Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Aaron (by George Herbert)

Ever since God drew my heart to Him, I have loved reading the works of George Herbert. This man never lost the joy of being a redeemed sinner. This particular poem pricks the imagination with its use of Old Testament imagery and helps us understand the Biblical theology at work in the life and work of Jesus Christ. What a comfort to know that our sins are covered by Christ's blood, and that a perfect High Priest intercedes for us before the Throne, especially if you are a pastor, as Herbert was. He fully understood the irony of standing in a leadership position comparable to the office of a priest, when in fact he was a man suffering all the effects of Adam's Fall. He knew there was no holiness in himself and so . . .

Note: Aaron was the brother of Moses (who led Israel out of Egypt), and the first high priest appointed by God over Israel.

Hebrews 7:25-27 "Wherefore [Christ] is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. For such an high priest became us, [who is] holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people's: for this he did once, when he offered up himself."

Holiness on the head,
Light and perfections on the breast,
Harmonious bells below, raising the dead
To lead them unto life and rest:
Thus are true Aarons drest.

Profaneness in my head,
Defects and darkness in my breast,
A noise of passions ringing me for dead
Unto a place where is no rest:
Poor priest, thus am I drest.

Only another head
I have, another heart and breast,
Another music, making live, not dead,
Without whom I could have no rest:
In him I am well drest.

Christ is my only head,
My alone-only heart and breast,
My only music, striking me ev’n dead,
That to the old man I may rest,
And be in him new-drest.

So, holy in my head,
Perfect and light in my dear breast,
My doctrine tun’d by Christ (who is not dead,
But lives in me while I do rest),
Come people; Aaron’s drest.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Pope to purge the Vatican of modern music

The Pope is considering a dramatic overhaul of the Vatican in order to force a return to traditional sacred music.
After reintroducing the Latin Tridentine Mass, the Pope wants to widen the use of Gregorian chant and baroque sacred music.
In an address to the bishops and priests of St Peter's Basilica, he said that there needed to be "continuity with tradition" in their prayers and music.
He referred pointedly to "the time of St Gregory the Great", the pope who gave his name to Gregorian chant . . . . . Read more HERE

Gloria in Excelsis

GLORY be to God on high, and in earth, peace, good will towards men. We praise thee, we bless thee, we worship thee, we glorify thee, we give thanks to thee for thy great glory, O Lord God, heavenly King, God the Father Almighty.

O Lord, the only-begotten Son, Jesu Christ; O Lord God, Lamb of God, Son of the Father, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us. Thou that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us. Thou that takest away the sins of the world, receive our prayer. Thou that sittest at the right hand of God the Father, have mercy upon us.

For thou only art holy; thou only art the Lord; thou only, O Christ, with the Holy Ghost, art most high in the glory of God the Father. Amen.

Greek Hymn: Anonymous (4th Century or earlier)

Friday, November 9, 2007

HEIRLOOMS AND TRADITION: Tangible Links in the Line of Succession

“Tradition is not the worship of ashes; it is the lighting of new fire.” –Gustav Mahler

Who among us would deliberately drop a ruby down a street drain? We may reasonably assume that anyone born into western civilization knows the value of such a stone, and the damage such a loss would bring. However, our western civilization is in the process of losing its cultural gems at an alarming rate, as they fall into the hands of a generation that cannot value them.

Heirlooms are precious things handed down from one generation to another. Family heirlooms, like rings or vases, are objects that remain within a circle of people closely related by blood. The heirlooms of society, such as museums, the performing arts, or cultural tradition, are the possession of the public at large, of anyone who wishes to enjoy them. Western society, especially within the sphere of the Christian church, runs the risk of losing its cultural treasures by not teaching posterity to properly value them. Sound doctrine, beautiful liturgical traditions, and quality music should be seen as precious heirlooms of the visible church which are not to be trifled with.

Sound Biblical doctrine is the heirloom of highest value, because man’s eternal destiny is at stake in its transmission. Christians must remain ever vigilant in preparing the next generation of ministers to be the bearers of normative doctrine. Upcoming generations need to be taught the value of doctrinal content and its divine preservation. They need to learn about the saints who “fought the good fight, kept the faith,” and shed their blood as a seal to its truth; for with understanding comes the emotive appreciation.

