Xposted: Three triple whammies

Cross-posted from my other blog for those only subscribed to this one:

Three Triple Whammies (about getting hit three times in one church assembly with overt nationalism)


The open God of ancient Israel’s history

Yesterday, I posted some fairly lengthy material on Judges 8 and 1Samuel (“Summary from the 8s:  Observations from Ancient Israel’s History“).  Here is the conclusion, followed by a short expansion on the point of what I take as God’s concession in granting Israel a King.

Two realities seem clear:

  1. Judges 8:  The record of the time of the Judges starkly shows Israel’s faithlessness and lack of loyalty.
  2. 1Samuel 8:  The origin of Israel’s Kings reveals the beginning of what became a progressively bad scenario:  God’s people were looking (a) less to God and (b) more to humans as their leader.  Having essentially forgotten the Exodus with its Red Sea, the cloud-by-day and fire-by-night, the manna and quail, and the initial conquests, the people wanted a human king.  And God conceded.

I present the following as a pretty good summary of an underlying concept:

God is sovereign ruler of His people.  When His people reject Him in one way or another, negative things occur.  His sovereignty will be seen, but not always in the way the people expect or desire.

On the point of “concession” as suggested in point #2 above:  many reader-interpreters have inferred God’s approval, thinking that He must’ve looked favorably on the idea of a human king, or He would not have allowed it.  God, though, is in some senses an “open” God, listening to humans, interacting, and even “changing His mind” on occasion.  He allows many things He does not approve of.  His sovereignty is not threatened by human decision or input; the fact that He allows our discretion does not change the ultimate reality that He is God.  On the contrary, His actual sovereignty is enhanced because He does not force it on people.

I believe that God did not want His people Israel to develop into a kingdom with a human king—but that He allowed that development, anyway.  He yielded, in a sense, acceding to the people’s will and granting them another king.

Other examples of God’s allowing bad decisions (but continuing to work despite them) can be seen throughout biblical literature.  Consider these examples, and add your own:

  • the choices of Lot and his wife
  • the actions of Joseph’s brothers
  • the hardening of Pharoah’s heart
  • the murderous rampage of Herod
  • the treachery of Judas

For a bit more on an “open” view of God, see here:


Summary from the 8s: observations from ancient Israel’s history

The Weather Channel™ has its local weather forecast “on the 8s,” occurring every ten minutes, starting with 8 minutes after the hour.  Those are usually pretty good summaries of local weather (as I recall . . . we haven’t cable or any other such TV service for more than three years).

In paying recent attention to chapter 8 of Judges and chapter 8 of 1Samuel, I’ve observed substantial historical weight.  Here in these chapter 8s, we seem to find pretty good summaries of negative aspects of historical Israel.

Judges 8
After the account of Gideon’s unusual army and a resounding defeat of the Midianites,

The men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, both you and your son, also your son’s son, for you have delivered us from the hand of the Midianite. . . .”  But Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you . . . the Lord shall rule over you.”

Aspects of the leader (and some of his actions) and not appropriate for emulation today, but oh, for Gideon’s spiritual acuity and his devotion to God’s sovereignty.  His insight stands in contrast to the people’s desires.  Those desires, unfortunately, are to progress with time. . . .

1Samuel 8
This chapter 8 begins with this event:

When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel.

In making that appointment, perhaps Samuel felt he was acting according to established pattern¹ (see Eli, 1Samuel chapter 2), but his poor judgment led to the people’s distrust of the system of judges—and to their desire for a progression to something new.  With hindsight, I wonder why Samuel, who was clearly sanctioned and blessed by Yahweh throughout the narrative (see 1Sam 3:19-21, to start), didn’t also call to mind a striking double-negative in Israel’s recent history:  (1) his predecessor Eli’s sons Hophni and Phinehas had been killed when (2) the ark of God was taken by the Philistines.  If Samuel had been superstitious, he might have been afraid to install his sons as priests.

And the story continues:

Yet his sons did not walk in his ways, but turned aside after gain; they took bribes and perverted justice.  Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint for us a king to govern us like all the nations.”  But the thing displeased Samuel. . . .

