Saturday, March 09, 2013

Sex & Power and a self-diagnosed epidemics in religious community


While Internet Monk is running a series of pieces on scandals in the contemporary church this is not necessarily about those scandals.  Instead this is a sidelong rumination on conditions that are described as setting the stage in social and economic terms for certain kinds of scandals in a specific church.  While Christians will obviously and understandably want to frame the scandals in spiritual terms there are things that will ensue that can be framed in social and economic terms and it is those timebound and placebound elements that are of interest because different Christian communities define different things as a scandal or a crisis.  While some of Wenatchee's blogging associates have written extensively about the crisis of sexual abuse that is not reported among the neo-Reformed churches in the last decade Wenatchee has noticed that when given the time to voluntarily air grievances about what they consider to be a crisis the neo-Calvinists have, often enough, considered the problem with today's culture (over the last ten years) to be ... some kind of epidemic of singleness.  Let's get to that after a lengthy digression on some historical background to church careers and family options in Ireland over the last few centuries, though, shall we?

Martha of Ireland has written at some length on the subject of abuse scandals in the Catholic Church.  She provides a lengthy (if still curtailed) history of the Irish Catholics in relationship to England.  One of the things she mentions is the Catholic Emancipation Act. This act, in 1829, opened doors for middle-class Catholics to hold public office. Catholics could leave property to heirs instead of subdividing estates before death. 

When the Great Famine of the mid-19th century hit  Martha writes a bit about the significance of the famine and I'll quote selectively.

... Now, what is the point I am trying to make here in relation to the reeking mess of scandal in latter-day Ireland? It’s this: due to political and social circumstances, in pre-Famine Ireland the tendency was for early marriages and high fertility, particularly amongst the lower orders and the poor. Since Catholics could not inherit or will property from or to other Catholics, if a man had a farm or any sizeable amount of land, he would divide it up amongst all his sons. They, in turn, would further sub-divide what they had amongst their children and so forth. Because of the high yield food crop – the potato – this made it feasible for a man to marry and raise a family on a small patch of land; if you had an acre of potatoes and a pig, as the saying went, you could make a living. It wasn’t sustainable, of course, but the system staggered along pretty well until a crisis hit – a crisis like the Great Hunger.

After the Famine, this all changed. The poor, the farm labourers, the landless, were the ones who suffered most. This meant that those who had land wanted even more land for economic security. A farm had to be a certain size to be viable. And since Catholics could now inherit property, a man could leave all his land to his eldest son upon his death instead of sub-dividing it during his life. It also meant that to be marriageable, a woman had to bring a dowry with her.

What this meant was that one son (and maybe only one daughter, who had a dowry to marry on) were provided for. The rest of the children? There was always the emigrant ship, since there wasn’t the industrialised base to absorb their labour.

Or there was religion. Yes, I’m finally tying it all together.

Remember, Irish Catholicism has become very respectable in response to pressure of political and public opinion from the British government and public. Couple that with a tendency in 19th century Irish Catholicism towards Jansenism, which meant a very rigid and rigorous and unforgiving parade of public piety, and the fact that some earnest British officials did actually blame the Famine as the just punishment of a rebellious and ungrateful (and even worse, papist) Irish populace by a wrathful God, and the urge to prove our probity and respectability and innocence of wrongdoing was even more pressing.

So any kind of slip, any kind of perception of sin, was not just dishonouring yourself, it was bringing disgrace on your family and on your nation. It was proving that the Irish were drunken, lecherous, criminal, rebellious types whose only hope of salvation was to turn towards becoming good British subjects and adopting the Protestant religion. Poverty was not a misfortune, it was a crime. And crime itself –- unforgiveable!

On the other hand, having a priest or a nun or a religious brother in the family brought good repute, gave the family high standing in public respect, and was a pledge of virtue in this life and heavenly reward in the next.

So a combination of lack of opportunity, lack of a mature understanding of sexuality, and social pressure meant that a lot of men and women who were not suited for the religious life entered monasteries and convents and teaching orders and seminaries. If they found, in the middle of their novitiate, that they were unsuited, there was little they could do. The disgrace of leaving – of being a “spoiled priest” or a nun who dropped out – meant that their families would be shamed and that they would have to emigrate anyway, with little or no formal education or trade to fall back on. So by default, they stayed where they were.

And since the State was not operating the range of social services we now expect them to run under the umbrella of public service, it was the Church and the religious orders who took up the slack. So untrained people were given responsibility and authority that they didn’t know how to handle in a culture where suffocating social conformity and outward respectability was the norm, and any deviation was seen as meriting firm discipline.

I don't mention these things to revisit the interminable Protestant/Catholic debates. I bring it up as a matter of observation about the economic opportunities and restrictions Catholics dealt with in Ireland in certain areas of land options and marriage.  And here's why.

It's hard to escape the observation that among various types of Reformed bloggers and cultural pundits that in the last ten years no shortage of blogging and bloviating about the "epidemic of singleness" happened.  In many cases the diagnosis is that young men just won't "man up" and go take wives to the glory of Jesus.  Maybe feminism will get blamed for giving women unrealistic expectations about their biological clocks and the degree of career options they want before they try to have a baby in a panic as middle-age looms.  I've seen that happen, but for the most part it gets back to the young men having this need to man up.  As a certain preacher liked to put it if you get the young men you get everything, the culture, the women, the children, the money, the power to shape the future legacy in your area and if you don't get the young men you get nothing.

So that epidemic of single guys in their 20s or 30s who won't grow up is a big old crisis that has to get remedied.  How?  Well, you just tell them they're the problem and that they need to fix it already.  They know the solution because you tell them it's to love Jesus, get a real job, take a wife and make babies for Jesus' fame.

Curiously enough the middle-aged guys who are most likely to get on this soapbox benefited from the lending practices and housing market of a decade ago.  Building your stump speech on what you got to work before the housing bubble is building your stump speech on a set of circumstances that don't exist anymore. 

Ten to fourteen years ago the big spiel at Mars Hill was living in community.  What that meant was a bunch of young couples with foundational influence in the nascent church bought houses they probably couldn't have afforded on their two incomes, rented out every possible spare room to singles in the church, and used the revenue of that rental matrix to cover basic expense of the mortgage while the newlyweds built a nest egg to meet expenses on their own terms once babies emerged and the single tenants could be sent on their merry (and ideally married) ways.  Living in community was in some practical sense a shorthand for dispersion of costs that young couples couldn't afford more than a decade ago.  It was all good because over time earning power would grow. That was then, now is now.

And now is after the real estate bubble of 2008.  When economic times get rough the age of first marriage gets later and later.  Correlation doesn't always indicate causation but has any Christian cultural pundit noticed that the last time the age of first marriage got so late was during the Great Depression?  That might be worth noting.  It's not that people don't find each other attractive, personally appealing, and sexually desirable.  It happens, it's just that marriage and attaining that nuclear family has become more and more financially difficult.  In the early years of Mars Hill the Driscolls were known to rent their spare rooms to three or four single guys.  Wenatchee has met a few of them, for what that's worth. 

