Saturday, January 03, 2009

From a discussion on Bonhoeffer at Internet Monk:
on 02 Jan 2009 at 12:49 pm iMonk
I said that good leadership of the disciples in the Gospel of Mark still produced jerky disciples. It’s a major point of the book. Jesus never taught them any of the stupid things they said and did, but they used ther status as his followers to be jerks.

A fascinating theme that I could stand to read more about. Mark Driscoll joked in the past that Jesus picked twelve guys and one of them was still Judas. The joke is funny and true as far as it goes but the truth is that all the disciples were bad apples.

There are any number of things we could observe about the disciples as a group that demonstrate Judas was not the only problem disciple, just the one who betrayed rather than abandoned Jesus to His death. They thought that by being disciples of Jesus it was okay to call down fire from heaven to destroy people they found offensive. They saw fit to rebuke people for casting out demons in the name of Jesus just because the man wasn't part of their dozen. They bickered among themselves as to who was going to have the greatest legacy as a disciple of Jesus. They had their parents try to pull rank as elders within society to wring from Jesus a promise that the kids would have pride of place in the kingdom to come. They told kids to scram when they wanted to meet the Lord.

To say that Judas was the bad apple on the team misses the point of the four gospels, the disciples were utter losers who reveled in thinking themselves special at the worst times while being predictably fickle and fearful at times when they could have trusted in Jesus most. What's more they at various times thought that being disciples of Jesus entitled them to look down on others or consider themselves fit to do things they clearly weren't up for. After some successful ventures in casting out demons and healing the sick as Jesus' ministry progressed there came cases where the disciples couldn't cast out the demon and Jesus had to come cast out the demon Himself.

Jesus began to speak in terms that revealed He was about to die, the last thing these disciples wanted to have happen to the one they considered God's annointed one who had come to destroy the Roman empire. They were supposed to be the advance guard, the hand-picked elite of Jesus to usher in the new kingdom that would redeem not just the culture around them but the world. Jesus was starting to say things more and more that made no sense. They began to have to ask, "Lord, is this parable for us or for someone else?" Even after Christ had risen from the dead they still asked Him when He would destroy the pagan nations. They still imagined things in terms of Jesus, after having risen from death, being about underwriting the future as they imagined it in their minds, as they wanted things to be for the world. They were, in a phrase, still jerks for Jesus.

It is amazing how Jesus' disciples can see Him as a blank check for writing in whatever they most want. In the tradition in which I have grown up Jesus was invoked as a key to revival and cultural transformation. The whole, "If my people who are called by my name ... and I will heal their land" became a form of Americanism. Whether we frame it in terms of "We need God in America again" or frame it in terms of a mission to "redeem culture" Jesus can finally be invoked as nothing more than a prescription to make sure people or our pet target demographic start behaving the way we want them to. We can persuade ourselves at this or that point that it becomes all about Jesus but that is how we are so easily able to deceive ourselves. We think it is all about Jesus without realizing that like Jesus' OTHER disciples we have really made it all about us.

Jesus never taught them any of the stupid things they said and did, but they used ther status as his followers to be jerks.

Right there is the quote that sums it up. This, more and more, is something that impresses me about Christians I have met. I have seen things that were shameful, shameful displays of pettiness, anger, resentment,bitterness, greed, fear, I have participated in these things and all have been given a sanctified gloss of being done out of right principle for Jesus' fame. No, I don't see it that way anymore.

No one can be so graceless as those who talk about grace. There are few jerks so jerkish as those who sanctify their jerkish behavior as being servants of the King who are just looking for Jesus to be glorified when it is finally about them, not Jesus, about them wanting to be recognized as Jesus' special brigade. Peter said that if everyone else abandoned Jesus HE would not. And what did Jesus tell Peter?

We know what happened--the man who was most certain he would stand by Jesus no matter what denied even knowing the man over and over and swore up and down "I don't know the man." All it takes is the loss of the things we really place our security in and then we reveal our true hearts. Someone does something we don't like or says something we don't like and we ask the Lord if it is all right to call down fire from heaven to destroy that person. We go to Him ourselves or through proxies to ask for a special place and special recognition in the kingdom of God.

It is easy to be tempted to require of others or ourselves things that Jesus does not require of us and to insist on spiritualizing away the things that Jesus does require of us. The disciples who broke heads of wheat to feed themselves were the ones who rebuked a man for not being in the in-crowd while casting out demons in the name of Jesus. The disciples who were afraid when Jesus was about to calm the storm were the disciples who were confident enough to argue about who was going to be greatest in the kingdom.

