Saturday, December 03, 2011

two poems about eyes and eye surgery

The week after surgery

At night, in bed, I continue to feel
a river of itching within my eye.
This is, I know, what it feels like to heal
yet I can't endure it without a sigh.
Red drops, gray drops, with drops clear and yellow
drop one by one, and five minutes apart;
four times a day for all but the yellow,
which is only for when days end or start.
The incision heals and I have no tears
but the ones given me inside capsules.
The drugs, in their droppers, the heads of spears
of guardsmen who mark the changing of hours.
The cataract of itching is a sign
That a cataract is no longer mine.

Note to my readers, there is no subtext here.  Here's the earlier sonnet I wrote about eyes thinking back on a scleral buckle I had years earlier.


Like the jelly between the retina
And optic nerve, you’ve been between me and
Reality. This is no dilemma.
You have my gratitude for understanding
The limits of my eyes. You’ve helped me
Live with them. Now for some it is a crutch
To rely on a person they can’t see.
It bothers me sometimes, but not too much
Because like vitreous, unseen between
The retina and optic nerve you hold
Two unlike likes in seam, unseen and seen,
Who I am, who you’ve been. Poets, I’m told,
Mediate the world through words, so do you
For you are the Word, and vitreous, too.

What can I say? I've been fond of John Donne's poetry for years, particularly his penchant for medical metaphors.  I wouldn't say they are great poems by any measure but they qualify at least as doggerel, occasional verses for unusual occasions.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Bill is back, and it's good to have him back
Bill links to the following
which reminds me of something DZ linked to over at Mockingbird here:
about how nice guys do finish last:
That doesn't sound like anyone we've blogged about in the past in terms of discussing wimpy or "nice" guys, does it?  ;)

From Sullivan's article:

So many people advanced Steve Jobs as evidence that asshole CEOs build better companies that Sutton somewhat reluctantly included a chapter in his book on "The Virtues of Assholes," with Steve Jobs as Exhibit A. There is some evidence that "status displays" by aggressive bosses can motivate workers and give slackers a kick in the pants. And effective jerk bosses usually aren't assholes all the time, they're able to turn on the charm when the situation demands it, something Steve Jobs, by most accounts, was very good at doing. And it helps for companies to have skilled subordinate executives that are good at cleaning up after the Asshole-in-Chief, much like the sad-faced men carrying shovels who walk behind circus elephants. [emphasis added]

The fact is, Steve Jobs didn't succeed because he was an asshole. He succeeded because he was Steve Jobs. He had an uncanny sixth sense about what consumers wanted, an unmatched ability to adapt existing technology and turn it into something new, and a commitment to quality that turned ordinary Apple customers into fans for life. Being an asshole was part of the Steve package, but it wasn't essential to his success. But that's not a message most of the assholes in the corner offices want to hear.

Interesting, it helps for companies to have skilled subordinate executives that are good at cleaning up after the Asshole-in-Chief, as Sullivan puts it.  Perhaps this can constitute a kind of meta-commentary on assholes-in-chief at a variety of organizations?  It may well be the smarter assholes-in-chief know they need people to play more conciliatory and friendly roles.  This does not justify their being assholes-in-chief, of course, but it may prove that even jerks at the top recognize that somebody has to delegate a modicum of nice. 

I could write more but I'm trying to rein myself in a bit.  I am still recovering from major eye surgery.  But, as you can see, it's hard to resist writing SOMETHING.  I hope to tackle the prophet/priest/king stuff (again) before too long.  And eventually I want to get back to the aesthetics of plausibility chris e and I were discussing months ago.  But eye surgery is eye surgery, after all.  The first week has gone very well but it's still the first week.

I saw that link, Dwayne. ;)
You may not blog anymore but I'm going to link to the thing you linked to, anyway.  I have transformed you into a blogger again by being a proxy. ;)

Thursday, December 01, 2011

A few links: creativity within constraint; when knowledge isn't power in cognitive bias; and the social conformity effect

No one who has worked in the arts any length of time will fail to grasp the significance of creativity increasing within constraints.  Igor Stravinsky famously remarked that he was most creative when he imposed the most restrictions on himself.  At a purely personal level I feel my compositional style expanded and changed as I began to explore possibilities with a few crucial restrictions on the conceptual and structural approach to my music.  I would later learn that some of the restrictions I worked with weren't altogether different from ones Brian Eno used in his songwriting career at different points. 

Of the works I have written so far arguably the single greatest restriction in a work-in-progress ended up being the catalyst for a lot of creativity.  How many works for solo guitar can you compose if you use only harmonics?  And not just any old harmonics, natural harmonics, skipping artificial harmonics almost altogether?  What could you come up with?  How does one navigate the reality that harmonics at frets 5, 7 and 12 have better intonation than those at 3, 4, 6, and 9?  How many key regions are possible?  How many key regions are desirable?  How much can you compose before resorting to an altered tuning?  After all, just because the rule is "only harmonics" doesn't mean you can't use scordatura ... but which scordaturae would be more trouble than they're worth?