The "epidemic of singleness" or "adultescence" may not simply be because young guys won't "man up" but because there are more young people than jobs for them to do in the American economy.  What if a generation that got used to living on credit and trading tomorrow for today sunk a chunk of the jobs that today's young people could have had?  Whatever the moral problems of whatever "hook-up culture" is are not mutually exclusive to an economic climate in which people find each other sexually desirable but probably can't go build nuclear families without help from a panoply of programs that have existed since The New Deal.  Some of the middle-aged pundits who are opining about men in their 20s not manning up now may not realize that when they were that age they benefited from a set of lending and real estate options that today's young guys won't have access to.

Over generations Protestants and some progressive Catholics have proposed that if priests were simply allowed to marry that sex scandals would disappear.  Doubtful.  Anyone who has kept track of the scandals associated with sex in evangelical settings would find it improbable that merely letting Catholic priests marry would prevent sexual abuse from happening.  Many sexual predators may be married and have marriages that are a suitable cover from which to prey upon others.  The Eastern Orthodox permit a man to marry before taking orders and that may help some but it's impossible that the Orthodox scene is completely without sex scandals, either. 

But Wenatchee's not going to deal with that, rather Wenatchee's considering that sex scandals are no less legion in evangelical Protestantism in some parts.  What the difference is between institutional suppression in one realm and a lack of documented abuse in another may simply be a difference of the Catholics having better bureaucratic tools to measure what's already there that Protestants may sweep under the rug.  Sexual abuse can happen in any institution, whether schools or the military or hospitals.  It's more scandalous when it happens in settings where people are steadily enjoyed to flee fleshly lusts because while a person may like to have a lot of sex and work in the medical profession the requirements to manage risks doesn't include eternal reward or punishment in a lot of medical settings.

Here's an idea for consideration for the neo-Calvinists, go dig through economic histories and ask to what degree the American middle-class nuclear family and "working class" family existed prior to the New Deal.  To what degree has the American suburban family come about through the panoply of New Deal programs set in place before the Second World War?  What about removing the gold standard?  What about fiddling with interest rates?  What about these things existing in tandem with fractional reserve banking?  What about the G. I. Bill for education?  What about the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act, give or take wording in the title?  During the last few years in which Wenatchee has done job hunting it was an interesting discovery how much of the welfare net exists for families.  It's not as though I've never come across people even inside MH who were on food stamps or needed state assistance. I've heard of a case or two in which a family man could not seriously consider taking a job at Mars Hill because if he did he'd end up on food stamps, he didn't want that, and so he looked for work somewhere else.  At the tippy top where Black Dynamite fights Richard Nixon money may be plentiful but on lower rungs in the employment ladder non-profits are not places where employees roll in money. 

And as I've intimated and hinted at throughout this blog the idea that 20-somethings can get married and start nuclear families is not economically realistic in most cases.  It wasn't even how things played out in the earliest days of Mars Hill and this many of us saw directly as the church was taking shape.  It was the expanded informal approach of extended family in which blood and friendship might overlap that a lot of marriages were able to thrive while the 20-something men and women got their footing secure enough to really own their houses and not just live in houses that were only financially feasible for couples who were renting every spare room to whomever they felt they could trust. 

In the neo-Calvinist scene I'd hear it said that Paul's instructions about marriage in 1 Cor 7 are conditional on a time of persecution, most likely.  We don't know for sure, so the presentation went, but the praxis is that unless you're smuggling Bibles into China you should be married.  But what if the "present distress" was a famine?  Then Paul's argument becomes a practical consideration, if you live in a time and place where financial resources and food are in short supply it may be wise to not marry unless you absolutely cannot prevent yourself from "coming together".  Some people abstain from sex not because they haven't given any thought to married life or attraction but because it wouldn't be financially responsible to seek marriage or appropriate certain famous privileges within married life in a given economic setting. 

In light of sex scandals even among neo-Calvinist churches that have come to light in the last few years it hardly seems like the most besetting epidemic to be dealt with in the new Calvinist scene has really been the old epidemic of singleness.  The last ten years the neo-Calvinists may have been barking up the wrong tree.

Internet Monk: Radical Enough? Part one

Just a link will suffice here, seeing as the link tells you what's to come.  As a former Pentecostal I saw more than my share of sentiment that said that if you just cut loose and got on fire for the Lord that amazing things would happen.  I grew up in a cultural setting in which revival was the official big goal and hope for America, if revival came along America would be better.  In my teens I took that pretty seriously, or so I thought.  By my twenties as I did a bit more of a survey of church history I began to distrust revivalism not only in terms of Second Great Awakening figures and their theology but also the frequently political aims that seemed to be the subtext of a lot of revival talk.  If God was used as a means to an end then the real goal was not revival so much as what revival was expected to lead to.

As D. G. Hart has proposed in at least one book evangelicals may imagine that dedicated evangelicalism would lead to voting for certain types of Republicans but historically this is not demonstrably true.  Anyone still remember Mark Hatfield?  Native Oregonians probably, the rest of you may understandably have never heard of him.

Anyway, I make no bones about saying that i grew up in a setting where being radical and sold out was valuable and now I tilt more toward what some might call the God of the Mundane (though I haven't read that book yet, discretionary income being at enough of a premium that there's a backlog of things that aren't music for this composer/guitarist to explore at the moment).

HT Jim West: Tom Verenna reviews Candida Moss' book The Myth of Christian Persecution

Moss has recently published a book laying out a case that stories of ancient universal Christian persecution are largely myth.  This isn't a case that early Christians weren't persecuted but that the stories of persecution widely accepted by many Christians now are narratives for which evidence is scanter than frequently supposed.

Jim West has apparently reviewed the book but I can get to the review from the links provided in-site over at his blog.  Maybe the review isn't up yet.  Been a bit busy preparing some new material for this blog, after all.  Anyway, wanted to link to the review.  Identifying public criticism as persecution is something some Christians find very, very easy to do, even when public criticism can actually be based on legitimate claims and concerns so a book from a scholar exploring whether or not the ancient persecutions to which modern-day self-labeled persecution is often compared (as opposed to actual present or past persecution) could be a useful study.

Another HT to Jim West: John Collins on The Dead Sea Scrolls and their controversies,0,562776.story

Repertoire issues, prejudice against the guitar, and the "elusive sound"

Prejudice against the guitar always existed, and still exists today, even in countries like the United States where the guitar is being taught in more than 800 conservatories and universities. Let me read to you a short passage from a guitar concert review which clearly illustrates the common perception of the guitar by the majority of professional musicians:

“. . . But here is an instrument we long have not heard in our concerts, an instrument flying over from the blazing south to our distant cold north, an instrument of Don Giovanni, Count Almaviva, an inseparable companion of any Spaniard . . . in a word, the Guitar, too inadequate an instrument for the concert stage . . . we would have liked to listen to it under the window of a beautiful maiden in a quiet summer night, under a silver moon, when a warm breeze lightly ripples the mirror-like surface of the river, whispering to itself in the rose bushes along the shore . . . but in the theater, in the midst of crowds, under a painted ceiling, and by the light of stage projectors, the guitar loses all its beauty, all its inherent melody . . .” (Gazette Repertuar, 1839).

