Thursday, March 05, 2009

the discipline of God in the early part of 1 Samuel

God's people are invariably strange, fickle, pathetic people. Consider the beginning of Samuel in which a beloved wife is barren and mocked by her rival, her husband's other wife who has borne him children. Hannah goes to pour her heart out before the Lord and times have grown so dismal that the priest Eli reflexively tells her to quit drinking, put aside drunkenness, and go elsewhere. He does not realize that she has been praying. Hannah's prayer is answered and she gives her son to Eli's care, surely a great sacrifice considering the reputation Eli's sons had in the land!

Samuel himself takes time to recognize the Lord's voice and God tells Samuel that Eli's house is about to fall for its failure in leadership. Samuel begins with the birth of the last judge and the failure of the priest and by extension the priestly system. Gideon had refused to be king when the people wanted him and so Israel was without a king, yet here we see that the priesthood is failing and God is preparing the downfall of Eli's house. Eli himself may not be what Calvinists would like to call reprobate but he has failed. We are not clearly told that just because Eli was removed from serving in his priestly capacity that he was also being destroyed or otherwise out of favor with God. That Eli seems almost at peace about the matter can be legitimately inferred from the text. In fact compared to Saul Eli's reaction to the news that God has rejected him from holding the office given him is positively humble and gracious! Saul spends the rest of 1 Samuel after his rejection trying to find ways to kill his God-appointed successor and finding even his own children favoring David despite his efforts.

But it is also a story of the failure of Israel as a people. They take the ark of the covenant with them into battle as though it were a mere good luck charm without considering whether it would be given by God to do and so God lets them be defeated in battle and lets the ark of the covenant be taken into captivity. It seems almost as though the ark returns after God's humiliation of Dagon the Israelite elders want a king like other nations have to lead them into battle. By making this request they cast doubt on Samuel's competence, perhaps, but most certainly on the character of his sons.

Now it is fascinating to consider that while Samuel was a godly man who considered the Lord his own sons were terrible, even as Eli's sons were. Samuel takes the rejection of the people so personally God has to chasten him to remind him that what Israel is rejecting is the kingship of God in requesting a king ... yet the king is promised and the Mosaic law itself foretold that a king WOULD come. Was this a sign that Israel was right to ask for a king? Or was it wrong for Israel to ask for a king at the time and place and for the reasons they asked?

Staggeringly, God answers their requests and gives them exactly the kind of king they want, which gets them Saul. About Saul a great deal could be said but what I find troubling and sobering about all this is that there are times when the surest way God disciplines us or punishes us is by giving us exactly what we demand at the time we demand it. And so the very thing we craved, once we have attained it, becomes our own downfall.

Teresa of Avila once siad that more tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered prayers. That may be true. When I consider my own life I have found the things that have frustrated me most in the last few years (or even now) are those things which are answers to prayers I have prayed in the last few years, while some prayers go on unanswered. I now consider with trepidation what might happen if God were to actually answer those prayers of mine that as yet do not seem answered! You see it is a terrifying thing to have God answer prayer because His faithfulness to give you what you prayed for means you are His child ... but that does not mean necessarily that in giving you what you want that you are acting or thinking in obedience to Him!

I won't spend too much time on how this all connects to the name-it-and-claim-it or blab-it-and-grab-it theology. That's too easy and too simple. No, I am thinking of more routinely evangelical concerns (natch). God could you give me a hot wife/husband. Said hot/wife husband might cheat on you with another woman as David did, or marry other wives that he loves while putting you away. We don't know that Michal prayed to marry David. She fell for him and married him but eventually resented David's rejoicing in a linen ephod. Sometimes the options God presents to us are the thousands of deaths of others through plague or war or famine and you have to choose what form death strikes your life and people. None of us have to do that now ... yet it is a grim footnote to Samuel.

I have sometimes heard Christians say that God would not appoint you to want or do something and then fail at it. Yet there's not much way to get around that God had resolved to destroy the sons of Eli. When God resolves to do something He can't be thwarted and yet He can hold us responsible. Since some people believe their vote matters in situations of national importance I don't think anyone can say that what I have said about God is somehow silly. It's no less silly to believe your single vote entitles you to free speech that the Constitution provides you're free to use before you're old enough to vote ... but surely I digress.

Perhaps the most pertinent thing for me about Samuel is how men and women deal with setbacks and failure and having their pleas seeming to go unconsidered by God, or to have God's guidance appear in upleasant and unexpected ways. God does not come to us as we would like Him to. In fact He may often choose not to come to us at all and we are to trust even when He is silent or even when He tells us He has broken us because we have proven unworthy of the task He lifted us up to.

For Eli this breaking down was to remove him from his ministry because of his giving more weight to his sons, co-ministers with him, than to God Himself. How easy it can be to favor one's friends or family to the point that one fails to see that God has resolved to cast them down from where they once were. Eli knew that God had decided to remove him and his sons from their position. He carried on. What else, really, was there to do?

Samuel was raised up and eventually his sons became men and odious men in the eyes of the people and they requested a king. Samuel was being told he wasn't the man for the job, wasn't the leader the people needed. Yes, the people were sinning against God by demanding a king and yet their response was also to the wickedness of Samuel's own sons and it was in following the miracles of the ark in captivity in the Phillistines that it becomes more apparent how faithless the response of the Israelites was. The problem was not that they asked for a king, indeed the problem was not necessarily asking for a king because the sons of the judge were as unscrupulous and odious as the sons of the priest! We see the failure of the legacies of the judge and the preist before we are set up for the next failure, the of the king.

Samuel was not just a judge but also a prophet and as a prophet he seems to have done well. Still, Samuel took it pretty personally that God let Israel take him from being a judge to simply being a seer, a prophet. Yet as I survey the length of Samuel it seems that after being initially angry and upset Samuel reconciled himself to the role God had given him as well as to having lost the earlier role he had, which had also been given to him and taken away providentially by God.

I have been considering how over the last few years I have gotten advice, most pointedly advice to change careers or change my marital status. The advice is well-intended as far as it goes ... but I have come to the conclusion that a lot of it is basically useless. There is a sense in which it is, at the risk of putting it in a way that sounds extreme and absurd, satanic. Now I'm going to explain what I mean by employing this term. The satan was the accuser in the divine court in Job, and he also had a little role in accusing the priest Joshua. This has all come after God's people had been sent into exile and so Satan's accusation by itself was not exactly without grounds. but God had appointed a different purpose for His people and for Joshua at that point, and so the accuser's accusation was wrong. This accusation, we might say, was wrong not on the basis of its facts as history but on the basis of God's act at the time. Satan was still accusig as God reveals His love and mercy toward His servant and His people.

There are people who may speak the truth and speak accurately who are, nevertheless, able to e instruments in the hands of condemnation of God's people. This also does not mean that the accuser himself or herself is in the right simply because they have their facts straight and are correct in their assessment of the moral or material failure of those whom they accuse. While we can't say that Satan is right in his motives or means we must acknowledge that he can speak the truth when it suits his ends of accusation.

