Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Come Ye Lofty, Come Ye Lowly

Come, ye lofty, come, ye lowly,
Let your songs of gladness ring;
In a stable lies the Holy,
In a manger rests the King:
See in Mary’s arms reposing
Christ by highest Heav’n adored:
Come, your circle round Him closing,
Pious hearts that love the Lord.

Come ye poor, no pomp of station
Robes the Child your hearts adore;
He, the Lord of all salvation,
Shares your want, is weak and poor:
Oxen, round about behold them;
Rafters naked, cold, and bare,
See the shepherds, God has told them
That the Prince of Life lies there.

Come, ye children, blithe and merry,
This one Child your model make;
Christmas holly, leaf, and berry,
All be prized for His dear sake:
Come ye gentle hearts and tender,
Come ye spirits keen and bold;
All in all your homage render,
Weak and mighty, young and old.

High above a star is shining,
And the wise men haste from far:
Come, glad hearts, and spirits pining—
For you all has ris’n the star.
Let us bring our poor oblations,
Thanks and love, and faith and praise;
Come, ye people, come, ye nations,
All in all draw nigh to gaze.

Hark the Heav’n of heav’ns is ringing:
Christ the Lord to man is born!
Are not all our hearts, too, singing,
Welcome, welcome, Christmas morn?
Still the Child, all power possessing,
Smiles as through the ages past;
And the song of Christmas blessing
Sweetly sinks to rest at last.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Advent Carol

We Sing to Thee, Immanuel
Text: Paul Gerhardt, 1656; trans by F.E. Cox, 1865
Music: Gregory Wilbur, 2004

We sing to Thee, Immanuel,
The Prince of life, salvation’s Well,
The Plant of Heaven, the Star of morn,
The Lord of Lords, the Virgin-born.
All glory, worship, thanks and praise,
That Thou art come in these our days!
Thou Heavenly Guest expected long,
We hail Thee with a joyful song.

For Thee, since first the world was made,
Men’s hearts have waited, watched and prayed;
Prophets and patriarchs, year by year,
Have longed to see Thy light appear.
O God!⎯they prayed⎯from Sion rise,
And hear Thy captive people’s cries;
At length, O Lord! salvation bring:
Then Jacob shall rejoice and sing.

Now Thou, by whom the world was made,
Art in Thy manger-cradle laid;
Maker of all things great, art small,
Naked Thyself, though clothing all.
Thou, who both heaven and earth dost sway,
In strangers’ inn art fain to stay;
And though Thy power makes angels blest,
Dost seek Thy food from human breast.

Encouraged, thus, our love grows bold
On Thee to lay our steadfast hold;
The cross which Thou didst undergo
Has vanquished death and healed our woe.
Thou art our Head: then, Lord, of Thee,
True, living members we will be;
And, in the strength Thy grace shall give,
Will live as Thou wouldst have us live.

As each short year goes quickly round,
Ou Hallelujahs shall resound;
And, when we reckon years no more,
May we in Heaven Thy Name adore!

The Decline of Reading

The New Yorker has a thought-provoking article about the "Twilight of Books" that is worth reading.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Advent Carol

The choir at Parish Presbyterian sang this text as part of our Lessons and Carols service on December 9.

When Jordan hushed his waters still,
And silence slept on Zion’s hill;
When Salem’s shepherds through the night
Watched o’er their flocks by starry light,
Hark! From the midnight hills around,
A voice, of more than mortal sound,
In distant hallelujahs stole,
Wild murmuring o’er the raptured soul.

The swift to ev’ry startled eye,
New beams of glory gild the sky;
Heav’n bursts her azure gates,
to pour Her spirits to the midnight hour.
On wheels of light, on wings of flame,
The glorious hosts to Zion came;
High heav’n with songs of triumph rung,
While thus they smote their harps and sung:

O Zion! Lift thy raptured eye:
The long-expected hour is nigh;
The joys of nature rise again;
The Prince of Salem comes to reign.
See Mercy, from her golden urn,
Pours a rich stream on them that mourn;
Behold, she binds, with tender care,
The bleeding bosom of Despair.

He comes to cheer the trembling heart,
Bid Satan and his host depart;
Again the Daystar gilds the gloom,
Again the bowers of Eden bloom.
O Zion! Lift thy raptured eye:
The long-expected hour is nigh;
The joys of nature rise again;
The Prince of Salem comes to reign.

Text: Thomas Campbell, 1777-1844

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Tech Savvy Tots

It appears that parents will be buying lots of batteries this Christmas if they follow the latest toy trends for preschoolers. The NY Times has a fascinating article about whiz bang gadgets for children.

Another thing we won't be buying for our three-year-old is a toothbrush that plays "I Want to Rock and Roll All Night" for 2 minutes while brushing. To encourage dental hygiene, the sounds of the songs are transmitted through one's teeth. One can only imagine how KISS gets royalties on this.

Current Listening

Current Reading

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Return of Chant

Pope Benedict is moving the Vatican, and by extension the whole of the Catholic Church, back towards Gregorian chant. As for his reasons, I appreciate his understanding of the power of music, the inherent morality in music itself, and the need for an ecclesiastical aesthetic. However, turning back the clock is not the answer. Re-connecting to the past heritage of the Church is something that both Protestants and Catholics should embrace, but, in addition, we ought to be about the business of continuing to create from a historically informed position. Hopefully this move will at least spark some discussion in the Church at large about suitability and spirituality when it comes to musical composition for the Church.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Irony of Old Pop

The very basis of pop art, according to Richard Hamilton, the British visual pop artist, includes attributes of transience, gimmicks, orientation towards youth, and being disposable. In a recent article in the Telegraph, the author discuses the divide between the industry of pop music and the audience's clamor for reunion tours. The author writes, "Much of rock continues to pay lip service to the concept of rebellion, while adhering to musical formulas, fashions and attitudes established by people old enough to be grandparents."

