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Friday
Jul092010

A "fulfilling" Christian life?

In D.A. Carson's A Call to Spiritual Reformation, he discusses Paul's prayer for the believers in Thessalonica (1 Thess. 2:17-3:13).  Carson points out Paul's passionate desire to ensure that the believers in Thessalonica are growing, and are standing firm admist their trials.  He longs to see them not because he wants a pat on the back for what he had help establish in Thessalonica, but because he has a passion for people.  Carson says:

In any Christian view of life, self-fulfillment must never be permitted to become the controlling issue.  The issue is service, the service of real people.  The question is, How can I be most useful?, not, How can I feel most useful?  The goal is, How can I best glorify God by serving his people?, not, How can I feel most  comfortable and appreciated while engaging in some acceptable form of Christian ministry?  The assumption is, How shall the Christian service to which God calls me be enhanced by my daily death, by my principled commitment to take up my cross daily and die?, not, How shall the form of service I am considering enhance my career?  This is not to deny that Christians may derive joy from work honestly offered to God, whether that work is vocational ministry or research into the properties of quarks.  But it is one thing to find joy in the work to which we have been called, and another to make the joy the goal of life, the fundamental criterion that controls our choices.

I get uneasy when I hear evangelistic messages that promise people a life full of joy.  Of course there is joy in the Lord.  But when we say that to young believers, we need to be very clear that joy in the Lord and what we find personally joyful aren't always the same thing.  I don't know as if we have a clear understanding of joy anymore.  Young people often equate joy with having everything go their way, or even more troubling, this notion that once we are in Christ, our lives are going to be filled with glorious, victorious moments day after day.  There will be struggle; lots of struggle.  I like Carson's reference to a "daily death."  What I see as my personal "fulfillment" may look nothing like what God has in mind.  I think when sharing the gospel with young people, especially, we should remind them that faith in Christ does mean a daily death to self.  God isn't there to make my dreams come true or provide me with a life of adventure.

 

Wednesday
Jul072010

Temperature adjustments, modesty, and shopping

So, when a woman enters her forties, and is getting closer to her fifties, her body's temperature regulating mechanism goes haywire.  When I was in my twenties, I was frequently cold, and if I verbalized that, my mother would say, "Wait until you're fory, you won't be cold any longer."  Women here know what I mean.  'Nuff said about that.

This week, temperatures where I live have soared to around 32 (91 F).  Yesterday, with the humidity, it felt like 41 C (105 F).  Toasty.  We are blessed to have central air conditioning, and the lower level stays cool.  The second storey could be worse, but it doesn't stay as cool as the rest of the house, so I have found sleeping to be somewhat of a challenge this week, especially when I start to feel my new heating module kick in and incerate me from the inside out.  This is okay.  This is normal, it's not going to kill me.

In doing some research about the best way to cope with such phenomena, I read about wearing natural fibers like cotton and wool.  I'm all for that.  I love cotton.  I noticed on Sunday morning, when I wore a really nice linen dress which I've had for a while, that dresses are so much cooler than shorts and t-shirts.  I was thinking, "Why can't I just find some dresses to wear around the house?"  The women reading this are laughing now, becuase they know that to find a decent, modest dress is not always easy.  I can either look like my grandmother (I'm not ready for that yet) or I can look like I'm trying to be twenty and I can wear skimpy sundresses.  No, no, no.  I want something modest, casual, and cool. 

I did a search for "modest clothing" on the internet.  I was treated to many Mennonite sites where I could get dresses.  I don't want those dresses.  They are lovely colours and all that, but they aren't my bag.  I don't want spaghetti straps, haltar tops, and I don't want something so low cut that I can't bend over.  It wasn't easy.  However, I did find a wonderful on-line store, and their clothes are modest and cotton.  It is called The Vermont Country Store.  And they have lots of casual dresses.  I was thrilled.  I didn't find the prices all that unreasonable, either.

Tuesday
Jul062010

Lady Puritans

While searching for a biography of B.B. Warfield, I came across the book Anne Bradstreet, Pilgrim and Poet, by Faith Cook.  That there was a book about a Puritan woman was very interesting to me, because as with all eras in history, there is always a lack of information about the women of the time.  I was eager to read about this woman.

