Saturday, May 21, 2011

Link: Orthocuban: the Rapture did not come again

Now coming from a Pentecostal background I would say that the linked article simplifies a few things about the development of Pentecostal theology, which was not enitrely a spin-off of post-Darby eschatology. There was a dissatisfaction with a sterility in the Holiness tradition on the one hand and a concern about encroaching effects of social gospel movements, if memory serves (it may not). Still, as someone who bailed on pre-millenial and post-millenial ideas at an early age (about 20) there's still some very useful discussion here I can mostly agree with.

If premillenialism's errors are easy enough to spot in a historical survey so are those of postmillenialism. We can see premillenialism's problems in the outright paranoia and fear-mongering used to create anxiety in Christians about what's going wrong in society. It inspires people to view people they don't like or disagree with as antichrists and harbingers of the End Times. It is most obviously manifest in moments such as attempts to calculate when Christ will return which, in turn, leads to various cults. Yet we can see in postmillenialism the delusion that the Church or a church tradition or even a local church can optimistically engineer a "Christian" society in the name of Christ that amounts to little more than appropriating the name of Christ to justify what people were going to arrive at on other grounds. In this tradition one may find Manifest Destiny and various ideas that a Christian society would soon be coming, not least with the efforts of those who proclaim themselves the real followers of Christ against any perceived dissenters.

So, yeah, I don't take premillenialism or postmillenialism as sensible applications of scriptural teaching. The sum of scriptural testimony doesn't refer to a second coming of Christ that is in some installment plan. It isn't like the preview for the movie that you see in theaters before the movie comes out for real in about half a year. That's not how it is described. Anyone who looks at how premils have been admonishing each other to freak out about contemporary political and social events will see how it leads in the opposite direction of cultivating spiritual fruit. Anyone who looks at how postmils came up with arguments that led to doing all sorts of nasty things in Jesus' name while imagining that was really furthering the cause of Christ will see that it was also not moving in the direction of cultivating spiritual fruit. Now, of course, by the mercies of God people can and do hold those millenial views. Their beliefs are of no credit to them with respect to that since Christ's return is assured regardless of the different views arrived at by Christians.

Some thoughts about writing fugues for solo guitar, D flat and B flat minor

D flat major is a very unforgiving key for guitarists. If you don't care about actually writing tonal music then you can incorporate all sorts of notes that aren't in the key that are easily obtained on open strings. I have considered this possibility once in a while. It would be easier to write a prelude and fugue in D flat major if I were just going for a pitch center without worrying about modality or traditional harmony.

Yet for what I want to do with my 24 preludes and fugues I don't want to take this route. The opening preludes and fugues have a deliberately conservative style harkening as much back to Legnani and Haydn as to Bach. The C minor prelude and fugue, particularly, are stringently old-school Baroque in bearing. I played the prelude in C minor at church last Sunday and someone actually asked me if I played a piece by Bach. No, but thanks for thinking what I wrote sounded enough like Bach to be confused with s0mething he wrote! The fugue I have not played in any public setting but it has fully invertible triple counterpoint, which is no small feat in composing for the guitar.

The C sharp minor prelude and fugue were done a long time ago and are much more modern. Yet I don't want to have D flat major just jump straight into a modernist sound. I would like it to stay more or less in a Baroque or Classic era style. As any guitarist will have surmised this far into this blog entry a purely or even primarily diatonic treatment of D flat major presents numerous difficulties. There are reasons so few guitarists have written much in this key signature.

When we guitarists talk about how our repertoire is as beautiful as other msuic in the classical repertoire this often feels like a kind of defiant self-rationalization. When I hear guitarists talk about how terrible and impersonal the piano sounds I have some idea what they think this means but I don't believe them. The guitar is not more inherently expressive an instrument than a violin or a piano or a drum or the human voice. In terms of how guitarists seem to approach the repertoire as performers and composers we are a group that can pay lip service to wanting a comprehensive approach to our instrument and then play the same old warhorses over and over again, frequently transcriptions of keyboard literature by Bach and Albeniz that enterprising guitarists adapted to the instrument.

Consider that in his method for the guitar no less than Sor himself said "a tolerable pianist cannot be a bad guitarist." He also wrote:

To arrange any piece for an instrument which cannot render it properly, is rather to derange it; and instead of saying "arranged" for such an instrument, the expression should be "sacrificed to" such an instrument.

Clearly many pieces of music have been sacrificed to the guitar.

For this reason it is valuable for guitarists, even merely competent guitarists, to not be afraid of composing in even the most difficult keys. However modest the results may be it is better that we as guitarists should not pretend that our instrument is more forgiving than it is. But we should also not pretend that our instrument is less forgiving than it is, either. Keys such as B flat minor and A flat major present substantial difficulties and certainly no form or style of music reveals this difficulty more than traditional contrapuntal music.

But by now two non-guitarist composers, Castelnuovo-Tedesco and Rekhin to be precise, have shown that contrapuntal music for two guitars and even one guitar is possible, if admittedly not practical for most guitarists. I trust that the great guitarist and composer Nikita Koshkin will establish that contrapuntal music written by a guitarist will be even more idiomatic and appropriate in terms of form and expression.

I had absolute no idea these composers had all blazed new trails before me when I started composing my project back in 2006. I learned about the duet first around 2007, Rekhin's solo in 2009 and Koshkin's project just a few months ago. I have been pleased with what I have been able to study of each cycle.

What these more recent cycles for solo guitar establish is that despite the grand claims made on behalf of the guitar that our repertoire is not inferior to other repertoire for other solo instruments this is a debatable claim. It's easy to claim the guitar is more versatile in its solo repertoire than solo repertoire for the bassoon or the flute. Not even Robert Dick's extended techniques on the flute can create as much musical texture or harmony as a guitarist playing a simple etude by Sor or Giuliani. The most outlandish multiphonics available on the French horn are still not as commonly employed as simple chord patterns on a guitar.