Irony exists in the absurdity of rebellion financed by corporate interests, but it is equally interesting that older musicians are still reaping the rewards of a system based on the foundation that young and sexy are preferable. If a musician is able to transcend the disposable system which made him, one shouldn't expect that same system to offer continued support.

From the Christian perspective, all of this begs the question of the suitability of transient, gimmicky, disposable musical styles as a bearer of profound, permanent, and absolute truth.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Nataional Gallery Woodcuts Exhibit

The Washington Post features an article about the ongoing exhibit of woodcuts at the National Gallery. In addition to discussing the merits of the collection, the article also conveys an appreciation for the art of woodcuts.

Monday, November 5, 2007

New Early Music

Maria Archetto re-discovered the music of Italian Renaissance/Early Baroque composer Francesco Portinaro. The New Trinity Baroque ensemble presented a concert of his works this past weekend in Atlanta.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Review of The Beauty of God

The good folks at Reformation21 just published a review I did of The Beauty of God: Theology and the Arts. This is a fascinating collection of essays on the arts from a theological perspective.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Watching Film

I love films. There are some movies that I enjoy, but I love films. The difference is not just in the content of the story, but how the story is told. Too often Christian reviews of film get stuck on the plot and then try to show how that agrees or disagrees with Scripture. The worldview of the narrative certainly matters, but how that worldview is expressed specifically through the medium of film also matters—and it matters greatly. A good filmmaker can tell you more through non-verbal expression than the actual dialogue can. To understand what the director is saying through his craft, you need to understand some basic elements of his tools—lighting, framing, camera angles, color, sound, symbolism, etc. The story is but one layer of the total expression.

A skilled director shows the audience what to think about a character by how they are presented on screen and in a manner that is often absorbed subconsciously. As the characters are thus presented, the story itself gains levels of meaning and symbolism well beyond the actual words spoken. Film is a specific art and it tells a story in a unique manner. The story is a great place to start in understanding the worldview of a film, but the art of the filmmaker transforms that narrative into something different than what a play or book portrays. Part of the beauty of a good film is a film that understands how to be a film in how it tells a story.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Worship Notes 24 October

Covenant renewal through worship is a corporate act between Yahweh and His people. As such, it is only natural that worship is corporate—not only in the singing of hymns, but also with confession, prayers, creeds, and responses. When the assembled body vocalizes God’s word in confession or prayers, that very act knits them together as His people and rejects individualism. God calls his people and they respond.

Worship involves repeating back to God what He has said about Himself. For this reason, we use Scripture for the Call to Worship, Psalm of the Month, Prayer of Confession, Assurance of Pardon, Benediction, the words before the sacraments, and hymn lyrics as well as the proclaiming of the Word in the sermon. God has defined Himself through His Word, and with great confidence and joy, we come before His throne and together proclaim His worth in the language He prescribes. This not only guards against theological error and creates great freedom, but it also increases our knowledge of Him enabling the people “with one voice to glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:6).

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Current Reading

Quote on Worship and the Sabbath

“God’s intention was to bless his people through the constant and conscientious observation of the day, week after week and year after year. Believers are sanctified through a lifetime of Sabbath observance. In other words, the Sabbath is designed to work slowly, quietly, seemingly imperceptively in reorienting believers’ appetites heavenward. It is not a quick fix, nor is it necessarily a spiritual high. It is an ‘outward and ordinary’ ordinance, part of the steady and healthy diet of the means of grace.”
—D.G. Hart and John R. Muether
With Reverence and Awe

Current Listening

Monday, October 8, 2007

New from the Art World

From the art world, news that a painting by Leonardo has been recovered, and drunk vandals ripped a Monet painting.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Third Annual Film and Worldview Conference

October 26-27
Films about Home

Join us in Historic Franklin for the Third Annual King’s Meadow Film and Worldview Conference. We will watch and discuss films about home—a sense of place, universal longing, and rootedness. In addition, Dr. George Grant and others will present seminars about film and worldview. Email (office@kingsmeadow.com) for schedule, costs, and registration.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Current Reading

National Talk Like a Pirate Day

Argh! Mateys, today is National Talk Like a Pirate Day. You can get your own pirate name and other important info here--if you're not too busy swabbing the decks. Yo, ho, ho!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Now Here's a Shelving Idea!

Click here for additional images from people with this unique method of cataloging their books. This might be addictive!

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Future of Philip K. Dick

Geoff Boucher wrote an interesting article about the future films based on stories by Philip K. Dick in this twenty-fifth anniversary year of Blade Runner. His writings continue to be fodder for much creative exploration from what was a difficult, yet fertile, mind.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Quote from Annals of a Quiet Neighboourhood

I know this is a long quote from George MacDonald, but it is a great reminder of how often we can get lost in theology and lose the image of Christ. It's all about Jesus.

During the suffering which accompanied the disappointment at which I have already hinted, I did not think it inconsistent with the manly spirit in which I was resolved to endure it, to seek consolation from such a source as the New Testament—if mayhap consolation for such a trouble was to be found there. Whereupon, a little to my surprise, I discovered that I could not read the Epistles at all. For I did not then care an atom for the theological discussions in which I had been interested before, and for the sake of which I had read those epistles. Now that I was in trouble, what to me was that philosophical theology staring me in the face from out the sacred page? Ah! reader, do not misunderstand me. All reading of the Book is not reading of the Word. And many that are first shall be last and the last first. I know NOW that it was Jesus Christ and not theology that filled the hearts of the men that wrote those epistles—Jesus Christ, the living, loving God-Man, whom I found—not in the Epistles, but in the Gospels. The Gospels contain what the apostles preached—the Epistles what they wrote after the preaching. And until we understand the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ our brother-king—until we understand Him, until we have His Spirit, promised so freely to them that ask it—all the Epistles, the words of men who were full of Him, and wrote out of that fulness, who loved Him so utterly that by that very love they were lifted into the air of pure reason and right, and would die for Him, and did die for Him, without two thoughts about it, in the very simplicity of NO CHOICE—the Letters, I say, of such men are to us a sealed book. Until we love the Lord so as to do what He tells us, we have no right to have an opinion about what one of those men meant; for all they wrote is about things beyond us. The simplest woman who tries not to judge her neighbour, or not to be anxious for the morrow, will better know what is best to know, than the best-read bishop without that one simple outgoing of his highest nature in the effort to do the will of Him who thus spoke.