No less than Peter was a satan to Christ. Peter would never have been wrong to say that Jesus ought not to die. Jesus was sinless and had no reason to be crucified ... yet it was in observing that and resolving that it should not happen he became an adversary to Christ, a temptation through what he said and reasoned. He was thinking man's thoughts and not the thoughts of God.

With all that in mind, I come back to that broader use of satanic. I have received counsel that on the face of it seems wise and prudent. Who wouldn't suppose a better job would be wiser? Who might not suppose that perhaps a fellow like me has talents that are going to waste at whatever job I have? And someone might argue that I ought to be married and that there's no excuse for me not to be. And here is where the rub is, this is counsel that, as far as it goes, carries in it an implicit accusation that where I am now, where God has had me for years, is not really good enough. The counsel presupposes that I should be discontent with what God has given me. What God has given me may certainly change and certainly will in terms of this life. Yet for all that the counsel I have heard in the last few years seems to me now as though it were other people advising me to become what they believed I ought to be rather than counseling me to consider gratefully where God has put me now.

having laid this groundwork I do not hesitate to say that much advice that appears to be the most Christian and thoughtful, godly advice can really be satanic in its effects and function. It never has to be intentional. For that matter just because the counsel is good does not mean it will be of any effect. God can make the wise foolish and thwart the shrewdest counsel. I have seen and heard this happen with my own senses. When God resolves to destroy a man's counsel and position there is nothing anyone can do to thwart His will. And we see it in Scripture--the one who advised Absalom had his counsel ignored and the man went and killed himself. Why? I don't know, to be honest, but we are told that when he saw his counsel was not followed he went and hung himself. He had, at the least, betrayed his king and given counsel to a rebellious son. But all that is getting ahead of myself.

Let me reiterate that I now consider a lot of well-meant good-seeming advice I have been given in the last year or so to be dubious in that the main gist of the advice has been to consider what would be best for me in some way or another. The counsel has not been what would draw me closer to Christ but what would make me more suitable or pleasing in the eyes of others on material or relational grounds. I have even had people quote Scripture at me to argue their case or to literally say that my talents are going to waste working where I am. Well, I do not know that where I work is where my talents are to be displayed. Only God knows those sorts of things and there is a point where if Joseph discovers he is in prison he needs to stay there and work as he can. If he is never delivered this does not give him reason to give up. We are coming into economic times where we may find ourselves as Joseph or Jacob, working hard for the benefit of others.

Samuel is a challenging book and in it we find that the best are often bad and the worst have valiant qualities. Absalom's insurgence was terrible ... yet it had been foretold through Nathan by God. In fact David's own failure to enact justice in a fair and equitable way planted the seeds for destruction in his kingdom because he more or less looked the other way when terrible sins were committed ... but that might as well be a topic for another blog entry.

How I ruminate on all the above is this--how have I been answered in my prayers by God in a way that has caused my grief but that is nevertheless a case of God answering my prayers? Is there anything in which God giving me what I asked for is a form of discipline? I have to entrust myself to the Lord because my simply wanting something is not a sign that it is from the Lord or that it is in a form that the Lord approves of. There is a strange and lasting paradox here that we cannot grasp. Our attempts to grapple with it as systematic theologians will reveal more about us than it will about the ways of God, which are beyond our capacity to understand.

Consider, if you would, whether the Lord may discipline you through the very thing you sought. The status or position you seek may become a snare through which you fall and God reveals what you really sought. The husband or wife you sought may becomes the source of grief for you the rest of your life even after the marriage dissolves. A career path that seemed like a bright future may wither on the vine and feel like imprisonment. God opens doors and shuts them. God raises up and casts down. And sometimes God punishes us by giving us exactly what we want and we do not realize that what looks like God's grace to our benefit as we see it is that but paradoxically by letting us squirm and suffer because of the things we demanded from him. Some men whose counsel and actions God thwarted killed themselves afterward which is, again, for another time.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

personal ruminations on evangelicals and marriage

Marriage is cool, marriage is appointed by God, but a lot of what I have heard taught on the subject means almost nothing to me. See, most of what is taught regarding marriage seems to simultaneously hold it as the pinnacle of human achievement in evangelicalism while also strangely decimating any value it has by filtering it all through this prism of romantic love and mutual attraction, something Scripture rarely attests to and seems relatively unconcerned about. Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the Church wouldn't need to be in the Bible if that came naturally to husbands in that age, would it? Even happily married men need that reminder.

There can often, for me, be this sensation that though Christians teach that marriage is for this age and not the age to come that this age is the one that matters. One friend of mine was told by his Christian mother that the reason good Christian girls dated unbelievers, had sex, and then got abortions is because Christian guys like HIM didn't date them. He's an atheist as of probably a decade ago, perhaps not coincidentally. He may have never been a Christian or he may have been a serious, professing believer. It's not so much my interest to "discern" the answer to that as to consider his frustration. He felt as though if by his thirties he wasn't married and a functional breeder evangelical Protestantism had no use for him, no place for him, and if he wasn't putting out productive material for the local church by singing in a choir or serving in a ministry there was no use for him.

This is the kind of history I consider when I consider that consumerism of the sheep may not be the whole story. Shepherds can be consumers, too. Flocks consume, which is why the shepherd would lead the flock forward so as not to devastate the land the sheep were grazing on. What happens when the sheep graze so long in a part of the pasture they eat into the soil and leave nothing behind? That's kind of how I feel about marriage stuff. All these other sheep have been fed and have eaten stuff they felt greatly blessed by and I have not seemed to be one of those sheep that got anything out of it except for the "It's good to be married" or "Marriage isn't designed to make you happy but make you holy" from people who have tended to seem awfully happy in their marriages. It's hard not to be a bit bitter, I'm afraid. If married people would admit that sometimes marriage stinks it would be easier to believe there is good to it.

I didn't grow up in a family situation where marriage seemed worth it either emotionally or financially. My parents' marriage didn't survive. My mom remarried and that marriage has worked out over the last two decades and more but not in a way where I would look at the marriage and say, "Yeah, that's exactly what I want when I get older." And maybe that's entirely my problem.

For a generation of children who saw their baby boom parents' marriages explode I want to suggest a paradox, that the reason people from my generation may wait so long to get married is not because we think lowly of the estate of marriage but because we don't see that we have models that give us much encouragement that the deal is worth it. At the risk of casting all this in financial terms, it's easy for someone to say that if a family has a single income they are better off than if they have both husband and wife working for a living. People of this persuasion might also suggest that it's better to own a home, though reading some writing on that subject lately I'm not even sure that home ownership has been as wide spread in the United States as sometimes described but that's for another time.

