Tuesday, December 28, 2010
The year of 2010 has, without a doubt, been the most transformative year in my entire life. I almost see this year and the next one as the final chapter of my bildungsroman and the rest of my life as simply the epilogue; the "and he lived happily ever after" portion of my story. At the beginning of the year, there were only two things that I held in my heart as essential to my identity and one fell away, revealing who I truly am. Today, I am no longer an incorrigible New Yorker, but I am definitely an incorrigible reformed evangelical, gospel-centered, Bible-authoritative Christian. Over the next few weeks or months, I wish to chronicle my faith journey and how I got to where I am.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
A few months ago a young couple invited me to their house for dinner. I showed up and we had a wonderful time dining together. Shortly after dessert, the wife cleared the table and went into the kitchen to wash up. The husband was a friend of mine and so I said to him, "Thanks for having me over. It was truly kind of you. The meal was was delicious and I am thoroughly satisfied. You're a great guy. But your wife! I can't stand her! She's completely unlike you! I don't like her and I can't enjoy your company when she's around!"
"Look, don't get me wrong, man. I've got nothing against you. I think you're awesome. But I really dislike your wife."
Okay, that never happened. Let me be very clear about that. I should hope that I have more tact than that. But seriously though, WHO WOULD DO THAT?? That story is so unrealistic and outrageous, you couldn't even find that situation in a crappy sitcom. Even if you truly don't like someone, you don't badmouth them to their spouse!
It's ludicrous for more than one reason. On the one hand, anyone with more than a few milligrams of common sense know that there are certain social norms that you are ignoring when you're that blunt with someone about a person they care about. However, I think there is something more disturbing about this story than just the number of social rules of behavior you break. I think it's that intuitively, we know that no matter how much you dislike someone's wife, you CAN'T disparage someone in front of their husband. No matter what you have against someone, you can't just criticize them before someone who loves them!
Why? Because you have to figure that if he married her, he's got to love her. And that love is real whether it's love because of her character or love despite her character.
I'm thinking what the venerable Mahatma Ghandi said about Christians is just as denigrating to Christ as it is to his people. The Bible says that the church is the bride of Christ and that he paid no small price and went through nothing less than hell to have her. In Ephesians 5, Paul says that the love that husbands have for their wives should be modeled after the love that Jesus had for the Church, his people. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and worthy of him as a husband. He is at work to cleanse her and make her a radiant, beautiful bride, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless (Eph 5.25-27).
Ghandi, when you profess your affinity for Jesus but not his followers, you are in essence slapping his wife across the face while at the same time calling him your friend. What you fail to understand is that Jesus does not love his people because of who they are, but rather in spite of who they are. Furthermore, you fail to understand the nature of the Church; your presumption is that the Church is an organization of people who seek to look more like Jesus. While that is true in a different context, you miss the entire point of grace. You fail to understand that one does not become a Christian by what he or she does, but by what Jesus has done for him.
Ghandi, You make an astute observation that Christians are so unlike Christ. The reason is because Christ has become for us what we could not be; perfect in holiness, compassion, and love. The beauty of being a Christian is that its only requirement is to admit failure and come empty-handed before God to receive mercy. "The Church is a society of sinners - the only society in the world in which membership is based on the single qualification that the candidate shall be unworthy of membership" (Charles C. Morrison)
The failure of Christians to be like Christ does not merely point to the hopelessness of humanity in willing to be good; it also points to the depths of God's mercy and grace shown in the undeserved love of Jesus for a broken, evil, people. Ghandi, your presumption that Christians can flawlessly emulate the goodness of their leader, Jesus, is at best a deep misunderstanding of who Jesus is (that he alone is good), and at worst an arrogant belief that you're capable of accomplishing what other humans cannot (perfect goodness).
Your work in bringing peace to India and justice to her people is admirable and immense. As a Christian, I strive to bring justice to the world because I believe in a God who is perfectly just. I seek peace in everything because I believe that God wrought peace in his damaged world at great cost to himself. I do not call myself a Christian because I seek to be like Christ. I call myself one because by grace he has sought to make me more like him.
Your believe that peace in the world is attained through a system of moral values. I believe that peace is attained through a peacemaker and a sacrifice of peace. You believe that the world needs more good, compassionate, loving people like yourself and the person of Jesus Christ. I think the world only needs one perfectly good person.
Ghandi, my Christ is not like your Christ. Your Christ is utterly inadequate; powerless to save the world. If Christ were your Christ, the extent of his influence would be to inspire a bunch of miserable misfits to attempt to be loving and fail catastrophically. But the true Christ is not like that. The true Christ did not entrust the salvation of the world to anybody. He just went and did it.
I thank you Jesus, for you even though I am so unlike you.
