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.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Bach in Leipzig

On this day in 1723, J.S. Bach was introduced to his new students at the St. Thomas School in Leipzig. His first official day was May 30, the first Sunday after Trinity Sunday, and one of Bach’s cantatas was sung in the service. At the time Bach took up his post as cantor, the St. Thomas Choir already had a Protestant tradition spanning a hundred and seventy years. Bach’s position was a combination of school teacher and church musician and he remained in this post until his death in 1750.

Bach first few years in Leipzig were marked by a prodigious outpouring of music for the service of the church. In a period of about thirty months, Bach wrote almost one hundred and fifty church cantatas. At the very least, the St. John and St. Matthew Passions were products of his first four years. Other music written during these years included motets, choral movements from the Mass, and the Easter Oratorio.

As Robin Leaver explains, the texts of the cantatas were closely associated with the hymn of the day, the Gospel of the day, the exposition of the Gospel in the sermon and the confession of faith in Luther’s creedal hymn. The texts themselves consisted of Bible verses and passages, stanzas from hymns, and religious poetry, all designed to highlight and illustrate a theme from Scripture.

Bach wrote the music of the cantatas to reflect the various texts and to provide a musical illustration of the theological content of the words. These were intended as musical sermons to edify the congregation and to bring glory to God through the proclamation of truth. The text generally opens with a passage from the prescribed Gospel lesson as a point for departure and is sung by the full choir. Explanations of the passage in the form of other scripture references, doctrinal statements, or elements of the original text are conveyed through recitative (short, declamatory sections) and aria (lyrical movements for solo or duet). As Bach scholar Christoph Wolff wrote. the “considerations of the consequences to be drawn from the lesson and the admonition to conduct a true Christian life” is also expressed through recitative and aria. The cantata concludes with the use of a hymn stanza which acts as a corporate prayer with the congregation joining in with the singing.