As I wrote earlier, much earlier, a Christian single guy can sometimes get the feeling that both the world AND the Church defines his value by whether his penis has produced a contribution to the next generation. In pseudo-Darwinian terms if you have a kid you've contributed to the species. In Christianese terms, if your quiver is full then you have a legacy.

Something I would say Mars Hill has probably done right is make the argument that a low view of children is what may indicate a low view of marriage. There are many ways to have a low view of marriage and the biggest negative way of doing that is to separate marriage from children whiel the biggest "positive" way of doing that is establishing a paradigm that marriage should be done for "true love" or mutual romantic attachment.

If you were to argue that marriage makes good business sense for two families in a society that would be anathame in today's day and culture, even though political and financial marriages have been common enough. Marriages to secure family lines and ethnic identity have been around since the dawn of man. True love is arguably the single most selfish and useless reason to get married ever devised. I'm not saying it's bad in itself! Far from it! Very close friends and family married for all the true love reasons but their marriages have also evolved and grown past that, too. Closest to home I have family who married for true love, more or less, companionship, and to avoid sexual sin and the couple stalwartly did not want children when they married but have a few children now. As their relationship grew their attitude toward children changed. They no longer saw marriage as about fulfilling their own needs or even necessarily each other's needs either, so far as I can tell, but expanded their view of the scope of marriage ... while paradoxically seeming to bring it down to a more mundane level.

This is where I go out on a limb and tie this all to eschatology. Christians have seemed to fail to understand how much marriage is a sacrament for THIS age and not the next, though it is a metaphor for the union of Christ with His people. Normally Steve Hays is such a long-winded blogger even I don't read him but his observation is of interest here. He wrote that romantic poetry is often hyperbolic, the mand escribes the woman in wildly ecstatic and idealized terms. Hays suggests that the woman as woman is not just a flesh and blood woman but is an embodied metaphor of the Church, the bride of Christ, and that Christ's love for His bride is also expressed in superlative terms. A man who is willing to be crucified out of love for his betrothed is a man who loves her more than life itself.

Me, I guess my problem is that I have never met a woman I would be willing to die for and perhaps that's my problem of having both too high and too low a view of marriage as an institution. Marriage means death to me because if the model of marriage is the love of Christ for the Church it means death at every level and I honestly don't know if I have met someone for whom I'd be willing to die. It's not impossible for this to happen in the future but I am not seeing that it has happened yet or that it ever will.

And I am not certain that it is necessary that I change this. I am often a very lonely man but that does not mean I see any good reason to be married. I don't see any particularly compelling reason that I should be married, not even the argument that being married is better than burning with passion. Why? Because at this point in my life I happen to have a dead end job that is more stable than more lucrative jobs and because so far as I can tell there is nothing in being married that would make me a better servant of the kingdom of Christ than being married. One of the things that made me relieved regarding Mars Hill was hearing a pastor say that he noticed that in the last few years the singles ministry had erred in basically telling people to get married, how to get married, never considering that seeking Christ is the first and foremost goal.

He didn't say so quite so bluntly as I am about to say it now but Mars Hill erred in making marriage an idol, an end unto itself that effectively had nothing whatsoever to do with actually seeking Christ and everything to do with avoiding sin and checking off points in a checklist. Arguably many people would say Mars Hill represents one of the best and most important evangelical churches in the United States. I'm not contesting that if people argue that, I'm just pointing out that the best and brightest are still a bunch of stumblers who need God's mercy.

particularly in my church history marriage was held up high, the standards of marriage and being marriageable material have been high, even to a point where the pastors themselves did not measure up to it and people I know were terrified of asking women out to coffee because they were afraid they didn't measure up. Should we tell these Christians that they need to relax and not obsess about the rules when we have told them how things ought to be done?

In most evangelical churches all of this is probably meaningless. What is probably more common is that however mom and dad met worked out and maybe a few things can be skimmed over about conduct for the sake of avoiding how frankly miserable things can be either being married ... or being single. Perhaps the most helpful and encouraging observation I heard, by chance, was Lauren Winner's potentially grim observation that neither marriage nor singleness are all that awesome in the long haul, not the kind of awesome we would hope for.

Probably the single most incomprehensible thing I have heard is that men are supposed to protect the heart of the woman. I like that idea ... but Scripture says that you must guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life. If evangelicals argue that dad should protect his daughter's heart by having a shotgun and a curfew while junior needs to use common sense I don't see where the exegetical or historical basis for that is. Historically dad and mom might make arrangements not unlike, say, eHarmony, to ensure the family was cared for. As the Monty Python joke had it she has ... huge tracts of land! And in that age that was a big deal!

But we live in a time where even evangelicals don't have the nerve to say that there are compelling financial reasons to marry or not marry. The idea that evangelical Americans today might endorse a marriage chiefly as a financial or social contract would never really happen.

I'm not particularly liberal in my politics or fiscal policy but sometimes I wonder about the direction our economy and society is headed. It's easy to say each generation puts off marriage fearing or shunning responsibility but if you put together the brew of inflation; the outsourcing of industry to places that will accept the jobs we increasingly deplore; the tendency to shift toward a service based economy rather than producing economy; and add to this volatile brew a history of cordoning off 13-19 year olds as not-really-adult when in earlier epochs without child labor laws these would have been considered functioning adults who were part of extended family networks ... there comes a point where when culture warriors and pundits say that young people don't take marriage seriously I think it's fair to ask if they are complaining about cultural and financial problems the baby boomers created for their own children.

I don't know where, how,, or why people get this statistic that a wedding on average costs $27,000 but if that's what a wedding costs then that's madness. For some people that's an entire year's worth of salary or wages. Screw a romantic wedding if that's the average!

See, I guess all the stuff would be fine if I didn't get the nagging impression from myself or the previous generation or my own generation that this marriage thing is something you have to do as a sign that you're a "real" adult. I was once told that you don't really become an adult until you get married, and was later told that you don't really become an adult until you're married and have kids. The goal post kept getting moved further and further out to where ever the married parent had just gotten to! I can chuckle about it now but it's hard to chuckle amidst years of that kind of inculcation. It effectively and quite unintentionally conveys the message, "You're never going to be an adult because you're not me." Protests to the contrary simply reinforced the message. All that added to the mix for me was that it might be said "You're an adult and can make your own decisions" but the tacit and (again) unintended message was, "But if you were really a responsible adult you'd make the decisions I made."

None of this is intentional legalism but it can come off that way. And what is most troublesome but most necessary for me to say is that if I don't at some level covet this stuff there's nothing to be upset about. If I have no impulse in me to have companionship or friendship or have no struggle with sexual desire there's no compelling reason to be bothered by any sense or nonsense paraded before me on the subject of marriage, is there? Yet it is also true that in my experience of evangelicalism absolutely no one has ever reasoned that just because you want something doesn't mean you should pursue it. Okay, maybe Piper. :) I think he once said that recognizing you would like married life but recognize that is not where God is leading you is where recognizing singleness as a calling requires courage. If that's the case and I'm remembering things at all accurately then props to Piper.