But I have, as is too common with me, been led away by my feelings from the path to the object before me. What I wanted to say was this: that, although I could make nothing of the epistles, could see no possibility of consolation for my distress springing from them, I found it altogether different when I tried the Gospel once more. Indeed, it then took such a hold of me as it had never taken before. Only that is simply saying nothing. I found out that I had known nothing at all about it; that I had only a certain surface-knowledge, which tended rather to ignorance, because it fostered the delusion that I did know. Know that man, Christ Jesus! Ah! Lord, I would go through fire and water to sit the last at Thy table in Thy kingdom; but dare I say now I KNOW Thee!—But Thou art the Gospel, for Thou art the Way, the Truth, and the Life; and I have found Thee the Gospel. For I found, as I read, that Thy very presence in my thoughts, not as the theologians show Thee, but as Thou showedst Thyself to them who report Thee to us, smoothed the troubled waters of my spirit, so that, even while the storm lasted, I was able to walk upon them to go to Thee. And when those waters became clear, I most rejoiced in their clearness because they mirrored Thy form—because Thou wert there to my vision—the one Ideal, the perfect man, the God perfected as king of men by working out His Godhood in the work of man…So much I saw.

And therefore, when I was once more in a position to help my fellows, what could I want to give them but that which was the very bread and water of life to me—the Saviour himself?

Friday, September 7, 2007

The Further Degradation of TV

Gloria Goodale has a new article reviewing the line-up of new sludge on fall TV schedule. Just when you think things can't get worse on the networks, they decide to push the line yet again.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Luciano Pavarotti (1935-2007)

Luciano Pavarotti died today at his home in Modena, Italy, at the age of 71. He had battled pancreatic cancer for the past year. Pavarotti exuded great force as an artist, presence and personality, and thankfully, he had the voice to back it up. He grew up as the son of a baker and did not turn towards the idea of a career in singing until his early twenties. After a few years of voice lessons, his career as an opera star cannot be described in any other terms than meteoric. His was a distinctive voice full of passion and life. There is no mistaking his characteristic sound.

Perhaps that is what drew me in to a love of opera in the first place. My earliest memory of hearing opera was from the eight track tapes my grandfather played and Pavarotti figured prominently in that collection. My earliest image of opera was Pavarotti dressed as a clown in the role of Pagliacci. The fact that my grandfather also sang Italian arias explains the close association my young mind had between my grandfather and Pavarotti—that was at times almost synonymous. I thank my grandfather for opening the world of opera to me.

The first two opera recordings I bought were Pavarotti in Puccini’s Turandot and La Boheme—still two of my favorites. My wife and I were thrilled when we got to hear him in concert a few years ago, and one of my prized possessions is a signed photograph of him.

Despite some of the controversies that surrounded his later career, his effortless voice and presence embodied the great things about the art of singing. Such beauty and passion only come around once every few generations. He will be missed.

Qui.. amor... sempre con te!
Le mani... al caldo... e... dormire.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Quotes from The Intellectual Life

The intellectual is not self-begotten; he is the son of the Idea, of the Truth, of the creative Word, the Life-giver immanent in His creation. When the thinker thinks rightly, he follows God step by step; he does not follow his own vain fancy. When he gropes and struggles in the effort of research, he is Jacob wrestling with the angel and “strong against God. (xviii)

It requires penetration and continuity and methodical effort, so as to attain a fullness of development which will correspond to the call of the Spirit, and to the resources that it has pleased Him to bestow on us. (3)

Ambition offends eternal truth by subordinating truth to itself (6)

A life with too ambitious an aim or one content with too low a level is a misdirected life. (xxii)

All roads but one are bad roads for you, since they diverge from the direction in which your action is expected and required. Do not prove faithless to God, to your brethren and to yourself by rejecting a sacred call. (5)

When the world does not like you it takes its revenge on you; if it happens to like, you, it takes its revenge still by corrupting you. Your only resource is to work far from the world, as indifferent to its judgments as you are ready to serve it.

Genius is long patience (8)

Things have value in exact proportion to what they cost. (253)

To understand a single thing thoroughly, we should understand all things. (141)

The half-informed man is not the man who knows only half things, but the man who only half knows things. (122)

Order is a necessity, but it must serve us, not we it. (194)

The Handling of Books

Patrick T. Reardon wrote an insightful article about the practice of dog-earing, highlighting, and writing in books. Have faced some of the same trials and ultimate concerns over the sanctity of bound material, I understand his quirky points--even if that makes me quirky too. I once stopped reading a book because it fell off of the bedside table and the cover creased.

Friday, August 24, 2007

English Lit Up in Smoke?

In a recent article in the Telegraph, A.N. Wilson writes a remarkable article about personal freedom, literature, pubs, history, political correctness, and smoking that manages to offend almost everyone. That takes talent!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Horton Foote

One of my favorite authors, playwrights, and screen writers is Horton Foote. Alex Witchel has a great article about Foote, his history, and his upcoming productions. At the age of 91, Horton Foote is still very active--for which I am grateful. I have had the wonderful opportunity to produce several of his plays with high school students, and films such as Tender Mercies, Trip to Bountiful, To Kill a Mockingbird, and 1918 are among some of the best screenplays written.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Sound of Silence

Andrew Waggoner wrote an interesting article about the need for silence in our culture saturated with noise and muzak. He writes:

In many world societies, however, there are still spaces—if only interior, or metaphorical, or temporal—set aside for contemplation, for noiseless recalibration of the soul, and in contemporary American culture there are almost none. Our social rituals are constrained by the incessant soundtrack imposed in our public spaces, and our places of worship, by and large, have given themselves over to a muzak-based sense of liturgy that tells us at every step of the way what to feel and with what intensity.