Most of us, since we have the gospels on hand to read, are too smart to actually talk to other people about these sorts of delusions we may be tempted to harbor that the disciples had! But sometimes in less guarded moments we might share things with our kids about what we think God may have in store for them. Or we may announce to people what we hope God will accomplish that is quite simply what WE want for our own lives and legacies.

And like Judas even our outrage can reveal a sinful heart in expressing something that might appear to everyone else to be the highest good. Judas declared that the money spent on the perfume that she used to wash Jesus' feet could have been used to help the poor. Not that Judas cared at all about the poor, he just liked to take money from the common purse to whatever end he saw fit. After all, he shared the common purse and he was able to do through that things like booking a room for Jesus' posse. He was potentially the most responsible with money and a sharp business guy, which is why Jesus might have entrusted him with such a great responsibility. But that didn't mean Judas didn't cut corners on things that were important and it didn't mean that he actually acted out of compassion.

You can spend three or four years of your life with God Himself and still be innoculated against the love and compassion He displayed. You can be given the ability to cast out demons and heal the sick but still betray Him. Judas was able to do all these things yet still assume that he could do what he wanted with the common purse and then say that "This money could have been used to help the poor." There are times when moral outrage (real or imagined) allows us to focus on the failures of others at the expense of considering ourselves. The folly was in the saying, I think.

But Jesus likes to choose disciples who make the stupid mistake of appropriating His name and presence to get what they want. I don't get it. I don't know why it happens but I have lived just long enough to know that for some reason Jesus likes to use losers like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and Moses. He likes to transform them over their lives into people we can ... eventually, admire. It can be said that God is the only hero in His own book but what about Psalm 15 that says that the godly of the land are heroes? They don't start out that way.

But eventually Peter and the other apostles are transformed by knowing who Jesus truly is and they stop invoking Him or His presence to get what they want and start learning how to proclaim the good news, that Christ is king of all and has risen from the dead. Less than this message is simply disaster, following the example of disciples who do not know better than to use Jesus as a means to their end. They sought things like the overthrow of Rome, of the re-establishment of Israel as utmost among nations (not that they ever were, really, but that's another topic). They wanted Jesus to, as the modern parlance might have it, "redeem culture". Jesus had something better in mind. He redeemed THEM.

Friday, January 02, 2009

2009 and not exactly resolutions

If you don't call them resolutions then they aren't resolutions, right? ;)

Well, I am at a point where I am hitting the middle of the thirties and have things to change in my life--losing some weight, incrementally changing my diet to be healthier, getting more consistent exercise, organizing my life a little bit. I still have mounds of school debt like any college graduate tends to have who didn't have a full ride scholarship or parents with deep pockets. I am typical of my generation in that respect. There are certain types of debt, however, that I no longer have any of and in that respect I may NOT be typical of my generation.

But that is not why I am blogging here. No, the ironic reason I am blogging now is a consideration that too much of my life is taken up by, heh, computers! I feel as though it would do me some good to not even turn on the computer one or maybe two days at a time. Maybe not every week! I am not so great at being weaned of computers as that by now! Yet it is good to have some time away from computers when you work with them all the time at the day job and a great deal of the time at home. It is easier to compose music that people can read if you can play with computers so as to make a presentable score, especially if your penmanship is bad as mine. No, I won't provide any samples.

Blogs, as I consider them, are places where you can write about and publish the things that you want to get off your chest that no one else bothers to read. I speak hyperbolically but there is a sense in which nothing is LESS important than what you blog. What I mean by that is that by the time you blog something I would imagine you have processed it enough emotionally and intellectually that by the time you dump it on the internet it is in some sense resolved for you or you have resolved through it enough to write about it. Nothing actually in process would (or at least in my opinion should) hit the net. The internet is a publishing medium so as I see it completed, thought-through sentiments are best suited for it, not necessarily all the details of works or thoughts or feelings in progress.

Of course I compose as a hobby so that factors heavily into how I approach blogging. I was also a student of a certain form of mass communication where knowing what you were talking about and having a clear finished product was critical ... though I sometimes feel as though the isntruction I got on those issues were kinda old school. I was taught that you can't escape having a bias but that you must never let your bias get in the way of discovering what the facts are, what the truth is.

