All posts for the month June, 2012
Posted by unknowing on June 29, 2012
There is the rather oafish claim floating about that worship is words, and that music cannot communicate without the help of words. The claim is based on the principle that worship must be understandable. Worship has to edify, and in order to edify it must be understandable.
I once read in the 39 Articles the statement that worship conducted in a language foreign to the hearers is repugnant to true religion–or something like that. And I agree. It must be understood. That limits us, sometimes, but the point is to love our brethren and seek above all things to edify them in the public assembly.
A good passage to go to in order to see the importance of understanding and edification is 1 Corinthians 14:6-12. That passage, however, turns out to be a bad one for supporting that music has to have words for it to be understood. There is an illustration of the principle that the apostle makes in that passage, and the illustration involves instrumental music exclusively. The point there is that speaking in untranslated tongues is just noise to the hearer. Music badly performed has that problem too. At least, that seems to be Paul’s perception. But his point is also that music is more than just noise, and the problem with untranslated tongues is that it cannot be but noise.
I think what people who say that music communicates nothing are saying that music communicates nothing to them (and there is some truth in that, but not enough). I think the mistake they’re making is that of supposing that the message the music communicates is always translatable in words. That it can somehow be communicated by other means. The point of any real art, however, is that it communicates something incommunicable by other means. Why do we use poetic language and not prose? The point is not a mere decoration, some sort of marketing of the message through the glamor of poetry. The point is that it will not come through complete any other way. The same is true of painting, sculpture, and of course of music.
Think of taps or reveille, talking of the trumpet. They communicate more than simply time to go to bed, and time to get up, though without words they manage at least to communicate that. And that’s the point: they clearly communicate; that’s the apostle’s point in 1 Corinthians 14:8. If these musical pieces for trumpet did not communicate in their very sound, his point would not stand.
And the illustration of taps and reveille is convenient. It might be argued by some that they don’t understand the language of music-so it does not edify. If they argued this way they would be partially right. But being partially right is also being partially wrong, remember. They would be wrong in supposing that they can’t understand. The problem is more that they won’t understand. Imagine a soldier sleeping in at reveille under the argument that he didn’t know too much about music or that nobody really explained to him the meaning of the urgent sound of the trumpet in the morning. True, this insensitivity to musical communication may limit what we do in the church. But not, it seems to me, that much.
What do you think, does the argument work?
Posted by unknowing on June 29, 2012
In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia, a thing is revealed to Daniel, whose name is called Belteshazzar, and the thing is true, and the warfare is great: and he hath understood the thing, and hath understanding about the appearance.
Daniel 10 is about that warfare–the struggle and conflict of Daniel. What he was shown was hard to bear, trying and overwhelming. And searching out the why–the understanding of the thing–was difficult.
The thing is also true: truth is not always pleasant. How much has this man suffered, not only at the hands of pagan kings, but because of the things he has sought God about and subsequently learned.
And yet the point is to strengthen him. He has been shown something of the horrors of Antiochus IV. He has seen that there is a worse beast after the Greeks–a beast calamitous. He knows that desolations shall flood Jerusalem, the city holy to him. And all this comes because he is greatly beloved.
Daniel knows God’s favor, but it does not lead him along a broad and easy way. It leads him through anguish not even his companions in fasting are put through. It leads him to an overwhelming vision of Our Lord as he later appears to the Apostle John.
Daniel has a terrible vision of Christ so debilitating he cannot even stand; and yet it is the words of Christ in that vision that strengthen Daniel. Why did Daniel undergo so much? The weak must be strengthened. It was because he was singled out for privilege far beyond his first capacities. This, after all, is the pattern of the life of the sons of God.
Posted by unknowing on June 28, 2012
This photo is from a newspaper. It shows you what it looks like here.
Obviously that’s a construction detour, and I don’t recognize exactly the location, but what is remarkable are the vehicles. All those are privately owned public transportation vehicles. There are some as old as 30 yrs still making the rounds. They are endlessly fixed, endlessly put into circulation, endlessly filled to bursting, and wend through tangled routes to every part of this sprawling urb. They’re regulated, but it is a tangle of bureaucracy more than anything.