But this is all smoke and mirrors compared to the keyboard literature. There have been a few works for solo guitar that have aspired to be the "Hammerklavier" of solo guitar music and arguably none of them sustain the intensity of Beethoven's thematic and structural deveopment. Certainly none of them are able to match the sheer density and length of Beethoven's masterpiece from his piano sonatas, much less his late B flat string quartet or his Fifth symphony.

Sor's illustration from his method is useful, if we take a symphony and shrink it down to one third of its proportions then we will have a work for piano. If we repeat this process and shrink the piano's music down to one third of what it is then we have the guitar. We're talking about, at most, obtaining about one fifth of what is possible for a chamber orchestra (remember that orchestra's in Sor's time were not nearly as big as the ones we think of). If the guitar is a miniature orchestra Sor concedes that it is a miniature orchestra stripped of a great deal of its colors and tonal range as well as capacity for musical detail. A great deal can be done but he still ends up saying that adapting music to an instrument is to sacrifice the music to that instrument.

So rather than continuing to arrange Bach or Albeniz and to sacrifice so much music to the guitar; rather than sacrificing Bach's brilliant counterpoint to the guitar in so many ways; shouldn't guitarists be brave enough, even foolish enough or reckless enough, to attempt to create our own native contrapuntal repertoire? A few great guitarists have attempted this in the past but never on the scale of 24 preludes and fugues as Koshkin recently finished. I'm not done with my set and I can't claim my set will be anything as brilliant as what Koshkin has created because I am not a great guitarist, merely a competent one.

On the other hand, I'm not doing this to compete with one of my favorite living composers but to have fun. There is something to be said for doing something because nobody told you it couldn't be done. It's not a matter of proving anyone wrong, really, but just doing the hard work, sometimes immensely hard work, of figuring out how something can be done rather than giving up or never giving the thing a thought in the first place. I've been wanting to do something like this for about a decade and have only in the last few years finally developed the conceptual and technical competence to work on the project.

So, to this D flat key. Because my hands are what they are and my instrument is what it is, I have to think about what is and isn't practical in D flat major. It's a fairly dark key and not a very resonant key. Consider that an apparently simple difference in key makes for a huge difference in resonance and in what a great guitarist considers doing in a given key. Let's consult Legnani's caprices.

For C sharp minor (caprice 26) Legnani opens with a lively tempo and fancy fretwork. He knows that it won't be long before he shifts to relative major and so he can afford a complex musical texture. Of course if you know the caprices you know none of them are very long but even for their brevity tempo and texture are highly instructive.

If we want to see just how fast and free Legnani is willing to get in the relative major key of C sharp minor, good old E major, consult caprice 36 and 11. Because he knows he can rely on open strings he takes a more unfettered approach. He knows he can lean on open strings and does not need many drastic position shifts for the left hand to get a pleasing musical texture.

By contrast caprice 32, in B flat minor is slow and stately. What is more even its secondary theme is in D major, a substantially easier key. The 16th caprice in D flat major is comparably slow and stately, much like the introduction to a Haydn symphony or string quartet. Neither of these caprices has particularly thick or busy textures. Slow and steady (and short!) wins the race. If you have access to the scores you will also notice a propensity to interrupt fuller chords with many asides, small solos and two-voiced textures that imply rather than flesh out.

As for Rekhin's prelude and fugue in B flat minor--yes, it's quite fast, it also lasts barely one minute. The corresponding fugue is 2 minutes long and has a mid-tempo subject that exploits the B-A-C-H motif. So Rekhin, not committed to a strictly Baroque or Classical style, readily and wisely exploits the chromatic nature of the BACH motif to get open strings working in his favor.

Rekhin's prelude in D flat major is 2.5 minutes while the fugue itself isn't even 2 minutes, closing around 1:45 and not even staying strictly in D flat for long at all. The textures in the prelude, if you happen to have the score or recordings handy, are actually quite thin and are wonderfully evocative of a much fuller harmony than the two or three voices ever fully spell out in any one moment.

I have found in my own attempts to create something pleasing in D flat major that I have constantly failed up to this point. I composed a pleasant fugue in B flat minor years ago and this was in no small part because I exploited the possibilities of a classic idea, an expanding chromatic wedge. But for D flat major this idea is not so readily used. Thanks to the length Baroque tradition of the passacaglia--of the descending chromatic line in a minor key--there are all sorts of fun ways to exploit a slow tempo and a wedge to great effect. The major keys, however, are not so easily navigated! Consider the scales as follows:

B flat C D flat E flat F G flat A natural B flat
D flat E flat F G flat A flat B flat C D flat

In B flat minor the leading tone is A natural, which means at least a handful of notes could be taken on an open string or from a simple position. In some cases the leading tone could be taken as a harmonic. Secondary dominants, of course, permit the use of E natural so that a phrygian half cadence is only taken if you want it for a strong harmonic effect.

D flat major, by contrast, has no notes that can be taken on an open string. You have to employ modal mutation and go into C sharp minor/D flat minor and enharmonically take advantage of open strings. I may yet do that, but for the sake of the exposition and the close of the fugue I want to actually be in D flat major and not necessarily in the opening of the 12th string quartet by Shostakovich kind of way!

As I've been strongly implying throughout, I have not yet come up with ideas I feel really happy with. I'm going for a particular sound, a fairly plain-jane Baroque/Classic era kind of tune with an unpretentious development into a three voiced fugue that may just be a two-voiced fugue. Per an earlier blog entry I believe that the point at which you add voices and cannot obtain fully invertible counterpoint between all your melodic lines is probably the point where you should cut out one of your ideas and go with the exposition tha DOES have invertible counterpoint. But that's just me. Clearly most fugue-writers in the last century don't (as far as I can tell) seem to have had that maxim.

At the risk of invoking a stereotype, there have been American Indian tribes that hunt this or that animal as a staple food and who make use of every part of the animal because an animal being the staple of your daily or weekly life doesn't mean you should just go hunt for another one when you've stripped the carcass of everything that could be used to make food. Well, that is how I think one should approach counterpoint. There is no necessity of hunting for yet another melody to add to your contrapuntal texture until you have figured out what you can do with the stuff you already have. I'm afraid that many fugues written by many composers are overstuffed and over-busy with a dearth of truly memorable tunes. Fugues are poems, like sonnets perhaps, where every word is essential and must do important work in the meaning of the poem as well as iserving a role within the poetic structure. I'm still working all that out for D flat major.