At any rate, I have had a more productive 2008 as a composer than I could have ever imagined, which was good because 2007 did not feel all that productive to me. I managed last year, however, to compose four preludes and fugues for solo guitar. Yes, that's right. I'm not kidding, I have started composing preludes and fugues for guitar. Because I'm a classical guitarist (not a great one by any means) and a composer I have posted some stuff on the Delcamp discussion forum and it has some nice resources and discussions for classical guitarists. One of my favorite publishers isn't allowed on there anymore and you'd have to be a serious student formal or otherwise of classical guitar literature and publishing to figure out who that is.

All that is to say that I have been slowly and steadily working on cultivating contacts and networking so as to present my compositions to professional musicians. It is a slow process and requires a great deal of patience. It would seem that it takes musicians as long to get around to playing your music when you're a composer as it takes you to write the music yourself. So you learn not to expect things to happen too soon or even ever. But thanks to a variety of contacts made through Delcamp I have a few people looking at some of my music.

Most interesting for me is the request that I compose a quartet for clarinet, French horn, guitar, and cello. I started sketching out ideas for that just this week. I have noticed for a while that people claim the guitar is like a miniature orchestra but that's all nonsense. The guitar can't play the way a string section in an orchestra can. What's more if the guitar were a miniature orchestra in practice guitarists would spend all their time playing accompaniment patterns to woodwinds, brass, and the like while not holding the limelight. Most guitarists seem too eager to grandstand and have the focus on them rather than taking a purely supportive role.

I suppose at this point I might want to mention that for years I played guitar and sang in a band. As a guitarist I am accustomed to the idea that no matter how complex or simple a guitar's part is the real purpose is to support the human voice and to guide the structure of music rather than as a basis for shredding. Shredding is cool and all, don't get me wrong, and I am not saying that my not being a great guitarist doesn't mean I have no chops whatever. A three-voiced fugue for solo guitar in G major that is nearly five minutes long won't give anyone the impression I have no chops at all. I DO know how to write for my instrument.

But I'm not a showboater and I'm not anxious to be up in front of people and play stuff if I can inspire other guitarists to take up my music. That, however, probably has to change. I have shown music to professional guitarists and guitarists, at the risk of speaking ill of my kind, are a curiously flaky bunch. I am no doubt the best exemplar of my own observation!

This last year I wrapped up a set of sonatas for woodwinds and guitar. It is a project I started back in 2000 and I am excited by the possibility of having it complete, at least for now. I only covered flute, oboe, clarinet, and bassoon and did not really write much for English horn, alto flute, contrabassoon or the other members of the clarinet family outside of B flat. For now I feel it is enough to hit the four basic food groups, if you will.

This year my hope is to tackle the strings and brass. Nearly no one has written for guitar and brass and there are almost no high profile works for guitar and brass in the classical repertoire. Jazz, of course, is an entirely different matter. For the combination of tuba and guitar I guess there's Leon Redbone and that's about all I can think of but why should that be all there is?

Since I'm in my mid thirties and have contemplated how I have had a kind of mid life crisis (hey, given life expectancies the "mid" counts in the thirties) I think about how little I often feel I have accomplished. I have been comparing myself to friends or family the same age who are settled down and have kids or have this or that established career. What I haven't done is look back on what I have done in the last ten years. I have had the same job for eight years now and while it often feels like a dead end job it is a job I can do and leave at home. I have begun to have a renewed appreciation of jobs like that. Some people are addicted to work as a way to define who they are. I imagine this is especially prominent for, say, CEOs or pastors and it would be especialy true of CEO/pastors, ennit?

But I have looked back on the last ten years and realized that I have in my own unobserved way done plenty, things that married or parenting types just never had time for.

I've written:
probably 35 songs, 15 sacred, 20 secular based on original or existing texts
two ragtimes for piano, 5 minutes each
a piano sonata in three movements with a closing fugue, 10 minutes
a prelude and fugue in G for piano, 6 minutes
four preludes and fugues for solo guitar, 23 minutes total
a sonata for flute and guitar; 9.5 minutes
a sonata for oboe and guitar; 18 minutes
a sonata for clarinet and guitar; 12 minutes
a sonata for bassoon and guitar; 21 minutes
single movement guitar sonata; 6 minutes
a set of variations on a theme for solo guitar; 4.5 minutes
a little rondo for guitar; 4 minutes
three lullabies for guitar; about six minutes
six studies in harmonics; about 8 minutes
two movements from an accapella Mass (Kyrie and Gloria); about nine minutes
an Evening Service (Magnificat for SSAA and organ, Nunc Dimittis for SATB with S solo, closing Gloria Patri SATB with organ) about seven minutes
two thirds of a sonata for viola and guitar, seven minutes
a passacaglia for tenor trombone and guitar, about five minutes
part of a sonata for cello and guitar, four minutes
a trio for flute, bassoon, and guitar, four minutes

When I add that all up it comes to almost three hours of music and that's not counting ANY of the songs in the aforementioned 35. Add those and it moves up to something more like five hours worth of music ranging from rock and gospel to classical and hints of jazz.