If we think that this early nineteenth century contemptuous nonsense is an exaggeration by today’s standards, we only have to observe that even in those conservatories and universities the guitar is allowed to be taught, it is always delegated to a separate corner, with hardly a contact with the rest of the students and faculty. We find it necessary to apply to our instrument the adjective “Classical,” with the hope that by so doing, we would somehow convey to our colleagues that we are not to be confused with balladeers, rock’n’rollers, gypsies and mariachi. Violinists and pianists have no need to use the adjective “classical,” even though the piano is still the instrument of choice of many jazz players and one can find it in my country in every bar, every hotel dining room. At the turn of the century, the piano was also the favorite instrument in the public houses of San Francisco, New Orleans and St. Louis and it was precisely in that environment that rag-time piano music first became established. The violin is an important part of hillbilly, Country-Western music in the USA, and is used as a folk instrument in the British Isles, Scandinavia, France, Mexico, the Arab world from Marocco to Iraq, and in many other countries. Violinists never worry about that

I have assembled a considerable lexicon of anti-guitar invective from different countries and different times. I am at a loss to explain why it is that of all musical instruments, the guitar, the instrument which was part and parcel of European musical renaissance from the sixteenth century on, is singled out by other musicians for ridicule and derision. I have some theories on the subject, but they are not the kind that can be discussed in polite society. The fact remains that we have a problem, and if we wish to continue as a living musical discipline, we have to try and find a way out.

Seeing as Slonimsky's Lexicon of Musical Invective has stayed in print for a while perhaps a lexicon of invective against the guitar could be a marketable spin-off.  I'd be interested in reading through the lexicon of anti-guitar invective.  The year I read Ophee's lecture transcript was the same year, actually, that I read this.  Even when praising a guitarist such as David Starobin look at how the guitar and its literature as a whole get described.

Dogged devotion: David Starobin
Wigmore Hall, London

Tom Service, Tuesday 14 December 1999 19.00 EST
The rarefied pleasures of a classical guitar concert seem more at home in an intimate salon or sitting room than the wide open spaces of a concert hall. In David Starobin's performances, feather-light trifles by Giuliani and Regondi - composers justifiably neglected outside the guitar-playing fraternity - were swamped and swallowed by the Wigmore Hall.

But in the second half, Starobin presented a selection of world and UK premieres from the contemporary guitar repertory that he has almost single-handedly created in recent years. Six pieces based on dance forms, part of a sequence of more than 50 Starobin has commissioned, demonstrated that there is more to acoustic guitar music than frilly technical virtuosity.

Robert Saxton's Miniature Dance for a Marionette Rabbi was a perfectly proportioned drama of breathless, flashy figuration. By contrast, Simon Bainbridge's Dances For Moon Animals created a crepuscular ambiguity with veiled harmonics and sharp changes of register. However, works by Paul Ruders and Colin Matthews seemed to be less successful attempts to disguise the guitar's naturally elusive sound with compositional sleights of hand.

Mauro Giuliani, of course, is considered one of the most important guitarist composers in the entire history of the instrument and yet his works are summarily dismissed as feather-light trifles.  Some of Giuliani's works are actually very long and his chamber works aren't performed nearly so often as his works for solo guitar.  The question of whether or not non-guitarists even know the extent of Giuliani's literature is a live one even if we agreed that Giuliani's cumulative works amount to feather-light trifles compare to Beethoven, Lizst, Bach, or Stravinsky.  Or even Haydn. 

If Service found Giuliani's work to be feather-light he'd have found Carulli's Op. 21 guitar sonatas even more insufferable to sit through than I recently found them to be.

But let's notice that even when praising specific guitar works performed by Starobin there's this observation about what Service considered a less effective composition for the guitar, Colin Matthews seemed to be less successful in an attempt to disguise the guitar's naturally elusive sound with compositional sleights of hand.  So effective compositions for the guitar disguise the guitar's naturally elusive sound, huh?  Wow, that's great to know, isn't it?  :)  What is this elusive sound?  Is it hard to capture or define?  Or is the sound of the guitar simply hard to remember?  If effective writing for the guitar compensates for something vague and forgettable about the very nature of the guitar's sound that might be worth pondering for a few paragraphs.

Seeing as in rock and pop and jazz the sound of the guitar isn't exactly elusive let's consider what the unamplified guitar may have going for or against it.  The guitar's sound is not so elusive that hundreds of riffs in rock and roll aren't defined by the guitar.  It's not like Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" has an elusive sound, it's signature riff, whether played on guitar or keyboard, is one of the most relentless ear worms in the history of American popular music. 

But without amplification and distortion the guitar's naturally elusive sound can be explained pretty simiple, we're listening to an instrument without the resonance of a bowed string instrument or, by extension, the sustaining potential of woodwinds, let alone the capacity for sheer volume available to brass.  These shortcoings are considered so severe by guitarists many of them simply avoid pitting the guitar against any instrument that is not also a guitar, perhaps dsicussing in vague, philosophical terms how the guitar will get covered up.  Guitarists who are not putting "classical" in front of their instrument back up other musicians and have fun playing music in which they tackle accompaniment.  It seems more the classical guitarist who will most likely talk about the guitar being a miniature orchestra without feeling very interested in the orchestra supporting the soloist for a concerto. 

Let's run with the possibility that disguising the elusive sound of the guitar is actually a goal, ,the goal is to compensate for the guitar's remarkable decay rate by creating music that accepts the decay rate as the reality that must be worked within.  The guitar is not usually played with a plectrum and has more than four strings so it won't do, apparently, to have endless streams of repeated notes that can sometimes be heard on the mandolin.  If you've ever heard a mandolin orchestra ... well ... thirty mandolins playing long sustained tones as opposite an unaccompanied choir as possible.  Wenatchee has to confess that the mandolin and guitar are two instruments whose decay rates tend to make them sound more ridiculous the more of them are added to a stage.  Six guitars will still have the same brittle, swiftly decaying sound that lacks the sustain of almost nay other concert instrument.

Enter fingerstyle and a steady flow of moto perpetuo arpeggiation.  There's only so many things we can do with that rapid decay and constantly keeping busy with the right hand over pretty simple harmonies has historically been one of the cities of refuge for guitarists who realize that if they don't accept the reality of the swiftly dying sound of their instrument they'll be considered guilty of musical murder if they try to make careers only out of, say, transcriptions of piano literature.  Plenty of us enjoy Albeniz played on the piano or Bach played on the violin.  Concertgoers don't want to only hear transcriptions of the greats on the guitar, the guitar should have its own natural, original literature.  That Giuliani's work can be described as feather-light highlights Matanya Ophee's observation that guitarists have a credibility issue with non-guitarists and that if we really want our instrument to be respected we must win the respect of non-guitarist musicians.  How might we do that?

