Monday, December 31, 2007

another clunky poem

I met the canary of the coalmine
and, considering the health of his song,
the mine is safer than some people say
and the miners do know when to listen.

There are sparrows who think they're canaries
and there are owls who believe that their songs
should be the portent of the darkened sun
and a seeping of blood into the moon

but neither of these are the canary--
though their songs have a certain poetry
they think too much of the songs that they sing
and that their songs stop won't clear out the mine.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Bremerton man erects Santa crucifix to protest commercialism at Xmas

This one speaks for itself, more or less. I mean I "could" go on a digression about Saint Nicholas but why? That's a cause for someone else to take up but I will say that there are multiple levels of resonance in the installation here.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

per BHT links, why does God favor the sheltered momma's boy?

The behavior of Jacob's parents may have helped lead him to become a passive aggressive deceiver, yet the same favoritism also lead Esau to be a fool with an unrepentant heart who sold his birthrate for a bowl of soup. If the upbringing of the twins is proof of parental wrong-doing this plays out in interesting ways because in the end neither son was that grateful to or attentive to the Lord based on the upbringing of their parents.

Jacob's tragedy was not that he grew up emasculated but that he grew up in a setting where he chose to take lightly the Lord's legacy, the same problem that Esau had. God in His mercy chose Jacob over Esau to reveal something about His character to us.

A father who shows favoritism to one son is not necessarily being more involved as a parent in a healthy way than the passive one. Passivity from a father is not just a categorical point but a relational point. A father can choose to be passive with one of his children and not the other but odds are decent a father who is passive with one child may be overly involved in the other. If Jacob was smothered by his mother then couldn't we suggest that Esau was smothered by his father? To go by the lack of gratitude both men displayed toward the Lord it doesn't seem entirely unreasonable.

And of course the thing about these twins is that you can have the same parents and the same upbringing but neither is by itself a matter to consider if the Lord has His own design.

Sunday, December 16, 2007


More or less, when Israel had grown sleek and fat, as one prophet put it. There are many things we would rather hold on to than the truth and comfort is one of them. No one wants to be in a position, least of all me, where I am not sure who I can rely on or who I can unconditionally trust. Conditional trust is problematic because it means it is performance derived and becomes a sort of works theology in the end, applied to everyone I know. If I trust people based on whether or not they come through for me I sit in judgment over them.

Naturally it's not smart to just trust any person without a good cause but I am considering the good cause with which I trust plenty of people. There are thousands of people who go into making a secure financial transaction on the internet. If I order a book from, say,, I know that many people worked to make that transaction secure so that in buying something from them I am not automatically and immediately compromising the safety and integrity of my financial information. If I make a donation to a church I am trusting that the money will actually be used to help someone and not just line the pockets of someone who is not doing the Lord's work. If I use a debit card to make a purchase I am trusting that the information on my card is secure and safe in the hands of the person at the check-out desk. If I get on a bus I am trusting the bus driver knows where he or she is going and that that person will get me there in a timely manner.

We trust people with things that are not our heart all the time. Understandably, though, a person wants to keep his heart safer than his checkbook in some things, though it is ideal to have both things kept safe.

The Lord warns against the dangers of comfort regularly in Scripture and it just strikes me at the mmoent that it is comfort the two kings of the divided kingdoms were really seeking. They wanted thing to remain as they had been, they wanted to remain comfortable in their knowledge, influence, power, prestige. They wanted to retain what they believed was their God-given right, and indeed God had through His providence provided them with what they had and it seems that they both recognized that at some level, and yet when pressed they both opted to lead God's people into idolatry for the sake of their own convenience and comfort. This may shed some light (or not) on what Scripture says in saying that this or that king did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. Idolatry is the great sin of man and it is man's sin not only because I forsake God but that through my example I encourage others to forsake the Lord, too. We are in that respect as Satan is, deceivers who are deceived and deceiving one another and I am certainly afflicted by this. I can truly believe I am telling the truth and understanding things as they are but not aware that I have been deluded by my older nature and not attentive to the Spirit that dwells within me.

And we are all so apt toward this that it becomes difficult to discern the folly in our own hearts even as we consider so readily and easily the folly in the hearts of others. We all bear traces of the divine image, however marred, yet we do not recognize it in each other and do not cultivate it in ourselves, nor can we apart form the work of the Spirit within us and yet we can, paradoxically cooperate with the Spirit who has sealed us for the Lord's purposes.

None of this is very simple in practice and all of it involves steps of faith that are far easier described than done.

To take comfort is to take refuge and it is sobering to remember that there are so many things a person can take refuge in before Christ--friends, family, work, pleasure, honor, distinction, service, none of them bad things but if I define my value through the friends I have, the family I have, the work I have done, the pleasure I derive, the honor I receive, the distinction I have been given, or the things I think I have done in service, these are all of no value. If I take comfort in any service I have rendered I am most to be pitied because service is of no account to the Lord not because it has no value but because the things that seem most humble are often least humble and the things that seem most truthful are often least truthful. I cannot trust myself and that is why it is easier in some sense to trust others, because the heart is deceitful above all things.

But in the end there is only one who tells the truth without the shadows of corruption and deceit and self-regard, that is Christ.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

a short rumination about the division of the kingdom of Israel

There was a point in the history of Israel when the king had the opportunity to decide how he was to rule and he consulted with the old man of his father's household, those who advised Solomon, and asked them how he should rule. They advised to make the burden of the people lighter and to be merciful and generous. They said, "If you will be a servant to this people they will serve you for their whole lives."

But Rehoboam did not like this advise and went to the people who grew up with him in the king's court and asked them for advice instead. They advised him to make the task of being an Israelite harder not easier, even couching it in what may be termed a rather crude analogy along the lines of "My little finger is greater than my father's loins". At the word that he would whip them with scorpions and not whips the people rebelled and rejected his authority and left and the kingdom became divided.

When all Israel saw that the king refused to listen to them, they answered the king:
"What share do we have in David,
what part in Jesse's son?
To your tents, O Israel!
Look after your own house, O David!"
So the Israelites went home.

They all went to follow Jeroboam instead. Now Jeroboam was a man who had rebelled against Solomon, the previous king. Solomon tried to kill Jeroboam but did not succeed and the Lord gave Jeroboam ten tribes as promised. The Lord said "I will humble David's descendants through this but not forever." God promised that David's house would have at least one tribe so that His word would be kept.

Jeroboam feared that Israel would revert to the house of David if they worshipped at the Temple and offered sacrifices to Yahweh so he made new gods to ensure that loyalty would not bring his kingdom's subjects back to Judah. And so to secure his own rule he turned to idols.

Rehoboam planned to reclaim the ten tribes by force and prepared for war but the Lord stopped him. The Lord told him "Don't go to war against them for this is my doing." Rehoboam set up idols and was worse in idolatry than Solomon. It is curious to consider that to consolidate power over God's people both men turned to idols. It is hardly surprising but it is sad and it may serve as, so to speak, a parable about the history of God's people since the time of Christ as before. The Lord predicted division and strife within His kingdom before the time of Christ and so it is now since His coming. This may be taken, as it were, as a parable about the history of the Lord's people and those who are able to understand it will understand it well.

What I am struggling to understand is why Jeroboam and Rehoboam did not repent of their own sins. Why did Jeroboam choose to embrace his own power and influence rather than understand the kingdom had not been given to him over Israel forever? Why the lack of humility? Why did Rehoboam refuse to live as a servant in being king over Israel? Why did he choose to listen to the young men with whom had had grown up in the house of Solomon? Why did he make such a point of saying he was more a man than the leaders among God's people who preceeded him? His desire to rule powerfully divided the Lord's people when he could have chosen to be a servant and have reigned for his whole life in an era blessed by the Lord.

For reasons I can't really explain this has been on my mind a lot lately. Both kings who presided over the division of the kingdom, on either side, were finally crushed by the Lord, which is tragic because it was the will of the Lord to divide the kingdom. That was unavoidable and could not be stopped because the Lord called it in advance through a prophet. But the judgment turned out to not merely be against Rehoboam but against all of Israel.

Who are Jeroboam and Rehoboam today? Who has divided the house of the Lord to preserve their own station and respect rather than be a servant to the Lord's people? Who has horded up influence and power for themselves to defy what they have seen as an abuse of the Lord's people by those God has appointed? Are any of them above reproach in this story? It doesn't seem that they are, but all have the opportunity to repent and turn to the Lord who came and was the servant of all. It's a sad thing to see the Lord's people divided when the men who have power and influence seek to fight.

Friday, December 14, 2007

a clunky poem

So that he and his family would not wind up dead
All Elimelech’s house went to Moab for bread.
Naomi, Malon, and Chilion went with him
And left all the things they had known in Bethlehem
For the Lord had afflicted their home with a famine.
Now Isaac, ages before, had sensed the divine
Warning to not depart during the affliction.
Elimelech was of another disposition,
When wavering judges ruled over Israel;
And he had no father like Abraham to tell
Him, “God Himself will provide us our offering.”
Or of God’s promise and the decades of waiting;
Nor did he send his sons back to Judah for wives.
So his sons took the glances a Moabite gives.
There are no books that say what became of our friends
But we know most of them met some untimely ends
And Mara did not hide what she thought of her plight
She went out with blessing and returned from a blight.

A while back I heard a pastor go through the book of Ruth and the idea of writing a short narrative poem about this obscure fellow in the OT just wouldn't get out of my head. So this is my very forced, clunky narrative poem on the subject. No one in their right mind would attempt to make something rhyme with Elimelech unless you wanted to contrast him with Melchizedek (there, see what I mean?) and so I didn't go that route. The couplets are already pretty forced so I resorted to slant rhyme whenever possible. I think the slant rhyme works tolerable for the couplet about the wives with its forward allusion to Ruth joining the Israelite community through a second marriage to a Hebrew of more distinction.

Anyway, that's the poem. Not much to it is a poetic creation I suppose.

natural or social selection??

If Saletan is actually right, the subject of some discussion in itself, and the idea holds merit that what constitutes natural selection in human evolution may be less natural than social then his closing statement is merely an echo of sorts to a comment C. S. lewis once made, that every generation, within limits, gets exactly the kind of science it wants.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Schaeffer and Schaeffer part 3 (well, link discovered through iMonk)

Fascinating. Not sure that I have any plans to be Orthodox but reading this interview reminds me of how much I also feel Francis Schaeffer's real work has been distorted, misappropriated, and hijacked for political and culture war reasons that had nothing to do with what I felt was the heart of Schaeffer's real work.

