Saturday, May 02, 2009

Absalomian woolgathering in preparation of a rebellion

Back to matters of Absalom and David.

After the faux reconciliation that satisfied both father and son, Absalom gathers an entourage, a set of chariots and men to run before him. This is a man who has his own fan club and sends them forth among God's people to declare how cool and just he is, how kingly he is. He is, after all, son of the king. He is happy to have a retinue running ahead of him to announce his glory and weight. There is some solid textual evidence that Absalom, despite having David as a father, seems not to have had any serious consideration of following the Lord. He played the role well enough but he only played the role in the presence of his father. Once apart from his father's influence he revealed his character to be considerably less marked by a desire to know and seek God.

Absalom's entourage is built to impress. He presents himself as someone the people ought to look up to and admire. While Absalom himself was very likely a godless man we must consider that even Christians can, at heart, be Absalom's in relationship to spiritual leaders, presenting themselves as big guns whose advice should be heeded and whose presence should be honored. They like to be looked up to, fawned over, sought for counsel, considered wise judges of character and that means that when such a man or woman regards you that you have become special by receiving the attentions, as it were, of a prince of the faith.

Absalom was always around. He woke up early and went out to where the people were and mingled with them. In modern Christianese terms, Absalom was at every church service networking and working toward his pet projects and pet people. He was able to be a warm, winsome, thoughtful fellow. When people had problems and were going to the king's court, so to speak, he intervened and offered to help the matter himself, noting that the royal structure lacked the means to fairly administer justice. This might be, in a church setting, a warm, glad-handing fellow who urges you to consider him for advice and counsel because the pastors are great people and all but they don't understand justice or fairness quite as well as he does.

Absalom was able to identify hurt people coming to the king for a legal hearing because they had not obtained justice elsewhere in the land. He was able to prey upon the weakness of the weak to sell himself as an advocate for truth, justice, and the Israelite way.

What Absalom was careful to NOT do at this point was to ever speak against his father. He noted that there was no judge appointed or intermediary appointed to remedy conflicts, legal cases, and the like before the people. It might be like, say, the head pastors not having adequately provided counseling pastors to help rectify or ameliorate conflicts in a church, so Absalom, if we pretend for the moment he is in a church, presents himself as the one who can get the job done. He never complains about the church leaders directly because he is too clever for that. Rather he can present privately that he may disagree with any number of positions the leaders have but he is too respectful and considerate to openly disagree because they are, after all the leaders. By way of incidental contrast, Joab, a bastard if there ever was one, would say, "May the king live forever, but why does he request this thing?" The Absalom in a church is more genteel and smooth-tongued at first but more dangerous than a Joab who is quite frankly an asshole but often reveals a better concern for the house of David than the "son" of high standing.

Absalom parlays his prominence into a case for his being among the leaders. "Oh that I were appointed a judge in the land! Then I would ensure that justice is done." His sales pitch is startling direct, that the king has failed to appoint someone to enact justice. Earlier David is described as being a just king who sought the good of the people. After his failure to punish Amnon for the rape of Tamar the royal family is marred by David's failure and inconsistency in executing justice. The people may well have believed that David was not harsh enough in punishing Amnon and too harsh in his reaction to Absalom. Wasn't Absalom the one who did what the king SHOULD have done?

There is a strange and sad irony here in which David is, for a time, not unlike Saul. Saul was a king who was glad to have the authority of kingship but had not bothered to execute the Lord's will. The son, Jonathan, ended up contending with the enemies of Israel as Saul should have done. Now, in a strange parallel, David had failed to execute justice and act against a sin, and the son usurps the role. Jonathan was, arguably, a nobler and more God-fearing man than his father. Absalom, clearly, was not, yet there is the strange parallel of a son executing a task that was by the understanding of that time and place the duty of the father. Both the godliest and ungodliest of parents can find that they have failed to do what is appointed at hand and that the children take it upon themselves to accomplish for themselves or the people what they believe ought to have been done. In the former category we see that chaos is about to erupt and in the latter it can be toward the work the Lord had commanded the father to do.

