Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Pilgrim Lutheran's German Sing-Along

The first-ever German Sing-along at my church (68th and Center) was a great success. Even though we didn't advertise extensively, we had a turnout of perhaps thirty to thirty-five people, all eager to sing traditional German Christmas carols familiar from childhood.

Rather than bothering with reams of paper, I simply put the lyrics on PowerPoint slides, and took advantage of Pilgrim's newly purchased projector. We began with a quick pronunciation tutorial just to refresh our memories, and Pastor Peckman helped navigate the slides. We sang about twenty-five of what I thought were the most familiar carols, and I thought we could have used a few more. Bryant helped with just about everything, even setting up snacks for the informal social time afterward.

It was a superb time of fellowship and most of our guests were able to meet new people, increasing their German-speaking contacts. We do plan to hold a sing-along next year, so we're open to suggestions for improvement, whether on repertoire, timing, or format. Thanks for making this so much fun!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Our Time

In the omniscient providence of God, we were born to this age, and not to another. We were divinely appointed to the peculiar time and place in which we find ourselves. Mordecai had to remind Esther that she was born “for just such a time as this,” and no less were we.

To my contemporaries who mourn a bygone era, I say, This age is what we make it. We are the visionaries, we are the proponents of ideas, we are the actors on the present stage; the burden rests squarely on our shoulders. If the surrounding culture labors under false ideals and attending problems, we must blame no one but ourselves. Those who would go back to a Victorian era dread the work of influencing our own. They forget that previous cultures were shaped by the “tireless minority” spoken of by Samuel Adams.

At times those who put forth those endeavors are frustrated by an apparent lack of results. Think of the long effort to dismantle slavery in the United States. This paradigm shift required much time to take effect, and yet now those who fought that battle of ideals are hailed as heroes.

Therefore our responsibility is clear; we cannot afford to accept the status quo and pretend that all is well. As Christians, we must exert our powers of influence if we wish to make the culture more hospitable toward us and our views. Let us labor to make the case for Christ, for the Church, for Biblical directive, for the majesty of tradition, for reverence.

The Apostle Paul often busied himself in the public square, persuading people to consider the claims of Christ. Surely this is the work of Christ’s Great Commission, in whose fulfillment we find the presence of Christ Himself, “even unto the end of the age.”

Sunday, November 16, 2008

German Christmas Sing-Along at Pilgrim Lutheran Church in Wauwatosa

To be held Sunday afternoon, December 14, at 3:45 P. M. (after the Packer game) at my church (68th and Center Road). It will be a fantastic time of revisiting the traditional carols of our childhood, reminiscing and speaking some German in an informal setting.

I'm busy making PowerPoint slides so we can have the songs up on the projector, rather than killing a dozen trees. =) If anyone would like to bring a dish to pass, we could plan on having refreshments afterward.

Please come and enjoy! Bring a friend or two or three.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Challenge

I love my work as a church musician--I was inspired enough to earn a master's degree in church music. Those who know me understand that I work very hard to imrove my musical skills as I can: I sing in a chamber choir and take organ lessons. Someone recently asked me, "Don't you get impatient working with novice musicians?"

I thought about that and realized I didn't.

In the church, people bring to the table whatever musical foundation they have. I can't change their backgrounds, but I can work with what we have. I can play the role of a coach, and help people make the most of their gifts. I can choose music that suits their needs. I can make them feel good for contributing and doing their best. For some, I can offer lessons one-on-one, and naturally, everyone receives skill benefits from ensemble work. Just as a coach develops affection for the members of his team, so I appreciate each person who does his best to bring glory to God. Quite frankly, I applaud anyone who contributes to my music program. Far from being put out, I'm blessed to be able to coordinate and facilitate all of that activity.

Matthew 21:15-16 "And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the Son of David; they were sore displeased, And said unto him, Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?"

It's not entirely clear from the text whether the chief priests and scribes were displeased because Jesus was called "the Son of David" or because the chant annoyed their elite ears--perhaps both items offended them. Yet, reminiscent of the widow's mite, Jesus royally accepts praise from the least skilled who love Him. He Who made them fully comprehended that they indeed offered their best, and He asked no more.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

German Church Services in Milwaukee

In the autumn of 2006, I had just moved to Milwaukee from a tiny rural community. I knew perhaps three people in the city, and so I eagerly tried to increase my circle of contacts, especially those who shared my interests. I had discovered the internet as a cutting-edge advantage to social networking--specifically Meetup.com. I found a local German Meetup group within two weeks of changing my residence and headed downtown to check it out. I met several nice people who spoke German in varying levels of proficiency, among whom was a man named Dan Sweeney from Wauwatosa. Without hesitation, he invited me to Ridgewood Baptist Church, which hosted a German church service. Intrigued, I found my way there on Sunday morning. The first person I met was a girl about my age, I thought, who introduced herself as Andrea, then Ed Maczolleck. They promptly invited me to lunch, then to Starbucks, then to Andrea's house. We had a fantastic time together, and I couldn't wait to come back the next week.

Andrea is now my roommate: we became close friends. Ed is like a father to both of us, and Dan Sweeney is still a very good friend. I so appreciate that this avenue was open to me upon my move to a strange city. Thank you, Ridgewood!

It goes without saying that I enjoyed the service very much. A dedicated (native speaker) German Baptist pastor, Reinhold Schulz, preached every sermon in the German language. It's inspiring to listen to this man who has long since passed the age of retirement, but refuses to stop serving God as long as he is needed. It's also very refreshing to sing in German with a group of people who love the language and who love the Lord. When I began coming, there was also a choir under the direction of Lothar which sang special music.

I wonder how many people know about this wonderful little oasis of German community in Milwaukee, the city of Gemuetlichkeit. If you live in the Milwaukee area and wish to exercise your German skills, Ridgewood Baptist Church is the place to do it. Sunday school starts at 9:00 a. m., and the service proper at 10:15 a. m. The people there will welcome you with open arms. Sometimes missionaries come through on their way to or from Germany, and we are able to minister to them--always a treat.
Another great resource under "Spiritual Development" is Benediction Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, which holds bi-monthly German services. The Weinacht service is very special, featuring local Teutonic performing groups.

Some of us are planning a big German Christmas sing-a-long in December. I'll be sure to advertise it widely--so check back for further details!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Personal Update from the Summer

I’d just like to step in here and update my readers on my recent adventures. In June, I terminated my employment with VCY America in order to look for new opportunities. As the prudent know, the economy has taken a hit or two over the last months, and so finding a job was not the quick and easy project I thought it would be, causing me some anxious moments. I spent the summer months doing custodial work for my church to bring in some extra cash while I applied for many different types of jobs.

At the end of August, I found half-time employment with Principal Financial Group, which gives me time to work on wedding plans and give piano and voice lessons at Milwaukee Lutheran School. I must say the variety of what I now do is very inspiring, and I have greatly enlarged my circle of contacts and opportunities. Having my routine upset again and again has been bad for my writing and blogging habits, and I apologize for not finding time to keep up. Special thanks to my Bryant for his incredible morale support during this difficult time of transition, and to Liz without whom I would still be floundering.