Music gets its import from both the ordering of sound and silence in time. Where there is no silence, music begins to lose its distinction. And we as listeners are numbed by the aural wallpaper.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Legend of the Poe Visitor

Every January 19, a shrouded visitor lays three roses and a bottle of cognac on the grave of Edgar Allan Poe. After worldwide publicity, someone has finally come forward to explain the mystery, or have they?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Signs on the Times

Here's a fascinating article on the process in changing the fonts of highway signs. Who knew the history of such things? Could this be the end of Highway Gothic?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Discussion on Harry Potter VII

This past week we had our third and final discussion of the Harry Potter series and it various elements of medieval symbolism, alchemy, and Christian content.

It's a fascinating series by a remarkably gifted and highly intelligent author. Kudos to J.K. Rowling for keeping us enthralled, engaged, and thinking for the past ten years.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Arts Articles

This year marks the 150 anniversary of Edward Elgar’s birth. An assessment of the English composer’s life and legacy appear in the New York Times.

Anglican Church officials announced that the new Anglican church hymnals in Jamaica will include reggae songs by Bob Marley and Peter Tosh⎯despite the fact that they were Rastafarians who vocally opposed Christianity.

While Elton John may go a bit far (with a lot of things), his comments about the dangers of the self indulgent art produced by individuals and computers is right on target. There is indeed a much needed component of community within artistic endeavors.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Worship Notes: Why We Print the Music in Our Church Bulletin

The people of God are called to worship Him in song. Our lack of musical knowledge inhibits this activity. Therefore, we print the music in the bulletin in order to encourage part-singing, to more easily facilitate the learning of new music, and to increase musical literacy for the glory of God.

From the beginning of our life together as a church, we have printed the music for worship in the bulletin. The statement above was part of our bulletins for the first two months of our church. However, how exactly does singing in parts make a theological difference?

Worship serves to bind a group of people into a community. Utilizing music that can be sung in parts serves as a valuable tool to this end. Part-singing encourages a sense of belonging, community and reliance.

Part-singing encourages a sense of belonging by the very necessity of each of the harmonic parts being sung. The individual has the sense of being an integral component of something beyond just their voice part. There exists the sense of being needed.

Part-singing develops community by incorporating individual singing with the other parts. It creates an awareness of what the other members of the community are singing as well as building bonds between the parts. Reliance on one another contributes greatly to the sense of community.

Part-singing necessitates dependence upon the surrounding people as the individual parts are sung. This is apparent when we physically divide into voice parts and are surrounded by people singing the same notes or when we stand next to a different voice part and rely on one another for pitch, intonation, and entrances.

All voice parts are equally needed⎯just as all members of the body serve different but vital functions.

Yet another benefit of singing in parts is the opportunity to sing music suitable for one’s voice. For instance, the lack of bass lines disrupts the very harmonic foundation of music as well as eliminates the possibility of men singing a part intended for them. Choosing music with these elements often requires us to select music rooted in the past but yet accessible for the time and place in which God has placed us.

T.S. Eliot wrote in his essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent” that someone who seeks to be contemporary must understand their place in history. If one does not understand that position, their work slips from the permanent to the novel. By definition, a true contemporary is also a traditionalist because he understands what went before. G.K. Chesterton refers to the idea that “Tradition is the democracy of the dead.” One must take into account the whole entirety of the Church--the Great Cloud of Witnesses, the invisible Church that stretches through the ages and is comprised of the called of God--when planning worship. Worship is an activity outside of time that is directed to a God beyond time.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

We Need Your Help

Because of computer and technology problems a couple of months ago, we lost our entire database of email addresses. This was the list that we used to send out the monthly literary newsletter that also gave further information about how to pray for the ministry, a schedule of events, and upcoming conferences.

If you were on the former list, please take the time to sign up again (the sign-up box is on the right-hand side of this page). If you’ve never been on the list, now’s a great time to make sure that you get all of the information for the coming year. We’re planning some exciting things around here in the coming months and look forward to telling more about them as time unfolds!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

The Loss of Cultural History

Richard Pells wrote a fascinating article about the lack of cultural studies and cultural ignorance in college American History courses. “History Descending a Staircase: American Historians and American Culture” makes a compelling case for integrated subjects as well as exposing the current trends and thoughts in academia about American Studies. While I don’t agree with all his thoughts, Pells makes a strong case for examining the past through multiple interrelated perspectives.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Modern Art Meets Its Match

In July, Ms. Sam Rindy, an artist, who was “so overcome with passion” for an immaculate white canvas on display at a French museum, that she kissed it⎯leaving a red, lipstick smudge. The painting is by artist Cy Twombly and is valued at more than $2 million.

Rindy made a statement saying that “this red stain is a testimony to this moment, to the power of art.” She said later that she was attracted to the canvas and had wanted to make it more beautiful. She was arrested and is awaiting a court date in August.

In the modern art world where gesture and audacity are everything, one would think that she would be applauded rather than vilified. However, it is also a reminder than despite foundationless aesthetics, the art establishment still values the work of some over others. They can’t have their cake and eat it too. Hats off to Ms. Rindy for reminding us that the Emperor of Art is wearing no clothes.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Even Jane Austen is No Jane Austen

In a recent article in The Guardian, Steven Morris tells about his experiment with eighteen publishers and literary agents in Great Britain to see if they would consider Jane Austen’s work publishable. He slightly modified the opening chapters of three different novels and sent them to various publishers as unsolicited manuscripts.

Not only were none of the publishers or agents interested, but only one of the eighteen actually recognized the work as Austen’s! One publisher (Penguin) went so far as to say, “Thank you for your recent letter and chapters from your book First Impressions. It seems like a really original and interesting read.” Morris had even used Austen’s original title for Pride and Prejudice in his experiment.