Identifying the Christian Right as an activist right wing variation of the New Left makes sense. It's easy to see how the Christian Right has been attempting for the last twenty years to do what they feel the Left of the 1960s should not have done. Granted the Left of the 1960s advocated some stupid stuff, but that's not going to make the Right any better. I stand by my belief that Jesus was crucified by a bipartisan committee.

Fascinating interview. I agree with Michael Spenser that it's a must read. :)

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Stockhausen dead,,2224073,00.html

Yeah, I know, lazy blogging to just link to a headline but Song of the Youths made a pretty big impression on me when I was a teenager and my brother brought it home one day, back when record players were still fairly commonplace. An amazing piece. Doesn't mean I'd own a ton of Stockhausen but I could never hear Revolution #9 (interesting as it was) as anything more than a Stockhausen knock-off of a good but decidely lesser order. What can I say? I guess I'm a music snob on that point. The Beatles were a great pop band that got dubbed a rock band but they were so open about who they copied I figure it's still good to tip my hat to the guy who inspired them and set them aside, so to speak.

But I couldn't blog anything about him or his music that couldn't have been blogged about more eloquently by others.

Friday, December 07, 2007

What!? Nasa made zero gravity guinea pig porn?

This is so weird that I just have to believe NASA actually did this!

Read on my friends. The Wittenburg Door has to put this in the category of "things we wish we made up".

No I suppose I can just take their word for it, whoever did this research, that sex in space is a very serious matter and necessary for ensuring that some decades long journey into space will ... man, there's just no figure of speech I can write now that won't seem unintentionally prurient. That's how crazy this story is.

The whole guinea pig thing is just SO ... LITERAL!!

If Joel, Tom Servo and Crow could only comment about headlines.

This here is a news story where it doesn't matter what year it happened, it's one for the ages!

In case you're wondering how I came across this, well, Wenatchee The Hatchet hangs out at discussion forums where people talk about comic books. Perhaps there's some poetic justice there but I won't elaborate.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

culture war as jihad aspiration?

Not necessarily making the point that Michael Spenser is saying anything of the kind, but that's what I'm pondering. I grew up in a church setting where culture war stuff came up. It wasn't as prominent as a quest for personal spiritual enlightenment and an inner communion with God but that depended on who I talked to. In others it was a matter of praying for revival so that God would heal the land (i.e. America). National idolatry seemed to be a big part of the enterprise. I don't see any biblically defensible argument that revival's goal should be renewal of the United States' cultural life. It's good to defend the United States and its people from attack, though. But the kind of cultural dominance many Christians aspire to in the United States is understandably the same aspiration toward dominance in the eyes of many a secularist that jihadists want. I think Christopher Hitchens isn't as brilliant as he obviously thinks he is but I'll give him the natural suspicion that Christians and Jews with a culture war mentality are the same as Muslims in spirit, assuming he grants the existence of spirit for purely rhetorical effect.

Christianity certainly has a long history in every tradition of this kind of behavior. We all know about the Inquisition. Polish Catholics were on the receiving end of their own variation from the Orthodox for a while and Protestants have the Puritans and Lutherans to thank for plenty of killing. There is no branch of Christendom that is immune from the use of violence to further a cultural or political end as though it were an aim of the Lord Himself.

The more difficult enterprise than getting energized and exercised about the faults within society is to recognize the depth of one's own sin and to work toward the creation of something that, should the Lord wish to do so, be blessed with the ability to be a part of culture. It probably won't do to say that those who can do and those who can't teach because teaching requires at last a nominal knowledge of the subject. In our generation and time it is probably more likely to be true that those who can do, those who can't teach, and those who could do either but won't or don't blog. I do not even suppose that those who teach can't do themselves, they just couldn't do it professionally full time. After all, it has been my experience that in music those who teach invariably also play music as a career. Those who can both do and teach. Those who can't do neither. But there's always blogging, at least for now.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Schaeffer and Schaeffer part 2

Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back

That's the book and I plan to get to it. When reviewers lay into Frank Schaeffer for railing against Pat Robertson and George W Bush and the Christian Right and the current war I don't really care that much if that becomes the basis of a middling to bad review. Conversely, if the people raving about the book are secularists or on the Christian left that does not necessarily mean I have a reason to actually read the book.

No, I plan to get to the book because it seems interesting. If Frank Schaeffer is guilty of blaming a lot of his problems on the legacy of his parents he won't be any different from most Americans I've met. We live in a society where blaming family for our own abject failure is an easy temptation. But I don't have to assume that's what Frank Schaeffer has done in his book because a few Christians who don't want the late Francis Schaeffer taken down a peg by his own son don't think I should read the book. Conversely, I'm not so set in my politics at either extreme that I have a reason to think Frank Schaeffer must be a moron for opposing the current war or thinking that evangelicals are a bad joke. If Schaeffer is as bad as an agnostic or an atheist as some reviews I've seen on the net seem to think he is that won't be a surprise but I'm not sure it's a foregone conclusion. I'd like to read the book for myself to find out what I think. If Frank Schaeffer feels his father was led down a bad path by his friends and kids who changed him from a gift to the Church into a windy political pedant then I will very likely see in Schaeffer's memoir what I have seen in the last twenty years done with Francis Schaeffer's work.

Plus some of the more scholarly tomes I've thrown myself into just aren't feeling that winsom right now. I'll get back to Augustine and Bauckham later. Right now I'm sticking with lighter or more personable literary fare.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

down time and more down time

the holidays are here and I am occupied. Yes, I know, lame. But I just don't feel inspired to blog. Then again, not lame. I have spent plenty of time with very good friends, some of whom I have not been able to visit in quite some time. That's better than blogging. While I have been repeating myself on a number 0f topics I consider worthy they shall most likely have to wait, again.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Schaeffer and Schaeffer

Not sure I take the article hook, line, and sinker but it would not surprise me that Francis Schaeffer was as conflicted as any of us. What drew me into his work was not the exposition of doctrine, which frankly now seems a bit simplistic fifteen to seventeen years after I read his famous trilogy; or even his assessment of the arts. It really is possibly he completely screwed up Kierkegaard, for instance. His failure to grasp the difference between atonality and polytonality is understandable.

But in the end what still appeals to me about the work he did is that he bothered ... and by that I mean AT ALL to not just "engage culture" the way his self-appointed or somewhat more literal disciples have, he actually immersed himself in it. He obviously enjoyed all of the arts and did so as a Christian. There were times when he decided he had to not like things for what might be dubbed "theologically correct" reasons. I have had no problem enjoying the works of some modernists Schaeffer felt obliged to dislike. I don't necessarily enjoy the content of all of Dali's paints but his style was something else.

But where I DO agree with the gist of the article is that the Schaeffer that inspired me is obviously not the same Schaeffer that has inspired Tim LaHaye and others who have been identified with the religious right-wing movement. Schaeffer pretty much WAS drafted into a culture war--yet Schaeffer had already warned people in his prime had this culture war been so completely abdicated by Christians fifty years earlier that the battle was not to reclaim the culture for the Christian faith but to understand the culture and speak to it, to even begin to be able to speak to it.

It seems paradoxical for Christians to talk about engaging the culture because the separatist impulse is so strong for some of us that we are trying to reach into the culture while simultaneously pulling ourselves out of it. And in order to do that we have to be some Christian Mr. Fantastic with ever elongating arms.

We aren't in a cultural milleu where Christianity as a culture movement defines much of anything except reactionary and vestigially progressive politics. By so utterly subordinating any sense of art to another goal we get what one of my professors would have called, unflinchingly, ersatz. And it's true, that's what a lot of "Christian" art is, and a lot of Christian "cultural engagement".

Well, I don't feel like blogging THAT badly. :) Sure, I have a couple of lengthy treatises I'm considering that probably won't even turn into very lengthy treatises at all. I'm toying with an examination of Takahashi's comedic staple, the embarrassment of attachment she pins on to all of her characters. And I am still interested in writing a potentially windy treatise on depictions of child abusive dynamics in Eureka Seven. Hey, I freely admit to being a total nerd.

Now, see, the reason I feel okay saying all this is because I really think that what Schaeffer did so well that most of his self-proclaimed heirs really stink at is studying culture with an eye for the Gospel, finding places where they are not only speaking "to" the world around them about what is merely a presuppositional grid of what is or isn't great art and great philosophy or theology, but to actually LEARN. I have learned some rather startling things about myself and people around me through some of the things I have watched and read in the last year, stuff I never would have expected. If Christians of a broadly evangelical stripe and a cultural warrior bent can stop attempting to war with the culture they might find a few snippets of it to quote to the Athenians. It's possible to go so far that direction as to assimilate but then as Koholeth put it in an entirely different setting, it is good to hold on to one and not let go of the other and the man who fears God will avoid all extremes.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

theological changes as an expression of personal change

Many, many years ago I was Arminian at an Assemblies of God church. I was persuaded that we had to have free will because if we did not how would God be just in punishing us for our sins? Over time I came to the observation that while we might be free at some level to choose SOMETHING, choosing Christ did not seem to be a strong part of that, and that even being in Christ one could still struggle plenty with sin. More to the point, if I am a slave to sin unless Christ makes me free then how free would I be to have chosen Christ if I was a slave to sin before He found me? And if I was a slave to sin before Christ found me then how would Christ make me free so that I could immediately choose, if I wished, to go back to sin? I began to wonder if the Calvinist side of things had something going for it.

But to say that I became a Calvinist because the propositional truths of the doctrines were truer and more scriptural is a pretty inadequate way of framing the conversion from one type of Christian theology to another. It would be far more accurate to say in retrospect that I changed horses mid-stream not because either one is an illegitimate expression of genuinely Christian thought but because I became acutely aware of a great failure on my part to appeciate Christ in my own life. This is why once I made the change from Arminianism to Calvinism I remained indifferent to what most of my convert to Calvinism friends obsessed about, proving that where they were formerly was wrong.

It is the common problem of the proselyte within Christendom, a tendency to blame the denomination I left for the spiritual problems of my own walk with Christ. It's a spectacularly obvious but easily missed distinction I have noticed with many an ex-Arminian. They will go through Scripture and claim that the only conclusion you can come to is that Calvinism is true. Yeah, well, if that were REALLY the case there wouldnt' be any Arminians at ALL would there? They'd have all stumbled on to the true inevitability of the Reformed understanding of Christ and gone with it. Yet it isn't so. Now I happen to be a Calvinist and a supralapsarian who holds to an amillenial partial preterist view (and that tentatively) but I see no reason to suppose that an Arminian somehow isn't reading exactly the same Bible any other Protestant (or even Catholic or Orthodox) Christian reads.

