Monday, December 21, 2009

Music and Harmonia

“For all that we might smile benignly at in the mathematical clumsiness and rhetorical hyperbole of the classical philosopher of music or in the intellectual abstractions and tetchy fussiness of the medieval theorist, is there not something in the notion of being ‘cradles’ in God’s created harmonia that is worth recovering?”

Jeremy Begbie, Resounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Thanks and Liturgy

“Religious service is essentially a work of praise, of giving glory to God. Though it is communal work, and in a sense it helps to create community, it is derived from the primordial action of the individual human being, and action more basic to us—when we are authentically ourselves—than even eating or drinking or sleeping; namely, giving thanks. For prior to everything else we do, and whether or not we think of ourselves as ‘religious,’ we exist, and liturgy begins by acknowledging that fact with gratitude.”
Stratford Caldecott, Beauty for Truth's Sake

Thursday, November 12, 2009

100 Spiritually Significant Films

While one could argue about some of the particulars, this list of Spiritually Significant Films offers a guide for viewing and discussing a wide array of movies.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Reverence in Worship

Ecclesiastes 5:1-2
Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Facts and Truth

Because we come from a common origin, there’s a desire for that which is true. Myth is more powerful as a weapon for cultural renewal than math and science. When you want facts, look in an encyclopedia. When you want truth, look in songs, art, literature, and sculpture. In our rationalistic way, we think facts are truth, but facts and truth are not the same. Our desire to make them the same is why we sometimes never move on from knowledge into wisdom.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Story of Our Lives

“God has a plan—that is, a story—for each of His children. Strictly speaking, we do not shape the facts of our lives into stories; we try to discern the pattern of the story that God is telling with our lives.”
—Peter Leithart

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Power of Faerie

"Those who say that children must not be frightened may mean …that we must try to keep out of his mind the knowledge that he is born into a world of death, violence, wounds, adventure, heroism and cowardice, good and evil. [This] would indeed be to give children a false impression and feed them on escapism in the bad sense… Since it is so likely that they will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker…As far as that goes, I side impenitently with the human race against the modern reformer. Let there be wicked kings and beheadings, battles and dungeons, giants and dragons, and let villains be soundly killed at the end of the book. Nothing will persuade me that this causes an ordinary child any kind or degree of fear beyond what it wants, and needs, to feel. For, of course, it wants to be a little frightened.
"…I think it possible that by confining your child to
blameless stories of child life in which nothing at all alarming ever happens, you would fail to banish the terrors, and would succeed in banishing all that can ennoble them or make them endurable. For in the fairy tales, side by side with the terrible figures, we find the immemorial comforters and protectors, the
radiant ones; and the terrible figures are not merely terrible, but sublime. It would be nice if no little boy in bed, hearing, or thinking he hears, a sound, were ever at all frightened. But if
he is going to be frightened, I think it better that he should think of giants and dragons than merely of burglars. And I think St George, or any bright champion in armor, is a better comfort than the idea of the police."
—C.S. Lewis, On Three Ways of Writing for Children

Monday, November 2, 2009


“We no longer dare to believe in beauty and we make of it a mere appearance in order the more easily to dispose of it. Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness, and she will not allow herself to be separated and banned from her two sisters without taking them along with herself in an act of mysterious vengeance.”
When beauty is lost, “the whole of worldly being falls under the dominion of ‘knowledge.’ And the springs and forces of love immanent in the world are overpowered and finally suffocated by science, technology and cybernetics. The result is a world without women, without children, without reverence for love…a world in which power and the profit-margin are the sole criteria, where the disinterested, the useless, the purposeless is despised, persecuted and in the end exterminated—a world in which art itself is forced to wear the mask and features of technique.”
—Hans Urs van Balthasar

Legends and Truth

“All too often the legends old men tell are closer to the truth than the facts young professors tell. The wildest fairy tales of the ancients are far more realistic than the scientific phantasms imagined by moderns.” —Hilaire Belloc

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Glory of the Psalms

Of how many heroic characters have these old temple songs been the inspiration! Jewish saints and patriots chanted them in the synagogue and on the battlefield; apostles and evangelists sung them among perils of the wilderness, as they traversed the rugged paths of Syria and Galatia, and Macedonia; martyrs in Rome softly hummed them when the lions near at hand were crouching for their prey; in German forests, in Highland Glen, Lutherans and Covenanters breathed their lives out through their cadences; in every land penitent souls have found in them words to tell the story of their sorrow, and victorious souls the voices of their triumph; mothers watching their babes by night have cheered the vigil by singing them, mourners walking in lonely ways have been lighted by the great hopes that shine through them; and pilgrims going down into the valley of the shadow of death have found in their firm assurances a strong staff to lean upon.
—H.T. Hanna