Why so many? They all want to get a long run in the downtown areas so they can fill up. They end up in all quarters of the city, but a whole lot of them end up passing along the same downtown thoroughfares–loosely so-called–in order to get as many people as possible. All shapes and sizes too. See the blue one with a white roof heading away? I can’t stand up in one of those. But if the seats run out, one has to. Colombians just keep crowding on too.
Which is why people here are suspicious of the private systems. Not that they’re keen on the government, but the private systems don’t take their passengers into consideration as much as their cash. It doesn’t matter how bad things are, how many thieves, how much people complain. There aren’t alternatives. Why don’t they walk or ride a bike or get a car? For various reasons they mostly can’t. Let us not start on car ownership and the driving restrictions existing and making it ludicrous–though many of them do that too.
The problem is not that private enterprise can’t deliver, but that private enterprise depends on the manners and customs of the private owners. If the government didn’t regulate them in some way, nobody doubts they’d be tangling the routes up worse. They don’t come together for solutions, the owners, they’re too petty. People here now only seem to believe things can be done by force, from the top down.
It boggled my mind when I first came here. But now I am convinced: you can’t let free enterprise just go without certain mores in the people. There is a point of honor, a point of consideration, and a point of shamelessness. There is also the people who are helpless–for lack of intelligence, of any ability to coordinate themselves except in messy protests, for lack of clarity in public discourse. Private interests are all very well as long as there’s a common purpose, a common sense of some shared good (efficient transportation, for example, if such a thing exists). But consider that there are people living all together who don’t even share a vision of that.
And it seems to me that’s why you end up with leftist, elected (apathetically) rulers who want to impose their vision of a ‘shared’ good from the top down. Who can see it rising from some real sense of community? All that arises is the shared chaos of the individual heart.
Posted by unknowing on June 26, 2012
I keep waiting for comments to appear on the latest Time of Nick over at the internet roach motel. Is it too far over their heads, or what? Maybe they’re trying to figure out how it means them.
I was in the Lerner book store downtown. Had to walk past a thug to get in and noticed a curious customer browsing inside. A second brush with the chap revealed the mayor of our great city rather egregiously dressed. Here I thought they were still taking things out of his head. He seemed good at pretending to be interested in books. Outside I saw it was more like a dozen thugs in suits, besides some police commanders. Around the corner were the three SUVs needed to get our mayor around, plus a dozen police.
Almost bought a book of French poetry because they had the Spanish translation on the opposite page. Would make it very easy for me to puzzle out the originals, that.
Did buy a copy of Fernandez de Orviedo’s (seems to go by just Orviedo nowadays) account of how he found things in the New World back in the 16th century. I’m keener than usual about history these days. After I bought it I wondered if I should. These sorts of texts, these old books are the thing a Kindle is taking over. If you can get it for free, why even pay the low price of a used copy let alone for a new edition if all you want to read is the text?
Going very well with a story here today. Very pleased.
Posted by unknowing on June 25, 2012
A long day, tomorrow.
I have to teach on the last four verses of the ninth of Daniel. Of necessity, at least it appears so to me, I have to make clear the difference between a more traditional interpretation of the text and the more popular views prevailing. This is because most people in the congregation don’t have it all that clear. Not that I mind: I have it clear and I’m looking forward to the questions. What I don’t like is how little it leaves for the point of the passage. My consolation is that I’ve already given some 80 minutes to the rest of the chapter of which it is a part.
We are also having baptisms tomorrow, and so I am going to take the structure of my sermon from the first paragraph of the 29th chapter of the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith. I hardly ever preach topically. This is not because I’m so convinced that the main method ought to be expository because that is always the best. I feel the main method ought to be expository in our day because we are ignorant of Scripture as seldom before. And in my case ignorant of rhetoric. So when I can borrow from the rather carefully considered, ordered and stated Confession, it’s a plus. Here’s the difficulty though: if you preach thematically you are constantly thinking of what you leave out. If you preach a passage and leave things out, it is not by your own choice. If you preach thematically and leave things out, it is. What if what you left out was crucial?