My brother picked up Thinking Fast and Slow, which I intend to borrow from him and read one day. 
Daniel Kahneman's book, what I have read of it, seems like what David Zahl at Mockingbird might call a scientific examination of the extent of the bound will.  We are not as rational or self-aware as we think we are.  As the prophet Jeremiah put it so glumly, the heart is deceitful above all things, and who can understand it?  The Hebrew prophets were often all too painfully aware that self-knowledge is not even close to self-power. 

One of the grimly amusing ironies of neurological work and cognitive study is to suggest, over against the claims of certain optimists, that the human mind and the human condition have not improved quite so substantially as many of us have told ourselves it has.  Yes, many certain things in certain regions have gotten better but at a price.  As a friend of mine put it, while progressives have looked at all the strides made in political or social equality all that equality is founded on an economy driven by fossil fuels.  So progressives have been compelled to recognize that the engine that has driven increased social equality can seem, to progressives, to come at the cost of compromising the viability of the ecosphere.  Or at least the ones that actually think anything through about the connection between increased personal economic or political freedom and ecological considerations in the post-industrial West have had to give it some thought. 

For all our amazing discoveries about ourselves and the cosmos the more we learn about humanity the less we disprove observations humans have made about themselves millenia ago.  The heart is still decetiful above all things, and even when we understand the mechanisms of self-deception this does not mean we are free of them when we live our lives.  Romans 7 and the prophet Jeremiah may well continue to remain relevant commentaries on the human condition. It's not as though they stopped having relevant things to say in the last few millenia, after all.

... But our love of stories comes with a serious side-effect: like all good narrators, we tend to forsake the facts when they interfere with the plot. We’re so addicted to the anecdote that we let the truth slip away until, eventually, those stories we tell again and again become exercises in pure fiction. Just the other day I learned that one of my cherished childhood tales – the time my older brother put hot peppers in my Chinese food while I was in the bathroom, thus scorching my young tongue – actually happened to my little sister. I’d stolen her trauma.

The reason we’re such consummate bullshitters is simple: we bullshit for each other. We tweak our stories so that they become better stories. We bend the facts so that the facts appeal to the group. Because we are social animals, our memory of the past is constantly being revised to fit social pressures.

Instantly one can surmise that an atheist or non-Christian would note that this must have been how the earliest Christian beliefs and biblical narratives came about.  It most certainly would be how retroactive political narratives by political parties in upcoming elections find unified narratives, whether it's the Republicans pretending they have been about lower taxes, small and uninvasive government, and providing equal opportunity; or whether it's the Democrats pretending they have been about defending the working class, seeing to political equality and liberty for all, and not being overly hawkish in issues of foreign policy.  It can also be said about evangelical Christians in America attempting to find a suitable history from which to rationalize culture war politicking which Darryl Hart has written a bit about recently.  And it's certainly how Marxists manage to skip past the question of how Soviet atrocities could be condemned in a way that separates Marxism from the applications of Marxist/Leninist ideas in a society. 

So, per Jeremiah's grim observation that the heart is deceitful above all things what could we suggest as a crucial role a prophet can play?  The role of the prophet is not, per the notions of a dispensationalist or cessationist, that of a man or woman pronouncing new words from God that will get canonized.  No, if anything the opposite impulse is deeper in the role of the prophetic action than speaking of events that have not taken place.  The prophet's role is to question the collective narrative we put together by pointing out how that narrative we've spun for ourselves to make ourselves look good doesn't add up.  The aim was not necessarily to provide "new revelation" but to challenge God's people for a failure to live out the important parts of the established revelation.  Repression and oppression among God's people indicate a people who have forgotten the Exodus and Passover observance makes the hypocrisy and double standards worse rather than better. 

Whether or not one subscribes to or prescribes to religious belief the role of the prophet, in actual or perhaps merely literary/typological terms, is one everyone can understand, the person who calls "bullshit" on the agreed-upon narrative and identity a group of people sell to themselves and to others. The role of the prophet can be described as the person who is not just an advisor about crises but to combat, when necessary, the social conformity effect when its aims and results became fraudulent. Given how many prophetic books there are in the Bible it was acknowledged over time that the propensity for the social conformity effect (as it were) to lead to fraudulent results and character was pretty common.

Thus ends my ramble for this post.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I bet I don't really have to even explain this link, do I?

per the Wartburg Watch discussions lately on sheep, an old sermon from Mike Gunn on Ps 23[1].pdf

The sermon is more extensive than the sermon notes, by the way.

reformatted the blog

It took me a while to figure out but I've reformatted the blog to make it more readable and searchable.  I didn't think to put together tags for subjects and categories for years, which I now realize was a mistake.  But at least now I've got the blog formatted so that you can go back and read posts by week rather than by month, and it's now possible to read a lot more of the archived blog entries if you'd never come across them before. 

