Confusions (Tchaikovsky and the whole caboodle of us)

As early as my teen and college years, I liked the Tchaikovsky music I heard.  As I became more educated in the “cultivated musical tradition”¹ world, my fan status waned.  I came to understand that this icon of 19C Russian nationalism tends to be assessed as a lesser light, although several of his works are quite popular and enduring.  Among musicological criticisms are (1) that the composer seemed limited with melodic creativity and (2) that he pandered to western European ideals rather than being patently Russian.

I haven’t been very interested in Tchaikovsky for a couple of decades, probably since programming Marche Slave in 2003.  My Tchaik symphony CDs have been diligently gathering dust, and my recording of string quartets becomes background music, not drawing me in.  The piano concerto and his Romeo and Juliet overture-fantasy have strong moments, but they are pieces I could live without if marooned on a desert island.  I tend to avoid certain well-traveled pieces and composers in my programming, and this habit probably does not result in the best course at times.  I did intentionally program a significant portion of one of Tchaikovsky’s principal string works this spring, and I’m looking forward to it.  I had listened to Serenade for Strings as a teen and once made a cassette recording of it.  This piece was written when the composer was 40, 13 years before his early death.

In the course of preparing this music, I read the Wikipedia article and stumbled on this excerpt:

Tchaikovsky lived as a bachelor for most of his life. In 1868 he met Belgian soprano Désirée Artôt.  They became infatuated with each other and were engaged to be married,[80] but due to Artôt’s refusal to give up the stage or settle in Russia, the relationship ended.[81] Tchaikovsky later claimed she was the only woman he ever loved.[82]  In 1877, at the age of 37, he wed a former student, Antonina Miliukova.[83]  The marriage was a disaster.  Mismatched psychologically and sexually,[84] the couple lived together for only two and a half months before Tchaikovsky left, overwrought emotionally and suffering from acute writer’s block.[85]  Tchaikovsky’s family remained supportive of him during this crisis and throughout his life.[86]  Tchaikovsky’s marital debacle may have forced him to face the full truth about his sexuality; he never blamed Antonina for the failure of their marriage.[87]

Now for a few meandering, exegetical comments.  First, off, I’ll acknowledge that I’m using only this secondary/tertiary source; I’ve done no research in any primary Tchaikovsky documents.  I would assert, though, that the latter portion of the above passage displays bias.  I invite you to examine a few things about this passage with me.  First come the (assumed) facts:

  • bachelorhood
  • the year he met a woman
  • an engagement and its breaking

Those are fine, as far as I know, and succinctly put, but read on.  The “marriage was a disaster,” we’re told.  That’s not very objectively put, and it might merit some scrutiny from Wikipedia’s guardians, but I won’t take exception to it.  What about the next sentence?  It’s said that old Piotr and and his wife were “[m]ismatched psychologically and sexually.”  I suppose many pairs of people could be deemed “mismatched” in this or that respect, but I wonder whether the writers/editors of this entry assume that homosexuality is always a state/orientation, as though it’s absolute and immutable.  I find an underlying presupposition here.  In other words, if the man is assessed as (1) absolutely homosexual, then readers might accept (2) that any “match” with a woman is a “mismatch.”

I don’t know this for a fact, but the author of this article strongly implies that the “writer’s block” is attributable to the “mismatch” with a woman rather than to more nuanced, complex factors including sexual and psychological confusions, mood, and external factors.  The reader of this passage, if approaching it from a structural vantage point, might naturally infer that the writer’s block was directly connected to the mismatch of people of different “orientations.”  Look at the middle of this long sentence, which is formatted differently here for the sake of illustration:

Mismatched psychologically and sexually,

the couple lived together for only two and a half months before Tchaikovsky left,

overwrought emotionally and suffering from acute writer’s block.

I interpret the passage like this:  the introductory phrase (line 1) is related to the description of the composer’s mental and emotional condition (line 3) after the two and one-half months (middle).  In part, I perceive a structural emphasis on the concepts and psychological conditions, which flank the more simplistic, factual information in the middle.  I could be wrong, but that’s my inference based on the repetition and form.  Tchaikovsky’s reality, I suspect, was and is much more complicated than “I shouldn’t have married this woman because I’m homosexual and therefore mismatched to a female, and now, as a direct result of this, I can’t think about music.”  I surmise that Piotr was himself confused and tormented, whether or not he “face[d] the full truth of his sexuality.”  And who knows what this “full truth” is?  Surely not a 21st-century writer, some 150 years later!  (I don’t know the full truth about my own musical preferences, my sense of the beauty of trees or women or poetry; no one else knows 100% about any aspect of me, either.)

The word “infatuated” in the passage could lead a reader in more than one direction.  And there is Piotr’s own profession that he had loved Désirée, a woman.  Was there in fact some physical attraction both with her and with Antonina?  This Wikipedia article shows presumption and bias (which may be observed regardless of the reader-interpreter’s own presumptions), but these do not all lean in one direction.

I would posit here that Tchaikovsky was confused in a specific, although not fully understood, sense.  Let me hastily add that I think we’re all damaged and confused—in various ways.  Anyone who thinks otherwise is probably just confused.  Based on the couple dozen or so Tchaikovsky works I’ve heard or played or conducted, I don’t think he suffers from musical confusion.  (Predictability, yes.)  But he was a human being in a broken world, just like the rest of us.  We are all subject to confusion, aberrance, weirdness, confusion, misdirection, and other consequences of the limited, fallen nature of this earth’s systems.

At present in the world you and I live in, broad confusions exist, and many seem beset by presupposition and worldviews different from my own.  Certain factors cause me distress.  (See my recent post on this:  Thlipsis).  Some days I don’t know what the next step is, but I do look forward to working with my students on this composer’s Serenade for Strings in C Major.  I hope my own particular breeds of confusion will not get in the way too much!