Friday, August 7, 2009

Quote on Prayer and the Psalms

“If we want to read and to pray the prayers of the Bible and especially the Psalms, therefore, we must not ask first what they have to do with us, but what they have to do with Jesus Christ. We must ask how we can understand the Psalms and God’s Word, and then we shall be able to pray them. It does not depend, therefore, on whether the Psalms express adequately that which we feel at a given moment in our heart. If we are to pray aright, perhaps it is quite necessary that we pray contrary to our own heart. Not what we want to pray is important, but what God wants us to pray. If we were dependent entirely on ourselves, we would probably pray only the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer. But God wants it otherwise. The richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart.” —Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Bible as Art?

This story, concept, execution, comments, mentality, etc is so wrong in so many ways. However, it does serve to reveal a great loss in our culture for respect for the Word of God as well as appropriate Biblical categories of thinking, worldview, and belief--not to mention loving the lost.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Distilled Sunshine

It was nearly dark, for the full November twilight had fallen around Green Gables, and the only light in the kitchen came from the dancing red flames in the stove.

Anne was curled up Turk-fashion on the hearthrug, gazing into that joyous glow where the sunshine of a hundred summers was being distilled from the maple cordwood.

--L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Mr. Badger's House

The floor was well-worn red brick, and on the wide hearth burnt a fire of logs, between two attractive chimney-corners tucked away in the wall, well out of any suspicion of draught. A couple of high-backed settles, facing each other on either side of the fire, gave further sitting accommodations for the sociably disposed. In the middle of the room stood a long table of plain boards placed on trestles, with benches down each side. At one end of it, where an arm-chair stood pushed back, were spread the remains of the Badger's plain but ample supper. Rows of spotless plates winked from the shelves of the dresser at the far end of the room, and from the rafters overhead hung hams, bundles of dried herbs, nets of onions, and baskets of eggs. It seemed a place where heroes could fitly feast after victory, where weary harvesters could line up in scores along the table and keep their Harvest Home with mirth and song, or where two or three friends of simple tastes could sit about as they pleased and eat and smoke and talk in comfort and contentment.
--Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


"But she had, as I have told you, the glimmerings of a sense of humor—which is simply another name for a sense of the fitness of things."

—L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Haydn Anniversary

Today marks the 200 anniversary of the death of Joseph Haydn. Damian Thompson writes a sympathetic and compelling argument for re-exploring the work of this oft overlooked composer.

Pentecost 2009

One of my favorite hymns for Pentecost is "Come Down, O Love Divine" by Bi­an­co of Si­ena (?-1434) (Di­scen­di, Amor san­to). What a stately and sincere exploration of the indwelling work of the Spirit.

Come down, O love divine, seek Thou this soul of mine,
And visit it with Thine own ardor glowing.
O Comforter, draw near, within my heart appear,
And kindle it, Thy holy flame bestowing.

O let it freely burn, til earthly passions turn
To dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
And let Thy glorious light shine ever on my sight,
And clothe me round, the while my path illuming.

Let holy charity mine outward vesture be,
And lowliness become mine inner clothing;
True lowliness of heart, which takes the humbler part,
And o’er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.

And so the yearning strong, with which the soul will long,
Shall far outpass the power of human telling;
For none can guess its grace, till he become the place
Wherein the Holy Spirit makes His dwelling.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Shame on Judy

Children's author Judy Bloom is actively soliciting funds for pro-death organization, Planned Parenthood. In a prepared statement for Mother's Day she wrote:

"Say thanks this Mother's Day with a gift that honors her courage by making a donation to Planned Parenthood in her name. I guarantee you that she'll be pleased. I know I would be."

None so blind as those who cannot see. What tragic irony.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Doodles and Drivel

Doddle for Google is a scholarship contest for students to sketch a Google home design with the theme of “What I Wish for the World.” Some of the drawings are quite interesting; some seem to be very advanced for their age. Unfortunately, almost all of them are political messages of gay rights, health care coverage, rebirth in peace and harmony, acceptance of public art (i.e. graffiti), and lots of world peace and tolerance. As one 8 year old put it, “One World One God—I wish religious harmony for the world. We all are equal under one God! Our world will be a better place, if we love and respect each other irrespective of our religion. With respectful coexistence of different religions, peace will prevail in the world.”

It reminds me of all of the graduation speeches at this time of year. “Who knows but in our midst might be someone who finds the cure for cancer (or AIDS or the global fever).” All of the high minded, good intentions and humanist ideals fall flat in the face of sinful man. It makes me fearful of the future generations and their conception of the world.

