Saturday, March 19, 2011

Links to some of my favorite composers performing their own works

Links to Nikita Koshkin performing his sonata for flute and guitar, which is amazing
1st movement
2nd movement
3rd mvoement

Atanas Ourkouzounov and Mie Ogura playing Ourkouzounov's Sonatine for flute and guitar
1st movement
2nd movement
3rd movement

And here's a link of Asya Selyutina playing Nikita Koshkin's prelude and fugue in C major. Koshkin finished a set of 24 preludes and fugues not too long ago.

When I first began my own set of preludes and fugues in 2006 I kept thinking, "If anyone finished composing 24 preludes and fugues for solo guitar already he or she will HAVE to be Russian." My impression is that as yet Western guitarists and composers for the guitar (Castelnuovo-Tedesco obviouslly excepted) have not tackled contrapuntal cycles for the guitar. There's no reason we shouldn't, though. Just because a lot of pianists don't play the Hammerklavier doesn't mean there isn't a role for repertoire in the guitar that challenges players to explore the outermost conceptual and technical possibilities of the instrument. Now I'm at best probably a slightly above average player myself but it's nice to learn that one of my favorite composers has decided to tackle 24 preludes and fugues. If I had disposable income and the CD set was already released I'd go get it. Meanwhile, I hope someone actually records all of Rekhin's cycle. If Koshkin's cycle gets released on disc it will be the first cycle of preludes and fugues written for the guitar that is also fully recorded. Someone should to play the other pieces in Rekhin's cycle at some point, I hope.

Anyway, there's a bunch of links for you of works by Nikita Koshkin and Atanas Ourkouzounov. I can't be writing about cartoons and theology and Christian literature all the time (just most of the time, I suppose).

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Link: Mockingbird--"Why Pixar"

Now I admit I enjoyed How to Train Your Dragon. Dreamworks plotting remains fairly pedestrian but they are starting to get a firmer grasp that story depends on character. Sure, it's been taking them a bit more than a decade but better late than never to start rising up to the level of a low-end Pixar movie.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Link: WSJ--yes, happiness is overrated, well-being is not.

The pleasure that comes with, say, a good meal, an entertaining movie or an important win for one's sports team—a feeling called "hedonic well-being"—tends to be short-term and fleeting. Raising children, volunteering or going to medical school may be less pleasurable day to day. But these pursuits give a sense of fulfillment, of being the best one can be, particularly in the long run.

Surprise! Jewish wisdom literature makes a general distinction between hedonic vs "Eudaimonic well-being". I'm going to turn 37 in a few weeks and one of the things that reveals itself to be true is the usefulness of the wisdom literature. When I was in my teens I wondered what made the stuff useful. Someone would opine I was too young to undersand why the wisdom literature was wisdom literature. Fair enough. But I also believe that the breakthrough I needed in interpreting wisdom literature was to realize that they are, as Tim Keller put it, the hard candy of the biblical literature.

My own variation of this observation was cued by the introduction where we're told that the book is meant to help the simple gain understanding and help the wise in the understanding of proverbs and riddles. If a proverb is a riddle then there is more than one way to approach the riddle the proverb presents. I blogged about this years ago when I considered that the proverb "faithful are the blows of a friend ... " can also be rendered as "the wounds of a friend endure but the kisses of an enemy are profuse". The wounds of a friend may be faithful but by that measure because they are wounds that endure a friend must be cautious about when, how, and why to wound a friend. The enemy kisses profusely and the kisses mean nothing. I've seen two or three too many Christians use the proverb about wounding friends to inflict wounds on friends that should have been avoided. I have probably done this too much myself and not understand that there's more than one way to perceive the substance of the proverb.

If we approach the wisdom literature as a set of rules rather than as a set of riddles that point the way to the fear of the Lord rather than as a checklist of things you should and shouldn't do to prove that you, in your own mind, already fear the Lord, I believe we come closer to understanding one of the core functions of the wisdom literature which is, paradoxically yet predictably in light of God's providence, to discover that the closer we get to attaining wisdom the more we realize we are not really that wise. Fearing the Lord and not leaning on one's own understanding makes one wise because one recognize the limits not only of one's own wisdom but even of the wisdom literature itself (don't believe me, go immerse yourself in Job and Ecclesiastes for a while).