Anne Dudley Bradstreet  has the distinction of being America's first published poet.   She was born in England in 1612 to Thomas and Dorothy Dudley, a Puritan couple.  In 1620, the Dudleys moved from Northampton to Semperingham where Thomas Dudley was to be a steward to the Earl of Lincoln.  This home was to be advantageous to the young Anne, who was free to use the library on the estate.  She was able to partake of the Earl's volumes of history, literature, and religious writings.  The Countess of Lincoln, Elizabeth, was an innovative thinker, being that she was greatly in favour of girls receiving an education.  The proximity to the Bradstreet's new home to Boston, England was also timely, as it afforded Anne the opportunity to hear the Puritan preacher, John Cotton. 

When she was nine or ten years old, she refers to a "long fit of sickness which I had on my bed."   During that time, she began to think and pray more earnestly:  "I often communed with my heart and made my supplication to the Most High."  It is clear that Anne had a rich spiritual education as well as an academic education.  This is not surprising, as pursuits of the mind characterized the Puritans.

When Anne was 16 years old, she married Simon Bradstreet, who was 24 years old at the time.  This poem which is written for him:

If ever two were one, then surely we. 
If ever man were lov'd by wife, then thee. 
If ever wife was happy in a man, 
Compare with me, ye women, if you can. 
I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold 
Or all the riches that the East doth hold. 
My love is such that rivers cannot quench, 
Nor ought but love from thee give recompense. 
Thy love is such I can no way repay.
The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray. 
Then while we live, in love let's so persevere
That when we live no more, we may live ever.

The times in which the young Bradstreets lived in were tumultuous for the Puritans, and all of the country.  England was rife political conflict, as the King battled with Parliament over taxation.  In 1628, the year of the marriage of Anne, William Laud was appointed as the Bishop of London.  Laud was in a position where he could exert more pressure on non-conforming Puritans, which he did.  The Dudleys and the Bradstreets, as well as the others at Semperingham began to evaluate their options.  Only eight years earlier, The Mayflower had taken a group of individuals to the New World.  This was increasingly seen as the only option for the Bradstreets.  In 1630, the Arabella set sail, along with others, headed toward Plymouth Bay.  Anne was a girl of eighteen years old, making her way to a completely new life in a place she had never seen.  I can't imagine how that must have felt.  Fortunately, her family went with them, so that would have alleviated some of the uncertainty, no doubt.

The purpose of the move was to provide a place where they could worship as they pleased.  Cook says:

Uprooted from home, ountry and friends, these Puritan families were made up of men and women set on pleasing God, seeking liberty to worship without the constant fear of persecution from state or church.  To this end they had set their hopes on Massachusetts Bay as a place where they wanted to establish a system of government similar to that of Israel under the old covenant, a land where God reigned supreme in church and state alike.

It was into this environment the young bride entered and where she would leave her mark.

Monday
Jul052010

Talking to myself...

I've always kind of talked to myself in my head.  Sometimes, the words have made their way out of my head and into open air.  It was that kind of thing that landed me in the principal's office in 8th grade.  I didn't realize that I was talking to myself audibly during a french test, and the teacher wasn't impressed.

The things we say to ourselves are crucial.  When I talk to myself, I may be tempted to say, "I'm hard done by."  Or I may be prone to saying, "You deserve better than this."

We are lucky in that we have a big book of "things" to say to ourselves.

In his presence is fullness of joy.

His steadfast love endures forever.

His mercies are new every morning.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rules, nor things present nor t hings to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth...

If we tend to have silent, solitary moments, talking to ourselves is a good use of time.  People may think we're crazy, but at least when we talk to ourselves, someone is listening.

Monday
Jul052010

Why can't Johnny sing hymns?

This is the question dealt with in T. David Gordon's book Why Johnny Can't Sing Hymns.  It's quite a complicated question, and the answers aren't really simple, either.   I'm only halfway through the book, but I thought I'd share some of my initial reactions for what they are worth.

