In this time of year (4)

Worship words for Messiah Jesus on Sunday morning . . .

Jesus, Son of the Father

Verse 1:
We have been with Jesus, believing in His name,
And we have known His saving blood.  We refuse to be the same.

Verse 2:
Ancient words of kingdom spread—confirmed in wonders true.
Life’s Prince was raised Who once was dead—God’s Messiah, giv’n for you.

Verse 3:
Gathered here, devoting all at table, pray’r, and song.
We pledge to heed His loving call; to our LORD they’ll know we belong.

Chorus
Jesus, Son of the Father—risen, ascended, reigning at His right—
We are compelled in worshipping You, Lord.
You’re present both here and in eternal light.

Words and Music by Brian Casey
© 2011 Encounter Music

Lord of All

Lord of All, we come to You with our hearts and our voices.
Now we sing with one accord to the Lord of All.
Alleluia!  Alleluia!
Oh, sing to the Lord of All.


Words and Music by Brian Casey
© 2004 Encounter Music

In this time of year (3)

A meditation for Saturday:  on unfinished responsiveness to finished work . . .

Verse 1

It is finished.  It is complete—

The work of Jesus, Lord of history.

He gave in once and for all—

The Lord on Skull Hill.

Now His Spirit calls,

And I thank You for Your grace.
I would have been nothing without You in my place!

Verse 2

My Jesus waits for me

With the Father in heaven—God of all that breathes.

Great is Your love, eclipsing my sin.

Your hand invites me,
And I enter in.

There’s no greater love than this,
And I in return lavish my love with a kiss.¹

Postlude

It is finished.  This I believe.
Regeneration I would receive. . . .

Words and Music by Brian and Karly Casey
© 2004-2011 Encounter Music


¹ The reference is to Luke 7:37-50—and particularly to the apparently spontaneous gesture of the woman.  The notion of a kiss as a worship gesture is seriously limited, but the woman of Luke 7 and the etymology of προσκυνέω | proskuneo (although not used in Luke 7) suggest that it is not entirely inappropriate to make the connection.

Opening post from this seasonal series: https://blcasey.wordpress.com/2017/04/09/in-this-time-of-year-1/

In this time of year (2)

I have developed an aversion to being where other people are on Ash Wednesday.  I’m not sure exactly why this is, but it’s probably for one or more of these reasons:

  1. The ash-mark-on-forehead symbol is not in my world of experience and is neither a habit nor an interest of mine.
  2. Although I’m confident that some choose and accept the ashen symbol very sincerely, I’ve never been sure how to respond (or not) to those who use it.
  3. I don’t want anyone to think I am disinterested in Jesus because my forehead lacks a dark mark.

Speaking painfully candidly here:  I confess the need to be more interested in Jesus—more devoted to the memory and meaning of His singular suffering, yes—but beyond that, more devoted to hearing, learning from, and following Jesus.  Otherwise, how will my son (or anyone else) have any idea?


Opening post from this seasonal series: https://blcasey.wordpress.com/2017/04/09/in-this-time-of-year-1/

In this time of year (1)

Seasons and Times   Seasons come and go.  I tend to like spring and fall better than summer or winter, although the best summer and winter days can be great, too.   For many, the spring season is associated with Easter.  I don’t get into bunnies or pastel colors or egg hunts; most years, I haven’t done much more with Easter than with any other Sunday.  I do think that it makes a lot more sense for Christian believers to pay spiritually based attention to both Passover and Easter than to Christmas, but there’s no requirement.  “Holy Week” as a whole merits some attention as a time of remembrance and observance—especially for those with high church background and/or present-day liturgical inclinations.  Palm Sunday festivities¹ are of moderate interest to me; they have their place, especially for children.

Terms and Traditions   Words such as “ash” and “Maundy” go right over my head.  I’m not drawn in by invented labels such as “Maundy Thursday” and “Holy Communion” that seem to draw significance based on notions of sacrament, tradition, and trappings.  If you have a “communal meal during which we’ll memorialize the Lord’s death in a focused way,” invite me, and I’ll likely be there.  On the other hand, if you call it a “Maundy Thursday Service of Holy Communion,” I’ll probably pass.