I also lead the worship tomorrow. The thing here is not to my liking: the men of the congregation take turns leading worship, and I am decidedly of the opinion that this is what the pastors ought to do. But I’m not in charge, and so I schedule myself in to do it once a month and this month I drew this certain day. It wears on the voice because I try to lead (our decisive pianist is not playing this Sunday), and often, since I tend to pick stuff for its appropriateness of form and content, it is less known than stuff that might be picked for reasons of personal preference. That was the great thing in the USA. There was no director for the music. When the hymn started, if the congregation was sitting, the pastor did as well. The instrument led. Here there isn’t even a place to sit down.
So then I have to direct the afternoon service of the baptisms. And since I’m not the one baptizing, I’ll be the one preaching. That one is easier: Ex 20:7. But I’m not so good at direct exhortation, putting the screws on people, you know? There are two ways of preaching the law. One is the delight of it. It is going to sound perhaps weird to dispensationalists, but the third use of the law is what we believe to be reason the Psalmist rejoices so much in the law. To think of the law exclusively as a list of personal restrictions is pre-conversion thinking. Nevertheless, even when one is free of the condemnation of the law, there is the oughtness of the law of God. Curiously, it is the commandments positively stated that seem to lend themselves more to the aspect of severity. Still, I feel I’m better with the other aspect . . . not the most prophetic preacher there is.
Then comes the baptisms, and they are not done quickly–nor should they. But the part that falls to me is the singing in between and maintaining the sense of order in the eventualities. I think I have picked 12 hymns for that part–better safe than sorry.
Direction requires projection, emfasis, energy, all that. And preaching is such a drain on emotional energy–besides the requirement of being friendly and polite all day (some people like that, for me it is like running a laptop unplugged for however long it lasts; wasn’t there a preacher who stayed in his study till the sermon, walked out and delivered, and then promptly retired? Can we go back to that instead of all this mingling?). I’m glad I understand some of these things now, because the truth is that before I did it, I never thought of it. And when I did it sporadically, going to preach somewhere and teaching in all the day’s services, it wasn’t the same. I suppose what you get here is the ability to observe over time, reflect, and realize what it is that’s going on.
Anyway, there it is. That’s something of what it is like for me of a Lord’s Day in the year of our Lord two thousand and twelve in the capital city of Colombia.
Posted by unknowing on June 23, 2012
We have had warm weather. The sun has blazed down on us uninterrupted. It has gotten warm up here–slightly over 70–and people have noticed. The sky has been blue and the highland air full of winds and breezes. The rubber trees look especially prosperous, but in this weather of no plant left behind, they all do. The sun warms up the houses, but they retain neither heat nor cold for long.
Then a good rain of the steady sort last night: the quiet sound of it, gentlier; the tapping at the window; the rilling and welling of running water. And still grey this morning. Outside it smells much of the highlands (cool and humid) and there is a promise of more rain.
Posted by unknowing on June 21, 2012
Apparently that is the pagan greeting. Well, one might add, not originally either, kai sunkhairete mou! Anyway, that’s the greeting that arrived announcing my contribution to Eternal Haunted Summer is posted. C.S. Lewis, I’m inclined to think, would have had a good laugh–if he even noticed.
Posted by unknowing on June 19, 2012
For a good story that keeps the reader’s interest throughout and in the end makes him feel the attention was worth it, click here.
It is a story that seems to me effective at the simplest level, but it does those two things which every good story ought to do.
Posted by unknowing on June 19, 2012
If you know of a good job for me, we will be returning to the USA on September 7th.
Of course, I’ll probably need to see about getting a driver’s license the week following, and probably also about getting a car.
Posted by unknowing on June 15, 2012
Posted by unknowing on June 15, 2012
Chronicle of a Traveler Observed, Day 1
Then he came down on a plane. Appeared in the terminal bobbing in a line, disoriented, pausing like Todd–nose and glasses–with a way of being curiously pleased; calm and expecting. Can he have traveled in a sweatshirt, we wondered. So long have we been with the Latin Americans.
Off in the darkness. The inevitable comparisons. Anybody who has traveled has irritated their hosts with comparisons. You show them something and they say they saw it elsewhere. I’ve done it and I think it is inevitable. We were in a taxi at the time.
Marveled he at the size of our apartment. Anything weird was met with the comment–that’s European. Perhaps it is. Waited we the Lord’s day.