And yet while wisdom can elude even the wisest and at times not be as helpful as we would hope, the proverbs do still reveal that there are paths to take that do, generally, lead to patterns of results. The proverbs urge us to take pleasure in things like honey and food but not to the point of getting sick. We are urged to remember that wine is a mocker and that strong drink is for the one who is dying yet wine makes the heart glad and to everything there is a season. People who seek happiness in the form of experiences will die in disappointment while those who seek to cultivate contentment and work toward something may fail, or may not accomplish much but the nature of the work itself becomes part of their reward.

Well, that's enough of a ramble. I could have just typed out "godliness with contentment is great gain" and that would, to me, have sufficed to say everything I just typed but I'm not the apostle Paul writing to Timothy and didn't feel like writing something that erred on the side of being too cryptic for even one of my blog posts.

Slate managing editor comments on why there are "mommy wars" and not "daddy wars"

Of course there aren’t “daddy wars” or “daddy tracks.” It’s not that men aren’t more often taking family duties into consideration or worrying about work-life balance. But—if I may indulge in just a tiny bit of stereotyping—they just don’t sit around wringing their hands about it all or devote thousands of column inches to the issue.

Uh ... actually ... maybe Rachael Larimore just hasn't read enough evangelical blogs and media yet. Some men DO spend time wringing their hands about it all AND devoting thousands of column inches to the issue.

Some of them even publish books and host conferences on the issue of things like daddy wars and daddy tracks and find anyone who differs with them on those issues to be enemies of humanity itself. Some of these men even spend time wringing their hands that other men don't think the way they do about these things or come to similar conclusions based on different arguments that, as a matter of principle, they find objectionable. And so on and so forth.

We guys tell ourselves we're not that way often enough that we fool a lot of women into believing it's so but then we're not as different as we think we are.

Now if Larimore weren't busy being managing editor of Slate and a mother of three children I could suggest a few links and resources for her to read but I trust she enjoys both of her jobs too much to be bothered.

wisdom, folly, scripture, games and human nature, a Driscoll rant gets me thinking

As ever Driscoll has made a public statement about something he considers stupid that guys shouldn't do and is a sign of what is wrong with the an unspecified but apparently very large demographic of the contemporary American male. He has been more charitable this time and has not said that video games are sinful but considers them stupid, enterprises in vicariously attaining victories that don't matter.

Now I could choose to agree with this statement because i am not a huge gamer but I also don't find most board games or sports to be of any value. After all, the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy that physical training is of some value but godliness has value in all things. This means that the Christian can take leave of sports and athletic activities such as baseball or wrestling (the real kind not the WWF kind). As Driscoll might put it, "See, I've got a verse". He did it for why women should have long hair and that means I can do it for why sports events are a waste of time. :)

But one thing that I believe could explain is why this rant against video games can virtually ONLY be "taken out of context" is because Driscoll has apparently forgotten that while you can "say" that video games aren't sinful, just stupid, there is a whole idiom in the biblical literature which translates as the distinction between wisdom and folly. How many Christians are just going to remember or know in reading wisdom literature that the "folly" described in the wisdom literature is closer to moral evil than simple ignorance? How easily can we keep track of the distinction between something being "stupid" and not sinful when the wisdom literature, of which Driscoll is very fond, lays out the contrast between righteousness and sin in terms that in the English language carry the force of choosing between wisdom and foolishness.

To the extent that other bloggers are already taking issue with what Driscoll said about video games being stupid I don't have a dog in that fight. The only video games I really got into are flight simulators because I wanted to be a pilot but my vision is too poor to even drive. To any Driscoll fan out there saying that Driscoll's five minute soundbite of an hour long sermon needs to be listened to in context I suggest that if Driscoll wants to say that something is not sinful but is stupid he needs to remember the constraints of the English language and the wisdom/folly idiom in Proverbs. The reason he may come off as needlessly ripping on video gamers is not merely because he can come across as actually doing that in a soundbite provided by his own church but also because with millenia of the wisdom/folly distinction in wisdom literature it's hard to maintain the language categories we have inherited through biblical literature by saying there is something that is stupid but not actual folly.