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Passion without temperament is immaturity
Anyway, as life cycles, I find myself revisiting this issue and experiencing a deep discomfort with where I am right now, prompting this following brain dump.
Last December, right before I left for my MAP internship in Australia, Stanley asked me how I saw myself in terms of maturity. My reply was, "severely conflicted". When I look around at those my age, I see many ways in which I am clearly ahead of my peers. I am wiser, more biblically literate, more responsible, more driven to pursue God, more articulate, and I had a car. But when I considered the spiritual giants that I endeavor to imitate, I feel miles behind and despair at the long way I have to go. I feel self-centered, self-conscious, irresponsible, uncaring, unthoughtful, unsteady, under-dressed, rash, temperamental, immoderate, immodest, and immature. I know that last one kind of covers the whole thing, but I needed a third "im-" for the poetic value. I feel like a sapling next to a mighty oak. I feel like the Stuyvesant freshman with the giant backpack taking the LIRR with all those well-dressed Wall Street big guns who live out in Manhasset. Like I said... brain dump.
Some days, I make decisions that surprise myself; decisions I wouldn't have had the godly wisdom to make in the past. Some days I make decisions so appallingly boyish that I wonder if I might have even grown backwards. It doesn't help when people remark about how young I am to be a MAP apprentice. Before I came to Australia, one of my desires was to work a year or two before locking myself into the ministry track. Conversations with Don eventually convinced me to dive right in. I wish I had thought about it some more. Back then, I didn't know that certain plumblines of worldly maturity overlapped with biblical maturity, such as financial responsibility. That one still really kills me.
On Friday evenings I feel like line (a) and on Sunday evenings I feel like line (b.)
In me is an ever constant fear that I may slow down in growth, regress to the mean, and even begin to lag behind those in my cohort. A great part of that fear is sinful. It arises from my desire to stay ahead of the pack, to shine, to be the young gun. It's pride and I need to daily repent of that, asking God to help me make less of myself and more of him to works in me and him whose energy I daily labor with. Actually, this fear is mostly that. It's mostly pride. But it reminds me of an issue I faced also about a year ago: the issue of whether I run to finish first or to avoid finishing last. For some people, the verb "to chase" is in an active voice and for others, it is in passive. Why are some people chasers and other people ones being chased? Why do I consistently find myself in the latter category?
It's not that I haven't considered the ways in which I've clearly grown. I've taken a major step forward ("Major Stepforward") in romance and relationships. Ironically, romance and relationships is the subject matter than launched me into this crisis. Another way I've grown is out of the pathetic shell of fatalistic determinism. I've grappled with the angst of my ownmost possibility and won. I can accept the responsibility of my choices now. My life is no longer ruled by cause but by will.
Having said that, last night I woke up in the middle of the night and made a major realization ("Major Realization"). I realized that demographically, there is no one in the world with a greater capacity to do ministry... nay, to do anything, than me right now. I am a young, healthy, single male with minimal relational attachments and very few financial obligations. I can survive on rent money and oatmeal. Actually, that thought's crossed my mind many times before. What was new last night was the frightening irresponsibility when I do less than more than other people.
So as not to end this post Psalm 88-style, here is an article by the world's most boring tweeter, Reverend R. Albert Mohler, on the marks of manhood. It is oftentimes hard and confusing to distinguish what the world says about manliness (enjoying the taste of rare meat, able to hold down large amounts of alcohol, opting to "walk it off" instead of seeing a doctor) and what Scripture says. It's really a mess of truths, half-truths, and complete lies out there. This article has helped me to identify categories that I may think about and reflect upon separately.
Monday, August 30, 2010
Has it really taken me 22 years and a college degree to learn this one fact, that humans aren’t robots? Feelings aren’t weaknesses. They aren’t diseased outgrowths of human evolution that need to be transcended, as some later, post-Wittgenstein Analytics would have it.
A warning to all foolish thinkers out there; future decision-makers and scientists alike. You have been born with a terrible deficit in your humanity. You have been born with the inability to speak a language that the rest of the world are fluent in. You have been born with the inability to speak the language of emotions, and until you come to terms with that, you will be distant, lonely, misunderstood, and inept at living. You pride yourself in understanding with effective clarity the language of logic? You pride yourself in cutting through the BS of emotions, in order to make the right logical decisions? Don’t be an idiot. There are depths of logic and understanding that you will never understand if all you know are propositions, conditionals, conjunctions, and disjunctions.
Your language isn’t better than the language of the poets. It is primitive. It is rudimentary, building blocks of REAL language. You are speaking binary code and assembly when the rest of the world is communicating on AIM and Gchat. Your language is the equivalent of the grunts and brutish gestures of cavemen.