I can say, at least, that I am down to the prelude and fugue in D flat major, the fugue in D minor, the fugue in E minor, and the prelude in B major. I can also say that my survey of the not-very-many pieces in D flat major (Aubert Lemeland's Duo Variations for viola and guitar, for instance is in D flat major) has shown that it is a dark key but a key capable of warmth. It may be likened to a very strong drink, perhaps a mixture of rum and hot chocolate with spices in it. It is pleasant but dark and potent and best taken in in small doses and not too quickly. If D major is like water for a guitarist and can be drunk quickly and frequently with no ill effects D flat major is more like a strong wine. I guess, I'm not really much of a wine drinker most of the time, actually. Certainly I haven't gone out of my way to drink alcohol since I lost my job nearly two years ago! I'm just casting about for some metaphors that I hope may make this less inscrutable musical nerd gibberish and more like something that might make sense.

So it is May 21, 2011

I have not been raptured yet that I am aware of. I still need to find a job. I still live in Seattle. I am stil an amillenial partial preterist. Could it be the reason I didn't get raptured is because as an amillenial partial preterist who doesn't subscribe to dispensationalism as an eschatological framework in my understanding of God's covenants or interpretation Revelation that I have not believed the "right" things? In polemics regarding the resurrection in ancient Jewish thought one argument was that the people who didn't believe in the resurrection wouldn't get resurrected themselves on the final day. Perhaps that form of argument will be proposed as to why not that many people have been raptured.

It's doubtful Harold Camping and company will just concede they were wrong. I haven't heard that Gary North ever apologized for blowing the Y2K bug out of proportion so why would Camping apologize for miscalculating the time of Christ's return? I hear As a line from an old movie is said to have put it, love means never having to say you're sorry.

The "Terminator" and "Skeletor"

So I have heard the news that Arnold Schwarzeneggar and Maria Shriver are divorcing. I have also heard why. I have also seen remarks to the effect that Shriver looks like Skeletor and that while she should get sympathy up to a point for having a cheating husband this sympathy has limits because 1) she supported a Republican and 2) she's a political wife who knew what she was doing.

Koholeth knew what he was doing, too. I have no personal sympathies for Shriver or her former husband. Let me be clear about that. But I've seen enough of how divorce effects families and children that it stinks. There are rarely good splits. God still hates divorce, folks. That in extreme cases breaking up the marriage is more prudent than keeping it together doesn't mean it shoudl be done lightly, let alone often. It can be easy to make fun of people who get married to further family political agendas and family standings. Except that King David did that frequently. It can be easy to remark about how marrying to shore up a claim of interest in a region seems shallow but that's what the patriarchs did.

We are so used to the idea that marriage should be for the reason of mutual sexual attraction and emotional fulfillment we can forget that not all societies negotiated marriages in this way. For those who imagine that no one should "need" a state or church to sign off on a regularly scheduled bumping of uglies they are probably consoling themselves on the smartness they have in working out whatever they assume is coming ot them by way of nookie, whether mutually granted or unilaterally paid for.

When I have come across guys who talk about women as works of art I tend to reflexively think, perhaps unfairly, that some of these guys compare women to fine art in a museum because to them women are like museum exhibits. You have to pay money to go see one of these "fine works of art', you see the work of art in an installation medium, and you can't touch the artwork or museum security will escort you away from the premises unless you're visiting an interactive museum of some kind. Yes, I'm sure you catch my drift here.

As to Shriver being referred to as Skeletor, won't every woman at some point age? I mean, really, of even the hottest woman or man on the planet it must finally be said that time and gravity will defeat us all. Now is not the time to forget that where she has gone we shall also go. To say that a man or a woman are past their prime may be true by whatever subjective metric we bring to things but there shall always be someone handsomer or cuter or finer or more desirable than each one of us. People who are simply paid to look pretty by whatever measure of pretty society may have have moments of insecurity and uncertainty. Most of them are shuffled off the stage by the age of 25 because they are considered too "old" and "fat". And by that you could substitute the words "adult" and "normal-looking". By then the rest of us have shifted to between the boundaries of "normal-looking" and "stocky".

I don't usually comment much about standards of beauty in society or how we discuss them. Usually it does not interest me too keenly. Since I have not considered myself someone who should be "on the market" anyway it's not something I have given much thought to (though some relatives have insisted I take all of this a great deal more seriously out of a concern that I not be unattached the rest of my life, which I suppose is a fair concern, probably). But this year a noteworthy obituary was none other than Elizabeth Taylor. As I was saying, no matter how widely acclaimed you may be for your beauty time and gravity shall inevitably defeat you. Maria Shriver may be considered "Skeletor" by some but she's not dead and for better or worse she has more public influence and significance than you or I shall ever even fantasize about having.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Link: Internet Monk--Time to leave behind the rapture

As someone who bailed on dispensationalism at the age of about 19 once I finally figured out what the stuff was and why it mattered I notice that in this time there are more American Christians talking about the substantial problems in dispensationalism than, say, twenty years ago. The internet may merely make it easier for sustained and informed arguments against dispensationalism to be made and gain a wider following, of course, but for that I am still grateful.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

proverbs against proverbs, the wisdom literature struggling within itself

Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them. And I thought the dead who are already dead more fortunate than the living who are still alive. But better than both is he who has not yet been and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun. Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from a man’s envy of his neighbor. This also is vanity and a striving after wind.

Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit

But he who is joined with all the living has hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion.