At the risk of stating the obvious, it can't hurt to build a musical life beyond your official instrument. While Ophee observed that guitarists often seem relegated to back corners of music departments there's a sense in which classical guitarists relegate themselves to these back corners if they don't take time to discuss and immerse themselves in the repertoire that normal music students and musicians get into.  As snobby as we classical guitarists often are snobbery doesn't help us.  If we can't talk about Beethoven's 9th or Mendelssohn's Elijah or Handel's Messiah or Bach's Matthew Passion or Mozart's Requiem then we're unable to talk about the repertoire that still packs concert halls decade after decade.  If people are going to drop $30 or more for several hours of their lives then hearing the Emerson string quartet play all of Bartok's quartets or the late quartets of Beethoven might beat out hearing a guitarist play transcriptions of Mozart, Bach and Albeniz.

For that matter, people may drop a few dollars to hear Dave Brubeck or John Lee Hooker instead of hearing Albeniz transcriptions played on solo guitar.  If you go to a jazz or rock concert then you may hear Rush play every song in a three hour marathon in a way that makes each song sound exactly the way it did on the album.  Not everyone goes to hear live music so that they can hear exactly and only what they heard on disc.  Nobody would go to a jazz concert wanting to hear exactly the notes they heard on the CD.  It seems to be classical guitarists who avoid improvisation. 

For that matter, the disdain with which classical guitarists often look at popular music doesn't help.  Richard Taruskin's polemics won't suit everyone, obviously, but he pointed out that popular music criticism exploded as an art form and one of the things that we see in pop music criticism is discussion of politics, culture, and social values.  In other words pop music, whether you like it or not, is about something.  Critical discussion of concert music, Taruskin asserteed, has devolved into composerly and scholarly shoptalk in the last half century or more. 

Being a composer myself, by hobby, I love reading shoptalk sorts of stuff.  I only regret the post about sonata form in the solo guitar works of Sor, Giuliani and Diabelli in the sense that I merely discussed generalities about expositions and recapitulations without looking into developmental processes in their development sections.  Working on just that simple overview gave me a deeper appreciation of Diabelli's guitar sonatas, which unfortunately most musicians and guitarists probably regard with disdain either because of legends associated with Beethoven's famous set of variations or a guitarist's disdain for Diabelli's comparatively unglamorous themes.  As a composer I have come to respect Diabelli's handling of sonata form more than that of Sor or Giuliani.  Sor and Giuliani at their best are good, but Diabelli was entrusted by Beethoven with engraving some of his important late works. The life of a musician and composer is never simply going to be about music.  Wenatchee The Hatchet is almost certainly more widely known as a blogger than a composer and absolutely better known as a blogger dealing with a remarkably narrow subset of church history than as a guitarist who composes sonata forms and fugues for solo guitar.  Shoptalk here on music is less frequent than I would prefer in an ideal world.

As fun as shoptalk about how music gets made and what that means is, that sort of shoptalk frequently alienates normal readers and listeners. Most people are much less interested in what the notes in a musical work do than in what the musical notes mean.  The supposed political significance of backing total serialism as a blow against communism in a Cold War setting where Socialist Realism and its advocates pit themselves against decadent Western formalism is for people old enough to remember what living through the Cold War was like.  Rest assured, there are plenty of people who don't care about that history and care even less to listen to music by Milton Babbitt or Elliot Carter.  People want the music they listen to to mean something, not merely the compositional sleights of hand by which some composers managed to get foundation money and some academic tenure to write music that not-very-many-people listen to.  Some people want to be reminded to don't stop believing, after all. Hold on to that feeling that's more than a feeling..

So for classical guitarists what do our musical notes mean?  For many non-guitarists the answer is not much.  When you find out how many people actually won't listen to music that doesn't include a human voice you'll discover that there are some prejudices for other kinds of music.  Guitarists have not only a prejudice against classical guitar to consider but also the reality that there are some prejudices for other kinds of music.  Ophee's pragmatic and prudent observation is that for normal musicians in every style of music, including concert music, chamber music is frequently how things get done.  Let's think about that.  As Ophee put it, consider the musical value of the work as a whole and not just the glamor or prestige of the guitar part.  Playing simple block chords has its place and has musical value. I agree. 

Now at the end of all this let's think about Tom Service writing about that elusive sound.  It's not so elusive, is it?  The decay rate of the guitar is indisputable and if we think about the legions of adagios for strings that have made up many a tear-jerking moment in film soundtracks (look no further than Samuel Barber, after all) that decay rate the guitar has may be the simplest, most awkward reason many guitar works don't lodge themselves in the memory.  The very nature of the instrument is so evanescent then dedication to musical values becomes all the more important because we are dealing with an instrument whose physical limitations are so remarkably unforgiving and unyielding. 

Let's say that Tom Service is right about that naturally elusive sound, the unamplified guitar won't sustain.  We all know this if we've played the thing.  For those who want to play feather-light trifles they can keep playing that music.  For those who want the instrument to be respected then the path toward that will probably come about much the same way it's come about for other instruments, through a whole lot of repertoire that has been considered "unplayable" or alleged to not be worth the physical effort of playing the music.  How many times did Beethoven quip that his music was being written for some later age when he got complaints about technical problems?  Not that many, I guess, but enough.  When Hilary Hahn was asked about Schoenberg's reported quip that humanity would have to evolve an extra finger to make his violin concerto more feasible she smiled and said that the extra finger would just get in the way. 

Working with and around the decay rate of the guitar is going to involve recognizing that there's a lack of resonance in a variety of places for solo guitar and to make something musical of that whether or not it is easy to play.  Unaccompanied choral music can be the most restricting and unforgiving kind of musical performance out there and yet we've got unaccompanied choral music by Messiaen and Xenakis.  If we guitarists want to reach the hearts of audiences part of that is hinted at in Starobin's commissions of dances.  If we content ourselves to play etudes then no matter how brilliantly we play them audiences may at length realize that an etude is a study piece that builds technique toward concert literature.  Dance music is, in its inception, incidental music, music made to facilitate doing something. Why do people dance?  Well, I don't dance myself but I've observed people long enough to know there are a few reasons. 

By all means keep playing the etudes but if that's what we keep giving audiences, that and piano transcriptions, let's remember that the guitar's sound evaporates while the violin's sound lingers.  Realizing the guitar has many limitations does not mean we really need to be musically limited by them.  Stravinsky, after all, made that point about how the more restrictions he placed on himself the more free he was.  As I hear and see things guitarists have advanced to a level of technique and facility for which the very idea of something being non-guitaristic seems a little odd.  If a non-guitarists were to ask one of us whether it's possible to write in B flat minor we shouldn't hesitate to say "yes".  We can explain what is and isn't feasible within the key of B flat minor for solo guitar but we should not act as though they key doesn't exist.  There are things we guitarists and composers will only learn if we set aside trepidation about what keys are not "guitaristic" and see what can be done in them.  That is part of learning to live with and work within "the guitar's naturally elusive sound."