What do I wish for the world? Jesus.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Horton Foote Tribute

Texan playwright Horton Foote died in March of this year. Yesterday, friends and family gathered to pay tribute to this quiet man and his remarkable talent.

“Horton Foote wrote tough, serious plays about people to whom nothing happened, except that they lived their lives. Horton never wrote a character in any of his plays. Horton only wrote people.”

Potential Artifact Hoax

Martin Gayford writes a commentary that questions the age and origin of the famous statue and likeness of Egyptian Queen Nefertiti.

Current Reading

Friday, April 24, 2009

Bach and Belief

It looks like A.N. Wilson has come full circle in his walk of faith and has returned to the Gospel. Here is an interesting blog about how Bach played a role in that journey.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Christian Nation?

At a press conference this week in Turkey, President Obama casually rebuffed the idea that the United States is a Judeo-Christian nation.

"One of the great strengths of the United States," the President said, "is ... we have a very large Christian population -- we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation. We consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values."

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Bach and Mozart

Mozart of course was the ultimate composer for the Enlightenment. A good way to break up any dinner party is to claim Bach’s superiority to Mozart, but there it is: Spend any serious amount of time listening to Bach, and most of Mozart’s work, however wantonly gorgeous, will seem to be…missing something.

—James R. Gaines, Evening in the Palace of Reason: Bach Meets Frederick the Great in the Age of Enlightenment

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Targeted Ministry

C.S. Lewis writes the following in his essay, "Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What's To Be Said":

"Some people seem to think that I began by asking myself how I could say something about Christianity to children; then fixed on the fairy tale as an instrument, then collected information about child psychology and decided what age group I’d write for; then drew up a list of basic Christian truths and hammered out ‘allegories’ to embody them. This is all pure moonshine. I couldn’t write in that way. It all began with images; a faun carrying an umbrella, a queen on a sledge, a magnificent lion."

It strikes me that some people's assumptions about Lewis's writing of Narnia are somewhat similar to the modern evangelical strategy of ministry.

Chesterton on Fairy Stories

"If you happen to read fairy tales, you will observe that one idea runs from one end of them to the other--the idea that peace and happiness can only exist on some condition. This idea, which is the core of ethics, is the core of the nursery-tales."

~G. K. Chesterton~
All Things Considered

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sunday, March 22, 2009

In Defense of Lent

Here's a link to my article about a protestant view of Lent. It was published in the most recent King's Meadow newsletter. To sign up for the free email newsletter, click here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy Shamrock Day?

Apparently the name "St. Patrick's Day" has become too divisive and controversial. Since the origin of St. Patrick's Day is the celebration of the Christian Faith proclaimed to the Irish by St. Patrick (who died on March 17, 461), it seems ironic that some (i.e. Disney and card stores) would seek to declare that religion gets in the way of celebrating this day. For more info, click here for a newspaper article.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Role of Music

Music should be enjoyed prudently and in moderation, like wine, because it has the capacity to excite men to evil as well as good, to intoxicate, and to exclude other worthwhile occupations.
—Gioseffo Zarlino, The Art of Counterpoint: Part Three of Le Istitutioni harmoniche, 1558

Thursday, February 19, 2009

"New" Tolkien Book

From the New York Times:

"There will be much celebrating around the Party Tree in Hobbiton: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt said in an e-mail message that it planned to release a previously unpublished book by J. R. R. Tolkien that predates his novel “The Hobbit” and his fantasy epic “The Lord of the Rings.” The book, “The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun,” was written during the 1920s and ’30s, while Tolkien held the Rawlinson and Bosworth professorship of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University. It is his English-language narrative of the Norse hero Sigurd the Volsung, whose medieval adventures were — of course — populated by magic horses, dwarfs, dragons and gods with mischievous motives. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt said that it would publish the book, with commentary from Tolkien’s son Christopher Tolkien, on May 5."

Stravinsky Conducts the End of Firebird

Watch how much control he has over the orchestra--even with his facial expressions. What a gifted man!

Igor Stravinsky quotes:
"I was born out of due time in the sense that by temperament and talent I should have been more suited for the life of a small Bach, living in anonymity and composing regularly for an established service and for God."

"I haven't understood a bar of music in my life, but I have felt it."

