Archives For October 2016

milada-vigerova-prayer-unsplashPrayer books are too often under read. Where this applies in my own life is ‘The Book of Common Prayer’ and the ‘Moravian Liturgy/Hymnal’. I have both, yet rarely look at them. It’s something I’m attempting to remedy.

My reasons for not throwing myself into them includes a wariness of anything that might enable empty ritual, lifeless chanting or thoughtless routine. All three of which are in some way, shape or form negatively attached to liturgical call and response [order of service instructions], and scripted prayer.

Taking into account that the foundations of my own Christian journey, which begins in Catholic, and ends in reformed Pentecostal and Evangelical-Anglican Churches, I don’t see this aversion as a simple bias. Pentecostal worship tends to also lend itself to repetition. Plus, many a musically gifted Pentecostal brother and sister can turn two minutes worth of words and chords, into ten minutes of singing the same line over and over again.

I’m with lay preacher, A.W. Tozer, who said:

‘I cannot speak for you, but I want to be among those who worship. I do not want just to be part of some great ecclesiastical machine where the Pastor turns the crank and the machine runs […] Can true worship be engineered and manipulated? […]  Engineers do many a great things in their fields, but no mere human force or direction can work the mysteries of God among men. If there is no wonder, no experience of mystery, our efforts to worship will be futile. There will be no worship without the Spirit’ [i]

I don’t want to be part of a detached mechanical process where we try to push the superstitious buttons so as to get God to “show up.” Repetition in this sense, is not only pointless, it’s pagan. We cannot conjure up God as if we have some special power over Him. Though He chooses to receive even sighs as prayer, He is not at our beck and call. We cannot please Him by our performance at church any more than we can impress him by our church attendance records.

For starters, ‘to exist in the Church means to exist by and in the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ […] to be in the Church is to believe’ (Barth, 1942:291) [ii]; Jesus: “where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them” (Matthew 18:20, ESV).

In other words: God is there and is willing to be there.

This means that there is a place for liturgy and scripted prayer, just as there is a place for that ten minute extension of a two-minute song.

There is a place for these. When the storm comes, the trained, not the charming, the most entertaining or talented, get the job done. When we’re left speechless, when our mind goes blank, reflexes kick in and that prayer we made an effort to learn by heart is recalled word for word. The repeated words of that worship song are remembered, bringing light into an otherwise dark moment.

The principle is simple. Repetition encourages talent. It sharpens skill. The untrained rescuer poses a danger to others as well as to themselves; the soldier, pilot or sailor acts on that training with great skill because over 90% of their time was dedicated to “boring” drills. The musician recalls notes with precision because of training that involved repetition.

Whilst I’m wary of liturgy and scripted prayer, I need to remind myself that the mechanisms which produce a “zombified” empty ritual, wrongly called worship, is not the full story.

The feasts of Israel, beginning with Passover, are designed to recall-with-precision God’s declaration and liberation of slaves from Egypt. This was to proclaim Good News, the news that recalls ‘God will be our God and we will be His people”. Christmas and Easter, in their purer forms, are repeated annually for much the same reasons. There is a richness in liturgy and scripted prayer that can be mined and utilised for the betterment of an embattled world.

moravian-prayer

If, in our just recoil away from empty repetition, we jettison liturgy and scripted prayer, we jettison its usefulness. If that happens we’re left the poorer for having done so.

Happy Reformation day!


Sources:

[i] Tozer, A.W 2009, Whatever Happened to Worship? Authentic Media (pp.11, 60-61)

[ii] Barth, K. 1942 The Passing & the Coming of Man, CD II/2 Hendrickson Publishers (p.291)

Image credit: Milada Vigerova Photography. ‘Prayer’ (Sourced from: Unsplash.com)

Hidden Emissaries

October 27, 2016 — Leave a comment

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Hidden emissaries

Fifth columns*, called to rise

Gracefully disguised

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gerbrand-van-eeckout_1664-cornelius

“Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”

– (Hebrews 13:1-2, ESV)


Notes:

*According to Thomas Doherty, in Hollywood and Hitler, 2013, Fifth column is a reference that came out of the Spanish Civil War. It is a comment ‘attributed to Rebel commander Emilio Mola during the battle for Madrid in 1936. Mola claimed to have four columns of troops surrounding the city and a fifth column within the city ready to join the offensive.’ (Columbia University Press, p.151)

**Artwork credit:  Gerbrand van den Eeckhout, 1664 ‘Cornielius‘. Inspired by Acts. 10

***Haiku: RL2016

elliot-stallion_polling-booth-unsplashPride has different faces. At times it can be blatantly obvious and at other times, sweet and subtle.