¹ Credit for this descriptive-yet-appropriately-vague expression goes to a former chair/associate dean, Dr. Ben R. King.  Using an unfamiliar label can be a lot better than saying “classical music” and having people put you in one of several possible pigeonholes:

  • “Oh, you’re talking about vintage rock-n-roll?”
  • “So you like that highbrow stuff?”
  • “So you limit yourself to the late 18C repertoire?”


Suffering is not a mark on the timeline of your life.  It is not a season with a clear beginning and end, or a problem you can overcome.  It is a place you will visit again and again, a place whose clouds threaten and frighten but whose landscape can bring you nearer to your true home.

– K.J. Ramsey, This Too Shall Last, 108

I was just about to put this book away, having read passages in it over a period of several months.  And then I opened it again, and that spoke to me.  Ramsey’s words simultaneously enrich and depress me.  Perhaps I need to think differently about “depression,” just as I’m learning to think differently about suffering!

About the title of the post—the word “thlipsis.”  It is not a word that means something specific.  It’s possible that most words don’t absolutely mean something specific, in and of themselves.  They are, rather, best defined in context.  However, the NT uses of this word center on such ideas as suffering, distress, trials, hardships, persecution, and being anguished.

There is just so much suffering around.  Suffering is akin to distress.  “Stress” might also fit, but that’s an overused word today.  Consider the many English translations for the original word that appear in one English version.  This is more than I have typically found for a Greek noun:

Here is a familiar passage from John that uses the word:

ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ θλῖψιν ἔχετε

en t­­o kosmo thlipsin exete

in the world distress you will have

– Jesus (John 16:33)

How might we define “thlipsis” (the ending is inflected in the above passage; “thlipsin” is the accusative form) in this John passage?  Would knowing the whole of the JohnGospel help?  And how might you and I apply all this?  I figure it this way:  however I define it, whatever English word or words seem to be good renderings, thlipsis is something that’s probably going to be experienced regularly in my human life.  Suffering, distress, troubles, being hard-pressed or even anguish . . . they’re all basically fixtures in the human experience.

Dad’s little prayers (bigger now)

It’s not easy, but I’m starting the new year with something positive.  Recently reading this post again about the great medical care my dad received during his final month on earth, I realize how often I still think about Dad.  I miss him just as much now as I did in August, or last December, or four years ago.  Today would have been his 82nd birthday.

I suppose my father taught me more things than I know, but the one that keeps coming back to is probably more significant than I previously realized.  You see, Dad told me once that every time he lost his keys or phone, he prayed.  And he always found them.

I’ve been praying to find my keys pretty much ever since.  I have always found them.  (This last occurred on 12/27/21.)  Of course, most of us find our keys whenever we misplace them, so I’m not claiming an existential change or advantage in terms of physical life.  The difference for me is that I’m more at peace about it.  Now, when I start getting anxious about where I might have left keys or wallet or phone, before I start to retrace steps and worry about the implications of losing them permanently, I breathe a short prayer.  The praying indicates a reliance on Something infinitely higher and more capable than I.  And I’m more at peace now (after realizing I misplaced something, before I find it).  I’m also persuaded that, if I had statistics at hand for the last 25 times I’ve lost one of these items temporarily, I’d find that the average time-till-finding is greatly reduced now.

In my feeble walk, what I’m trying to do is translate the trust in the little thing (feeling better about finding my keys) into larger areas of life.  In other words:  if I can feel better about trusting and not worrying until I find my keys, can I pray more, and have similar results, in even more significant aspects of life?

Expertise, intelligence, reason and leadership

A few months ago, an acquaintance shared complimentary thoughts related to musical expertise.  He aptly drew from his own experience in military training, speaking of how long it took to become an expert in military strategy at this or that level.  He then compared that kind of expertise to musical expertise.  Not everyone can hear or diagnose certain things in music, he recognized.

Aside:  I wish people in the pews—and even agnostics or those typically hostile toward belief—would recognize the validity and value of expertise in study and interpretation of ancient, well-attested scriptures.  Bona fide expertise is real and to be valued.  Yet not all experts have the same insight, worldview, and practical wisdom.

While the above paragraph has deeper implications, I don’t want to digress from the current situation in our physical world too much.  Historically speaking, I’d suggest that expertise in the medical world(s) has typically been highly respected.  However, one physician assistant (who tends to have reasonable views) related in personal conversation her growing sense that people don’t trust medical opinion as much anymore.  It’s true that medical sciences have come under scrutiny; the private health insurance industry has for years compromised the validity of medical treatments, and some medical advice itself seems more questionable now.

There’s actually quite a bit of polarized thought about expert medical advice these days.  The extremes seem to be grouped something like this:

  1. Many believe only the most widely available news reports about the “novel coronavirus” that has become known as COVID.  They feel that only fools would subscribe to anything other than the opinions of positionally influential experts.  These people might fall into one of several subcategories, including but not limited to these:
    • Typically trusting souls
    • Those particularly inclined to the political left
    • Those who have an innately fearful and conservative mindset with respect to personal safety.
  2. Some believe only the non-mainstream sources about COVID.   They often see things in terms of conspiracy on some level (although I’d hasten to add that not everyone in this category is a “conspiracy theorist”).  Here are some subcategories:
    • Typically suspicious souls
    • Those particularly inclined to the political right
    • Those who naturally have investigative mindsets and who tend to view risks contextually and circumspectly.  These people, it seems to me, might also fall into a third major category. . . .
  3. Others of us try to be more discerning, searching out what is true and pondering the whole scene from different perspectives.

One might be generally intelligent and fall into any one of the above categories.  The groupings seem unrelated to (my perceptions of) intelligence and education.

There are educated persons (a) who don’t seem to want to hear truth and also some (b) who are rational even though they might take positions contrary to my own.

There are uneducated persons (a) who do stupid things and others (b) who go about life with common sense and generally good practice.