It's just too bad that in the evangelical circles I grew up in and have heard from no one seems to believe that and no one has any teaching that connects to that. I guess the solution is that you plug into a church and spend all your single energy there whether or not there's really a place for you.

If someone were to tell me "You don't have to do any of this stuff to measure up, to be considered loved and blessed by God" I could breathe easier. I admit, understanding the love of Christ as unconditional and without limit is hard for me to grasp and has always been hard for me to grasp. I am not interested in getting into any pop psychological or particularly personal reasons why. This blog is not the place for that. I was not an athletic kid and I became a bookish kid. Among bookish things theology and the Bible was the stuff I seemed best at in many ways and it met with approval from family and church and I genuinely love studying these things even if not so intensely as others, and so it became a valuable pursuit for me.

But I have often felt as though in the end my study of theology and love of the ideas of the Christian faith has been essentially useless, pointless. Who in day to day life cares about the differences between credobaptists and paedobaptists? I do. Who cares about the differences in applied ethics between amillenialists, premillenialists and postmillenialists in application to American politics or the consideration of the arts? I do. How much use is any of this stuff to family life? Quite possibly none!

Over the years I have been told that what I have is head knowledge, not experience. In other settings I have been told I had book learning and not rhema revelation. I admit my interest in theology is almost literally academic. I had a ball reading Jeffrey Burton Russell's books on the devil and I snatched up Susan Garrett's The Demise of the Devil survey of demonology in Luke with glee! I get bogged down in spots but I really enjoyed Richard Bauckham's book on Jude.

But what good is this to anyone? Who is helped by this? I have grown up in evangelicalism where the nexus of populism, common-sense appeals, Pentecostal/Holiness teaching, and all that has often left me feeling as though of all faiths my own is quite possibly the most useless to the Church.

Sometimes I feel shortchanged by the very path I was urged upon and embraced. The very thing I found I was good at suddenly became the very measure of my failure as a Christian and as a man. I have been an introverted fellow most of my life. I am slow to open up to people, slow to establish friendships, sensitive to the neglect or harshness of others, and often feel that I am altogether unsuitable for life in marriage. I have been told that I lack the social graces to perceive all sorts of things beyond a literal handicap. I have at times wondered about my own mental health, not to put the point too delicately. But I have been told over the years, in so many direct and indirect ways, that being a man looks like this: you love Jesus, love your country, vote Republican, work a real job, find a woman, be a man, pursue her, and get married and start a brood.

I have been told, and rightly, that my grasp of emotions within myself and others is not so good. Some people have actually suggested to me that I'm either autistic or slightly autistic. I'm from a generation old enough to take this in the older meaning, "retard". That was what my mom was told would likely be true of me if I survived birth at all, a retard at a social and mental level. That's the sort of thing where even though I've had plenty of people say that's not true at all there's a part of you that wonders, and a part of you that wonders if maybe it was true after all.

I mean, I could blog for some time about the exigencies of invertible counterpoint and how vital it is to get your subject and countersubjects working together so that when you get to your closing section you have a basis from which to get back to middle entries and episodes in a fugue. I could blog for a while about non-canonical literature cited in Jude's epistle. I could write about how long it took me to figure out that contrapuntal writing in G sharp minor was aided greatly by leaning on the natural harmonic series so as to create a subject with modal mutation that starts in harmonic minor and shifts to locrian. I could write further about how I exploited that in a tight canonic passage where the lower register has the subject on the lower strings and the canon brings the subject back entirely in harmonics. At the risk of tooting my own horn there are not very many guitarists or composing guitarists in the world who can write that stuff in a blog ... maybe not even many guitarists who would think to compose such works.

But in the kind of evangelical tradition I grew up in I am constantly wondering, "What's the point? What makes this valuable?" In fact regardless of any particular Christian tradition I have to admit I wonder how or why anyone could make a living at this (I can't so far as I know). SHOULD anyone spend their life doing this?

Now I have lurked on the Boar's Head Tavern for years and I have seen debates back and forth about the arts and Protestantism. As a self-identifying evangelical Protestant I can say that few things make me happier than composing preludes and fugues for solo guitar and if there were even the slightest chance that composing or performing such works could have a liturgical use I'd be more than just stoked! But no one, and I mean no one, seems like they would have any use for this. What I do is too weird for me to be a church musician and not weird enough to be the more academic type.

And all that is to say that I don't see how any of this stuff would lend itself to my being, say, married. Yet I feel as though so many people have said that I should be married. Do I struggle with lust? Yeah, to be brutally honest, not with any success. Do I feel lonely? Profoundly lonely. One friend (who knows who he is) joked that I would make a great monk because I said I like the idea of marriage in principle but can't help wondering if it wouldn't be a pain in the ass a lot of the time, that the joys described in marriage might not be worth the responsibilities. My own, gut reaction, is that most people in evangelicalism see the joys and perks and privileges of marriage and whether it's Joe Bob or Driscoll saying "Marriage is for men, not boys" I haven't heard much about what kind of singleness is for men, not boys, except for the going to Africa or China and possibly getting killed in ministry. Yeah, well, most of us aren't going that path, either.

The central challenge I find personally and corporately in evangelicalism about marriage is essentially this--everyone can tell me why marriage is great and why Christians should take it seriously ... but no one in evangelicalism can explain to me how and why marriage leads its participants to seek Christ. If all things are to be done for the glory of God and as a means of seeking after Christ how, really, do people seek Christ in being married? Not the selflessness stuff, no, I mean seeking CHRIST, not just seeking to be selfless toward your spouse. See, that is the central mystery to me that I don't understand. If I don't understand how marriage could bring two people closer to Christ at all does that mean I should be married? Somehow I feel as though the answer is probably 'no'. Not everyone who struggles with lust should be married because a couple of evangelical pastors with agendas say so. What if I'm one of those single people who may desire aspects of marriage but is simply not fit for it? Wouldn't it be better to have no desire for those things, then?

I am not so naive as to think God has no purpose in giving us desires that are never fufilled in this life. Abraham died before ever seeing the legacy given to him take shape. We are told, rightly, that our hope is in Christ and not in this life. So why does it feel to me as though so much of what the evangelicals I know have worked on, or all people in general seem to focus on, so often amounts to simply a this worldly legacy?

There are times where I have frankly wondered why I am alive and the explanation that God loves me is insufficient. God's love is incomprehensible and for that reason I don't wish to take my own life at any point but that doesn't mean I don't wonder why I'm alive, what purpose my life actually has. My life is not particularly bad, let alone worse than the lives of the vast majority of people who have ever lived. My life in its own quiet way is as opulent as any life could be. Solomon would have given half his kingdom to have access to the kinds of knowledge we can all take for granted.