More than anywhere else in the scriptures Ecclesiastes pits axioms against each other. If Proverbs gives us the overview of what should generally be Ecclesiastes spends time teasing out the exceptions to the would-be rules. Watching how various Christians have blogged and counter-blogged about the death of Osama bin Laden all while quoting scripture has driven this observation home for me. Tellingly Proverbs 30 opens with Agur son of Jakeh addressing Israel with inspired words. His inspired words? The begin with an admission, tha the has not learned wisdom. Remember at the beginning of Proverbs that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Well, since God's ways are beyond our capacity to know there is a sense in which none of us will ever know God so fully and fear Him with such comprehension as to attain from that enough wisdom to consider ourselves wise at any time in life.
Koholeth wrote:

I said, "I will be wise," but it was far from me. That which has been is far off, and deep, very deep; who can find it out?

Even wise men who wrote the scriptures have conceded that wisdom eludes them. Here we are not referring to me who sought out the mystery of salvation revealed in Christ necessarily. That's a separate topic. We have authors of wisdom literature conceding that their best efforts to obtain wisdom have failed. It is true that knowing the scriptures can make you wiser than the old and wiser than your teachers, per Ps 119, but that is not the same as saying one through careful study of the scriptures necessarily becomes so wise as to not realize that time and chance happen to us all.

There is a way that appears wise but its end leads to death. We are used to speaking of this rhetorically as reference to sins that unbelievers embrace. It may not be the case. Consider the kings of Israel. One of David's last decisions was to take a census that led to a plague. He also advised Solomon to kill potential political rivals to a fully united kingdom. As V. Phillips Long put it years ago, the narrative in Kings leaves a certain ambiguity as to whose wisdom Solomon is relying on for his policy decisions, his own or wisdom from the Lord. Jehoshephat entered into numerous ill-advised alliances with Ahab. He also appointed his godless bloodthirsty firstborn to be king which led to his sons being slaughtered after his passing. Josiah ignored the offer to take a neutral position in a military conflict and this refusal led to his death.

These were not bad kings but God-fearing kings who at the end of their lives (not always very long lives, either) made ill-fated and stupid decisions. Frequently the end of their reign was not better than the beginning. As Wendy put it over at Practical Theology for Women there is a kind of conservative Christian prosperity gospel that is easily overlooked. Part and parcel of this prosperity gospel is the assumption that if you love and seek the Lord you will get wisdom to make great decisions. If you and all your God-fearing friends agree on something in the Lord then it should go well.

Well ... it may go well. You might even, like Nehemiah finish reparing the walls and get the temple fixed up and then the spirit of the Lord doesn't descend on the Temple afterward (there is some christological significance to this, I think, but I'm not trying to derail this post into a meditation on how the spirit of the Lord did not descend upon the restored temple because that was not the temple in which Yahweh's spirit was ultimately going to dwell, and that temple was given to us in Christ's birth).

Scripture warns us that there is more hope for a fool than someone who is wise in his own eyes. A lot of blogging is, let's face it, often an exercise in which we commend ourselves as wise both to ourselves and anyone who will read us. We write confidentally about how scripture backs up what we have already concluded without any consultation of the scriptures to correct or caution our reactions. We assume we fear the Lord when this assumtion may reveal that we do not know Him as we ought.

Dr. Emir Caner's stupid Acts 29 tweet

Yeah, I saw the tweet. No I don't need to replicate it because it'll be easy enough to spot if you know where to look. It was stupid. In fact it was so stupid it showed that Caner is at the same level as the person he was attempting to satirize through an organization the guy doesn't even manage. Someone else actually manages that organization, last I checked. It turned out to be exactly what I thought it was intended to be, which means it's exactly as stupid as I knew it was.

No references to John Macarthur articles don't cut it because Macarthur's disposition toward Pentecostal/charismatic theology has shown that he's willing to do hatchet work against theological views he doesn't agree with even when he's able to know there are more responsible forms of a position out there. Ironically enough, for me, I ended up having a conversation with none other than Mark Driscoll about this troubling scholastic laziness on Macarthur's part. When Macarthur can talk about Pentecostals and charismatics as other than deluded people maybe we can take him more seriously when he decides Driscoll is too vulgar.

Now this gets back to something I've been writing about off and on for years. When you put something on the internet it never really goes away. Even if you pull the data there's a data feed of searches and caches that floats around. Even if you pull the website itself or the content someone in this great big world with billions of people remembers it.

Think of it this way, I still remember at least some things about the William Wallace II days. I remember stuff from that even though there's no chance you'll find that old discussion forum. Sometimes I have felt as though I had the dubious status of remembering a ton of embarrassing stuff about Mars Hill but doing so from a sympathetic perspective. This has meant that Mars Hill critics have not liked what I have said because I try to avoid ripping on them while Mars Hill fanboys have not liked that I have pointed out very serious weaknesses in biblical interpretation or decision-making. I am not out to please Mars Hill fanboys or Mars Hill adversaries. I spent about nine years and have precious friends and family there. I trust by now they know that I have a dog in the fight when people say junk about not only my brothers and sisters in Christ but a congregation that includes family. So I trust I have made it clear that I don't make critical statements about Driscoll or Mars Hill lightly and while I may not be there anymore I pray for their welfare.

Now here is something I noticed over the years in the midst of a lot of on-line chitchat about theology and Christian practice: a lot of men vaunt the idea that speaking the truth in love is necessary. Because this is necessary it means, as one guy put it, you should be able to call people out on their junk. I don't much like this attitude because it presumes to speak the truth in love but often isn't done in love. How can you tell?

Well, one fairly simply if incomplete measure of this is that if a person is more eager to dish out "speaking the truth in love" than taking it then it's probably not really speaking the truth in love. If you let yourself or your favorite team say something inflammatory or provocative or belittling or whatever and give it a pass. But if anyone says something critical or belittling or provocative or dismissive about you or someone you like or values you hold dear you get indignant. You take yourself and your ideas and life more seriously than that of whomever you consider your adversary.