Yet it doesn't seem like much to show for a decade worth of composing. That might be simply because not a single one of these pieces has been published and nearly none of them have been performed for audiences. The few songs I played for audiences didn't feel like audiences that really seemed all that interested in or receptive of the music. I spent a lot of time arguing with my bandmates about the music I wrote so if they didn't seem to get it sometimes and audiences didn't seem responsive what was the point in trying to find more of an audience for what didn't seem to fit the interests of a Seattle crowd? I figured my music was too cerebral to have any emotional link to an audience and that I was too diffident a player lacking in chops to get the music across.

I suppose the dirty confession I have to make here is that the flip side of my feeling I'm not really much of a performer is that I also have an acquired contempt for things that lots of people seem to enjoy like "passion" and "soul" and "authenticity". The 1990s went along and I found myself not only not liking Nirvana or Radiohead but disliking them. Soundgarden was all right and I have a residual respect for U2 but they stopped being fun for me once Rattle and Hume came along and I started to become respectful but underwhelmed. Weezer was loads of fun up through Maladroit and Portishead is still interesting and Bjork was great up through Vespertine.

But on the whole I have found that I basically have had no use for a lot of pop music and the emphasis would be on use. When you start to immerse yourself in music from centuries ago or even just stick with music from 1900 to 1975 there's so much material that you start recognizing as recycled in the last twenty years of music that it's hard to feel gung-ho about it. I still like plenty of Peter Gabriel and U2 but I am starting to realize that what my brother sarcastically said remains true, rock dies as soon as you graduate from college. As soon as you decide you're an adult nothing new that doesn't fit what you consider good music qualifies as good music. I'm not really against new music at all. Gnarls Barkley and Portishead have done things recently that I really like. It's just that when you compose classical music and you're not hearing much that sticks with you like a Stevie Wonder album or a Bob Dylan album or a mid 1980s Peter Gabriel or even 1990s Weezer you feel less inclined to go digging for new pop.

Put all that together and I never really bothered to go out and play pop music when I wrote pop songs because I figured, "What's the point?" I'm not even following that music scene and it seems as though if you're going to market yourself as a performer and a musician you have to know the scene and what if you just don't care about the pop music scene or rock music? It seems smarter and more beneficial to everyone to just not bother.

On the other hand, these five hours of music I've written aren't going to perform themselves so I might just have to go out and do something even though I would be first to admit I don't feel like it. I'm not sure that what I do is so good that anyone would want to buy it in the attempts at pop music and I realize I'm writing for an incredibly tiny niche by obsessing over chamber music for classical guitar, to say nothing of writing preludes and fugues for solo guitar. All stuff that I may just have work on playing myself ... if I can find anyone in this town interested in playing the stuff with me for the chamber music.

And I think lately that if I had ever had even one girlfriend the output might have been a lot less. Or a lot more, I don't really know. Two of my favorite composers (Bach and Hindemith) wrote stuff specifically for their wives.

Well, I've spent more time on a computer today than I think I probably really should. :)

Thursday, January 01, 2009


... The Gospel is self-authenticating because it is the declarative promise of salvation from the mouth of Christ (through the servant of the Word): “You are saved.” “I’ve got the Gospel and you don’t” statements are something completely different–basically Gnostic claims to secret knowledge. The Gospel is always Christ’s Word, not our own. When we’re curious who’s got the Gospel and who doesn’t, the question to ask is not, “Does so-and-so line up with this principle,” but “Are they declaring Christ’s promise of salvation to sinners?” And if the question is, “Where can I find the Gospel?” then the answer is, “In the mouth of anyone who’s telling you that Christ has saved you.”

That answer isn't complete, of course, but it gets to the heart of what we need to remember. There is a point past which freaking out about particular doctrines and angles misses the point of the One to whom those doctrines ought to be pointing if they are Christian doctrines. The one who declares the good news is the one who declares that Christ is savior. The one who declares that because Christ is savior you can live a new life and should start living that life now with a bullet-point list has missed the boat, not on purpose, but missed the boat.