It's been almost a year since I wrote these words into another journal that I own. To me now, what matters now more than reason or emotions is will.
Thursday, July 8, 2010
Something I've seriously been struggling with is trying to understand why it is that certain churches so alienate people who are different. If the gospel transcends all boundaries and is really meant to destroy the dividing wall of hostility, then why do the churches of Jesus make it so hard for a Christian who is different to live and thrive and give glory to God? In my life, there have been three churches that I consider my church. In one of them, if you don't like softball, you're an outsider. In another one, if you're not studying at a prestigious Boston educational institution or able to converse about jazz or indie music, you will feel left out. In another, if you don't like meeting up to drink coffee and talk about life, you're not growing in Christ. In all three, if you're not committed to dropping 50 bucks a week eating out, then you're not fellowshipping with Christians. Call these observations unfair caricatures if you will, but caricatures only accentuate the truth; they never perpetuate it. Why are we still making it so hard for different people that God gifted with differentness to be lovers of Jesus Christ?
Perhaps the issue isn't as bad as I think it is and perhaps I am just amidst a season of emotions. I am still young and young people are not yet steady and set. Perhaps this is a part of the brokenness of a redeemed-but-not-yet realized-eschatology church. Perhaps it is God's way of reminding me that the church is a broken place that will hurt you and let you down, so don't place your ultimate trust in it the way you ought to place your ultimate trust in him.
Another related issue I've been struggling with is this: Why don't reformed evangelical churches do more things to love mercy and act justly in a social manner? This question is like a stench I can't scrub off that follows me everywhere and unsettles me. If the gospel that saves kings is the same gospel that saves beggars, why is it that so often I feel that what I'm being taught in the churches that I am a part of wouldn't work in most parts of the world? Is the theology I am being taught a bourgeousie theology? Why does it feel like these walls are too high and the gates too thick for the poor?
It goes much deeper than the pedantic statement that, "Evangelical Christians don't care about the poor". I have a deep fear that the claim only describes a symptom and that the real issue is systemic to the teaching that I've grown so accustomed to and so readily accept as God-inspired truth. Moreover, I have a deep fear that I am too much a part of the system to objectively understand it. I am a part of the problem. I need to think about this more.
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
This past Sunday, Eugene from GracePoint church reminded us from the Scriptures the following:
"The world's economy tells us to work so that we may gain, but God's economy tells us to work so that we may give."
Isn't it a beautiful reflection of the gospel when our lives are not oriented around personal gain, but in giving? Well here's a chance to put the gospel's transforming work into practice:
My birthday is coming up on July 17th! Instead of giving me a present, please consider donating to this charity in order to help people in the world get clean water.
1 billion people in the world don't have access clean water. ONE BILLION! That totally blew me away when I found that out. But we can help change that.
Since it is my 23rd birthday, I am asking for a donation of $23USD. If 50 people give that much, we can raise enough water for 57 people. But please feel free to give more if you are able to!
Please give if it is indeed in your heart to love as Christ has commanded us, and as a sign of the gospel's influence in your life practice. Even if you weren't going to give me a present, please consider giving!
"Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Luke 12.33-34
In Christ's service,
P.S. - If you'd like more information about this charity organization, you can go here. I've done my research and I can verify the honesty of this website.
Thursday, June 17, 2010
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
It is a fallacy to believe that we can “want to want”. If desire is measured by action, then what you want ALWAYS prevails. You can want what you don't choose, but ultimately what you choose is what you want the most.
When I say, "I want to get in shape" but I stay indoors and eat an extra bag of chips, I make myself a liar. I do want to get in shape, but I want the immediate pleasure of food more.
When I say, "I want to forgive you" but my actions show otherwise, then I make myself a liar.
When you say, "I want to live for God" but you can't rock up for a weekly Bible study, then you make yourself a liar. I will take your statement at face value, but at best it's a white lie because you fail to mention that you want to live for yourself MORE than you want to desire God. Can you want to want God? It is a logical fallacy. It creates an absurd infinite regression of desire.
The phrase "want to want" is the pathetic, therapeutic, nonsensical utterance of a weak-willed human being who lacks the fortitude to overcome immediacy. You only hear someone "want to want" something when there is something he knows he should want, but he cannot bring himself to give up something he considers of lesser value. If I "want to want" being in shape, then I desire a greater desire to be in shape; one that will overcome my desire to eat delicious, unhealthy food. But it is meaningless because how can one desire desire? One who "wants to want" lives inauthentically; he cheats on that which is his greatest desire. With whom does he cheat? With the desire he thinks he should have.
If I hear someone say, "I want to seek after God, but I just don't have that desire within me", I am hearing someone who is burdened (or at the very least, discomforted) by his earthly lifestyle. Yet he does not have the tenacity to do something about it. He lives a lie.
