embrace diversity which lets you appreciate the whole road, bit by bit?”
  • “There’s six bands in a list of five bands that I find more sonically pleasurable than U2″
  • “Bono’s public Christianity makes him a bit of a sacred cow. But I don’t like to criticise things without offering solutions here are 5 bands that are better than U2. In my opinion”

Sound of Music

I’ve been on a bit of a sound wave this morning – with my earlier posts – and the slightly more heated than anticipated comments on my anti-U2 post. I’m not surprised. Bono’s public Christianity makes him a bit of a sacred cow.

But I don’t like to criticise things without offering solutions here are 5 bands that are better than U2. In my opinion*…

  1. Radiohead – both Coldplay and U2 wish they were as politically aware and musically diverse as Radiohead – incidentally – Radiohead are apparently recording a new album.
  2. Muse – another British band with less people and more musical talent (and a greater talent per capita ratio) than U2.
  3. Gomez – They are to alt.Country what the muppets are to puppetry. Defining. Actually they’re incredibly difficult to pigeon hole.
  4. Athlete – For those of you who like U2 because they’re easy listening try Athlete, or Death Cab for Cutie – both equally compelling in sound but less self-righteously musically annoying.
  5. Augie March  – not only are they Australian, intelligent, poetic, they’re “easy listening” without being middle of the road inoffensive babble.

There’s six bands in a list of five bands that I find more sonically pleasurable than U2. Here are 10 more that fit that category off the top of my head (or out of my iPod – which does contain a bit of U2 – early U2, back when the Edge didn’t look like the kind of guy you’d keep your children away from at public parks).

If you like saccharine music and just can’t help yourself – why not listen to Dave Matthews, or Simon and Garfunkel…

  1. Smashing Pumpkins
  2. Weezer
  3. Architecture in Helsinki
  4. Blur
  5. Oasis
  6. Cake
  7. Custard
  8. The Dandy Warhols
  9. Placebo
  10. The Panics

Those are just the bands – there are plenty of solo artists or balladeers who write nice, sweet music who are infinitely more compelling than a 50 year old who petulantly refuses to remove his sunglasses. I won’t list them. I think I’ve made my point. Why listen to one band that tries to appeal to every aspect of musicality and becomes middle of the road when you can embrace diversity which lets you appreciate the whole road, bit by bit.

That is all.

*I’m not sure this needs to be said on a blog. That’s kind of the point.

Quiet enough

I did have some serious reflections from men’s camp on the weekend that I thought were worth formulating into some sort of post – but it’s probably a bigger deal than just a “men’s camp reflection”. A while back I wrote about praying in church – I promised at that stage that I’d have a go at more “sacred cows”… and when it comes to Evangelical Christianity I don’t think there’s anything more sacred than the Quiet Time. And I don’t know why.

There are reasons. Good reasons, at least I think they are. So here we go.

  1.  Quiet Times feel too much like “self development” to me – they’re, by their very nature – self focused. They don’t, in and of themselves, serve others. They primarily serve the doer. I understand the argument that disciplined time spent in God’s word and in prayer will help you love and serve others more – I just think that given the choice – I would always choose to spend my quiet time with someone else – either a fellow Christian for encouragement, or a non-Christian proclaiming Christ – what good reason is there to spend time by yourself?
  2. I’m naturally an extrovert – I find other people stimulating, I learn through engaging in conversation, I do my best thinking while talking. I don’t think I’m unique. So for me, and this is where men’s camp comes in, wandering off into tranquil open spaces does nothing for me. I sit there resenting the fact that I can’t chew over the material with somebody, and if I’ve got a notepad I make angry notes about the fact that I don’t think this “self reflection” time is spiritually valuable.  
  3. The Biblical model of Christian life is communal. It’s relational. That’s the model of ministry demonstrated by Jesus, and then by the Apostles and the leaders of the early church. Why is our focus on the individual? I’d say that’s cultural rather than Biblical – and is a child of a self-focused personal development philosophy. I might be wrong. But I’ll need some convincing. 
  4. While knowing the Bible and prayer are important – doing both is not consistent with any Biblical passages I can find – even when Jesus wanted to escape the crowds for some “solitude” he took his disciples with him in most cases. Not, I acknowledge, in the Garden of Gethsemane – but even then he had his closest friends nearby. Can anybody point me to anything that encourages disciplined “personal devotion”? I haven’t found anything yet that suggests my theory is flawed. But again, I’m open to discussion on this point.
  5. I can see a place for solitude as “rest” from other people. But again, I would see this as an allowable exception rather than the general rule. 

What do you think?


I enjoy a good argument. So much so that I’m able to completely distance myself from the ramifications of taking a particular side in an argument just to see it continue. I am sure other people find this frustrating. Actually, I know for a fact that some people do.

In my mind it’s only when arguing through an issue that you’re truly able to shape your thinking on something – at least that’s how it works for me.

Arguing a point brings clarity to my position because it lets me consider the criticisms of my position and understand the applications of holding to a particular idea. Other people might not approach this the same way. 

Sometimes I find myself reading things that I know will frustrate me for the sheer purpose of entering into an argument – or I’ll bait an issue to create an argument out of it. I’m sure this is also annoying. 

Simone made an interesting point the other day:

“Today I’ve been bored, so bored that I was visiting blogs that annoy me on purpose so that I would get annoyed. Because its more fun to be annoyed than bored.”

I wonder how many people do this. I know I spend a lot of time reading things written by people I disagree with. Probably more time than I spend reading things by people I agree with. And I know too that my hits go up dramatically if I write something controversial that you, my readers, disagree with. 

So now I’m left wondering – should I write things I know will get a bite? It seems people want to bite, and it gives me the opportunity to argue. Or should I write things that there will be consensus on and not actually challenge anyone or anything. I like the first option. Your thoughts?

The danger is that if I go down this path there’s a real chance people will be offended – or caught up in an argument in an emotional sense – if I happen to attack one of their sacred cows. And that’s never really my intention in an argument. Unless I’m arguing about something that I think is a black and white issue, which, for example, climate change and charitable giving is not.

Also – Frustration is the name of a pretty cool card game. You should check it out.

Jensen on Sacred Cows

“It is dangerous to shoot sacred cows. We all get upset, irrationally and emotionally when something we hold as precious is attacked. The more irrational our attachment the more anger is engendered when our favourite bovine is assailed.”

“One of the ways to test if something has become an idol is to remove it. If nobody notices or complains, it can safely be restored. If it is declared to be “the end of civilisation as we know it” – it is fairly safe to assume it has developed idolatrous importance to people.”

Dean of Sydney Phillip Jensen on Sacred Cows.

Perhaps his most telling criticism appears below – but the whole thing is worth reading.

One of our generation’s greatest sacred cows is the enlightened view of intellectual and rational discourse. There is the desire in some people to imagine that by the control of human reason we will be able to know God, or disprove His existence, or live a morally and theologically correct life. This emphasis can distrust those things emotional or miraculous; things which are unable to be controlled or which fit into our understanding.

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