Contemporary, cutting-edge churches tend to treat ecclesiastical liturgy as if it were merely a dead formal structure, like the exoskeleton of some curious insect. Cool, hip attendees behave as if the liturgy were a dreary duty to mumble through before being free to go home and absorb televised sports, if only because our society promotes what is lowbrow and informal. But formal liturgy requires no apology in any culture. We must remember what omnipotent God it is we propose to worship, and treat Him accordingly. Liturgy acts as a powerful unifying factor in the visible church and brings the tenor of corporate worship to a level compatible with a right view of God, who is a great king above all gods.

The ancient liturgy, taken from the Bible, begins with a reminder that we are importunate sinners entering the presence of a Holy God, in dire need of the forgiveness and reconciliation which Christ has won. Few who call themselves Christians give heed to this matter in these days. Moreover, the traditions of liturgy, ancient as they are, become a tangible connection with saints over all the earth, out of every nation and every era who have ever worshipped their common Lord in this manner. How could we trade this treasure for the breezy, informal, unplanned, insecure atmosphere of a modern evangelical church?

Previous generations had high expectations for music within the church. Most people understood and appreciated the skill of the organist and the art of choral music, and expected to hear music of some class and distinction in church. There was a clearly defined perimeter of what was appropriate to that setting. Before the advent of mass media, the school and home provided the setting in which children learned hymns and folk songs in a participatory, not spectatorial, manner.

For many years now, leaders and educators have blindly adopted the doctrines of multiculturalism. They accepted musical works of varying qualities as if all were equally appropriate to the classroom, concert hall or choir loft. I propose that music is not created equal, as cultures are not created equal. Among ethnic cultures there are to be found elements of high and low culture in nearly every country. High culture maintains elements that are more elevating to humans than low culture, and quality music requires vastly more skill to perform and appreciate than music created by amateurs.

For several generations now, public schools have cut back and cut out music programs, leaving children to imbibe popular culture with no filter of discernment. Generations of children grew up with no real idea of what constituted quality in music or art; they were told that “art” is whatever one feels like putting on paper, and “music” is what one hears on the local pop station. They were never taught objective standards in aesthetics; indeed, they believe aesthetics are purely subjective. Because the majority of their exposure to humanly organized sound centers on ill-crafted, emotionally-imbalanced “music” doomed to planned obsolescence, they prefer that to the classics of our western tradition, which stimulate the intellect as well as the emotions. When a society loses the ability to appreciate the performance of music at the highest levels, the motivation to perform it wanes, and thus the art dies.

The creators of American popular culture have systematically dismantled the aesthetics of beauty and durability (hallmarks of western civilization) by means of the media. Surely this is no accident. What the modern church attendee hears during the week on his iPod he now expects to hear in church; after all, this is what he knows as “music.” Within the church culture, we have broken down the perimeters of quality and appropriateness. We import music alien to the church culture, but laden with worldly entertainment associations. Who can focus his thoughts on holy matters while expecting to see the von Trapp family dancing onstage?

The premise of “church music” is actually antithetical to the goals of entertainment. While entertaining is hardly a sin, neither is it appropriate to the church setting. The best organ and choral literature brims with intellectual content, and for good reason. High culture produces “serious” music suitable for a formal setting. Serious music is distinguished from popular music by its superior intellectual content. Surely this is the music that belongs in church; it focuses the thoughts on serious matters, and ministers to the mind as well as the heart. Artists know that to produce great art, neither the technical mastery nor the flame of passion can be wanting. Conspicuous by its absence is the intellectual content of modern evangelical Christianity, characterized mainly by a highly emotive expression. While this may be attractive to some, I predict the pendulum will begin to swing in the opposite direction very shortly.

