Creating, dreaming, and envisioning

As the scientific/medical and government worlds churn to maintain healthy populations in the face of a frightening, devastating virus, many are left floundering.

Families are self-isolating or submitting to lockdowns and quarantine orders.

Churches are envisioning how to “do church” without public, in-person gatherings.  (Perhaps many will now be forced to re-envision what it means to be church, quite apart from the man-made creation of the religious “service.”  Please see here for more on the label “worship service.”) ¹

Businesses are temporarily closing, and paychecks are in jeopardy . . . and some now have time and space to dream of newness.

Like most people, I have no medical qualifications and only a modicum of medical insight.  These days, I take typical precautions, and I encounter now-oddly-normal stresses . . . and I also seem to have greater-than-normal time to envision and dream about other things.

For years I have known something about myself, and it’s not necessarily a good thing, although it can be satisfying to an introvert:  I often feel more energized in envisioning, dreaming, planning, and working out plans than I do from seeing the fruition in groups.  That is commentary on several aspects:  on my inner energy and imagination, yes, but also on my lack of ability to plan effectively; on other people’s shortcomings, and on my inability to bridge the gap between dreams and reality.

The best devotional times, the best worship gatherings, the best Camp Manatawny hymn sings, and the best Lights (Christian a cappella octet) programs were better in my head than in the execution.  Even the highest-quality musical performances I’ve been privileged to lead—with the University of Northern Colorado, Houghton College, Texas A&M-Kingsville, and Kansas City Wind Symphony ensembles—probably didn’t give me as much inward energy and encouragement as the silent, planning/dreaming phases that had preceded the performances.

Easter is coming.  I’m not one to get into the “Lenten Season” or to place too much emphasis on one Sunday over another, but Easter can certainly be observed with pleasure and joy.  A friend invited me to perform, and I asked if there could be a place for a special arrangement.  He replied, “Of course!”  “Okay!” said I . . . and off I went to dream and envision.  I had begun that arrangement around the time the effects of the virus pandemic began to be felt in the U.S.

And now what?

What’s going to happen with the arrangement now?  It’s almost finished.  And I’d give it about a  40% chance of being performed at all, and less chance than that of blessing people who choose to be, or are allowed by the government to be, in the same room.  And that’s discouraging, because public performance is one important goal of music.  But was the effort a waste?  No, hardly.  The creative process is a goal in itself.

I’ve envisioned.  I’ve heard it in my head.  I’ve been conscious of the emotions, the intentions.  I’ve audiated.²  I’ve hoped.  I’ve dreamed.  I’ve audiated some more, and I’ve refined the music based on what I see and hear.  And in the process, I’ve worshipped a little.

What are you doing now that you might not have found the time or reason to do a couple weeks ago?  How is this time going for you?  Gotta get back to my arrangement now.  I just had another idea to make it better.


¹ I take this phenomenon as primarily the result of human ingenuity.  It has, just like other human creations, some good elements and intentions.  It has also, like other human creations, gone awry, in my estimation.  I added this footnote after reading Bill’s comment.

² This page gives a nicely succinct definition of audiation:  the comprehension and internal realization of music by an individual in the absence of any physical sound.

Judging views: Israel and the Church (2 of 2)

This final post will conclude the series on judging.¹  Here, I continue primarily in evaluation (assessment, judgement) of one of Three Views on Israel and the Church, which I began two days ago here.

After scanning Michael Vlach’s propositional material, I next wanted to read his response to the views that are more palatable to me.  I wanted to see how Vlach handled things that are disagreeable to him.  I thought, if he can show regard for different hermeneutical approaches to key scripture passages, it’ll be easier to judge him sincere and honestly consider his views.  No notable, new thoughts surfaced, however.

In the book, all three of the argued positions reside in Romans chapters 9-11, per the subtitle.  Those chapters are certainly key, and it’s incumbent on any thinker to deal with the sitz im leben/historical context² of Paul’s Romans epistle.  If a theologian or exegete doesn’t even deal with an (1) author’s (2) situation, (3) presumed audience, or (4) literary purpose in any overt manner, something is missing.  Some assumptions should then be brought into the light.  For instance, could the ethnic makeup of the Roman churches have influenced Paul’s writing?  Can we know if he had in mind a church that was half-Jew/half-gentile, or perhaps mostly gentile?  Would that knowledge change how we interpret Romans 9-11 in light of other Christian scriptures?  Could Paul’s desire for the people of his own ethnic origin have led to some hyperbole that we can’t understand, even with hindsight?