So if for some reason you care what I had to say about Anton Diabelli's guitar sonatas or his work as an engraver or something like that you can look that up.  It would appear that the most popular point of reference for this blog is from people looking for a summary of Daniel Levitin's (sic?) book This is Your Brain on Music.  So as far as that goes, I figure I could at least try to make it easier to access those blog entries if someone just stumbles on to the blog and wants to read the entries in order.  Up until now the monthly archive hid most of the etnries in any given month.  My apologies to any readers for that accidental quasi-Luddite approach to formatting.

For folks who read this blog because of that other frequently visited topic (you know, that one) this link is to a poem I wrote a few months after some things happened.

That clunky poem, dear readers, was the beginning of oblique ruminations on what was going on at my then church at that time.  I started ruminating on the divided kingdom in Israel; on David taking a census and how this was a disastrous late career move; and those were oblique ways of discussing where I was at in my life at my old church. A clunky poem about an obscure biblical figure as a commentary on a pastor and his church  For anyone who wonders about subtext the canary is not in the coal mine. 

I was also starting to read Frank Schaeffer's Crazy for God, and the son's mercenary branding of himself as against his father Francis is another thing I at times write about.  Frank's mediocrity seems to only be sustainable by cashing in against his father's legacy.  In its way, though, this fits in with one of my perennial concerns about Christian men building legacies.  Sometimes the legacy you build is something your kids trade in against as a way to make a living.  Sometimes the legacy you invest in yourself turns out to be nothing more than a puff of air.  Frank Schaeffer's pipe dream that his dad could have been a hero of the Religious Left does not fail to amuse me.  Franky is apparently trying to make sure he takes the role that he now wishes his father had had, perhaps.

But enough rambling for the moment.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

two links for later consideration, Michael Card on Job and Jerram Barrs on 2 Cor

I've been wanting to blog about these to lectures/sermons for a while now but recovering from eye surgery is recovering from eye surgery.  I'm not adequately situated to stare at computer screens for very long periods, not where reading and typing are concerned.  So for now I'll link to these two presentations and I hope to get to writing about what both men have to say about Christians who face suffering in more detail later.

By way of spoilers,though, Michael Card describes Job as a dramatic narrative in which Job is attempting to make a lament before the Lord and his friends, ever insistent on defending orthodox theology and a proper defense of the justness of God, continually interrupt Job and tell him he can't make his lament about God's permission of injustice and that he's wrong. 

Jerram Barrs discusses Paul's mention in 2 Corinthians about a time where he faced so much by way of trials and suffering he despaired of life itself.  If Christians suggest that you will not be tempted beyond what you can bear keep in mind that that is temptation to sin and not being tested through suffering.  Jesus sweat blood in the face of being tested with more than what He could physically bear is how I suggest we frame it.  After all, Jesus was obedient to the point of death and that, friends, is being tested by suffering beyond the point that one can bear. 

Carl Trueman: Where has Critical Appreciation Gone?
If we can only learn from those we first remake in our own image, then we can never really learn from that which is different. Indeed, learning becomes little more than the reinforcement or clarification of what we know or believe already.

That Stott was important and influential is beyond dispute; but we should not sentimentalise him because of that or ignore his faults or, worst of all, so praise him that those very faults might ultimately be baptized as virtues and continue to do damage long after his departure to glory. Our brains must be kept switched on; we must give credit where credit is due; but we must also remember that sometimes we learn most from great men when we look at the great mistakes they made.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

a lengthy postscript to the wartburg watch republication of my writing on Driscoll and SoS

Seeing as Driscoll preached on the passage in Luke where Jesus explains how He fulfilled all the Scriptures I don't consider the subject of Driscoll on Jesus in the Scriptures exhausted.  Unlike certain folks in blogger land I may disagree with Driscoll's approach, and I may be skeptical about how likely he is to change, but I'm not interested in only ever assuming the worst about him all the time.  I do have slightly better things to think about during the holiday season than listening to one of his sermons for the moment.  I've got eye surgery and writing projects and other things to consider beyond listening to a sermon for upwards of an hour and if I'm going to listen to sermons I've got people I want to listen to more urgently than Driscoll.  Jerram Barrs, Sinclair Fergueson, and the pastors at my own church come to mind.

But in the interest of fairness to Driscoll's often changing theological and textual convictions (i.e. Schuller and Jakes as well as becoming more charismatic than cessationist, for instance) I will eventually touch on his preaching in the future.

But this post script I'm about to post deals not merely with Driscoll but with MacArthur.  I want to illustrate why, overall, MacArthur's rebuttal to Driscoll is ultimately pointless.  This is not a simple matter of Driscoll's take on Song of Songs insisting that oral sex is in SoS 2:3.  This is also not as simple as fanboys for MacArthur simply assuming that SoS can't be allegorical.  This is about the basis on which a whole book of the Bible has any possible reference to Christ scrubbed out of it in reaction to the Puritans and allegorists over millenia as being true to the biblical text ... in contrast to the same people endorsing without serious explanation or discussion how Satan is typologically read into prophetic texts where "the plain meaning of Scripture" couldn't possibly lead one to that reading.