I am not going to varnish my opinion here because by tweeting away and being a bigshot at a Christian school Caner has made himself a bit of a public figure. What Caner tweeted reveals he acted like a moron and a tool. It also reveals that he acted in a way that stooped below what Driscoll usually does. Out of the abundance of the heart the mind tweets and what Caner tweeted is disappointing. When Carl Trueman wrote about how pastors and theologians should avoid jumping into issues that don't concern them so they don't make asses of themselves (my phrasing, not his) this is exactly the kind of thing I propose he was getting at.

The apostles wrote that we should be quick to listen and slow to speak, slow to anger, and to bridle our tongues. A guy like Caner tweeting as he has shows that he's no higher than Driscoll or Acts 29 and, if he considers his own critical stance against them, is possibly even lower in the ladder of Christian virtue with respect to the very area in which he joked. It's too bad. There are enough subjects where genuine disagreement exists that along the way we can behave better. Caner never stopped to read anything Steve Camp wrote about his own spiritual journey with respect to criticizing Driscoll?

I believe the late Michael Spenser (aka Internet Monk) was on to something when he wrote that a lot of old school Baptists, especially non-Calvinist Baptists, view men like Driscoll as a huge threat. He is a huge threat but not necessarily to Christianity as a whole but to older conceptions of Christian piety within the Baptist rank and fale as well as leadership. I have been saying for years that Mars Hill is basically Reformed Baptist in its doctrine. Of course it's functionally a denomination with an episcopal form of government but since when have Baptists had to have any defining form of governance? If anything that may just establish just how very Baptist Mars Hill ultimately is! That's not really my point, my point is that guys like Driscoll and John Piper and company represent the future of American conservative Baptist thought in a lot of ways and this scares the other Baptists who come at it from another perspective. It's not necessarily just people like Macarthur or others that have a stake in this.

Now I know all the arguments back and forth and I wonder if these people who think guys like Driscoll shouldn't have this or that influence have considered the life of David. They probably have but only from a dispensationalist grid which allows them to ignore that David was a poor husband and an alternately inattentive or sentimental parent. They just ignore the part where David casually and systemically slaughtered villages and lied during his time in the wilderness.

David was a man after God's own heart who did more than just have sex with Bathsheba and kill her Hittite husband. He pretended to be insane to keep from being killed by Phillistines. He went around slaughtering Phillistines while hiding from Saul there. Now, sure, from a military standpoint it makes sense to kill your enemies if you know it will be strategically beneficial to your country but David was still an exile. We are not told that what David did was actually the right thing to do. This is the same David who often in the psalms talks about how purely he has conducted himself. In the minds of many Christian bloggers a comparable level of purity and flawlessness in keeping to the laws of righteousness exists.

Now we're not close, never have been, and won't be ... but Driscoll and I have had dinner and talked about theology. For about four years I served in a ministry answering theological questiosn directed to him. I used to formally and (more often) informally moderate theological discussiosn so pastors didn't have to wade into a few discussions unnecessarily. In at least one case I and some others intervened when a full-bore Pelagian was selling his wares in a church venue.

My bona fides for offering sympathetic but constructive criticism of Driscoll and Mars Hill, in other words, is based on the principle that I consider them spiritual family and friends. I don't approach them as apostates the way old school Calvinists think about Arminians and vice versa. I don't approach them on the assumption that Acts 29 is some kind of porn distribution system because Driscoll went overboard with what I consider to be a tendentious and TMI take on Song of Songs. I heard the `99 sermons and felt that by `08 I didn't want to be around for the rerun. For the people who were blessed by that series, well, all right. Theo-bloggers and theo-tweeters (in this case Caner) have none of that investment or interest in that investment. Someone like Macarthur doesn't necessarily have it either and we can look to the precedent of his handling of Pentecostal and charismatic theology as a way to establish that in too many cases these tweets and countertweets are often the pot calling the kettle black.

Now I've seen Driscoll say and write some amazingly stupid things. I am confident as all men have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God Driscoll's going to say and write more amazingly stupid things in the future. But since I have said and written some amazingly stupid things and wasn't aware of it I try, by the grace of God and consideration of the scriptures, to keep this in mind. If anyone is in sin you who are spiritual should help them but be careful that you yourselves don't fall prey to the same temptation. A tweet like Caner's joke that Osama bin Laden had a porn stash and that Caner didn't know Islam had its own Acts 29 network is going to live on in the internet as evidence that when we decide to confront someone directly or by way of public comment a la tweet we really do have to be careful that we don't exemplify in our correction of failure X the very same failure. I guess it isn't for nothing the scriptures gave us such warning.

Caner's tweet is disappointing not just because it's stupid but because it is a reminder that Carl Trueman's warning is likely to fall on deaf ears and bored eyes. Too often our egos are tied up in what fights are being fought within Christianity. Our egos get tied up in fights that in the long run are not as important to the kingdom of Christ as to our own empire building and legacy building agendas.

I think I've done enough to express my frustration about this. Caner's tweet was dumb and his non-apology comment proves the point I have been making here. I'll resist the temptation to discuss how Christians are great at the "I'm sorry your feelings were hurt" non-apology.

It is better to concede failure and to work toward a future with more humility and tact than to pretend you didn't make a huge mistake and say or do something remarkably stupid. So I give Caner props for recognizing just how big a mistake his tweet was. If we've been on the internet then we've gone there, too. As many words so a sin of the tongue is inevitable, so with much blogging and tweeting one day someone will totally fail. We who are spiritual (if we are spiritual) should still be gentle in our correction. As foolish as Caner's tweet was I know I'm not a better person than he is.

I know I'm over-doing this tweet as an example of what Carl Trueman warned pastors about but it is too timely and relevant an example to ignore. Plus by extension Caner tweeted something very negative about some of my family in Christ so, by Trueman's advice, this actually is something I should blog about as a Christian with close ties to the local body of Christ potentially effected by this scuffle. I'm not longer particularly concerned about Caner now as I am that Caner will have fanboys and fangirls and theo-bloggers will turn their attention to explaining about how totally justified Caner's tweet really is if you know the real issues. I've seen that happen with Driscoll fanboys who defend his every stupid utterance and it happens with Macarthur fans, too. Oh well, of the writing of blogs there is no end.

