Thursday, July 01, 2010

Toy Story stuff still pending

I promise I'll get to it but I've had a few real-world problems that need immediate attention. Turns out immediate attention doesn't mean it can really be immediate, just that I have to tackle it as fast as other people can make it practical for me to tackle.

I can at least say that last week I premiered one of my pieces. The premiere was to a grand total of seven or eight people but a premiere's a premiere, eh? I played my second guitar sonata and it went pretty well, even if I say so myself. It was at a local guitar society event and one of my favorite local guitarists was there who is definitely my favorite local guitarist/composer. He liked the sonata, which was encouraging. I also learned that two of my closest friends were able to make it to hear the sonata, too, which was also encouraging after the fact. The lullaby movement put their new baby to sleep which means the lullaby is still doing now what it was made to do some eight years ago when I came up with it for one of my nieces. :) So while lots of crap is going on that I have to contend with in real-world land there has been some progress on artistic stuff, however small-scale the successes are. Having my friends hear my work and having one of my favorite professionals like my work and hear it in person is encouraging.

The research for Toy Story will get tackled. I figure that instead of just blitzing through the Toy Story films by myself I should at least talk a couple of my housemates into watching them with me. You know, the whole bonding and "community" thing. :)

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Officially at 13

The prelude and fugue in D major for solo guitar is now done. I am officially past the half-way point for the set of 24.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

This article should have been called "Ruby-Spears, the cartoon factory we're glad is dead".

And you won't get any objections from me! I loathe Rubik the Amazing Cube even though it has been more than two decades after I first saw the animated atrocity! Still, no hate for the Gary Coleman cartoon is probably explicable on the basis of Mr. Coleman's recent passing but trust me, it was only an okay cartoon if you were 8 years old and just simply did not know any better. In the realm of guilty nostalgia ... the Mr. T. cartoon at least had a strikingly memorable, if memorably cheesy, theme song.

On that note ... I've got some research for actually awesome cartoons to get to this week. Those Toy Story essays won't write themselves. I've just got some unpleasant but necessary things to attend to in the real world first.

Church is like high school, the in people dig it and the out people diss it

I was reading this entry and reflecting on why I stopped being a member at a particular church a few years ago. I had lots of theological and practical reasons for my decision and I don't believe it was the wrong decision. I also believe that the people at that church can genuinely benefit from being there.

It dawned on me reading the above entry that we can use spiritual jargon to explain why we leave a church, true, but that we also spiritualize reasons for staying that mask more mundane, dare I say "worldly" reasons for staying where we are. What is interesting about those who are not religious is that they at times plead passionately for the creation and sustenance of societies that provide the social benefits of religious organizations without that, you know, religion thing. Unbelievers can see significant social advantages to the faithful organizing the way they do even if they see the foundational tenants of that organization as ultimately and supremely pernicious.

I have an unbelieving friend who once shared with me that I have been wise to not untether myself from religious community because it is a social resource that can be beneficial as I continue to age and need help. He is in a different social and economic setting where the networks for career development and even simple socialization are just not the same. Religion is a uniter in ways that do not unite other demographics at the same level or to the same degree. Patriotism gets in the same zone but does not have the capacity to transcend national or cultural barriers. The reason there will never cease to be civic religion is because there will never cease to be material benefits for nominal religion for those who are willing to exploit it. Think of the stereotypical non-religious man who pantomimes religious conduct so as to get the smoking hot lady at church (or any variation upon that theme).

If this is true for the ungodly then why would it not also be true even for those who genuinely love Christ, and truly venerate the Father, Son, and Spirit in public and private worship?
Now it would be considered unspiritual to stay at a church because of hot singles. You can say it's okay as an (all too literal) attractional aspect of evangelism but once people have been attending a few months they should be drawn for better reasons. You know, people should stop being consumers and become members and tithe and participate by plugging into ministries and small groups.

This critical sentiment is in itself a form of consumerism in which one's spiritual activity and speech becomes the measure of success and social status. I have known plenty of people who became members, plugged in, served in ministry, who were told explicitly that they'd probably find their future spouse by serving in ministry and that if they did well in small things they would be entrusted with bigger things. In a voluntary society social status is conferred upon those whose conspicuous sacrifice endears them to both leadership and the community as a whole. This is good, but ...