Then what can look like pride is sometimes simply just over-compensation because of deeper insecurities, or apathy towards good communication. This doesn’t dismiss the condescending or ungracious tone, but it does help to ask whether or not this might be a factor.

I see a lot of this in some online and informal academic forums. The most notorious is Facebook. More often than responding to encouragement, I’m fielding a response to someone who’s critical, which generally comes from people who only ever comment when a post is controversial. In stating this, I’m not looking for sympathy or venting some disillusionment. It’s just an observation.

Sometimes it can appear as though critics look for a ”we’ve got him” moment. Something akin to the reaction of ABC host, Kerry O’Brien, who with a mixture of exuberance and insensitivity, shouted on camera, ‘’we’ve got him’’, when the John Howard led, Liberal party, lost the 2007 Australian election to his hyped up opponent, Kevin Rudd; (“Kevin07” to his more devout supporters).

As frustrating as these reactions can be to my own contributions, I don’t see them as a personal attack against me. It’s an attack against which side of politics I’ve been squeezed into by the reader. If you’ve encountered the same situation from either side of politics and their fanatical groupies, it’s good mental health practice to keep this distinction in mind.

Such challenges aren’t always a bad thing. For starters I’m challenged to be more accurate, better informed and well sourced. The downsides, of course are that having to do this can tempt us to respond to pride with pride. It also turns something like blogging or micro-blogging into a bit of an administrative grind. (… and outside a government job, or university, who’s really got that kind of time?)

Appearance paralyses substance. For example: If you appear to agree with the Left, you’re reliable, if you appear to be of the right, you’re pushed in that direction and treated with a large amount of suspicion. The appearance of ideological alignment is given priority over content.

Keeping your bearings in these situations begins by recognising the cause. The contemporary democratic exchange has become more about competing against others, than it has about inspiring civil conversation in a giving and receiving of ideas; an exchange where both parties, whether opposed or united, still walk away having learnt something because of the benefits of humility.

As lifted up by Jean Bethke Elshtain in her brief discussion about Martin Luther King Jnr,

‘King’s dream of a new democratic community, a new social covenant, drew upon old democratic ideas forged on the anvil of his rock-bottom Christian faith. In the pragmatic yet idealistic world of practical politics that King endorsed, blacks and whites, men and women, the poor and the privileged, come together around a set of concrete concerns.
Temporary alliances are formed, though the assumption is never that things will automatically divide by racial or any other identity […] In public we learnt to work with people whom we disagree sharply and with whom we would not care to live in a situation of intimacy. But we can be citizens together; we can come to know a good in common that we cannot know alone.’ [i]

Instead of shared ground there is a competition, driven by a pride that finds its home in the quest to place seeming to know, or be doing, above actually knowing and doing.It’s more important to be seen by others to be more intelligent, more cultured, more loving; or for the Christian, more “Christian”, or tragically, more liberally Christian. I will say, though, that the current trends, if observed closely, really do tell us who is who, & what they’re really all about.

The aim of this competition is to post in order to shore up a position of popularity. Therefore, employing as many  ”likes” as possible to feed activity; “the stats”. All of which boosts one’s all important ”level of social media influence”, sense of self-importance, and/or dollars that flow through the masses, who have been attracted by deliberately chosen articles that appeal to “feel-good” trends. This is currently what we’re seeing in the 2016 Presidential elections in the United States between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump. Truth doesn’t matter, if it hinders any increase in approval ratings.