I’ve compiled a list of questions I’d like to discuss with other music aficionados. I’ve been thinking about the arguments often used against “contemporary” Christian music, and have decided that many of them are heavily colored with opinion rather than informed by Biblical principles. Here’s one to get us thinking:

Does it make sense to say that a composer may be creative with every element of music EXCEPT rhythm?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Arrow and the Song

I shot an arrow into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For, so swiftly it flew, the sight
Could not follow it in its flight.

I breathed a song into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For who has sight so keen and strong,
That it can follow the flight of song?

Long, long afterward, in an oak
I found the arrow, still unbroke;
And the song, from beginning to end,
I found again in the heart of a friend.

~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow ~

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Why Should Cross and Trial Grieve Me?

1. Why should cross and trial grieve me?
Christ is near With His cheer;
Never will He leave me.
Who can rob me of the heaven
That God's Son For my own
To my faith hath given?

2. Though a heavy cross I'm bearing
And my heart Feels the smart,
Shall I be despairing?
God, my Helper, who doth send it,
Well doth know All my woe
And how best to end it.

3. God oft gives me days of gladness;
Shall I grieve If He give
Seasons, too, of sadness?
God is good and tempers ever
All my ill, And He will
Wholly leave me never.

5. Death cannot destroy forever;
From our fears, Cares, and tears
It will us deliver.
It will close life's mournful story,
Make a way That we may
Enter heavenly glory.

7. Lord, my Shepherd, take me to Thee.
Thou art mine; I was Thine,
Even e'er I knew Thee.
I am Thine, for Thou hast bought me;
Lost I stood, But Thy blood
Free salvation brought me.

Hymn #523 The Lutheran Hymnal
Text: Ps. 73: 23
Author: Paul Gerhardt
Translated by: composite, based on John Kelly, 1867
Titled: Warum sollt' ich mich denn graemen
Composer: Johann G. Ebeling, 1666
Tune: Warum sollt' ich mich denn graemen

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Four Preludes on the Playthings of the Wind

Here Sandburg gives us a somewhat uncomfortable perspective on reality. The language is nothing if not straightforward, and the meditation seems to come straight from Ecclesiastes: "Vanity, all is vanity." As Christians, our focus is to be "on things above, not on things of the earth"--items that become the "playthings of the wind." Christ Himself urges us to "lay up treasures in Heaven, where moth and rust do not corrupt, and thieves do not break through and steal." What are your treasures?

"The Past Is a Bucket of Ashes"
The woman named Tomorrow
sits with a hairpin in her teeth
and takes her time
and does her hair the way she wants it
and fastens at last the last braid and coil
and puts the hairpin where it belongs
and turns and drawls: Well, what of it?
My grandmother, Yesterday, is gone.
What of it? Let the dead be dead.

The doors were cedar
and the panel strips of gold
and the girls were golden girls
and the panels read and the girls chanted:
We are the greatest city,
the greatest nation:
nothing like us every was.
The doors are twisted on broken hinges.
Sheets of rain swish through on the wind
where golden girls ran and the panels read:
We are the greatest city,
the greatest nation:
nothing like us ever was.

It has happened before.
Strong men put up a city and got
a nation together,
And paid singers to sing and women
to warble: We are the greatest city,
the greatest nation,
nothing like us ever was.
And while the singers sang
and the strong men listened
and paid the singers well
and felt good about it all,
there were rats and lizards who listened
... and the only listeners left now
... are ... the rats .. and the lizards.
And there are black crows
crying, "Caw, caw,"
bringing mud and sticks
building a nest over the words carved
on the doors where the panels were cedar
and the strips on the panels were gold
and the golden girls came singing:
We are the greatest city,
the greatest nation:
nothing like us ever was.
The only singers now are crows crying, "Caw, caw,"
And the sheets of rain whine in the wind and doorways.
And the only listeners now are
... the rats ... and the lizards.

The feet of the rats
scribble on the doorsills;
the hieroglyphs of the rat footprints
chatter the pedigrees of the rats
and babble of the blood
and gabble of the breed
of the grandfathers and the great-grandfathers
of the rats.
And the wind shifts
and the dust on a doorsill shifts
and even the writing of the rat footprints
tells us nothing, nothing at all
about the greatest city, the greatest nation
where the strong men listened
and the women warbled:
Nothing like us ever was.

Carl August Sandburg (18781967)

Friday, June 27, 2008

Faith Trends

This just in from the Patriot Post:

A new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life came up with
some interesting figures when asking whether people believe in God. The sad fact
is, the number among Christians was not 100 percent, but was anywhere from 99
percent for evangelical and black churches to 97 percent for Catholic and
Mainline Protestant churches. The numbers for other monotheistic religions were
even lower—83 percent of Jews believe in God compared to 92 percent of Muslims.

That left us wondering, isn’t the whole point of these religions that there
is a God? But even that’s not what left us completely puzzled. Among
self-described atheists, an astounding 21 percent actually believe there is a
God. Twelve percent believe in heaven and 10 percent pray at least once a week.
So, are these folks really atheists? Apparently, the next step is to set up a
church for God-believing atheists to gather for fellowship. Of course, if they
did that, other people might start to question their atheist, um, faith.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Morning Glories

Not even Solomon . . .

Common morning glory? What is common about this?

Nothing hails the summer dawn like those blue trumpets subtly wafting a wonderful, barely-there fragrance. When you’re lucky enough to discover the short-lived bloom and inhale its small vial of sweetness, the day is so much better. The morning is truly glorious when you see an entire fence draped with the marvelous things. Morning glories are anything but common. Their blossoms seize the brief, opportune window of time in the earth’s orbit, and then vanish. God snaps His fingers and the world breathes loveliness; blessed are those who have eyes to see. It was not enough that Adam and Eve should merely eat, drink and survive; God provided for the rejuvenation of our souls in His transcendent aesthetic.

“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. If God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall He not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?” Matthew 6:28-30

Brief Glory, or Glorious Brevity

Morning glory vine,
Vine of morning’s glory,
Glorious morning on the vine!
Petals of heaven,
Pieces of tumbled-down sky,
Drink heady sweetness of the morning
from the bugle-cup divine;
Sound the glories of the morning
from the trumpet on the vine!

Wine of morning yields to noon—
Phoebus’ chariot runs unchecked
Crushing all in its advance—
One chance
To be, to shine,
To shout such glory
In the narrow space of Soon.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Upgrading Church Music

"Many parishioners simply don't view what goes on in the church as 'the arts.'" This startling statement was uttered by my organ teacher, Sister MJ Wagner, of Elm Grove. Perhaps that's because the music used in the parish was low quality to begin with, and no one seemed motivated to improve on the status quo.

This new post from the New Liturgical Movement blog indicates a stirring among humble "church mice" such as myself to see the quality improved and uplifted as an offering worthy of the God we serve. Our efforts tell the world what we think of our God.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Whole Counsel of God

One of my favorite theological blogs, Pyromaniacs, has a great post today concerning hermeneutical principles by Dan Philips. We'd do well to heed his counsel.

Paul told the Ephesian elders, "I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27). But not all can truthfully make that claim. Early on in my Christian life, I was exposed to the deadly danger of taking a concept, phrase, saying, metaphor, or even truth, extracting it from the rest of the Bible, free-associating, and then erecting a structure on it. Read more . . .

