Saturday, December 29, 2007

Eight Songs (from Chris' Blog) 1.0

I am so happy to see my name (alongside the dashing Brian's) at Sandalstraps, I cannot resist the opportunity to respond: what are 8 songs that have been important to me, had meaning or impact?

I have interpreted 'songs' very broadly, and I know Chris will not mind.

1) Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (especially the famous Ode to Joy in the final movement).

If there is a finer melody in western culture besides the Ode, I am not sure I know it. I have known this music for many years, and while my appreciation of classical music is very pedestrian, two times in my life this particular piece of music impacted me come to mind: The first was when I was hospitalized, before this blog even began, for a vicious inner ear infection. I had the spins so bad I could not open my eyes for a week, and I spent three days in the hospital. It was, quite simply, the sickest I have felt physically in my life. Because my wife works in the hospital, I was given the private room, the one used for people with tuberculosis or other communicable diseases, and a huge air filtration unit ran over my head continually. I was behind a closed door, isolated completely except for when my i.v. was changed or my loving wife came to visit. All she could do was talk to me, and I was really too sick to say much back. But she brought my discman (long before I had an ipod) and it held only one cd: the Ninth. I listened to that piece of music over and over for many hours as the sun's light came and went far from where I could see or feel it. What did I decide? That the music was perfect. Now, it probably is not perfect, it cannot be (I am still half a Platonist, you know) but its exquisite, and deeply romantic, construction reminded me then, and now, of Beauty rising from Chaos. For the beginning of the symphony, and the beginning of the fourth movement where the tremendous Ode eventually dominates, are wildy disordered in my view. And then the Great Theme appears fitfully until it takes complete center stage, the Goddess, the Form, of Beauty itself, rising from the emotional holocausts of the earlier bars.

On a happier note: when my wife and I were married in a little Episcopal church in so. cal., chosen merely because it looked so lovely, the priest would not allow secular music at all. That includes Wagner. So, while I have forgotten our entry music (probably Bach) our exit music was tremendous: the theme from the Ode. We snuck that in, of course, because it has been used for the Christmas Carole Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee! As we were pronounced man and wife, the very sweet organist pulled out the stops (if this is the correct term) and blasted, I mean blasted, the Ode out of that giant pipe organ. When we were outside, I heard her playing it on electronic bells. Yes. The Ninth has to go into the list.

2) Here I cheat and name a class of songs: Christmas songs. I love many: God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, O Little Town of Bethlehem, Good King Wencelas...these little hymns hold theology more pure and true, reflect trust and peace more adequately, than most of the theological volumes in my library.

3) Springsteen's The River. I am not particularly a huge Springsteen fan; I have never even owned an album. I was much more into the blues of Zeppelin or the post punk of Nirvana. And I didn't get my girlfriend in high school pregnant or make love with her beside any lake (or really, fully, make love with her at all). But the poignancy of this song, the sense of doom in the young couple, can I use the term literary naturalism...oh, I would listen to this and cry sometimes when she and I were in conflict. The song gave me strength to continue, to go to Heartwell park and pick a bunch of those little white lawn daisies and carry them to her when we spoke there after a fight. That kind of song. Doom and hope. We knew both.

4) Sarah MacLachlin's Angel. You know, I don't even know what this song is really about. But I don't think I have heard a lovelier ballad in the world. And the line...something like...'there's always a reason to feel not good enough, and it's hard at the end of the day' pretty much sums up half my emotional life. The constant fight against the withering inner critic. The fatigue that brings. And the elation, release, the catharsis I feel whenever I hear this song. It brings a physical change.

Part Two, the second four, comes tomorrow :)

Merry Christmas to All

Okay, so I'm a few days late, but as busy as we've been (grading essays in between holiday dinners and family guests) I must note, it really is the thought that counts.

Christmas Eve at the Episcopal Cathedral an hour from here was simply amazing. Great music, great crowd, great sermon...everything. Another reason to consider moving down the hill in the future.

And while this is not my first post on BDM's new book Everything Must Change, I will say I have begun reading it. There will be much to talk about! I cannot wait to truly dig in...after the second of the year, when my grades are in (they are due then, so they will have to be done) and my brother and his wonderful, wonderful, wonderful family head back home to the warmth of so. cal., then, I promise, I will finish the book and begin posting. The issues raised already are profound: on one hand very simple (though often misunderstood), on the other, quite complex (even more often misunderstood). All of it is drawing on my favorite field of study, the NT and its compelling, and deeply complex, portrait of Christ and the first Christians.

But this was supposed to be a happy holiday post! Merry Christmas! There is no season like advent season, at least for me. Love to all.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

On San Joaquin

If I ever wished for time to blog on an issue when I had no time, it would be the vote taken recently by the Diocese of San Joaquin to leave the ECUSA. I find it an enormous tragedy, though less a tragedy than the attitudes which have driven the vote. As I may have said, the church in So. Cal. which took my wife and I in when we were unmarried, when I was divorced, and nurtured us spiritually has also left the communion, although as an individual parish.