And it should have displeased Samuel.  But the Lord told Samuel to listen anyway, because the people were not rejecting Samuel, after all; they were rejecting God Himself (1Samuel 8:9).

God told Samuel to warn the people what would happen.  And warn them he did:

[The king you want] will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots . . . and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and fifties . . . and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make implements of war and the equipment of his chariots.  He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. . . .

This king-like-other-nations’-kings would . . . well, he would be like all the other kings!  He would conscript, and he would tax, and he would build up the “empire”—his own royal reign.  According to the ancient text preserved in this chapter 8, Samuel concluded his warning with the dire prediction that the people would bemoan the resulting situation, crying out because of this king they had chosen for themselves.  We ought to note who is doing the choosing—and for whom.  And the most terrible thing of all?

. . . the Lord will not answer you in that day.

But the people persisted:

No!  But we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.”

And the Lord made it happen.  And the Lord knew what was going to happen.  I’d say there is a rather solid prediction in chapter 8, and it’s not about fair weather.

Other 8s
Now . . . maybe it was boredom, but I became curious about the chapter 8 thing and started to look other chapter 8s in the Hebrew Bible.  Starting with Genesis . . . .

Genesis 8:  At the outset of this chapter, it is reported that “God remembered Noah” after the flood—or, as the New Jerusalem Bible has it, God “had Noah in mind.”  The covenantal aspect of God might be said to begin here.

Leviticus 8:  Here we find the ceremonial “setting apart” of Aaron and his sons in a “priestly” class—and an atonement ceremony that involved Aaron, his sons, and Moses the deliverer, too.  I haven’t thought previously about possible leadership connections (for lack of a better term) between Israel’s priests, judges, and kings.  I don’t know that there is any dark light shed on the Aaronic priesthood at the outset, but it is curious to me that God set in this role the family of the man who had overseen the making of the golden calf.

Deuteronomy 8:  Here, too, is a major section about the covenant between God and His people.

Joshua 8:  The destruction of Ai is founded on the “word of the Lord” . . . see 8:8:  God makes a point of saying “I have commanded you.”  It is God’s doing.

I’m not thoroughly familiar with the storyline of Joshua, but I have the general impression that things began to deteriorate after his death.  If the people, in the eras of the Judges and Kings, had had both the faith and perspective of Joshua, perhaps redemptive history would have played out differently.  I can conceive of an entirely different, 1000-year historical progression in which the scenario would not have included kings at all . . . and perhaps the mission of the Redeemer Christ would have looked a bit different when He came, as well.

Postlude on the 8s
Back to documented events and observation over hypothesis.  Two realities seem clear:

  1. Judges 8:  The record of the time of the Judges starkly shows Israel’s faithlessness and lack of loyalty.
  2. 1Samuel 8:  The origin of Israel’s Kings reveals the beginning of what became a progressively bad scenario:  God’s people were looking (a) less to God and (b) more to humans as their leaders.  Having essentially forgotten the Exodus with its Red Sea, the cloud-by-day and fire-by-night, the manna and quail, and the initial conquests, the people wanted a human king.  And God conceded.²

I present the following as a pretty good summary of an underlying concept in at least those two chapter 8s:

God has always been the sovereign ruler of His people.  When His people reject Him in one way or another, it is not pleasing to Him.  Since the beginning of Israel’s “kings” era, the people’s loyalties were divided, and as a result, things proceeded differently.

God will always be sovereign, but not always in the way the people expect or desire.

¹ A cynical view might query whether Samuel felt entitled, based on political clout, to pass on his exalted standing to his descendants.

² Not at all incidentally, I see God’s response as an open concession, not approval or pleasure.  Tomorrow’s follow-up will append a brief expansion on this point.