The bottom line is, you either want or you don't want. Do not make up self-pitying statements of woe about how you wish you could desire more! Your actions betray your heart's deepest desires. In the Christian life, in the physical fitness, in staying off of facebook, pick your temptation; pick the poison that you drown in.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
"I will die before I let life curl me up into the fetal position."
Monday, May 24, 2010
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
You can read the entire article here.
Some of the points in the article really grated me because here in one place are so many things that I completely disagree with in the topics of beauty, art, and music. I've seen this article mentioned on occasion in my internet wanderings since the social experiment, and it is often cited to criticize common people for not recognizing beauty in the world. And then depending on what part of the human condition is your hobby horse, you're going to want to mention something about how we move along too quickly in life or how we're not attentive enough to our surroundings or whatever.
"If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made . . . How many other things are we missing as we rush through life?" - Bill McGee
Sounds really meaningful, doesn't it? Doesn't it make you want to just slow down in life, and try to take in everything around you?
I'm not one for that kind of sentimental stuff and what really pisses me off is how people who read things like this just nod in agreement without even thinking for a second about the presuppositions undergirding this experiment's conclusion. I believe the same exact experiment would yield completely different results if we moved the fixed point from the artist to the common people, and here's what I mean.
What assumptions are made? One assumption is that this guy is world-renowned, therefore he must be one of the best in his craft. One assumption is that because he sells out concert halls at more than $100 dollars a seat, he's definitely got the talent. One assumption is that because he plays a violin which, in a market, is worth more than 25 of these, he must be really good.
We can keep unraveling assumptions. We can go into how often people today automatically correlate quality with price and then I can spend the rest of this space ranting about gearheads and their fixation on expensive musical toys. Honestly, I judge someone whose musical skill is lower than the worth of their instruments. It may be something I have to work on, but if you went out and bought an $800 electric guitar with a $400 pedalboard and you don't know what powerchords are, please don't speak to me ever again.
In the experiment, the control was the musician. The quality of Mr. Bell's music was not a variable; it was fixed. We just assumed that he played really well. I am curious how the results might have been interpreted if, instead of assuming that Joshua Bell was a GOOD violinist, we assume that the MAJORITY is always right? Then what can we conclude?
We can perhaps conclude that to some stuck-up, snobbish, elitist classical music connoisseurs, Joshua Bell's name (and his 400 year old Stradivarius violin) means something, but to the average joe he sucks. We can perhaps conclude that good "high-brow" music only has substance in a very specific, artificially-constructed environment and that out in the real world, it's meaningless. We can maybe venture that good music is 25% objectivity and 75% elitist culture. And don't even get me started on hipsters.
I've stated before that musical quality does not occur in an objective vacuum. So whereas there are objective values that make art good or bad, it is fruitless to discuss it without taking into consideration culture and socio-historical situatedness. Simply put, we do not judge artistic quality from an impartial judge's standpoint; the critic is always and already in motion.
I love classical music but I cannot tell the difference of interpretation from one artist to another if my life depended on it. I love cheese, but put a gun to my head and blindfold me and ask me if I am tasting Munster cheese from Munster, Germany or from Monroe, New York and you'll have to shoot me. I love coffee, but I have a really hard time believing that there is an objectively better way to pour hot water over ground up seeds. And make no mistake; when you call something good or bad, you are making a value judgment.
I will not pay for Belgian sea salt or ask for Fiji water. I do not believe the North Face will keep me warmer than that jacket I bought for 20 bucks at Jembro. I will gladly eat "authentic" Mexican food made by Chinese people in the kitchen. I don't need key limes from Florida to make an awesome margarita. Itzhak Perlman does not create hauntingly beautiful music; he just follows instructions and plays the notes on the page. For every John Mayer or Eric Clapton, there are a hundred 17 year-old kids on youtube who are just as technically gifted on the guitar. Leonard Bernstein does not wave a wand better than Harry Potter. And for crying out loud, please do NOT get me started on female vocalists.
We do it in every area of life that is meaningful to us, be it cuisine or music or fashion. We construct value; we arbitrarily assign it. We don't deceive on purpose; most of the time we do it we're really just lying to ourselves. We so desperately want there to be more meaning on this earth than we see. We need the things we care about to bear significance, and all significant things have value; have good and bad. So we try to find value in everything.
And when we can't find it, we make it up...