I will say, out of consideration for MacArthur fans, that though I often differ with MacArthur on a few issues he's more responsible about bringing up some interpretive and historical issues connected to Ezekiel 28, which I discuss at some length below.  So between Driscoll and MacArthur the bigger contradiction is inherent in Driscoll's handling of biblical texts rather than MacArthur's.  MacArthur is also not as willing to claim that poetic images in Song of Songs refer to such specific things as Driscoll insists are in the text. 

With all that out of the way, here we go:

When the Bridegroom mustn't be literal and the Lake of Fire must:
Driscoll sees Satan in texts that clearly and literally refer to pagan kings

By now I've pointed out the historical challenge of Driscoll (or for that matter, John MacArthur) attempting to completely sidestep any typological or allegorical reading of Song of Songs.  Millennia of church tradition are difficult to ignore.  If millennia of church tradition are easy to ignore there's the realization that Jamnia consented to the canonization of Song of Songs on the grounds that an allegorical reading was acceptable. 

The plainest reading possible of Song of Songs on the assumption that Solomon must have written the book runs into the problem of the sixty queens and eighty concubines and virgins beyond number.  If this is Solomon, really Solomon, then a "plain" reading of the text that attempts to skirt how many women "Solomon" refers to in his harem is trying to have things both ways. 
Not all scholars even agree that "the Song of Songs, which is Solomon's" necessarily indicates Solomonic authorship, only possible Solomonic patronage.

Having established that Song of Songs is a book Driscoll (and John MacArthur) think should not be read typologically or allegorically it remains to be discussed where Driscoll, particularly, lands on other passages that he chooses to interpret literally that may not be as literal.  For instance, if Driscoll can joke that the Song of Songs cannot be literal because he'll be bummed if Jesus is preparing to have sex with him, why has Driscoll over the years been quite a bit more literal about "Hell" even within discussion of Revelation?  If the Wedding Feast of the Lamb has to be a metaphor so Driscoll doesn't suffer an end-of-time gay panic moment why would the lake of fire be literal?  Why would it be "hell" if "hell" is clearly described as being thrown into the lake of fire anyway? What is the basis for reading one apocalyptic passage metaphorically while insisting that the Lake of Fire has to be literal within just the book of Revelation?  To be sure Driscoll isn't the only conservative preacher who has done this over the years but in Driscoll's case his eagerness to reject typological or allegorical reading of the groom/bride metaphor in just one book of the Bible in favor of a literal reading raises the question of how, when it comes to Revelation, he selectively literalizes Hell where the other apocalyptic imagery is allowed to remain metaphorical so Driscoll doesn't get his gay panic moment.

For that matter while Driscoll has been eager to not see Jesus in Song of Songs, why shouldn't he then refrain from embracing the plainest, most literal, and least allegorical reading of other biblical texts?  If Driscoll's hermeneutic is to avoid allegorical readings where he thinks they're not warranted it would seem he chooses to NOT see Jesus in Song of Songs while seeing Satan in two passages where Satan is not actually the literal and plain referent in biblical passages. Let's pick two non-random passages historically linked to Satan Driscoll referred to in his Christus Victor presentation on spiritual warfare.

Isaiah 14 is often cited as referring to Satan when it referred to the king of Babylon.  Since in context Isaiah is referring to a long-since deposed pagan ruler why would Driscoll (or MacArthur for that matter) be so eager to accept a typological or allegorical association of the Morning Star with Satan when that is not what a "plain" reading would indicate?  If Jesus "can't" be in Song of Songs why is Satan the Daystar in Isaiah?

Then there is the prince of Tyre and the king of Tyre passage from Ezekiel 28, which is in the broader context of Ezekiel 26-28.

Ezekiel specifically says Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, will lay siege to Tyre for its mockery of Jerusalem.  I will note here that John MacArthur notes that Ezekiel 28 was incomplete, suggesting that the king of Tyre passage refers to Satan.  Well, let's discuss what that really means in military/historical terms.  Ezekiel predicted that Nebuchadnezzar would lay siege to Tyre and destroy it.

Well ... Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Tyre for THIRTEEN YEARS and did not actually destroy it.  A compromise was established in which Tyre agreed to be a Babylonian precinct in exchange for not being completely destroyed and Babylon could turn its attention to Egypt. The reason, skeptics may easily proffer, that the king of Tyre passage in Ezekiel 28 "has" to be interpreted by Christians as finding typological fulfillment in the final defeat of Satan is because Christians can't concede that a prophecy in the Bible made by Ezekiel regarding Nebuchadnezzar destroying Tyre could not have been fulfilled as written. 

But this is where we get to the question of how the apocalyptic idiom, which for all intents and purposes Ezekiel started, should even be read.  Even skeptical scholars and rationalist students of the Bible note that Ezekiel kept everything he wrote as it was even in cases where it would seem that doing so would have given people written evidence that Ezekiel was a false prophet and provided a basis for his being put to death!