A program of remembrance (9/11/11)

On the 1st anniversary of 9/11, a few Highland Community College students and I presented an outdoor program for the campus.  On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, a more elaborate program was presented by the Houghton College Symphonic Winds and Friends (a few faculty and staff members from other areas, an area singer, and others).  Below is the program from that occasion:


Unique features of this program included poetry readings and an impassioned presentation of Psalm 27 accompanied by harp, with interludes.  Those aware of my lack of typical patriotism might be surprised to see that I planned this program, but my heart was all in the planning and the execution of it.  I believe it was a meaningful evening.

On this anniversary, now fifteen years after that day, I pause to remember again.  I remember the disbelief.  I remember the fear.  I remember a vague sense of hopelessness.  Yet I recognize that God is above even horrific evil, terror, and unimaginable human pain.  God has provided for eternal living.

P.S.  Another blog of mine deals with my book Subjects of the Kingdom That book aims to point all Christians to the surpassing allegiance due to the King of All, while questioning allegiance pledged to the U.S.A. and most forms of service offered to any nation-state.  The book’s overall thrust is toward the Kingdom of God.  In that course, it deals in some depth with the history of so-called “pacifist” thought and practice.  I invite all readers of this blog to click over to the other blog and follow it, as well.  It is a book blog—a very different type of blog—and is far less active than this one.


Words are best defined in context, and “diversity” is no exception.

Now, I might not be a fan of everything that has come from the societal, political push toward quote-unquote diversity, but I have to believe that diversity, in its purest form, is a better value than free speech.  On the road recently, I came to Harrison, Arkansas—a few miles from the site of the national HQ of the (reportedly) largest manifestation¹ of the KKK.  It was no surprise, then, when I sighted just south of Harrison a billboard that boldly proclaimed a very un-diverse message:


Imagine then my lack of surprise at the “diversity” manifest in the apparently competing billboard less than a mile closer in to town.


I’m not even sure what that means, but it’s clear that there is, or was, a billboard war going on.  At least the sign pictured above has apparently been displayed for more than a year, to the chagrin of most Harrison residents.  Is there racial diversity in and around Harrison?  Sure there is.  Is there a “Christian” (the quote marks here indicate affiliative Christianity, as opposed to the bona fide kind) person in the KKK in Harrison?  I imagine so.  Are there warring factions in the town’s polity?  It seems so.

In our society, racial diversity is frequently connected to justice.  It might even be assumed that a diverse group has enjoyed some measure of justice, or else it would not be diverse.  The matter is of course not that simple, but I can affirm that intentionally just/fair, kind, and dare-I-say merciful treatment of others is involved in a healthy diverse group.  Lately I’ve been confronted—based both on reading and pondering, and also by the words of a few correspondents—by thoughts of justice.  How will I as a would-be follower of the Messiah affirm the just treatment of people and even decry injustice?  What will this look like in my life?

I’m especially interested in diversity and good, kind, just action within smaller groups.  How will I do with differences in a small, local body of Christians?  In a small workplace?  In a town?  As conscientiously, intentionally apolitical as I am, I do exist within various polities, and it is incumbent on me to live in a positive, productive, peaceful way within all groups, inasmuch as it depends on me.

¹ I did my internet-writer duty and looked it up on Wikipedia.  Some northern readers might find it hard to believe that the KKK still really exists, but I already knew that.  I learned that “three distinct past and present movement” comprise the KKK, and that there is currently more than one KKK organization.

Self-perpetuating professions

Military Bands
Former and current officers of the premier college band directors organization have, at least twice now, suggested a campaign to inform and activate Americans who have benefited from community concerts by our country’s military service bands.  Here is most of the text of the e-mail received late on 6/20/16.


By now you probably have seen or heard about the legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives regarding the defunding of all non-base related performances by our fine military bands. . . .

Amendment 48 to H.R. 5293, the 2017 Defense Appropriations Act, was passed by voice vote on Thursday.  It now goes to the Senate.  This amendment would severely curtail the missions of every military musical unit, effectively eliminating concerts, parades, and any other event not directly in support of a military ceremony on a military base.  This would include performances at universities and conferences such as the Midwest Clinic, ABA and CBDNA.

If you think this is ill-advised, there are several things you can do to help.