The Lord’s day was a long day for one who doesn’t speak the language when what must be done must be done with the understanding in a place that speaks another tongue. Difficult, that. Lunch with foreigners–man from the Embassy that brings his family to our church. Then the Lord’s Day was over.
Went we downtown and showed him the heart of Colombia. The old, clunky church from 1611 was celebrating the feast of Corpus Christi, or getting close to. Heavy wood, thick walls, the colonial massiveness in that old place. The highland damp is in those buildings, inextricably. Packed place that night. Walked we along 7th, before the cathedral, by the congress, up the lane. Eventually we disgorged, returned we through the grim and dingy city home.
Of a Monday we hurried Northward. Flat running, climbing, circling, switching and flat running before the wind in our swift passage. Our conversations had begun. Dawning realizations, compared realizations, adjusted realizations.
Chinese lunch for us: rice, chips and egg rolls. By common consent, all of us had some excellent grapefruit pop, which is the only instance of the flavor, or something not entirely unlike it, in all of Colombian experience. A rare treat. We then found an upstairs cafe, had the music lowered somewhat, and watched the rain on the central square.
Went we through the old town, subsequently, and round to where we caught the last bus (fourth of the day) which would deliver us to our destination, or at least 4 kilometers away. Then went we in the afternoon to that recondite rezendesvous, where there is a bar with the theme of the bullfight.
Music all day is the problem with the transportation. Having our aromatic tea there near the bull’s head, we at least heard this: For some reason it is classified as the #2 all time Latin American rock song, in case you’re ever playing some frivolous trivia game and are asked.
Soon the crowds died down. Soon we had our excellent supper. Soon we were warming in the Turkish bath and then bathing in the thermal pool. Then some lousy, talkative Paisas wanted to enjoy things their way: yakking on.
Joke they told me: so there was this kid that had a breathing problem; he only breathed every two years. He breathed at two, and said Grandfather. Next day the grandfather died. He breathed at four and said Grandmother. Next day the grandmother died. He breathed again at six and said Father. Ye dogs! exclaimed his dad, I better get over to confession and repent all my sins. The next day . . . are you ready for it? The neighbor died.
They told me another one I didn’t get. By now, gotten, we had, all the news from the Granite Falls indeed. The drizzle fell on the steaming pool and the night approached the 10PM, so it gave us for giving up and turning in.
The bloody Paisas (Paisas are from the department of Antioquia and talk notoriously) caught me early and had me near them. But then they would have their breakfast indoors and I would stay out. Conversation then we had among ourselves, there in the sunlight, with the breakfast coming hard and fast, and the Paisas disappeared, soon to be seen bathing distantly.
Mused we on Gravitas. What had been, what had become. It is something to have in common. Those dreams: of a leisured life, of agrarian ways–for some, of learning to appreciate art, of making a home for oneself, all tangled with our original dreams of ministry. What now? We saw the peasants up there, and their unenviable ways and children. I thought of Mr. Sensible and his Drudge. We can’t make a home in this world, but we mustn’t loose the habit of trying, it seems to me. Our conversation batted things around perhaps better than formerly. Perhaps in a few years even more? Now it seems to have become with us more a habit, this posture against modernity. A puzzling posture.
Pretenders to a certain extent, he called us. Players acting what cannot be really ours, hoping to instill in the children something more theirs. Hoping to awaken dormant imaginations. Obviously the ambitious projects that a former civilization enacted will not be with us, can they? With no community, even with the wild success of a modest community, they can’t. And what cities? There is the funny thing though, it seems to me: what will come of all of this? Something not entirely seen before.
Mused we on civilization and on decadence, there among the willows. On classes for the kid on the violin, on the circumstance of peasants. That day walked we up the meadow and onto the road. Through the fields and wood, down to the gorge where the water gushed, by the hollow shell of a peasant’s hut. Quarter ponies, ridden, passed us. We saw a yoke of oxen waiting to plow a field for onions. We went down among the pines and mushrooms to the cold waters lapping the white sands. Trout we ate, and rice. The wind blew us, the rain spattered intermittently, we passed the cedars and the eucalyptus, saw the fog on the high hills and the sun on the lake, had the company of a bitch called Luna, which we then abandoned to ride a lousy bus.