Some might think they are taking a middle path, a safe route (which actually turns out not to be very centric) in adhering to the positions that appear, on the surface and in the short term, to be medically conservative.  One might be educated and yet stupid about this whole situation; on the other hand, one might be generally unintelligent and yet on target with views and practices about this virus.  I’ve been surprised at various responses of some (not all) of my most intelligent acquaintances.  Where I differ with them, I’m given pause, and I start to wonder whether I’m completely off base, because I tend generally to respect intelligence and education.  I do also wonder who is getting which information, and what they’re doing with it.

It is of great concern that some expert voices are being silenced.  (A digital media “book burning” is occurring.)  The expertise is actually quite varied, and all manner of it appears beset by unsubstantiated theories.  The spewing of hateful accusations by the rabid right and the faux-conscience counsel and regulations by the left are equally reprehensible.  Anger over affronts to reason and fear (on both sides) may be protested, but it’s not okay to be hatefully disrespectful, whether one uses initials in code or does it in some other way.  It’s also not okay to pay unexamined homage to an ideological group or to a line of thinking.  “My party, right or wrong” is just as silly as “I’m loyal to my denomination, no matter what.”

The notion that a solitary scientific “expert” ought to be heard above other experts is misguided.  The issues, including the health of children and young people for decades to come, are far-reaching.

I’ve had to submit, under private protest, to isolation and quarantine on a few occasions.  In one case, the quarantine made some sense.  In another case, I found no reasoned approach.  It was bogus, but I was powerless to challenge the facts¹ that led to my being told not to come to the facility.  Students have been saddled with quarantines² that made sense in certain cases but not in others.  I tend to support the early-expressed opinion of a very intelligent old friend who said,

My opinion:  universities should protect the professors and let the virus spread.   [X University] stopped testing and told the kids to stay home if they don’t feel good.  I think every university should do the same.

Suzy stated that more than a year ago.  I wonder what would have happened during the last 18 months if higher education had followed her advice.  I could speculate, but that would be worth no more than other theories.  Exposure does seem more strategic in the long term than a sustained protection mindset regarding airborne viral particles.  When we are exposed in the normal course of life, our immune systems typically do their good work.

I acknowledge and honor people’s feelings and exceptional situations (medical risk factors and more); however, by now, most of us have been, or should be, exposed to the virus, allowing the natural system to do its job.  Sound treatment of those who become seriously ill ought to be the focus, as the huge majority of us attempt to move on through life without fearing taking a breath around someone else.  Leadership of all sorts and sizes of groups (company, hospital, church, school district, city, state, country) should have reoriented itself long ago, in my opinion.  Variants present new infections, but the immune system can respond well to them without assuming the risks that come with experimental medicines.

All rational people would accept that this virus has been a notable, even devastating, woe for much of the world.  Personally, I deeply empathize with people’s experience of (and fear of) suffering.  A few months ago, I myself suffered some.  But the idea that the answer to this problem is to “get vaccinated, boosted, masked, and tested” (adapted from the main CDC 2019-nCoV webpage) is not only questionable, it’s sobering.  I’m grateful to have the freedom to work remotely much of the time, but if a substantial portion of CDC employees are still working remotely all of the time, I must wonder about the reason for that, and the implications.³  The manic drive to get “tested” feeds the phantom flame of our fear, while the question of how to treat people who do become seriously ill is the real fire that needs the firefighters’ attention.  I’m aware that medical treatment itself has become an area of polarization.  Some voices have been muted, and certain highly credentialed professional experts have been ostracized because they attempted to lead in a manner contrary to the masses.  I’ll leave the discussion of the particular medicines to the experts and will simply bemoan censorship.

Another person I’ve known most of my life posited this in private conversation:

“It’s like this country has never seen a disease before.”

And it’s true.  For reasons I don’t claim to understand fully, so many have responded to this disease in an unprecedented manner.  Philosophies have been driven by new forces, and practices are not always as rational as those who propagate them think they are.  Those people may be sincere and even hyper-conscientious but not rational at a particular moment.  Others may be reasonable but not caring or helpful.  Some seem to think we need to respond “conservatively” at all costs, but a reasoned approach will question what “conservative” really looks like.  COVID-19 is a disease—a bad one for a small minority, and one that has sent the world spinning.  But we cannot control a virus.  The “we can do this” mindset would naturally attract an optimist or a secular humanist, but it strikes me as hubris, and I’m repelled.  Only one is in control, and we are not.  God has “expertise” and “intelligence” that humans will never come to understand fully, despite our scientific advancements.

Thus ends an outpouring of collected and (believe it or not) honed thoughts related to our handling of the virus situation.  I have not attempted to be thorough, actually, but I hope to have proven capable of a reasoned lines of thinking, although I confess to be subject to fears of all kinds, including irrational ones.  The jokes about 2020 are long gone, and 2021 seemed even worse at some junctures.  How to move forward?  How to live in 2022?  God, help us—every one.

¹ These “facts” were considered private, and CDC guidelines, I was told, were being followed.  Yet inconsistencies abound.

² Imagine the mental strain placed on a newly independent, conscientious young person who emerges from one 5- or 7-day quarantine while waiting for a roommate’s test results, missing classes and having trouble getting responses to emails, and who is then told another friend just got tested, and she might have to go into quarantine again.

³ Perhaps staff members of the CDC, given their chosen line of work, are by nature or nurture more fearful of disease than the average Joseph or Josephine.  I did hear a U.S. congressman query whether his understanding were correct, that the majority of CDC employees were working remotely.  Perhaps their continued existence in little bubbles, without the same kind of human interaction, has affected the studies and the dissemination of information to the general public.  Perhaps I am uselessly speculating.  Perhaps not.

Journalism’s effect

Journalism has had a dramatic effect on things.