It is becoming clearer to me how things I have considered acceptable preaching and teaching have often hollowed out the actual Gospel that Christ saves sinners and replaced it with Christ being a god who validates what people want to in His name. It is one thing to say that we as ambassadors of Christ can live out the Gospel in our lives and another to speak as though we are tasked to "redeem culture" which can often become a form of tacitly accepted Christian imperialism, attempting to reclaim a Christendom we believe we have unfairly lost. It would be good to go back to a less sexually decadent era ... but not if we got back to the racist and ethnocentrist and self-deluding weaknesses of the earlier generations. At some point we must recognize that in repudiating the sins of our fathers we bring our own sins to the table and there is a place for us in the ranks of those whom the future will look back upon and ask, "Why did they think THAT was smart or holy?"

More and more I can appreciate why C. S. Lewis articulated what he called "mere Christianity" and why so many Christians of every confessional stripe find that "mere Christianity" is not only not good enough but for many of them simply not Christianity. Which is a shame, because if there is a lesson to be learned from the Pharisees in every generation it is that zeal for what you consider the things of God does not always mean you make the right decisions or that your vision isn't blinkered. We should be brave enough to speak of what is wrong and to reach out to those in need but we should also recognize that when we speak of ourselves and not in a way that points toward the Lord we are using the Lord as a mere tool, a device to get for us from others what we demand of them. Those who may speak most of grace are too often those least able to demonstrate it in any meaningful way in their actual lives, which is a shame.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

lopsided interpretations of Malachi 4

I hope to never see Malachi 4 invoked as a text that fathers should have regard for their children. Sometimes I have seen this chapter used and the passage about Elijah being sent to turn the hearts of fathers toward their children and the hearts of children toward their fathers is used as some kind of moralistic gibe to motivate Christian parenting.

Crap. Utter crap.

Malachi is a prophetic book and while it is true that it is considered good that Elijah would come to turn the hearts of fathers toward their sons and the hearts of sons toward their fathers how would a Christian interpret Elijah's relevance today? We do not have any teaching from John the Baptist that fathers and sons should turn their hearts toward each other.

Guess what? Though Christians have often taken Malachi 4 to prophecy the coming of John and I accept that interpretation to take the last verse of Malachi and make it prescriptive does violence to the text. It is not a prescription for what fathers or sons should do of their own accord, it is a prophecy about what Elijah would be sent by God to do. Incidentally we could spend a bunch of time on what smiting the earth with a curse might mean but for now that does not interest me.

No, what interests me is what God designs and promises. Christians see that John fulfills the promise but John simply points to Christ. Jesus notes that John was Elijah and yet the gospels never really indicate that John preached a lot about turning the hearts of the fathers toward their sons or vice versa.

So what does this thing in Malachi 4 mean? I am not here attempting to exegete the text down to the Hebrew or Aramaic, I am considering that John finally was pointing to Christ and that Elijah was the instrument used for a particular generation. But now someone greater than Elijah is here. Now someone greater than John the Baptist is here. John the Baptist was the greatest among prophets and yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he. So ... about this Elijah fellow who turns the hearts of fathers toward their children.

Here's my hunch, Christ accomplishes this. The Christ who divides mother and daughter who declared that a person's enemies would be in their own household is the one who can turn the heart of a father toward his child. I have started to think that many a Christian invokes malachi 4 as a prescription for what Christian parents are SUPPOSED TO DO without considering the flip side, that Elijah will turn the hearts of the children toward their fathers.

I have sometimes noticed that a kind of pop psychology suffuses evangelicalism, often unobserved. Perhaps because of a whole generation of baby boomers who thought they had to rebel against the ideasl of their parents' generation this came about. Perhaps all the beatniks felt they had to forsake the legacy of their parents to find their true selves and find the true way. Perhaps all the hippies felt it was the path to enlightenment and true, unfettered humanity. Many Christians desire families where the children display love and affection and loyalty and honor to their parents and Malachi makes that look good. Malachi makes it look good saying that fathers should turn their hearts toward the children,.

Dude, guess what? Prophecy. If people were able to do that of their own natural abilities and never screw it up would God send Elijah to begin with? Would God send Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord? Would God promise to spare people in the day of the Lord in MALACHI 3? Yeah, go back and check that out. it's not that prophets never prescribe ethical teaching, of course, it's that the more I consider Malachi as a prophetic book the more apparent it is that some people have missed that this is a promise from God to His people, not a list of things He expects people to do as though they were naturally inclined to do so.