² After I finalized this post, I noted The Bible Project’s newest video and the succinct wording on the intro page for historical context of NT letters:  “A wise reading of these letters involves learning about their historical context. . . .”  Here, TBP’s look at historical context comes in three “layers,” beginning with some very broad brushstrokes.  The most valuable part of the video, in my opinion, starts at about 3:17, and the next installment, if my guess is on track, will be even better.


Vlach’s response to Merkle (view #3) launches itself quickly with a criticism of the latter’s handling of the Romans 9-11 text.  But there is more, whether Merkle brought other thinking into his consideration or not!  Vlach’s non-typological approach assumes the “continuing theological significance of national Israel” (212), but I must ask, where is this national Israel now?  And why on earth (I mean that both as an exclamation and as a concrete reference) would God want to teleport all national Jews—and half-Jews and 16th-Jews and 128th-Jews—to Jerusalem at some later date?  At least on the surface, the views in this book all purport to deal with, and mostly distinguish between, ethnic Israel and spiritual Israel.  The fact that none of these Christian academics seriously deals with political Israel should tell us something.  It is more the popular-level writers of Christianese tripe that are purveyors of that the “we support Israel” stuff.

Here are my current, fly-over judgments on this:

  1. Michael Vlach and those who hold his views are surely sincere, but they are captive to a hermeneutical paradigm that doesn’t ultimately appear to hold water.  They are prejudiced toward a set of understandings (and so am I).
  2. It’s obviously fine if God decides to do something I don’t expect in the end, but I am partial to views that connect OT prophetic “Israel” to “God’s people” in general, and/or to “spiritual Israel” as typified in Jesus, the ultimate Israelite.

I don’t present this as any sort of “final word.”  Actually, it’s not even a final word for myself.  I haven’t taken the time I had wanted to take with this, but it feels like time to move on—but not before some proclamation!.

If only everyone—Christians, Jews, Muslims, journalists, politicians, atheists, Middle Easterners, Far Easterners, Midwesterners, and everyone else—could jettison the notion that contemporary geopolitical issues are directly relate to spiritual or biblical concerns, then we could have a better discussion of soteriological eschatology, e.g., whether God will ultimately save all faithful Jews (and what constitutes being a faithful Jew).  Today’s political nation of Israel has nothing to do with God or salvation.  Stated in the reverse:  God has no more concern with any political development regarding Israel than He does with Syria or Switzerland or Sierra Leone or Nicaragua or New Zealand.

The notion that “we” (whatever group of Americans, or Christians, or American Christians, or western Christians that is) must “support” “Israel,” for one or more reasons, is a false one. 

Furthermore, I expect nothing to occur in geographical Israel at any point the future that has anything particularly to do with eschatology or salvation or any particular massing of God’s people.

If I turn out to be incorrect, you might see my jaw drop for a few eternal seconds, but I won’t argue with the Lord.

~ ~ ~

I’m also just finishing the book The King Jesus Gospel, in which Scot McKnight largely compels me with his thoughts on the definition of the gospel (encapsulated in the early verses of 1Cor 15).  In more than one place, He portrays Jesus as the end of the “Jews’ story.”  I am with McKnight here.  Jesus came from the Jews, in a sense, and He was/is theirs to accept.  At this point in history, at least, if a Jew should not accept Jesus, I’d expect that person’s status to be the same as that of any other non-believer.

Whether or not you’re a Jew, believing in YHVH God means that you believe in Jesus as Messiah.  In the converse:  If a Jew doesn’t believe in the Messiah now, s/he is not fully believing in YHVH whose prophets spoke of him centuries earlier.  We all ought to carry our belief through to its logical conclusion:  affirming that YHVH sent his Son, loved him, raised him from the dead, and at exalted him to where he now sits as κύριος | kurios | LORD.


¹ Several posts on judging this or that may be accessed at this link.  I’ll also offer here an ancillary series on the OT book of Judges.