As I prepared this for posting on 12/30/21, I saw video blurbs of a nationally famous, female TV journalist spouting (several months ago) what is now known to be false information about “vaccination.”   It is not difficult to collect many examples of the false spread of information by journalists, yet the confidence with which many of them seem to speak in the moment, together with the “spin” involved in the propagation of what seems to be sound information, is astounding.  Consider the following excerpt (the main content of which I think it already a bit outdated,¹ just a month later, but I can’t keep up):

The omicron mutation of the coronavirus “strongly suggests” it is easily transmitted and might elude immunity protections gained by previous infections and even vaccination, Dr. Anthony Fauci warned Sunday. (USA Today article, 11/28/21)

I suggest that the above paragraph—the lead paragraph for a longer article—needed a proofreader-editor.  The second verbal phrase should have read, “immunity protections presumably, temporarily gained by vaccination and even previous infections.”  Read the original and then my version again.  (You even ignore my added adverbs if you like:  “immunity protections gained by vaccination and even previous infections.”)  What a difference the place of the word “even” can make!  I wonder whether that statement did undergo editing, in the wrong direction.  Maybe the writer composed it correctly and was overruled by another party.  At present, I accept that there is a temporary prophylactic effect from these shots, but I also deny, at present, the notion that any of the experimental, inoculatory treatments are better or longer-lasting than natural antibodies and the human immune system over the long haul.

The media ought to be ashamed of itself for propagating this and other disinformation with such vigor during the last two years, whether the rush to “inform” has arisen out of political agendas or out of unfettered, misguided, misinformed conscience.

Perhaps the most glaring omission from most news reports and analyses is emphasis on individual immune-system response.  Early in the pandemic, a friend I’ve known for 30+ years asked a question on FB about immune systems.  David drew a fair amount of response, and Suzy, another friend, identified Quercetin along with Zinc.  Other scientists are pressing vitamin D (where deficiency exists) as a preventative.  I have yet to see much information on simply staying healthy by eating a variety of good foods.

Speaking of good foods, it’s probably no good to return to the simple “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” idea, but I recently bought two individual apples.  When I rinsed them, I thought, What if I don’t rinse every spot?  Could someone have touched this before me and put a germ on the apple?  If so, what will happen?  I have been mildly germophobic in the past, but I’m becoming less so.  I’m actually using far less hand sanitizer than in previous years, for instance.  The system God designed will keep a certain number healthy, and most of the rest will recover, while a small number are destined, tragically in some cases, to succumb to the virus.  (The human experience is inherently intertwined with disease and death.)

The above-referenced article, overall, might be setting us up for another domino-like series of shutdowns, ignoring human impotence to gain control over such things.  I suggest (not assert, not theorize, not proclaim . . . just suggest) that the major effect of masks and other protocols is that they have masked our impotence as a society/species.  Although we humans will have had some effect, we have not controlled this virus.  The “Do the Task / Wear the Mask” signs were OK, I suppose, a while ago, but the “we can do this” mentality makes me recoil in disappointment.  We cannot do this.  We might well affect trends and mitigate this or that, but this virus will happen.²  When we feel we are in control—or could be, if more people wore masks or got serial jabs in their arms—we are misguided.

The situation is much deeper than today’s western journalism can or should deal with.  I never downplay anyone’s personal loss (loss of health, loss of a loved one, temporary losses of the senses of taste and smell, etc.) or fear for our parents, our children, or ourselves and our other loved ones, but the fear is sometimes misplaced.  I will suggest here that the pandemic per se is less imposing and less tragic than other trends and events in the world.  That is not to minimize the virus.  Not in the slightest.  It has been significant and even devastating.

Next:  Intelligence, expertise, and leadership

¹ On the CDC website, accessed 12/30/21, I read this regarding the Omicron variant:  “We don’t yet know how easily it spreads, the severity of illness it causes, or how well available vaccines and medications work against it.”

² I believe God has intentionally involved and included humans throughout human history, so this is no Calvinist statement on sovereignty.

Miscellaneous, connected points

“Hook’s Points” was a feature of my late friend Cecil Hook’s books on “freedom in Christ.”  At the end of several of those books, in a single chapter all its own, Cecil would share paragraph-length thoughts on each of several topics, apparently not wanting to say more.  I found these miscellaneous “Points” chapters interesting, and I don’t necessarily think this post rises to the same level, nor am I nearly as comfortable (or as humble) as Cecil seemed to be in offering observations.  As it turns out, I’m also not as succinct.  I do try below to be fair.

Here are two previous mentions of Cecil, including one other, long-forgotten nod to his “Hook’s Points”:     (1) A few points         (2) Of authors and life

Cecil’s points were not particularly connected, whereas mine are:  this is a collection of points related to the pandemic.  Two other posts (on expertise and journalism as they relate to the pandemic) will come in quick succession, and then as the new year rolls in, I’m going to try to stop writing and revising on these topics.

Slowing the spread #1:  shutdowns.  I’ve observed behaviors and signs in 11 (non-coastal) states since March 2020, and I do believe there were some positive effects from various levels of “lockdown” and “shelter at home” and even the temporary closing of businesses.  I’d suggest that “slowing the spread” is a delay (and diversionary) tactic, but keeping some hospitals from being overcrowded was obviously a good idea.

Slowing the spread #2:  masks.   The cause-and-effect relationship of masking in elementary schools, Walmart, etc., is dubious; little can be proven.  I’m sure that masks have been partly effective in reaching certain goals, yet there is great inconsistency in application and in perception of need.  A senior neighbor, for example, is on oxygen, smokes cigarettes, has a family member on dialysis, and doesn’t wear a mask anytime I’ve seen her.  On the other hand, regardless of either natural immunity or vaccination status, healthy people often wear masks in public places, presumably because of rules/signs, personal concerns, or social consciousness (the highest motivation of these three).

Exposure and immunity.  One of the smartest things I’ve heard in the last year and a half came from an unlikely source.  This person noted basically healthy people’s habits (i.e., physical exercise and good nutrition), suggesting that what most people need is exposure, not protection.  In saying this, I am not suggesting it’s a blanket of truth for all; I’m cognizant of those who are duly fearful because of preexisting health conditions.

