Forward and backward thinking (998) — jointly written

I’m happy today that the latter half of this post was written by a guest writer I’m very close to — Karly Rose Casey.

I recently spent more than an hour watching a baseball World Series game that was played more than 30 years ago.  I doubt I watched that game back when it was actually played, but in a strange way, it was more enjoyable for me than today’s games, because that game was played in my time — an era in which I related more to to pro phase of the greatest game ever invented.¹

In some areas of life, looking backward nostalgically is pleasurable.  In other areas, looking forward seems more appealing.  As you consider the first two areas below, realize that they are short sections that will be of most interest to musician-readers.  If you’re not interested in those, skip right ahead to the section my wife wrote!

Composers   Take Brahms and Wagner as examples.  Now, I pretty much detest the thought of Richard Wagner, not being an opera fan, and not being a fan of overblown megalomaniacs, either.  But I can admire his having looked ahead, creating newness within a larger art form.  I also admire Brahms, who was quite the backward thinker in terms of structure, form, and genre — but who infused so many of his works with new expressiveness.  Many other composers of art music can be analyzed in these terms:

Palestrina was probably mostly a backward-thinker.  

Bach, as much as I hate to admit it, was probably more a forward-thinker.  

Mozart and Haydn seem to have dwelt more in their present than in the future.

Dvorak and Mendelssohn seemed mostly content in past structures, infusing works with beauty that fit frameworks then current, or recently past.

Liszt did some things with the past while decidedly moving forward.

Debussy and Schönberg thought ahead (the former with more success than the latter!).

Instrumental music structures in academia today  In another area of musical life — the one in which I find my vocation — score study and rehearsal planning method “templates” are fairly standard.  Most of us approach daily life in ensembles in the same vein:  more or less, we study a score in certain ways, we prepare certain sections for the next rehearsal, and we lead our ensembles.  In contrast to this standard model comes the creative thinking of Carolyn Barber, Director of Bands at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.  It’s outside my scope here to provide any of Barber’s details; suffice it to say that she is a forward thinker and an articulate, compelling leader.  She inspires many by looking ahead methodologically and musically.

Church values and practices.  Ever notice that some churches seem to delight in being backward, while others seem to thrill to being ahead of the curve?  The following thoughts on the church disparity are my wife’s.  I appreciate her having gotten out of her comfort zone to write them, and I am delighted to post them here.


I like antiques.  The attraction to things of times past is somehow ingrained in me.  I find value and some bits of wisdom in the way things used to be.  Butter churns and wash boards are intriguing.  However, I’ll keep my washing machine and I’ll make butter in the blender in 40 seconds if I want to.

What about antique church?  We visited a conservative² Mennonite church this past Sunday.  Men and women sit on opposite sides, the women all wear head coverings (the majority are “Amish style”), the men all in white shirts and dark suits.  The sermon focused on the value of the printed page which, to give the guy a bit of credit, was an interestingly unusual topic.  His push to the congregation was to get each member to pass out 50 tracts a week.  His stats told him that if every one of the 60+ members would meet the quota, that there would be 2,000 responses in a year.  *sigh*  Really???

Apparently, he/they are completely unaware of what it takes to reach people in the real world in the year 2013.  I appreciate their simplicity, their sincerity, their steadfastness … but they’re like antiques.  I dare you to tell any random woman that using a washboard instead of the modern washing machine is better because its simpler!  OK, that’s not equal to differences in religion, but you get the point.

Back up two weeks.  We were in the gathering at The Journey church.  They have electric guitars, people in jeans, and a coffee bar.  Do they hand out tracts?  No way.  But people are flocking to them.


Because they’re reinventing the way we “do” church so that people who don’t know Jesus will come looking . . . without having to worry about not “fitting in.”  Try that in a church that requires head coverings.

What’s more important…  That the already-Christians are cozy in their routines? Or that people who don’t know Jesus find him?  (There’s only one correct answer.  Choose wisely.)

Now, it’s not impossible for people to come to know (or re-meet) the Savior in a “normal church”, but the rate at which that is happening compared to what The Journey is getting is pretty dramatic.

“Meet people where they are” is cliché.  But, as much as I shy away from it, it applies here.  A guy with tattoos and spikey hair isn’t going to walk into a conservative Mennonite church looking for salvation.  He isn’t.  Nor is a single mom with two kids and a live-in boyfriend.  It’s not going to happen.  As a matter of fact, neither is likely to walk into ANY church building, because it’s uncomfortable.  They feel inadequate.  And/or they don’t see the need … maybe they think they’re doing “fine” as they are.

People need Jesus.  If they will come to a place where the preacher guy wears jeans and a bright plaid shirt, great; I’m all for it.  Free coffee?  Even better.  Unconventional?  A bit.  And the next generation is depending on it.

– Karly Casey


¹ By the way, my childhood baseball hero’s birthday was two days ago, but I’m not even identifying him here, because he’s proven himself so unworthy of any more attention in this life that I don’t want to be the one to give him any more!

² “Conservative Mennonite” might also be known as “black bumper Mennonite,” as opposed to “color TV Mennonite” on the one side of the spectrum, and “Amish” on the other.

2 thoughts on “Forward and backward thinking (998) — jointly written

  1. Anne Boyd 04/17/2013 / 6:01 pm

    Brian, I’m glad to hear you say you are close to this guest writer! I enjoyed immensely your sections about musicians. Brahms was Dan’s favorite composer, followed by Beethoven. “Our” song was Dvorak’s “Going Home.” I shudder to think of Debussy and Schönberg in the same paragraph much less the same sentence. While Debussy is in my top 10 list, I can’t muster up the strength to listen to Schonberg much of the time.

    Karly, your comparison of antiques to leading edge is quite interesting. Dan and I were inspired by Paul’s way of saying, “Meet people where they are,” when he said in 1 Cor. 9:19-23, “….I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”

    Have you ever wondered what would happen if all intentional followers of Christ develop a “listening ear” so that when they hear someone speaking words that actually mean, “I am hurting and can’t find my way,” they will befriend that person…and look for the moment when they can begin to share their story. Everyone has “a story.”

    Sharing your story how you found your way to more peace and joy through following Christ often leads to deeper conversations…which can lead to a meaningful study of God’s Word. Meeting people where they are today can lead to also meeting them when we all get Home. Keep writing and sharing! — Anne


    • Brian Casey 04/26/2013 / 8:56 am

      Well, my “guest writer” is pretty overwhelmed at home and on grounds this week, so any reply from her won’t be timely. 🙂 Brahms and Dvorak are on my top 10 list, too, as is Mendelssohn. Funny that they all tend to be labeled “backward thinkers” to some extent. Beethoven was very “forward,” and I admire him but rarely adore his creations. Your shuddering gave me a sympathetic smile.

      I like your take on things here and particularly appreciate the hope-filled, faith-filled phrasing “Meeting people where they are today can lead to also meeting them when we all get Home.” My own “listening ear” can be morphed into an almost annoyingly constant call “upward.” By that, I mean, I’m rarely content to let anyone, including myself, stay where he/she is. I hope this M.O. comes off with grace more often than not! -bc


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