So why does this matter?

A while back I read a blog entry of sorts by a Christian who was lamenting the loss of fathers. The loss of fathers is a grievous thing in society (and not like the robot in the Star Wars movie) and the problem in society is that fathers are not to be found and not given the seriousness of consideration or responsibility that they have. And so on. I read an entry where a person lamented that their father did not love them as they needed to be loved. Even in evangelicalism there is a sort of lament raised for the father who wasn't good enough or wasn't what he should have been or wasn't around.

One of the more memorable jokes on this trope about the lost father, for me, is the gaggle of sharks in 12 step in Finding Nemo. The great shark laments, "I never knew my father!" and starts to sob. And why is it funny? Because it is thought by the shark that if he laments this loss of something never had that it will keep him from eating other fish, which is his natural inclination. Paradoxcially we, as Christians, could laugh at a joke like that and yet use Malachi 4 to the same effect as the giant shark supposing that if he admits he never knew his father he wouldn't be tempted to each fish. The smell of blood reveals his real appetite.

And so it is with us in America, when I consider how the narrative of the parents who betrayed us and let us down and weren't what we hoped is invoked by Christians. This is not to say parents, to say nothing of fathers, aren't abusers, rapists, killers, slave-drivers, liars, users ,manipulators, tyrants, drunkards, and every other sort of sin known to man. I heard a testimony from a woman a few years ago that made my blood cold. My heart went out to her and I have prayed for her regularly since. What we tacitly shared in common was something I shared in a group where she and I seemed to be the only people who appreciated something from blunt experience. The group had discussed how family can be a wonderful thing to rely on in times of trouble. I replied that that was often true but that on the other hand no one has the power to destroy you and maim your heart like family.

Solzhenitsyn once wrote that millions become statistics, you fail to have the framework from which to understand the magnitude of the horror. You might need photos of every person whose life was destroyed to begin to grasp the significance of at all. In the age of the internet we have that sort of capacity and yet it paradoxically numbs us. There is a reason Dostoevsky's Ivan reduced the staggering scope of evil in the world to the voice of one desperate child. What I fear we may have in our age is the strange paradox that we ignore that child as another statistic or consider ourselves the child against who all the injustices are done rather than see what we ourselves do to the child, for the child is not merely ourselves but those we sin against.

So, then, there is Malachi 4. This is, again, not a prescription of what Christian parents should do or expect from their children. It is a promise from God that through His servant He will incline the heart of a father toward his child and the heart of the child toward his father. It is a promise for mothers and daughters as well. This promise presupposes a rift in the natural order of things. After all, what God has made crooked no one can make straight. Yet it seems Malachi 4's last few versers are popular verses to invoke so that people can make straight what God has left crooked.

This speaks of the coming terrible day of the Lord whom no one could survive without God's mercy. So when the prophet promises for God that Elijah will turn hearts of generations toward each other we have gotten to a point where Ezekiel has said that fathers alone will be punished for their sins and not the sons, a change in things if you consider earlier punishments.

As a considerable aside, I once made a suggestion that when Jesus said that Moses allowed divorce because of hardness of men's hearts that this is something to consider in the following way, Moses received the laws from God so is Jesus suggesting Moses added a proviso or two in the Law that God did not intend? No, so then if God through Moses permitted that which He did not approve of what was the purpose? I wondered, probably to the dismay of some, if this wasn't a demonstration of God making some concessions even in the Mosaic law to some aspects of humanity in a certain epoch that were so far gone there was no point in prohibiting it. It is probably disturbing for Christians to consider that there are certain types of reprobation in a given time and age that God simply grants that in that epoch there is no changing it.

Rather than merely horrify us we must consider how this grace from God may manifest itself toward us in our time. This is not an observation that should lead us only to damn earlier generations whose sins repel us yet who might damn us with equal fervor for sins that we consider the acme of decent behavior. The generation that condoned child labor would still be right to condemn the generation that created and used the atomic bomb. If you don't think I have any grounds to say that go read Barefoot Gen. This point I have made obliquely and I am sure many will not catch what I am getting at. But I am content to let it be what it is and suggest that we consider that what may seem the cruelty of God permitting wickedness may, paradoxically, be more merciful than the justice we would demand He bring forth. And so here the aside is finished. Trust me, it is not so tangential as might appear.