Friday, May 30, 2008


I must go down to the seas again,
to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship
and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song
and the white sail's shaking,
And a gray mist on the sea's face,
and a gray dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again,
for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call
that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day
with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume,
and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again,
to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way,
where the wind's likea whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn
from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream
when the long trick's over.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Lake Michigan

Bryant and I recently spent some quality time on the shore of our beautiful Lake Michigan, and I was inspired to re-post some thoughts from last summer. Here they are:

"He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul . . ." Psalm 23:2. Lake Michigan presents stunning evidence of God's care for the sons of men; in it God has provided for both physical and spiritual renewal of His creatures.

Physically, we barely comprehend how dependent we are on this superbly designed entity. We recognize easily enough that no one can live without drinking water and using it for hygienic purposes. Commerce and trade with distant states and countries is made possible through vital waterways. The water supports a world of life forms which produce oxygen and build up the food chain. The lake constantly renews itself and purifies the environment through the natural processes God set in motion. Had a human artist or engineer conceived such a marvel—such beauty, such efficiency, such utility—he would be an object of worship. His name would never die on the lips of human beings.

"The voice of the LORD [is] upon the waters: the God of glory thundereth: the LORD [is] upon many waters, Psalm 29:3. This is as close to mysticism as I come. I know only that God's voice makes itself heard without doubt in the glory of the waters. Christianity is not required for humans to acknowledge this, intentionally or inadvertently. Real estate along the water sells for a significantly higher price than property located elsewhere. Created in the image of God, hardwired with His aesthetic, the human spirit is instinctively attracted to and responsive to this beauty.

Those waters not only restore my equilibrium, they absolutely unchain my spirit. I am reminded of the words of our Savior: "Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." I am convinced this is one way God gives rest to his creatures. In its wholly unconstrained effect, the compelling cadence of westbound waves rolls the weight from my shoulders and pulls the tension from my muscles. My eyes can find nothing but delight in the rocky shore and the blue jewel of the marina. My mind searches the heavens in wonder at the Creator and consummate artist who invented this transcendent experience for the human creature. Surely it was created only for me!

All heartsick people come to the water. The mere sight of those great waters floods the soul with balm and healing, no matter how heavy the burden. I observe the faces of those who pass by, and it is plain that many seek healing for a wounded spirit and restoration of soul. We all find some measure of it there, in the majesty of God's creation. To regenerate and unconverted alike, the waters testify to the genius of their Maker and shout His praise aloud. Lake Michigan is a powerful communiqué to those who have ears to hear.

Overview: Lake Michigan, the second largest Great Lake by volume with just under 1,180 cubic miles of water, is the only Great Lake entirely within the United States. Approximately 118 miles wide and 307 miles long, Lake Michigan has more than 1,600 miles of shoreline. Averaging 279 feet in depth, the lake reaches 925 feet at its deepest point. The lake's northern tier is in the colder, less developed upper Great Lakes region, while its more temperate southern basin contains the Milwaukee and Chicago metropolitan areas. The drainage basin, approximately twice as large as the 22,300 square miles of surface water, includes portions of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. Lake Michigan is hydrologically inseparable from Lake Huron, joined by the wide Straits of Mackinac.

References: Great Lakes Atlas, Environment Canada and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1995

Friday, May 23, 2008

Go, Lovely Rose

I love this poem not so much for its content but for its incredibly clever use of language and metaphor. This is another poem that has lodged itself in my inner being through the medium of music, impossible to forget. Enjoy the artful, carefully crafted work of Edmund Waller.

GO, lovely Rose--
Tell her that wastes her time and me,
That now she knows,
When I resemble her to thee,
How sweet and fair she seems to be.

Tell her that 's young,
And shuns to have her graces spied,
That hadst thou sprung
In deserts where no men abide,
Thou must have uncommended died.

Small is the worth
Of beauty from the light retired:
Bid her come forth,
Suffer herself to be desired,
And not blush so to be admired.

Then die--that she
The common fate of all things rare
May read in thee;
How small a part of time they share
That are so wondrous sweet and fair!

By Edmund Waller 1606-1687

Monday, May 19, 2008

"Loveliest of trees, the cherry now..."

My favorite CD, If There Were Dreams to Sell, contains a miniature setting of this Housman poem that I consider a half-carat masterpiece. Hint: Get the CD! Richard Hickox is the baritone, and the orchestral colors (especially oboe) complement the richness of his voice most beautifully. This poem always comes into my head at this time of year; Bryant doesn't understand why I'm compelled to stop in mid-stride (while jogging) and revel in the fragrance of apple blossoms. But, you know, apple trees only bloom once in the year! Then the blossoms are gone, not to be seen again until we're all a year older. Carpe diem!

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

by A. E. Housman (1859-1936)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Music in the Old Testament, Part I

I’ve decided to begin a study of the use of music in Old Testament worship. OT worship was practiced only by the nation of Israel (children of Abraham), God’s chosen people, and perhaps a few proselytes. Surrounding nations could also recognize and fear the Most High God, because they saw how He blessed His people (when they lived in obedience to God’s law) and what great things He did for them (such as the victories in Canaan).

The role of the Levitical priesthood is a most interesting one. Levi’s descendants were the people to whom God entrusted the protocols for His worship—protocols carefully devised by God Himself and revealed to the prophet Moses. These included the ceremonial laws for blood sacrifices, guidelines for art and artifice used to beautify the worship environment, priestly attire, purification rituals, and regulations for daily life.

For the Israelites, the act of worship did not cease upon their exit from the temple. Every aspect of life was a continuation of the sanctification begun with the offering of sacrifice and prayer. This idea surfaces in Apostle Paul’s consciousness in writing Romans 12:1, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”

I Chronicles 9:33—And these are the singers, chief of the fathers of the Levites, who remaining in the chambers were free: for they were employed in that work day and night.
This comes from a passage describing King David’s work in organizing the Levitical priests. Music was so important to the worship of the Most High God that the singers had no other job. What highly developed music that must have been; surely it was far from primitive. Anyone whose involvement in the arts has been significant knows how much diligence is required to perform well and skillfully. The arts and humanities are glorious gifts of God to human beings; we give back to God edify fellow Christians with the right use of those gifts. We would do well to recognize that the worship of our God is the best and highest use of the arts, and to reward skilled artists accordingly.
II Chronicles 5:13—It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the LORD; and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised the LORD, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endures for ever: that then the house was filled with a cloud, even the house of the LORD; so that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud: for the glory of the LORD had filled the house of God.
This passage describes the dedication of the Temple. God unambiguously made His pleasure known when His people praised Him skillfully. No mention is made of the secret motives of talented musicians. The narrator notes carefully that the musicians sounded “as one,” a prime goal of musical ensemble to the present day. For an ensemble to sound “as one,” tremendous mastery, discipline and sensitivity must be developed in the musicians. These were not people who just decided to pull together some “special music” at the last minute.

II Chronicles 20:21—And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed singers unto the LORD, and that should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army, and to say, Praise the LORD; for his mercy endureth for ever.
This reminds me of Scotland’s historic “bagpipe intimidation” tactic, except that praise singers don’t seem very intimidating. This doesn’t indicate whether they were simply for show on dress parade or actually visited the battle scene. I would suspect the former . . .