My plea to liturgical churches is that you would not be tempted to give up your ancient traditions, but rather seek to inspire a love for them in the generations that follow you. I beg you, do not trade your birthright for a mess of pottage; do not dispense with your precious heirlooms so quickly just because the world says they are outdated. Modern man may suffer from a tragic amnesia, but the heirlooms and sacraments of the church will never cease to be relevant as long as men are born in sin.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Hurrahing in Harvest

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Summer ends now; now, barbarous in beauty, the stooks rise
Around; up above, what wind-walks! What lovely behaviour
Of silk-sack clouds! has wilder, wilful-wavier
Meal-drift moulded ever and melted across skies?
I walk, I lift up, I lift up heart, eyes,
Down all that glory in the heavens to glean our Saviour;
And, éyes, héart, what looks, what lips yet gave you a
Rapturous love’s greeting of realer, of rounder replies?
And the azurous hung hills are his world-wielding shoulder
Majestic - as a stallion stalwart, very-violet-sweet! -
These things, these things were here and but the beholder
Wanting; which two when they once meet,
The heart rears wings bold and bolder
And hurls for him, O half hurls earth for him off under his feet.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Future of the Christian Church

Contemporary American society does not value motherhood precisely because it has overlooked the value of children. Children are seen as an optional life-enhancer, status symbol, or as an expendable resource.

Unborn children, under the current federal laws in 2007, incredulously have no rights, even the right to life. They are regularly and legally murdered without protest. Newly born children are seen as a burden to their parents and promptly "outsourced" to a daycare agency, which cannot possibly meet their needs. Children in modern American society are considered an obstacle to the development of their parents' career and financial plans and are therefore deemed undesirable. The society that fails to recognize the long-term consequences of radical individualism it has adopted will certainly suffer from its lack of foresight.

Children are the true wealth of the family, and consequently of society at large, because children are literally the future incarnate. Previous generations have been careful to recognize this and to make elaborate provision for their posterity. Today, investment in the lives of children is seen as inferior to the pursuit of other, more personal goals, such as the acquisition of material wealth or the advancement of the mother's career. Those parents who sacrifice their children's future for those short-term goals will pay a heavy price in the larger perspective as they lose the love and attachment of children who are the hope of their old age.

Today's parents, even Christian parents, seem largely unaware that they are losing valuable time to influence their children and direct them in the way they should go. Young children and teens are nothing if not impressionable, and they carry those early influences with them the rest of their lives. If parents wonder why their children do not hold the same values they do, perhaps it's because they failed to teach those values while the children were young. On the other hand, the haters of God are happy to pick up the slack; to use our own weapons against us, in a manner of speaking. Christian parents who bewail the state of our society ought to seize upon the opportunity to send their children forth "as arrows in the hand of a mighty man." Forming straight arrows takes time and care, and the parents who bother are well rewarded for their efforts.

Various studies have shown to our satisfaction the devastating effects of the demise of family life. A quick glance at a current newspaper shows alarming spikes in violence, plunging test scores in public schools, and a host of social ills we find ourselves helpless to stem. This widespread failure of the family unit imposes a great burden on the entire society which must then provide taxpayer-funded services to close the gap between the needs of youth and the inability of parents to meet them. Sometimes this takes the form of welfare, sometimes rehabilitation in a house of correction, and even years of tax-funded meals in the penitentiary, not to mention the drain on law enforcement resources. That's just the beginning.

What happens to a society that throws away one-third of its future? It perishes and is never seen again. The future, men and women, belongs to those who have children—but even more to those who influence them.


Reformation Day

On Sunday, October 28, I attended a gorgeous Reformation Day service in downtown Milwaukee, at Trinity Lutheran church. The edifice is considered a Milwaukee landmark--a stunning Gothic style. I clicked through parts of their website this morning and this sentence caught my eye: "Trinity was founded by immigrants from Pomerania, Germany in 1847 and is the second oldest Missouri Synod Congregation in Wisconsin." How very interesting!

My senses were completely enchanted by the manifestations of beauty that filled the church--aurally, visually and spiritually. The musical part of the program centered on the hymns of Paul Gerhardt, and the concertato arrangements utilized organ, brass and choir, while allowing the congregation to join in with gusto. And yes, the performances gave me goosebumps! I have come to really love organ music for its solid intellectual content--it really is brain food--and the organist was James Freese, of Concordia University (Mequon). It is a moving experience to hear such fine playing; like the extravagance of costly perfume poured out on our Master's feet. Near the end of the service, we recited a collect for artists and musicians, and I sat there thinking what a privelege it is that God has allowed me to be an artist. How eternally grateful I am for even the small gifts God has given me, and for the time I have to practice, and the ability to use my in the service of His holy house; how wonderful it is that God has placed me in this city where I can be part of the community of artists, hear music of this calibre, and learn from others.

Naturally, I ran upstairs afterward to thank the musicians--rather enthusiastically, I'm afraid.