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Musical Counterpoint

It is hard to write a beautiful song. It is harder to write several individually beautiful songs that, when sung simultaneously, sound as a more beautiful polyphonic whole. The internal structures that create each of the voices separately must contribute to the emergent structure of the polyphony, which in turn must reinforce and comment on the structures of the individual voices. The way that is accomplished in detail is...'counterpoint'. —John Ruhn

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Power of Bach

Here's an interesting article sent to me by Evan Pyle. It's both encouraging and discouraging! This is even more evidence that music does shape who we are, how we think, and how we act.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Thoughts on Andersen’s Snow Queen

Considering Han Christian Andersen’s sexual identity confusion and his unrequited love affairs (including the singer Jenny Lind who thought of him only as a brother), several uneasy points arise from studying The Snow Queen:

There are many strong female characters but only four male characters: Kai who needs to be rescued, the prince who was raised from being a pauper by the princess, the crow who died, and the stag who acts as a beast of burden.

For all of the evil intent and Lilith-like qualities of the Snow Queen, she is never defeated, confronted, or banished. Gerda just steals Kai away after “innocence and love” break the spell. The Snow Queen’s power remains intact. Evil is not defeated by good.

The initial evil of the devil (or hobgoblin) with the splintered mirror in the first section is never confronted except in the innocence and love of Gerda. The exaltation of childhood and innocence is more in line with a belief in innate goodness rather than a Biblical understanding of being innocent as a dove.

There is no happy ending in the fairy tale sense. Gerda and Kai are older, wiser, childlike and platonic. The wedding that should end all comedies is absent.

The story is moralistic but without a moral (like in most fairy tales).

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Elfin Coincidence

"In short, there is in life an element of elfin coincidence which people reckoning on the prosaic may perpetually miss."
—G.K. Chesterton, “The Blue Cross”

Monday, February 2, 2009

Dangers of Originality in Art

Craftsmanship, and not originality, was the emphasis in the arts prior to Romanticism and the Enlightenment. Certainly an artist was praised for imaginative ideas, but the value of those ideas rested in how the artist treated and developed those ideas and crafted them into something profound. The quality of the idea was dependent on its suitability for development.

An artist striving to be original by necessity ignores or rebels against the history and development of their art. This denial flies in the face of the Biblical ideas of learning from the past, passing along wisdom, and respecting the clouds of witnesses who have gone before.

An artist motivated to be original, by definition, is more interested in personal glory than the glory of God. The impulse to be different for the sake of being different has little or no place in a Biblical concept of the arts.

Scripture does not deny the opportunity to be creative, but the emphasis and purpose is far different than our concept of originality. Craftsmanship, as an artistic trait, is much more in line with the Biblical notion of the arts—and a far more difficult endeavor requiring the exercising of wisdom and ability. The idea of taking various materials, gathering them, remolding and blending them, and ultimately enlarging them is the bringing of order inherent in craftsmanship—an opportunity to act as a sub-creator.

One need only to evaluate the twentieth century art that used originality as its basis to see how far originality takes true art away from a Biblical standard and winds up destroying itself in the process.

Hymns: Texts and Tunes

One of my issues with the idea of setting old texts to new tunes is the suitability of the new melody with the lyrics. I've sung too many upbeat songs about the blood of Christ or repentance. Reverent theological issues should be sung reverently and appropriately. This does not mean in a stodgy or forced manner but with an appropriate weight and significance.

It is perhaps for this reason that many have trouble with rich theological texts sung to bebop style tunes that seem to undercut the permanence of the eternal truths expressed. Texts and tunes should appropriately reflect one another: joyful expressions of thanksgiving with joyous music; mournful repentance of sin with solemn and dark melodies; pardon received with thankful hopeful tunes; eternal truths with rooted and firm, timeless melodies.

Alice Parker addresses the suitability of this pairing in The Anatomy of Melody:

"Hymns suffer particularly from this failure to pair [text and tune] effectively. There seems to be a feeling that if the words are talking about something holy, that is enough. For the discriminating singer, that is certainly not true: a careless text can reduce even a wonderful melody to ruins. Choosing by syllable count (the meter of the hymns) is basic but much more important is the nature of the tune (its mood, function, voice, tone) and the comfort level of the combination…

"Hymnals are full of bad marriages, and our sensitivities get dulled by constant exposure to bad models…Try consulting the metrical index in the back of any hymnal and look up the text for the first example in any meter. Then try that text with each of the succeeding metrically matched melodies in turn. They should all fit, but you’ll find that few of them do…there’s a very real sense of belonging or not belonging. It’s amazing how few are really good combinations.

"When hymns are selected by text, the suitability of the tune is usually ignored…Both text and tune must have their own integrity and then graciously accommodate each other."