No one will ever know how many people have actually been infected with COVID, either basically symptomless or mildly ill, and yet submitted to superfluous, experimental medical treatments.  Those who have had the disease attained a more robust natural immunity.  This is not disinformation.  Let’s use common sense:  the natural response is typically better.

Physical distancing.  Physical distancing is generally a good idea, ostensibly helping airborne viral concentrations dissipate so that exposure levels would not overwhelm as many people’s immune systems.

Some readers here might be “close talkers,” but I’m not, and most people I know generally keep their distance, anyway.  The main 2020 behavioral change in terms of distancing, from where I sit, came in store check-out lines, usually after we got “too close” out of habit.  Also, there were a few awkward moments with coworkers in narrow spaces, wondering who would back up or shrug and move on by, who would be concerned or not.

Most people benefit from at least some social proximity, not distance.  (Whoever came up with the term “social distance” ought to be globally reprimanded.  Mental and emotional health continue to be of great concern.)  I think the signs can be removed, though:  distancing is pretty much an ingrained habit now, and signs probably aren’t going to change any more behavior at this point.  (Do you remember, lo, these many months ago, when Walmart had those directional arrows on the floor and the queue fencing outside the front doors?  I wonder how many people lost sleep about when to remove those.)

Ventilation has been a normal quest for me for as long as I can remember.  I still don’t understand why the world didn’t talk, and isn’t talking, more about ventilation and ambient “air change.”  Southwest Airlines, for instance, has boasted a cabin air exchange/HEPA-filtered are change rate of more than 20 per hour.  Rates of 6-7/hour are considered desirable in a college classroom, so 20/hour is impressive!  Good ventilation will keep heavy viral loads from developing and therefore should keep more vulnerable people from getting high concentrations and contracting the disease.

Epidemiologists study the incidence, spread, and control of diseases.  To the extent that this medical science is focused on transmission, it has (rationally) generalized and assumed and then worked to posit and prove a theory.  But can anyone know why a given COVID case occurred?  It doesn’t seem that the cause (the transmission) of the effect (disease) in a specific instance could be proven.

Expertise.  We seem to have subscribed to the notion that a “top” scientist and a single organization have all the answers.¹  On 12/29/21, I watched a video that showed Director Walensky smiling as she repeatedly deflected a lawmaker’s straightforward questions.  Credibility was thereby diminished.  I doubt the CDC or the NIH or OSHA or any other agency or group thinks it knows all the questions, let alone having all the answers, but at times the CDC in particular has reversed or modified its position substantially, even claiming in one recent instance to follow multiple sciences.  To put it mildly, the sense of trust in supposed expertise has been eroding.

We ought not to put all our eggs in one expert’s basket.  Beyond the hard sciences, there are deeper issues that desperately need attention, and one’s rank in a group ought not bestow on him/her the right to philosophize for an entire nation.  No one is infallible, and with a scenario as complex and global as this one, it behooves us to think deeply and for a long time before taking significant steps.  Even in an emergency situation, rushing into the use of unproven, highly questionable medicines, all the while ignoring proven risks, is a bad idea for the long term.

To a great extent, journalists have presented a largely monolithic view of experts and expertise; the reality is much more nuanced and complicated.  Just because a trusted physician in a given town “who has served the public faithfully for X years” thinks something is a good idea doesn’t mean it is a good idea.  Nor does it mean the physician is a bad man.  It just means we need to think better—remembering all the while that journalists are not necessarily good arbiters of expertise, either.  In a separate post, I’ll take up this topic of expertise, as it relates to large-scale leadership.

The (possible) false witness of statistics.  I came to understand that there was a drastically reduced incidence of seasonal influenza last winter.  (Who knows what the real stats are? It’s difficult to trust anything.)  Is that because our physical distancing, more hand washing, the attribution of influenza to COVID-19, or something else?  Or a combination?  Mark Twain’s delineation of different types of lies—spotlighting the misuse of statistics—is often repeated.  I hadn’t previously seen the first part of the quote, but I relate to it:  “Figures often beguile me.”  (I take the author to have been using the 1st or 3rd definition here as his working meaning.)

I have no delusions that this post will “go viral.” (Will that malphemism go extinct?) It probably shouldn’t.

Next:  the specific effect of (biased) journalism

B. Casey, 7/27/20 – 12/30/21

¹ Sometime in mid-2020, I affirmed the value of breathing fresh air.  An old friend responded, “Fresh air is good, but what the CDC says is better.”

“Kind of”: a day’s observations

These observations began, oddly enough, when I had two unrelated thoughts that both involved the phrase “kind of.”  So, this is kind of about “kind of,” but not really!

I appreciated the smiling face, the greeting, and the handshake as I joined a gathered group this morning.  Three minutes late, I felt kind of awkward as I tried to decide where to sit, noticing that the largest spaces available were near the few who were wearing masks.  The worship activities, as per usual just about anywhere, were of mixed value, but I did get to participate with heart and voice, and I was glad to have been there.

Not counting the two or three in Walmart to whom I said, “Excuse me,” I have spoken to only one other person all day.  This lack of interaction is probably not the best thing, whether it’s Sunday or any other day; we are created for relationship.  That said, last week was terribly trying, so it was good for me to have solitude and quietude today, and I’ve been kind of productive.  Still, toward the end of the day, I would love to have sat down with a friend to talk about important things.

I appreciate not being a slave to my phone. I typically only need to charge every other day.  Yesterday, I used it more than usual but still didn’t need to charge.  Today, I started at 16% and am at 5% as I finalize this post.  I also appreciate fresh air and had some when I rode to the gym.  I feel kind of sad when I see people masking themselves and not taking advantage of good, clean air.

I’ve taken down most of the seasonal decorations.  I could say this was in honor of my paternal grandfather, but actually, it’s just because I like change and have seen these items for the last few weeks, so I’m kind of done with them.  Anyway, Granddaddy Casey was always eager to get rid of the live spruce tree the day after Christmas.  He was a good man who loved his wife, his boys, and his three grandchildren.  I can still see his smile and kind of hear his laugh, although he’s been gone more than 40 years.