Now Absalom also had another advantageous approach, he did not let anyone pay hommage to him as a member of the royal court or for what he was accomplishing among the people. He may well have heard the cases at hand fairly or, as some suggest, he simply took the side of the person who came to him first and said, "Your case is good and right." I think it would be tough to make an assumption either way and the import of the text is not how, precisely, Absalom adjudicated individual cases, but the goal toward which each individual case was adjudicated. The end result was to destroy the legitimacy of David's rule in the eyes of the people and for Absalom to IMPLICITLY present himself as an advocate of justice over against his aging and compromised father.

Absalom did not let people pay hommage to him but, as it were, paid hommage to THEM. He feigned the position of a lowly servant advocating for justice when his heart is set on self-regard, self-aggrandizement, the accumulation of power and influence and prominence for himself, and, finally work toward declaring himself king in Hebron and destroying his father. Despite his not letting people pay hommage to him this was not a sign of humility in Absalom at all. Not everyone who appears to be humble and deferential actually is. One's apparent humility can be a mask for a spectacular pride and avarice for power and influence and getting one's way. Absalom was handsome, smart, popular, and had three sons and a beautiful daughter and was considered the most beautiful man in the land. He became loved more than David for how he presented himself and we may as well surmise he believed his own hype. Insurgents generally have to, after all.

And what is strange to consider is that all of this fulfills Nathan's prophecy from the Lord.

Link: Slacktivist says what I've been saying, but in a much funnier way, and about the Left Behind books

awesomely funny this is! Go and read it now!

What makes this commentary so beautiful is pointing out how all the speculation about end times THEN is really just a narrative address to end times advocates now. It is also useful to point out that premillenial dispensationalists, despite their putatively hopeless eschatology regarding temporal matters, have the "dig a big hole and wait in it for Jesus" mentality that would essentially incorporate all of the United States as a really big hole.

As I have been saying, premillenial dispensationalist eschatology tends to be a ruse Christians literally and figuratively left and right use to justify their own paranoia that the political, social, racial, religious, financial, or sexual "bad guys" are going to run the world in a few inglorious years until Jesus comes back. And why else would Christians of this stripe be apt to fall for bank debenture scams, the creation of above-ground religious compounds that get raided by the ATF, or become political activists whose main goal is to defeat whatever it is they believe corrupts the God-appointed greatness of America? The hole you wait in for Jesus' return has to be really big.

Of course the postmillenialists seem to have the same plan, but with slightly more theocratic overtones and rhetorical about "good law" or "moral law" or observing how everyone "legislates morality" and that the Christians should be the ones legislating it. Never mind the failures of theocratic experiences in the wake of the Reformation. The smarter direction in the wake of the Reformation was beginning to realize why a separation of church authority from the authority of the state was so vital. It meant that if one week Pastor Bob was replaced by Pastor Bill that Pastor Bill couldn't just decide to use the power of the sword held by the state to kill the flock of Pastor Bob, who was now an apostate for abandoning the true Gospel because he was a credobaptist/paedobaptist/egalitarian/complementarian/critic of the divine right of kings/advocate of a restoration of the royal family, etc, etc.

If the Left Behind books really are code books that reveal the location of hidden dug-outs after the rapture then I don't need them because God is so merciful that as a Christian I shall be raptured away from the tribulation whether I read those books or not! And if they aren't secret code books that reveal the location of hidden dug-outs ... then I STILL don't need to read them. Thank you Jesus!

Friday, May 01, 2009

I am not sure there is an ROTFLMAO big enough for this one

on 01 May 2009 at 11:01 am iMonk
Jonathan Edwards view of the ideal church: I tell you what the Bible says and turn it into big time theology. My wife and children are amazed at me. My church only expects me to emerge from my study a couple of times a week. I really enjoy debating whether the real world matters at all in how we apply scripture. Then I go back to a church totally submerged in a particular culture and denounce missional churches as apostate.