The Book of Psalms is the “hymnbook” of Israel. Many of the Psalms were written by King David, some by Asaph, a leading-edge Levite, and others by anonymous authors, but all were meant to be sung. The quality of poetic expression, especially in the King James Version, is very lovely. Some, like Psalm 148, practically sing themselves off the page.

Parenthetically: we as Christians should rethink singing the Psalms and teaching them to our children. Additionally, these rich Psalm texts offer wide opportunity for young composers. To be continued . . .

Monday, May 12, 2008

i thank You God

i thank You God for most this amazing day:
for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;
and for everything which is natural
which is infinite which is yes (i who have died
am alive again today, and this is the sun's birthday;
this is the birthday of life and love and wings:
and of the gay great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing
seeing breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginably You? (now the ears of my ears awake
and now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

e. e. cummings

Thursday, May 1, 2008

I Am in Need of Music

I just sang a beautiful setting of this poem by David Brunner over the weekend with a small choir; my brain continues to caress these lovely objects over and over.

I am in need of music that would flow
Over my fretful, feeling fingertips,
Over my bitter-tainted, trembling lips,
With melody, deep, clear, and liquid-slow.
Oh, for the healing swaying, old and low,
Of some song sung to rest the tired dead,
A song to fall like water on my head,
And over quivering limbs, dream flushed to glow!

There is a magic made by melody:
A spell of rest, and quiet breath, and cool
Heart, that sinks through fading colors deep
To the subaqueous stillness of the sea,
And floats forever in a moon-green pool,
Held in the arms of rhythm and of sleep.

by Elizabeth Bishop

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Why I Became a Lutheran

I thought this might interest a few people: my personal journey to the LCMS.

I was raised in an evangelical (Baptistic) church. However, as my intellect awakened during my college years, one aspect of evangelicalism began to make me uneasy: the nearly exclusive focus on the subjective and experiential. I knew that my Christianity must stand on firmer ground than that. I must know that Christianity is objectively true, no matter what I feel or seem to experience with my limited sense. Not until then does the subjective response find a place. Emotive response follows a deep understanding of doctrinal truth; certainly both are important, but it seems to me that the intellectual foundations are being ignored in favor of “fuzzy feelings for Jesus,” as a friend of mine puts it.

In my personal experience, I sat in church Sunday after Sunday wondering what was wrong with my emotions, especially when I heard a guilt-inducing tirade chastising us for not loving Jesus enough. Only when God opened my eyes to the fact that my intellect was the channel for informing my heart was I able to have such an emotional response as I desired. I knew I had found the “missing piece” in my Christianity. No longer do I seek for an emotional experience; I know this follows naturally when I hear God’s Word proclaimed in all its glory.

I once heard a sermon by (Presbyterian) Dr. Cairns in which he attacked the highly subjective “what does this verse mean to you?” way of handling Biblical text. “With all due respect,” he shouted, “I don’t care what the verse means to you!” We need to care about the context, the original intent, and objective meaning of the text. Only then can the verse present a proper application to the Christian. Always, a red flag goes up when I hear someone say, “God showed me this,” or “God gave me this song,” as if God whispered in his ear. Then I listen carefully to determine whether he will quote some verse wildly out of context.

Paul praised the Berean Christians who weighed everything they were taught against the objective, written Word of God “to see whether these things were true.” One must always be careful to make the distinction between the speaker's opinion and what actually comes from the Word (assuming Biblical literacy). A great deal of what passes for “devotional writing,” even in the 19th century classics, contains so much opinion, so many tear-jerking tales, and so little doctrine that I will not bother with them. I would rather read the “dry” books by Van Til and Luther and C. F. W. Walther. These books delight with their doctrinal truth, logic and scholarship. (See Kindred Spirits post dealing with Dionysian/Apollonian art.)

Ultimately, the movement known as “pietism” which crept through the Lutheran church in the 1700’s (and found its fullest expression in John Wesley and the consequent growth of Evangelicalism), with its great emphasis on the subjective and personal, subtly undermined the objective foundation of the Word in the minds of many believers. I say subtly, because most of these believers still overtly claim Sola Scriptura as their guiding light.

Yet, many believers are not trained to study the Bible carefully with regard to important literary considerations, such as historical background and context, but rather view the Bible as a horoscope-like, esoteric “guide” from which they take their “verse for the day.” Thus, a great many evangelicals are pathetically confused as to the true teachings of the Word. This happens easily when the words of the Bible are separated from the spirit in which they were intended. I found in conservative Lutheranism a high view of the Bible, which included great respect for good scholarship that handles the Word in a proper manner.

Historic Lutheranism maintains an attitude of proper disdain for poorly educated “clergy” whose sloppy scholarship treats God’s Word in a flippant manner. I believe this is as it should be. I fully appreciate the level of training the LCMS demands of its clergy, and I rejoice in the honest servants of God who have labored long and hard to understand the original languages and historical context of the Bible, who are “apt to teach” and pass their knowledge on to us laypeople.

I believe that God would have us love Him with “all our hearts, all our souls, all our strength, and all our minds,” and that any form of education in worship and art must of necessity reach the whole person. We must not merely manipulate the emotions, not merely feed the intellect, but rather keep all things in balance.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Announcing a Great Accomplishment

A friend of mine, Philip Larson, is celebrating the attainment of an advanced degree, a Doctor of Education (or Ed.D.) in Curriculum and Instruction.

It is now appropriate to refer to him as Dr. Larson.

Hooray! Congratulations!!!!!

Dr. Philip Larson is Head of Secondary Authors (Product Development) at the Bob Jones University Press in Greenville, South Carolina. He titled his dissertation in curriculum theory A Transformational Model of Biblical Integration with Curricular Applications. I started reading last night, and it’s very exciting stuff—a groundbreaking study for Christian thinkers and educators everywhere. His comments regarding the work:

Folks talk about "biblical integration" or the "integration of faith and life," but there is little definition of these expressions. In the 19 years I taught in Christian schools, I cannot recall anyone saying what it was, yet everyone agreed that it was a sine qua non.

I was coming from Richard Niebuhr's Christ and Culture, despite some claims that he is out of date. Niebuhr advocates a transformational approach to culture. Niebuhr was taken to be especially critical of Anabaptist, Lutheran, and Thomist viewpoints. However, contemporary Anabaptists have been able to tweak Niebuhr's scheme in a way that transformational folks would generally approve, and it appears that Lutherans have done the same (although Gene Veith is quite an exception).

Transformationally, I'm defining biblical integration as "the unreserved affirmation of the Bible's authority and the vigorous expansion of its influence in a given academic or cultural endeavor."

The model graphic is a very abbreviated version of what I'm trying to say. I see three components
of culture (nothing novel here): stuff you can touch (tools, including virtual tools), social practices, and social ideals. Presumably everything in culture fits in one of these three categories. In this model, a Level 3 situation exists when discourse can easily switch between the three loci. Unfortunately, we don't have many situations in which people can easily move the discourse between artifacts, social practices, and social ideals. I can't tell you a school system at Level Three; perhaps I'm mistaken.

At Level 3, a metanarrative will coordinate every aspect of the discourse. As a Christian, I suggest that Creation-Fall-Redemption is the biblical metanarrative. So if we can teach our students so that they learn to see everything in terms of these three lenses, we will have done them a great service.