C. J. Mahaney transitioning out of being President of SGM
It's not customary for Wenatchee The Hatchet to blog at any length about Sovereign Grace Ministries and this will be no exception.  As readers are likely to know, a lawsuit has been pending against SGM for reasons that won't take long to go look up at a variety of places.

Since it has been noted in a few places that Mark Driscoll is a friend of C. J. Mahaney it can't hurt to note references made to the friendship in years past.

For instance on November 9, 2007

In the past year or so I've been encouraged to see a friendship develop between Mark and C.J. Mahaney. I've benefited so much from C.J.'s investment in me; I knew only good things could come from their interaction with each other. So this past week when I heard that Mark had preached on humility during his series in Philippians and referenced C.J.'s influence, I wanted to hear it for myself. I wasn't surprised by the kind words Mark had for C.J. but what caught me off guard was the very humble and specific confession that Mark made to his church.

Harris alludes to the following partial transcript from "The Rebel's Guide to Joy in Humility" in which Driscoll refers to Mahaney intervening in some fashion.

For the sermon on humility, here's stuff to follow.

A new feature is to have various tabs within web pages no longer functional as separate links.  It's an innovation in the Mars Hill sites that has come up in the last few months.  So since not all the above excerpts linked to are necessarily as comprehensive as a fuller quote, here's the relevant excerpt from the sermon in which Driscoll mentions C. J. Mahaney.

... And I am primary teaching pastor of this church, and I can’t simply look at the pride in some of our people and say that I am in no way responsible or complaisant. So I’m a guy who’s pretty busted up over this personally, and it really came to my attention last December, just in time for Christmas. The critics really brought me a lot of kind gifts of opposition and hatred and animosity. Merry Christmas. And some of those most vocal and nasty critics were Christian – some of them prominent Christians – and so I was getting ready to fire back my usual tactics. They hit you. You hit them twice and then blog about your victory, which I don’t have any verses for. I’m not saying it was a good idea, but it had been a pattern in my life until a man names C.J. Mahaney called. He wrote a book called “Humility”. Much of my sermon today will be simply taken from his book. I would commend it to you all for reading. It’s a good, simple book. He’s a very humble, gracious and good man. Not humble. He’s a man pursuing humility. That’s what he would say. I need to get that right; otherwise he’ll call me this week.

C.J. is a guy who pastored Covenant Life Church and handed it over. Runs the Sovereign Grace network. He called me up during these periods of criticism in December and said, “Mark, I know we don’t know one another. We have many mutual friends. How do you respond to these critics? What is your plan?” I said, “I don’t have a plan.” And he said, “Might I suggest that this is an opportunity for you to practice humility, grow in humility, learn humility – that perhaps God and his providential care for you has this season appointed to you for humility.” My first thought was, “Well I sure hope not. That sounds convicting.”

And so as he talked, I really came to understand humility in a way that I had not prior. I had always considered humility to be a cowardice and a compromise. In the name of humility, you give up biblical conviction and passion and the willingness to contend for the faith, as Jude 3 says, and to fight false teaching in the name of humility. And what he was describing was orthodoxy and belief and humility and attitude, and that those two together are really what God desires. And so it got me thinking and studying and praying through pride and humility and repenting and learning and growing.

And so I would start by saying that I thank my dear friend, C.J. Mahaney, for his ongoing friendship and the kindness he’s extended to me and the things I’ve been able to learn through his instruction. Furthermore, I apologize and repent publically to you, the church, for whom I am responsible for much pride in the history of my ministry that some of you have poorly imitated. And for that, I’m deeply sorry. And thirdly, to say that I am not a humble man. But as result of study, I’m a man who is acknowledging his pride and pursuing humility by God’s grace.

With that being said, I still have to preach a sermon on this subject because it’s in the Bible, and so I’ll tell you a lot about Jesus, since he’s the only one who really has the right to tell you anything about humility.

Harris added, among other statements:

... But what this latest sermon confirms for me is probably the most encouraging trait that I've observed in his life: Mark Driscoll is good at repenting. There are few skills more important for a follower of Christ to possess. Few things more vital in the pursuit of humility.
Two passages from God's word come to mind when I watch this clip from Mark's sermon. Proverbs 13:20 says, "Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise". Mark has chosen a wise companion, and I can think of no better instructor in learning to walk humbly, than my friend C.J. Mahaney. And James 4:6 says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." I believe the work that the Holy Spirit is doing in Mark's heart will only lead to more grace and more influence.  ...

Brent Detwiler refers to, apparently, a missive attributed to Mahaney in early 2007 that was said to
have been sent to Driscoll.

Then there's some documentation of Driscoll making reference to Piper and Mahaney over here via Tim Challies.

Reference is made to the sermon from the Religion Saves series, specifically the sermon on the regulative principle:

So what I need to do is start emphasizing in addition to God’s holiness in our sin, the grace of God. And I was talking to Pastor CJ Mahaney and he said it this way. It was very convicting. We had a time together. It was very encouraging. He said, “Mark, in an average week at Mars Hill, you all get to see more of God’s grace than the average ministry sees in a lifetime.” I believe that. It was deeply conflicting.

Because I’m that guy – I don’t know if you’re like me. I see everything that’s wrong. I see everything that’s not done, everything that’s incomplete, imperfect. I see all the problems. I’m just that guy. I’m the guy can walk into the spotless perfect house and immediately see the one thread on the floor that the vacuum cleaner missed, and that’s all I’m thinking about for the rest of the day. I’m obsessed with it. I’m that guy. Alright?

And so what can happen for me is I overlook all that God is doing and I look at all that we still have to get done. I could overlook all the people whose lives have been changed and I could focus on the one person who’s hard‑hearted or rebellious. The result can be I get discouraged. I get frustrated. And when I come to teach, sometimes my tone is too stern and my attitude is too harsh.

So as an act of repentance, I want to talk to you a little bit about the grace of God in my life and how I’ve seen it this week and in our church. I’ll start by telling you I’m seeing the grace of God in my health. This time last year, I hit the wall. I was in bad shape. I’m sleeping great. I feel great. I’ve got a great doctor. I’m healthy. I feel great. My energy levels are good. My clarity is good. I praise God for the grace of good health. Also, my wife and I, March 12, we celebrate the 20th year of our first date. And I can honestly tell you I love her more. I’m more drawn to her, more attracted to her in every way, more satisfied with her, more curious about her than at any point in our lives, and I’ve always loved her.

So Driscoll made reference to Mahaney being his good friend.  Now it would seem normal to

So for those who may be curious, when's the last time Driscoll made a reference to Mahaney as a friend besides the aforementioned sermons?

There's this brief Twitter exchange.
Aaron Harris‏@aaronharris
@pastormark who's sermon's and teaching do you recommend for me to fill my ipod with?

Mark Driscoll‏@PastorMark

@solepsis John Piper, CJ Mahaney, Tim Keller. Some dead guys if you can find audiobooks: Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon

11:14 AM - Mar 13, 2008

But more often what Driscoll's been tweeting is to stuff like this.