Judging views: Israel and the Church (1 of 2)

Two posts will conclude a series on judging.¹  These will briefly evaluate (assess, judge) one of Three Views on Israel and the Church—which happens to be a book title (see below).  The particular judgment on these Christian scholars’ views is important to me in several respects:

  • I want to challenge myself in a scholarly thought process:  I want to be able to think through something with a clear head and without prejudice, inasmuch as that kind of thing is even possible.
  • In December, a dispensationalist preacher showed gracious patience with me throughout a good conversation.  He has judged a few things quite differently from the way I’ve judged them.  I want to give his doctrines, previously relatively unfamiliar, some attention.
  • I actively pursue an overarching philosophy that sees God’s Kingdom as inherently different from, and opposed to, the governments of humans, including those of the U.S. and current-day Israel.
  • . . . and probably more

Three Views on Israel and the Church:  Perspectives on Romans 9-11
Jared Compton and Andrew Naselli, eds. (Kregel Academic, 2018)

Briefly stated, here are the three views:

  1. One position holds that Romans 9-11 promises a future salvation and role for national Israel (argued in this book by Michael Vlach).
  2. Another view argues that Romans 9-11 promises a future salvation but not a role for ethnic Israel.  For these theologians, Israel therefore plays a typological role in biblical theology even while maintaining a special status (argued by Fred Zaspel and Jim Hamilton).
  3. The third view holds that Romans 9-11 does not promise a future salvation or role for ethnic Israel at all (argued by Ben Merkle).

I began with the Vlach chapter.  He asserted out of the gate that “national Israel remains strategic to God’s purposes and does not lose its significance with the arrival of Jesus and the church” (21-22).  Vlach’s overarching affirmation is that God’s promises, as stated in the Torah and in Israelite prophecy, (1) are explicitly and forever connected with the people of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants,² and (2) are not transcended by/in the church of Jesus Christ.  He makes a particularly large hermeneutical pole-vault in asserting that “Jesus’s role . . . involves the restoring of Israel as a nation” (23).

Vlach engages in some exegesis and valid word-study analysis, for instance, with some good commentary on the NT use of the prepositional phrase ἄχρι οὗ | achri hou, which he finds indicative of Israel’s future conversion to belief in Jesus.  Should the living Jews come to believe, terrific!  This phrase does seem to suggest that.  Vlach also evidences some contextual awareness, yet he is not above prejudice:  he finds, without evident regard for grammar, syntax, or other structural textual elements, that the Romans 9:6 statement that God’s word has not failed is a “springboard” for the ensuing material.  His treatment of God’s “selectivity” and the “remnant” is unconvincing.  While I agree with Vlach that Paul suggests God has not abandoned Israel (38), he jumps to a conclusion in stating “the remnant is not all there is to God’s plans for Israel” (39).

In dealing with this view, to which I’m naturally opposed, I remain virtually unmoved.  I’m still a trifle surprised that many could hold the view that all of ethnic Israel will ultimately be saved.  At least none of the three is overtly pays attention to today’s political Israel!

I’ve mostly enjoyed being challenged by coming into contact with these distinct views, articulated well by their representatives.  I confess, though, that I don’t believe I achieved much of an open mind in this investigatory exercise.  Frankly, in scanning, I found little to convince me that I should pay rapt attention to a different view, so these are merely some evaluative comments from my current vantage point.

Next:  conclusion


¹ Several posts on judging this or that may be accessed at this link.  I’ll also offer here an ancillary series on the OT book of Judges.

² When he adds “new covenant” (emph. mine, bc) alongside Abraham and David, I am unclear on whether he might be distinguishing Jeremiah’s verbiage (31:31-41) from that commonly associated with Jesus of Nazareth.

I have trouble

Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33).  Other English versions use the terms tribulation, trials, hardship, difficulties, but I suppose “trouble” is sufficient.  Yet I doubt that the Lord had in mind this kind of trouble.

I have trouble with prayer.  Other people’s prayers and my own.  I didn’t use to have too much trouble, and I don’t think I’ll have eternal trouble, but I do have it now.

In this uncertain time . . . and I’m thinking first of the virus pandemic, not the U.S. political scenario . . . shouldn’t I sense that there’s more point in the words of prayer?  I do have confidence in God’s ultimate provision, but I have little in human prayer, as I have experienced it.  I offer this as a confession, not a merit badge.