And writing projects are kicking my butt

I'm excited about writing projects but I won't lie, the projects I have taken on for myself over the last few years have been truly daunting. The project I'm hatching for Mockingbird is not a small thing. 24 preludes and fugues for solo guitar is not a small project. Looking for a job is not a small matter. I still haven't stopped writing my giant series of chamber sonatas pairing the guitar up with every instrument I can think of. I've even sketeched out duets pairing the guitar up with the trumpet, the tuba, the trombone, as well as all the basic strings. I've finished sonatas for guitar with flute, guitar with oboe, guitar with English horn, guitar with clarinet, and guitar with bassoon.

Last year I even finished a movement from one of three string quartets I've been slowly putting together over the last ... er ... two decades. I spent my early twenties bristling at the idea of making giant epic rock songs in an aspiring progressive rock band I was in and then I ended up being the one who wrote most of the material in the longest song the band ever played. I don't listen to Pinkfloyd or Bob Dylan or U2 or Peter Gabriel quite so much anymore but in a way spending so much time on chamber music is not a huge conceptual change. In my own way I'm still aspiring to making concept albums, it's just that these "concept albums" are not rock albums like Dark Side of the Moon but are sonatas for oboe and guitar or clarinet and guitar that are tied together by thematic and conceptual threads both within and across the chamber pieces.

Along the way I have learned a lot about a lot of wonderful pieces of music and fine composers I have blogged about here over the years. I hope you investigate and enjoy the music of Atanas Oukourzounov, Nikita Koshkin, Toru Takemitsu, Arvo Part, Olivier Messiaen, Paul Hindemith, Haydn, Bach, Villa-Lobos, and so on and so forth. I'm reading a bit of stuff about Dietrich Bonhoeffer and a commentary on Romans by Adolph Schlatter. The Schlatter commentary is remarkably dense and I confess I have only gotten to page 15! I'm going to have to really digest this book line by line and I admit I have so many things I have on my mind reading books is something that takes a while.

Even though I'm not even forty yet a lot of what I've been working on has been surveying enormous segments of cultural history and finding ways to assimilate that sea of knowledge and distill it into some simple observations. This is true about music, about cartoons, and theology.

I'm not spending quite so much time mulling over theology as I used to. I'm not sure this means I'm over my feeling a need to be tracking theological scuffles but it's less critical for me to really wade in and make a lot of points or advocate for this or that. I guess I have taken heed of Carl Trueman's recent warnign to Christian bloggers that if you're really honest with yourself most things you could choose to blog about on theology and the like are not really things you shoud be making your business. Everyone can fancy himself a new and miniaturized version of St. Augustine or Athanasius, fighting all the big theological battles of our generation. This can at length reveal itself to be a delusion of grandeur whether it's imagining that one's blog really matters or imagining that one's own actions as an indivdual effect a huge change in a society.

The race is not to the swift, nor victory to the strong, nor riches to the wise but time and chance happen to them all. Observing the passage of time God has a habit of using the people who seem least fit for something to get something done while people who appear to have every native advantage build up legacies that are forgotten within a few years of death. It is good to take pleasure in one's work, especially if one has work in this time of ours! But the work we do is often both unthanked and forgotten. When I had my job I would sometimes get depressed realizing that a substntial portion of what I did was basically setting up massive junk mail fundraising campaigns. Possibly 98 percent of what my worked produced was mail appeals that were thrown away. That two percent response rate was the foundation of a puzzlzing and paradoxical success. A little done every day and reliably so yields a great deal and yet that great deal is ephemeral.

There are things that last that, paradxxically, are not necessarily made to last if you understand mymeaning. When I look at the work made by so many composers and artists and musicians I am reminded of a remark hindemith once made that too many composers these days (i.e. 20th century on out) create with an eye on where they hope to land in history. Hindemith himself was guilty of this problem from time to time, really. When you get a sense of how much what Haydn wrote all bleeds together without careful scrutiny you begin to realize he was doing it because it was fun. That he happened to be the mentor of Mozart and Beethoven was more like a fringe benefit than a sought-for legacy.

It's interesting to think about, it seems that a lot of art was made and made greatly by accident. It also seems, per an earlier musing, that a great deal of great art has as its foundation some form of injustice either in its seed or, sadly, in its nature. Was it Zizek who once said that genocide generally comes hand in hand with poetry? Mind you I can't say I'm really a Zizek fan but that particular observation seems shrewd and necessary. I hesitate to say anything I am working on is great. In fact I sometimes feel that the merely competent artist may be dismissed as a lesser artist but may, perhaps (?) be a healthier person. I'm not sure.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Part 5 of Superman essay is up on Mockingbird

The last part of the essay on Superman: the animated series is up on Mockingbird. There are more essays being hatched at a rate I consider painfully slow that are going to go up on Mockingbird later this year, but I hope sooner than a whole year from now! David has found some nice links to the episodes I refer to in the essay. So if you're not a hard-core cartoon and superhero nerd you can go watch clips connected to what I have written about.

Future installments are forthcoming (that's the plan anyway, God willing) and will cover such topics as the difference between real pop mythology and monomyth-based franchising and merchandising; the seismic shift in pop culture between the 1980s and 1990s and what cartoons and cartoony stories have to do with that; some ruminations on a certain Batman cartoon (yes, that one); other ruminations on Justice League; and things like that. For now, I hope you enjoy the fifth and final installment on Superman: the animated series.

This whole five-part series is a very belated memorial to the recently departed Dwayne McDuffie. As tributes go it's very indirect seeing as McDuffie didn't do a whole lot of anything with Superman: the animated series.