This seems to me to be what a lot of folks are shooting for.


I read this recently and it's just too funny. Spenser is no longer a Calvinist and for that alone people might write him off but he absolutely nails this serious/satirical definition of an ideal church leadership position and what, as he put it, a lot of folks are shooting for. It tragically reminds me of what a pastor I have met seems to be becoming over the years, which makes me sad, but I also have to admit I kinda did laugh my ass off at this zinger summary of a Reformed Edwardsian model of the pastorate. At least the missional part doesn't apply in the case I'm thinking of, which is good.

Monday, April 27, 2009

swine flu, obviously one of the plagues mentioned in Revelations, right?

Give it a minute and it will show up. SOMEONE will be blogging or broadcasting on TV. Perhaps Jack and Rexalla (oh Jack!) van Impe will have something about it possibly being a sign of the end.

Chrsitians in America would do well to remember that just because a disease you've never heard of until last week is making the rounds doesn't mean it proves that we're living in the end times. We've been living in the end times since John the Baptist but most American Christians seem too unaware of the nature of eschatological expression in Jewish and early Christian thought to get that. I can't imagine that the number of people who have died of swine flu in the West is even a drop in the bucket compared to pandemics in Africa and elsewhere. Not belittling sufffering in the United States at all so much as belittling the impulse of American Christians to see every emergence of something modern medicine can't quite lick in a week and a half before you've heard of the disease as a sign of the end times.

I have said it before and I will say it again, too much discussion of end times anything in American Christianity seems like a mash up of fears--winnow away the rhetoric and bluster and out-of-context and eisegeted Scripture and the fears take on familiar faces: fears about political, religious, ethnic, racial, economic, ideological or sexual bad guys winning the day and ripping the last shreds of some benighted Christendom from the weary fingers of Christians who remember the good old days of some bygone epoch that may well have existed chiefly in our feeble imagining of history. The earliest Christians did not by and large suffer from this particular self-aggrandizing delusion. I would explain the situation at Corinth were it not so needless. You can do your own homework on that.

Too many Christians who quite simply ought to know better completely bungle apocalyptic literature. The apocalyptic literature that literally became biblical does not merely bewail a coming apocalypse where the end of all things comes, it considers that in and through Christ those things that are most beautiful transcend this life and literally cannot be destroyed by the worst that life and death can throw down. The book of Revelation should not be read as though it were some giant iteration of Bill Paxton's "GAME OVER MAN!!" from Aliens, which is often how Christians seem to handle it in the United States. They make it a book of their own fears and not one of hope in Christ.

I am not one of those "pan" millenialists who thinks it will all "pan out" in the end. I'm not a postmillenialist or a pre-millenialist. I lean decidedly amillenial partial preterist and don't take the tribulation as being anything unusual that Christians will be "raptured" from. The book itself says those destined for captivity will go into captivity and that those who slay with the sword will be slain with the sword, here is perserverance for the saints, as it goes. I kid you not, though, I discovered that at a church I was attending (this happened about five years ago) that a friend of mine had to explain to someone that I am not, in fact, a heretic for identifying as an amillenial partial preterist. It's a common view, historically, within the faith, and while it is highly unusual for an AMERICAN evangelical Protestant it's probably far more the norm than the historicist/futurist dispensationalism present in our country.

I trust that by and large MOST people will not look at swine flu as though it were the contents of one of the seven golden bowls. Still, I remember growing up hearing explanations about locusts representing helicopters or other sorts of fanciful allegorical interpretations taken by various people. Very few people interpret Revelation literally even when they pretend to themselves and others that the images are made to speak and take that as referring to television. If you know that the keeping of the Passover is as a mark on the right hand or a mark above the eyes then you know that within the Jewish idiom the Revelator drew upon that the mark of the Beast may not be anything particularly literal at all but a custom or ritual that defined one's allegiance to a god other than Christ.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

just to prove that I still blog here

A person who regularly reads this blog (ha!) or has read the blog from the beginning (double "ha"! triple "ha!" for those who remember Space Ghost) may be forgiven for thinking that perhaps I've just let this thing drop or something. Not so, exactly, but I have been tending to a lot of things. I have also written elsewhere in other variations of cyber-space about what my business is. Ergo, I have written a bit less here.