We live in a society that idolizes youth. Preferably adult, sexualized youth of course the way our society works, but children are the future, as Whitney Houston sang so long ago. Children are held up as innocent. Children in Disney films are held up as the heroes over against blundering parents. We have a culture suffused with a belief that children will discern failures their elders missed and Christians certainly believe this, too, and it has more than a kernel of truth to it. It is often truth. We live in a society that makes children both heroes in narrative and also victims. So much so that the Comics Code prohibits the depiction of any child being struck by an adult and there is a whole stupid subgenre of horror about demon children who adults don't harm because of societal taboos. Believe me, there would be no possibility for such an absurd genre of narrative in earlier epochs of even Western history. Certain kids who were bad enough really would get killed. But that is yet another aside getting to the next one.

Scripture at various places attests that evil is indeed locked up in the heart of a child (and the parent, as well, since Scripture condemns various forms of child sacrifice). Focus on the rod and you'll miss what even Piaget observed, that children are capable of nearly limitless self-regard and truly believe the cosmos revolves around them. This does not make them guilty in any adult sense of guilt and their eternal fate is hardly my concern. I don't know, I don't pretend to know. But I am just jaded enough by what I have seen of children that I believe many Christians who take up Malachi 4 about parenting don't realize how hopeless that is and do not consider how Elijah, not them, will turn the hearts of children toward their fathers.

Things like infanticde and killing children were not considered a priori goods in Jewish society. Yeah, you could stone a kid for being rebellious but unlike Greco-Roman culture you weren't supposed to dump the aby over a hill if you didn't want another one.

Having taken many diversions by now I come back to the mourning shark. I have read things to the effect of people grieving for their father not being good enough but what if Malachi 4's promise is read as the eschatological promise that it is instead of as a prescription for a social agenda? What if we read it not as a prescriptive moralism but as an apocalyptic promise? Remember the words of God given through His sevent and He will send His servant to give you the hearts to fulfill it.

In this light I suggest that while there is nothing necessarily wrong with grieving for the failures and sins of your father when I consider Malachi 4 I notice that it addresses the children, too. God not only enables the fathers to grieve over their sin but the children to grieve over theirs. Who might they sin most against in this age? Each other, of course? You cannot manufacture what only the Spirit of God can produce. Your grief over your father's failure will not turn his heart toward you and his grief over your failure will not turn your heart toward him.

Yet if the Spirit gives you and your father, or you and your child conviction that you have sinned against each other and in that grief you reach out to each other and find ways to grieve together THEN I suggest that Elijah has truly spoken to you and prepared the way for the Lord. So often Christians would be eager to take Malachi 4 and prepare the way themselves! They want either their parents or their children to grieve and be turned back to them. That's not how it works.

It may be too simplistic to say this but legalism always seems to be some case where we insist on accomplishing for ourselves out of impatience what only Christ can accomlish within us. We do not realize how helpless we truly are because we think that we can help ourselves. We do not realize how depraved we are because we consider first the depravity of others. Malachi 4 does not say that Elijah will turn the hearts of fathers toward children only or the hearts only of children toward their fathers.

We must be skeptical when we find ourselves tempted to lament not because there is nothing to mourn. Jesus said that those who mourn are most happy for they will be comforted. We must be skeptical when we find ourselves inclined to lament because we should ask what we are truly lamenting. Not all sorrow is godly sorrow. Strangely, perhaps, mourning the loss of things we did not have can become our greatest pleasure and becomes our comfort. But if you lament what you did not have how would you know what it was?

A blind man can lament that he has never been able to see but what is he really lamenting? He is not lamenting the lack of sight so much as those things he would be sure to have, he trusts, if he had ever been able to see. That is often how our mourning is--we are blind men who are mourning the things we do not have because we cannot see even though we do not understand what it is like to see them. Indeed we mourn having never seen and the things we could have had had we seen. This is not itself truly mourning that we are blind. No, that is a different thing altogether.

Think of it this way, the man born blind may not lament that he is unable to see his wife if he can touch her. He has never seen anything but he can touch his wife and be touched by her. The man who has seen his wife and is then blind can surely mourn that he can no longer see his wife. He can praise her beauty as beheld in his eyes from memory alone and not see how she grows and changes yet remains beautiful over time.

We are blind men from birth whom Christ can give the gift of sight. We can mourn those things we believe we should be able to see yet we do not see them. But if Christ comes to us and heals us then perhaps we may weep in a new way. We are allowed to weep not for the things we never saw that we wished we could see but to weep with joy at the things Christ gives us sight to see that we have never seen before.