If converting from within one camp to another in Christianity helps you in your walk with Christ, cool. That's what I did when I switched from Arminianism to Calvinism. But I also hope that in the process of converting you don't forget that the body of Christ extends beyond the visible distinctions we have made within it and have then retroactively attributed to the sovereign hand and will of God. Despite my youthful opposition to any sort of ecumenism in principle I'll admit to being pretty ecumenical now. I am still pretty conservative in my theology but not quite so much in my politics and denominational distinctions are a rather low priority for me now.

The reason I am not likely to change denominational or doctrinal affiliations at this point is not bbecause I haven't done it in the past but because I know that doing so is not finally a matter of knowing Christ better (though it can help that process, obviously). And changing denominational links has not given me a lesser appreciation for where I have been. I still value the things I learned about Christ from my Arminian days and still have those blessings from Christ with me now. If I were to become Lutheran or Presbyterian over the next ten years I would not then regret the time I have been spending at the church I am at. I don't want to hold my ex-churches accountable for my own failure to seek and love Christ any more than I want to credit the church I am at with my love for and apprehension of Christ now. To do that would be to credit the Body with that which only the Head can provide. Certainly I appreciate the help I receive from my church but it takes discernment to know when the Church acts as Christ's body and when the Church is, well, the sinful yet to be redeemed Church.

If that were easy there wouldn't be so denominations across the world. But there were twelve tribes in Israel so if Israel is one nation with twelve tribes it's not that difficult for me to imagine that there are tribes within the Israel which has been redefined by Jesus. This is why most discussions of which branch of Christendom is the "one true Church" seem absurd to me, as it requires a willfully ignorant summarization of the history of God's people as being more uniform than it has ever been. Even within the time of the Mosaic covenant God added all kinds of people whom the Law would have prohibited from acceptance into God's people. In the same way, the body of Christ includes all kinds of people we Christians frequently don't want in the body because of issues like the nature of sacraments or the level of interaction our will does or doesn't have in bringing about either our justification or sanctification when the main thing that unites us is our king.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Uh, this just seems to constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

Sure killing your girlfriend's puppy is evil but THREE YEARS in prison for it!? If the guy pleaded guily and apologized what's with the three years in prison? What's wrong with levying a fine commensurate with the market value of said puppy. Dude, this is why the Mosaic law had lex talionis. An eye for an eye served the salutory purpose of people not being sent to jail for three years for pleading guilty to killing a girlfriend's puppy!

memory is a curious weapon

Memory is a curious weapon:
Whether in attack or defense it is
A weapon that wounds the one who wields it
as well as the one on whom it is used.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

the glow of fresh shrimp

I guess now's a great time to observe dietary laws about not eating shellfish if you're Jewish and haven't been observant!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

when different gods attack

Isaiah 10:20
In that day the remnant of Israel, the survivors of the house of Jacob, will no longer rely on him who struck them down but will truly rely on the LORD, the Holy One of Israel.

Isaiah 19:22
The LORD will strike Egypt with a plague; he will strike them and heal them. They will turn to the LORD, and he will respond to their pleas and heal them.

This combination of verses in Isaiah has had me thinking about how when we rely on idols to help us we end up relying on those things and people which crush us. The Lord certainly crushes us to, but to build us up. When we rely on those things which are not the Lord, we are simply struck down. It is perennially sobering to realize that whatever we use and whomever we rely upon to define us that is not Christ himself becomes a burden to us, we become destroyed by what we think we ought to do and work ourselves to a point where we detest those things and people that in Christ we could love.

Our idols strike us down. We don't like to admit it. I don't like to admit it but the idols in my life have definitely struck me down and used me in the end when I thought that by turning to them I could be happy or at least forget unhappiness long enough to take some comfort. Learning to rely on the Lord even when He strikes you is self-evidently not easy, but it is an easier yoke to bear and an easier burden to carry than what my idols have asked of me in return for their receipt of worship.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

new mode of birth control, genetic manipulation of eggs, in the works

This would, if I understand it properly, deactivate fertile eggs. I'm not married and have no kids but this kind of thing creeps me out. It's not exactly that some people don't want kid. I get that. some don't. It's that directly shutting down fertile eggs by means of genetic manipulation of humans worries me. It seems that even in the case of modifying poplar trees I can get what the goal is but I can't help being cautious about the possibility of unintended side effects. A regular medication or genetic alteration that is supposed to promote infertility might work TOO well. Franky Idiocracy doesn't seem all that far fetched sometimes, even though I know it's a satire based on completely improbable events.

a prelude to the poems of Wallace Stevens

Well, not really, but the idea that language and perceptive are like a cognitive lens through which we can see the world around us reminds me of his poems. I wrote a few poems a couple of years ago using water as a metaphor both for how it distorts and refracts light and how it is necessary for survival. My old poem "hand me your big black umbrella" had a line about being blinded by the tumbling clearness (i.e. water), or not, because of the umbrella. There are things we need that simultaneously limit but clarify our perception.

Since I go through most of my life seeing the world through one eye rather than two (the second one works, mind you, but I've never had truly binocular vision) the idea that what we perceive is not necessarily what is is not a new concept for me.

Plus this article explains why Yoda is a moron. ;)

Would someone stop Lucas, please?

Can the franchise just die now? The best thing to happen in the Star Wars franchise was a recent Robot Chicken special. And before that the only thing that was actually cool about the franchise's recent entries was the animated Clone Wars series and even that, I must confess, too warming up to. 'Twas Gendy, though, and a guy who made Samurai Jack and directed oodles of Powerpuff Girls episodes was naturally going to make Star Wars cooler than Lucas has made it in the last decade.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Genetically modified poplar trees being designed for soil cleaning

And some of the researchers, not incidentally, have been firebombed for make the effort. Splicing and dicing genetic material has already been happening for centuries in the form of developing particular breeds of dog and cat (i.e. pitbulls verses collies and main coons verses tabbies and Russian blues) but these modifications have been through traditional hybridization breeding. So people feel quite a bit more comfortable with that because mutations that can't survive won't. Developing new variations on species may provide a big "yuck" factor not just becasue the artificial nature of the hybrid is so apparent but also because it goes against all normal statistically proven ways of arriving at hybrids or new species, e.g. conventional microevolutionary processes leading to new speciation.

In terms of theology this would seem to go back to the prohibition against mixtures of crops but since in Christ the law was considered abolished and fulfilled at the same time how does a Christian investigate this matter? On the one hand Jesus fulfilled the purpose of the Law and set aside as an obstacle barring entry of the Gentiles into God's kingdom so doing. It may be there is a purpose to such laws that is preserved even though the law itself is no longer an impediment to Gentile entry into the kingdom of God.

Deut 22:

6 If you come across a bird's nest beside the road, either in a tree or on the ground, and the mother is sitting on the young or on the eggs, do not take the mother with the young. 7 You may take the young, but be sure to let the mother go, so that it may go well with you and you may have a long life.

9 Do not plant two kinds of seed in your vineyard; if you do, not only the crops you plant but also the fruit of the vineyard will be defiled.
10 Do not plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together.
11 Do not wear clothes of wool and linen woven together.

These are the passages that, conceivably, might prohibit genetic engineering. The extrapolation is rather broad and probably forced, though. On the other hand, it is a pattern that can be extrapolated from these. Verse 9 warns that any intermingling of crops within a vineyard defiles all the fruit of the vineyard. It was against Mosaic law to plow with an ox and a donkey yoked together, which implicity argues that only two oxen should be yoked together. The matter that clothes of wool and linen woven together probably speaks for itself as a prohibition but conceptually the verse cumulatively speak against treating things as though they could be intermingled against their normal pattern.

In this respect a person could make the case that dog breeding does not violate the principle behidn these laws because dogs are simply being bred after their kind. hybridization of crops within a family would not be considered bad but interpolating genetic material from a rabbit into a tree would. INterestingly scientists have said they interpolated the rabbit gene because they have been unable to locate the gene within the tree's genome itself that performs a similar function. Would Christians object if scientists figured out how to activate the tree's own genetic capability of filtering toxins or would this still be playing God? I can see how both might be the case.

Conversely, if the tree is having its own genetic material shuffled or activated or deactivated or reactivated to cleanse the soil would that be wrong? Would it be wrong on principle or wrong because it could be considered a substitute for polluting less. Besides not polluting less could we genetically re-engineer the world to purify the environment of the toxins we pour into the world around us? If that's the case then I suppose a century from now Miyazaki's manga Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind could still be pertinent to these ethical debates, since Nausicaa must in the end confront the grim reality that the world she is trying to save was genetically re-engineered from the ground up by long lost generations of men not only to cleanse the world of the pollution humanity but to run its course and then self-destruct so that the humans who polluted the world to begin with could come back and reclaim it as their own. For a comic book two decades old it poses some ethical questions that are still pretty interesting (questions that really never come up in the anime).

Monday, October 15, 2007

Condi is back to what the administration talked about before 9/11

Namely pushing for a separate Palestinian state. If certain terrorist attacks hadn't happened there might not have been a six year gap between the last serious overture toward a separate Paelstinian state (if no more than in pro forma diplo-speak) and now. Not that this means a Palestinian state will happen or that it's even necessarily a good idea but Clinton didn't set one up thanks to Arafat not wanting anything less than "complete" success, as opposed to 90% success. Of course if success is annihilating Israel as opposed to an actual Palestinian state that's another matter, too.

Since I'm not a dispensationalist/futurist I don't particularly care if this is seen by the Hal Lindsey/Jack van Impe troupe as a sign of the coming apocalypse that has been set to happen within the generation that settled Israel for three generations.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

honor as an extrinsic quality in biblical literature, a sloppy rumination

Luke 14: 7-11

When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: "When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, 'Give this man your seat.' Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, 'Friend, move up to a better place.' Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

And after this, of course, there is Jesus' retort by way of parable to the one who said, "Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast of God." Jesus more or less says, "Oh yeah but it's not who you think it may be."

Both parables deal with the matter of honor, where it comes from, who it comes from, and what Jesus has to say about that. It seems that honor is a basically extrinsic thing here, something that can only be received and is not inherent. We can accept honor that comes from God or, more often, reject it, just as we can accept honor that comes from men or reject it or, alternately accept it or even obsess over it.