Monday, March 29, 2010
Sam Harris and the End to Religion
Dennis sent me this link to this short CNN article concerning atheist author Sam Harris. Titled, “Why we should ditch religion”, the article also includes a recent interview with him and outlines some of his basic beliefs. I wikipedia'd the guy and found out that Harris believes in discourse that he calls “conversational intolerance”. He doesn't believe tolerance and letting people believe whatever they want to believe is the solution to coexisting in a pluralistic world. Though I am a Bible-believing Christian and I have little to agree with him, I do agree on this point. I believe that blind tolerance is not sustainable in a society of such diverse beliefs; it is neither sustainable nor logically possible. So I credit him in his boldness in claiming that all religious people are wrong in their beliefs
Harris' basic claim in the interview is that religion is not only obsolete, but its continuing to linger on in the new secular society is actually harmful and dangerous. He believes that all the energy spent on arguing over gay marriage is taking away attention from real serious issues concerning human life. “We should be talking about real problems, like nuclear proliferation and genocide and poverty and the crisis in education....These are issues which tremendous swings in human well-being depend on. And it's not at the center of our moral concern“ According to Harris, it's not at the center of our concern because we are arguing too much over peripheral religious issues. Because we are so focused on meaningless religious issues like what God wants and what's going to happen in the afterlife, we “talk about things like gay marriage as if it's the greatest problem of the 21st century.” And while men in positions of power debate endlessly on those issues, people are suffering.
“It's completely insane”
As a morally-conservative, Bible-believing, Reformed evangelical Christian, I reject his claim that issues like gay marriage and abortion are completely irrelevant to human well-being. But as a born-and-raised liberally-educated New Yorker (and to some extent, a halfway decent human being), the recesses of my heart resonate deeply with his concern. His rejection of religion arises out of a deep compassion and concern for people who are truly in need. My heart breaks for the injustices that are going on in the world. From the homeless guy named John who hangs out around GracePoint to the women in all parts of the world who are kidnapped, forcefully injected with addictive drugs to weaken their will and make them dependent, and made to work as a prostitute for the rest of their lives; the other day I broke into tears at my desk for a good ten minutes just reading about it. It's horror and injustice of cosmically heartbreaking proportions.
And that is no hyperbole. These things break God's heart.
And for these reasons, I am often to tempted to say, “What the hell. Why are we focusing so much on these moral issues that don't even hurt anyone at the cost of compassion and mercy ministry and fighting social injustice?” And it still makes me sick to think of how much Christians squabble over meaningless things when people are dying and starving, when the economy worsens in our own country and the sins of the private sector screw over so many innocent men and women. When Christian men, in the name of God, stand up for big corporations that use child slaves and destroy ecosystems. And you can ask Euge or Owen 'cause I've talked with them about these things; this issue sickens me and tears me apart. How is a Christian supposed to be obedient to God in our world?
These questions fracture my soul. It's the natural reaction and temptation of any half-decent human being to say, “Let's stop talking about gay marriage and issues that aren't even harming anyone and start loving like Jesus did” “Let's stop wasting time with religion. People are dying.” “Let's drop these seemingly petty issues and help those who are truly in need”. The Levite passed over his neighbor because he was more concerned for his cleanness than he was for the life of a human being. Let's be the good Samaritan. You can be a good Samaritan even if you don't believe in God.
But what I've been realizing more and more is, it doesn't work like that. We cannot do that. We cannot give up the gospel, our only hope for true restoration and peace, for a temporary solution. We must still fight for Christianity, just as we fight for the well-being of our brothers and sisters. Why do we love them and care for them? Because God loved them and cared for them. Because Jesus loved them and had compassion for them.
If we give up fighting for Christ in order to bring short term relief to the suffering of the world, we are selling out any hope of a permanent end to suffering. It would be like cutting your finger and then selling your liver for a band-aid. Who does that? We cannot stop fighting. We cannot surrender God's truth in order to save a few people, and in doing so, damn those people, damn ourselves, and damn our posterity.
I confess, I have hatred for my brothers and sisters. Through my upbringing, it's natural to hate Southern Baptist Christians. I hate the Christian right. I hate James Dobson and George W. Bush and Pat Robertson and Gary North. It's a sin and it's something I have to constantly repent of and deal with in my heart. I still cannot, for the life of me, align myself with people like them. But this I do realize, that if it weren't for these men who are fighting so hard for Christian values and dying every day (at least in their public image) in order to uphold the gospel, Christianity would have fallen long ago in my country. If they stopped doing what they were doing and without regard to who hates them, our nation would have fallen completely over to Satan.
The Gospel and the End to Suffering
Mr. Harris may not realize that in his reasoning for abolishing religion he is making a value judgment that all forms of Christianity (minus the heretical ones) and virtually every monotheistic religion affirms at the core of their beliefs. Mr. Harris is saying that, human life is of value and therefore we should fight for it. Another thing Mr. Harris may not realize is that, as an atheist, he has no grounds for making this value judgment. All value judgments by definition carry with it the force of an imperative. An imperative is an “ought”; it is a claim that one SHOULD or MUST live a certain way. In this case, Mr. Harris is saying we value human life therefore we SHOULD be caring for it. But if he doesn't believe in God he has no grounds for telling anybody how they SHOULD live. In a world lacking a God or transcendent being, all we have are opinions.