What this can lead to is a situation where someone on an upward trajectory looks down on someone in a downward trajectory. The up and coming church member who is getting more and more responsibility or acclaim will look down on the person who is on the downward slide in terms of influence. The downward slope may come about because of doctrinal disagreements, charges of imcompetence (that is either real or imagined), changes in the level of sacrifice practical for the person on the downward slide, and so on. The person in the upward trajectory may have recently gotten married and experienced a boost in prestige within the church; or the person may have established themselves as an unmarried person with a lot of potential to serve, maybe leadership potential; and there may be someone new to the church with a lot of money who is considered a big culture-shaper locally. If Bill and Melinda Gates set foot in your church wouldn't you look for ways to get them "plugged in" and tithing?

In the upward trajectory there is a mutually beneficial synergistic relationship between the individual member and the social unit. In the downward trajectory there is either synergistic harm or a trend toward inverse proportionality in the amount of work given for the amount of benefit attained. At this point leadership could say that church membership is not about what you get out of church membership but about obedient sacrifice. This is, of course, easy for church leaders to say who live at the expense of those who tithe. If there are no social benefits to membership then there are no practical benefits to it.

Now here's where I cop to just being a smart-ass, for churches who hold that sacraments are important and necessary parts of Christian worship and necessary by way of a congregational or sacral context this means that no matter how bad your church is if you hold to real presence and the power of confession and absolution and baptism to truly delineat God's people then no matter how sucky the church may be you have reasons to stick with it that derive from the fidelity of God to work through the sacraments even if those administering the sacraments totally stink. If you don't take a sacramental view then you can convince yourself and others that that whole church thing is a waste of time and not worth doing because there is nothing that gets done in a church/congregational setting that you can't do better yourself. Of course ... all those non-denominational self-appointed preachers went down that same path themselves so this inevitably becomes a million pots calling a flamboyant kettle black ...
So for the person on the upward trajectory they genuinely can't fathom why a person would leave their church. Why would they? In the upward trending person's mind he or she has influence, prestige, power, association with leadership, and the like. It's just inconceivable to that person that someone who is either on a downward trend or has stagnated would grow weary of what feel like increasing demands for sacrifice with decreasing social investment from the community. If people are spending time with you, being your friend, investing in your life, and allowing you to invest in their lives then, of course, you find it easier to sacrifice more and more for them. If people withdraw, if people decide that whatever you want to do isn't really interesting or that what they want is better than what you want or in any way condescend then after a few years this gets old.
If a single guy convinces himself that if he conforms to the pack that he will then land a wife and doesn't after a few years he gets disappointed. Should he be? Well, not in the sense of swearing off church as though THAT were the problem. On the other hand, to the extent that a church may have sold him on the idea that conformity would reward him with a wife then, yeah, he should be at least a little upset. I would say the delusion is synergistic rather than unilateral but that's another subject for another time. It's not wrong for him to feel upset that some church or people he respected sold him a bill of goods about the path to getting married that turned out to be crap even if he is ultimately unmarried because he just hasn't managed, for whatever reason, to convince someone to marry him.
A guy who shows up at a church and follows the rules and lands the hot wife there's nothing wrong with jumping through the hoops and the hoops were ordained by God precisely so that he could get the hot wife. The idea that God sends the rain on the just and unjust alike and that God even sends rain to water the lands were there aren't even any people (per Job) just doesn't factor into these discussions most of the time.
And this is the rub, people with an upward trajectory in the social order of a church are willing to overlook sex abuse scandals or bullying pulpit methods or condescension toward outsiders or fiscal imcompetence because while those flaws may seem real and troubling to people on the downward slope these do not impact the person with the upward trajectory. People on a downward trajectory can no longer see even the net positives of their community as being positives anymore because the negatives are too overwhelming. So the guy who is a big shot in a growing ministry will see the person who pulls out of membership having served on a ministry for years as disgruntled and having sour grapes. In a year or two, though, the up and comer becomes the down and outer who, in turn, is seen as someone who just couldn't keep up with the growth of the ministry. The ministry outgrew his or her gifts, they might say. It's conceivable the ministry was growing faster than its leadership could competently administrate but the difference between an up and comer and a down and outer on this score might be a bit too predictable.
In this respect church is pretty much like high school. There are cliques and if you're in the right clique things go better for you and if you take a stand against cliques because you don't like them you get more or less unsurprising results. The nerds and the jocks don't get along. Cheerleaders date people on the football team, art students smoke weed out back and bemoan school spirit. People who run for student body government jobs tend to be full of themselves and think they are God's gift to the high school. You get the drill.
I don't wish to give up on the Church because even though she gives up on so many people and so many things and gets so many things wrong the things the Church has right are priceless. Despite my immense frustration with how Christians justify their own upwardly or downwardly mobile social clout I am prey to the same temptations. I, too, once thought as an upward trajectory guy who figured anyone who was discontent was just a crank. I have been blessed to end up on the other side through sheer burn-out and accumulation of investing myself into more ministry service and volunteering than was ultimately reasonable for me. I have become like a part of the body that needs to be covered up and hidden away, though without the part about being worthy of more honor or anything like that.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