At Level 2, social ideals are reified and pass into the background, yet participants remain serious about social practices such as mathematics, music, literature, etc. What many regard as excellent education fits in this level.

At Level 1, social practices are reified and only artifacts/virtual artifacts remain. In such a mathematics class, the teacher and students would largely focus on algorithms and processes without attending to their purposes and bases. Musically, one would hit all the right notes and perhaps miss the point of the music. Some regard this as excellent education, but it's too focused on rote.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

At the round earth's imagin'd corners

At the round earth's imagin'd corners, blow
Your trumpets, Angells, and arise, arise
From death, you numberlesse infinities
Of soules, and to your scattered bodies goe,
All whom the flood did, and fire shall o'erthrow,
All whom warre, dearth, age, agues, tyrannies,
Despaire, law, chance, hath slaine, and you whose eyes,
Shall behold God, and never taste death's woe.
But let them sleepe, Lord, and mee mourne a space,
For, if above all these, my sinnes abound,
'Tis late to aske abundance of thy grace,
When wee are there; here on this lowly ground,
Teach mee how to repent; for that's as good

As if thou hadst seal'd my pardon, with thy blood.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Requiem Aeternum: Thoughts of Eternity

[God] hath made everything beautiful in its time: also he hath set eternity in their hearts, yet so that man cannot find out the work that God hath done from the beginning even to the end (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

A dear friend and former member of my church choir has quietly passed away after a long and painful illness. Blessed as one who has "died in the Lord," she now "rests from her labors."

Bryant and I paid a visit to "Laura" on Easter Sunday, and impressively, she recognized us and remained alert to converse with us for about five minutes before fading back into merciful slumber. I am so grateful we made the effort.

Nearly 4,000 years ago, King Solomon of Israel—styling himself "The Preacher"—offered the most profound thoughts on life, death and eternity the world has ever seen (yes, thoroughly eclipsing Socrates). His major philosophical work, Ecclesiastes, is categorized by biblical scholars as Wisdom Literature. The writing uses stunning metaphors and elegant, sophisticated poetic expression, making it a pleasure to read for one who loves language.

"The Preacher's" keyword is "vanity," (something that seems to have substance but disappoints) and he liberally applies this concept to all earthly values. Rather depressingly, he tramples into the dust our commonly-held ideas of what is important in life—reputation, possessions, family heritage, accomplishments, power, pleasure, mirth and joy—by pointing to the fact that these things ultimately perish, and there's nothing we can do about it. These are all good things with which to concern ourselves, but we need to view them in perspective and recognize where they belong in the grand scheme. Work as hard as you like to obtain possessions, says the king, but when you die, you permanently cease to enjoy the benefit of possessions. You don't even know who will inherit them. By the end of the book, we realize that this life is not about this life, but about the eternity beyond it.

So, does that mean we should "eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die?" Does it follow that we simply live for our own pleasure? No, because the decisions we make in our earthly life affect our eternity. I quote from Ecclesiastes 8:

Though a sinner do evil a hundred times, and prolong his days, yet surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God, that fear before him: but it shall not be well with the wicked, neither shall he prolong his days, which are as a shadow; because he feareth not before God.

According to Solomon, the important things in life are walking with God, living righteously in the fear of God, and preparing to live eternity in the presence of God. He intends to remind us that our fleeting earthly life only takes on meaning in the light of Eternity. These are Solomon's concluding thoughts:

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil (Ecc. 12:13-14).

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Kindred Spirits: Blog Alert

I stumbled across a great blog yesterday called Kirchenlieder (Church Songs). If you enjoy the content of Kirchenmusik (Church Music), you'll want to take a look. It's not as philosophical as Religious Affections, but the author (Lance Peeler) definitely shares my aesthetics. Speaking of Religious Affections, the latest post on the site really held my interest. Scott Aniol discusses two types of art distinguished by aethetists: Dionysian vs. Apollonarian art. To quote Mr. Aniol:

Both Dionysus and Apollo were mythological Greek gods associated with art. Apollo was the god of reason and logic, and was considered the god of music since the Greeks thought of good music as a great expression of order and patterns (a la Pythagorus and Plato). Dionysus, on the other hand, was the god of wine and revelry, and was worshiped with loud, raucous music accompanied by pipes and drums.

So Dionysian art/music communicates to the raw passions, while Apollonarian art communicates (ultimately) to the emotions through the intellect. He quotes from Daniel Reuning of Concordia, who points specifically to the music of Lutheran tradition as Apollonarian.

His intention in writing is to help the Christian distinguish between mere emotional experience and true worship, which addresses the whole person and not merely the emotions.

While I do not share or endorse Mr. Aniol's entire theology, I have learned a great deal from his writing and I do not hesitate to share this valuable resource.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Resurrection of Our Lord

This is the feast of victory for our God.
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
Worthy is Christ, the Lamb who was slain, whose blood set us free to be people of God. This is the feast of victory for our God.
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.
Power, riches, wisdom, strength, and honor, blessing, and glory are his. This is the feast of victory for our God.
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
Sing with all the people of God, and join in the hymn of all creation: Blessing, honor glory and might be to God and the Lamb forever. Amen.
This is the feast of victory for our God. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
For the Lamb who was slain has begun his reign. Alleluia.
This is the feast of victory for our God. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

O memoriale mortis Domini

The hymn below is used for Vespers for Holy Thursday, which is not said by those who participate in the evening Mass of the Last Supper. The hymn is an extract of St. Thomas Aquinas' (1225-1274) Adoro Te devote, which he composed in honor of the Blessed Sacrament.

O MEMORIALE mortis Domini! panis vivus, vitam praestans homini! praesta meae menti de te vivereet te illi semper dulce sapere.

O MEMORIAL of my Savior dying, Living Bread, that gives life to man; make my soul, its life from Thee supplying, taste Thy sweetness, as on earth it can.

Pie pellicane, Iesu Domine, me immundum munda tuo sanguine; cuius una stilla salvum faceretotum mundum quit ab omni scelere.

Deign, O Jesus, Pelican of heaven,me, a sinner, in Thy Blood to lave, to a single drop of which is given all the world from all its sin to save.

Te cum revelata cernam facie,visu tandem laetus tuae gloriae; Patri, tibi laudes et Spiritui, dicam beatorum iunctus coetui. Amen.

Rushdoony on Writing Well

I Corinthians 10:31 "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God."

"I detest the cute style of writing so popular today, New Yorkese I call it, because I believe words are tools to be used intelligently, respectfully, carefully, and lovingly. A good writer does not call attention to himself (as William Buckley endlessly does), but to his subject, and his writing opens up avenues of thought and insight...

Good writing gives me a sensuous sense of wealth and luxury; good writing is like combining the ultimate in nutritional value with a strictly gourmet dinner in a perfect and happy marriage."

~ R.J. Rushdoony, Letter to Otto Scott, April 28, 1977

Monday, March 10, 2008

What Does It Mean to Be Lutheran? Part II

Lutherans stand in contrast to the rest of Christianity in that their adherence to the Word of God, without regard to human or ecclesiastical (church) tradition, prevents them from interpreting the Word of God to accommodate errant thinking / beliefs which might be part of a current cultural trend. This means that regardless of what popular beliefs might be, the Word of God is to stand without change or adaptation to the culture or society of the day. In a way, this adherence to the Word of God makes true Lutherans unpopular with most of society at any given time in history.