The most effective course of action would be to personally contact your U.S. Senators . . .  I have included a link below to help you find contact information for the Senators from your state.

There are also several on-line petitions going that you might like to join. . . .

The last time this happened, Mary Leurhrson from the National Association of Music Merchants suggested immediate phone calls to senators urging full funding of military bands.  She further suggested Facebook and Twitter to broaden the dissemination of the message.  The NAMM clearly had financial interests that were being threatened.

Mixed Feelings:
My own feelings are mixed.  On one hand, I have loved and benefited from the performances of many service bands.  Three students performed last year with one of the service jazz bands.  I regularly use military band recordings and have also used other pedagogical resources they provide.  At least three former musical associates perform with service bands based in D.C., another one got an audition, and many have probably dreamed of it.  My first horn teacher was a member of the U.S. Marine Band (“The President’s Own”).  It is an honor to have conducted, learned from, and played with musicians who have attained to such professional heights.

On the other hand, something seems disingenuous about the very existence of the armed forces bands.  They seem to exist largely for the purpose of self-perpetuation.  The band concerts certainly please the public and result in goodwill and community energy.  They also provide resources free of charge.  Bands can’t honestly expect to recruit actual fighting men and women, though.  Surely no military intelligence personnel, candidates for the special forces and infantry and nuclear subs and Air Force bombardiers, etc., are secured because of band concerts.

Service bands could be seen as professional-quality, colorful sponges that soak up tax money, and it seems to me that they have decreasing justification for existence.  (I also disagree with some other excesses of our nation’s military spending and probably a lot of foreign policy, whether explicit or de facto, but I consider military spending and the military itself to be matters of civil government—outside my primary world, which is God’s kingdom.)

A high-level musician who wins a position as a career musician in one of the Air Force bands, for instance, has a fulfilling career herself, but she is not really doing anything for the country’s military machine other than taking some monetary and other resources from it.  Here, please understand that I am most decidedly not a supporter of the military machine.  I am not in this essay intending to bolster or otherwise support the military.  Rather, it is my goal to discuss this particular enterprise within the current U.S. military as an example of at-least-partially-ill-advised, self-perpetuating professions that have questionable justification for existence.  Secondarily, it is my intent to call out the self-interest of (most) band professionals for what it is.  It’s genuine, and it’s about trying to perpetuate something in our field of high quality, and it’s self-serving.

Why should the military bands not be perpetuated?  Certainly not because of any lack of quality in the performances.  The musicianship and performances are excellent.  (Caveat:  please see this post that mentions what I perceive as a lack of certain conducting skills in some military conductors.)  Certainly not because of a lack of intent to serve the public.  No, it’s only because they are doing something that’s taking a lot of funding and not really supporting the mission of their parent organization(s).  Imagine an arm of a financially troubled, family-owned concrete company that uses business funds to hold high school pep rallies.  Or a struggling coal magnate with a hobby sideline of hosting regional Special Olympics contests.  The pep rallies and Special Olympics events are nice, and they are at their root serving various publics, but they are not by any stretch what the parent organizations are to be about.  Like military bands, if those enterprises were to take money without materially contributing to the main organization’s goals, they probably ought to be stopped.

“The Stars and Stripes Forever” rarely fails to inspire smiles and hand-claps and foot-taps, but performing a medley of movie themes is about as close as these bands get to “pop culture,” so a disconnect exists between service bands and the public.  The era of John Philip Sousa (who spent a dozen years or so as the conductor of “The President’s Own” Marine Band) and his ilk reached its zenith many decades ago, and military band music, while it remained relatively popular for a while, is no longer the music of the public.  I have myself heard two military concert band concerts in the last ten months, and it’s obviously a pleasing experience for a segment of the population.  I don’t downplay the appeal for a few of us, but I have trouble imagining that there is a very real governmental purpose fulfilled by performing symphonic band music—music to which I myself often happen to thrill.  It is time to become fully cognizant of the current scenario, and if cutbacks are indicated, or even if disbanding these bands that now exist largely for their own sake were to seem prudent to those who make such decisions, I can’t object.