I’m in agreement with Christina Grau, who recently wrote on pride and homeschoolers:

“We need to avoid the sin of pride. Pride prevents us from establishing good relationships and sharing Christ with others. We think our way is best and think less of those who aren’t doing the same. Apart from moral issues, we need to understand that our way of doing things is simply that; our way. It is not our job to convince people to our way of thinking, nor is our way the only way the job gets done.” [ii]

Approval ratings might sore, but the cost is compromise. Truth and love suffers; creativity is hindered. All sucked into subservience of beating the algorithm and placating human and feelings; it’s master: pride.

‘Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser”
– Proverbs 9:8-9

Source:

[i] Elshtain, J.B. 1995 Democracy on Trial, BasicBooks, Perseus Books Group (pp.60-61)

[ii] Grau, C. Playing the Comparison Game (The Art of Pride), 25th October 2016

Image credit: Elliot Stallion, Unsplash.com

Grinding Sunset

October 24, 2016 — Leave a comment

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Melting clouds

Darkness pierced by light

Grinding sunset

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october-sunset

 


‘In Jesus Christ was life and the life was the light of men.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’  

– (1 John. 1:4-5, ESV)

(RL2016)

As the great 19th Century preacher, Charles Spurgeon wrote, ‘Life is a conflict, & thou needest battle music’ [i]. In addition to this, I recently came across a fitting quote from Ludwig Von Mises:

‘a [creative] genius is precisely a man or a woman who defies all schools and rules, who deviates from the traditional roads of routine and opens up new paths through land inaccessible before.’ [ii]

So, with these words in mind, here’s the top October additions to my high rotation, “A-List” on Spotify.

1. ‘Hard Love’, Need to Breathe

Need to Breathe hadn’t really caught me ear beyond a song or two. Hard Love did. The song, also the album’s namesake, overtakes most tunes in the CCM market at the moment. Toby Mac’s album, ‘This is Not a Test’ still holds first place and if that’s the new standard by which artists within the Christian contemporary music arena are measured, then Need To Breathe nail it.

2. ‘Rot’, Lacey Sturm

Lacey and her husband, Josh, team up on an album that makes my top five albums of 2016. Lacey has the ability to communicate God’s message of grace through an art filled with scars, mostly visible only to those who wear the same, or similar. What’s important about this is that the past doesn’t dominate. Jesus is Victor and that’s exactly what is pierced into each well-considered lyric. For those who just hear and rock to the music, the guitar work is mostly rhythmic, the bass line strong and the drums consistent. What I like about ‘Rot’ (and the album in general) is that Josh’s guitar work is on par with Lacey’s vocals. The former compliments the latter.

(Related post: Review: ‘The Reason’, Lacey Sturm)

3. ‘Die Tezte Fahrt (The Last Ride)’, Santiano

I’ve listened to some European folk bands before, but among them German band, Santiano rules all. My German is rudimentary and needs improving. What better way to do that than with one of the coolest songs of the genre. The Last Ride reminds me of Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner. It’s weighty, reflective and melodic. The violin solo, baritone harmonies and solid chorus make this song. Of special note is the chorus and it’s final two sentences:

“Die letzte Fahrt Du bleibst uns Freund und Kamerad”
(The last ride. You will stay with us friend and comrade)

4. ‘Phoenix’ – Unikron Remix, We Are Leo

We Are Leo seem to have a better run with remixes than they do with their conventional songs. Two things make this song and the band itself appealing. First, the lyrics, melody and depth of imagery. Second, is the fact that the band isn’t afraid to expand on what they’ve already created. The remix of Phoenix is reminiscent of the synth keys used by Styx and Rush. The song itself lends to the early Christian use of the Phoenix as a symbol of the resurrection and future hope that the resurrection of Jesus Christ brings.

5. ‘The River’,  Jordan Feliz

For a Gospel song, or Gospel music in general, it’s difficult to break free from the standard Christian Radio friendly status quo that streams out from CCM (Christian Contemporary Music). Worship music is blurred together in sound and repetitive lyrics are wrapped in bad theology with a beat. Jordan Feliz clears that Charybdis. Following in the footsteps of Crowder, vocally, Feliz stands out. The style could easily find an ear on mainstream secular radio as it would in a church. In that light, Feliz stands among the many who cross borders with their art. I like everything about this song.