In saying all this notice what I'm not saying, that God's love is not limitless or that it does not give value to life. Here's what I am saying, though. God gave the saints promises, not just the promise of the better land they hoped for through faith in Hebrews. The promises had a this-worldly component, too. Prosperity teachers can abuse that and Christians can downplay those things but Abraham was promised a flesh and blood son. Joseph had dreams about flesh and blood differences in who was greatest. Moses was not sent out to just "spiritually" deliver God's people out of Egypt. This is not some discourse on how faith without works is dead as such, though it could include that, this is about how God's promises encompass the cosmos. David was promised that a flesh and blood heir would not want for the throne forever and in Christ that has been fulfilled ... but there are reasons David could doubt that God had been faithful in keeping His promises. We can step back and sniff and say that David was being selfish. Yeah, and so are we.

And at the heart of our faith is the flesh and blood fulfillment of the promises of Yahweh in the risen body of Jesus Christ. Christ is the forerunner and the first fruits from the dead, the one whom we will be like when we see Him face to face for we will then be as He is now. Do married people see how their marriages reveal the greatness of Christ? Sweet, really, and I'm not being sarcastic. I'm going to risk being more of an impudent smart ass than I already feel I'm being and say this--maybe the problem with evangelicals is that they have too high a view of marriage and too low a view of Christ. Marriage is nothing but a symbol of what is to come, a copy of the real marriage that is yet to come. We evangelicals can either crave the beauty without the sacrifice or we can so emphasize the sacrifice we do not discuss the beauty or we can finely balance it all and forget that there are, in fact, some whom Christ has not called to this state of union.

I am a profoundly anti-romantic type in a lot of ways. I don't think that just because a guy feels twitterpated about a woman that that's any reason to either express his love for her, let alone to marry her. Feelings change and feelings can often be untrustworthy. I recognize that in many respects I have erred so far in this direction I am numb to my own emotional life most of the time, which at any rate would be a good reason to not be married. The reason I don't feel uncomfortable rambling so much about this is that I am not saying that much in detail, and I have gotten to a point where so much of what puzzles and troubles me has been in the public debate in evangelicalism that a blog is a blog.

When evangelicals pontificate about what makes a man and I find more and more that I don't seem to measure up to that I think it's okay to ask where this measure of manhood comes from. If the perfect man is not yet married and the greeat eschatological promise is that He one day will be, that is metaphor that speaks to a reality so bewildering and beyond comprehension we struggle with literalizing an application of the poetry. Ergo, Driscoll doesn't want to imagine Jesus standing over him with a hard on. That joke may be funny but it cheapens the eschatological metaphor of the marriage supper of the Lamb, which is too bad, but Mark is (like all of us) a work in progress. I arguably can't fathom what the beauty of marriage is if what I have heard taught is what I dimly grasp it to be.

One of the stranger things about teaching on marriage is that you should be content where you are. I agree ... yet God said it was not good for the man to be alone. Even in the presence of God Himself there was an absence which God's own presence could not rectify, and thus Eve was formed. What was that absence? It may be impossible to answer that question or even to understand it.

I admit, I have grown weary and cynical, I have grown discouraged. I have heard for years people say that it is simpler than I realize without giving me any reason to believe them. The vainest offer the most detailed advice and commands, the most insistent say things must be done, the most humble and inspiring are least apt to insist or to demystify things. A married friend of mine once said that, yes, how a man and a woman come together IS simple but that does not make it any less mysterious. In the setting of Mars Hill I have seen what looks like a lot of people trying to demystify the mysterious, which looks like a form of control. If you find a woman who has the ten traits in the checklist, do the ten things required on the second checklist to make sure you're financially and morally worthy, and then get permission from the right people then, lo, surely only God could have brought these two together in His divine grace ... after we made sure that all our checklists and rules were tidily followed.

Somehow I'm not getting it and I wish I knew why. I don't wish I knew why in an academic sense where I could explain it to you, I wish in my heart I had any clue why this is. When all around me I can feel as though family or church expect me to go get a wife to be an adult or be a useful member of society ... I realize that I am not grateful for Christ because I feel like I am not what other people say I should be (married) but dread the idea of pursuing that simply because it is held up as something to admire. In the end our fate is to die and when we die we die alone, no one can go with us, and we come before God as naked as the day we were born. The two are no longer one and the legacies we spent lifetimes building are brushed away by a single breath from God, forgotten by all but the God who brushed them away like dust on a window sill in the morning.

Why do God's people tell me Christ is enough for this life and the next when they don't really believe it? Why am I so eager to believe them and to believe this myself?

A twenty year look-back on the "Beast"

http://www.slate.com/id/2212647/

Yep, dispensationalists from twenty years ago were SOO right, the European Union is a big powerhouse that rivals the United States. now. I don't know what Hal Lindsey or Jack van Impe are up to now but I hope they haven't hitched their prophet wagon to the stars on the European Union flag.

As I wrote a long time ago it seems more painfully apparent to me that a dispensationalist frame of mind often allows you to read your own racial, political, religious, ethnic, and economic paranoia on to current events. Obama has to be the antichrist if you're a staunch Republican just as Bush HAD to be the antichrist to staunch Democrats. I'm not saying people should go vote for Democrats or Republicans as such but noting that now that quite a bit more than a decade has passed one of the popular bugbears of dispensationalists in America is not looking any more primed to be the birthplace of the antichrist than it was when I was a kid. Perhaps some dispensatioanhlists still hold the antichrist will be Syrian? For all we know the antichrist could be an American ... but Christians in America will only nominate someone from the OTHER party to that noble status! Of course if we'd drop the definite article we'd recall that the apostle wrote that there would be many antichrists ... .

Monday, March 02, 2009

leaving the faith on adulthood?

http://blog.beliefnet.com/jesuscreed/2009/03/a-stunning-statistic.html


"In statistical analyses, there was no relationship between exposure to religious training in childhood and any aspect of their [emerging adults] religious beliefs as emerging
adults" (174).

Arnett knows of the studies that show high correlation during the teenage years, and he also knows that some emerging adults return to the faith of their parents. But he observes this: "Evidently, however, something changes between adolescence and emerging adulthood that dissolves the link between the religious beliefs of parents and the beliefs of their children" (174). That is, "it all comes to naught in emerging adulthood" (175).

In a way I find this puzzling and in another way I find it obvious. I find it puzzling in the sense that it seems as though people who are ardently professing faith of their parents in their teen years who then abandon all that in adulthood just seem like ardent brown-nosers who will say or do anything to get along. Going along to get along is teen behavior and when once there is no compelling need to do that the young adults shove off. But I still find it puzzling because it will generally be these people who grouse the most about their integrity even though for years they basically had none because it was inconvenient to their material well-being. Why dispute the doctrines of dad and mom if you have to live in their house and benefit from their food budget? Oh, the bravery of those birds who left the nest!