Aquitania is the onion capital. Everybody wears a ruana in Aquitania, and black rubber boots. Farming is there, but it is expected that tourism will soon drive it out. And then the onions? Perhaps cuisine will change.
Coffee down in the warmer town, good coffee. A brisk walk to the bus, a brief ride on the bus, and then the journey back. Bathed we then, ate we afterward and watched the fire play magnificently.
Early start. Breakfast before the restaurant was opened and then we went walking on our way. Caught the bus and soon were in the city. Went we to the market, where they unloaded potatoes, the peasants who harvested it all present, haggling the price. Went we also among other goods, where tourists seldom go, I ween. We got our bus and were sped back.
We had an unhygienic lunch, as when I went back toward the kitchen to pay I realized. There is no concept here, no concept. It was good for the price, and now does not seem to have cost us more than money.
More might be said. We had Eric among the willows, the rushing torrent of that most pleasant and still remote valley. There the pines are various, some tangled, some curious in their curved branches when the needles fade them out, some domestic.
Photos by Katrina
Posted by unknowing on June 14, 2012
If memory serves me, back on the old blog I posted something about Gravitas as to what we valued, or what distinguished us, or something like that. Among the points was something about being favorable toward mysticism. Not all were so (perhaps they understand better now, perhaps not).
I’m more than favorable, I’m enthusiastic. But mysticism is like romanticism: some take the worst possible definition of the term and hate it. The truth is some hate the idea of mysticism because they have been involved in vague, impulsive and to be quite honest silly notions of spirituality and as a result, and perhaps even reacting against themselves, make what they did the object for their scorn.
Some, of course, never have, but still prefer a spirituality of rationalism, or at least a spirituality that emphasizes more rationalism than, well, sweet desire, let us say. Some I think are leery of anything that exceeds too much the boundaries of their limits (of control, of experience, of their meager hearts–harsh, but let us be candid: the notion is a timid notion).
I don’t mind being derided as a mystic, especially by people who haven’t read too much of mysticism. I don’t get too worked up if they say The Cloud of Unknowing leads to pantheism–somewhere in the secondary literature, no doubt, such a view can be substantiated. Maybe they scanned through scowling and found a hideous sentence to fling at their opponents. Let me wear it as a badge of honor.
My introduction to mysticism was Tozer, in the introduction to The Christian Book of Mystical Verse. You can get some of the sense of it, if you can’t read poetry, in The Knowledge of the Holy. It is a great book, and I doubt most Christian leaders today are capable of writing anything like it. For one, they’d have to be familiar with the primary literature, the deep wells out of which Tozer draws, and they simply are not (what an adventure awaits the one who travels down the well each footnote in that book opens up). We live in an age where much reading is presentist reading: today’s problems (so different from yesterday’s) with a new solution (that people who did not have cell phones could never have come up with), insights from Evangelicals who are constitutionally unable to offer anything remotely resembling an insight, how to live meaningfully without ever reading poetry, that sort of book. We talk about history, but what do we read? Primary sources or secondary literature? I don’t think I need to make all that much of an argument for that point. Tozer was no historian, but he knew what Christians of all the ages had thought and felt. How many people do?
And he regularly read poetry. Mysticism shares the fascination of the greatest poetry with the darkness that broods over us, that runs below the depths that we can see. It is a taste for the greatest poet’s vision, only more, further. Mysticism is in search of ultimate reality, and it knows that the aim of human sanctification is union with God–union with God! It wants to have what is most difficult for those who long in paradoxes of inexpressibility: complete resignation in the will of God.
God is somewhere beyond the darkness the greatest poet only glimpses, God is in the depths of all things created; all wisdom and knowledge and true learning lead to that endless fascination which is the dazzling city at the very bottom of the sea, the rich vein only found through the most arduous, deepest mineshaft, the light-year-distant heart of the nebula toward which all interstellar voyages are aimed, the undiscovered country.
I don’t know if there is any mystic not of the romantic temperament. Is mysticism the search for beauty rather than the search for the sublime? Can it be a tame thing? I wonder sometimes. Does it really search the intersection of the beautiful with the sublime?
Posted by unknowing on June 14, 2012
Three months to go. Three months of long drawn-out departure. Last night we met to eat with friends from here, and now the questions wander in a wider orbit, take on the speculative cast of a polite and melancholy light. The interstellar distances approach.