There's this recycling of material from the old Phillipians sermon.

It includes the following:

4. Humility is a direction, not a destination
None of us can say, “I used to be proud. Glad that’s over!” That would be proud. In his book Humility, C. J. Mahaney describes himself as “a proud man pursuing humility by the grace of God.” The same could be said for all of us. As Christians, we venture in the direction of humility, by the grace of God. The question is not, “Have you arrived?” but rather, “Are you even trying?”

Well, another plug for the old book on humility but by now I guess everyone knows Mahaney is Driscoll's friend so Driscoll, perhaps, felt it wasn't necessary to refer to the friendship. 

James MacDonald's gotten a few nods by way of the Vertical Church tour and being on a bus but Mahaney, readers are welcome to find any references since March 30, 2008 in which Driscoll refers to Mahaney as a friend. 

Meanwhile, how things play out for Sovereign Grace Ministires is, admittedly, beyond the sustained interest of Wenatchee The Hatchet.  Wenatchee is about half-way through putting together some new blog content about Ferdinand Rebay's chamber sonatas for guitar.  This is a little overview of the Driscoll/Mahaney mentoring relationship (as it was generally described) in light of Mahaney's recently announced transition. And some other stuff but we're not blogging about that at the moment.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Stetzer and Fitch debate megachurches and "sheep-stealing", Bill Kinnon and Dan at City of God consider the factory farming church

A sort of interesting back and forth here.

First, I think, Ed Stetzer has explained that most megachurch growth is not really from local transfer growth.  We may agree that the percentage that is transfer growth ought to be 0 but he seems to feel that 44% is not as bad as the percentage critics of megachurches often imagine.

David Fitch doubts the reliability of Stetzer's statistics and points out that regardless of how you finesse the percentage of megachurch growth metrics to show that it's not as much transfer growth as you think the overall trajectory for church attendance is decline.  Wenatchee has a few atheist friends who will surely not face that trend with any handwriting.  :)  Fitch proposes that while Stetzer may be right to say all churches of every size could be accused of sheep-stealing that the megachurches are better at it.  Maybe not in every single case, I suppose, but I've seen people flock to the local megachurch because it has a better show, a livelier showman, and has some more resources. 

So ... like Bill Kinnon I lean more toward Fitch than Stetzer on the matter of sheep-stealing.
Bill also jumps into the matter of how modern writers on pastoral work and sheep seem to talk about sheep as a whole.  You would think that sheep are not valued so much these days. 

Sheep were highly valued. Then.

Think of Jesus’ story of the one lost sheep, and the shepherd who left the 99 to search for that one.

How quaint.

I would suggest we view sheep with much less value today — if we view them at all.

And what of the shepherds? Well, then they were were possibly the lowest of the gainfully employed. (Think of Jesse not even considering having his youngest son, David, the shepherd, come to be consecrated by Samuel.) Shepherds lived with their sheep. They smelled like their sheep. They knew each one by name. A single shepherd tended no more than 100 sheep in New Testament times.

Today, returning to the church livestock metaphor, a shepherd (or pastor, in its latinate form) with only 100 sheep would be considered a failure. And how could any “successful” shepherd be expected to know all of “his/her” sheep.

Might I suggest the metaphor breaks down in its present usage within the church. And that this misused/misunderstood metaphor is responsible for much damaging separation between those who call themselves shepherds and “their” sheep — as if the shepherds are their owners. (Sheep cannot be stolen — except from their owners.)

Might I further suggest that the use of the phrase “sheep-stealing” is particularly bizarre amongst those who call us to be missionally-minded.

The reality is that we are all sheep. Or none of us are. (Shall we save the goats for another conversation?)

Dan over at City of God went to town with sheep and production metaphors. We have long since passed into the age of factory farms which may, I suggest, explain why we're incapable of appreciating some of the pastoral metaphors and herding metaphors in biblical literature in a way that would have been readily grasped by readers and listeners in other times. Dan states that this factory agriculture isn't just true of our farming but is basically the operating mode of churches, too.

Dan mentions the following, which is worth quoting at length:

In both cases, even if these appeals to necessity are correct, there are some disturbing side-effects:
  • Monoculture: In industrial farming there is usually only one breed or a handful of breeds that are raised. This is usually the breed that grows the fastest and has the highest yield. There is however a danger to it in that if that one breed is susceptible to disease, that disease will much more quickly wipe out the whole farm. There is a real value to sustaining heirloom breeds as a hedge against some kind of unforeseen disease or genetic defect destroying the herd. When there are only handful of models for church, only a handful of preachers that are admired and whose methods are copied, what happens when something imperils them?
  • Toxicity (?): Industrial agriculture uses a range of growth hormones and other chemicals to achieve their results. We are told these are safe, and the big agriculture conglomerates have studies that claim that this is the case. Still, many of us are uneasy about some of the practices of industrial farming and there have been battles in many jurisdictions over whether or not we should require food labels to state the presence of genetically modified ingredients. It seems the message is that industrial farming practices are safe but that we shouldn’t think about them too much or ask too many questions. The same thing might be said about megachurches, their practices are said to work, said to be healthy to Christianity, but then we keep hearing stories from various survivors of spiritual abuse that this is a real danger at megachurches. Again, I’m not in a position to assess this, but I think it is a fair question to ask about megachurches.
  • Appearances: Appearances can be deceiving. The food that comes from industrial agriculture looks and tastes great. Better than homemade even. Everyone loves Chicken McNuggets, right? Looks, smells, tastes better than anything I can make on my grill at home. Except that they used to go through a process where they look like this (link is not safe for lunch). This is what I keep in mind when Ed says that megachurch attendees are more likely to read their Bibles, go to Bible studies, be involved in church activities and so on. Is this a genuine good fruit or just a large scale organization that is able to generate the right appearance. Is there any pink slime going into making megachurch believers? I think it’s a fair question.
Adding a few thoughts, a risk associated with monoculture is certainly in problems of immunity, the mass-produced breed may prove susceptible to unforeseen diseases.  To play with another agricultural analogy, megachurches may be likened to farming methods that aim for growth at the expense of roots.  It's true that some megachurches have made much of sowing seeds for the Gospel in rocky and hostile soil, so to speak, and it's that lack of root that can cause some of those seeds to wither.  Growth in some megachurch settings may not be the beginning of some new revival on the order of some anticipated Third Great Awakening, it may be that even if such a revival comes that it will create a new and more vast Burned Over District, only this new Burned Over District will spread like wildfire with the help of the very social media and branding techniques that some of the megachurches have eagerly and even ably appropriated.

For toxicity ... some megachurches grow in a way where the shortcomings in their doctrinal and confessional positions are highlighted in bluntly practical ways, perhaps faster than the megachurch is even capable of diagnosing the nature of the problem or observing that there is a problem at all.  Not everything that replicates and reproduces is alive in a healthy way.  Cancer cells are alive, in their way.  It's not a foregone conclusion that all levels or metrics of growth are indicative of real longterm health.