Other Examples:
Music teachers are also engaged in a self-perpetuating enterprise, to an extent:  we are training students to do what we do, so that they will in turn be able to train other students to do what we all do.  Many college teachers in other disciplines are just as suspect in this respect:  how many research professors and teachers of upper-level courses are doing something that leads to more of the same?  They research and write articles in order to obtain grants and attain to full professorships, teaching prospective graduate students to be engaged in the same discipline–so that they, too, will be able to obtain grants to research similar matters, parlaying those researches into further teaching opportunities.  And all this is for the benefit of whom?  Music teachers benefit both directly and indirectly from the perpetuation of the music education field (and of the success of the music education lobby!).  Ecology and “sustainability” professors train future Ecology and “sustainability” professors, and the former are thus the beneficiaries of their own work, in that they get paid for training their successors.

In churches, it is also sometimes the case that certain roles exist for their own sake.  Preachers sometimes have sons who take over their churches.  (Of course, preachers [or pastors or rectors or whatever you want to call them] should not be running churches, anyway, but that’s another topic.)  Seminaries train seminarians to keep things going.  (Some of those things are good; some are not.)  In my tradition, church elders may self-select new elders much like themselves, guaranteeing the status quo —just as with the military concert bands and the music education field, and with many other vocational fields.

None of these institutions ought to operate this way unless there is intrinsic, mission-related value.  Whether it’s a military band, a church, or an academic discipline, I figure any organization that asks for money should have a mission that’s serving a real need of its constituency, not pulling new people into the existing systems merely in order to keep them running.

Meaningless and Meaning-full

These phrases strike me as being virtually devoid of meaning:

1. “One of the most … ”  (and its ne’er-do-well brother “some of the most”)

2.  “Save up to X%!” (or its fraternal twin “prices as low as $X”)

3.  “Separate and apart from the Lord’s Supper, …” (used in attempts to introduce, and justify the sequence [existence?] of, the offering or collection in the liturgy)

On the other hand, the statements below are chock full of meaning and inspiration:

My kingdom is not from this world.  If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews.  But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.  – Jesus (John 18, NRSV)

For we no longer take up sword against nation, nor do we learn war any more, having become children of peace, for the sake of Jesus, who is our leader.”  ‑ Origen of Alexandria (3rd century CE, Against Celsus 5.33)

Constantine introduced a fatal confusion into Christ’s religion, said [Roger] Williams, when he created this political-religious, messy mixture called Christendom.  It is because of Christendom that we have come to speak of Christian nations, Christian States, Christian institutions.  For Williams, there were no such things.  There was only Christianity, a truth that dwells only in the hearts and souls of women and men.  It is not found in kingdoms, for kingdoms do not convert, do not enter into heaven.  ‑ Edwin Gaustad (2005, Roger Williams, 98-99).

[W]hen everyone became a church member in the Christian empire, both the level of discipleship in the church and the level of expectation for the inbreaking of God’s new order in their midst diminished in tandem. – C. Leonard Allen (2004, Things Unseen, 166)

Righteousness and purity entailed for the Brethren a radical separation from the values and ways of the world.  Thus, no Anabaptist could serve as a ruler or magistrate in an earthly kingdom—a calling the Brethren viewed as diametrically opposed to service in the Kingdom of Christ.  The Brethren also proclaimed a rigorous pacifism and refused to fight under any circumstances….  To the Brethren, non-resistance was simply the Master’s chosen path.  ‑ Richard T.  Hughes (1988, “Restoring an Apostolic Lifestyle:  Anabaptists,” in C. Leonard Allen and Richard Hughes, Discovering Our Roots, 131)

[Not accommodating themselves to] American culture through deism, patriotism, and materialism[s], Lipscomb and Harding … promoted a kingdom vision that saw the world differently than either the right or left.  ‑ John Mark Hicks, Bobby Valentine (2006, Kingdom Come, 17)

Whoever awaits God’s revolution will not wish to waste his time sewing new patches on old cloth.  ‑ Erich Grässer (1974, “Understanding the Kingdom of God,”)