But at another level I find it obvious because this sort of cutting lose is encouraged at every level of popular and personal narrative. Depending on how far the apples falls from the tree a person who is raised Reformed Baptist and converts to Eastern Orthodoxy would, statistically, be considered by a survey to have practically converted to another religion. Some people would argue that is exactly what happened but since I tend to be a bit more, uh, ecumenical about that stuff I would suggest that Protestant/Catholic/Orthodox shifting may not indicate a complete abandonment of a Yahwistic/trinitarian Christian confession. Even all those evangelical Protestants who see joining a mainline or Catholic church as abandoning the faith can't say these kids are becoming atheists, can they?

That the link between a father and son with respect to the Lord can be non-existent or that two generations can wildly diverge invariably gets me thinking of Saul and his son Jonathan. Two generations of the same family could hardly seem to have differed more but I mention this merely as a springboard for whatever thoughts you might feel like having if you're reading this blog and not doing something potentially more fruitful. Not all deviations across generations are away from a particular faith, after all.

A brief anecdote about the persistence of pop culture

I was talking with my mom recently and she told me about how my niece (who turns 8 this year) was reading her Calvin & Hobbes comics over the phone. Of course to fully appreciate a Calvin & Hobbes comic you do have to be able to SEE the comic but Watterson's dialogue was frequenly so brilliant you could still get the jokes even if you couldn't see what was going on. Frankly if I ever went blind I could be content having Calvin & Hobbes comics read to me because I could imagine and remember what Watterson's brilliant strip looked like.

I don't make any attempt to avoid being labeled a snob. Snobs come in myriad forms and in my case I'm snobby about cartoons and comics. Not only do I prefer to get the stuff I like and think is good, I prefer that if possible that my nieces only get exposed to the really cool stuff. Miyazaki, Pixar, Wallace & Gromit, pre-Eisner DIsney, Paul Dini & Bruce Timm's DC cartoons, Powerpuff Girls, all solid stuff. Of course I might end up watching Spirit: Stallion of Cimmaron again some day but perhaps that will be a while. Meanwhile, if my niece wants to watch Coraline and snorts in disdain at High School Musical ads I will be a proud uncle.

Earlier this year I learned my older niece was so enamored of WALL-E she wanted to write a letter to the composer Thomas Newman to thank him for writing such a wonderful soundtrack. She recently showed me a comic book she made from going through one of her favorite comics, a Powerpuff Girls comic she showed me. Yes, I am a proudy geeky uncle.

Of course a proud, geeky uncle must have some awareness of limits. My niece will NOT be seeing The Dark Knight until she's fourteen or so and dad and mom say they're okay with it.

Since I have gotten back to attending a concert or two I want to write at least a little about that but that is for another time.

It's fun to see that a strip I got into in my early teens is a source of happiness for my 7 year old niece now that I'm on the verge of thirty-five. As I blogged here earlier I'm also grateful Watterson retired Calvin & Hobbes when he did. No fizzling out into miserable unfunniness like Berkely with the sad transition from Bloom County into Outland.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

a short observation about fugues

No, not that they are hard to write, let alone write well (contrary to Beethoven's sweeping assertion that it requires no art to write a fugue, he was probably compensating for the fact that counterpoint did not come easily to him (as it did comparatively to Haydn or Mozart)).

No, my observation about fugues is that even bach wrote relatively few fugues that are longer than four minutes. Why does this matter to me? I'm attempting to write a six minute fugue for viola and guitar, that's why. Among the 48 there are not many fugues that are longer than about 4.5 minutes and those are slow, stately fugues in minor keys. My fugue is a spritely piece in a major key with a subject that jumps into modal mutation.

Now I plead a certain level of ignorance of the fugue since it is a centuries old musical idiom or, if you will, a method of composition. As yet, in my quest for a model to work from for my own piece, I have not found a fugue that seems to do the job I need it to. Sure, Schubert has a grand old fugue at the end of his Wanderer Fantasy for piano but it is a paltry three minutes of a r0ughly 22 minute work which is the wrong sort of proportional relationship for what I've got where two outer movements are six minutes long and interrupted by a 1:45 aria.

Hindemith has a killer fugue in his Op. 32 string quartet that is just the right length but it's not exactly a traditionally tonal work and it has a double exposition, something I'm pretty sure by now I don't want. But it has the breakneak tempo and length down. Beethoven's finale to his middle C major quartet has the right length and tempo down and emulates fugue but is really a hybrid of fugue and sonata form as I study the score ... though it may be the closest thing in tone to what I'm shooting for.

Bach's fugues for solo violin are more fugues by implication than fugues of the sort he wrote for keyboard. Bach's works in the Art of Fugue tend to fit the observation I have made about the famous 48 of the Well-Tempered Clavier, most of them are shorter than what I am shooting for and all the fugues in Art of Fugue derive from the initial subject, which is dark and stately rather than quicksilver.

So at this point I can think of exactly three fugues that are longer than four minutes and have a certain granitic structure to them and are also at least moderately lively and are also NOT fugues by implication of the sort Bach wrote for fiddle.

The closing fugue of Beethoven's Hammerklavier
The closing fugue that was the original end of the 13th string quartet the notorious Grand Fugue
Bach's practically continental fugue that opens up the Kyrie of his Mass in B minor, a staggering quarter of an hour piece in Otto Klemperer's hands.

Okay, two other possibilities. One is the closing movement of Mozart's Jupiter symphony and another is the fugue that rounds of Hindemith's third piano sonata. These are a bit closer in bearing and in actual size to what I'm attempting to create.

Pardon the blogging thoughts in process but perhaps this may be useful to people. No matter how far along you may be as a composer you have to recognize that as the Preacher put it in Ecclesiastes, there is nothing new under the sun. So much can be saved by way of reinventing the wheel at needless times if you consider what has come before. You don't have to stick to it slavishly but it provides ideas for how to integrate the old into whatever new thing you are tackling.

Obviously for music nerds first and everyone else second. People who have looked at some of the work I posted on Delcamp might find this blog interesting, I guess. It's always good for we guitarists to interact with other types of music literature.

It's also encouraging for me to realize that there are few prototypes I can follow. The reason that is encouraging is it helps me feel less troubled that a duo sonata I started back in 2001 has taken me so long to complete. If there are so few models I can look to that help me get a clearer sense of what I want to accomplish that makes the trial and error, year after year, easier to cope with. When you find that you are working on a musical work that, not to overstate things, has few precedents in the literature, it becomes easier to go easy on yourself while not reducing the level of artistic challenge going into a six minute fugue for viola and guitar.