In the midst of a slight uptick in my own prayer-activity, I came upon this news about prayer at the Western Wall in Jerusalem:

http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/276027

Tomorrow afternoon in Jerusalem, prayer will occur.  I wonder about that in several respects.  And then I find this:

https://www.ncregister.com/blog/smcafee/pray-this-marian-novena-for-protection-against-coronavirus

The article refers to “the novel depiction of [Mary] as the mother-protector:  she stands with her mantle open, sheltering the people under her intercessory protection.”  The prayer itself—a prayer to Mary—is at the bottom of the article.  And I don’t wonder about that at all.  Take from that what you will.

Being troubled by both of these news items indicates concerns over misguided philosophy and misdirected zeal.  I do know, obviously that praying people share various concerns over the ramifications of COVID-19, and we presumably share a measure of general faith, too.  But that’s not all the trouble there is . . . I’m also concerned, in more typical types of prayers, by the rote nature of them.  This may indicate my human lack of faith, but it also shows my annoyance with system-driven religion.  Most people I know would say “prayer makes a difference,” but I prefer to put the emphasis on God, not on the activity or the words of prayer per se, or on the liturgical intoning of prayer-words.  Prayer is not some elixir or magical incantation that’s effective in itself.

Here are a couple of past posts on prayer.

The first deals with some of our bad habits, as seen in small groups, but also elsewhere.

The second highlights some wise words of C.S. Lewis on prayers asked and (not) answered.

God, forgive me if I have reflected poorly on your designs and desires.  God, help us all.  And hear this prayer, written by another, sung by many, and remembered now by me:

Father, whate’er of earthly bliss Thy sovereign will denies,
Accepted at Thy throne of grace let this petition lie.

Let the sweet hope that Thou art mine my life and death attend,
Thy presence through my journey shine, and crown my journey’s end.

– Anne Steele, 1760

Mandy, Marlena, and Tom: Sabbath concepts

This is a sabbath story.  It’s not a story written on the sabbath day (although I’m starting this only five hours from the beginning of a sabbath, in Jewish terms), but one about the sabbath.  And it’s actually three stories, not just one.

For illustration, I’ll use thoughts from (1) a former student/acquaintance, (2) a friend, and (3) a well-respected scholar/thinker/writer.  I take the first two as representative of many others, but I won’t use their real names.¹  The third, in my view, is a typically helpful theologian (a category I don’t often uncover!—see here for more on that).

Mandy
Mandy seemed popular, and she was one of my students.  She had real talent and was an energetic player.  There was something about her that struck me as discontent, even rebellious, and later information bore that out, but that’s beside the point.  At the time, I myself was also in survival mode, or even fight mode, so I wasn’t going to judge her.

In a Christian collegiate institution that legislated Sabbath (read:  Sunday rest) observance, Mandy submitted for a while, but apparently fumed.  I did, too, but I didn’t feel comfortable saying much, and no one kept me out of my office if I felt like going there on a Sunday afternoon.  On the other hand, students were effectively banned from any classroom buildings, including the music building.

Aside:  here, it’s good to be clear that when Christians speak of “sabbath,” 99% of them are talking about Sunday.  That in itself should send one scurrying to the pages of what we call the “New Testament” to see if Sabbath is there.  Paul didn’t really write about Sabbath (other than perhaps a negative reference in Colossians), and that fact should cause us to question any weekly New Covenant application.

Back to Mandy.  One week, Mandy reacted to institutionalized, legislated Sabbath, by means of a letter to the editor of the campus newspaper.  She appealed to the College administration and the whole community to open up the Music Building and let her have “sabbath” recreation by making music.  I saw and supported Liz’s point, but I was more concerned with the overall issue of legislating that which belongs more in the realm of Jewish religion than Christian devotion.

Marlena
Marlena wasn’t a student of mine but quickly became a friend through another friend.  She is as sincere, intelligent, studious, and devout as they come, and she could be both serious-minded and appropriately silly.

On multiple occasions, Marlena articulated a reasonable, genuinely pious view of Sabbath.  She supported it, practiced it in various ways, and in doing so encouraged others to do the same.  I recall feeling an inclination to do as she did, a twinge of guilt that I didn’t, and also a wistful wish that she wouldn’t attempt to transport Sabbath into our time.  Mostly, I felt a longing to be as spiritually devoted as Marlena seemed to be.

Tom
Enter N.T. “Tom” Wright, in a podcast interview.  There, Wright said as much about sabbath in a few short sentences as the sum total of what I’ve ever heard or thought.  Here is a transcript of excerpts:

“The Law was a good gift, for a good but time-limited purpose.”  (Then the Law was “set aside.”)