Now another thing to consider is that at this point Ezekiel was prophesying in a completely post-exilic setting.  In other words, even if the prophet Ezekiel made predictions in the name of God regarding events that failed to take place in his lifetime there was no covenanted people of God in a form organized enough to implement Deuteronomy 16-18 and those passages regarded how to approach prophets within a pre-exilic community anyway. All that to say this, a preacher like Driscoll who simply affirms that Ezekiel 28 refers to Satan has not bothered to engage with what Ezekiel was really writing about in his own lifetime, let alone how the typological introduction of Satan as the ultimate referent point for the "king of Tyre" prophecy constitutes an apologetics question.  MacArthur does at least grant the issue comes up since the king of Tyre was not actually destroyed in the manner described by Ezekiel. 

However, merely to suggest that the king of Tyre had to be Satan because the king of Tyre wasn't in Eden is to miss how hyperbolic apocalyptic language is. David's account of God's rescue in Psalm 18 is far more flamboyant than the much more prosaic account in Samuel of the troubles God actually delivered David from. 

Preachers like Driscoll and MacArthur can say that Isaiah 14's reference to the king of Babylon and Ezekiel 28's reference to the king of Tyre refer to Satan.  There's just a problem of exegesis involved.  The problem is that the Babylonian king whose fall is anticipated by Isaiah 14 is the same king who will be the cause of the fall of the king of Tyre in Ezekiel 28.  Now, sure, we can say that typologically there's reference to Satan and typology can account for a lot.  But if that's the case then why COULDN'T Christ be the bridegroom in Song of Songs if conservative preachers who reject an allegorical or typological reference to Christ in Song of Songs insist on a typological reading of Satan into both Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 when the context of both prophetic passages forces us to say that one "Satan" is prophesied to destroy the other "Satan"?

In Driscoll's spiritual warfare presentation he affirms without the slightest hesitation that Ezekiel 28:14 refers to Satan.  But if Ezekiel 28 refers to Satan what about Ezekiel 26-28 as a whole, which is obviously referring to Tyre?  Why does a snippet of Ezekiel 28 get to refer to Satan while Christ can't possibly be referenced in a Christian's reading of Song of Songs?  Well, the history as to how and why Ezekiel 28 and Isaiah 14 came to be read as referring to Satan is rather lengthy and historian Jeffrey Burton Russell published no less than five books on the history of Christian and Jewish thought about the Devil (all of which are very useful references and are considered standards on the subject).  The shortest practical answer for the present discussion is to say that a great deal of the ideas associated with the devil/Satan and demons developed not within the actual canonical books themselves but in intertestamental literature.  This is a subject which Catholic and Eastern Orthodox scholars are a bit more familiar with, and Christians in more "mainline" settings. 

Now the reason I bring all of this up is to point out that when a preacher like Driscoll (or MacArthur) rejects an allegorical approach to Song of Songs on the grounds that that is not the "plain" reading of the text here's a question you can ask them, if that's true, why should people trust that their take on Isaiah 14 or Ezekiel 28 is "really" referring to Satan when that is not the "plain" reading of the text?  If you should avoid allegorical readings of biblical texts because, as MacArthur said in his response to Driscoll, that opens up all sorts of room for huge mistakes, why would both Driscoll and MacArthur stick to a view of Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 that developed within the medieval period, when it would seem that those pesky Papists were super-imposing their ideas on to the Bible.  Don't people get sent to Hell for imposing their own ideas on the Bible?  Well, if that's the case couldn't it be said that those who claim Satan is being referred to in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 have sent themselves to Hell for claiming God's word talks about Satan when a literal and plain reading doesn't establish that? 
Satan is referred to in the book of Job, where he proposes a bet that God accepts. 

Satan is also referred to as accusing the high priest in Zechariah 3.  Satan is described as inciting David to take a census near the end of his reign in 1 Chronicles 21 while 2 Samuel 24 tells us that God Himself was the one who incited David to take a census of Israel because the Lord was angry with His people.  Considering all of these issues if Driscoll thinks Song of Songs can't possibly refer to Jesus under any reading then he's welcome to take that approach. 

But it would help if he could then also explain how, by the praxis of rejecting all allegorical reading of Jesus on to Song of Songs, he has so simply contented himself to accepting that Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 refer to Satan when that isn't a plain reading of a biblical text in either case.  How does "Satan" cast out "Satan"?  After all, Jesus said that if Satan is casting out Satan his kingdom is divided against itself and cannot stand.  And, of course, this is right.  But that would be true regardless of how Mark Driscoll or John MacArthur handle Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28. 

Particularly in the case of Ezekiel 28 Jewish scholars have noted regularly that the literal fulfillment of Ezekiel 26-28 didn't come to pass.  They don't fret about it.  Christians introduced a typological reading of Ezekiel 28 to refer to Satan over time.  Now if a guy like Driscoll claims to "just preach what's in the Bible" he may just have to avoid ever actually unpacking the exegetical and textual issues of Ezekiel 28 and avoid any comparison of what Ezekiel wrote to what can be established by archaeological evidence regarding the military campaigns of Babylon at that time.