6. ‘Karate’,  Baby Metal

Rock/metal opera is a genre that doesn’t get a lot of mainstream airplay, if any. It’s likely that you haven’t heard of Baby Metal, outside social media. That the band comes from Japan makes their art and music all the more intriguing, it also adds a great deal to their appeal. The music is outstanding, highly professional, and not overly produced. One of the stands outs are the vocals. Lyrically, the theme of ‘Karate’ is played out in the video, and has my vote. This said, as for the rest of the album, I’m still trying to figure it out.

7. ‘Higher’,  Unspoken

This isn’t in my usual taste, as far a musical style goes, but I like the rhythm. Musically, the bass is alive. The harmonies are okay, and the keys light everything else up. Lyrically it’s full of hope and points to a far greater source of hope than anything we as humans can conjure up or invent. I’m a fan of lyrics that speak of this as a lived reality.

8. ‘Bizzare’, Michael Sweet

Quite simply, the vocals, lyrics, tempo, and bass-line are spectacular. All those good things, though, pale in comparison to the precision of the lead guitar. Along side some of Oz Fox’s recent work on the newer Stryper albums, Whitesnake guitarist Joel Hoekstra, gives one of the best melodic lead parts for guitar I’ve heard in recent years. All we need now is a Slash and Sweet collaboration.


Sources:

[i] Spurgeon, C.H. 1883, Flowers From a Puritan’s Garden

[ii] Mises, L. 1945, Bureaucracy Stellar Books, 2014

Note: Thoughts expressed here are my own. I did not receive payment of any kind to review or present these songs.

Cloud of Light

October 14, 2016 — 1 Comment

hildegard-of-benginWhen I went back and re-listened to the previous tune I created a few weeks back, I realized that the mixing wasn’t as balanced as I thought it was. It’s all over the place.

The fact that I rushed the mixing process stands out. There’s a lot to be said about letting any art you’ve created sit for a few hours before stamping it out as complete. Lesson learnt.

Time is not a commodity I have a lot of, so, what I do put together is posted as is. Warts n’ all. I’m also not writing these tunes and putting them together in any professional capacity – or at least not yet.

This affords me a creative margin where I don’t have the pressure to have them as polished and perfected as I would, if say, I was doing this for a job.

What I like about what I can currently do is the honesty of it. I’m not the world’s best guitarist, but I am confident enough with what skills I do have, to put them before God and recognize them as a gift.

These tunes, are therefore, me just honing that gift; sharpening it with new technology and stretching my creativity. I’ve failed and will probably make more mistakes on that front as I keep doing this.

The same goes for this blog. For the most part, I grew up with no encouragement, recognition or knowledge about what gifts and talents were. It wasn’t something my parents seemed concerned about.

Guitar playing was something I was forced into. As a first grader my mother insisted I start to learn a skill; to be notably proficient at something, unlike other senior members of my family who seemed to have no desire to better themselves or work on what gifts they might have had.

The terms “gifts’ and “talent” only became a real concern for me in senior high school. Even then, any ambition for a career in music, although entertained, was a joke. Like most things I experienced in church and elsewhere, I came from a dysfunctional home; didn’t come from the “right” neighborhood, so not much was expected of me, let alone any hope for a future.

The first electric guitar I owned was second-hand. It had a cracked head, and would go out of tune as quickly as it was tuned. One of my worst memories is standing in front of a church with their worship team, trying to use it. Needless to say, I wasn’t on the team for very long.

That, I am grateful to say has no bearing on where I am at now.

As part of the creative process this week, I’ve taken a phrase out of the Complete Writings of Hildegard of Bengin. In particular the imagery of a ‘cloud of light pitted against an immense darkness of great density’:

“…an immense darkness of great density and horror came from the East and extended towards the cloud of light, yet because of that cloud of light it could advance no further […] I heard the ancient serpent say to himself: ‘I will prepare all my forces of strength and wage war against my enemies with all I can muster!’ […] And he blew out a poison cloud which covered all the earth like black smoke, and from it came a great roar, saying: ‘Let no one honour a God they cannot see and know! How can they worship what they cannot know! In the black cloud I saw the images of many kinds of vices.’
(Selected Writings, p. 137)

It’s a prophecy from the 1100’s, that, in its entirety, is worth checking out.

 


Top image of Hildegard: Artist unknown.