It does make one wonder what the criteria is for publishable works and if the transient, gimmicky, disposable aesthetic of modernity has supplanted the place of timeless classics. Of course, it could just be that serious readers are harder to come by.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Monday, July 16, 2007

More Harry Potter Discussion

As a follow-up to last month's literature discussion, here are the next two installments discussing Books 4-6. These are non-edited files that contain extraneous comments and details (such as what books we will read next and when we'll discuss them).

These are a continuation of the exploration of the spiritual and medieval symbolism inherent in these books and how J.K. Rowling uses the elements of alchemy as a structure for the stories.

Part One
Part Two

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Smell of Books

Patrick T. Reardon of the Chicago Tribune has a wonderful article on the smell of books. One can put the appropriate smell of books up there with complete sets, quality paper, and design elements as a requirement for all-sensory bibliophiles.

The Gospel Flow of Worship

The word liturgy means “the work of the people.” As such, all worship services are liturgical if they include any congregational participation. The issue is not whether a service is liturgical or not; the issue is what organizes and informs the liturgy and on what basis.

The order of worship that we employ at Parish Pres consciously seeks to accomplish several aims. As you’ve probably noticed, each section of the bulletin begins with God and His initiation. It is God who calls His people to worship, it is God who speaks to us through His Word, it is God who calls us to repentance and reconciliation, it is God who beckons us to His table, and it is God who sends us out equipped for the calling He has placed on us. It’s all about Him!

It is God who calls us, but as His people we respond with praise, attentive hearts, confession, joy, and thanksgiving. This pattern of call and response is one of the reasons we utilize Scripture-based responsive readings in worship. God calls us through His Word, and we literally respond with His words.

This pattern of worship moves the congregation from an exaltation of the nature of God, instruction from His Word, an understanding of His law and our inability to keep it, confession of sin and the need for a Redeemer, a restoration into the fellowship of God and other believers, a foretaste of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, and a sending forth into the world as His representative. Thus, the worship service itself echoes the Gospel—God calls unbelievers to Himself, reveals Himself through His Word, repentance follows with an invitation to the Marriage Feast culminating with God sending forth the believer into the world. This is the flow of the gospel; this is the flow of worship.

Friday, July 13, 2007

How Relevant is Bach, Part IV

Fourthly, Bach committed himself to teaching others for the purpose of raising up future church musicians and laity who could worship through song. In Johann Sebastian Bach: An Introduction to His Life and Music, Russell H. Miles points out that “Bach’s interest and patience in helping young people is unique among the great composers.” Bach scholar Christoph Wolff wrote that “Bach was one of the most active, dedicated, and prolific teachers the world has seen” (Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician). Students lived with him and his family and even moved with him at various times. Based on the number of active students, Bach taught at least four to six professional level students at any given time. By all accounts, his students were devoted to him throughout the rest of their lives.

Most importantly, Bach did not teach dry technique, but passed along life lessons in the application of theology to music. Wolff states that, “Bach explored, probed, and taught the principles that govern music—not only its physical, technical side but also its spiritual and emotional dimension.” A selfless leader is one who is willing to share their knowledge to future generations for the Glory of God.

Part of Bach’s teaching technique included building upon the prior generations of composers and understanding the timelessness of objectively good art. By thinking multi-generationally and not just composing music for the passing style, Bach created a lasting legacy which is just as relevant and affective as when it was written. Working with a view towards the permanent is a reflection of God’s immutability and the covenantal nature of God’s action in history and of his people. Fads and fashions pass away, but those things built on the foundation of the Word of God will last.

Bach’s life illustrates the nature of thinking covenantally and inter-generationally. He was far more successful in leaving an inheritance to subsequent generations than he was in creating change in his own time. Although he stood firm against the secular thought of his day, the fruit of his labors was not fully appreciated for another 70-80 years; however, his influence and example have been incalculable ever since.

Principle #8: Part of leading worship is looking towards the development of subsequent generations of musicians grounded on issues of permanence and with knowledge of the history of Church worship.

Principle #9: Worship leaders should build on the foundation of the past instead of replacing it, relying more on the Biblical notion of craftsmanship rather than the humanist concept of originality.

Fifthly, Sebastian Bach understood the grace of the Gospel and his daily need for that grace. Motivated by an overflowing of love, Bach consistently worked in response to that love through sacrificial service. Bach often started musical scores with J.J. for Jesu Juva (Jesus, help me) and ended them with S.D.G. for Soli Deo Gloria (To the Glory of God Alone). Anyone as talented and gifted as Bach could have turned his art or the perfection of his art into a god or transformed their efforts in legalistic piety. Bach did neither, and his legacy remains as a humble artist fully aware of his need for repentance and rejoicing in the free gift of God’s grace and the promise of eternal life.

Principle 10: Reliance on God’s grace alone—S.D.G.

Bach understood that excellence is its own apologetic of the gospel. All truth is God’s truth. But all beauty is also God’s beauty and all goodness flows from Him as well. The very pursuit of his artistic calling provided, and continues to provide, a rebuke to shallow aesthetics—those things that are transient, temporary, or trendy. The permanent things—those that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and worthy of praise—are profitable to think on. Beauty, finding its source in God and as one of His attributes, reflects the nature and character of God in a powerful and transcendent manner. His adherence to biblical objective standards in his work instilled his music with an ageless quality that secured for him an enduring legacy in succeeding generations.

Having its source in God, true beauty points to the reality of the great Sovereign in a manner the false beauty of the world can never do. Paired with truth and goodness, beauty can excite the “joy” and yearning that C.S. Lewis said set him in search of Christianity.