As I compose this, I’m listening to Mannheim Steamroller. (I suppose the Xmas CDs will stay out for a few more days.)  I recall Dana, a talented community instrumentalist who became a friend seven years ago, and who was quite the the Mannheim enthusiast.  I remember that she said, when we were playing a Mannheim arrangement for the holiday season, that the tempos had to match those on the recordings. “Mannheim Steamroller tempos are kind of a big deal to me,” she told me.  I did my best and have remembered that ever since.

As I prepare for another ensemble semester, it feels kind of precarious to attempt once again to balance various needs and constraints:

  • Ensemble learning trajectory
  • Students
  • Non-students
  • Calendar
  • Family
  • Personal artistic needs and vision

I have to remind myself that, even when it feels kind of daunting, it’s all about the people and the music-making.  And boy, we’ve got some great music to experience together in the spring semester.

I’m also preparing for something even more significant and more daunting.  This will be the 8th or 9th time that I’ve had the opportunity to teach about the tiny, beautiful, and replete-with-meaning letter from Paul to Philemon.  I’m going through some new material, getting my thoughts together, honing my translations and structuring the material for three class sessions with a group of very devoted students of ancient texts (see  I’ve read or re-read articles by C.H. Dodd, Timothy Mitchell, Tavis Bohlinger, Wikipedia (slavery in NT times), and also a thesis that I found subpar.  Philemon, some might say, is kind of small potatoes, but I beg to differ.  I mean, yeah, it’s only 25 verses, but for one has kind of limited training and very limited time and energy like me, I figure a short letter is the most I should attempt to teach!

I recorded this podcast as part of the introduction.  It’s about 12 minutes long, annoyingly beset by road noise, and not professionally done, but I hope it whets your appetite for more just as it did mine.  I hope you’ll listen.  Click the link below.  You can even set the podcast to play faster if you want.

Intro:  Philemon’s 25 Verses (podcast)

– B. Casey, 12/26/21

A broad-scope legal decision

Legal decisions are not always just, fair, right, or even sensical.  Last Friday, a broad-scope, OSHA-related legal decision manifested what I consider to be poor judgment.  Here, I’m “earnestly speaking” my conviction, based on current knowledge and insight:  this particular decision is a bad idea from multiple perspectives—medical, legal, societal, rational, economic, and more.  The decision would appear to have relied on information that . . .

is incomplete and flawed at best,

is dishonestly applied in an extended burst of false conscience, at worst,

. . . and in any event, is slanted and deeply questionable.

These days, I find myself frequently wondering how certain agencies, bodies, and departments attained their apparent infallible status.  (I’ve read of a long-ignored clause that’s been recently appropriated by for the current times.)  I don’t suggest that this particular legal body thinks it is infallible, but the 2/3 majority opinion does begin in a presumptuous manner that shows bias.  One would like to be able to trust the wisdom of this response, but I cannot.  Rather, I suspect that, if one could uncover recent histories of the two justices who wrote this opinion, we would likely find a basis for fear in their personal lives.  Had I the opportunity, I would challenge them to be more circumspect with regard to the issues on both sides, paying more attention to the long-term implications.

Not once in the entire legal document can one find “VAERS,” “adverse,” or even mRNA, a core technology involved in the subject of the brief.  Just allow a mandate without speaking to the downside at all?  I’m reminded of a certain political leader’s stance on a notorious healthcare policy:  just pass it, she essentially said, and wait until later to read the additions contained in the 906 pages.   That’s a shameful way to handle public policy, and so is this.  What comes next?  Mandating “vaccines”¹ for the young, who are essentially risk-free, adding known health risks into their lives that far exceed the standard threshold employed in the past?  A medical professional who testified before congress last year stated for the record that, under normal medical/scientific procedures, the COVID “vaccine” program would have been shut down in February 2021, just one month after it began, for “excess mortality.”

It is both interesting and disturbing that the legal decision does not begin by at least making a pass at dealing fairly with serious concerns—concerns that led about 25% of US health care workers to refuse to the take a “vaccine,” ¹according to an NPR report published on 9/18/21.  If pressure had not been placed on medical workers (read:  had they not been in some way coerced), I wonder how many more would have avoided the shots.  Aside from health care workers, it speaks loudly to me that the original request for a stay on the “vaccine” mandate was brought by a wide variety of organizations—including, but not limited to, a California medical union, construction workers, media organizations, real estate workers, and religious organizations.  Back to the recent legal decision:  the 19-page opinion of the dissenting justice, starting on page 39 here, is worth reading.

Within the last few weeks, I’ve been frequently troubled, once or twice relieved by reversals of similar decisions.  Now I’m troubled again.  The matter isn’t final, but I’m earnestly worried about how it will turn out. “In this world we will have trouble” (John 16:33), some were told . . . how, Lord, am I supposed to take heart in any meaningful way when it doesn’t seem that you’ve “overcome the world” while I’m living in skin and time?

It is right to avoid violence and coercion, but what about nonviolent resistance?  Others have been through much worse, but this is a fearful time.  If the hubris of certain agencies were not out of control, appeal to legal processes and justices (who turn out to be irrationally fearful, and shortsighted) might not be necessary.

¹ I have placed quotation marks around the word “vaccines” since these shots are qualitatively dissimilar to vaccines in use prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.  These shots are better referred to as experimental, injected medical treatments.


There were 15 or 20 people gathered around four long tables in a large, relatively unfinished room.  We were all there for the same reason—to help with work that needed to be done.  There was a palpable, positive energy present, but we didn’t know what the project was going to be until someone started explaining.

He was energetic and was in some sense a leader of the organization.  He seemed grateful for our presence and began to explain what needed to be done as he distributed materials.  As it turned out, this is what we were to do:  take 50-year-old, crackled lengths of film from one reel and roll them onto another one.  Some taping would be required, but I only discovered that after I had begun working with the reel given to me.