Why is this a problem? Well ... because a lot hinges on what victories "don't matter" and why they don't matter. Driscoll says video games are stupid but for some reason baseball, surely one of the most collosal time-wasting enterprises invented by Americans since the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, is full of victories that do matter. So much so that Driscoll has a nine part series on "nine leadership lessons from baseball that are important for any organization, especially a church."

If the baseball victories matter so much Driscoll is willing to make a nine part series on lessons church leaders can learn from baseball why couldn't he do the same thing about video games? Why does Driscoll put his pet time-wasting entertainment in the category of something that imparts wisdom from which pastors should learn while the entertainment of others falls into the category of "stupid" to such a degree that Driscoll has to actually say he doesn't consider it a sin even though he thinks it's stupid just in case someone might say he considers video game playing to be sinful? Could that be because he knows which pastors and deacons played Resident Evil 4 or had a costume party with a theme built entirely around video games? I'm not just making that up, I went to that party as Frogger. I also had a great time. Was that stupid? Well, if Driscoll thinks so I doubt he's going to say so to pastors and deacons who have played a vital role in the growth and health of the church Driscoll founded with his wife (and a couple of other pastors who

Some great battle leaders, they would historically have their men row to the shore of a place they wanted to investigate and conquer, and then the good generals would light the boats on fire. “There are two options, men: forward or death.” That has to be the attitude that we have. That has to be the attitude we have ’cause the default mode of the human heart is selfishness, laziness, quitting. And some of you are here and you’ve already quit. Don’t.

So the attitude we have to have is "forward or death" or that the attitude we have to have is that if we're "generals" we burn the boats of the soldiers we send out to scout out new places for the general to conquer so that they have no choice but to scout out the land we want to conquer? I know the two aren't mutually exclusive and he probably means option 1 but option 2 is how it actually reads on the page. One of the things I learned as a communications major (and I think he was a communication majors, too) is that the space between what you meant to say and what you actually said is where misunderstanding and problems arise.

And here's where I have a misunderstanding, perhaps. Now if the default mode of the human heart is selfishness, laziness and quitting what, exactly, was happening when all those people got together to build a tower at Babel in Genesis 11?

But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The LORD said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

Ah, yes, definitely a case from the scriptures that proves that the default position of the human heart's selfishness manifested in laziness and quitting. They were just so eager to be lazy and quit that God didn't see any need to go down and confuse human language at all. Didn't Driscoll preach through Genesis six years ago? Did he forget that the default mode of the human heart described in Scripture may be selfish but isn't characterized by just laziness and quitting. Didn't the Lord Himself tell Saul it is hard to kick against the goads? Did Pharoah display his laziness by just rolling over and let Israel go?

I'm not a huge fan of video games or board games or sports but I agree with the observation about vicarious victory but I'm not sure I can agree, given even a cursory survey of the scriptures, about the default setting of the human heart as a workaholic legacy-building pastor of a megachurch calls it. I'm particularly not sure I should just go along with it when he defines the default setting of humanity as having moral failures he doesn't consider himself to have. I am not sure I can go along with it when he says video games are stupid but draws leadership lessons from baseball. It's good to work toward a legacy but while we work toward whatever we hope our legacy shall be our real legacy and inheritance is Christ Himself and the Kingdom we are part of.

If something is stupid how do we distinguish it from what the Bible calls folly? As the scriptures themselves attest, there is a way that APPEARS to be wise but its end is death. As Tim Keller put it in a sermon there are many decisions we can make that are not immoral and not unconsidered and are not sin but that are, nonetheless, still not wise. I grant that if wisdom were easily obtained the scriptures would not warn us of how much work it is to acquire it, let alone to warn us that there are people who are convinced they already have wisdom who don't have it. Doesn't God choose to use the foolishness of preaching to bring the message of Christ the King to humanity? If the stupidness of God is wiser than the smartness of humanity would that be why I've met at least one guy at Mars Hill who actually came to Christ through playing video games?

Links: Internet Monk and James 3:1 in the age of social media

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

It is common to describe the greater strictness with which teachers will be judged as pertaining to the divine measure. This, of course, is true. It is the foremost reason why not many of us should become teachers. I hope, for the record, that not many people consider ME a teacher because I can think of at least dozens of Christians who are better people and more able to teach not merely through information but their lives what being a Christian is like.