13 of 24

I'm at 13 of 24. The thirteenth fugue is done. The thirteenth prelude is done. Unfortunately the prelude is for D minor and the fugue is for D major so the prelude AND fugue for each respective key is not done but I can at least say I've hit 13 of 24. I am not just over the half-way point in the preludes and fugues for solo guitar.

Now if I could just finish the respective fugue in D minor and prelude in D major I'd have a nice thing going. Actually, if I can tackle C sharp major and E flat minor I'll a total of 18 preludes and fugues and have the first 12 in chromatic sequence. God willing I hope to pull that off. Meanwhile, I also feel like I've got some significant work done on the F sharp minor prelude and fugue. The prelude is all taken care of and the fugue, though challenging, can be finished this year. I am willing to go out on a limb and say that three-voiced fugues in F sharp for that use a locrian subject and locrian countersubjects are rare in solo guitar literature.

cross congregational accountability

One of the more curious and interesting incidents that happened to someone I know recently was that the fellow was approached by a neighbor who attends a particular church. This fellow who was approached has been sporadically but nonetheless consistently attending a local church and the neighbor is a community group leader at a well-known church. The group leader sought to learn if this sporadic attender had finalized membership and started plugging into a ministry. This has not, in fact, happened, either of those things. This fellow explained that the church he attends is not quite so hard-core about membership on those issues as the church the group leader is a member of and that there aren't any immediate openings in ministries that seem to urgently need plugging into just yet.

When I learned of this situation I must admit I found it amusing because accountability is an important part of spiritual life ... but it was amusing to see a group leader in the big, well-known church presume to hold someone else who is at a different church "accountable". Precisely how this would be accountability is beyond me. I would think that accountability is best exercised to whatever degree it can be exercised in the church the fellow is actually attending. This is not to say cross-congregationial accountability can't happen but the group leader is particularly eager to hold people in other flocks accountable while not demonstrating tons of interest in the accountability or confrontational process going the other way. I.e. criticisms of the big, well-known church from people who used to be more formally linked are met with indifference or dismissal compared to the earnestness with which the group leader's own exhortation to accountability is offered.

I'm less enthusiastic about a kind of cross-congregational "accountability" that amounts to looking to make people conform to "your" idea of church membership, ministry participation, and things like that. The paradoxical reality that someone who checks in on someone else's spirituality to hold them "accountable" for properly or improperly participating in godly life often is a Pharisee. There are reasons Jesus condemned the Pharisees for washing the outside of the cup while the inside of the cup was dirty; why Jesus warned that the hypocrites put on a religious show for each other's approval; and why Jesus warned that these people are drawn to places of honor and prestige. Not for nothing did Jesus warn the Pharisees and legal experts that hookers and tax-collectors were entering the kingdom before them.

Now if you want someone to join a church, become a member, tithe, and get "plugged in" to a ministry then if you're willing to talk with that person about the scriptures and share your life with them in other settings besides a formalized group you lead or around the subject of a group you lead that goes a long way toward establishing some rapport. If it happens that the church that other person attends has a different conception of membership and ministry then if the person you're holding "accountable" doesn't jump through the hoops you jumped through to become a church member or isn't as hardcore then that doesn't mean you need to hold them accountable to what you perceive Christian church membership to be. It just means you have the opportunity to share life together.

There are all sorts of things I've meant to blog about but there's the necessity of reflection and research. Despite my eager desire to write about Toy Story 3 and the Toy Story trilogy I want to revisit the first two movements and, frankly, seeing the new film a second time WOULD be nice.

The series on Hell has stalled because of a lot of real-world/non-blogging concerns. I'll get to it, really, I plan to get to it, but it's not ready yet. And amidst all this I'm still job-hunting and trying to deal with some unpleasant surprises that have hit me in the last two weeks.