Not too many thougths to add for this one, this is sort of a Linkathon with more commentary than usual.  Some day, perhaps, Wenatchee The Hatchet can pay a visit to the blogging friends in Canada for some in person conversation.  If that doesn't happen at all, or happen for a while, the blogoshere is still friendly enough a place to discuss things.

Matthew Lee Anderson on Marijuana, Caffeine and a Therapeutic drug culture

Wherein Anderson intimates that he who barrels through on multiple Red Bulls a day is not really in a position to condemn the stoner because both may have disordered understandings of the relationship between work and rest. Anderson writes at more length over at The Gospel Coalition but Wenatchee is not going to bother linking to a TGC article at the moment, even if it is one written by the estimable Mr. Anderson.  :)

How to buy yourself on to the New York Times bestseller list

Wayne Russo has been writing a bit about how an author can buy the status of being a bestselling author on the New York Times bestseller list.  Russo has also written about how landing a spot on the NYT bestseller list is achievable by having the right proxies buying up copies of your book which are then distributed for fundraising and donor cultivation purposes (aka Sarah Palin).  Russo refers to another NYT article that briefly discusses how the novel True Grit was transformed into a bestseller in time for the film adaptation with John Wayne to get released.  Then there's this piece from the Wall Street Journal about authors buying a spike in their own sales. It's not exactly secret that there's a payolla option for books. 

As Russo tells it, these days it doesn't take any real talent or effort to get on the NYT bestsellers list so much as it takes a savvy marketing team and a group of loyalists willing to buy their pet author a spot on the list.  Even a short stint of a week can establish an author as a NYT bestselling author which can then be parlayed into credibility and exposure. 

As Russo explains it, becoming a best-selling author is hardly a matter of the actual quality of the book and more than just a little about how well and thoroughly you can buy your way into the credibility and status that best-seller lists can provide. 

There must be dozens of ways to buy good press and reviews these days.  Can't imagine what some of those methods of buying one's way into bestselling author status might be in the non-profit sector ... .

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

As Bon Jovi might put it, oh, we're halfway there

to having some more stuff about Ferdinand Rebay's chamber music for guitar finished.  Maybe we should say half-way there to having a first draft of something done.  There's still a hundred visions and revisions before the taking of toast and tea, I suppose.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

It's also good to remember that proverbs can be counterbalanced by other proverbs

One of the things that a serious engagement with Ecclesiastes does is show you how Koholeth pit one proverb against another to show how the wisdom of both proverbs was not ironclad.  Even within the wisdom literature itself this is observed.  A proverb employed by a fool is useless.  A fool may consider himself wise for coining or using proverbs but it hardly means the fool is wise.

Some axioms in the circles I was in became popular, such as the claim that soft words produce hard people and hard words produce soft people.  A variation would be the claim that the most loving thing you can do for someone is tell them a hard truth.  But it takes little thought to realize that telling someone what you're sure the truth is is not exactly the same as telling them that truth because you actually care about them.  One of my blogging friends has been ruminating on this lately and notes that if you share the truth without actually loving a person then it vitiates even the value of what truth you may think you're about to tell.  Ephesians 4:15 may get trotted out as a pretext to tell the truth by people who want to tell it like they see it rather than do so out of love for a person.  Even Judas could observe that a perfume could have been sold for a great sum of money that could then be used to help the poor.  That was true but it had nothing to do with what was in his heart, did it? 

Sometimes it's fun to link to an axiom

If you are looking for idols and temptations under every rock, you will naturally see the worst in everyone but yourself. At least it’s true for me.

a couple of posts at Phoenix Preacher on Grenier vs Taylor

Major Victory for Bloggers and Free Speech

What the Ruling Means and What It Doesn't

These are for those who have already been keeping track of what was going on to begin with.  If that's not you then you may find the stuff a little hard to appreciate.  We're not going to provide any commentary here and will simply link to PhxP on the matter.

Mockingbird: Dream Jobs, Labors of 'Love' and exploited 20-somethings

When the comic book author Gerard Jones was asked about what it was like for him to write for Green Lantern, the comic book superhero he dreamed of writing comics about when he was a callow youth, Jones provided a warning to anyone in the comics industry that might be applicable to just about anyone else.


That was a simple summation of his warning.  His explanation was that for a comics author or artist if you get to write for that iconic comics character for one of the big two (let the reader understand) the editorial policies will be so stringent you won't likely be allowed to do anything you really want to do and even if you do get to do a few of the things you dreamed of doing then, rest assured, it'll all get ret-conned inside of a few years.  How weird does it get?  For the uninitiated, when Emma Stone fielded a question about what her version of Gwen Stacy might face in Sony's Spiderman sequels she said something like, "As far as I know I won't be having goblin babies."  Again, let the reader understand!

It may be difficult to get a job if you say up front you just want a job.  Most of the time it doesn't work ... and yet ...

There was a job I got more than a decade ago in which I was asked what I wanted from the job.  I was pretty candid.  I was looking for a job and was perilously low on money and was willing to learn whatever I needed to learn.  I also said I wanted a day job I could simply leave at home so that I could spend time with my friends and family and build a creative life.  Fortunately for me the people who interviewed me liked that approach and it turned out my boss had himself downshifted from a higher paying job to be able to spend more time with his family and have more flexibility in his scheduling.  That was more than a decade ago, though, and things may be different now, kinda.

Not every person's job is going to be what some would call a vocation.  For a lot of people a job really is just a job and that's all it needs to be.  I'm glad to have had jobs that were just jobs for me and I'm glad I got advice decades ago from a professor who taught me in many classes that she sensed I'd be the kind of person who would find it difficult to separate work life from normal life, a separation that would be necessary to maintain for emotional and social health.  I got the impression my professor had learned the importance of this lesson by having failed at it in an earlier stage of her life, or at least that's the impression I admit I have now. 

So, for whatever little or much it may be worth, be willing to fear your dream job, Gerard Jones found out the dream job he always wanted was a nightmare.  People may not even know his name for his work on Green Lantern as for his hilarious and clever English-language adaptations of work by Rumiko Takahashi. 

Monday, March 04, 2013

on Christian mens' retreats

As life in an evangelical subculture goes few things fill Wenatchee The Hatchet with more skepticism and ennui than retreats.  Let's be clear, by "retreat" Wenatchee does not mean a modern military euphemism, known as "tactical repositioning".  That definition of "retreat" was the great battle cry of Cobra Commander and not the meaning to be discussed.

No, we're talking about that other kind of retreat but that other kind of retreat comes in two general sorts.  The first kind is the actual retreat that can be described as a kind of group weekend getaway or vacation.  There's no real goal beyond just hanging out in a neat scenic location and sharing food and conversation and fun activities.  Whatever gets discussed is whatever gets discussed.