I have been working through a number of things I don't think anyone has much business blogging about and a number of things that might be worthwhile for someone ELSE to blog about but that I won't be touching.

I have also, lest anyone of the few who read this have forgotten, been composing. Slowly composing I have but composing indeed have I been, hmm.

As part of my big old series of chamber sonatas for classical guitar I have been throwing myself into a sonata for cello and guitar. Violoncello and guitar for those who want to be fancy pants about it. I have taken a whole series of riffs and ideas that were supposed to be a guitar concerto nine years ago and redirected them all toward just a duo sonata. This has turned out to be an awesome decision creatively and practically. Creatively this means that a bunch of material I would have had to employ in some kind of obligatory concertante format can now be presented however I wish to present it. This leads into the practical consideration, the thematic material I'm working with simply isn't symphonic, springs too directly from the guitar, and wouldn't withstand the repetitions of an orchestra I OBVIOUSLY can't go contact or book anyway. As a cello and guitar duo, however, it's all working far better than I could have hoped.

And all of this material is also comprised of riffs that never became songs in the garage band I used to play in for about ... uh, a decade. Clearly the garage band was not on the fast track to anywhere except the drummer and his wife having more babies together and so I tabled all the rock song riffs until such time as I could use them. Such time as I can use them turns out to be this cello and guitar sonata.

So I have gone and bought a CD of the music of Armoend Coeck (sic) and I have found a recording by the Villa-Lobos duo that has Radames Gnatalli's gorgeous, charming sonata for cello and guitar, and I have set about to adding my own modest sonata to the surprisingly large and beautiful cello/guitar repertoire. Fortunately it's not just Villa-Lobos Bachianas Brasileiras #5 over and over ... not that I don't love that piece.

I hope to have the first movement of this sonata done in possibly as short a time as a month. There are some ideas I absolute insist on incorporating into the development that will be a bit tricky. I want to make sure that this idea doesn't kill the momentum of the development but I also realize I don't wish to place it the second movement, a variation form. I was once advised that when in doubt, you use sequence as a composer. I would hasten to add to that axiom, don't be afraid to use chains of rising fourths (i.e. a sequence of circle progressions). If it was good enough for Bach and Beethoven, damn it, it should be good enough for you, too, because it's just not possible that you'll be a greater composer than those two! Pardon the language, I wax enthusiastic.

And for those with nerdiness inclining toward theology and the Bible I have NOT forgotten about my big old rumination on Absalom and David. It has been tabled but not forgotten and, God willing, I shall be able to return to writing about that relatively soon.

I have considered Matthew Lee Anderson's observation that many new evangelicals like to talk the talk of being culture shapers without actually demonstrating any real interest in the work of shaping culture. I have been thinking about this in connection to the fascinating interview with Andrew Stanton in Christianity Today. Arguably the problem Christians have is they can be so busy TALKING ABOUT shaping culture they're never doing it. Those that do, and arguably Stanton is shaping a part of popular culture at a collosal scale, are probably going to get dismissed by many evangelical christians as promoting a cause that is perceived to be too "green". It's not easy being green but that's sorta beside the point and at any rate no one said that evangelicals had to "not" embrace putatively "green" agendas and still be evangelical. If Francis Schaeffer were alive today I think he would have probably fallen in love with WALL-E and argued that Stanton's films are steeped in a Christian worldview if Christians would just stop to pay attention.

So I'm around, out and about, and I'll eventually get back to blogging here about stuff I've been writing about earlier but I'm still settling into a new phase of life.