But let me propose, for the sake of personal observation, that James may include an ambiguity as to where the stricter judgment comes from. He goes on to say that if any man does not stumble in what he says he is a perfect man, able to control his whole body. Has this meant that those who are mute are perfect? No, pretty obviously not! The only person who never stumbled in speech is Christ but does that mean we don't aspire to avoid stumbling in speech? Of course not.

What blogs and counterblogs reveal most of the time is that we revel in being snarky toward others but don't like being on the receiving end of snark ourselves. Plenty of people know to at least try to follow the golden rule in blogging and commenting but there are always moments where we slip up or even disregard the golden rule. We reason to ourselves that we would want people to call us on our crap so that's what we're going to do to others by word or blog or whatever, when what we have really done is simply justified our eagerness to make out point, get our shots in, and get the last word.

What does this look like in practice? Well, I could pick a really specific example but I'm not sure I will. Instead I will back up to James 1 and point out that we are admonished to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger because the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. James then goes on to say that if anyone claims to follow the Lord and cannot bridle his tongue but deceives his heart this person's religion is worthless. Worthless, you say? Yes, the apostle says, worthless. Real religion that amounts to something is to visit widows and oprhans in their affliction and and to keep one's self unstained by the world. There are a lot of Christians who work diligently at that last one and there are a lot of people who work diligently at the first one but James says true religion consists of both.

False religion is professing the faith while not bridling the tongue. This is the ground base, if you will, for all believers with respect to the tongue. It is from here that we need to keep in mind what James has to say about the tongue with respect to teaching. Not many of us should be teachers because all of us stumble in many ways (i.e. in speech specifically in this context). James goes on to explain how deadly the tongue is after opening in chapter 3 with a remark that few of us should be teachers. Why? Because we have a propensity to use our tongues to destroy rather than to build up. Because we have a propensity, warned against in James 1, to see our faith less in terms of how we serve than how we profess. With the tongue we bless the Father and curse people. We extoll the beauty of God while declaring people to be worthless. James says, very simply, "Brothers this should not be."

The contrast James establishes in chapter 1 between the false religion of simply declaring faith while not bridling the tongue and the true religion of helping widows and orphans in affliction and avoiding the stain of the world comes back with a second variation. Parallelism in ancient literature can be a tough thing to gauge but I throw out a reflection for myself as a Christian blogger. If James says not many of us should be teachers at the start of chapter 3 then what is he getting at at the END of chapter 3.

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

James seems to be saying at the start of chapter 3 that not many of us should be teachers because we are not as smart or wise or godly as we tell ourselves we are. If we are really as wise and godly as we say we are then our good conduct will show it forth more than any words we might say to establish our bona fides in the faith. Wisdom is revealed in meekness rather than selfish ambition.

For whatever reason it would appear James is challenging those who think they are wise to demonstrate their wisdom not by what they say but by what they do. He doesn't just mean this in the sense of saying, in today's vernacular, "Don't just write a blog entry." The first world is full of Christian bloggers who will blog to their heart's content about their own pet topics and pet peeves and then when they themselves come under scrutiny or criticism will wave their hand and say, "Oh, it's just bloggers. You bloggers go home and blog about this thing I just said because you've got nothing better to do while I'm the Christian who matters." Well, if I understand James 3 correctly, brother or sister, if you do THAT you put yourself in the same camp as all the other bloggers. There are Christians out there who aren't blogging at all (and plenty who are, really) who are doing things to live out their faith in Christ in a way that involves helping people.

Obviously there's nothing inherently wrong about blogging. I enjoy writing even though I consider it challenging. I also like to write if by some chance I may prove helpful or useful to someone. If a person merely wants to feel a sense of accomplishment there are easier ways to go about doing that and as the joke goes, nobody reads your blog.