Or ... if he can grant that Ezekiel 28 DOES refer to Satan he can ALSO grant that it is within the scope of historic Christian thought to take a typological approach to Song of Songs in which the woman is God's people and the man is God.  After all, if what's good for the goose is good for the gander then Driscoll's goose could be cooked when he tries to apply his "just what's in the Bible" approach to Song of Songs (with no possible reference to Jesus) to Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 (in which a Babylonian king who is supposed to be the Devil destroys the king of Tyre who is supposed to be the Devil, too).  Apparently the Devil gets to show up in some places where he isn't literally mentioned in the text but God Himself, who inspired Scripture, can't be bothered to show up in the one book Driscoll and his critic MacArthur say has to be read mainly about marriage and sex.

a relatively recent piece by Matanya Ophee

"Relatively" means within this calendar year.  He's not quite as prolific on Guitar and Lute Issues as he is on his livejournal feed, which isn't to say he's prolific on that, either.  He's more busy editing and publishing, which is what I like about him.  He can't resist making accidental-yet-deliberate jokes because, well, he does that. 

Appropos of the pieces Ophee mentions, I've been wanting to play Ecloghues for years and spent years hunting for the score and my trouble is that the perfect flutist and English horn player for such a project are out of town and parents now. 

I have been corresponding with guitarist friends in the last few years and it has impressed me how the guitar has been around for centuries and we guitarists as a group love to say our instrument is more expressive than that dumb old piano.  We play a miniature orchestra and all that.  Yet it has only been in the last four years that an actual guitarist completed a contrapuntal cycle for the instrument.  I eagerly anticipate studying and listening to Koshkin's preludes and fugues for solo guitar.  Given the time that publication and recording of such a monumental cycle must take it will likely not get published in any form for such a time that I could finish my own cycle for solo guitar. 

I'm no virtuoso by any means and am a nobody composer but I can still say of both Mr. Koshkin and myself that if it has only been at the dawn of the 21st century that guitarists in the East and West have undertaken preludes and fugues for solo guitar that says a lot about our instrument.  It is a young instrument compared to the keyboard.  It is an even younger instrument compared to the great and wonderful contrapuntal idiom that has existed in choral music for at least half a millenia.  So this suggests at least two things for our consideration. 

The first is that such a young instrument in the context of human history should not be expected to really be at the same level as instrumental and choral traditions that have made substantial advances centuries ahead of ours.  Ricercars and fugues and contrapuntal works for the guitar have certainly been written and guitarist-composers have written cycles in which all the major and minor keys are attended to but these workers and works remain rare in the literature and even rarer in performance.  Ophee touches, I think, on one of the reasons why many of these works remain so often unattended to in many ways, they are considered musical white elephants, more physically and conceptually demanding than the musical worth guitarists believe they bring to the performer or the listener. 

And this leads rather naturally to the second observation.  Lest we need any reminders the most beloved composers of concert and chamber music (i.e. Beethoven, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, etc) all faced complaints that this or that masterpiece was "unplayable".  Yet these works are not only well-known but well-loved.  It may be that unlike the other musical societies and traditions guitarists, when they gather together and say something is too awkward or unplayable, prize idiomatic accessibility and glamor over musical substance. 

If in the keyboard literature and quartet literature innovation and progress has come with declarations that this or that is "unplayable" when it isn't why should we imagine that things will be different in the guitar?  Many works that are standards in the non-guitar literature were declared to be impossible to play and, if possible to play by some mere technical standpoint, were declared horribly unmusical.  Thus Yamashita's transcriptions were considered either impossible "as written" or unmusical as played.  Now I might suggest that as far as that goes the whole subject of guitarists playing transcriptions of keyboard literature is its own subject.  I don't see why Yamashita's "unmusical" treatment of Mussorgsky's keyboard music is so much worse than the treatment of Albeniz' keyboard music.  If you've heard actual pianists play Albeniz you can begin to feel like the Albeniz/Bach/Debussy/Mozart keyboard-transcribing pots are calling the Mussorgsky-transcribing-kettle black.  It's still not guitar music written by guitarists, people. 

And that is why I am excited about Koshkin's cycle.  Instead of we guitarists continually transcribing masterworks that were never written for the guitar and playing it safe there's got to be some room to explore, even if exploration means crashing and burning.  Let's remember that at one point there was not even a Well Tempered Clavier book 1, let alone a book 2 in the keyboard literature.  Koshkin's cycle may not make any impression on non-guitarists.  Maybe Asya Selyutina will record the whole thing and it will be amazing but nobody at, say, The Guardian or the Telegraph or the New York Times will even review it.  Or it might get reviewed with some grudging note that Koshkin's stuff is all right for guitar music but that there's other stuff being done by Brian Ferneyhough or something.  I don't know. 