Whoever said that it would be an honor to feast with God gave Jesus the perfect opportunity to mention that the honor has been rejected by those who were initially invited and so the invitation goes out to anyone and everyone who was not first invited. The eschatological and national implications are so obvious as to need no explanation, but as a continuation of teaching about seeking honor for oneself it is interesting to consider how the honor that God gaves us through Christ we can often refuse while the honor we seek for ourselves distances us from God.

As Proverbs puts it, it's bad to eat too much sugar and it is dishonorable to seek your own honor. Let another praise you and not your own mouth, someone else and not your own lips. A crucible is for silver and a furnace for gold but a man is tested by the praise he receives.

It seems as though things like honor and integrity are things that should speak for themselves through action or not at all. When the apostles defended the gospel they were not necessarily defending themselves. Jesus did not defend himself when he went to trial. When Paul defended his apostolic vocation he did it by boasting in his weakness and the physical punishment he received for being a minister of the Gospel, and pointed to his credibility as a Jew among Jews only to say that his credentials by themselves were actually demerits in the sense of securing any true favor with the Lord.

When Paul defends his position as an apostle he repeatedly says he is speaking as a fool, suggesting that to even defend his reputation might as well render his reputation null and void. He stoops to it only because he is tired of being compared to the super-apostles and inverts the measure of honor and glory by appealing to his sharing in the suffering of Christ rather than the greatness of his prose or learning. He does not even really appeal to his own character but to what Christ providentially brings to him that allows him to share in the suffering of Christ. He even boasts in a prayer that God refused to answer and answered with the explanation that His strength is made perfect in weakness. An apostle boasting of a prayer that God didn't answer is a strange boast indeed! And that is what Paul does when he feels that he has to redefine what greatness is.

So even in his boasting Paul says it is acting like a fool and chooses to boast in what Christ has given him through suffering rather than in his learning or the power of the Spirit given to him to cast out demons or raise people from the dead or to be bitten by venomous snakes. He doesn't boast about any of these things when defending his apostolic credentials. And he does not boast of anything that he chose to do or appeal to them as a measure of what he should boast about, only about the things done to him in opposition to his taking a stand for the Gospel and the things he faced from persecution at the hands of Jews and Gentiles alike.

Yet in the end Paul also argues that there is finally nothing to boast about even in this, essentially, saying "Woe to me if I don't preach the good news." It is not even something to boast about since it was what he was called to do. Despite Paul's sometimes harsh or hectoring tone in polemics he can be a startlingly self-negating man in his letters.

Any attempt we make to defend our reputation has limits to what it can accomplish, and since honor is bestowed upon us by men or by God or possibly by both we cannot defend for ourselves what can only be given. There is, in a sense, not much point in defending that which we feel we are due but cannot receive except providentially by God's hand. By violence of some kind we can reach out and grasp at what we feel we deserve and in the process lose the very thing we felt was our due, and perhaps that simply proves we do not deserve the honor that we crave.

And if Jesus taught us that we are blessed if we are reviled and persecuted for bearing his name and having false things said about us then perhaps it is in part to tell us that what the world considers honor is not especially important. He spoke against those who prized the honored seats at synagogues. Those who seek honor for themselves or prize it have some opposition from the Lord. Those who do not seek it, paradoxically, receive it.

In the end one's reputation is only important in so much as Christ is revealed in it and beyond that it is of no value whatsoever. Certainly a person's reputation is of value but it can be valued in the wrong way. The Psalmist in various laments appeals to God as his vindicator even when he trusts he is blameless in a matter because he understood that the honor that comes from God is more valuable than the honor that comes from men, even if that latter honor is not entirely without some value among God's people. After all, he writes that the godly men and women of the land were heroes to him. But this is enough rambling on a topic.

editing music, part 4

Battling other things than dead printers this time, like updates that I couldn't get for my computer because the wi-fi wasn't working so well.

Been revisiting some of my favorite comics lately, Takahashi stuff, and mulling over how as a general leitmotif across her serialized work she explores what might easily be called the embarrassment of attachment, how we become more attached to people, places, and things than we are comfortable admitting to ourselves, let alone others. It's interesting (and since I'm talking about Rumiko Takahashi, hilarious) that she has gotten thirty years worth of mileage out of such a simple observation about the human condition.

But mainly I am also thinking about editing music scores and reading the Bible a bit, particularly 1 Peter, Isaiah, and the Psalms. I could write more but at this point I don't feel a need to.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

the poem in the link is just too funny!

I'm sorry, I just couldn't help but laugh out loud reading this most awesome take-down of an author I'd often heard about but could never understand or appreciate. Maybe it's because I'm some kind of supralapsarian amillenial partial preterist TULIP with an affinity for Anglicans and Lutherans and Pentecostals? Meh, it's bedtime anyway.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

music and writing

I've been not doing a ton of music writing but have been doing a lot of editing, editing, editing. Maybe fifty-five pages last weekend and twenty-one pages this weekend and all to the end of creating work that reads cleanly and neatly and makes sense.

This is the part about being a musician or composer that's least glamorous. There's just nothing cool about combing through every note and every articulation marking and every dynamic marking and every string indication and every stacatto or tenuto marking and every fingering indication for the left hand or the right hand, let alone dastardly ossia segments. But it's the stuff that needs to be done to make the score clear and sensible. One of my professors said to me that the most important thing for an artist is not to be understood but to ensure there is no misunderstanding. If a musician doesn't like my music that should be because the score makes sense, is easy to read, and the musician just doesn't dig it. If a musician doesn't understand what the score asks of him or her then the problem is all mine because they might really like my music if they could only read it clearly.

But it's something I've learned to appreciate not as an end unto itself but as a part of the process. I didn't have any significant formal music training as a kid. I was shown some basics of music and it just seemed silly to me when I was eight years old. I wasn't sure what the deal was with the notational conventions. In fact why public schools in my home town had music education almost seems like some nebulous pre ballot measure 5 Oregon for some reason. Maybe there's more music education out there than I've imagined.

Well, anyway, I have been thinking lately about art and perception lately, particularly after coming across this article:

I think that Tom Wolfe was right to snipe that if he didn't have a theory of seeing he couldn't even see a painting, but Wolfe also didn't understand, perhaps, that he was justifiably making fun of that half of the truth taken too far but failing to grasp that that point was still half of the truth about art. Art is never just about the artist but the connection between the artist and audience. If you have no audience then there's no need to kowtow to them. But if you have no audience then who are you communicating to? God? Cool. Yourself, not quite so cool but still perfectly justifiable. Your husband or wife? Sure.

The old battle of aesthetic schools never goes away because each of them has part of what I consider to be the truth. There is such a thing as beauty that can be measured and defined in the world around us but there is variance, there are too many ways in which the world is ugly and beautiful for us to find one paradigm that exhausts all that beauty.

I suppose what I'm most thinking of when conservative Christians bemoan modernism in the art it's that they're only half right. They don't understand that artistic excellence is not JUST about aesthetic standards but about the cognitive moment of perception itself. Is art something you see out there or something you see from within yourself? It's pretty obviously both. If you don't look at the world around you, both the natural and man-made, and see beauty in that then the problem is not that there is no art around you but that you've done nothing to cultivate a perception of art in your mind.

In this respect it's easy for people to stop thinking like artists because they decide it's all been done, a la Ecclesiastes, and there's nothing new under the sun so stick with what works. That's why being finite and fallible is fun, because it means we can continually discover things WE haven't seen or heard or sensed or thought before. A principle can be expounded and expanded in all kinds of ways. If the old were intrinsically beneath enjoyment and if the old had no promise of new, as yet unexplored possibilities no one would stay married, ever, no one would keep in touch with their kids or parents to keep learning. The old renews itself and the new can meet us with the marks of familiarity.

I don't think we live in a time when the arts are at a loss because of consumerism or lack of aesthetic standard. I don't wish to live at any time earlier than where i am at now. I am grateful the Lord has given me the time and place to be a composer, a musician, even if I'm not in any way making a living at it. I am glad, though, to be able to write my music and blog a bit once in a while and have a sense of appreciation that things may sometimes be difficult or horrifying, even, but that Koholeth was right to say that a living dog is better than a dead lion because the dog is alive. It is better to stop a moment and recognize that all is a puff of air, a breath. Sure, I spent hours editing a bunch of music this weekend but that makes it fun to sit back and just lazily blog about it, too. It will be even more fun if someone likes my music enough to play it, let along record it or publish it. I'll just have to see how that goes.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

as an amillenial partial preterist I find this amusing

Not that all social conservatives are dispensationalist but the ones with the most prominent roles in the team seem to be. I mean, really, does ANYONE who isn't already more than a little paranoid seriously consider any variation of Christian Reconstructionism or any variation of its adherents to be actually politically viable?

and these people are ... ?

This link I saw through BHT reminded me of how of these people I've even heard of

Alcorn, Randy C. (who?)
Alexander, Shaun (who?)
Arterburn, Stephen (who?)
Beers, Ron (who?)
Bell, Rob (who? not that late night radio guy is he?)
Blackaby, Henry T. (uh ...)
Brunstetter, Wanda E. (who?)
Chapman, Gary (uh ...)
Cloud, Henry (Boundaries dude, I actually have heard of this guy but never read him)
Colbert, Don (no relation to Stephen, I assume)
Collins, Brandilyn (uh ...)
Dekker, Ted (novelist, I've heard of this guy but never read him)
DeMoss, Nancy Leigh (who?)
Dungy, Tony (who?)
Eggerichs, Emerson (who?)
Eldredge, John (Wild at Heart dude, right?)
Ethridge, Shannon (uh ... )
Feldhahn, Shaunti (gender differences author that I've heard of because I've got married friends)
Gregory, David (uh ...)
Hagee, John (he's on TBN so I wish he had no publishing career)
Heavilin, Marilyn (no idea)
Henderson, Dee (no idea)
Hybels, Bill (heard of this guy but don't even remember why)
Jakes, T. D. (I wish I HADN'T heard of this guy)
Jeremiah, David (uh ... )
Kilgore, Kay Wheeler (Apocalypse Now is all that comes to mind)
Kingsbury, Karen (who?)
LaHaye, Tim (Battle for the Mind was a watered down reappropriation of Francis Schaeffer and I can't help but know about the Left Behind books even though I'm an amillenial partial preterist)
Lewis, Beverly (uh ... )
Lucado, Max (I've heard of this guy but don't recall ever reading anything by him)
MacArthur, John (Charismatic Chaos was crap research and he'll never live it down, ever, but I hear he's helpful to some folks)

McGraw, Robin (who?)
Meyer, Joyce (urm, can't say I'm a fan)
Miller, Donald (I know OF this guy but have never read him)
Moore, Beth (sounds familiar for reasons I don't recall)
Oke, Janette (who?)
Omartian, Stormie (who? cool sounding name though :) )
Osteen, Joel (never bothered to investigate this guy)
Piper, Don (no relation to John I assume)
Rice, Helen Steiner (who?)
Rivers, Francine (uh ... )
Rosenberg, Joel C. (uh ... )
Shepherd, Sheri Rose (never heard of them)
Strobel, Lee (read one or two books, light but interesting)
Warren, Rick (heard of him, never read him)
Weaver, Joanna (who?)
Wick, Lori (who?)
Yancey, Philip (lighter reading but some okay stuff).