I don’t suppose it matters much whether Jesus was crucified in (what we now think of as the year) 27 or 29 or 30 or 33.  What matters is that it was a very real event, at approximately that point in the world’s history.  The historical and symbolic connections to the Passover are important, too.

Good Friday   This Easter season, I was glad to be asked to be one of seven readers at a local church’s Good Friday event.²  The plan is thoroughly conceived and very well laid out, with exceptionally nicely put instructions for all who will be involved.  I am looking forward to participating in this way, because I really enjoy public reading, and because I am of the strong opinion that such reading should be intentional and as well executed as possible.  I don’t even mind ignoring the (10%? 40%?) chance that Jesus was crucified on a Thursday, not a Friday.

At any rate, my assigned readings are relatively lengthy ones from John 19 (“woman, behold your son . . . behold your mother”) and Ephesians 2 (bringing together Jew and non-Jew the through the cross).  I’m working on a hybrid rendering that will communicate in the best possible way.  I might even translate a little on my own, but I want to be careful not to get too far off the beaten path.  To call attention to history and theology through public reading is good, but it would be unwise to use words so unusual that they distract from the message.

During the next few days, I will share some additional Easter-ish ponderings.  At the moment, my spring thinking has sprung from songs, so those lyrics might be springboards.  (Also, I rarely turn down the opportunity for wordplay.  Jesus seems to have done that on occasion, too.  I imagine He would smile at my efforts.  Or perhaps not.)

In the meantime, this “Easter songs” post from two years ago might provide some devotional opportunity for those so minded and spirited.


¹ Exploring the word “Hosanna” can be interesting.  I’d suggest that in many places, it’s a word that has changed in meaning.

²  I can’t make myself call it a “Good Friday service,” because I find that use of the word “service” neither scripturally based nor helpful.  The Good Friday program involves a well-thought-out sequence, so it is admittedly more appropriate to call this a “service” than a regular Sunday gathering in my ideal world.

Behind a wall of clouds

Maybe I could have been a photographer . . . if I had had some training and equipment and patience, that is.

I went on a quick ride this evening.  As I was starting out, I caught this in my field of vision, so I went to a high spot and took a quick phonecam shot.  Depending on your screen resolution and your ability to see beyond the photographer’s limitations, you might have to use some imagination here.  Look between the lowest two power lines.  Believe me:  it was impressive in real life.

Ignore the lines and the soccer goals.  It’s not the budding trees or the meadow or the typically nice western sky at this time of evening that struck me.   The fiery, floating clouds at the top are nice, but, specifically, I was awed by the sharp line that reveals some mostly hidden but seriously potent light behind a wall of clouds.

Often that’s the way God seems to me.

The glorious Psalm 19 records a burst out of David’s soul:  “The heavens declare the glory of God. . . .”  Or, as Eugene Peterson has it,

1-2 God’s glory is on tour in the skies,
    God-craft on exhibit across the horizon.

Yet the exhibited glory is not always visible or even satisfying.

“Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire!” asked the prophet Isaiah.  Is it possible that we should be grateful for God’s hiddenness, rather than disappointed?

Philip Yancey, Disappointment with God, © 1988, p. 75

– B. Casey, 4/5/17

Issues with literalism

Some literalism is a good thing, but I’m afraid my son is now in training for the ranks I unwittingly joined long ago—those or us who are often over-literal (and who are hindered in life because of the trait).

Image result for literal wordsThinking and hearing and reading over-literally can keep me from understanding things.  I’m not dealing here with the overuse of the word “literally” in common speech.  No, it’s more of a sometimes-exaggerated sense of what isolated words mean within a passage of text or in a spoken message.  In the middle of a conversation, my brain can get hung up on a word, trying to make sense out of it and wondering about its strict meaning . . . and going into an exploratory hermeneutical limbo while the unsuspecting person finishes her sentence.

When I read the redundant, presumably erroneous phrase “recapitalizing the operating capital,” I wonder if I need to adjust my literal understanding of at least one of the instances of the root “capital,” or perhaps the phrase wasn’t written well.  (And I miss the rest of the paragraph.)