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Current Reading

Cultural Vigilance

The wide world is all about you; you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot forever fence it out.” —J.R.R. Tolkien

Friday, January 30, 2009

Approaching Film With Understanding

The 4th Annual King's Meadow Film and Worldview Conference is February 20-21, 2009 in Franklin, TN. For more info, click here.

The medium of film is a complex, multi-layered, many dimensional art form that encompasses numerous levels of communication. Too often Christian film reviews focus solely on the plot, trying to show how the storyline agrees or disagrees with Scripture. To be sure, the worldview of the narrative matters, but how that worldview is expressed specifically through the medium of film also matters—and it matters greatly. A good filmmaker can tell the audience more through non-verbal expression than the actual dialogue can. For instance, to understand what the director is saying through his craft, we need to understand some basic elements of his tools—lighting, framing, camera angles, color, sound, symbolism, etc. Hence, the story is but one layer of the total expression. How a filmmaker tells his story embodies just as many worldview assumptions and applications as the words and ideas in the script.

For example, a gifted filmmaker can take a script that is antagonistic to Biblical morals but present it in a beautiful and winsome way that convinces the audience of the merit of the film despite the fact that it is in direct contradiction to what they say they believe.

Likewise, a director can make technical choices (such as quick edits and shaky cameras in certain circumstances) that use the medium of film in such a way that affects the audience’s ability to process visual versus written information.

Or, consider that a movie with a life-affirming message rooted in Biblical values might actually contradict its intended message through sloppy or artless production values or through techniques rooted in non-biblical worldviews. Such a lack of artistry can (will?) actually fight against the objective of the film in the first place.

When evaluating, thinking, and discussing film, we can begin with the narrative, but we also must consider how and in what manner the film presents that story. A skilled director leads the audience—often subconsciously—towards a certain reaction to a character. As the characters are thus presented, the story itself gains levels of meaning and symbolism well beyond the actual words spoken or the literal actions. In this way, the emotions a film generates will often color an objective evaluation of its content.

Film is a wonderful art and a specific art that tells a story in a unique way. The true test of film artistry lies in the craft of the filmmaker to transform a narrative into something different than what a play or book portrays. In other words, the beauty of a good film is a film that understands how to be a film in the way it tells its story.

Creed and Education

Dogma is actually the only thing that cannot be separated from education. It IS education. A teacher who is not dogmatic is simply a teacher who is not teaching. There are no uneducated people; only most people are educated wrong. The true task of culture today is not a task of expansion, but of selection-and rejection. The educationist must find a creed and teach it.
--G.K. Chesterton

The Purpose of Life

“...the chief purpose of life, for any one of us, is to increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all the means we have, and to be moved by it to praise and thanks. To do as we say in the Gloria in Excelsis: ...We praise you, we call you holy, we worship you, we proclaim your glory, we thank you for the greatness of your splendour.” —J.R.R. Tolkien

(Thanks to Kay for this quote)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Quote on Song and Silence

We are living in a culture that doesn’t value melody; one that seems to have lost touch with this primal means of expression. We are surrounded by sounds so insistent, so varied in intent and clangor, that we’ve forgotten how to listen to a single line. In fact, we don’t really listen to each other speak anymore because there are too many distractions luring us away from the unadorned human voice. We’ve lost the basic, easy connection between speech and song that makes speech musical and song communicative. We’re perilously close to losing silence: in the electronic world, silence means disconnection…

Through the media’s constant barrage, we are subjected to endless chatter, listening to tune written in an unceasing quest for momentary fame and ingesting surface information that rarely delves below the surface. We are being deprived, through overload, or our principal senses.

—Alice Parker, The Anatomy of Melody

Thursday, January 8, 2009

O'Connor Quote

"I have found that anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the Northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic."

Flannery O'Connor, "Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction"

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year

Today is the day in which the circumcision of Christ is usually remembered. Following is a hymn to that effect. It is also a good day to read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight since this Feast Day plays a role in the story.

O happy day, when first was poured
The blood of our redeeming Lord!
O happy day, when first began
His sufferings for sinful man!

Just entered on this world of woe,
His blood already learned to flow;
His future death was thus expressed,
And thus His early love confessed.

From heaven descending to fulfill
The mandates of His Father’s will,
E’en now behold the victim lie,
The Lamb of God, prepared to die!

Lord, circumcise our hearts, we pray,
Our fleshly natures purge away;
Thy Name, Thy likeness may they bear:
Yea, stamp Thy holy image there!

O Lord, the virgin born, to Thee
Eternal praise and glory be,
Whom with the Father we adore,
And Holy Ghost forevermore.

Se­bas­tien Bes­nault, 1736