It is time for my blog to grow up. The Brian McClaren assignment is proof for me (or maybe I'm the one growing up :) ). My brief rant on inerrancy below is utterly inadequate, completely non pastoral, and the kind of solipsistic outburst one finds, oh, in Eliot's The Waste Land. It is true: I cannot believe a reading person who puts sufficient and genuine energy into studying the Bible can affirm it the "Word of God" with the meaning the Bishop of SJ does, or turn to its writings, selectively, for proof-text individual positions on critical moral matters. The fact also remains I know the Bible is the foundation of my own faith, that it is used by God in remarkable and mysterious ways (how many of us, including me, have had the tolle lege), and that it contains the things into which angels dared to peer (figure of speech or actual angels, no idea). The NT remains, in my view, unique in all world literature, though the books it contains remain fraught with the marks of their human authors, authors who were not taking divine dictation, but doing their best, in differing rhetorical situations, to promote the faith which had changed their lives forever. Any other position is untenable to me. That we set aside so much of the Levitical law, allowing children born out of wedlock into church, or the crippled or injured; that we have sex with our wives during menses if so inclined (maybe if the bottle of wine was just that good)...yet grasp like madmen onto verses which support our fears and biases, which thereby ALIENATE human persons from the full experience of Christ in their lives...I find this calamitous beyond description. I find such a reading a gross misunderstanding of the NT epistles and the Gospels.

And in the meantime, I applaud the Presiding Bishop Katherine for her leadership during this time, our own Diocese for taking a different stand on this issue, and frankly, the huge number, I would argue the majority, of Episcopalians who realize proof-texting on an issue as critical as homosexuality is a failure to act in responsible wisdom. That many other genuine Christians in other denominations agree I know. And for those who cling to a simpler understanding of Scripture as a perfect manual for living, a God-dictated book without any human component, an aproach, incidentally, which usually works, which preserves a faith I would agree with on many key points, but which can lead one horrifically astray in matters which involve the love of neighbor as self...for the rest I pray sincerely. We used to debate slavery in this country using the Bible. And women speaking in church or wearing slacks. The time has come for a widespread and honest assessment of what the Bible really is by those who continue to cling to its every single phrase and passing comment, but who are missing its central focus completely.

I will say more when I can on the Bible. When I can. For now, I have to run...essays stacked about me like, oh, the excessive quail. My sincere love to all who follow Christ...there is no faith like our faith, no tradition like our tradition, no love like the love God has expressed in Christ.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Brian on Deck

True to her word, my friend from NY sent me a free copy of Brian McClaren's most recent book: Everything Must Change so that I can review it on my humble blog. Have to say, without opening the book, I like the title :)

This is the busiest time of my semester, and I will have to climb out from under stacks of papers on Emerson (read a very good one today comparing E to punk rock ethics), Hawthorne, Bacon and Plato. But when I do...reading and commenting on EMC (I plan to do more than a simple review, of course) is the next thing on my list. As I told Anne, I am deeply honored, touched and encouraged, and hope to earn the purchase price with the work I put in here (I am not being paid any money, of course, as this is really a very humble blogship).

What is most fascinating is that I have not read a line of BMc. Not a line. I heard about him when this blog was new from Dave T. I was rather shocked, as a Christian newly returning to church of any kind (and faith of any kind) to hear that an emergent church existed, that people were upset and trying to leave the church I was re-entering after such prolonged effort! But in all fairness to those emerging (and is BMc a self-proclaimed emergent or merely scooped up, don't know), I re-entered worship as an Episcopalian and have never doubted that choice, or that accident, as it nearly was. I have written about this before, but I have been a Pentecostal (if childhood counts; I was certainly around Pentecostals), an active Campus Crusader, a Baptist, a Five Point pipe-smoking Calvinist, a Baptist again, a disillusioned critic and skeptic, then nothing. Now I consider myself a liberal Christian. I do not know if I have emerged or not, but I certainly do not believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God, which has been for me a critical, critical sticking point most of my life; I have no philosophical pre-issues with a perfect Bible existing; indeed, I would love to have a book straight from the Creator. But what we have in the Bible collection, surely, is not that book. For in whatever manner it was inspired (or not) it came from human authors, and their mucky fingerprints are all over it. Surely the NT writers had extraordinary, even unique, religious and spiritual experiences. And then they wrote about them. But to confuse the written word, or reading the written word, with the experience itself is a grave error. A perfect, gleaming God-sent life-manual is a very comforting myth, but it does not exist. Neither, of course, do I deny the Bible's role, really the NT's role, in bringing me into the faith-fold and keeping me there. But it must be understood for what it is, as it is.

I mention this as I have heard, again very second hand, that BMc is controversial for his views on scripture and on soteriology (salvation). We shall see. If so, he is not the first! I actually think it was C.S. Lewis who said every view has been held by some man in every age. Liberation theologians have been issuing passionate calls to social justice since the 1960's...St. Francis did a similar and even more radical thing in the late twelfth century; we can never forget the social force of Luke's gospel or the Thread that requires protection of the poor and marginal going back to the Law and Prophets. Still, I am not a Crossanite, not yet at least; I do not think social justice is the distilled core of Christ's can see I am chomping to dig in to EMC! I am inventing content based on its catchy title!

Within a month, by mid January, I will have something up here, probably a short series of posts, at the very least the first of those. I do hope the book is engaging. I read somewhere (perhaps the back cover) that BMc used to teach English, then became a pastor. Hah! It was the papers, I tell you! Too many bloody papers. They fry the mind.


Other than papers, some of which really are interesting, it is just that there are too many, I am doing pretty well.

Snow coming tonight, our first. I am more and more certain I live in one of the loveliest places on earth; I am also increasingly certain that we want to move when my son finishes high school. Helping my own wife through grad school has been utterly exhausting. She finishes this spring...or so I hear. What will life be like, with her done with school, working full time (for the first time ever) and my son closer to my campus? Let us hope I am still here, writing about it in three years.

Love to all. Must run. BMc on deck.