I get stuck on the list of “principal parts” of Greek verbs, because I try to figure out what the parts are parts of, literally speaking.  (And I remain confused about, say, imperfect middle/passive vs. aorist middle, and pluperfect middle/passive.  [I know.  Who wouldn’t be confused?  But my comprehension issues can be partly related to over-literalism.])

I hear the prophetic phrase “every mountain will be brought low,” and I wonder just how the figure of speech might have been intended 3,000 years ago, and how it should be understood today.  Is it topographical mountains or conceptual ones?  Maybe both?  And what does it mean to be “brought low,” exactly?  A given interpretation might be more or less literal, and more or less related to mountain type.  (And I try not to worry too much, for many greater minds have read and understood prophecy in terribly different ways, to each other’s chagrin.)

I rather randomly turned to a page of scripture in a supposedly “literal” translation and found these phrases without even trying:

  • “deserting Him who called you” (not a physical desertion; and, except in Paul’s case, not likely an audible calling)
  • “beyond measure” (a phrase that expresses extreme actions, not literal measuring)
  • “advancing in Judaism” (a verb that suggests physical motion used with reference to some kind of conceptual progress)
  • “He who had set me apart, even from my mother’s womb, and called me through His grace” (I count four figurative expressions here—two actions and two prepositional phrases)

– Galatians 1, NASB

Literalism in scripture reading and interpretation can actually be a bad thing, although the phrase “take God at His word” is generally meant as a positive notion.  It is possible to read some expressions of scripture (and, verily, to understand common phrases spoken in daily life) quite figuratively, thinking all the while that one is reading literally.  Even the idea of taking words in the Bible “at face value” can be a smokescreen for taking them as some individual wants you to take them. 

It is often a particularly bad idea to take prophecy literally, but even phrases in the epistles and sections in ostensibly narrative texts can involve symbolism and figurative meanings.  Quite a few of scripture’s idiomatic expressions, if understood truly literally, would make an exegete bark up the wrong tree.  (See what I did there?)  Poetry appears in scripture, too (sometimes, right alongside historical narrative!); surely it is clear that poetically conceived words should not be confined to “literal” interpretation.  Ponder Peterson’s preface to poetry in prayer:

Poetry is language with used with personal intensity.  It is not, as so many suppose, decorative speech.  Poets tell us what our eyes, blurred with too much gawking, and our ears, dulled with too much chatter, miss around and within us.  Poets use words to drag us into the depth of reality itself.  They do it not by reporting on how life is, but by pushing-pulling us into the middle of it.  Poetry grabs for the jugular.  Far from being cosmetic language, it is intestinal.  It is root language.  Poetry doesn’t so much tell us something we never knew as bring into recognition what is latent, forgotten, overlooked, or suppressed.  The Psalms text is almost entirely in this kind of language.  Knowing this, we will not be looking here primarily for ideas about God, or for direction in moral conduct.  We will expect, rather, to find the experience of being human before God exposed and sharpened.

– Eugene Peterson, Answering God:  The Psalms as Tools for Prayer
(c) 1989 Harper & Row

I wish I had at hand a similarly provocative introductory piece on prophecy.  Failing that and staying with poetry, please consider a few songs with me.  These are examples of song lyrics that I once took literally and decided, at least for a while, that I could not conscientiously sing:

1.  “I know not when my Lord may come—at night or noonday fair, or if I’ll walk the vale with Him or meet Him in the air.”  – st. 4 of I Know Not Why God’s Wondrous Grace

Sometime in my twenties, I decided not to sing that stanza.  The either-or statement in the second half of the stanza appears to preclude the possibility of interpreting “vale” as “valley of the shadow of death (if one takes the grammar literally).  The only remaining possibility is allowing for the possibility of a millennial reign on earth, and that is not part of my eschatology.  These days, although I still don’t expect that kind of reign, I don’t really care how it eventually turns out for the good of those on God’s side, so I suppose I could go with a less literal approach to the song and sing along.  The thing is, I think I’ve missed the chance, because this song really isn’t sung much anymore.  I can still remember the strength of its chorus.  When discouragements run rampant, it’s a good one (and pretty literally taken from scripture, at that):

“I know Whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him against that day.” (2Tim 1:12)

2.  “Through this world of toils and snares, if I falter, Lord, who cares? ” – st. 3 from Just a Closer Walk With Thee

When my college chorus sang that song, I would confidently clam up during those words.  I wouldn’t sing them.  I felt quite justified in my literalism, but I was stupid (or, if you’re into showing grace, “stupid” could be paraphrased as “befuddled by college-aged, pseudo-spiritual passion”). 