“The Messiah is Israel in person as well as being the Living God in person.”

“The point of the Sabbaths is that they are the weekly anticipation of the Age to Come, the Coming Age.  That when the Shabbat comes, we are living, in advance, in the Age to Come.”  Jesus says, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand.”  We are now in ‘perpetual Sabbath.’  That’s why in Luke 4 he says, “This scripture is fulfilled.”  It’s the Jubilee.  It’s the Sabbath of Sabbaths.  Because he’s here.

And you don’t put up signs saying ‘This way to London’ in the middle of Whitehall, because you’re there already.”

Then by strong implication if not outright statement, Wright says it’s just as inappropriate to declare that Christians should observe the sabbath,” because we’re there already.  You can find the complete podcast(on the Christian and the Old Testament) here, or through your podcast app.

Note to my Sabbath-loving friends and other readers
These final comments are especially for the ones who feel Sabbath is more than a principle and is actually a thing to be observed under the New Covenant.

First, it is my sincere wish that all of you would realize Sabbath observance per se is something that is done away with.  There is no such thing as a weekly Christian Sabbath, and it’s high time we realized that.  We can enjoy believers’ gatherings and napping and reading on Sundays, sure, and I myself take a steps to make Sundays feel different from other days.  Rest and re-creation are important, and I need to give attention to them.  The when and how are choices, though—not laws.  Understandably and admirably, “Mandy” reacted to a false law.  Equally understandably and admirably, “Marlena” went beyond said law and made “sabbath” a principle for good.  But it isn’t a law at all anymore, and that is key.

With that said, more important than the above is the positive, as spotlighted by N.T. “Tom” Wright.  We Christians are living in the fulfillment of sabbath rest constantly.  Jewish shabbat anticipated rest, and Jesus brought awareness of that rest in a renewed understanding, and living, of God’s kingdom.

So be it

B. Casey, 2/21/20 – 3/1/20


¹ I’ve actually used the names of daughters of other women with the same names as the actual people.  This little stratagem will help no one identify the people, but it might help me remember them one day when I look back on this!

“Classical Music” Lovers?

I wouldn’t actually use the phrase “classical music lover” to describe myself.  That terminology is almost as non-descriptive and impotent as “alternative” or “pop.”  The term “cultivated,” on the other hand, strikes me as a more apt, helpful term to describe some music.

In one analysis, music may be aptly, broadly classified as either cultivated or commercial . . . but there is a lot of grey area, and bleed-over.  Those of us musicians who live most often in the world of cultivated music traditions are not typically “music snobs.”  We simply have learned, studied, and/or appreciate musics that aren’t commercialized¹ as much.  And there’s a lot more music out there to listen to.

I’d say I have fairly broad taste, although it doesn’t extend in every direction.  My taste excludes, for instance, most of what is called “pop” or “rap.”  The thing is, most people who call themselves music lovers have little idea of how much music there is that doesn’t get played on the radio.  In one civic music trivia contest, there were about three music categories, consisting in country, country pop, and crooned or countrified Christmas pop.  Now, I don’t suggest that everyone should gravitate to Dvorak or Debussy, but there’s no need for someone to think of me as a snob because I like something she’s never heard or might not like.  Does she know John Mackey or John Corigliano or courtly instrumental music of the Renaissance?  What about Carter Pann or Pandiatonicism?  Chant is not standard fare for me, but this music of the Dark Ages monks can be purifying.  Speaking of monks, have you heard the jazz piano stylings of Theolonious Monk?  An area of great familiarity for me is the literature of the wind band.  I don’t ask people to drop the word “band” in deference to my education and experience, but do they know that “band” has referents other than rock and pop backup groups?

No, I’m not a snob.  I appreciate songwriters such as James Taylor and Billy Joel, and I like 80s pop-fusion-jazz-rock (how’s that for a label?) like Maynard Ferguson.  I also like some classic and classic/prog rock and listen to it fairly often.  One of my gravitations in the last couple of years has been toward what I might call acoustic heart-folk.  Stuff with some emotion, in which it’s possible to hear pure vocals and the instrumental sounds of the mandolin, acoustic guitar, and fiddle.