I do believe, however, that amongst guitarists we should be encouraged that Koshkin has completed such an unprecedented project.  Of course I don't mean unprecedented in that Castelnuovo-Tedesco or Rekhin didn't write their fine cycles, I mean unprecedented in that this is the first time a guitarist composer has tackled composing a contrapuntal cycle.  Given Koshkin's focal dystonia I am not sure he composed with instrument in hand.  Anyone who has done any serious work on contrapuntal music will know, however, that often the worst thing you can do in writing contrapuntal music is to have the instrument in hand.  The contrapuntal tradition developed within the choral idiom, particularly sacred music in the West, and the guitar at its most idiomatic lends itself to all the things that are most forbidden in traditional counterpoint!  So if anything Koshkin's lack of opportunity to play guitar may have positively helped him at this stage in his life tackling counterpoint. 

I wonder how many guitarists will take up the cycle when it's published?  Schoenberg famously quipped that perhaps humans would need to evolve extra digits for his concerto to become more widely played.  Hahn, of course, has demonstrated the work can be played fluently and she joked that those extra digits would just get in the way.  If we guitarists want to keep moving in the direction of new vistas and new musical challenges, new achievements in substantial music, we may have to keep reminding ourselves that what this or that person declares "unplayable" now may not be unplayable, just unpleasant and not musically satisfying. 

Of course there are people who consider Bach to be tedious and uninspired. There are people who consider Beethoven overwrought, overlong, and boring.  There are people who refuse to consider anything written by Stravinsky to even be music.  There were people who considered Mozart's music to have too many notes (because some of his pieces did have too many of those).  There were people who complained that Haydn was some weird emo punk who introduced wild mood and tempo changes into his music that people steeped in the northern German Baroque tradition found unacceptable.  We don't know, and we can't know, whether or not something that seems like a musical white elephant won't become a standard work in the future.  Koshkin's giant solo guitar sonata could end up becoming a standard work.  I honestly hope it does and if the performances of both Papendreou and Perroy are any indication it SHOULD become a standard guitar sonata.  That doesn't mean I don't personally quibble with a few elements of harmonic structure in cyclical form but far be it from me to say you shouldn't go immerse yourself in one of the biggest and best works of one of my favorite living composers.  :)

Well, I've rambled on that for enough time now.

C. S. Lewis & Rob Bell: evangelicals getting selective on doctrines depending on the recency and the race of a perceived threat?

I recently read this and decided to link to a few things from elsewhere. C. Michael Patton raises the simple and obvious point that Lewis is a dead lay Anglican author of popular and academic fiction while Rob Bell is a living American pastor.  I've written elsewhere here about how Lewis and Bonhoeffer are easily assimilated into contemporary American evangelicalism, despite their like of American evangelical bona fides, because they managed to do what evangelicals haven't done all that well--namely writing popular yet literary fiction and conspicuously opposing the Nazis at a time when a lot of evangelical Americans were still going to make arguments against racial desegregation or women voting.

Now I'll get to what I consider a definitive take on Lewis and Bell in terms of Bell and Piper.  But first I want to take several lengthy digressions on to D. G. Hart's observations about the Gospel Coalition and race.  Bear with me.  I did say I wouldn't be writing a whole lot for a while but I didn't say I wouldn't copy, paste, and link a bit this week, did I?

What is remarkable in this reaction to MacDonald is, first, the assumption that the white church has a sound doctrine of the Trinity. Unless I missed something, the Gospel Coalition is a wart to the Matterhorn (thank you Henry Lewis) of the Trinity Broadcast Network and the larger Pentecostal and charismatic world which consists of Americans of European descent as much as blacks. In other words, the black church has no corner of heresy and the Gospel Coalition has a lot of work to do if it is going to labor winsomely and heroically for a reformation in the white church.

Here’s a piece of advice to Justin: take this post down before someone who cares about social justice, racism, and the rights of native Americans — at least those outside the genteel and rosy Coalition circles — sees it. (Or at least change the graphics since I am not sure native Americans are supposed to look so European.) 

["this" seems to refer to this ... ]

The juxtaposition of the post about Squanto and this one about slavery were indeed vexing if not arresting. In the case of a Turkey-stuffed happy ending for Squanto and the Pilgrims, Taylor and the Co-Allies who read him were willing to overlook the enormities of Europeans’ treatment of native Americans, slavery (based on abduction), and death of a native-American village. But in the case of the nineteenth-century U.S. slavery, the Co-Allies cannot prevent the knowledge of white Americans’ treatment of African-American slaves from tarnishing these evangelicals’ reading of Holy Writ. I would have thought that the same stomach that could overlook Squato’s difficult life (not to mention his native American relatives’ lives for centuries to come) might also understand that the biblical references to slavery were part of narrative that resulted in an even happier ending — namely, the redemption of the world through Christ.

In other words, the sensitivity to questions of race and ethnicity at the Gospel Coaltion — if Taylor’s blog is any indication — appears to be selective bordering on arbitrary.