Worship Leaders: We should pursue craftsmanship and excellence in the calling to lead in worship. Rely not on inspiration but dedicated labor. Flee from the transient fashions of the day which may be momentarily rewarding but which will stagnate your art. Dig deep into the well of scripture and apply it not as a script for your art, but as the very weave of your approach, materials, goals, purpose, content, and work habits. In all things, remain steadfast for the glory of Christ’s kingdom and not your own. The biblical standards and theological motivation behind Bach’s work still resonate to the Church in every era and place.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

How Relevant is Bach, Part III

Thirdly, Bach understood the unique character and content of corporate worship. Although Bach wrote of all his music to the glory of God and in a manner of biblical beauty, he also understood the difference between what was liturgically appropriate and what was better left for Zimmerman’s—the local coffee house and pub. There should be a separation between what is acceptable in a Christian concert versus what we sing in corporate worship. The intent is different; therefore, the lyric content, manner of playing and singing, musical arrangements, and delivery should be different as well. Because we have forfeited suitable venues to express art in the culture from a biblical perspective, we have pulled into worship forms and content that ought not be part of corporate worship. There is an appropriate and needed place for songs about personal spiritual journeys, the joys and sorrows of the Christian life, and the communal fellowship of the saints in covenantal life; however, the truth of these artistic expressions does not necessarily commend them to corporate worship where the emphasis is Almighty God and His nature and character.

The beauty of Zimmerman’s Coffee House in Leipzig was that it created a venue for people from the town to gather in community and to enjoy the culture of their city. Bach worked diligently to create works of beauty for the coffee house, and that venue enabled him to explore musical, lyrical, and thematic elements that expressed the glories of the Christian life but in a manner that would not have been acceptable in church. Bach wrote musical satire, songs about coffee (a suspect beverage at the time) and domestic life, and instrumental music of great virtuosity—including works for four harpsichords and orchestra. While we seek the integrity of corporate worship, we should also encourage the opportunity for expression of artistic gifts in the culture outside of worship.

Principle #6: How a worship leader plays and leads in worship should be different from the playing at a recital, coffeehouse, or concert.

Principle #7: Worship leaders should choose songs and musical arrangements that are ecclesiastically appropriate—what is appropriate in other venues may not be for corporate worship. The criteria for what is ecclesiastically appropriate refers not only to text but also music, the combination of text and music, arrangements, and execution.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

How Relevant is Bach, Part II

Secondly, Bach was a consummate craftsman who sought to perfect his art. He understood that God is the ultimate source and objective standard of beauty. As such, Bach’s desire was to present to God that which was most beautiful. Bach relentlessly pursued knowledge and practice in all areas of his art—from musical exercises and problems to acoustics, instrument design, and metallurgy and woodworking. His goal, though ultimately humanly unattainable, was no less than striving to love God with all his heart, soul, strength, and mind and using and developing his talents to their utmost. Approaching human endeavors with a Godly mindset of excellence or perfection renders a legacy that astounds the watching world.

Reaching towards what was possibly attainable in his art, striving for perfection, being satisfied with nothing less than his best could have made Bach a slave to legalism or a tyrant impatient with the performers of his works. The reason this was not the case, however, was that Bach understood the Reformational teaching sola gratia—by grace alone. Bach’s efforts were a musical offering, a sacrifice of praise, which flowed in grateful response to a loving God. Bach was not trying to win God’s favor or notice; he rested comfortably in God’s love, and his work was the overwhelmed response of a sinner who knows God’s forgiveness. For Bach, striving towards perfection and offering God his best were not a burden, but a joyful expression of thanksgiving and praise.

Principle #3: A worship leader should be a perpetual student of their craft seeking to understand the theological basis of the very inner workings of music.

Principle #4: A worship leader should seek excellence in their work and consistently strive to improve their talents and abilities by growing in skill and depth—musically and theologically.

Principle #5: Worship should be accessible yet excellent.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

How Relevant is Bach to our Contemporary Church

The following is part of an article I wrote for ByFaith magazine:

Johann Sebastian Bach was a musical genius, an intellectual giant, and a gracious man. Bach’s achievement in the area of music is one of the greatest tour de forces in the history of the world⎯on par with, or surpassing, that of Shakespeare, Michelangelo, Dante, Leonardo, Rembrandt, Milton, Aristotle, Augustine, or Aquinas. Bach was that great and significant. Even more compelling is the fact that he consciously and deliberately wrote all of his music from a Christian perspective and for the Glory of God.

Bach functioned on a multiplicity of levels: he conserved past styles and musical elements but innovated new forms and styles; he crafted his art and brought it to the highest imaginable summit while creating timeless works of beauty; as an artisan, he perfected his art with almost scientific precision while remaining lively and accessible to average listeners; as a communicator, he clearly conveyed a message while simultaneously embedding layers of symbolism⎯musical and extra-musical⎯that require studious inquiry to uncover.

As Hans Rookmakker once wrote, we must bring the Gospel to bear in the time in which God has placed us. Trying to return to a former musical epoch is chronological arrogance—whether it is the 18th century or the 1980’s. However, whether or not you ever sing his music in your church, Sebastian Bach still has much to teach us concerning the role of worship leader as well as a biblical approach to the arts. The principles of his application of the timeless Gospel to the how, why, what, and when of worship are just as appropriate, and needed, today.

Firstly, Bach was a theologian who clearly and firmly understood the Gospel. Bach’s personal understanding of biblical truth resonates throughout his music as he presents sound and weighty doctrine in a manner that challenges the listener to consider issues of the faith. The margin notes he wrote in his personal Bible testify to the depth of Bach’s knowledge and study of scripture and clearly indicate he was a thorough student of scripture—especially as it related to his specific calling. That fact should come as no surprise considering the careful and instructive manner in which he set scripture texts to music and used scripture to comment on other texts.

Bach preached musical sermons of theological complexity that explored the problem of sin and need for redemption as well as the path of grace and the way that Christ has made to fulfill the law and bring true freedom. His are no vague and sentimental works of dubious religiosity, but rather a firm assertion of the doctrines of grace as outlined in Reformation teachings. At the time of securing his position in Leipzig, Bach freely signed a statement indicating that he subscribed to the beliefs of sola Scriptura, sola gratia and sola fide and none other. Bach expressed a real and profound hope in eternal life and the resurrection of Christ. He readily identified himself as a sinner in need of God’s grace and mercy, he looked expectantly for redemption, and he expressed these beliefs through music.