I guess you could call me a music evaluator.  I do evaluate and assess, and I think some music is more worthwhile than others . . . and I further think a whole lot of music is pretty worthless.  OK, call me a snob.  But in doing so, you might be less tolerant than those music snobs you create, as straw-men, in your mind!

Now if you want some discriminating and somewhat explanatory material, try this post:  https://www.lifehack.org/594299/this-is-why-classical-music-lovers-are-smarter.  I don’t care for the generalizing conclusion, and there are some pitfalls along the way, but it makes for decent reading.

And particularly the cultivated musicians here might be interested in this analysis:  https://www.sfcv.org/article/are-musicians-better-than-they-were-30-years-ago


¹ It might interest some to notice that opera, which is not by any means a favorite genre for me, was “popular,” somewhat commercial music in earlier times.

Comparing Grahams (not crackers)

Two years ago today, Billy Graham died.

Back when Graham was in his mid-70s, a longtime friend volunteered at one of his “crusades.”  I thought my friend’s supportive service to the Crusade was interesting since she was not of the Graham tribe per se, but I respected her work nonetheless.  She was simply supporting a relatively pure gospeling effort by a good, believing man.

Since that time a quarter-century ago, I’ve come to respect Billy Graham (and a few others not of my bent on this or that) more deeply.  As far as I’m aware, Graham had no scandals during his lifetime, and he was obviously a committed Christ-being.Image may contain: 1 person, closeup  There was perhaps not another like him in the latter half of the 20th century.  His crusades were held internationally, and he surely preached “live” to more people than any other human.  Incidentally, I knew the nephew and niece-in-law of Graham’s evangelistic vocalist, George Beverly Shea.  Those Sheas were also fine Christian people.

Even before the death of Mr. Graham (not “Reverend” for me¹), his son Franklin was preparing to take on Billy’s mantle.  However, each bit I’ve read about Franklin Graham in the last decade or two tells me he is not exactly his father’s spit and image.

Having come across an AP article² about Franklin’s book Through My Father’s Eyes, I immediately became biased against him:  I look with suspicion on anyone who appears to be cashing in³ on another’s work.  The article mentions Billy’s fear that Franklin would become partisan and even political at all.  Franklin’s response?  “I made it clear [that I wasn’t partisan] by making it a prayer rally [and didn’t tell anyone] how to vote.”  There, I see a smokescreen!  The article proceeds to note that Franklin “has become an outspoken Trump ally and writes in the book that he thanks God the Republican was elected.”  This is obviously not Billy Graham.

I know Franklin’s charity organization Samaritan’s Purse as one that has done much good, and most of its causes appear quite well-placed.  (Only one is inappropriate and arguably partisan, in my view.)  The organization, like the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, has a worldwide vision, which is clearly a good thing.  But Franklin’s alignment with Donald Trump, and his interspersing of Trump quotes with Billy Graham quotes in the book, shows that he has little clue that American as a country has nothing to do with God.  He’s on track with some of the views noted in the article, including the observation that negative influences are rampant in our schools and our nation.  He warns that “Republicans shouldn’t take Christian voters for granted,” but he almost seems to equate Republicanism with Christianity.  Whoa, Franklin.  “God and country” are not a real pair.

I later saw this blog with several quotes from Franklin indicating his nationalistic emphases.   Franklin seems so much more politically motivated, i.e., not nearly as focused on the making of Christian disciples or even on the preaching of the good news of Jesus.  Wanting to be fair, I listened to this recording in order to “get to know” Franklin . . . .

I heard Franklin say “Christians should stand strong.”  That’s good.

Then I heard him say he’s sure “we’re in the last hours on God’s clock.”  That’s not well founded and tends to pigeonhole him with fear-mongers and questionable eschatologists.

Subsequently, there were more emphases along these lines . . . and I tuned him out, because he sounded like a parrot without much conviction in the voice.

Franklin’s nationalistic emphasis is the negative clincher for me.  Not that Billy Graham was unconcerned about the U.S.A.  He is known to have met with and counseled a whole string of presidents.  But Billy’s overall emphasis seems not to have been on the country so much as on the soul and its relation to God.

In the end, the “Getting to Know Franklin” session didn’t make me want to know him any more.  Image result for image "franklin grahamI’m a Billy Graham admirer, despite a couple of serious practical/doctrinal differences.  Franklin?  Not so much.  I’m sure he’s also a good and honest man, but he is not as focused, and his political speech and lack of careful biblical teaching suggest that he is neither the thinker nor the leader his father was.