At the same time that there are no existing six minute fugues for viola and guitar doesn't mean I shouldn't look to existing works for guidelines. There is a command that is not a new command yet it is always new, to love one another. Well, isn't the task of a Christian who is an artist to not only rediscover the newness in the old command of Christ to love one another but to also rediscover the newness that emerges from the old and to grasp that there is an age in the new that allows the new to be received by future generations? At one point, for instance, Calvin & Hobbes was a new strip. At one point 2001 was a new movie. At one point T. S. Eliot's works were new. I suppose to extend things even further, the Gospel itself is good news and the pun in there is intentional, which is not usually my style. THe good news is ever new and yet that which was promised by God to the saints from the beginning. So many failures in the arts come about because people wish to grasp only the new or the old without seeing the way the two have invariably been intertwined but I suppose that is another subject for another time.

rambling about the arts

I've blogged about evangelicalism and theology for a while but since I am also a composer (albeit one whose works have not been performed too many places) I'm going to blog a bit about composing.

I am close to hitting the mid point of my thirties and when I consider the last ten years of my life what I am most struck by is how quickly the time went by. This isn't a case of the time going by because it really went by quickly. The fastest way we get to the point where, as Pinkfloyd put it, ten years have got behind us, is that we ignore our lives away. It's not that our lives, short as they are, go by that quickly, it's that we spend so much time ignoring so much of our lives trying to get to the high points or get past the low points (or obsessing about them) that we ignore all the points in between. Of course someone might point out that it is the points in between that really define life. In that case, the most common in between points for me when I'm not reading stuff or doing my day job includes composing music.

This is going to be a ramble. Recently my brother sent me a link to a Christianity Today interview with Andrew Stanton, director of Finding Nemo and WALL-E. Fascinating little article and it is a reminder to me that a film some Christians would be upset about because it seems too "green" might be reading their own anxieties on to a film whose central point isn't really an ecological satire. You don't quote Gene Kelly movies for withering satire that often, do you? The most telling things in the Christianity Today interview for me were Stanton saying that front-loading the preaching is the fastest way to kill story-telling and that he prefers to let his convictions and faith work themselves out through the characters rather than through the more soap-box approach.

In other words, Stanton is arguably in a culture-shaping position and he got there by doing good work and resisting the very impulse to be a conscious culture-shaper. A few generations ago Lewis said that the worst way to start a story for children is to seize upon some moral you want them to learn and build a story about that. Far better is to create a story children love and that they may learn from, as it were, incidentally. Stanton didn't set out to make a preachy film, he hit upon a premise of a robot that experienced profound loneliness, and gave that robot a story, as it happens an Oscar-winning story that evokes Gene Kelly's film Hello Dolly and Charlie Chaplin and every benchmark of sci-fi in the last fifty to sixty years. And, in a word, the film is wonderful.

But I have met Christians who thought the film was too preachy, or that the film had a liberal message. Hear I want to invoke an observation from Mike Gunn, a pastor at Harambee church in Seattle, that he made about Bruce Almighty (a far inferior film to WALL-E, by the way but that's just MY point): Christians can be so picky about the theological perfection they expect in the arts that if every point isn't made as they want it they refuse to acknowledge the good in the film. There are Christians who have been bothered by what seems to be an Al Gore approach to the environment they don't see how profoundly "pro-life" the film is. Now whether or not Stanton was making an anti-abortion film is something it would be absurd to speculate on and I think it is apparent the film is a pro-life film in the more non-politicized way.

When I was a kid I wanted to be an animator. I wanted to make cartoons. Because of my vision I didn't have the visual acuity to get far in drawing and found other things I enjoyed doing more, particularly music. By my early twenties I had a macular detachment that cemented the end of my involvement in visual arts but I have never stopped loving cartoons and I have attempted in my own way to pass along a love of what I consider the best cartoons to my nieces and to friends who are open to cartoons. But as a producer of things in the arts I have switched almost entirely to music.

When I think of how long Stanton has been working to get to the point he is at in pop culture it's literally a lifetime of work. Dostoevsky once wrote that it is the easiest thing in the world for a young man in his late teens or twenties to die for a cause. Of course, he thinks his burning youth and body are the easiest things in the world to give away. But have that young man devote five years of his burning youth to the doldroms of learning this or working for that cause and suddenly his ardor fades.

Ten years ago I was in a garage band. We aspired to play rock music and to gig. Nothing much came of it, especially not by the time the drummer and his wife had babies 3 and 4. We were young and had the idea that we would potentially be rock stars. I wanted to be a rock star in my teens. What kid doesn't at least consider it. I wanted to do a lot in the arts, write poetry, write music, write short stories, maybe write a book or three, have work published. None of that has happened and I don't know if that will happen or if I even WANT that to happen at this point. I may be vexed by my day job but I have a day job where I get to see how despite it's various tedious aspects I can see how I am able to help people, however indirectly.

Anolder guy I used to know fifteen years ago in my college days said that rock and roll is the domain of the young. I agree. What I mean by this and what he meant by this is that rock bands and rock stars do all their significant work in their 20s or maybe early 30s. For instance, to add a specific to this pet theory I could say that Peter Gabriel's most significant album, So, was released when he was thirty-five or thirty-six. In other words, the first half of life is when you're most likely to come up with a pioneering ROCK album or three, whether you're Peter Gabriel, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Frank Zappa, or Pete Townshend.

Which is me saying that now that I'm about to hit the mid-point of my thirties I don't feel much incentive to play tons of rock and roll or write a lot of it. There's nothing wrong with it and I bought Portisheads new album last year and before that I bought the posthumous American V by Johnny Cash. I try to pretend Bjork's career stopped at Vespertine but that's me and I try to pretend Weezer stopped at Maladroit.

But by and large my interests as a copmoser and listener have turned toward recordings wheere if I don't hear about it from one of the musicians involved I may not hear about the CD at all. How many people in the United States picked up Atanas Ourkouzounov's Legends, his CD of flute/guitar music with Mie Ogura? Not many I would suspect. I have thrown myself into one of the most obscure niches in Western music, chamber music for classical guitar in which the classical guitar is not necessarily the main focal point. The guitar, as is so often said, is a "miniature orchestra". It's a shame so many guitarists think the orchestra should be as or more prominent than, say, the soloist. And it's a shame most guitarists' idea of chamber music is two guitars or three guitars instead of, you know, working with musicians who play other instruments. Locally Michael Partington has been pretty good about playing chamber music in addition to solo work but he's one of the few I can think of off the top of my head.

Anyway, as I ramble, I remember talking with the aforementioned older guy who said rock musicians hit their peak young. I told him that some of my favorite composers like Ellington or Haydn didn't make their most significant works until into their forties or even later. "That's a whole different art form" the man replied, "You have to live a little before you even know what you're doing in THOSE art forms. Any kid can pick up a guitar and bang out a few chords and make a rock album but you have to know what you're doing to even START writing jazz or classical."

And, these days, you had also be prepared to not have too many people listen to you.