As with pretty much everything, the idea in that verse is better interpreted in context (wait … what? context? like, it matters in songs as well as in scripture?).  The verse continues, “Who with me my burden shares?  None but Thee, dear Lord.”  I now think the entire verse means something like, “If I falter in this world, I won’t let it cloud my overall view that you are with me!”

Thinking that the expression “Lord, who cares?” should be taken literally is as dumb as thinking that Ps. 51:5¹ is proof of the Calvinists’ hallmark doctrine of total depravity.  Here is an excellent example of Peterson’s suggestion of “intestinal” import of language, of expressions that leave the “experience of being human before God exposed.”

It’s poetry, people, not literal doctrinal instruction.

3.  Farther Along (Tempted and Tried)

This one may not fit in the same category.  It wasn’t the same type of question of literalness that kept me from singing this song, really.  It was the whole idea of the song.  It just bothered me to be so whiny.  At some point I allowed myself to lead and sing only the final stanza and chorus—and that only after one of the darkest discouragements of my life—but I still didn’t want to whine through all the whiny stanzas.  The fourth sufficiently expressed the negatives of this life in perspective:

“When we see Jesus coming in glory, when He comes from His home in the sky, then we will meet Him in that bright mansion.  We’ll understand it all by and by.”

These days, I’m not so sure I wouldn’t heartily sing the whole song.  There have been many times since that I have been “made to wonder why it should be thus all the day long” and have dealt, on a pretty literal basis, with other questions the song raises.  At this point, despite the ostensibly bad attitude and the hick-ish musical style, I suppose the whole song is okay by me.

Maybe you think I’ve caved with respect to my later decisions on the above songs.  On the other hand, maybe I’ve succeeded, in these few cases, in not being an over-literal interpreter.


¹ Ps. 51:5:  Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me . . . (KJV)


For more on literalism and literal interpretation:

Literal instructions (1/30/10)

Do we really take it literally? (Leroy Garrett) (12/11/09)

Interpretations and ironies (B) (interpretation of prophecy—pretty heavy) (12/8/15)

Strike That:  A Take on “Battle Hymn of the Republic” in Hymnals (today!)

BONUS:  A fresh Logos Academic Blog writer on words, semantic range, context, and more.  This is not for the faint of heart, but it’s also entertaining, mixing Humpty Dumpty, Japanese missionary humor, linguistic instruction, and context.

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Conductors from whom I’ve learned

This post is a tribute to influential conductors.  I’ve learned things from all of these; in some cases, the impact has been broad and deep.

I’ll start with men I never had the opportunity to learn from in person but whose conducting has, in one way or another, had strong impact on me.  Of the conductors I have only seen on video, three deceased men rise to the top as those I would like to have learned from, had I the opportunity:

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Carlos Kleiber

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Leonard Bernstein

Image result for Frederick Fennell

Frederick Fennell

Kleiber is perhaps most admirable for his depth of score knowledge (albeit, reputedly, with a limited repertoire) and ability to show the music’s character; Bernstein and Fennell, perhaps for their unbridled passion and command.  If I knew his work better, one living composer might fall into a similar category for me:

Gustavo Dudamel

I played or sang under these next two only once or twice, back in the 1990s.  Those occasions are now in my distant memory, so I am not altogether sure how I would assess them as conductor-musicians at this point:

Mary Woodmansee Green
Miguel Harth-Bedoya

Green and Harth-Bedoya have the distinction of being conductors who had multiple, standing appointments (as opposed to being a principal guest or regular guest conductor) in different cities.  That always struck me as a goal to which to aspire, but I’m not so sure anymore.  A life of perpetual flux and travel is not very desirable.