Apropos of tangential connections to Superman: the animated series, the former voice of Lex Luthor's assistant, bodyguard, lackey, and sometime love interest Mercy Graves, Lisa Edelstein, recently announced she's not going to keep playing Lisa Cuddy on House. I stopped watching House around the end of season 6 and just haven't kept track of what's been going on with the show. It was fun through season 3 and had some fun stuff in season 4. Season 5 is where they could have actually ended the show and I would have been okay with that but Fox doesn't do things quite as daring as they sold themselves on daring twenty years ago. Yes, in case you're wondering, that's dropping some hints as to future installments.

a certain irony is not lost on Carl Trueman

As Trueman points out, there's all sorts of things with which one can agree on the subject of conference Christians. What he points out that does not come up for discussion is the tiny little detail of how conference speakers, once they become aware that they are a subject of idolatrous fixation by fanboys, can choose to not speak at conferences. This would have the salutory effect of making it difficult for conference junkie Christians to go get their fix by seeing and hearing their favorite pastor in person.

If the conference pastor wants to, you know, be that real pastor and not just a focal point for conference junkie Christians he has a simple solution, don't go to so many conferences. Trueman goes so far as to suggest that the tendency of megaconference speakers to blame the junkies is comparable to porn producers saying the problem is with people who are hooked on porn rather than the production and distribution and promotional aparatus. If Driscoll can compare conference junkies to porn addicts why not simply back off from conferences for a few years? After all, it was Driscoll who invoked the comparison and not Trueman, Trueman just ran with it.

Now perhaps at some level Driscoll finds this whole conference Christian fanboy troublesome because he was, minus that being single part, prone to this weakness himself. Maybe not. What, in any case, is the line of demarcation between someone who loves citing whatever pastor so-and-so said any given week and someone who is a conference Christian? Isn't it possible there are conference Christians who absorb too much this or that within membership rosters? Theology junkies who never have to live out the theology they absorb every week or every day? People whose theology junkiedom or addiction to spiritual this and that may be concealed in plain sight by the simple fact that they tithe or they are "plugged in"? I've seen some people say that it's impossible to idolize one's own church but having been there and done that I would say that Driscoll still has to continually be careful that he doesn't embody the problematic risk of idolization he warns about.

I trust Mark and his fans won't take it personally. I used to think that a lot of the problem with the cult of personality subsisted in a bunch of fanboys who overdid things, too, but I am what you might call a believer in "all fault divorce" on this kind of subject. This could be construed as simply a side effect of the danger of a persona developing around a person as I wrote a few years ago. Trueman's point about the supply side aspect of this issue could be stated, perhaps, even more strongly--isn't it possible that a megaconference pastor who goes around blogging and speaking and touring and discussing the dangers of conference Christians, yet does not withdraw from the conference circuit as a way to ameliorate this problem from his "supply side, become perilously close to blithely choosing to be the focal point for the idolatry he sees in all those people who pay money to go hear him speak?

It's one thing to blame the consumer but if you're the one selling the product why not take a break? If a person is a junkie for your preaching they will download sermons anyway regardless of whether you go speak at a conference. And, think of it this way, if they don't make it to a conference you speak at that they can go to they will still download whatever you say at some other conference. By participating in the conference you play into this conference addiction. Now of course I wouldn't say don't ever go to any conferences ever but Trueman's proposal that there's no such thing as zero culpability on the part of mega-conference speakers has to count fo rsomething because if it doesn't this would be because the claim that some single guys are sermon junkies in the way that other single guys are porn junkies makes no sense. Now depending on who you talk to it still makes no sense but I'm willing to run with Driscoll's idea for the sake of discussion.

But let me throw in a question of my own about these conference junkies, if it's bad that these guys constantly seek a fix in hearing good preaching and singing praise songs and all that explain to me how this is bad? I can roll with the idea that this is all a form of paradoxically consumeristic Christianity but, again, what if these people tithe at their own church? A person this hooked on spiritual everything might not only not get considered a spirituality junkie but would probably be nominated for a deacon or elder slot or a community group slot for listening to hours of preaching and teaching if he happened to tithe.

Yet if I understand things correctly, Driscoll proposes that some people who are very active in their spiritual life are still basically like porn addicts. I thought this sort of zany super-spiritual excess was supposedly the domain of charismaniac charismatics without a seatbelt? Are we to believe that amongst the neo-Reformed that no idolatry of preachers and no cult of personality should emerge because there's just the solid biblical expository preaching going on? I shouldn't have to throw in a sarcasm warning at the end of this paragraph but seeing how many people have missed some things I said ... .

Here's the thing, Driscoll is not an extraordinarly gifted pastor. He's a competent exegete of New Testament literature and when he's not preaching narrative literature in the OT he can sort of avoid trainwreck eisegesis but he's not very strong at preaching OT literature overall. Whatever may be said about "kingly" gifts he doesn't have that much of them or he wouldn't have left the actual running of the church to Munson and numerous other organizationally more competent men. Let me rephrase what I mean in a less problematic way, there are no extraordinarily gifted pastors in the sense that one man somehow magically keeps the whole thing floating.

There are some extraordinary infrastructures that are a mysterious combination of conventionally gifted men and women with conventionally gifted unity of goals who manage to attain an extraordinary level of competence and efficiency if they set aside their own egos for the sake of a common good. That, paradoxically, lets them feel good about a job well-done at some point. If Mark wants to forestall hero worship and all that from the "conference Christians" he can just cancel conferences for a few years and do his pastor thing. Any megachurch pastor/denominational leader can choose to do that. Question is, "will they?"

To the extent that I agree that lots of people idolize pastors and are junkies for super spiritual stuff (I was once Pentecostal, after all) I can grant that there will come a point when a megachurch conference speaking pastor won't change anything by not even speaking at conferences. What would be pertinent at that point is that the pastor who is the focal point of this sort of hero worship can simply pray that God would destroy the personality cult and hero worship and preach in such a way as to deflate that cult of personality. Of course for real idolators that will just turn into "so and so's preaching is so REAL." There are ways, I trust, of getting around even that by providential provisions. Since I have more mundane things to worry about like a continuing job hunt I'm not going to claim that I think about this enough or competently enough to have any meaningful ideas. It's just something that interests me, probably more than it reasonably should.

a polemical idea proposed for possible discussion

All great art at some point is founded upon an injustice.