For example, today, when many churches are putting their stamp of approval on fornication (a couple living together without benfit of marriage), Lutherans continue to believe and teach that God intended for man and woman to live together only in the context of holy marriage. Any other arrangement which society today allows and even encourages is, and will always remain, damnable (I Corinthians 6:9-11). Such fornication is forgivable by faith in Jesus and Spirit-inspired repentance, but it cannot be approved by the true church. To approve of such arrangements calls God a liar at worst or in the least makes Him out to be incompetent because He has declared an activity wrong than man has determined is right and beneficial. Such attitudes break the First Commandment.

To be a Lutheran also means to focus worship upon God, not upon self as is often the case with today’s praise services which serve to lift the human spirit through a "worship" experience, otherwise known as entertainment. In today’s world where so much "worship" seems to focus upon the entertainment of the individual, Lutherans still believe that it is absolutely critical to worship God.

The old German word, Gottesdienst, (Service by God) explains true worship. Worship is a time when we gather to let God work on us through the hearing of His Word as read in the lessons and spoken in the sermon, even declared through the words of hymns as well as through the reception of Holy Communion. Worship is a time to let God work on us and to give Him glory for the work He does in us and through us. To gather simply for praise is OK but such “worship” misses the point: God is not given the opportunity to work on us.

—Dr. Paul Hunsicker, Abbotsford, Wisconsin

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Wanted: Traditional Worship

This hard-hitting post blasting contemporary evangelical worship from Ingrid Schlueter on Slice of Laodicea makes me smile, but I have to nod in agreement with many of the points she makes. I find myself growing very tired of the collective irreverence for the Divine and the sacred in modern American culture, and long for a return to serious worship. The element that so attracts me to traditional, high-church-style liturgy is its treatment of God as holy, righteous and powerful. It inspires a fear of God and puts everything in a Scriptural perspective. May we as a people repent of going our own way and turn back to the God Who loves us and sent His Son to die in our stead.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est

Why do churchgoers rush out the door after church? (Duties discharged—I'm on my way.) Why don't we stay and talk to one another? Are we so caught up in our personal universes that we can only spare a meager hour for God and His people? What makes us so uncomfortable in the House of the Lord?

In the culture today, finding a sense of community and belonging can be very difficult, and the majority of Americans somehow don't expect to find it in church. I find the widespread lack of sympathy disturbing. Does anyone else?

Make no mistake: the primary purpose of a church is to worship and serve the Living God. However, an indispensible component of serving God is treating our fellow human beings well. In the words of Christ: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto Me." As believers, we are the body of Christ, made of disparate parts, but designed to function harmoniously. God has no patience with elitism and what James calls the "respect of persons." The value of a person cannot be based on his financial or social standing. The local church ought to be a place where anyone can find sympathy, compassion, and life-giving counsel based on the Word of God.

Sometimes Christians are shy and afraid to reach out, and then they blame other Christians for "being cold" toward them. Proverbs offers some excellent advice. "He that hath friends must show himself friendly." Selfishly, we often seek not so much to understand as to be understood. As humans, we feel our own need for sympathy so deeply, but others' rather slightly. Loving others means being aware of the needs of people around us, and attempting to serve those needs whether we feel like it or not. It means being a giver and not a taker—characteristics of a mature individual. Are we up to the challenge?

Do you think strangers likely feel welcomed at your church? Within the circle of believers, there should be time set aside to consider how to offer hospitality and fellowship not only to one another, but to strangers in our midst. Hebrews 4 reminds us, "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for some have entertained angels unaware." In the book of the Acts of the Apostles, the Bible says that "God added daily to the church such as should be saved." God brings people to church through various means, and we become part of God's work when we reach out in love to those who seek Him.

On a slightly deviant, yet related point, I think church leaders should be aware that age segregation has succeeded in depriving us of some of the richest expressions of human culture. We miss so much when we avoid the cross-pollination of age groups: the seasoned perspective and unique wisdom of seniors, the brightness and enthusiasm of youth. Successfully integrating people of all ages greatly enhances the socialization experience for everyone.

Certainly, the future of the Christian church depends on our ability to reach out in love, both to fellow Christians (our brothers and sisters) and to strangers and seekers. We not only represent Christ to the world, we are called to be Christ's Body and function as His hands, His arms, His feet. We, therefore, must love as He loved.

UBI caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.
Exultemus, et in ipso iucundemur.
Timeamus, et amemus Deum vivum.
Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero.

Monday, February 25, 2008

What Does It Mean to Be a Lutheran? Part I

This is part of an article written by my former pastor, Dr. Hunsicker of Christ Lutheran Church in Abbotsford, Wisconsin. I'll be posting more later.

To make the answer as simple as possible, a Lutheran is someone who believes that Jesus is the only source of salvation for sinful mankind. Faith in Jesus saves. When you believe in Jesus you acknowledge that your faith is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8-9) and that you are the recipient of God’s grace, His forgiveness, and His guarantee of heaven through trust in His Son Jesus. Lutherans believe that God is the One Who receives all credit for the ability to believe, all credit for forgiveness, and is to receive all credit and glory for eternal life. Man is the recipient of God’s gifts and is to respond in thankfulness for God’s salvation by a life lived according to God’s Word just as the Israelites were to live in response to God’s salvation from Egypt (Exodus 20, the context of the Commandments).

Lutherans also believe that the Bible is God’s Word cover to cover. This means that we believe in a six-day, twenty-four-hour-day creation and we reject evolution. It means that Noah was real, the flood was real, and that the fossils we find around today were alive at the time of Noah. We believe the miracles of Jesus are real. We believe that Jesus died and physically rose from the dead and bodily ascended into heaven where He remains until He returns to judge the living and the dead. We believe that every word of the Bible was inspired by God the Holy Spirit in their original autographs, that is, as they were originally written by the prophets and apostles.

We believe that our human thinking, human wisdom, is to be subservient to the Word of God and it is not to interpret the Word of God. The Word stands by itself as truth whether we understand it or not. Those who interpret Scripture based upon tradition or upon human reason do damage to the Word of God and to faith in Jesus. Scripture is to be read and understood in the context of a sentence within a paragraph within a book of the Bible within the historical and cultural context in which the Holy Spirit inspired any particular sentence to be written or communicated. The Bible interprets itself based on what the Holy Spirit inspired at other times and places.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Good News/Bad News for the Pastor

Good News: You baptised seven people today in the river.
Bad News: You lost two of them in the swift current.

Good News: The women's group voted to send you a get-well card.
Bad News: The vote passed by 31-30.

Good News: The pastor-parish relations committee accepted your job description the way you wrote it.
Bad News: They were so inspired by it that they asked the bishop to send a new minister capable of filling the position.

Good News: The trustees finally voted to add more church parking.
Bad News: They are going to blacktop the front lawn of the parsonage.

Good News: Church attendance rose dramatically the last three weeks.
Bad News: You were on vacation.

Good News: Your biggest critic just left your community.
Bad News: He has been appointed as your conference bishop.

Good News: The youth of the church came to your house for a visit.
Bad News: It was in the middle of the night and they were armed with toilet paper and shaving cream.

