Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Taylor Swift and the Future of Music

Taylor Swift, of "We were both young when I first met you" fame, wrote a thoughtful, heartfelt column featured in The Wall Street Journal yesterday. Leonid Bershidsky of Bloomberg View responded to her in today's Chicago Tribune.

For those of you who did not follow those links, a summary of each: Taylor Swift expressed optimism in the face of declining sales across the music industry. Bershidsky expressed pessimism, noting that the changing methods of accessing and even discovering music signals that the music industry's heyday is past.

I should pause here and note that this conversation is specifically about the music industry, and not the broader shifts in the role of music, let alone the arts in general, here in our twenty-first century globalized society. (Shout out to Tony Payne, my boss at Wheaton College, for his recent essay on the WHY of the performing arts, for that general perspective.) And that is not my specific area of professional expertise; I focus more on presenting the fine arts, if you will forgive me for using such a broad term.

That being said, I agree with Taylor and her optimism. The music industry is not the only industry undergoing extreme changes. Retail. News. Travel. Education. Ministry. (Yes, I know those last two really should not be considered "industries.") All of those areas and more would be unrecognizable to people who worked in those fields a century ago as they are today. But I would not consider them dying.

Certainly, social media and the constant flow of information has reduced our attention spans (I will not say how many times while writing this I have broken away to look at my Twitter feed). But that does not mean we as humans beings actually prefer quantity over quality. It just takes a higher quantity of interactions with something for us to realize its quality. And, as Taylor writes, each successive interaction needs to be inventive, or boredom will ensue.

And I think that need for constant creativity is a reason for optimism. We will never get to the end of all there is to see and hear and smell and taste and touch in our world, and thus we will never get to the end of creativity. I believe that that is because human creativity comes the infinitely creative Lord of Creation, Jesus Christ. And I think those of you who do not share my faith tradition will accept my point that we will never get to the end of creativity.

Without question, the economics of the creative enterprises is changing. But that does not mean that the heyday of the music industry or its counterparts must be past. But the bottom line and popularity must not be the ends. The end must be to celebrate the creativity, the diverse creativity, of the people with whom we share our world, and that becomes increasingly easier as our world becomes more and more connected. If the music industry can support that effort, it can become an agent of healing the brokenness in our world. It is no substitute for the redemptive power found in Christ, of course. But I believe in common grace, and it is my prayer that musicians from multiple-Grammy-winner Taylor Swift to the five-year-old beginning piano student, and the firms and technologies that bring their music to other people, will be channels for that grace.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Reading List 2014 - Status to Date

On New Year's Day, I made a list of a dozen or so books I wanted to read during 2014. I added a few titles to the list over the last few months as well. With 2014 now half over, I would like to share the completed titles from my list, in order of completion:

J. I. Packer, Knowing God
Mike Cosper, Rhythms of Grace
James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom
Bruce Ellis Benson, Liturgy as a Way of Life
Harold Best, Music Through the Eyes of Faith
Jimmy Greenfield, 100 Things Cubs Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die
Jeffrey C. Davis and Philip G. Ryken, editors, Liberal Arts for the Christian Life

I am a little behind where I would like to be at the halfway point of the year, but at least I average more than one book per month! I will report back after Christmas with my second-half reading.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

God at Work

I came across two interesting interviews in my blog reading this morning on the topic of how God relates to one's work.

On his blog, The Exchange, at Christianity Today, Ed Stetzer interviewed Matt Perman about his new book What's Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done (Zondervan, 2014). Some very good points about managing workflow, customer service, and goals - all of which Perman ties to the gospel.

As part of the TGCvocations series, The Gospel Coalition's Bethany Jenkins interviewed Katherine Leary Alsdorf, senior fellow at Redeemer City to City, about her work, which focuses on, as the title of the interview states, "Equipping Churches for Cultural Leadership." Alsdorf speaks about the potential when Christians embrace leadership in their spheres of influence, "bringing hope, truth, and love into those parts of our culture."

I have also been personally reflecting a bit lately on the nature of Jesus' leadership during his earthly ministry. I may write about that soon!

Monday, June 9, 2014

On the Minimum Wage Debate

Do not fear, readers, my blog is not about to become solely focused on the policy debates of the day. But I do want to offer comment on an editorial from Friday's The New York Times -- a publication whose editorial board is almost always my ideological opposite (perhaps, if someone reminds me, I will write later about why I force myself to read it).

Anyway, please first read this brief editorial commenting on the recent decision by the city of Seattle to enact a $15 an hour minimum wage.

And now, a comment:

In the fourth paragraph, the editorial notes: "...there is no substitute for a robust federal minimum wage, because broad prosperity requires a solid wage floor, not a patchwork." I submit that in a nation as diverse as ours, prosperity means different things -- has different definitions based on quantifiable measures -- in different places. The cost of living is different in Midtown Manhattan than in Laurel, Montana (a city near Yellowstone National Park). So New York and Montana do not need the same minimum wage. And truthfully, the cost of living is different in Midtown Manhattan than in Albany, New York's state capital, so New York City and Albany do not need the same minimum wage. Thus, a state-by-state and even municipality-by-municipality patchwork would be just fine for "broad prosperity."

Minimum wage should be among the most locally-decided issues in public policy -- not least because a high percentage of earnings will go directly back into the local economy. States with lower populations (put another way, without dense urban areas in contrast to rural areas within the same state) may find it efficient to consider the matter at the state level, as the cost of living is more uniform throughout their border. It is decidedly something that the federal government, however, absolutely does not need to spend time addressing.