The ironic thing is, in Christianity (and most monotheistic religions for that matter), there is a ground for valuing human life. As Christians, we believe that everyone is made in the image of God, and therefore all lives are of value. Our beliefs give meaning to our compassionate works. Our religion gives substance to that which we believe in our hearts. Without God, all Sam Harris has is a firm conviction in his heart that humans are valuable, but no way to substantiate that conviction.
In the gospel, we have more weapons for bringing peace and justice to all of humanity than any compassionate secular atheist. For one thing, we have a reason. God sees human life as important. It has value and dignity. Therefore we should fight against injustice. We should fight against the dehumanizing of women. We should fight against poverty and hunger. But more than that. We have hope. What good is it to fight if there's no guarantee of victory? But in the gospel, we have an assurance that one day, what Christ did will bring an end to all that is evil and unnatural in the world. In the gospel, we have a God who says that he will, “wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” In the gospel we have a God who will make everything new and gave us the assurance and receipt that it will come to pass through the resurrection.
Mr. Harris, you know in your heart of hearts what the right thing to do is. But without Jesus Christ, you have no reason to do it and no hope for every achieving its completion.
Jesus Anointed at Bethany
In Mark 14, a woman came to Jesus with a bottle of very expensive perfume, worth more than a year's wages. In an extravagant show of love and sacrifice, she poured the whole dang thing over Jesus' feet and washed it with her hair. Some of the social justice advocates among Jesus' disciples were outraged. “That perfume could have been sold and the money given to the poor!” What is with this wastefulness, this callous lack of concern for the suffering?
I finally understand now why Jesus rebuked his disciples and said to leave her alone. “The poor you will always have with you. But you will not always have me” That woman out of all the people understood Jesus' true worth. She alone realized that Jesus was the end to the poor. He was the end to suffering to evil and persecution and injustice. So by making this show of sacrifice, a show that surely made the practical cringe at the thought of the wastefulness, the woman demonstrated that she love the poor. She loved the poor because she loved Christ, the solution to the poor.
The downtrodden we will always have with us. If we sell out our savior Jesus Christ, then we will sell out the final end to suffering.
Friday, March 26, 2010
I'm starting a new series exploring Western philosophical and socio-cultural issues centered around self-identity. I will be drawing together personal observations from contemporary culture and philosophy. I will be asking questions such as, "Why is individualism and uniqueness of such high value in our culture?" "What is with the obsession with being different?" "What are the historical and philosophical roots that contributed to the radical contemporary vacuum of corporate meaning and identity?" What is the relationship between individualism and identity? Why are our young people today so obsessed with being different and unique? What does this have to do with the presence of a pervasive loneliness in the hearts of Western individuals?
This is a monumental project for someone so young, inexperienced, ill-equipped, and relatively ignorant as myself, but it is a subject I find myself thinking endlessly about nowadays. I hope to receive encouragement as well as correction when merited. I hope readers who share in my experience can affirm its validity with similar stories and anecdotes of their own. I ultimately hope to put together an informative series that ultimately serves as both an encouragement and a warning to young and old Christians alike. An encouragement because I truly believe that all that we lack we have in our Lord Jesus, who has saved us into a radical new identity as members of God's household (Eph 3.18-22). And a warning for those who find themselves constantly being led astray by the cultural ethos of our day and finding more joy, identity, meaning, and significance in earthly categories.
I recognize that I still owe one last installment on "The Stanley Files". It is under way and will be titled "On Helplessness". I'm making it a regular habit to bite off more than I can chew.
"The world is meaningless, there is no God or gods, there are no morals, the universe is not moving inexorably towards any higher purpose. All meaning is man-made, so make your own, and make it well. Do not treat life as a way to pass the time until you die.
Do not try to \"find yourself\", you must make yourself. Choose what you want to find meaningful and live, create, love, hate, cry, destroy, fight and die for it. Do not let your life and your values and you actions slip easily into any mold, other that that which you create for yourself, and say with conviction, \"This is who I make myself\".
Do not give in to hope. Remember that nothing you do has any significance beyond that with which imbue it. Whatever you do, do it for its own sake. When the universe looks on with indifference, laugh, and shout back, \"Fuck You!\". Rembember that to fight meaninglessness is futile, but fight anyway, in spite of and because of its futility.
The world may be empty of meaning, but it is a blank canvas on which to paint meanings of your own. Live deliberately. You are free."