[and the referenced post is here ... ]

And now, finally, here's a reference to Drew G. I. Hart's comments about the Piper/Bell situation

Many evangelical bloggers have just finished chiming in on Rob Bell’s new book. While there have been a couple nuanced positions, overall most have fallen into two camps; conservative modernist evangelicals (especially reformed conservatives) and postmodern missional evangelicals (especially emerging church leaders). What I and others realized was that this internet and blogosphere battle that was unfolding really was not about theological and doctrinal difference (even while those tensions do exist), but rather the real underlying issue was a matter of control, influence, and power.

... Of course these Evangelical 3.0′s have learned from their predecessors that you must at least grab a token black for your entourage or program (however the 2.0’s actually did a better job at pulling in tokens), often this GED effort of token representation is not even being done at many of their gatherings and events.

Sure, I know there's all sorts of ways to differ with Hart's observations but I'm having fun here so I'm rolling with things as Hart puts them.  Lewis gets a pass because a dead lay Anglican author isn't a threat to contemporary white evangelical Protestant American establishments.  Rob Bell's Mars Hill is a threat because it could attract the white urban hipsters who will form the future establishment that Piper might prefer would fall into the orbit of that other Mars Hill that isn't in Michigan.  As Driscoll has so often said it, "You get the young men you get everything.  ... you don't get the young men you get nothing." 

Let's just clear things up a bit and throw in the polemical observation that perhaps what Driscoll and others should be saying is that if you get the white young men you get everything.  You get the guys who are going to "go upstream" and "influence culture" and they will, in turn, get the white women and make white babies and influence the culture for ... Jesus?  Well ... uh ... certainly I hope that is what the real goal is going to be but that doesn't mean that if things are really all about Jesus they have to be all about nabbing the white boys and "engaging culture" in strictly white urban hipster terms. 

That Driscoll even takes a wait-and-see approach with Jakes can be taken as an indication of the domain of his concern.  He's ripped publicly on Joel Osteen.  He's taken down The Shack and declared William Young a promulgator of heresy.  He chucklingly referred to Ed Young Jr's sermons on sex as overdoing sex (despite Driscoll recycling the same sex and marriage sermons every two years since the y2k bug scare). Yet he's put on kid gloves for Jakes.  Is it just the white megachurch pastors who deserve to get "called out" on their stunts or their shaky theology?  We'll see, maybe.  Given Driscoll's turnaround on Schuller I can't even be certain that he'll even play hardball with Jakes when the actual event in the Elephant Room takes place, not that I anticipate that ultimately mattering in the end anyway.   

It's the weekend and I've got some time to post some things that have been on my mind for a few weeks.

Robert Schuller and limos for meals
One of my earlier little disappointments was that Driscoll did a 180 on Robert Schuller about six or seven years ago.  It was a minor disappointment in the long run because Schuller has never mattered that much to me and I never particularly took him seriously.  It was also a minor disappointment compared to the boondoggle in Ballard; the firings that happened in connection to the 2007 by-laws; and Driscoll's pathetic preaching in 2007. But the Schuller disappointment was a disappointment all the same.  Mark, long ago, considered Schuller a liberal/pragmatic sell-out on the Gospel until he was invited to preach and teach there.  Then he changed his tune.  It remains to be seen whether Driscoll will have a similar epiphany about T. D. Jakes.  For the moment he's just taking the wait-and-see approach he seems to think megachurch pastors deserve because they aren't writing novels like The Shack.

Maybe Driscoll just forgot a passage from the book of Proverbs?  He once spoke about how he believed there was going to be a resurgence of Christian interest in the wisdom literature (i.e. Proverbs, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes). I suppose it is to his credit (or discredit) that he has continually returned to books in the Writings (except, you know, anything in the entire book of Psalms or Job). 

Now in the book of Proverbs one of the sterner warnings is to those who are invited to dine in the house of a wealthy man, particularly a ruler.  And if Robert Schuller could not count, by the old testament measure of things, as a ruler of almost inconceivable wealth, I don't know who would:

When you sit to dine with a ruler,
   note well what is before you,
and put a knife to your throat
   if you are given to gluttony.
Do not crave his delicacies,
   for that food is deceptive.

Do not wear yourself out to get rich;
   do not trust your own cleverness.
Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone,
   for they will surely sprout wings
   and fly off to the sky like an eagle.
Do not eat the food of a begrudging host,
   do not crave his delicacies;
for he is the kind of person
   who is always thinking about the cost.
“Eat and drink,” he says to you,
   but his heart is not with you.
You will vomit up the little you have eaten
   and will have wasted your compliments

The hospitality and generosity of the wealthy and/or powerful is not inherently evil, of course, but it is not inherently good, either.

another link, the Oatmeal

A dear friend of mine introduced me to the Oatmeal by sending me a link she found where the Oatmeal shredded the Twilight franchise.

Over the Thanksgiving weekend my sister showed me this recent installment of Bobcats. It's the Oatmeal so language warning, just in case you don't know the web comic (and if you do then you really don't need the language alert, do you?) But in this case there's no warning necessary for language.

And the figure-8 symbol if you knock it on its side is a symbol for infinity, not eternity, but that's the kind of misdefinition that characterizes the two Bobs.