Of all those conductors under whom I have performed on a regular basis for some period of time, the next two seem the most exemplary to me at this juncture.  One is deceased, another in his seventies.  Their personalities were markedly different, and I learned very different things from them in vastly different scenarios and phases of life.  In their respective idioms and milieux, they were strong leaders and rehearsers, and they both had impact on me:

Image result for "kenneth davis, jr"
Kenneth Davis, Jr. (Harding University)
Robert Streckfuss (University of Delaware)

There have been many conductors that I do not feel I have learned much from.  Some of these seem to be viewed by others as iconic, and at times, I have been unable to discern why.  Other times, I happen to have had similar skill sets and values, so I didn’t particularly take anything from them.  I suspect the strengths of some lie not in conducting per se, but more in their musicianship or program leadership effectiveness or administration than in their conducting and artistry on the podium.  I will not list names in this category, because it is not my desire here to be critical of any individuals in the slightest.  There are actually two or three from whom I learned negative lessons, i.e., “Brian, do not do as s/he did!”  Like many others, I witness unhelpful and/or stylistically inappropriate division of beat, spasmodic gesture, and other nonverbals that should be checked in a mirror or on a video recording.

Other lessons have been interpersonal in nature:  one has consistently modeled, as a gentleman musician, how to treat people with dignity; another once displayed in the starkest terms what a travesty can be made of the communal music-making experience when a conductor shows no human concern or care for what an individual musician is going through in life.

Leaving generalities and negatives behind . . . the next group is short list of conductors whose work has impacted me in unique ways.  They have affected me for good and have been particularly exemplary in one or more respects:

Richard Mayne
Kenneth Singleton
H. Robert “Bob” Reynolds

I never had the opportunity to play under Reynolds, a true prince of conducting pedagogues, but I did spend a little time with him, both personally and in a group.  At summer symposia, he shared a lesson or two I won’t forget.  Here, I honor Reynolds (who taught some who taught me) along with two graduate professors who were and are examples of generosity, teaching, and devotion to music-making and students.

The next list includes a few more I’ve learned from at symposia, plus others I have observed on only one or two occasions.  These conductors strike me as highly artistic, but they have not been specifically formative in my development.

Patrick Casey (no relative)
Steve Davis
Craig Kirchhoff
Cynthia Johnston-Turner
Jerry Junkin
Sarah McKoin

In a couple of the above instances, chronologically distant memories are still strong of impressive, beautiful, controlled gesture, perfectly connected with sound (McKoin and Casey).  For the others, the traits I admire include the humble handling of personal charisma and visible passion.

These last two conductors exhibit different yet overlapping sets of strengths.  Among all those I have played under or observed on multiple occasions, I have learned most from these two, who rise above all the rest, in my estimation.  One knows me, and the other doesn’t.  These are the two most formative, most deeply admired conductors in my experience.  Image result for allan mcmurray

Allan McMurray

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Mallory Thompson

Above, I have opted to show McMurray and Thompson doing one thing they both do very well:  teach younger, aspiring conductors.  In the next post on this topic, I will offer some more detailed praise of these two, as well as the concert offered at the CBDNA conference by Thompson’s ensemble, the Northwestern University Symphonic Wind Ensemble.

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Hurtado on origins

I regularly read a couple of academically oriented biblical studies blogs.   I should read more, but time and energy have their constraints.  One of the ones I read is by Larry Hurtado, a first-rate scholar, relatively recently retired from the University of Edinburgh.  His blog would not always be attractive to the masses since it focuses on academic research and chronicles his own contributions and exposures along with those of significant others.  However, as I said, his work is of high repute, and from time to time there is something that I wish every thoughtful person would read.

There have been quite a few posts about interviews and podcasts related to his 2016 book Destroyer of the gods (sic)m but this write-up on the intended audience(s) of the book will bring good summary, thought-provoking insights into aspects of Christian origins.  The nascent Christian movement (1st century CE) ought to be impressive to anyone of sound mind.