See I guess I've been mainly reading Richard Bauckham, N. T. Wright, John Piper, Bonhoeffer, Augustine, John Stott, tiny bits of John Murray and stuff like that. And I've read me some Wayne Grudem and Gordon Fee. Most of these authors in the above list I've never even heard of before. The two most recent books I picked up are by Bauckham and Wright.

I guess I still consider myself evangelical but I'm just curious as to what these authors have their reputations built on and in the case of a couple of them I wonder what on earth makes them evangelical.

Monday, October 01, 2007

end of vacation

Well, I just wrapped up a vacation. It was mainly a vacation, honest, but I also made squeaky clean copies of a piece to send off to musicians. It's a sonata for oboe and guitar I wrote a few years ago and I just spruced up the full score and the part extractions for both instruments and they're ready to print and send in the mail. The total number of pages is fifty five and I feel like I just spent the better part of a weekend knocking these fifty five pages out to be ready for mailing. I'm glad I didn't get so delusional as to try editing the full score and parts for the other FIVE sonatas I thought I was going to edit over vacation. Editing unpublished scores of pieces I've written is not my day job ... at least not yet. We'll have to see if perhaps I can get to that point, though, where doing that might be part of my day job.

Man, no one tells you enough that the nastiest work isn't the music-writing itself but getting the stinking materials clean enough and readable enough to, as they have it, send it off to the engraver. Not that that's happening by a long shot but I speak figuratively. What's REALLY happening is I'm sending a sonata to a few interested parties because while I have the email addresses of someone in every oboe and guitar duo on the face of the earth (trust me, they aren't that numerous) I can't exactly hold my breath waiting for each and every (or any) given one of them to play my piece. That's not really how the music business would work, assuming it works.

Plus I've discovered that the time it takes between receipt of a score and actual work on it can be, well, spectacular. One ensemble got my sonata about two years ago and I honestly have no clue if they've looked at it. The other ensemble that has had my sonata for two years ago HAS looked at it and even played through a movement (cool!) but they're not sure how much longer they'll be playing as an ensemble so, unfortunately, I have to more or less write them off even though I'd love for them to be able to play through the piece. Obviously I'd think it's cool if ALL the oboe and guitar duos I've sent my music to get around to playing it but since I don't know which I can never be hurt by sending my music to anyone who might take an interest in it.

So much for Jude. I've just had other things going on. Having an actual social life has mitigated against some of the more ambituous writing and reading projects I've wanted to take on, which might be just as well. Before I bother to get into that whole exposition on child abuse in Eureka Seven I probably better actually finish watching the rest of the show to find out how it ends. Will probably be able to get to that when the last DVD comes out.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

a short gripe about academic theological debates

Specifically I'm annoyed with the persistence of the imparted versus imputed righteousness debate. Anyone who can't see why this is a false dichotomy must be a moron who doesn't remember the cumulative testimony of the Bible.

Here's why--if Jesus' righteousness is imputed to us then what is the means of that imputation? If we aren't saved then the imputation is meaningless and if we are not saved except by the leading and prompting of the Spirit then how does that work? Last I checked Jesus said he would return to the Father and the Comforter would be sent (i.e. imparted). This is particularly annoying to see coming from Reformed folks reacting to Catholic teaching because the sad truth is that if righteousness is not simultaneously imparted through the work of the Spirit and imputed on the basis of faith in Christ then if we don't have the both/and we have neither.

Not that polemicists on either side tend to be interested in highlighting that rather obvious observation. Certainly there are problems if we suppose that righteousness is primarily imparted if by this we mean that righteousness is imparted on the basis of criteria that can be independently obtained by humans. If we are not dead in our sins and not slaves to sin then on what basis could Jesus ever say that he who the Son makes free is free indeed? Obviously at that point if you could choose Jesus of your own ability Jesus wouldn't need to be your savior or set you free or make you alive when you have been dead in your sins.

On the other hand, no one seriously proposes within orthodox Christian thought that once you have Jesus' righteousness imputed to you that you can do whatever you want. Jude doesn't say for nothing that those who pervert the grace of God are devoid of the Spirit, let alone that despite saving a people out of Egypt that God destroyed those among Israel who did not believe. Covenant membership in God's people does not automatically insure salvation. It's a weird and bitterly funny historical irony that some Protestants seemed to reject Romish ideas of salvation through corporate membership only to reinvent the wheel themselves. The credobaptists might have been on to something but never mind that tangent.

It seems that just as it's crazy to separate Jesus' life, death, and resurrection (per Bonhoeffer's great exposition in Ethics) it seems equally crazy to separate impartation and imputation of righteousness. Why tell believers that they should pray in the Spirit or be full of the Spirit or not quench the Spirit if there is no impartational element of righteousness? Isn't that, well, odd?

This hardly means I don't have an appreciate for solid theological debate, just that lately I've seen some debates about things that some people think really matter. And I don't disagree but I disagree with how the whole framework of disagreement happens because it seems as though Christians have a tendency to invoke false dichotomies that Scripture doesn't attest to.

My favorite one would have to be the question of whether God exists inside of time or outside of time as if God couldn't exist inside and outside of time simultaneously. I mean, one God in three persons? How hard would it be for that God, assuming He exists, to exist inside and outside of time simultaneously. To really hammer the point with a silly phrase, is it so hard for God to exist inside of time and outside of time at the same time?

But I digress and I figure it's bed time, really. I might try to blog about other stuff later on. I've watched a few Japanese cartoons that I've alluded to on another on-line avenue. I might write about some of the admittedly esoteric/academic interests I've taken in anime that have personally appealed to me. If anyone is actually up for a rambling analysis of how Eureka Seven [Psalm of the Planets] depicts child abuse I might throw that up here some time in the future ... but then I said I'd analyze Koshkin's flute/guitar sonata at some point and THAT hasn't happened yet. And I still feel like a shmuck for not writing more about the Corona Guitar Kvartet's great CD of Tamulionis.

I've just had enough stuff going on and have tried to have something like a social life that I admit I haven't written nearly as much as i kept telling myself I would. And the truth is that in addition to all this otherwise unmentioned stuff I've got some musical contacts I've very excited about lately. No details here but I am hoping to cultivate some contacts in the music scene that may eventually lead to my sonatas getting played, which would be a barrel of monkeys worth of fun. Okay, forget that with the exception of Mojo Jojo I don't like monkeys, that was a bad figure of speech and was probably a mixed metaphor.

Yeah, and that's not even counting that I haven't gotten around to doing that writing on Jude I meant to get around to. Feh, I'm not usually a goal-oriented person by temperament so it feels weird to think that I have bitten off what seems to be more than I can chew in terms of what I would like to do. It's just easier to stick with biblical literature and composing lately. Blogging about stuff is fun but I have to pace myself.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

down time

I have been on a kind of vacation lately. I thought I would do more reading than I have but it is more necessary to write, though not about things on which I would ever actually blog, at least not most of them.

However, I will mention that thanks to some friends and relatives I have been watching more than a few Japanese cartoons lately. I have been toying with some analysis of the cartoons, actually. What they may or may not teach you in school is that artistic criticism and analysis isn't just for the the "masterpieces" of the Western arts. You really can do it for any kind of media. Critical thinking skills were touted as what a good education would give me when I was growing up but if people don't want to use critical thinking skills then what good are they, really? More to the point, one of the shortfalls of education can sometimes be the paradox of promoting critical thinking skills around a canon for which critical thinking skills are considered to be more worthy or more worthily applied. I.e. I've had professors who think Kurosawa and Shakespeare are fit subjects for searching analysis and study but not comic books ... at least not comic books not written by Art Spiegelman! Some music professors I knew thought you could apply formal analysis to Mahler but that there was nothing to study in songs by pop musicians. The truth is that both ends of the "high/low" spectrum are equally worthy of study and equally amenable to historical and literary and formal scrutiny.

Which is why I'm toying with thematic analysis of two Japanese cartoons I've been hooked on lately, Cowboy Bebop and Eureka Seven. The two shows couldn't be more different in terms of tone but both are quintessentially Japanese cartoons. However, it is not necessarily the Japanese aspect of the shows I want to explore but more trans-national themes because the fact that both shows have shown up on Cartoon Network speaks to how the shows have a cross-Pacific appeal. Vouching from my own experience and eventually budgetary plans I plan on getting both series eventually so I'm not just borrowing them from friends and family!

But this is not exactly the time for me to get into all this stuff. I still have musical and biblical literature stuff I want to study for a time and I have to admit I haven't been doing a very good job of that.

Monday, August 27, 2007

the blogging of cultural criticism as displacement

Sometimes I wonder if there's something to be said for blogs critical of the evils of society as a form of displacement. As a pastor I've met once put it, you can hear a lot of fat Baptist preachers complaining about the intemperence others have in the use of alcohol or sex. Perhaps this is just as indicative of a tendency to have an extravorted approach to blogging.

Not necessarily, of course, but every once in a while I come across blogs and on-line journals where enough time is spent looking out at the world and finding it wanting that I wonder what people are doing in their own lives to make their lot better, or if they can. Not that we can't all appreciate a bad review, as Anton Ego puts it in Ratatouille, because bad reviews are often easy to write and just as often fun to read. In fact the staple of criticism would not be what it is, we would not recognize the word "criticism" to even signify what, colloquially, we all understand it to mean if we all thought criticism was about liking every new restaurant in town.

But to defend the new, well, that's tough, and not half so tough as defending the old and demonstrating how the best of the new preserves what is good in the old. As a musician I know that nothing is going to replace the ability to (and inevitable need for!) committing a score to paper the old fashioned way. But this doesn't mean we can't use every technological tool at our disposal to make the job easier. The technology of making music is never necessarily the enemy of creativity, our own minds are all the enemy we ever need! Our own lack of committment to the craft of being an artist and actually working on what we think we're into is our greatest obstacle.