¹ I won’t call Mr. Graham “Reverend” since the idea of reverence is better reserved for God alone, and I see no point in pandering to the human notion of denominational “ordination.”

² Jonathan Drew (AP), “Book Shares Son’s Look at ‘America’s Pastor'”

³ A casual observer might say I’ve done something similar in “trading” on a couple aspects of my family history in my writing and composing, but I’ve made it clear where I differed instead of being aligned, and I have in no way benefited financially.

Words . . . and the Spelling Bee

Actor James Spader and his characters have word gifts.  In the scene below, he was losing it (as TV attorney Alan Shore):

Shore’s affliction was word salad.  What a concept.  It must be very difficult to toss your words around like that if you don’t have an actual mental deficiency.

Linguistic perceptiveness can be a curse, but it can also create joy through heightened understanding.  I’m glad my son has some exceptional language ability.  FB tells me that, four years ago when he was in 1st grade, he was reading aloud to me and came upon the verb “present.”  He mistakenly read it as though it were the noun, i.e, a gift.  Then he corrected himself without any help.  I asked him how he knew which meaning was the right one.  He replied, “You can tell by the surrounding words.”

That’s a gift with words, I’d say . . . and it can help him understand other people, scripture, a homework assignment, the intent of lines in a play, and more.

The Podcast “Way with Words” is a new pleasure.  Jedd heard part of an episode for the first time last weekend.  I figured 10 minutes would be enough for a 10-year-old and was about to turn it off, but he said not to.  He liked it.  He too is stimulated by thoughts of words, their meanings, their connections and ramifications, their humor.

In late January, he placed 2nd among all the fifth-graders at his school in the spelling bee.  He asked for definitions to check himself on a couple occasions.  He made it about 12 rounds before being distracted by someone’s cell phone and missing a double “s” that he would know any day of the week.  But no sour grapes.  He was happy with 2nd place and was a good sport, congratulating the very capable winner.

I’m happy that I get to share linguistic interests with him often, and I was proud when he almost won the school spelling bee a few days ago, and I hope he places in today’s county-wide spelling bee, which begins in one hour!

He chose a special outfit this morning, and I adapted.  Below is today’s solidarity attire, on the way to school this morning.

Dogma

Lately there have been several homeless cats darkening paths around me, and one menacing dog.  Dogs are categorically better than cats, so I’m naturally more drawn to the former.  A friendly dog can make your day, whereas cat pawprints on your motorcycle seat can make you want the sleeping cat not to wake up before the bike screams off into the wind.  Hey, they always land on their feet, right?  A dog, not so much.  A dog needs you, but a cat couldn’t care less.  (This may sound dogmatic. So be it.)

What about dogma in churches?  Dogma may be deeply held, in the background, or it may turn out to be codified.  In churches, I’d rather there not be a statement of beliefs at all, but if there must be one, let it be a simple statement of belief in God and respect for scripture texts.  Once it goes beyond that, there are pitfalls.  (In a recent “Bible study” visit, I quickly detected underlying, dogmatic assumptions that affected everything the teacher said.)

Below I will paste in a list that comes directly from a Christian university in the Southeast.  This “Community Covenant” is a list of expectations for students.  That such a list exists anywhere may surprise a few.  An esteemed former grad professor of mine once also expressed shock that a Christian college could “still” hold certain “Religious Right” positions regarding its employees.  Some secularist music people, including a confessed agnostic-or-atheist, expressed (on social media) their incredulity that something like this could exist, and that they would be unwelcome to teach at said university.  In so speaking, they manifested their provinciality and lack of tolerance for belief systems other than their own.  They themselves actually became dogmatic.

Not only do various positions exist throughout the conservative-liberal spectra, but I suppose they all have “rights” in a society and politic such as ours.  Again, so be it.