The guy next to me seemed to question aspects of the project, but not as much as I did.  Others around were digging in enthusiastically.  Inside me, the question began to boil up, “Really?  Why are we doing this?”  I tried to maintain a positive attitude and ended up finishing my reel sooner than expected, but there were problems that I knew existed near the center of the reel, and this film, if it were ever used, would not make it through a projector’s mechanical pathway.  Internally, I wondered why I had taken the time, and I started to leave the room.

And that’s about when I woke up.

I rarely remember dreams, and when I do, I can almost always directly correlate the dream’s people and/or objects to something that happened the previous day in real life.  This time, there is more of a broad, conceptual connection.  I can, however, draw a line from the sense I had, while making myself busy in that room, to at least three of my activities yesterday.

It’s about general futility.  Sometimes life feels like that.

B. Casey, 12/1/21

Thanksgiving 2008

I meant to post the Thanksgiving throwback last year, 12 years after the particular devotional occurred . . . but, you know . . . hindsight about 2020 easily provides a plethora of excuses!  My memory of that day, now 13 years ago, is essentially nil, except for the brass arrangement I contributed and played in, but I obviously kept a record, and I do want to affirm thoughtful, richly deep efforts to honor God, such as the ones in evidence during Thanksgiving week in 2008.  Thanksgiving and gratitude are good for anyone—Christian or otherwise—to remember and live out.

Personally, I appreciate variety—foods, devotional/worship styles, small groups and full-congregation participation, and more.  As I write this a week in advance, I’m spending most of day in one location, different from yesterday.  I often take different routes when driving, and I sometimes ride a motorcycle or bicycle or walk to work.  I’m grateful for the variety manifest the changes of season.  Variety.  Last Thanksgiving was spent with my mother, and this Thanksgiving is being spent with dear, gracious friends.  We are sincerely grateful for this time.  Wherever you are, with friends or family or by your lonesome, I hope you have gratitude and express it.  It wouldn’t hurt a bit to express that to the Creator!

Below is the program listing from 13 years ago.  While not all the songs will be familiar to many, and while no one would know what thoughts were prayed or preached, the point of sharing this is to honor and encourage thoughtful gratitude.  You might even wish to look up the words to one or more of the songs.  At the end, I’ll give a few details of my brass quintet arrangement.  Maybe you’ll merely be thankful that I didn’t bore you with that up front!

Houghton College Chapel Program, Mon. 11/24/08

  • Prelude
  • Announcements
  • Call to Worship- Danielle M
  • Hymn with Brass – Now Thank We All Our God
  • Camerata Singers – The Glory of the Father
  • Psalm Reading – Psalm 98 – Danielle F
  • Prayer – John Brittain
  • Sermon – John Brittain
  • Communion with Hymns – led by piano (Bethany L), violin (Clara G), and vocalists (Clara S, Amy L, Brett P, Jon V)
    • Give Thanks
    • What Gift Can We Bring
    • You Satisfy the Hungry Heart
  • Prayer – Dr. Brittain
  • Closing/Dismissal
  • Postlude – Houghton Brass Quintet:  Thanksgiving Medley, arr. Casey

Thanksgiving Medley
For brass quintet with 1st trumpet doubling Bb piccolo trumpet

Original, motivically based introduction based on “Give Thanks” (Smith/Moen), “Thank You, Lord” (Jernigan), and “We Gather Together”

Main section combines the hymntunes for

  • “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come” (“St. George’s Windsor,” 1858)
  • “Now Thank We All Our God” (“Nun Danket,” Johann Cruger, 1647)

. . . and also continues to employ motives from “We Gather Together” (1877) and “Give Thanks With a Grateful Heart” (late 20C).

Successful traits of the arrangement:  motivic construction, two-part binary form with introduction and flourished ending (see below), varied textures (three-, four-, and five-part), contrapuntal elements

Areas for improvement:  introduction too long, extreme range in spots, too many meter changes (that made sense to me at the time, but it made the piece feel unstable), missing accidental in my own horn part!

Causes and (unprovable) effects

Does the sequence below represent a cause-effect relationship?

  1. A university studio class of seven instrumental students used strict PPE, ventilation, and distancing protocols.
  2. Two of the players became ill.
  3. It was determined that they contracted this disease outside of the studio environment.  It was further determined that the protocols had “worked” since the other five students did not get the disease.

What’s interesting about this?  There is actually no proven (or provable) relationship between the observed protocols and the five instances of lack of symptoms.  No cause-effect relationship.

An indicator of common practices during 2020

Here’s another anecdote.  Some years ago, when Purell® was new on store shelves, I began using it.  Now, I like the idea of keeping germs and dirt out of my food, and I like squeaky-clean hands.  At some point, I mentioned to a relative, “I’ve been using this hand sanitizer, and I really don’t catch bugs or get sick.”  The relative replied, “Well, did you get sick much before you used sanitizer?”  “No,” I had to admit.  I had been susceptible not so much to bacteria but to the idea that my protective measures were keeping me healthy.  The effect—my relative healthiness—was not necessarily caused or even influenced by the use of hand sanitizer.

I would not present myself as a scientist, but, as an educated and reasonably intelligent person who has done research on the graduate level and who regularly interacts now with a trained researcher, I do tend to spot holes in thought-patterns.  Moreover, as a critic, I tend to sniff out misinformation (of which there is much), assumptions (which are rampant), and agendas (which dog the human race, even robbing us of our ability to think).

An employee might be healthy, and her desk or a office doorknob might have been “disinfected,”  but there might be no relationship between the two.

A country might experience an increase or decrease in the number of reported illnesses or hospitalizations one month, and there might have been more reported X measures or Y protocols observed, but there still might be no (provable) cause-effect relationship.