To some degree the reason I don't blog much now is because I have enough to do in my own life I have other things to do. It's not that I don't have an interest in blogging about Jude and non-canonical literature but personal commitments can't be ignored. But personal commitments can also be the way to forsake the artistic vocation, the thing I can use to postpone working on a project I could have finished a year ago if I had the mind to. Personal loyalties can be the facade we embrace because our heart is not really in being an artist at all. At times like this it could have been tempting in the past to listen to the radio and hear something I didn't like and think to myself that it doesn't make sense why so and so is on the radio writing that crap and getting it published. I don't listen to the radio.

Withdrawing from popular culture doesn't have to be complete and it doesn't have to signify a lack of artistic relevance. Withdrawing from an engagement of the world of the arts can be selective. If Atanas Ourkouzounov has a new CD coming out or someone plays Nikita Koshkin's guitar concerto (please, SOMEONE do it and put it on CD) then I'll get those discs. I'm still pining for Shin-ichi Fukuda's next CD of Takemitsu and I have it on fairly accurate authority the d'Amore Duo has a CD coming down the pike eventually. But as to bands on the radio, meh, whatever. An artist has to engage in the arts that will help him or her continue in his own craft and the rest can go hang. This means that I can subsist on old Stevie Wonder without having to get his latest album. It means Vespertine will suffice until two or three friends tell me I "should" get Volta or anything Bjork has done more recently.

As the Preacher puts it in Ecclesiastes, there is really nothing new under the sun so keeping up with the latest fads in the arts hardly means you're artistically relevant. Artistic and cultural relevance, in a way, is irrelevant. If there is such a thing as truth and it also is relatively unchanging and steady from generation to generation (which I, obviously, do believe) then I don't need to keep up with what the various Joneses are doing. As a fellow once told me in my college days, you have to be careful not to use your own reading as a validation for or a rationale for your writing. You can't make your own work as an artist contingent on your own consumption of cultural artifacts. I hardly ever write poetry any more but as a composer I think I've managed to learn this lesson. The artist will keep working regardless of the direction of the creative tide. I'm trusting that Aimee Mann knows what she's talking about when she says that you need to keep working on your art as though no one were ever going to listen, or is listening, because if you're actually any good eventually someone WILL listen.

Which is why, in case it hasn't been apparent, the few times I use this blog I try to focus almost entirely on what I WANT people to read or see or hear or engage. If few people join me that's just the nature of blogging.

If I were to settle into complaining about all the things that I don't like or don't interest me it would feel like a betrayal of such artistic vocation as I have. It would be like Peter turning to Jesus and pointing to the beloved disciple and saying, "What about him?" Well, so what about him? He's going to write the fourth Gospel, a few epistles, and an apocalypse. Peter gets to write a couple of epistles (or at least have his name attached to him, an excurses I will merely allude to) and be a major source of information for another gospel, according to church tradition.

Which is to say that Peter gets stuck wondering what others will do when the opportunity to follow Christ himself is freely given. I could make bitching my mistress or my artistic muse and I even know of whole genres of literature and music devoted to such things. It's too tempting already!

Seeing how Christians sometimes (no, often) engage "culture war" issues it seems as though we too often lament in others what is finally a weakness in ourselves that we would rather not confront. Sure, public schools can be lame but is it also possible Christian parents have so abdicated their own role in education they don't realize that six hours in a public school can't really compete in the end with filial bonds, regardless of what Christians like to quote from secular pundits in the past? Sometimes what Christians consider realism can be a lack of faith and I don't merely speak hypothetically on this subject, even if I'm not going to belabor the point with a personal illustration. If you've read this blog for any length of time you know I'm not prone to using personal illustrations like that very often.

Soemtimes I think secular liberals may have had a point in proposing that a lot of conservative Christians 20 years ago felt disenfranchised and that they lacked the pathways to power. I'm not sure any secular liberals are complaining about that now! But it's possible conservative Christians of the theological and cultural persuasion (as opposed to those who are merely in the former camp) still feel that they do not have the cultural weight or respect in society they ought to have. Biblically speaking, should they, ever?

It seems the answer is basically 'no'. We've done enough damage to the cause of the actual Gospel by using the good news of the culture war. I don't want revival in America so that America can be a great nation again. If the United States collapses in the next fifty years that would really suck, don't get me wrong, but faith in Christ means that if that happens I can write my own personal jeremiad about the fall of a great nation if I feel like it. Sometimes I feel as though Christians can be obsessed with coveting things they don't need and spiritualizing it by invoking something like a culture war. Did the apostles need society on their side in the culture war to transform the world? Last I heard they didn't.

It can certainly seem as though things are worse now than they were in the past but the Preacher doesn't merely warn against us buying into the idea that something that is on the radio now is new, but also warns us that nostalgia is foolish. There's no point in wishing for long-gone days that were better than what we have now because it is not from wisdom we ask where those old days were. I don't want to go back to a time when America was great because when America was great the kind of interracial marriage that brought me into the world wouldn't have happened much even where I live. The musical past I would have grown up into would not have had the richness of the musical past I can see now, and I would have died at birth, more to the point. Sometimes it seems that the single greatest challenge a Christian can face is simply to display some gratitude.

Well, withstanding my own many problems of character and circumstance I'm glad to live in the time in which I live. I don't begrudge the existence of TV or computers or things that Christians seem to think will rot the brain because none of those things rot the brain better than one's own sinful thought life. You don't have to watch South Park to have evil thoughts. You don't have to listen to secular music. You don't have to read works by atheists. All you need are the sinful desires of your own heart and the religious gloss you put on them is more damning than any use of four letter words.

It can be tempting for a guy to sit down and find fault with the rest of the world when his own life has its problems caused by his own frailty, vanity, and weakness. This is why it seems most helpful to point to what is good and beautiful in the world, as Sam puts it in those movies (never could finish the books so I'll try to accentuate the positive here). Bemoaning the loss of what is beautiful is not the same as affirming their value even as they merely seem lost. Even when the psalmist bewails the loss of any good things in society he comforts himself with this knowledge, that the greatest good can never be lost and that this is the basis of singing new songs to the Lord.

Of course the song doesn't have to be new in the sense of keeping up with the times or being in the latest style and it won't be new in terms of its theme but that, too, is not especially important. Especially for an artist living today there is quite literally nothing truly new you can contribute to the great big world of the arts that spans millenia and the entire globe. If I can find and purchase a CD of Chinese folk music in Seattle and I do it then I have access to cultural artifacts that were literally inconceivable to a person in my place in society a century ago, let alone two centuries ago.

We live in interesting times but we have fun complaining about how interesting those times are. As an old song puts it, these are the days of miracles and wonders, but Christians seem uninterested in this too much of the time. As a comic book geek I find it funny and fascinating that the technology to make an actual Doctor Octopus apparatus work in real life may be a generation away. Scientific research is finding possibilities for treating Alzheimer's disease. I just can't help but wonder if some cranky Christians getting into wars against political correctness or the culture war against traditional values are not so much bemoaning the death of a society that has been post-Christian for even longer than Francis Schaeffer said it was may really just be bemoaning their own death without realizing it.

Are we complaining that the godless culture is not letting us engage issues or are we complaining that our lives have no hope and no direction because we have not come to a point in our lives where we have become all the things we dreamed we would be? I'm in my early 30s and I think about how many people I know are married and having kids and think about the college dreams of becoming an artist or a writer or a politician or a professor or an athlete or a businessman. All these dreams we embraced in our teens and twenties can evaporate in the midst of our actual lives and we can secretly become immensely bitter without even realizing it. We can blame the flow of life for these things but in a way it seems useless because if we want to do something, even if there are obstacles in the way and prices to be paid, we live in a society in which it is possible.

But if we make our goal as, say, an artist, to write a hit single and live off those earnings for the rest of our days is the goal in that to be an artist or to get the hit single? I'd like to have it both ways, obviously, but the artist part has to come first. We live in a media culture that covers the silver bullet fired from the gun of someone who, as the culture might retroactively put it, got lucky. Or the person firing the shot had so many connections as to have a path laid out for them, in which case we can ask if that lucky shot was really all that they wanted. The number of celebrities bemoaning the price of their fame suggests it's often not what they really wanted and we non-celebs, no matter how much we persuade ourselves otherwise, can easily find ourselves coveting that which was not asked for by anyone.

Whoever loves money never has money enough, whoever loves power never has enough of it. This is why unbelievers have some justifiable fear of politically activist Christians. They understand a biblical truth much better than we usually do, and they have millenia of history to appeal to as to why they should fear what so many Christians think would be a sign of a great blessing from Jesus. It might seem like that but it might actually be a judgment from the Lord for seeking to make His kingdom of this world and not the age to come.

I think about this often because I'm an amateur composer and an amateur guitarist who would one day like my music to be performed, recorded, and published. Am I doing all this stuff because I want "success" or whatever passes for that? Sure, but if I don't love the simple process of creating things day in and day out and set aside time for it then do I deserve any success? It just seems as though if the work of being an artist is not at some fundamental level its own reward then you're just not embarking into the arts to be an artist. After half my life so far has come and gone (i.e. I've been playing guitar and making music for sixteen or seventeen years) I don't think that I'm in a place where I'm some teenager who thinks that because he picked up a guitar two months ago and has written a song that he's going to be the next big rock star who can use that celebrity as a bully pulpit to plug whatever causes seem to need winning that day.

I have heard about great artists who got screwed over by management in days of yore. Ellington got ripped off a few times. A lot of blues players were paid in booze and not money. What did these great musicians do? They kept writing their music even after they got ripped off time and again. Why? Well, because if you keep writing it doesn't matter how many times you get ripped off by someone if you can keep cranking out the music faster than they can rip you off. Ideally I don't ever want to be ripped off but it also feels like, on the flip side, there's something sad to be said about a guy defending the integrity of his work so much no one listens to it. Sometimes artistic integrity comes at the price of artistic death. Who outside the esoteric circles of classical music nerds knows who Pierre Boulez is? And, seriously, who cares? He's a great conductor but at his highest level of acclaim average joe doesn't care.

But that's obviously not what Pierre Boulez gets out of bed every morning and it isn't why any of us should, either.