But here's the thing, it DOESN'T MATTER that nobody reads your blog for you to be responsible and accountable for what you say in a broadcast medium. Why? Because statements made in the public sphere in print can be subject to libel suits. Whatever you blog is, as journalists put it, on the record. A lot of people who are celebrity bloggers might wish that people would forget what they said on a blog or in a podcast or through a streamed video but the reality is that thanks to being a public figure the amount of villification that can be said about you, once you're a public figure, goes way up. Free speech protections allow for incendiary things to be said about public figures living or dead because while the things may not be true for the sake of political discourse it's safer to prefer the libertarian theory of the press for elected and unelected officials than the alternatives.

That means if you, even by some odd definition, can be considered a celebrity known by thousands or even millions of people across the land, then people can say scandalous stuff about you and you've got to be able to take it. If you fire any shots back at people who aren't public figures, however, legal protections are not so lenient for you when you have the power to keep someone from getting a job but nothing they say will keep you out of public office or out of a conspicuously and (let's face it, probably earnestly sought) public role. Bloggers who go into this not merely thinking "everyone else is on the record" but "everything I do is on the record and could potentially get me sued" are, I hope, more likely to blog in a way that is, if not exactly more Christian, at least more likely to keep them out of trouble.

When there are many words sin is unavoidable but the one who restrains his lips is wise. Even Christian bloggers blog about this. How is it that Christian bloggers can write so as to rival the Puritans in sheer volume while considering the proverb? My guess is what these prolific Christian bloggers HOPE or BELIEVE they are doing is being living embodiments of THIS proverb:

Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances.

That's so much the money quote for why Christians blog that I'm putting it in bold, italicized green font. That is what we Christian bloggers are aspiring to any time we bother at all to write, if I may be so bold as to extrapolate why so many Christian bloggers are blogging at all. We hope that what we say will be the right thing spoken at the right time, the right place, to the right person for the right reason.

One of the unappreciated beauties of Ecclesiastes as a book is that it constitutes a thumb in the eye of the sweeping certainties of Proverbs. If we propose Solomon as the author of both (which not all conservative scholars do) then Proverbs may represent the young Solomon collecting proverbs and axioms and observations and forming some of his own as a way to guide people to the right life. Ecclesiastes, if Solomon actually wrote the book, represents a king who has grown jaded at his own failures and, if you read thoughtfully, the greatness of the wisdom he attained. I am very partial to the textual interpretation of the epilogue that states that in addition to being wise the Preacher collected and weighed many proverbs. As Iain Provan and other scholars have noted, when we read about the life of Solomon in Kings there is a question mark over which things Solomon does are deriving from what kind of wisdom. David could see his son had wisdom and urged him to use it but by the time Solomon's throne was consolidated he felt completely unfit to rule such a great people and asked for wisdom.

If we subscribe to Solomonic authorship then arguably it becomes even more vital to see Ecclesiastes as an extended study in which he pits proverbs against each other to demonstrate that the human condition is so broken that no proverbs can ultimately REALLY help you to understand it or overcome it and that, therefore, all that one can do ultimately is fear God because all of that wisdom may not actually get you wealth, success, respect, or anything. If you build a great legacy (let's say it's a great blog) you may well die and it goes unread or may be taken up by someone who isn't worthy of what you put into it. Pop culture history is full of the sons of rock stars who aren't even a fourth what their fathers were. Church history in America is full of sons of preachers who don't even begin to compare with the abilities, though, and influence of dear old dad.

All this is to say that while we as Christians and Christians striving to leave a mark in the world may aspire to this or that legacy we already have our legacy, which is Christ. Empire building and legacy making can happen but what will last is that which is done for Christ. It's easy to conflate the kingdom of God with my own little neck of the woods. Not many of us should be teachers and perhaps not many of us should be bloggers because we will be measured by a stricter standard. That standard won't just be the ultimate encounter with the risen Christ but it may well come in small ways we ignore because we don't think that history or public opinion that hasn't happened yet in our minds but is happening to us all the time now really counts.

Let us attempt as best we can, with God's help, to do good deeds and live a humble life rather than one characterized by bitter envy and selfish ambition. We should not boast about either our bitter envy or selfish ambition, or deny the truth of it if either of those things (or both) are in our hearts. Where there are these every other evil will follow. I can't say that if Christians stopped blogging upon recognizing selfish ambition or bitter envy we would see no Christian blogs. I don't think that we can answer that without revealing we have one or the other. :)