Thursday, February 18, 2010

Listened to a Tim keller sermon recently

He asks the wonderfully rhetorical question about why so many songs with bad poetry center on romantic love. Do we get bands like Air Supply singing rhapsodic power ballads about being a data entry clerk? Do we get bands like Aerosmith shilling hard rock numbers about the scintillating nature of belt sanders or iPods? No, it's about sex and romantic love. The first poetic utterance in the Bible is a poetic utterance that could, in the wrong hands, be taken as, "Oh, yeah, I would definitely hit that."

For most of my life I have disdained love songs as cheap, mawkish, insincere, and pathetic. Yeah, might make me seem like an evil cold-blooded jerk. Particularly insufferable examples are choruses like, "How do I breathe without you." I could compile the entire output of Boston as an example. One of the most egregious forms of rhetorical crow-barring would be this:

And I swear, I swear it's not a lie, girl.
Tomorrow may be too late.
You, you and I girl, we can share the night together.
It's now or never cuz tomorrow may be too late.
Yeah, if we don't have sex tonight, girl, I might get hit by a runaway bus and get killed. Or you might die. Or I might kill myself.

There is almost nothing in life that I view with more cynicism than romantic love. The happily married couples I know have not, unfortunately, disuaded me from the gnawing feeling that this thing is not what people have made it out to be (I suppose that pun could be intentional if I felt like making it intentional). I have found that Christians can both make that coupling the measure of adulthood (in its real form) while denying that it does so.

Christian teaching, at least among a certain strain of conservative evangelical teaching can be so fraught with double binds it defies my comprehension. If you don't want to marry you're extending your adolescence and not really being adult but if you want to be married badly that's a sign that you could have made marriage an idol and in both cases the problem is with you and not the conflicting expectations and measures of adulthood. To put it in archly Lutheran dialectical terms, there can be all Law and no Gospel about the subject of marriage and romantic attachment.

If in the age to come no one will be married anyway what is the value in marriage? It's not that there is no value, of course, but it often seems as though the same people who talk about an idolatry of marriage and family can be the people who do the most to promote it. I have been glad to hear teaching in which marriage is merely an incidental subject among many and not the focal point of all pastoral illustrations or admonitions about practical application of Christian teaching.

But Keller's point sticks with me because as much as I dislike bad poetry and as cynical as I have often been not just about romantic love but about all the pundits (including the cynical ones) who opine on the subject one of my favorite poets is John Donne and the man was an utter genius at composing love poetry. If one of my favorite poets, who was a capable pastor, was also a brilliant poet on the subject of romantic love I have to admit that my cynicism has limits. Keller's point that people wax rhapsodic and write bad poetry about sexual union and romantic love because it is a signpost to divine love. His pastoral proposal that a man cannot be a good bridgegroom to his wife unless he understands what it is like to be Christ's bride is precisely the sort of impossible point to have been even thought of in the church I used to attend. Paradoxically, though, it is probably one of the things I most need to hear and consider.

After years of hearing teaching in which that sort of insight would be considered gay it's a useful insight because it reminds me of how men and women need each other whether or not all of us are married. It is both the man and the woman that reflect the image of God. If men and women reflect Yahweh's image separately then together they reflect God's image in another way, yet a way that is passing away. So Paul admonishes the married to live as though they were not, neither seeking to end their marriage nor considering it something that is other than a thing that is passing away, for at death the marriage ends, and Christ teaches us that in the age to come there will be no marriage.

I suppose my cynicism comes from the belief that the risk involved is not worth it. This belief is predicated both on experience and observation but it is a belief I at length have to reconsider. If I'm not sure anyone is worth that sort of risk and trouble that means I don't think anyone is good enough for me and that I'm not good enough for anyone. But that may simply be proof that I am being both too hard on myself and too hard on others. The last thing I really want to do is actually change this frontier of my life in the midst of job-hunting but the older I get the more I realize that even if I never marry at some point actually going on a date or two wouldn't be a bad idea.

My misgivings are legion. This seems to be a society in which it seems to be commonplace that you've done your business by your teens. A comedy like the 40-year old Virgin seems to presuppose that if you haven't gotten any by that time there's something missing in your life. Being in a Christian setting where the Christians not only affirm that but make a failure to embark upon that a measure of failure, cowardice, and prolonged adolescence doesn't help. It's hard to express how much I resent that kind of Christianese double bind. The Christian who has the luxury of telling you that you're not really an adult because you haven't arrived at a relational status they have might as well be a prayer of "Dear God, I thank you that I am not like that single guy over there." As you can see my cynicism is deep-seated. It seems safer than letting my guard down and being told that I'm inadequate to whatever it is that is expected of me tacitly and expressly. I'm too sleepy to write more than this at this time.


Anonymous said...

I read your entries on music and found them extremely interesting. I do like many composers that you mention -(Ourkouzounov, Tamulionis) and I would like to ask you if you would be interested in some kind of music exchange. I´m myself a musician.
you may write me at

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

I'm interested in an exchange project but since I'm job-hunting I'm not sure I can try anything very soon. What instrument do you play? I'm willing to shamelessly promote some of my music along with exchange stuff. If you compose I'd be curious to see what youw rite.

Atanas has another CD eventually in the works. He sends me stuff once in a while so be on the look out for another CD from him after Movement (his new CD of music for flute and guitar). If you like I can forward his email to you and you can order the CD from him. How does that sound?

Anonymous said...

I know Atanas Well. He is a good friend of mine. I´m guitarist and, of course I´d like to see your pieces.
Its fairly difficult to find interesting (serious) guitar music, and this is why I thought about this "exchange" thing.
would you send me an email where I may contact you ?