So mourn, yet do not make mourning your comfort or you have received your comfort already. Mourn without comfort and then Christ can come and comfort you. Mourn without comfort and Christ can bring forth people who can mourn with you. You may even be surprised to discover that those who Christ may bring to mourn with you are the people you were mourning about, the people who you were mourning over that they did not mourn. Only be alert so that when the moment comes you may be given grace by God to see and hear it or it may come and be unappreciated, just as Elijah was!

That is how, if I understand God's promises and their fulfillment in Christ rightly, the hearts of fathers are turned toward sons and the hearts of sons are turned toward fathers. Christians are so busy being zealots attempting to bring the kingdom of God in by force, being violent men grasping violently at the kingdom, that they do not see how it arrives meekly, on a colt, and do not recognize it when it speaks to them. It is no wonder to me now that Jesus so often says, "Let he who has ears to hear hear." Elijah came to point to Christ and Christ alone inclines your heart to the child or the father.

Why do so many Christians transform a startling promise from God into a command they must fulfill? They do not believe the promise. Fortunately God's ability to fulfill His promise is not dependent on their belief.

O Light who makes the cosmos shine
Please fill our minds with light divine
That with Yourself our hearts may glow
And You our darkness overthrow.
O Light in Whom no shadow lies
Give sight to all our blinded eyes
That we may see You are the Word
True light and life to all the world.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Comments as drive-by events

This last year has seen some comments on this blog. By comments I don't mean, "I very much like your blog and here is a great money-making opportunity I want to share with you." We all know those aren't real comments. I mean comments about things I have written that contain substance to them. Many of the comments have been anonymous, and a few from people I know or am related to, and a handful from people I've never met but who for some reason read what I blogged.

I have heard it said that what people on the internet do is lie about who they are and use pseudonyms to say on-line what they would never tell people in person. Nah, that's not really true. ConcernedAbout, for instance, would undoubtedly tell me I'm some childish delusional person for actually being a Christian to my face. People may exagerrate aspects of themselves on the internet and, yes, there's a degree to which people do lie about themselves but most people are not so different on-line from who they are in face-to-face life.

Having said that I am not sure that anonymous comments should be seen as being made by people who are unwilling to identify themselves, though I know it may be tempting to see things that way. I tend to be a bit more prgamatic, and perhaps a bit more cynical, in supposing that it is essentially laziness that prompts anonymous comments. A person wants to speak up about a blog entry without actually logging in to a blogger username or any of that. They post an anonymous comment and have their say.

I have noticed that despite anything I might think I was really clear about it's always possible, even likely, for people to not get what I said. half the time I think this is because I was a sloppy, disorganized writer. The other half of the time I figure my blog comments section is simply being used as a way to generate traffic for the blogs of others and that commenting on anything I said is merely incidental to that goal. That's part of the deal, though, so that's fine. And those who decided to post as themselves did me the favor of speaking for themselves.

But there are also people who posted to disagree with me or to provide their own take on things I have written about. When anonymous I figure it is laziness rather than cowardice that spurred them to post anonymously. Really, since I've allowed for anonymous comments why bother to log in if you don't have a Blogger account?

In light of all that I'd like to say a word of thanks to the people who posted comments on the blog and did so from their own blogger account. Thanks to family, of fourse, for reading, thanks to Marie for reading when she has time, thanks to dwayne, thanks to wendy, thanks to quinalt, thanks to niccola, thanks to ConcernedAbout. Whether or not we have agreed on any issues at all some time of your day for reading is appreciated. Blogging is simply a form of entertainment in the end and I am glad if my little blog can be of some entertainment to you where ever you are at.

Yes, you too Concerned About. :) You might think my taking the biblical stories seriously as referring to things that happened is childish and dishonest but if that's the case you had better things to do with your time than comment on a blog. But you, too, posted as you, and that's something I do appreciate. Now I certainly have more interesting things to do with my time than to get into the differences between the Masoretic text and the Septuagint regrading the psalms, for instance, and I leave it to others to discuss the differences in emphasis and literary approach that exist in the way the synoptics handle a given parable that all three synoptists use ... but I trust readers get the idea. This blog is obviously about what I find interesting but is not all-inclusive.

And over time this blog has tended to be less and less about non-Spanish classical guitar repertoire, something I might change (or not) this upcoming year. I have also not written much about cartoons, either. I have no resolutions for the new year beyond composing more music, which I already tend to do anyway. I suppose I might also "resolve" to keep working on this blog. I anticipate that not many will read and that when people comment about 3/4 of the time it will be from people who don't quite get where I'm coming from.