Then there's the second kind of retreat.  It's billed as a retreat but would be more accurately described as a training expedition in disguise, a kind of culture warrior boot camp for evangelical but missionally minded types who want to sit through powerful teaching sessions with practical wisdom. This will be content you can find somewhere online or at a local library for free but you're still going to pay for this content anyway.  You're not buying stuff, after all, but an experience. Workbooks will be printed and spiral-bound, then handed out to you when you show up.  Syllabi will be distributed, wisdom will be dispersed, breakout sessions will ensure that you keep talking about how relevant and powerful the teaching was for you, you specifically. 

And what will the focus of such retreat teaching tend to be?  We don't really have to discuss that at great length now, do we? If you've been to two or three of them you can make a few worthy guesses.  Men get to hear other men about how to be men.  The agendas may or may not coincide with any actual concerns you have.  One retreat might involve lectures on the value of reverse engineering your life as a concept but even as a concept the very premise is reductive and silly.  You can plan, but as some guy named James put it in some epistle that some people wish wasn't in the canon, talk about what you do tomorrow is tempered by the uncertainty of whether you will live tomorrow. 

Now if you go through the retreat like a good soldier you may be sure it helped you just because you've already spent your time and money. If you consider saying at some point that the whole thing comes off, at the end of it all, like a weekend-devouring waste of time and money (in which men are shoe-horned in discussing what keynote speakers think is important about being men) ... well, you may not win friends and influence people. It's fine to go to these sorts of retreats if you really, really, really want to.  

The mundane and disappointing paradox about Christian mens' retreats is how much work they are.  You come to the end of a weekend-long Christian mens' retreat and what did you do? You spent your money and your weekend to get lectured by guys for hours about stuff that may have no relevance to your life. Then you spent more hours scribbling in a workbook, had a few sing-alongs, and voluntarily subjected yourself to cafeteria food for a weekend... and that's a retreat? 

At a retreat where there's no spiral bound workbooks and syllabi guys can get together and have conversations about, oh, what dietary and nutritional concerns dads may have about their kids at various stages in life.  There might be some lively conversations about whether or not modern food is as good or bad as some think it is.  Who can name a mens' retreat in which the topic of family nutrition even came up, let alone when it came up as a subject in a neo-Calvinist mens' retreat?  That might just be women's stuff.  But guess who may pay for a lot of that food that the kids will be eating?  Take a few guesses and you've got at least one in two odds of guessing that a dad can, should, and will care what his kids can and can't eat. 

In other words, at a retreat where there's no agenda shoehorning men into talking about what the retreat planners want them to talk about men will still, somehow, manage to talk about the things that really matter to them.  Men don't stop wondering how to love their neighbors better (if that's really a goal they have) just because they aren't working from a spiralbound notebook with bullet points from a series of lectures.  Left to their own devices men at various stages in life will pretty naturally find ways to discuss the concerns of their actual lives and topics of concern with and for men in other stages in life.  A retreat can be a paradoxically artificial way of failing to get men walking various paths to share their lives with each other because that spiralbound workbook has already set the agenda and if your concerns don't somehow connect to whatever that set of topics is then, well, fake it til you make it to the end of the weekend you paid for to go through a workbook. 

Now if you love going to those Christian culture-warrior boot-camp retreats and are willing to part with your money and weekends to be part of that, knock yourself out and have fun.  Not even celebrity Christian bloggers will be likely to lament the crisis of mens' retreat Christians. There's no crisis and there won't be, but there may be more fruitful ways to spend your weekends.  :) 

D. G. Hart on Tim Challies on SGM--By this logic God would not have given us the Bible

Tim Challies tries (via the Aquila Report) to guide us into thinking the right thoughts about C. J. Mahaney and Sovereign Grace Ministries:
Obviously the situation carries far-reaching implications for Mahaney and forSGM. But there are implications for you and me as well. The Bible is clear that a distinguishing characteristic of Christians is to be our love for one another. John 13:35 says it plainly: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Love for other Christians is the great test of our commitment to Christ and our likeness to him. This love is put to the test in a unique way in the midst of trouble and disagreement.
This situation is unfolding before a watching world that loves nothing more than to see Christians in disunity, accusing one another, fighting one another, making a mockery of the gospel that brings peace. You and I are responsible to do well here, to be above reproach in our thoughts, words and actions. We are responsible to be marked by love whether evaluating a difficult situation or taking appropriate action. We can make the gospel look great or we can make it look insignificant.
Not to say that Challies’ point is without merit. But I’m not sure you want to impose standards more rigorous than what God applied to the history and materials included in Scripture. I mean, if the apostle Paul followed this advice, we wouldn’t have any of his epistles, would we?

That would be the point at which advocates for such institutions would impose standards more rigorous than what God applied to the history and materials included in Scripture.  Let's keep in mind SGM was where Joshua Harris, he of courtship fame, came up with plenty of stuff to say about how one should get into marriage and not get into marriage in a few books, all the while dealing with topics that were not hugely significant to the authors of scripture.  Some neo-Calvinists have so much apocrypha you might think they were vestigial Catholics despite occasional claims to be Calvinist charismatics wearing seatbelts. 

From Phoenix Preacher's Things I Think, a little gem of a comment

Babylon's Dread says:
The faux hawk is the mullet in waiting. NEVER give in.

There are other things I think I could write about the things thought but Babylon's Dread made a comment that was worth its own little post.

Yet if it is the mullet in waiting what was the mullet?  Was it the hairstyle of choice for emerging postmodern missionally minded vision-casters?  The mullet?  Are we sure?  I always heard that it was "business in the front, party in the back."

Well ... maybe that explains it all then, after all.

Brian Auten clarifies via Matthew Johnson about Challies and SGM

Brian asked me to post this for him

ADDENDUM – My Challies SGM-related post
A friend drew my attention to the fact that I wasn’t completely fair regarding my post on Tim a few days back, and suggested that my list painted Tim as an unquestioning cheerleader for all things CJ and SGM-related. My friend highlighted, as one example, Tim’s less-than-positive review of CJ’s Worldliness. I can also think of situations where Tim has raised flags about the charismatic side of things at SGM. Thinking through my friend’s point, I wouldn’t want anyone to walk away from my post with the idea that Tim asks zero questions about SGM, or has some kind of sycophantic approach towards SGM. I see where I wasn’t as nuanced as I should have been, and I apologize.
In summary –
Tim has clarified this to me personally: Tim’s overall point in his caveat = he doesn’t have, and hasn’t had, any formal and/or official ties to SGM and CJ.
I’ve clarified this to Tim personally: My overall point regarding Tim’s caveat = Over the years, Tim has highlighted a lot of SGM material on his blog over the years. Tim’s blog is a very important one in the conservative evangelical blogosphere, and I wish he would have acknowledged in his caveat something to the effect that, while I don’t have any formal or official relationship with CJor SGM, I do realize that, over the years, I’ve highlighted or flagged a lot of CJ/SGM content for my readers.
Again, I apologize for painting Tim as if he’s never questioned anything about CJ or SGM. That wasn’t my intent, and I should have been more careful.
So that's an update on that matter.