In addition to the gospel-centered content of his vocal music, Bach’s faith and knowledge gave him the courage to stand against the erosion of biblical theology by the ideas of the Enlightenment. This struggle caused him decades of turmoil and strife, but he refused to relinquish his belief in the authority of scripture. After all, as a child of the Reformation, sola Scriptura was the bedrock of his faith—scripture alone as the rule and guide for all of life.
Bach was aware of the cultural trends and ideas of his day that demanded more subjective sensation in music, but he rejected those ideas based on his understanding of scripture.

Principle #1: A worship leader should be a student of Scripture who is constantly seeking to reform their ideas, worship, and aesthetics to the Word of God. God is the standard of beauty and excellence—our worship should seek after biblical excellence and objective beauty, goodness, and truth.

Principle #2: A worship leader should seek to understand the role of music and liturgy in worship in teaching doctrine—not only on a week-by-week basis but in the macrocosm of the life of the church.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Flannery O'Connor "Speaks"

In the June 30/July7 issue of World magazine, there is an “interview” with Flannery O’Connor. Taking excerpts from Mystery and Manners—a masterful collection of essays and talks about her craft as a writer—Marvin Olasky has created an interview of sorts in which he asks questions about fiction writing and Flannery O’Connor “responds” via quotes from her book.

While I am supportive of most anything that gives O’Connor a wider audience, unfortunately the method used in this article makes her seem humorless, didactic, and terse. While the “questions” are good, one cannot help but wonder what else she would have said in addition to the canned response. Another tricky element is that since the answers came before the questions there is a distinct lack of personality.

I say these things because I am a huge fan of Mystery and Manners and O’Connor and I would hate for people to miss the real author amid the quotes. Anybody who raised dozens of peacocks has to have some sense of humor.

O’Connor has much to say about art, writing, reading, and the intersection of faith and aesthetics. Hopefully articles such as this and last year’s Credenda Agenda devoted to her life and writings will create a desire for her work. O’Connor’s stories can sometimes be difficult to handle, but she is always working through grace and faith in the midst of this world.

As she says in her own words: The novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make them appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural; and he may be forced to take ever more violent means to get his vision across to this hostile audience. When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal ways of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock—to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the blind you draw large and startling figures.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Heart v. Mind

There often exists a false dichotomy between the emotional and intellectual appeal of the arts. Because we are heirs of the Enlightenment, we tend to gravitate towards the emotional as apparent in the movies we watch, the books we read, and our Sunday morning worship. Our disdain for the intellectual further reflects our dependence on our own subjective experience as the rule for life. However, the intellectual approach tends to be coldly analytical and distant from actual life. As Christians, we should understand the concept of the best art engaging both the intellect and the emotions for God has created us with heart, soul, and mind.

The composers, artists, authors, and filmmakers with the greatest appeal and the most excellent ability are those who connect with both the heart and the mind. Why is Mozart a better composer than Haydn, Rembrandt more engaging than Thomas Kincaid, Jane Austen more romantic than Harlequin romances? The former all work on multiple levels to satisfy the artistic desire of both the emotions and intellect while the latter examples err by emphasizing one of those elements over the other.

What God has joined together by the breath of life, man should not try to put asunder. To do so minimizes our understanding of our own status as creatures and our ability as sub-creators. Our theology and our lives will suffer as well.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Literature Discussions on Harry Potter

Several weeks ago I led a literature discussion group through the use of fantasy, symbols, and alchemy in the Harry Potter books. These talks outlined why fiction can sometimes convey more truth than non-fiction, how symbols work and how modernity has consciously sought to undermine the Christian basis of symbols, and how alchemy was an attempt to purify the soul through the process of sanctification.

The premise of these talks is that J.K. Rowling uses medieval symbolism consistent with Biblical understanding and that the overall theme of the stories may in fact be the process of sanctification utilizing the imagery of alchemy.

The actual book discussion focused primarily on Books 1-3 since we are having another discussion next week on Books 4-6. Refer to John Granger's book, Looking for God in Harry Potter, for more information on the use of alchemy.

Part One (about 40 minutes): Introduction and primary Alchemy Discussion
Part Two (about 37 minutes): Discussion on types of magic, symbols, and the thematic material in Book 1-3
Part Three (about 15 minutes): The Questions and Answers after the Discussion

(Thanks to Cy and Elliott Fenton for editing these)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Literary Alchemy

As a Christian, what are we supposed to do when reading about characters who manipulate and control water, air, earth, and fire or who speak commands to direct the sea and air to obey them? What about potions that control elements of nature? Is this witchcraft and therefore to be avoided by Christians? What if the author claims to be a Christian?

These are just some of the issues one must face when reading the Venerable Bede, the 8th century British monk and Biblical scholar. O wait—you thought I was talking about Harry Potter.

The miracles related in the works of Bede (as is true of other writings from this period) have a distinct moral character to them. Bede, and the people of his time, possessed a much greater sensitivity to the spiritual nature of the world around them. They saw events in spiritual terms—comets, storms, fires, harvests, birth and death. We who think through the mind of Greeks are much too quick to look for rational and reasonable explanations as opposed to the wonder of God’s creation. Yes, there are natural laws that govern the universe, but it was Yahweh who created those laws, not the other way around. And as such, those laws reflect the nature and character of Him.

As such, medieval authors often present a person’s virtue in terms of their ability to regain the Edenic ability to take actual dominion over the earth. The process of sanctification is one of moving towards that state of our first parents and the new paradise. Interestingly, that is the goal and process of alchemy—the purification and sanctification of the internal soul. They believed that man was a spirit who had a body, not the other way around (a concept that George MacDonald writes about in Annals of a Quiet Neighborhood).

As Bede shows, Bishop Aidan and St. Cuthbert displayed their virtuous life through their ability to make the waves and wind obey them and by aligning with the harmony of the created order in the way Adam did.