Good News: The Church Council has agreed to send you to the Holy Land for study.
Bad News: They are waiting for war to break out before sending you.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Debtor to Mercy Alone

The author, Augustus Toplady, at­tend­ed West­min­ster School, Lon­don, and Trin­i­ty Coll­ege, Dub­lin. He was or­dained an Ang­li­can priest in 1762, and served as Cur­ate at Blag­don and Far­leigh. In 1766, he be­came Vi­car of Broad­hem­bu­ry, De­von­shire. He left the Ang­li­can church in 1775, moved to Lon­don, and be­gan preach­ing at the French Cal­vin­ist church in Lei­ces­ter Fields. His works in­clude:

The Doctrine of Ab­so­lute Pre­des­tin­a­tion Stat­ed and As­sert­ed, 1769
Historic Proof of the Doc­trin­al Cal­vin­ism of the Church of Eng­land, 1774
The Church of Eng­land Vin­di­cat­ed from the Charge of Armin­i­an­ism, 1774
Po­ems on Sac­red Sub­jects, 1775
Psalms and Hymns, 1776

A debtor to mercy alone,
Of covenant mercy I sing;
Nor fear, with Thy righteousness on,
My person and off'ring to bring.
The terrors of law and of God
With me can have nothing to do;
My Saviour's obedience and blood
Hide all my transgressions from view.

The work which His goodness began
The arm of His strength will complete;
His promise is yea and amen,
And never was forfeited yet.
Things future, nor things that are now,
Not all things below or above,
Can make Him His purpose forgo,
Or sever my soul from His love.

My name from the palms of His hands
Eternity will not erase;
Impressed on His heart it remains,
In marks of indelible grace;
Yes, I to the end shall endure,
As sure as the earnest is giv'n;
More happy, but not more secure,
The glorified spirits in heav'n.

Augustus M. Toplady, 1740-1778

Friday, February 8, 2008

None Other Lamb

I became familiar with this text last year when I sang a simple, yet stunning Crawford Thoburn setting with the Bach Chamber Choir. It fits well during Holy Week as we reflect on Jesus, the Lamb of God, Who died to take away the sins of the world. It is definitely one I plan to use again and again. This woman's faith in God is deep and real, bridging the sometimes awful gap between hope and experience.

None other Lamb, none other Name,
None other hope in Heav'n or earth or sea,
None other hiding place from guilt and shame,
None beside Thee!

My faith burns low, my hope burns low;
Only my heart's desire cries out in me
By the deep thunder of its want and woe,
Cries out to Thee.

Lord, Thou art Life, though I be dead;
Love's fire Thou art, however cold I be:
Nor Heav'n have I, nor place to lay my head,
Nor home, but Thee.

by Christina Rosetti (1830-1894)

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


As the season of Lent is upon us, today being Ash Wednesday, I wanted to post what I believe is the most beautiful contritional prayer in modern English. Mr. Donne speaks for me here.

WILT Thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin, through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.

Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sin their door?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallowed in a score?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done,
For I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
But swear by Thyself, that at my death Thy Son
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore ;
And having done that, Thou hast done ;
I fear no more.
by John Donne (1572-1631)

Friday, February 1, 2008

Brahms’ Requiem:

An Appreciative Analysis for Deeper Listening

I wish to examine the masterful illumination of a great text with music fully befitting its grandeur. Few composers ever matched the intellectual mastery of Brahms’ work. He obviously took his craft as a musician very seriously, and honed his skills to their highest capacity.

The word Requiem is Latin for “rest.” Originally, in the Latin liturgical tradition, Misse pro Defunctis (Mass for the Dead) began with the words Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis (Give them eternal rest, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them). A very small portion of the Latin text came from the Bible, but it was apparently composed for the express purpose of observing a mass for the departed; it contained, most notably, a section called the Dies Irae or Day of Wrath, conjuring images of terror at the Last Judgment, which Brahms ignores. Countless settings of the Requiem Mass had been produced by composers since medieval times.

Influenced, no doubt, by Lutheran innovation, Brahms takes this opportunity to break with Catholic tradition by using a completely different text and still calling it a requiem. Brahms carefully chooses relevant texts from Luther’s translation of the Bible which focus on comfort for the living who mourn their dead. The use of the German vernacular is quite significant in church history, and subsequently in music history.

Brahms seeks to express the heart and soul of the various Biblical texts; each new thought in the text comes in on the wings of a new melodic theme perfectly suited to its character. Brahms draws from an exceptionally wide palette of musical techniques in producing the desired effects. One sees the influence of early music and especially Bach, from whom he learned the art of fugue. The musical structure of the Requiem is often compared to an arch, with seven movements that complement and balance each other in mood and character.

The work opens with “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted,” and closes with a quote from Revelation, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord; for they rest from their labors and their works do follow them,” both set gently with tender, lyrical melodies.

The second and sixth movements are heavy both in character and content, with the music ponderous under the weight of ultimate realities. The text of these movements (refer to translation below) reflect on the brevity of human life, the vanity of human works and the hope of the Resurrection as the sole relief of that despair. The sixth movement gives way to a fierce, ostentatious celebration in the victory (won by Christ) over death, and then falls into a rapturous, deeply felt adoration of our God, Who is “worthy to receive glory and honor and power.”

The third and fifth movements each make use of baritone and soprano soloists, respectively. The text of the third movement states the human longing for purpose and meaning to life: “Lord, help me to number my days, that my life would have a worthy goal,” (loose translation from the German) and the haunting woodwinds reflect that yearning. This cry is answered in the fifth movement, where God promises to comfort His people “as a mother comforts her child.”

In the fourth and central movement (also the most popular), the Christian’s blessed hope becomes luminous and palpable. “How lovely is Thy dwelling-place, O Lord of Hosts! My soul longs, fainting, for the courts of the Lord! My heart and my flesh cry out for the Living God. Blessed are they who dwell with You; they will praise you forever.” As if David’s poetry alone were not breathtaking enough, the sweep of angelic massed sopranos and determined footsteps of the bass-entering fugue would threaten to overwhelm the sensibilities. The melodies are utterly charming, but the compositional workmanship is nothing less than masterful.

The effect of the work as a whole is uncommonly powerful because of its dual impact on right and left brain functions. The profound intellectual and technical mastery allows the emotional response to follow it to its depths.

Come and hear the Master Singers of Milwaukee perform this work in two locations,
Saturday, February 23, 2008 at 7:30pm
North Shore Congregational Church, 7330 N. Santa Monica, Fox Point
Sunday, February 24, 2008 at 3:00pm
St. Sebastian Catholic Church, 5400 W. Washington Blvd., Milwaukee

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Defense of Proper Education for Those Who Minister in the Church, Part V

Those who prefer good intentions to competence always ask, “Is it not true that clever men are more likely to be untrustworthy?” hoping to instill a distrust of higher learning.

How many times do we find ourselves in the position of having to trust someone more intelligent or better informed—shall we say, an expert—than ourselves? We consult doctors, lawyers and accountants for matters requiring specialized knowledge that is beyond the ability of the common person to completely understand—how much more the ancient document recorded in foreign languages that most of us only glance at a few minutes out of each day? Ultimately we must trust in someone of superior knowledge; we have the responsibility of choosing wisely the object of that trust. (God does not require a blind faith; we exercise a faith grounded in reality and truth. There are always clues to guide our choices; faith simply bridges the gap between our experience and our hope.)