I'm leaving this thought absurdly unexplained and underdeveloped because its very vagueness invites consideration of how, if it is true at all, it could ever be true. I suppose I should not leave it completely without some context. A friend of mine and I were talking about high points in Christian art, music, and literature. He said the thing about Christians who wistfully remember these great moments in Christian art is that they usually forget or don't know or ignore that most of this great art was created and funded during the most corrupt periods and under the most corrupt leadership in the Church's history. In this respect it is almost better to hope for mediocrity in the arts and a spiritually healthy and ethical church leadership than to aspire to excellence in the arts and tolerate levels of sin and graft that are in every way obscene.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Spitfire saved the free world? What if pork barrel military contracts saved the world?

So a case is made that the Spitfire saved the free world ... Eh ... that I find hard to back up. Sure, it was a lovely plane but it was finicky and even when all was well it was sarcasticlly christened the "one kill wonder" because it had guns with such a high rate of fire that a pilot would rarely have enough ammunition in the airframe to gun down more than a single combatent bogey. This excerpt is breezy and a fun read but it's sort of like the same goofy hagiography of American planes that overlooks the reality that FW-190 could beat down most American planes. Contra all my buddies in high school who thought the Mustang beat all, the Germans frequently considered American planes to be a joke with two exceptions--

1. the Mustang could fly three to four times farther than most German fighters, was fairly maneuverable if a bit underarmed, and was liable to fly in packs protecting bombers. They were not terrifying as such but they were more than just pesky. You had to pay attention to them.

2. The Thunderbolt, now that plane DID scare the crap out of the Germans. The plane was built like a light tank. If you damaged the plane it often wouldn't be so much damage the plane couldn't return fire. Sure, your German plane probably had 30 caliber guns that had bigger, heavier shells that would do more damage but when the Thunderbolt fired its 8 50. caliber machine guns with a muzzle velocity of roughly one mile per second that didn't matter. The American's bullets were going to hit you so much faster than yours would hit him that by the time you got your first shots into the Thunderbolt the bastard had hammered you with mile-a-second hailstorm. My brother, quite a fan of the history of German air power, relayed this information to me to our mutual interest and amusement.

What is presented in this excerpt as Slate as the power of innovation reads differently to me. Having read about the origin of the A-10 Thunderbolt 2 and comparing it to the Spitfire origin how do we know that the paradox in the vetting of the Spitfire is not necessarily technical innovation but the power of inefficient yet determined pork barrel politics and landed royalty funding weird projects?

Slate: five stages of Star Wars grief

Perhaps it's because I have lived in Seattle twenty years, perhaps it's because in some strange way I can't fully imagine I'm therefore a hipster, but I remember the only thing I found plausible about The Phantom Menace was Padme's response to Anakin's skeezy prepubescent pick-up line, "Are you an angel?" To this she replies "What?' That was it. The rest of the film marked my realization that there was no going back. Like a divorced man who spends the rest of his life talking about how stupid marriage is and how women can't be trusted, so it seemed that George Lucas was determined to build prequels that at some emotional and narrative level repudiated everything about the original trilogy that made it fun.

various blasts from the past and not-so past of Slate authors venting their spleen at Billy Joel

I began formulating my own views against the musical work of Billy Joel back in 2002 and an edited version of the piece was published years and years ago at the old-school Mars Hill website. It was published as "Soft Rock" rather than as "Soft Rock, Soft Cock" where you can find it here, if you search for it. But I am not a professional writer and so it was left to Ron Rosenbaum to articulate what I struggles to understand about my dislike of Joel's work, and Rosenbaum distilled the problem in Joel's art down to a single phrase, "unearned contempt".

And I think I've done it! I think I've identified the qualities in B.J.'s work that distinguish his badness from other kinds of badness: It exhibits unearned contempt. Both a self-righteous contempt for others and the self-approbation and self-congratulation that is contempt's backside, so to speak. Most frequently a contempt for the supposed phoniness or inauthenticity of other people as opposed to the rock-solid authenticity of our B.J.

Look at how excited he is at his discovery! The emphasis is in the original. I would add that what makes unearned contempt so contemptible is that it is so frequently borne of a contempt for moral failings which the contemptuous person exhibits in himself or herself to a degree that dwarfs that of those upon whom he or she looks down.
The contempt of a misogynist has for the delusions and cruelty of women can, at times, merely be a manifestion of the man's own delusions and cruelty that he cannot but impute to others because he refuses to see them in himself. Women must be fickle, unstable, emotionally dishonest, shallow, and prone to using people because the alternative explanation would be that the man has to see these qualities in himself and imputing the whole of women or exemplary criminals toward personal honor and dignity are vastly preferable to the miserable confrontation of self that would be required if a man were to concede the problem is not with women so much as within himself.
I'm a single guy in my later 30s and having never dated but observed a few stalwartly unmarried guys I'm afraid that of my own demographic I have to say there is a certain creepy set of lessons I have learned in observing guys who aren't married and bitterly wished to have been. I've seen guys say about women that it tends to be the less attractive ones who complain about the shallowness of beauty standards. When the shoe is on the other foot this sort of man bitterly resents being ignored by women who are shallow because they want a certain sort of look, men who remorselessly may say "I don't care if they're real so long as they're a certain size." It never feels good to be on the receiving end of your own shallowness, does it? I have considered that time and gravity will defeat us all in the end.
Joel does seem to embody to an unusual degree what my brother has referred to as self-righteous indignation. I don't want to get into all the reasons why this all came rushing back to my conscious thoughts. I have been content to let other, more interested writings devote time to expressing their dislike of Joel's music. I think I wrote my own piece "Soft Rock, Soft Cock" practically a whole decade ago. It's somewhere here on Wenatchee The Hatchet if you really want to go rooting around for it. I only recently got the goofy idea of actually tagging blog entries at all so good luck finding it if it interests you.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

still writing music

I am still pecking away at my 24 preludes and fugues for solo guitar. I just finished the fugue in B major. Now only D flat major, D minor, and E minor remain of the fugues and only the D flat major prelude remains. Inside of this year I should be able to finish the project.