The old man was right, though, you CAN'T get into classical music and figure out what you're doing or what's going on without decades of study. If you get an early start then by the time you hit your twenties you could potentially make a name for yourself. Hilary Hahn is probably the easiest example I can pick. I think she's about 28 now and recorded Schoenberg's Violin Concerto. I have been playing guitar in a variety of styles now for I think nineteen years and it is strange to realize I have made friends over the years who are only as old as the length of time I have been playing guitar or who are maybe five or as few as two years older than the time I have been playing guitar. As in when I started playing guitar some close friends of mine were five years old! That makes a person feel old!

When I started playing guitar I wanted to play rock music. I wanted to out-do Pinkfloyd and Frank Zappa for doing far out rock music. Nineteen years later and I'm writing preludes and fugues for solo guitar in keys like G sharp minor, G major, C sharp minor, E flat major, F major, and most recently I wrapped up a fugue in B flat minor. These are generally keys that have guitarists politely declining to do much. At some point I am going to have to go out and play this music myself even though I would much rather other people played my music instead of me. For me the test of being a good composer is that you can entrust the score to someone ELSE and they can play the piece and it sounds the way you planned it to sound, give or take a few interpretive variables.

Lately I have been thinking about how extremely some of the music I like differs. Just today I caught Bluebird's Castle at the local opera outpost and I also love Songs in the Key of Life by Stevie Wonder. Barok and Stevie Wonder don't get much more different from each other for having both lived in the same century (of course Stevie is still with us).

It seems to me so many Christians in the United States don't realize what a remarkable blessing it is to be able to sample and survey a millenium of music. We so often get into ruts liking this or that favorite type of music. My brother once contemptuously said that everyone seems to think rock and roll died when they graduated from high school or college.

I agree and that seems to be true at the level of brain development if you look into some of the things Dan Levitin looked into. By the early twenties people "tend" to have assimilated whatever they consider to be music and don't branch out beyond it. They may say they are into "all kinds of music" but when you look past the surface details of whether Marshall or Fender amps are being used; whether the guitar is a solid-body or hollow-body; whether the guitar is a Gibson or a Fender; whether the keyboard is a Fender Rhodes or a Roland; whether the singer is American or British; in most cases the song remains the same. The underlying structure tends to be strophic and the keys are major or minor. What appears to be musical diversity is often a matter of what Schenker would call the surface details while the structure remains unchanged.

In other words, rock is as alive or dead as you think it is. Since I look at and listen to rock not as an end unto itself but as a reflection of a musical epoch that may continue or end I don't see rock in the context of the last ten years or the last fifty years but over the course of a thousand years ranging from plainchant to the present day. It is in this context that I have no less an appreciation now for "Living for the City" than I did before. If anything I love Stevie Wonder's Innervisions more now than when I first heard Wonder's music at the age of thirteen.

I used to run into people and know people who thought that theory and formal analysis took all the heart and soule out of music. Bah. That's like saying that if you have to analyze a joke then the joke isn't funny. Comedians analyze jokes. Good jokes not only survive analysis they depend on logic and study to even be funny. I won't even bother attempting to list comedians indebted to Richard Pryor or Bill Cosby, the two comedians I have heard on recordings over my life that have stuck with me.

Studying the arts is difficult and while I have met people over the years who think the do-it-yourself ethic makes sense I have seen the limits of it in my own work. I needed to study a few years of theory, a year or two of intense, personal study of counterpoint guided by professors. I needed to survey the great mass that is the history of Western music. What I have discovered is that if you love music the study does not really demystify the beauty of the music itself. You understand various technical things about the Grand Fugue by Beethoven for his 13th string quartet but it doesn't stop being wonderful. I know more about fugue now on the cusp of thirty-five than when I wwas 25 but I still love Hindemith's snarling, dissonant Op. 32 fugal first movement in his quartet. I can appreciate the very real theological intent behind Penderecki's Passion according to St. Luke and its jarring dissonance just as I hear how theological intent guided and directed the far more consonant approach he took in his Credo.

As I have written elsewhere, I sometimes have been told that the reason Protestant evangelicals aren't at the forefront of classical music or even connected to it the way Orthodox, Catholics, or Anglicans are is because Protestants don't have tradition. I still direct those people to Bach and the Lutheran tradition. Arguably the greatest musician in the West who ever lived was steeped in what we would call an evangelical Protestant tradition.

When Paul wrote to the church in Corinth it is interesting how he made eschatological appeals when teaching on ethics. It is even more striking how often he appealed to the future resurrection and the role Christians would play in the age to come as a basis for reforming and renewing ethical behavior in THIS age. Did we not know we would judge the angels? Were we not aware that because our body will be raised by the same power and spirit that raised Christ that it matters a great deal what we do with our body, seeing as it will be raised from death?

When Paul wrote to the Galatians he explained that the laws separating Jew and Gentile had been abolished by Christ. I'm not intending to explain the paradox of how fulfilling the Law on behalf of the Jews abolished it as a barrier to the Gentiles because better theologians than I'll ever be have fielded that. What I'm trying to express is that this is all a fundamentally eschatological understanding, Paul is attempting to explain how Christ has ushered in the end of all old things and is the new and final Adam who is making all things new and reconciling all things to God the Father through Himself.

It is this that has most impressed me as a composer, as an artist. My self-designated mission (which may admittedly come to nothing) has been to find ways to explore in music how I understand the accomplishment of Christ in the art of music. What is the significance of Christ's accomplishment with respect to people? There is now no Jew nor Gentile where the saving gift of Christ is concerned. Yet Jew and Gentile do not stop being who they are, and what we see is that both are able to observe how they depend on Christ for life. In the same way, all of music reflects the common humanity that subsist and depend on Christ's mercy for life. By now I trust it should not be difficult to see where I am going with this, or to imagine where I have been going in my own musical work. There is no high nor low, no pop or art, all are subservient to and dependent on Christ for being.

Admittedly I am not likely to go play jazz tunes and I no longer have the kinds of chops that would be ideal for rock music. I am not sure I have the chops to play concerts or recitals and I have more fun composing music than performing it, since I'm not posting stuff on YouTube or anything. But I have steeped myself in Ellington, Monk, Davis, Brubeck, Coltrane, Coleman, some Minghus, Brown & Roach, George Russell, and Armstrong. I've played a Joplin piece or two (probably just one). I have taught myself how to play Bach inventions and a few movements from Hindemith's Ludus Tonalis. I'm not likely to actually play Beethoven's last piano sonata but I've dabbled at getting some of it under my fingers. Really I'd get further if I weren't drawn to repertoire for more advanced than my fingers know how to handle..

I have seen grumpy older men say there is no shared musical vernacular from which to make profound utterances in music. I think that misses the point. I may consider myself old at heart but every generation has people crying about how Western civilization is going down the tubes. Romans were doing that even just after the birth of Christ! I may feel that I am old at heart but I have no room in my heart for nostalgia. I'm perfectly happy to listen to old music now and yet am more grateful that I don't live when that old music was written. I wonder if Bach would have written half as much music if he had become a blogger ... .

Vivaldi would have.