Anti-intellectuals often observe that we live in a culture where seminaries are becoming increasingly disrespectful in their approach to the Word and apostate.

Hypocrisy, lies, or false teaching do not change what is and will always be true. The responsibility lies with the student and his mentors to determine the underlying suppositions of his teachers, and to seek out teachers who respect the divine inspiration of the Holy Bible. It goes without saying that not all seminaries are apostate!

Christians are called to be in the world (though not of it) and to be salt and light in whatever environment they find themselves.

A common misconception is that Christian ideals are at odds with academic ambition. Are we not to love the Lord with all our minds? No anti-intellectual culture could have produced a J. S. Bach, a Milton or a Kepler. They made a point of casting their crowns before Christ and dedicating the fruits of their minds to His service. Again, Paul exhorts Timothy to “study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed.” Surely it is God Who grants gifts of the mind, and He expects us to invest our talents wisely.

Does not God show His glory (and therefore work better) through weakness?

The attainment of an advanced degree does not prevent any person from being a “weak vessel.” We make a faulty assumption when we imply otherwise.

2 Corinthians 12:9 "And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me."

Notice who is saying this: someone we all too frequently assume was “strong,” a highly educated man and master of theology: the Apostle Paul, who had the ancient-world equivalent of a Ph. D. Why does he call himself weak? Was God not able to use his education in a mighty way? History demonstrates that God used every painfully acquired skill Paul was able to bring—from skilled debate and passionate persuasion in the public square to the humble trade of tentmaking. And yet Paul calls himself weak, and so he was, being human and subject to like passions as we are, but he also knew the undergirding of God’s strength. God, in His infinite wisdom, saw to it that the greatest missionary of the first century was adequately prepared for the work.

The teaching of God’s Word must be held in high esteem and those who essay to teach it must be held highly accountable for their handling. The Word must be understood in its original intent, its absolutely objective meaning; must be handled seriously as a historic document inspired by a Holy God. It is a serious undertaking that requires the best linguistic and research skills developed by human civilization. Any careless, lighthearted approach is an insult to our God and the Christian faith, not to say damaging to Christ’s beloved flock.

Remember Christ’s test of Peter’s love for Him: “If you love Me, feed my sheep.” Sheep were not merely bumbling, clumsy creatures; they were and are the main form of wealth in the Middle East. When Christ calls his people sheep, He implies that they are precious to him in the same way sheep were valuable to their owners. We cannot make the mistake of thinking that any old fodder will do for these sheep. We may be sure that “hirelings” will give account to Christ along with the faithful pastors.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Text of Brahms' Requiem

I. Chorus
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
-Matthew 5
They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. They go forth and weep, and bear precious seed, and shall come again with rejoicing, bringing their sheaves with them.
-PSALM 126

II. Chorus
For all flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls...
Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient.

III. Baritone Solo & Chorus
Lord, let me know my end, and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is. You have made my days a few handbreaths, and my lifetime is as nothing in your sight. Surely everyone stands as a mere breath. Surely everyone goes about like a shadow. Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; they heap up, and do not know who will gather them. And now, O Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in Thee.

IV. Chorus
How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God. Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise.

V. Soprano Solo & Chorus
Ye now are sorrowful; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice,and no one will take your joy from you.
-JOHN 16
As a mother comforts her child so will I comfort you. Behold with your eyes: but for a little have I known sorrow and labor and found much rest.

VI. Baritone Solo & Chorus
For here have we no continuing place, but we seek one that is to come.
Behold, I show you a mystery: we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed; in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the hour of the last trumpet. For the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they existed and were created.

VII. Final Chorus
Blessed are the dead who from now on die in the Lord. "Yes," says the Spirit, "they will rest from their labors, and their deeds follow them."

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Defense of Proper Education for Those Who Minister in the Church, Part III

Those who distrust education love to point out that in the past, God has used people with little or no education.

Without a doubt, God can use anyone, and He delights in surprising the world with unlikely candidates. Please note that even the wicked accomplish God’s purposes, but this does not expunge their accountability to answer for their wickedness. If a man withholds himself from the preparations to qualify him for ministerial service, God CAN use him—but it may not be in the way that the man hoped or that was ideal.

Some of the mightiest figures in the Inspired Record were highly educated men: Moses, raised in the courts of Egypt (and yet God preserved him so that he was not drawn away by temptation), Daniel, who arrived in the Babylonian palaces with advanced knowledge, and received the finest training Babylon could provide, and of course Paul, who studied at the feet of Gamaliel. We must not rush to the conclusion that God cannot or will not use men and women of letters.

Consider the Parable of the Talents: this literally speaks for itself. It is God who gives gifts of the mind, and if we fail to invest and use them for God’s glory, we will face our Lord’s displeasure for wasting precious resources.

Another fallacious argument is that the disciples were uneducated men.

Consider that those who were fishermen spoke, minimally, two languages in order to conduct business. They not only performed manual labor, but they were involved in trade, commerce and negotiation. They knew a thing or two about human nature; they would not have been easily taken in by some passing charlatan.

We may surmise that Matthew, the tax collector, had advanced accounting skills, sufficient for “cooking the books” (Matthew 9:9-12). Luke, of course, we know as “the beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14). These men were hardly unintelligent or ignorant, even though they may have lacked the formal training of the day.

Finally, the disciples spent three years undergoing a “seminary” education by the master Teacher himself, who undertook to prepare His men for their task.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

At a Solemn Musick

by John Milton (1608–1674)

BLEST pair of Sirens, pledges of Heav'ns joy,
Sphear-born harmonious Sisters, Voice, and Vers,
Wed your divine sounds, and mixt power employ
Dead things with inbreath'd sense able to pierce,
And to our high-rais'd phantasie present,
That undisturbèd Song of pure content,
Ay sung before the saphire-colour'd throne
To him that sits theron
With Saintly shout, and solemn Jubily,
Where the bright Seraphim in burning row
Their loud up-lifted Angel trumpets blow,
And the Cherubick host in thousand quires
Touch their immortal Harps of golden wires,
With those just Spirits that wear victorious Palms,
Hymns devout and holy Psalms
Singing everlastingly;
That we on Earth with undiscording voice
May rightly answer that melodious noise;
As once we did, till disproportion'd sin
Jarr'd against natures chime, and with harsh din
Broke the fair musick that all creatures made
To their great Lord, whose love their motion sway'd
In perfect Diapason, whilst they stood
In first obedience, and their state of good.
O may we soon again renew that Song,
And keep in tune with Heav'n, till God ere long
To his celestial consort us unite,
To live with him, and sing in endles morn of light.


by George Herbert

Prayer, the Church's banquet, Angel's age,
God's breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav'n and earth;
Engine against th' Almightie, sinner's towre,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-daies world transposing in an houre,
A kinde of tune, which all things heare and fear;
Softnesse, and peace, and joy, and love, and blisse,
Exalted Manna, gladnesse of the best,
Heaven in ordinarie, man well drest,
The milkie way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bels beyond the starres heard, the soul's blood,
The land of spices; something understood.