Another meal today. There will be more of these last meals, as the countdown proceeds and all around us the rocket shakes. And I shall write the science fiction these evoke.
Posted by unknowing on June 9, 2012
This should be required for a lot of Reformed Baptists (the ones who call Catholics Arminians especially). Not that what they do is all that rare. Ask some dispensationalists about a reformed view of the law and see what you get.
Which may certainly give a ray to those at the bottom of the heap: everybody is pretty low-grade when it comes to honest appraisals and good argumentation. I’d ask how we’ve reached this point, but then that’s what Remonstrans is for. See what he says about celebrity evangelical John Piper’s rationale for tweeting, for instance.
Posted by unknowing on June 8, 2012
I’m working my way through Daniel and in Spanish we have this guy called Grau. He’s a Spaniard who wrote on various things, many things actually, not very excitingly, but mostly decently. He writes on eschatology and sets everybody straight who’s reformed and amillennial. If you ask them what to believe, most people who aren’t dispensationalists tell you to read Grau. So he has a commentary on Daniel.
I’m in chapter nine, which contains at the end what some have called one of the most difficult passages to interpret in the Bible (I’m going with the Messianic/Young interpretation, case you’re interested). What Grau does in this chapter is briefly summarize the prayer and dig into the controversy at the end of the chapter with lengthy rebuttals of the Schofield notes (always pick a large, convenient target).
Which is kind of sad. Not disappointing, because one shouldn’t as a regular procedure use commentaries to figure out passages. I can figure out the prayer without a commentary. And not sad because he doesn’t find an abler opponent—that is pathetic. But it is sad because the prayer is rather a trove of theology, especially when you consider what we know of the life of the man who prays. Not a lot of reflection on that portion seems to have taken place.
Posted by unknowing on June 7, 2012
Great, short Science Fiction here, folks!
Posted by unknowing on June 7, 2012
His work was done anyway, and late attempts to advance what he had done weren’t going where they should have gone. But he did enough. He was no hard SF writer, but he had the imagination. One wishes more of them had the imagination rather than the science. We’ll be reading Ray Bradbury a long time after many other awarded and acclaimed authors of contemporary SF have been clean forgotten.
Posted by unknowing on June 6, 2012
I am writing. And submitting. Evidence for that is the five rejections I’ve gotten in as many days here recently. I just wrote a story this afternoon. Came to me from something Robert Graves wrote and perhaps the heat on the bus. I wrote it on the bus while ignoring an older woman that kept jostling me none too subtly trying to get my seat.
I’m reading Robert Graves now. I just got two books out of the 113 book collection of his works the library has. Seems a bit over the top, so much Graves in the library, eh? There’s got to be an interesting story behind that.
Graves’ theory on poetry is interesting. I’ve been meaning to read The White Goddess for three years now and have finally gotten around to it. I like any theory that will take classically inclined poetry and classify it as not quite legitimate. He’s a bit dotty on romantic poets, I think.
And we have emerged from a year and a half’s more or less non-stop rainy season. I’m going to miss the rain, but the sun warms these hot weather people here and makes them glad, mostly. Fine sight things are too, on the natural side: willows are graceful, rubber trees bright and shadowy, the fresnos are tall and proud, it seems. Hoping for a glimpse of pine-clad slopes descending to indescribable blue water here soon.
I paint a lot too. One of these days I want to try a glad willow. I have a lot of difficulties with branches, you know. Not quite as straightforward as you’d think, branches. Quite devious on some trees. I still paint mountains and trees and skies because it is hard to do them all right on the same paper.
Only three months to go to finish all things off and throw all excess away and sell all things. I’m applying too, but as used to rejection as I’ve become, I don’t expect a whole lot to come from that. Still, it can’t hurt to try.
Posted by unknowing on June 4, 2012
Christ keep the Hollow Land
Through the sweet spring-tide,
When the apple-blossoms bless
The lowly bent hill side.
Christ keep the Hollow Land
All the summer-tide;
Still we cannot understand
Where the waters glide;
Only dimly seeing them
Coldly slipping through
Many green-lipp’d cavern mouths.
Where the hills are blue.
Posted by unknowing on June 4, 2012