In the internet circles I frequent, I often stumbleupon web pages with philosophical inspirations such as the one above. I share this one in particular because it is exceptionally succinct and straightforward. It captures much of the post-modern ethos and it is an apt description of the worldview of most of my generation, Christians and non-Christians alike. The people that I am particularly compassionate for are Christians (usually younger, idealistic ones) who confess their faith in God but whose hearts and lives are much more aligned with this belief.
Essentially, the author of this anonymous post makes three claims and offers one imperative. The three claims are, "The world is absent of meaning", "Humanity is absent of normative behavior" (there is no universal morality), and "There is no hope for transcendent validation" (meaning, all we have is all we got). The imperative goes as such, "Therefore... go and MAKE YOUR OWN meaning!"
There is a fourth implicit claim involved in this post. This claim is the fulcrum upon which stands the author's entire philosophy of life. The claim is this: "It is possible, without the aid of transcendent validation, for humanity to create her own meaning"
In my next post, I hope to reject this premise and thus bring down this moral framework which, I believe, as it were, is already made out of ideas and thoughts more fragile than a house of cards anyway. So don't think my ambitions too lofty.
Works that have served as recent sources
Two of Tim Keller's sermon series, “The Necessity of Belief” (9/03 – 10/03) and “Living in Hope” (3/04 – 5/04), Eugene Hor's sermon series on Ephesians (9/09 – 6/10), various commentaries on Ephesians. The Next Evangelicalism, by Soong-Chan Rah. Various secondary philosophy texts. My peers.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
John Piper and D.A. Carson, two of the most respected figures in the evangelical church, recently did a joint series of lectures titled, “The Pastor as Scholar and the Scholar as Pastor”. Piper lectured on the former title and Carson did the latter. In the last portion of the night there was a Q&A session with the two theologians and one of the questions asked was:
“What are some of the biggest issues that you think the church and evangelical scholars will need to deal with in the next 20 years?”
A lot of prominent things were brought up, including Islam and the exclusivity of Christ, the doctrine of Scripture, a cluster of contemporary issues relating to family life (e.g. homosexuality, spanking, submission of wives to husbands), epistemology, justification and substitutionary atonement in biblical thought, and redefining 'tolerance'. But one of the last things that was brought up was by John Piper. This is what he said:
“I think that the explosion of... I don't want to just say contemporary worship music and contemporary worship forms, a very rock-oriented...whether or not the ethos generally associated with that on a Sunday morning can sustain the gravitas of the glory of God over the long haul... whether it can hold it. It is possible, there are contemporary worship songs that draw out my heart into the bigness of God in a most marvelous way. But there is a kind of low-brow, hip, cool, ya'll come, family, chatty, way of doing worship today. The question is, if it becomes more and more prevalent, what becomes of the majesty of God in this world? I is very hard to maintain the sense of bigness and the majesty of God if everything in the service is calculated to be chummy, and close and warm and touchy and feely...something's got to break there.”
As a Christian musician, my first reaction to Piper was defensive. “We're doing a plenty good job, and there are plenty of good songs that we sing on Sundays!” After I had a few minutes to knock down my pride, I realized that Piper spoke validly but from a unique and very narrow perspective. If you listen to the rest of his response (and you can hear the entire night's lectures here) he makes it clear that he is hopeful about the future yet skeptical. The implication is that contemporary rock music lacks the musical tools to adequately represent the weightier portions of doctrine and Christian themes. Some examples he gives of those things are the doctrine of God, the significance of hell and the glory of the cross; Piper doesn't believe that those things can truly fit into what he called the “talk show” atmosphere of contemporary worship liturgy.
I believe there are two issues here that need to be separately addressed. One is the long-term adequacy of rock music in replacing classical music for contemporary corporate worship. And the other is the tragic loss of the weightiness and primacy of God's glory in American Christianity. Though I have many thoughts on the latter, right now I am more interested in re-visiting the relationship of rock music to worship.
I think there are two reasons why Piper might not have distinguished these two issues in his statement. One is that the nature of a Q&A doesn't allow the speaker a lot of time to think through his response. In addition, it was one of the last questions of the night and they were running really short on time. I think the other reason is that Piper might not have as deep an insight into the nature of rock music as an average person. Bear in mind this is the guy who reads Scripture and prays four times a day, is involved in a multitude of Christian organizations, preaches almost every week at his church, regularly blogs and adds resources to an entire website devoted to his preaching and teaching, and when he actually does have time to read a novel, reads something as educational and soul-feeding as Marilynne Robinson's Gilead. Human beings who do all that don't have time to listen to and reflect on rock music.