A status might be observed, but that status might not be an effect of the “cause” under consideration.  Unconsidered variables can exist.  Sure, epidemiologists study and develop expertise in the transmission of diseases, but the study of the means of transmission and the observation of mass movements might not illuminate a single incidence.  Can anyone know why a given case occurred?  At first, it seemed that, when saccharin was injected into lab rats, the cancer had an indisputable cause, but later studies and observations turned up additional variables that ultimately rendered the first study’s conclusions moot.  (See here for more information.)  The cause (transmission) of the effect (incidence of disease) can only rarely be proven beyond doubt, it would seem.

These days, I highly value the natural, created human immune system.  I can’t prove this, either, but I strongly suspect that the immune system serves its intended purpose in an impressive majority of cases.  In contrast, I think it is becoming more clear that certain preventative measures—some which are apparently suppressing the immune system’s functionality—are far less effective than the immune system over the long haul.


I’ve been anxious about sharing these thoughts and a follow-up.  I’ve kept two drafts for more than a year—changing the posting date, editing, rethinking, and pushing the date out again and again.  I feel embarrassed about this behavior, but the rhetoric and story lines in the larger world continue to make me anxious.  I’m now trashing the 2nd, follow-up post.  My opinions are stronger and run much deeper than a year ago, but it’s increasingly uncomfortable to hold opinions and to feel feelings that run counter to that which is broadly published.  During the past couple years, the world has become a more fearful place in more than one respect.  I believe that the philosophical, political, mental, and emotional spheres—in addition to the medical ones—deserve more thoughtful, careful attention.

I have no delusions that this post will “go viral.”  (Will that malphemism go extinct?)  It probably shouldn’t.

I ask for grace from all those readers who differ with me here.  I might be wrong or off-base, but I am sincere both in my expression and in my anxiety.

Assessing one’s own Christianity

A friend recently came across a piece I wrote more than a decade ago, and that gave me an opportunity to review what I’d written, too.

Although I return to topics and repeat myself from time to time, I don’t recall unearthing and re-posting the same essay, but this one seemed significant:  who can’t use a re-calibratory analysis from time to time?  I certainly can.  On a Saturday, I revised minor aspects and added a thought or two.  I’m intentionally setting this up for posting this on a day other than a Sunday.  Hmm.  Another friend posts good thoughts on what he calls “Adoration Mondays.”  Let’s call this particular day “Thoughtful Thursday”!

I write most often about aspects of Christianity—whether practical (probably more often) or doctrinal (when I have the spiritual courage). Sometimes, it’s corrective and critical; other times, reflective or exhortatory or perhaps marginally inspirational.

In this whole, huge arena of Christianity, I acknowledge that some matters are grand and pervasive, and other things are not as consequential. While the problems with human aspects like leadership and church staff (not to mention bulletins and sequences and oral reading techniques and PowerPoint and terminology and … ) do add up, every now and then, it’s good to take a step back to look at the whole of Christianity.

How is one’s life as a Christian defined? What is the core? What are the hallmarks?  When I am called on to describe myself to another, how do I assess my Christian self?

  1. Am I “who I am” in Jesus because of the corporate worship style of my Sunday Christian group?
  2. Is my identity established solely by an initiation such as immersion into Jesus?  Do I call myself “born again” (however biblically or a-biblically I might use that expression) and thereby distinguish myself from other believers?
  3. Do we define ourselves by the number of Christian programs and projects we’re involved in?  By the number of times per week we’re in the church building?

In my case, I like to consider myself a Bible-based, Jesus-centric Christian, but does that aptly define Brian Casey, really?

Someone I once knew had a penchant for calling this person or that a “serious believer,” and I get what he meant by that, but his idea of “serious believer” isn’t mine, exactly. Someone with whom I’ve had a longer, deeper connection speaks of being an “intentional follower of Jesus.” What is that, and how is it seen in your life or mine?  Although the above questions touch, at least lightly, on doctrine and its articulation, there are other ways to define a person doctrinally:

  • Some subgroups in my own denomination define themselves by being (supposedly) doctrinally correct.
  • Others in the larger Christian world define themselves by the particular limb off the trunk of the Christian tree they find themselves swinging from.
  • Then there’s the ubiquitous conservative-liberal spectrum, which of course has both merits and limitations in pigeonholing people.

If I define myself primarily by my affiliation, I am to be pitied.

If I define my faith chiefly by the doctrines to which I adhere, I am missing something bigger. Moreover, if I think I have every doctrinal sub-position nailed down and “know” I’m right on everything, I’m downright arrogant.  (Here, I leave no room for one to take the next soul-step down Arrogance Avenue—being egotistical enough to call someone infallible.)

The lion’s share of Christian-types identify themselves primarily by affiliation(s) or a group’s dogma.  It is insufficient, at best, to do so.  Would our identities (solidarities?) change if we were not in the same physical space with those groups?  In the event of a regional or worldwide gasoline crisis in which no fuel were available at all, how would the 99.3% of us who drive some distance “to church” define ourselves then?

If “church” as I know it were no more, could I still be a Christian . . . simply by living?  By living for Jesus

as I walk or drive,

   as I sweep the porch,

as I interact with people at Walmart,

   as I send emails at work,

or as I invited my neighbors over for conversation and a beverage?

Could I still be a Christian by virtue of my faithful living¹ for Jesus as Messiah as I proceeded through daily tasks, and because of my Jesus-like ways?

Could I still be a Christian?

Could I?

¹ The expression “faithful living” is, I think, the only substantive revision in this version of the essay.  While it would be possible to pass over the original expression, “faith in Jesus,” almost without that, and while that would still be a valuable thought, I choose now to emphasize a different aspect of the word behind “faith.”   The Greek word pistis (πίστις) cannot be reduced to one English word such as “trust” or “faith,”  I’m convinced that faithfulness/loyalty/allegiance is a significantly, even tragically, neglected aspect of this word in many NT texts.  For more on this word and the theology touched on here, I recommend first the writings of Matthew Bates.