Now I have let it be known here that I like Japanese cartoons. I've named a few of the ones I really like and something that has been on my mind lately is that even though a lot of Japanese cartoons are steeped in pantheism and other views I frankly don't subscribe to there is something beautiful about Japanese cartoons and the best stories I've come across in them. I sometimes feel I have learned more through Miyazaki's love of nature and willingness to see good things in people than I have from preachers on Christian radio warning about this or that over the years. It hardly means I endorse the spiritual world espoused by the film My Neighbor Totoro, and that Miyazaki has to imagine a hypothetical world in which world war 2 didn't happen speaks to severe problems in his ideas.

And yet, and yet there is a sense of wonder at the beauty of the world we live in, as broken and destructive as it so often is, that I can pick up in some of the anime I've seen that reminds me that without the help of the Holy Spirit every man, woman, and child on earth is liable to take one true observation and take it so far as to have it stop being anything like truth because it is not held in the context of the whole. The world Christ has created is both uglier and more beautiful than we can appreciate. Sometimes I feel like we Christians are all secret Ivan Karamazovs who talk about how we have no problem with God but cannot accept His world. We are grateful to God for all the things we think God should get credit for and then find things that God has included in our world that aren't what we like and then decide to not be thankful, even though Scripture says that we should be thankful in, um, everything. This isn't necessarily a call to thank God for really awful stuff like getting stabbed or raped or robbed, obviously, but a call to recognize that the world, as steeped as it is in our sin, still reflects on the goodness of Christ. We are Jewish law experts who are constantly needing the reminder of who our neighbor is.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

or not ... yet

I have a few personal obligations to tend to that make blogging here less of a priority. It's not that I won't eventually write stuff here but I'm just laying low for a while. The few of you who read this can surmise that some of the projects I've been hoping to tackle are not the kind you can just jump into without some research. I wanted to eventually get to a comparison of Jude and 2 Peter to highlight the differences between the two. I think that even if we grant the commonly proposed theory of dependency of one on the other for these epistles that too much can be made of the similarities without highlighting some striking differences of literary allusions and also of rhetorical purpose.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

maybe revisiting Jude here in a bit

I'll see about possibly collecting my thoughts about Jude down the line, and also see about maybe using this blog as a starting point for a project in examining how authors of biblical texts use non-canonical literature throughout the New Testament. So, yeah, it means I may dust off my Jeffrey Burton Russell books if I can find them and look at how the Gospel writers appropriate ideas that aren't technically laid out in the documents themselves. That could take quite a bit of time, actually. Then there's the Cretan poet and one of the poets, so to speak, Paul cites to the Athenians.

The greatest line I've heard in a movie in years

"Risking my life to save people I hate for reasons I don't quite understand."

It's not just the line but who says it. After 18 years there's a reason it's still one of the greatest shows ever made.

One of the things that I still appreciate about The Simpsons is that while there's always that element of satire the central character, Homer Simpson, is a macrocosm in microcosm of the best and worst aspects of Americans. It's not too far off to say that Homer Simpson has no pride whatsoever and that this is true in both the best and worst senses of the word "pride". It's something to ponder in more detail but not right now as I should get some sleep.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

I can't help but post a link to this!

I admit you have to be a theology geek of some sort to fully appreciate the humor but this was just too funny for me not to link to! Name-dropping Pink was just too much!

Monday, July 30, 2007

composing little things can be fun

I just finished a study for solo guitar in G sharp minor. Yep, couldn't resist. The whole thing is built around a special effect, really, a stunt. But it's a stunt that I thought was well worth trying.

There aren't that many works in G sharp minor written for solo classical guitar for the simple reason that it's a tricky key.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Duo Guitarinet

I have discovered this ensemble within the year and am very glad to have found them. Works for clarinet and guitar are relatively rare, especially in recorded music. Scores can be somewhat difficult to find. It's not so much that you can't just be an enterprising person and go order something that lists the score as for clarinet and guitar as that you don't know what you're getting into. That's the inherently speculative nature of investigating new chamber music.

Of course that's what I like to do in my spare time but I admit that even the most willing person can, on a small budget, become only so willing to cast caution to the wind and invest in just any new piece of music, whether through recordings or scores.

Which is why I am happy to have discovered this ensemble. They're worth investing time and money and your ears in. Duo Guitarinet consists of Jan Jakub Bokun on clarinet and Krysztof Pelech on guitar. They have two CDs out together and Bokun has a couple of CDs out, one of which includes more material played with Pelech. They're all worthy CDs and if you can manage to find them I commend them all.

One of there CDs is, simply enough, called Duo Guitarinet. This features a number of Piazzolla arrangements for the instruments from the Argentinian composer's flute and guitar repertoire, most famously Histoire du Tango. I kind of like it better as a piece for clarinet and guitar in some ways because ... not to offend my flute-playing friends out there, sometimes the flute sounds a bit shrill. I still think music for flute and guitar is great, though. It's a credit to Piazzolla's work that Histoire du Tango holds up very well no matter what instrument is taking the quicksilver flute parts.

One of the stand-out pieces for me is Radames Gnattali's Sonata for clarinet and guitar. I don't know if it was originaly composed for the instruments with absolute certainty but it sounds wonderfully idiomatic. In fact, if any of you reading this blog happen to know where I can find this score by all means post a comment and let me know! This piece is great!

This is the kind of duo that a guitarist writing for chamber ensemble could only hope actually exists. In fact I'll admit that I've mailed a score and parts to them not too long ago and I hope they like my piece, and like it enough to play it.

The label is Dux, by the way.

Monday, July 23, 2007

the curiosity of a personal what-if apologetic

I sometimes have heard over the years Christians talk about "What kind of person I would be if I wasn't a Christian." It can be curious and sometimes amusing to consider but on the whole the more I think about it the less useful I find it as a point for personal testimonies. Not that it has no value but as a form of apologia for where one would be now without Christ I find it to be essentially misleading.

The reason I say this is because while in some cases a Christian will describe sins that he or she no longer struggles with this is not really the "what if" formulation of the idea. Rather it is instead a witness to how Christ HAS changed a person's life, or how a person has changed as he or she has followed Christ.

Conversely, what people can often say they "would" be like if they were not Christians may more often than not be what they are, at some level, already struggling with. Evelyn Waugh may have understood this when he once replied that he'd be a bigger jerk if he wasn't a Christian. He wasn't denying being a jerk, just saying that as a Christian he had a reason, at least, to try not being a jerk. And so it goes.

Perhaps the reason personal testimonies that incorporate an apologetic of "this is what I would be like if I weren't a believer" founder because unbelievers can so clearly see that the stuff we claim we'd be apart from Christ is the stuff we already are as Christians.

I promise I will blog again

I had to write a bunch about Ratatouille because it's such an amazing movie. I HAVE seen other movies which I may blog about later.

Since I have another work-required business trip blogging will take a yet another break. I do, however, plan to blog a bit on a few CDs by Duo Guitarinet, a great clarinet and guitar duo I've just discovered in the last couple of months. Clarinet and guitar repertoire is relatively rare or at least terribly under-represented in commercially recorded music so I will try to plug for their discs. Yes, for those with immensely long memories I've yet to get to those theoretical treatises on Koshkin or the fuller review of the Tamulionis CD I mentioned when I started the blog. If some of my pending plans for a return to undergraduate academia come to fruition we may yet see something approximating a musical analysis of Koshkin or Tamulionis on this blog. Who knows? I might even manage to dig into the thematic/structural underpinnings of the Credo from Frank Martin's Mass for double choir. Of course since all this stuff is copyright protected I'm not going to actually quote scores or anything like that, just refer carefully to scores so that those of you in blogger land who already HAVE those scores can compare notes with me. All three of you!

Since I did my analysis of the dorian mode as a structural device in Dark Side of the Moon and posted that essay about counterpoint in Stevie Wonder maybe I should get around to writing about stuff in pop music again. The last pop album of any kind I picked up was Vespertine ... and American V by Johnny Cash. But lately I have been digging through other things, like I've found a guitarist who has recorded every last study composed by Fernando Sor. The three disc set is mainly of academic value, which is hardly to knock the value of the set! For all the praise heaped upon Sor by guitarists virtually no guitarist I know of (except one guy I learned about through the Delcamp discussion forums) has actually recorded ALL of Sor's studies. You'd think that even NAXOS would have underwritten such a project but this is, alas, not quite finished yet. Hard to review recordings of the studies, though, since there's no big chance you'll find the box set in the United States. I had to have it shipped to me from Europe ... which is, come to think of it, what I'm having to do with a LOT of CDs of guitar music I've gotten into lately.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

self-discovery and social identity in Pixar films and the nature of art, musings on Ratatouille

Saw the newest Pixar film and, as I have liked pretty much all of them to varying degrees I liked this one. What impresses me about the film is that in the hands of any other writer and director the film would be completely different. This is a comedy that is one of the best of the genre in that you can sit back and enjoy it but it opens itself up to room for a lot of genuinely profound thought.

There are a couple of levels you can work on in interpreting a film like Ratatouille. At the surface there's the story itself of the fish out of water trying to discover his or her true identity in a society or set of societies that do not really appreciate him. This is a standard Disney trope employed to varying degrees of effectiveness. In Bird's film the story works remarkably well because we are not given a portrait that depicts the hero as a good guy without qualification. For instance, in movies like Alladin or Beauty and the Beast (not even bad exponents of the genre) we get protagonists who are misunderstood and unappreciated and bemoan their plight but Bird gives us Remy, who bemoans his plight in the same way.

Except that, as Charles Mudede in The Stranger put it so aptly (and here I betray my location, reading habits where papers go), Remy is a snob. Not just a little bit of a snob, a spectacular snob I might add. He not only looks down on the crassness of the rat-world he lives in he also insists on only partaking of the best culture humans have to offer. He is literally a snob across species!

The idea of identity and how one should either discover it or live in light of it is a theme running throughout Pixar films. For the sake of convenience I'll take Mudede's statement at face value, that the two greatest films by Pixar are Toy Story and The Incredibles. Both movies hinge upon the necessity of characters understanding what their real identity and place in the world actually is and in both movies central conflicts arise when the characters do not accept their role within society either because society will not accept them (The Incredibles) or because they cannot accept their own identity (both Woody and Buzz have this conflict in Toy Story because Woody cannot accept the possibility that his station could be challenged by another toy and because Buzz refuses to accept the reality that he is a toy). The restoration of true identity comes only through the discovery and admission of the identity the characters had all along. The Incredibles employs a similar theme by having the Parr family discover that their real identity is as supers and not simply as suburbanites.