This is why I believe that John Piper's skepticism concerning the emotional range and depth of rock music is completely unfounded. I can understand where he's coming from and sympathize with him; he probably doesn't encounter that much rock music beyond the precious little Christian musicians offer. And I've gone over this time and again in my head and in my personal writings. I've tried to understand “where is rock-based contemporary Christian music in the scope of musical history?” and I waffle back and forth between, “dying and on its last legs” and “undergoing birth pains but ready for a glorious revolution.”
There are gems today. Keith and Kristen Getty consistently write lyrically-excellent, musically-accessible, cross-centered worship music. Chris Tomlin will usually have one or two keepers in every album. The wheat and the chaff are being separate as we near the midpoint of an entire century of rock-based worship music and good stuff is emerging as time is allowed to test them. But the bottom line is, still today, good worship songs are tiny oases lost in the desert of dry, base, cheap, crude, and stiflingly one-dimensional worship songs.
For the reasons and feelings stated in the last two paragraphs, I can sympathize with John Piper's sentiments. However, Christian rock music is such a pathetically narrow slice of what rock music has to offer that how can Piper think to simply write off such a magnificently deep and diverse genre? It's like saying, “starch-based products like bread are no longer adequate to eat in church because communion wafers taste bad.” It's laughably poor reasoning!
Before I go on, I must clarify what I mean by “rock music”. I am using the term in as broad a sense as possible; as any music that utilizes or has its roots in a traditional rock-instrument band. I am using the term in broad comparison with Western classical music”, which has historically been the medium of music in corporate worship.
Why is my definition of rock music important? Because I think the strength and salvation of its contribution to church is found in its diversity. Chris Tomlin's rock music, in mood, has never come close to “majestic” or “epic”. Hillsong has never confronted the weightiness of glory. I can't think of a worship songwriter that has even attempted, never mind succeeded at making me feel the pain of sin or the day of judgment. Contrast that with Bach's arrangement of “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” or the Dies Irae in Mozart's famous Requiem Mass or Lotti's Crucifixus.
Oh, but in rock music, there's epic. There's majestic. There's deeply sorrowful as well as unfathomable rage and anger and wrath. When I think of epic, my mind immediately goes to Muse's “Knights of Cydonia”. How much more majestic can one get besides the slow-down towards the end of Queen's “Bohemian Rhapsody”? The emo movement (of which I am the worst) has given us the full range of sorrowful musical tools, ready to be adapted into Christian themes.
An electric guitar with distortion and delay on and in the right hands can be more epic than a legion of violinists. Five men or women holding five different rock instruments with the right amps will make the NY Philharmonic urinate their San Pellegrino. Has the London Symphonic Orchestra melted anyone's faces lately?
When I think of glorious tunes, two works that come to mind so simultaneously that they both get stuck at the doorway into my consciousness are the powerful finale to Dvorak's New World Symphony and U2's “Beautiful Day”. Someone with more musical experience than I can probably name more adequate representations in both the classical and rock genre for every mood and emotion required in church music.
The difference between classical and rock, when you look at the masters of each, is no longer that of depth or complexity or virtuosity. It's a matter of high-brow verse low-brow. It's a matter of conceitedness, arrogance, and snobbishness. How was it ever a fair comparison, pitting Beethoven and Brahms against Kings of Leon and Blink 182? Why didn't anyone ever compare Franz Xaver Sussmayrr with Led Zeppelin or Coldplay?
Let me conclude with this. As a future pastor and lover of music, I am constantly thinking through in my head issues pertaining to the role of music in worship. When I ponder the state of contemporary Christian music, I experience equal parts nausea and faint, but real hope. Ultimately, I truly believe that we are at the cusp of what could be a beautiful revolution in corporate worship. All revolutions start with death. But when I listen to Third Day's powerful arrangement of Agnus Dei, or when I explore the ever-increasing number of non-mainstream artists who are writing genuinely Christian music* (cf. Downhere, David Crowder, and Chapel Band '08's Redemption Portrait), I feel hope. I feel hope that we will emerge from our shackles of the same old stuff and begin to tap into the vast wealth of musical richness the new era is offering us.
Pastor Piper, you think Jonathan Edwards is the only one who can convey the bigness of God? Listen to some rock music!
*One caveat I feel I must make. A warning to distinguish the sheep from the goats. The Christian music industry is large enough so that there are actually artists who will, in a clever public image move, pretend that they are Christians writing on Christian themes in order to garner the popularity and use Christian consumers as a springboard to get them started. A few examples that come to mind: Evanescence and to a lesser degree, the Blackeye Peas (Where is the love) and Kanye West (Jesus Walks). I also caution against Christians who are musicians who lack the desire to use their music for the good of the church. But that's a post for another day.
Friday, March 12, 2010
"The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses - behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights." - Mohammad Ali