The basic premise of the book is that worship music has been profoundly affected by pop music.  Gordon points out that pop music (music that Gordon sees as beginning with the era of the Beatles) is a pervasive part of our culture; we hear it everywhere.  We hear it in stores, malls, restuarants, and even in offices and waiting rooms.  We heard it in television commercials and on movie soundtracks.  This steady diet of pop music has especially influenced people of my generation and younger to the point that what we recognize as music has become defined by pop music.  Because pop music is geared to the masses, it must be easy to listen to and understand, and that leads to music that is often trivial and banal.  Gordon sees those tendencies carried over into pop Christian music, which produces trivial and banal songs.  I think we can all think of some examples of that.  A hymn like "O Sacred Head Now Wounded" sounds rather foreign to someone who is used to hearing the song "Celebrate Jesus, Celebrate."  Furthermore, when it comes to worship music, the criteria that seems to control what we sing is the criteria of comtemporaneity.  This sounds a bit of a death knell for more complicated, older songs, despite their richness.

As I said, I'm only halfway through the book, and I won't re-cap everything I've read, but by far, the most thought-provoking chapter was the one about musical genres.  Gordon talks about the different musical genres by placing them within three cultural contexts:  high/classical culture, folk culture, and mass/pop culture.  High/classical culture focuses on the transcendent, the multigenerational, the significant, and the communal.  It seeks to be timeless.  It is also less accessible.  In the context of classical music, this inaccessability is not just a matter of learning to appreciate the music, but also to find a place to hear it; there are probably few, if any, commercial classical radio stations. 

Folk culture is also multigenerational, transcendent, communal, but is somewhat more accessible.   Gordon says this:

... it exists, in large measure, as a means of handing down a given tradition from one generation to another, lest a given subculture lose its identity.

It seems to me that folk music would be an excellent genre of music for Christianity, and indeed, hymns like "Be Thou My Vision" utilize that genre.  Gordon observes that classical and folk music are less individualistic, and focus not on the singer, but rather the song.   An example occurred to me.  The song, "Danny Boy," a folk song, has no doubt been recorded by hundreds of artists and performed by thousands.  It doesn't cause us a moment's worry that someone else is again going to perform or record that song.  Now, take the song like "Bohemian Rhapsody" by Queen.  We see that song as belonging to the band; indeed, some fans could very well raise a hue and cry if someone dared to record it for commercial purposes.  We tend to see a lot more "signature songs" in the pop realm than the others.   My son, who has a band, absolutely refuses to do what he calls "covers."  He scorns them.  They are not his music.  He wants to sing his music.

This individualism is what characterizes pop/mass culture.  It is monogenerational, immanent, individualistic and accessible, an accessbility fostered by the commercial aspect of music.  Just think about what happens when a car company gets permission to use even 30 seconds from a popular song; we begin to equate the song with the product.  Bob Seger's "Like a Rock" and Ford trucks comes to my mind as I ponder that.  It would be interesting to ponder the question of how the commercial aspect of music has influenced it over the last fifty years.

Gordon's reason for examining these three genres is to put forth his assertion that the classical and folk genres are more appropriate for sacred music considering what Christianity is: transcendent, serious, multigenerational.  He sees worship as a sacred activity and should demand music that fits in with its purpose.  No doubt, there are many who would have a counter opinion to that, and I can hear some of the objections in my own head.

One thing that Gordon said I found quite interesting.  He said this:  "Surely Christianity is transcendant, not immanent."  I don't know as if I agree completely with him.  God is both immanent and transcendent.  Why cannot Christianity be both?  Is the problem perhaps that we focus more on the immanent nature of God than the transcendent?  In evangelical circles, with the emphasis on a "personal relationship" with Christ, are we focused too much on the immanence of God to the detriment of the transcendent?  If that is true, is it really any surprise that we look for music that promotes immanence?

This is a book that will definitely ruffle a few feathers, and challenge the sacred cows of others.  Gordon's views on the use of the guitar would no doubt offend many people, but they certainly were eye-opening for me.  I like it when I can see how a person arrived at his point even if there are points where I may not entirely agree. One thing I am continually agreed with, however, is that a lot of the words we sing on Sunday mornings these days lacks a lot of depth, and so do the melodies.

I hope to share more as I finish this book.  Whether one agrees with Gordon or not, one thing is certain:  worship music is a serious enough issue that we should think about it.  We should not make statements that is "simply a matter of taste," because the music we use to praise the God of the Universe matters very much.