Paraodixically one Pixar film has its central theme that we must recognize who we really are in relationship to others by means of acknowledge the previously assigned roles and that they may change; while the other film makes the case that recognizing that society's designated role is wrong is necessary. This makes sense, both artistically, and in terms of entertainment. No one would really want to see a film about superheroes who gave up using their powers and completely assimilated into society. What makes both films classics (yes, I'm confident saying that) is that both understandings of the nature of identity can be true.

Ratatouille introduces an interesting fusion of the two themes. Remy builds his understanding of himself, in the end, not on his being a rat or being a human but in a third identity, through what he does. He defines himself through his actions in a way that he believes transcends his identity as a rat or even his aspirations to assimilate into human society. Of course this is a total fantasy and in the real world we wouldn't buy food from a rat, thus (per Mudede) the reason the movie is so funny.

One of my favorite little touches is how the ghost of Gusteau is not even really a ghost, but a self-acknowledged figment of Remy's imagination. In a great little scene of discovery Remy asks Gusteau's phantom why he didn't tell Remy something. The reply? "I am a figment of your imagination. If you didn't know why would I?" Remy's hero is someone Remy knows through what we might call "constructed mediated reality". There's a cute academic euphemism and hyperbole all in one phrase right there.

But at another level Bird's film can be seen as a story about the creative process and what attitude a person should have toward art and one's vocation. And in this sense it is critical to note that Gusteau, as Remy's muse, really is a figment of his imagination. Remy never meets Gusteau (who is dead before the movie's story even begins) and only knows his hero through a book written about him and from that imagines what the man is like. Even if we set aside the explanation that Remy invents an imaginary version of his hero because he is lonely we still get an interesting depiction of how any artist interacts with the artists of the past. We are not necessarily ever interacting with our heroes so much as our construction of them. I don't interact with the likes of Bach or Ellington or Hindemith, or in a sense even interact with their music so much as with my understanding and interpretations of their works.

Remy is no different. This is why it's so funny that Gusteau's phantom says "If you didn't know how would I?" We can attempt to ascribe to old master's powers of comprehension or insight they simply never had. This is the way in which a form of self-idolization is rampant in the arts. We ascribe profundities to artists that may have simply been accidents of interpretation. This hardly makes the artists or their works the lesser for it.

Self-definition through action is a common trope in the West, and possibly literature in general. Now if Toy Story posited that Woody and Buzz denied who they were out of fear of lost station or denial about one's identity; and if The Incredibles revealed that society could suppress one's identity and one could abdicated identity in an attempt to fit in; Ratatouille introduces a third obstacle to truly understanding one's self--that one doesn't really know. As Gusteau's phantom tells Remy before vanishing for the rest of the film, Remy has never known who he was. He wasn't a rat and he wasn't human but what was he? Remy decides that he is a cook. This is the identity which finally allows himi to find a place within the society of rats and, with a few provisos, the society of humans. Being true to himself ( a notorious and over-used Disney trope) does not mean rejecting either aspect of his identity but finding, as it were, the golden mean.

Or, perhaps to put it another way, do not be overly righteous and do nor be overly wicked. Why die before your time? It is good to hold on to one without letting go of the other and the man who fears God will avoid all extremes. Toy Story and The Incredibles both offer tales of people who find themselves by avoiding extremes but that discovery is the central struggle of the film. Ratatouille presents a protagonist who goes toward both extremes in an attempt to discover his place in the world.

Now despite Remy's obvious snobbery he shows what I think is a pretty honest and insightful understanding of art, not through what he articulates but through what Bird does with Remy's story. Art involves a combination of technical and practical mastery with a philosophical understanding and a persistent passion for one's art.

How does Bird depict this? Well, that's where there's a lot of room to swim in the speeches, which are wonderfully concise. We KNOW we're getting preached at but the story itself as a film lives up to the ideals preached in the film.

Brad Bird isn't merely presuming to teach us at a didactic level what good art should be he demonstrates it through his own mastery of craft. The scenes where Remy is floating through the underground are beautifully framed close and tight, as though Remy is confined to the underworld in which rats thrive. As he climbs further up to explore where he is we get a slowly widening perspective of him as he scurries through his surroundings. When he finally reaches the roof and discovers he is in Paris we get an expansive pan across the city that has been slowly and steadily set up step by step as Remy moves higher and higher above his previous life. We are literally witnessing the expanding of Remy's conceptual world in the way Bird frames the shot, and we are literally witnessing Remy's journey from rat to human culture to discover what his future is.

Not many other directors could have made a rat's journey of perhaps forty feet upwards seem so epic. Quite a few other directors would have moved straight from the close-up reaction shot of the protagonists slack-jawed face to whatever the big reveal was. Bird doesn't do that. He builds tension and momentum by having us follow Remy, literally, with our eyes, and our perspective does not expand except as his does throughout this remarkably beautiful travelling sequence. It's also a nice touch that we are behind Remy and don't really get to see much of his reaction except through his words which does two things. The first thing this does is that it simply avoids the cinematic cliche Spielberg is so well know for by having the character face away from us, which creates distance between us and the character. But the second thing is that Bird closes that distance between us as an audience and Remy by having slowly expanding our field of view to fit Remy's gradually expanding awareness of his surroundings. We don't discover that he's really in Paris until he does.

As for the more direct statements about the nature and purpose of art, it goes without saying that Anton Ego's speeches are not meant to be taken as the words of a critic who doesn't understand what he's doing or saying. Ego is presented as one of the antagonists throughout the film but in the end we are revealed that he and Remy do not have different views at all. Remy only wants to eat the good stuff and Ego won't swallow any food he does not love. Both are snobs, naturally, but Ego reveals an aspect of Remy that Remy's cooking reveals in others.

I am, of course, talking about the simultaneously hilarious and sublime little flashback Ego has when he takes the first bite of Remy's ratatouille. It is crucial for the point of the film that the dish is a peasant dish, and that despite the daunting figure Ego cuts as a critic that Remy is willing to go with the peasant dish. It is equally telling that Ego is perfectly willing to try it, which is one of the first cues that Ego is not necessarily who we have thought him to be or who he has revealed to us.

Then we get the reaction and the flashback itself, now that the set-up is out of the way. We're presented with Ego as a child getting food cooked for him by a maid or a mother (more likely Bird's intent). Ego is shown waiting for the food impatiently but with a certain patience (we know Ego is nothing if not patient, as tough as he comes across in his opinions he is literally willing to wait all day for someone to make him food, which is (again) another clue given plainly in the film that Ego is never really the bad guy we may want to hink he is). What we get in the flashback is a summation of Ego's experience, that it's like he's a child again getting food cooked for him by his mother. The food is the best food in the world because it is the best effort of someone he loves who loves him in return. And the greatest of art in any medium is like that for us. It is what Remy reveals in having Gustaeu's ghost appear to him as a figment of imagination.

And Gustaeu's figment form reveals to Remy an observation that Remy does not recognize until very late in the story. This comment is as direct as it is also sly. Remy sees Linguini and says "He's nobody" to which the figment replies "He is not nobody. He is in the kitchen." Not everyone can be a great artist but a great artist can come from anywhere. But no great artist gets anywhere without grasping the need to work with those who may at first glance seem to be "nobody".

In fact people must trust in the good will of people who may at first glance seem to be "nobody". Both the rat and the young man strike a deal because neither by themselves have the capacity to find their place in the world with their own abilities and resources. Linguini has a parallel journey to Remy--both must discover what they are not in order to first come to terms with what they are. And Remy and Linguini must not only come to this point of discovery about themselves but also about each other, which is another level at which the story continues a progressively expanding beauty. The journey of self-discovery is not a goal unto itself but a path to discover others.

This is also a theme that Pixar's directors and writers have introduced in every film. We do not discover ourselves in isolation and the purpose of the self is not in isolation. Nor is it in community but in the synergy of discovering one's individual and collective place in the world.

And if all this seems to be a bit much to see in a cartoon that's part of the point of the film. If any director in American animation can make this point so plainly it's Bird. It is curious that cartoons have so often been considered kid stuff not because of the history of childrens' movies but also because "adult" themes are often taken more seriously even though in many cases this hardly needs to be the case.

One of the beauties of animation as a medium is that there is nothing in the frame that someone didn't put there by hand. Live action as a whole will have elements that are not literally under the complete control of the director or creative or production teams. That's not the case in animation of any kind, where every last detail is included for some purpose and must be, or else the details simply won't be there. Perhaps this is why truly great animated films may seem rarer to many than great live-action films, because a paucity of vision in live-action can be literally easier to cover up. An artist who does not have an eye for significant detail will not think to have those details drawn into the frame of an animated film.

Because of technical limitations any alert viewer (even one with a visual handicap) can tell by slight variations in the color pallete what elements of the frame are about to move even before the movement starts. And in cartoons that have lower production budgets it is a simple matter to notice in a show like Eureka Seven (which I really do enjoy, by the way) that every time Eureka manuevers her vehicle it's always the exact same bodily movements that yield different results. But animation is a curious medium where even this can be given and received with a certain amount of good will. And the terms on which this good will can be negotiated come down to the integrity of character designs and the visual coherence of the animated world.

And where Pixar and Brad Bird are concerned the beauty of their films, and particularly Ratatouille, is we can see that no expense has been spared. The water rushing throughout is a marvel to behold. The world Brad Bird reveals to us, as a cartoony as it obviously is, is far more realistic and engaging than the more figuratively cartoony world we get from Michael Bay or Sam Raimi in this year's films (now don't get me wrong, I really did enjoy Spiderman 3 but I'm also not going to put it anywhere near the level of artistry Bird is disaplaying as a film maker).

Which gets me back to the title dish and the nature of the medium. A cartoon is like the dish, in a sense any work of art is like that dish. As Ego put it so eloquently, even the most common piece of artistic junk has more thought and care put into it than the usual bad review that designates the art as junk. That is because in many senses the critics really risk nothing. They risk little more than angry letters if they write a bad review people find offensive and if they praise a movie they are praising the work of someone else.

It is ironic, really, that Ego says at the end of Ratatouille that the great difficulty a critic has is to recognize and defend the new, precisely because the flashback reveals the core of great art to be something else, that which through its careful construction from the materials of technical command and personal conviction produce in us the sensation that this was made by someone we love, who loves us, and put together the very best for us, that we are a child receiving this love from a parent. In fact this irony is so funny in itself I don't feel I can even really bother elaborating on it because it is both funny and profoundly true. And beyond that definition of art I suppose there is the simpler theme that we discover who we are through who loves us and those whom we love.