Incidentally, J.K. Rowling uses this medieval concept of the miraculous. The Harry Potter novels have the same approach to spiritual growth, alchemy, and incantational magic that the Medievals understood, wrote about, and assumed as a spiritual metaphor of the Christian life. Interesting…

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Orlando di Lassus (ca. 1532-1594)

On this date in 1594, Orlando di Lassus, the greatest composer of his age, died in Munich. Lassus is another one of those composers who has several variations and forms to his name. He is known as:
Orlande de Lassus
Roland di Lasso

In 1532, he was born in Mons, a Frankish-Flemish town in Northern Europe. The legend goes that he was such a fine singer as a boy that he was kidnapped three times for the sake of his voice. At the age of 12, in 1544, he entered the service of Ferrante Gonzaga and journeyed with him to Italy where he served in Mantua, Naples, Florence, Sicily, and Rome.

In 1553, at the age of 21, Lassus became the music director at St. John’s Lateran in Rome. A year later he returned home to Mons and began the supervision of the publication of his early madrigals and motets.

In 1558, he married Regina Wackinger. By 1563, he was named the Music Director of the Bavarian court—a position which required him to provide numerous sacred compositions. In his capacity with the court, Lassus traveled around the major European musical centers to recruit singers. As such, his own international reputation became more defined and secure.

In 1574, the Pope made him a Knight of the Golden Spur. Over the next five years, Lassus traveled to Vienna and Italy and his five volumes of sacred music were published.

Lassus died on June 14, 1594 in Munich.

In total, Lassus wrote more than 2000 works—many of which were published in his lifetime and highly regarded by his contemporaries.

Because Lassus traveled for much of his life, he was able to blend the best of several national styles in his own music—“the beauty and expressiveness of Italian melody, the charm and elegance of French text-setting, and the solidity and richness of the Flemish and German polyphony.” In addition, Lassus filled his works with his own unique ability to evoke dramatic and emotional responses through his music.

Not just a “serious” composer, Lassus was light-hearted, witty, and rambunctious as well as devotional and expressive.

Current Reading

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Bed and Board Redux

More quotes from Robert Capon's Bed and Board

“The reason the headship of the husband is so violently objected to is that it is misunderstood…the Bible does not day that men and women are unequal. Neither does the Church. There are no second-class citizens in the New Jerusalem. It is husbands and wives that are unequal. It is precisely in marriage…that they enter into a relationship of superior to inferior—of head to body. And the difference there is not one of worth, ability or intelligence, but of role. It is functional, not organic. It is based on the exigencies of the Dance, not on a judgment as to talent. In the ballet, in any intricate dance, one dancer leads, the other follows. Not because one is better (he may or may not be), but because that is his part. Our mistake, here as elsewhere, is to think the equality and diversity are unreconcilable. The common notion of equality is based on the image of the march. In a parade, really unequal beings are dressed alike, given guns of identical length, trained to hold them at the same angle, and ordered to keep step with a fixed beat. But it is not the parade that is true to life; it is the dance. There you have real equals assigned unequal roles in order that each may achieve his individual perfection in the whole. Nothing is less personal than a parade; nothing more so than a dance. It is the choice image of fulfillment through function, and it comes very close to the heart of the Trinity. Marriage is a hierarchical game played by co-equal persons. Keep that paradox and you move in the freedom of the Dance; alter it, and you grow weary with marching (53-54).”

To be a Mother is to be the sacrament—the effective symbol—of place. Mothers do not make homes, they are our home: in the simple sense that we begin our days by a long sojourn within the body of a woman; in the extended sense that she remains our center of gravity through the years. She is the very diagram of belonging, the where in whose vacinty we are fed and watered, and have our wounds bound up and our noses wiped. She is geography incarnate, with her breasts and her womb, her relative immobility, and her hands reaching up to us the fruitfulness of the earth (62).”

“The world is indeed full of a number of things…The amateur. The lover who sees that play matters. When God made the world it is unlikely that he found it hard work. All the pictures of drudges slaving over watchmaking are not nearly as good a likeness of the Creator as one little boy blowing soap bubbles through his thumb and forefinger. He doesn’t do it because he has to—only because he likes to (121).”

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Tomaso Albinoni (1671-1751)

Yesterday was the anniversary of the birth of Venetian Baroque composer, Tomaso Albinoni in 1671. Although famous in his lifetime for his fifty operas, he is most remembered for instrumental music including his oboe concertos and the “Adagio in G minor”—a later reconstruction from some of his works. Of Albinoni’s operas, twenty-eight of them were produced in Venice in a period of 27 years.

J.S. Bach wrote at least two fugues based on themes from Albinoni and utilized his bass lines for instructing students in harmony.

The Erato recording of Adagios is a great place to start listening to Albinoni.


The name “Muhammad” is now the second most popular name for new baby boys in Britain, The Times of London reported. Taking into account the fourteen various spellings of the name, Muhammad rose 12% on the list and is expected to take the top spot away from “Jack” by the end of the year. The name first entered the top 30 in 2000. Muslims make up only 3% of the population of England, about 1.5 million people, but Muslim birth rates are three times that of other Britons.

The top ten names are: Jack, Muhammad, Thomas, Joshua, Oliver, Harry, James, William, Samuel, and Daniel.

A reader commenting about The Times article wrote, “The thin edge of the wedge is getting thicker.”

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

King's Meadow Classical Christian College Survey

King’s Meadow is moving through the preliminary process of establishing a Christian classical college program. One of the steps necessary in order to be authorized by the state of Tennessee is to demonstrate the need for such a program. We’ve developed a short (16 question) on-line survey to ascertain the potential interest of the community. Please take a minute to complete the Classical Christian College Survey and please pass it along to other folks you know who might be interested.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Monday, June 4, 2007

Just For Fun

If you thought Hershey Kisses were good, you should taste the original--Wilbur Buds made by Wilbur's Chocolate in lovely Lititz, Pennsylvania. (Unfortunately, we are not related.)

The semisweet chocolate is good even by European standards (so says Bev, my chocolate snob friend), and the bittersweet is extraordinary. I'll be in the Lititz area next month and plan to stock up.