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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.


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.


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.


Heart Aflame - July 4, 2010

Psalm 80:16-19

Your vine is cut down, it is burned with fire.  The calamities of the people are now more clearly expressed.  It had been said that the Lord's vine was abandoned to the wild beasts, that they might lay it waste.  But it was a greater calamity for it to be consumed with fire, rooted up and utterly destroyed.  The Israelites had perfidiously apostatised from the true religion; but they were still a part of the Church.  We are accordingly warned by this melancholy example, of the severity of the punishment due to our ingratitude, especially when it is joined with obstinacy, which prevents the threatening and rebukes of God, however sharp and severe they may be, from being of any benefit to us.  Let us also learn from the same example, when the Divine anger is blazing all around, and even when we are in the midst of its burning flames, to cast all our sorrows into the bosom of God, who, in a wonderful manner, raises up his Church from the gulf of destruction.  He would assuredly be ready not only to exercise without interruption his favour towards us, but also to enrich us with his blessings more and more, did not our wickedness hinder him.  As it is impossible for him not to be angry at the many offences which we we have committed, it is an evidence of unparalleled mercy for him to extinguish the fire which we ourselves have kindled, and which has spread far and wide, and to save some portion or remnant of the Church, or so to speak more properly, to raise up even from the very ashes a people to call upon his name.  It is again repeated that the Church perished not by the strength and arms of her enemies, but at the rebuke of god's countenance.  Never can we expect alleviation of our punishment, unless we are fully persuaded that we are justly chastised by the hand of God.  It was a good sign of the repentance of these Israelites that, as is observed in Isaiah 9:12, "they looked to the hand of him who smote them."


Decorating has rules....

We have ugly, and I mean ugly, wallpaper in our upstairs bathroom.  Whoever invented wallpaper?  Probably people who had bumpy walls and wanted to hide them.  Anyway, we're in the process of getting rid of it and painting.  Give me a nicely painted wall any day, and I'll add colour with accessories.

But not all people have good decorating protocol.  Wallpaper sizing was invented for a reason.  It ought to be mandatory before people can use wallpaper.

Another hint?  Don't wallpaper over other wallpaper.  And if you're going to use a piece of wallpapered drywall, and piece it together behind the sink, at least tape and mud the seam that is above the sink.

Martha Stewart I am not, but I was around my dad enough to know that there are certain procedures that should not be left up to interpretation.