Now, on the surface, this “Community Covenant” is not a dogmatic statement of beliefs, but it could be said to be just that.  Beliefs and dogma underlie such “covenants.”  I quote directly here:

Since members of this faith-based community have voluntarily chosen to be a participant, all students are obligated to a code of scriptural and community standards and behavior.  As a Christ-follower and member of the community of Southeastern University, I will:

    • Practice the spiritual disciplines—regular reading of God’s Word, prayer, etc.
    • Understand that regular attendance at church services is expected
    • Uphold the community standards
    • Pursue integrity and practice professional ethics
    • Adhere to guidelines of dress code
    • Respect the dignity of all persons and highly value the diversity of the body of Christ
    • Respect the rights and property of others
    • Discourage bigotry, slander, and gossip among the members of the community and will refuse to engage in such behavior
    • Refrain from the possession, use or distribution of beverage alcohol (except for communion), marijuana, or other intoxicants either on or off university premises
    • Refrain from the possession, use or distribution of tobacco products either on or off university premises
    • Refrain from the possession, use or distribution of illegal substances and the abuse or illegal use of legal substances, including prescription and over-the-counter medications either on or off university premises
    • Refrain from all sexually immoral behavior including: premarital sex; adultery; lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender behavior; and involvement with pornography in any form.  (Biblical marriage consists only of a faithful, heterosexual union between one genetic male and one genetic female, and biblical marriage is the only legitimate and acceptable context for a sexual relationship)
    • Resolve conflict according to the model in Matthew 18:15-20
    • Honor the servant-leaders who watch over this community and cooperate with their leadership
    • Demonstrate compassion for others and a passion for the lost as a representative of Christ

As with any statement of beliefs, list of “community expectations,” or creed, there are strengths and weaknesses in the above list.  I note a couple of interesting additions to the norms of such collections, and I wonder if they arose out of past events at this institution.  I also note the areas that seem to spawn the most verbiage:  substance use/abuse and sexual behaviors.

I take issue not so much with any specific details, but that such statements are made so prominent.  They are often required reading, with required signatures.  It’s as though one must submit not only to Jesus as Lord, but also to someone’s superimposed codes and opinions.

But my feet are kinda frozen on terra firma

This meandering little piece could alternately be titled “In the Bleak Midwinter” or simply “Midwinter Melancholy.”

Do you remember the ol’ children’s finger-play about the church/steeple/people?  It might have done more harm than good, because it started out wrong with the words “Here is the church,” while indicating a representation of the building.  Most folks still have trouble realizing that people are the church.

I think about church a lot, and not only on Sundays.  What is church?  What has it been—for me, for others?  What could it or should it be?  I daydream,¹ and I become disillusioned, and I gain some energy or hope once in a while.  A week or so ago, on my go-to “simple church” blog, I read about God’s being on the move, and I was at once inspired and repelled.  Inspired, because I like thinking of a God who is as active as in the old times.  Repelled, because I don’t sense the motion right now.   Regardless, I do like the ideals below, from this blog.  Try them on, opposite your concept of “church”:

  • It’s about a Jesus-lifestyle, not an organization to belong to
  • It’s about being God’s people 24/7, not attending meetings or “services”
  • It’s about incarnating God into the world, not attracting people to a clubhouse
  • It’s about gathering in a participatory manner rather than being priest-led
  • It’s about leadership that empowers and releases rather than controls
  • It’s about discipling by relationship rather than by program

– Roger Thoman, Simple Church Journal (edited)

So what do you think of those affirmations?  I would say very similar things, but I eventually become disappointed by ideals:  they only go so far when there’s no motion—or any real hope of motion.

Remember the song “I’m Pressing On”?  It begins like this:

I’m pressing on the upward way.  New heights I’m gaining ev’ry day.

Johnson Oatman Jr. (1856-1926)

Hmm.  I press on most of the time, but I feel like a flatlander, not a height-gaining mountain climber.  Another stanza begins,

I have no desire to stay where doubts arise and fears dismay.
But still I’ll pray ’til heav’n I’ve found, ‘My prayer, my aim is higher ground.’

Like Oatman, I have no desire to stay where I am, and my aim is higher.  Still, actually, I don’t feel like there’s foreseeable “advancement.”  God might well be “on the move,” as suggested in the blog referred to above, but I don’t feel as if I’m part of that right now.  I feel like my feet are frozen.  Will the frostbite keep me from reaching “higher ground,” or will I deal with the numbness and tingling, brave the headwind, and plod on?

Oh, for like-minded souls—whether we deal more in the personal sphere or the “church” one.  Or maybe just a couple good friends who will accompany me across the snowy tundra, sharing struggles and wonderings and possibilities. . . .

B. Casey, 1/11/20 – 1/29-20


¹ See this page as an evidence of some rather intense daydreaming.