To give a taste to those who opt out of clicking into the full post, here are the final words, a quote that leads Hurtado’s book:

“Even in an age that some describe as post-Christian, the beginnings of the strange movement that was to become Christianity in all its varieties continue to fascinate thoughtful people . . . Yet something more than mere curiosity about an ancient puzzle draws our attention to the first centuries of Christian history.  Our interest in the question betrays our awareness that, whether or not we regard ourselves as Christians or in any way religious, we cannot altogether escape the tectonic shift of cultural values that was set in motion by those small and obscure beginnings.”  (The Origins of Christian Morality:  The First Two Centuries, Yale University Press, 1993, p. 1).

Acoustics, concert programming, and the “new band-y”

In hearing nine concerts in the Kaufmann Center’s Helzberg Hall during a period of four days, I began to perceive (I’m stopping short of “concluding”) that wind bands play too much loud music too often, especially when they are trying to impress more than their normal audiences.  Image result for image "helzberg hall"Moreover, the amazing Helzberg Hall may be slightly better for intra-ensemble acoustics (the players can hear each other really well) than for audiences listening to wind and percussion instruments.  Helzberg’s acoustic design, based on the interior of a cello, produces fine results, not to mention being visually appealing, but it can be almost too resonant for the typical dB output of a modern wind band with strong tone and a high performance level.

During the CBDNA conference, I made it a point to sit in four different areas of the hall, and it seemed to me that the wind band sound tended to be the most overwhelming in places that might be assumed to be optimum seating.  Another attendee and I briefly discussed the sound and the concerts, and he suggested the ensembles might have needed more rehearsal time in the hall.  (I observed that one group had at least an hour to do sound checks.)  Another variable could be the artistic leadership and musicianship level of certain groups.  In other words, I think it is the most mature groups with the most discerning leaders that have been the most sonically successful, and the least overwhelming, in the aggregate.

Hearing new repertoire is always a great benefit of Midwest and CBDNA conferences, and this event was no exception.  Despite the overwhelming positives, some of which I will caption below, I think that too much of the new rep tends toward what I might call “the new band-y.”  Stereotypically band-y sonorities of the second half of the twentieth century have their place, and I love some of those pieces, but variety is good—if not to save the ears or delight the senses, then to continue developing the outside world’s perception that wind band music can be artistic music and is not to be relegated to a second-class box behind string or full-orchestral or choral music.  The music of some of these CBDNA concerts struck me as too much “in your face”—too loud, heavy-hitting, and too much brash, full-ensemble texture.  Those accusations (and others, e.g., “humdrum, formulaic compositional technique”) could also be leveled at much of the 1970s and 1980s school band repertoire—a repertoire that in general terms has been pejoratively labeled “band-y” by those of us who want to move toward a richer, more nuanced repertory.  Although no observation here is intended as absolute, I’d say that several of the ensembles featured at the conference could have spent more time exploiting transparent, one-on-a-part chamber textures and softer dynamic levels.  One university performance in particular showed a lack of discerning programming:  stylistic, textural imbalance was evident.  On the up side, some of the in-your-face pieces were very effective and even powerful, but there were simply too many of them.  None of this is to say that the ensembles didn’t have the capacity to play varied kinds of artistic music; it is to suggest that some of them didn’t display enough variety in their programs.

With those criticisms behind, I’d now like to highlight a few positives from some of these programs.  I was enraptured buy a new (transcribed) clarinet concerto¹ by Jonathan Leshnoff and was also wowed by Mason Bates’s 2015 percussion concerto Sideman—both premiered by the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music Wind Ensemble.  This ensemble is now led by Rob Carnochan, a conductor I met in at my first CU-Boulder symposium in 2001, as I was at the dawn of my conducting training.  Here are some other notable pieces on my “yes” list:

MSU

KU

  • BJ Brooks:  The Butterfly Chaser (2016) (YouTube link)
  • Aaron Perrine:  A Glimpse of the Eternal (2016) (an impressive, four-minute work with fanfare figurations)

UMKC

  • Zhou Long:  Concerto for Wind Symphony:  Ancient Echoes (2017)

OSU

UG

UT

  • Adam Schoenberg:  Symphony No. 2:  Migration (with movements about aspects of emigration/immigration)
  • Jennifer Jolley:  The Eyes of the World Are Upon You (2016) (homage to the deceased and survivors of the first mass school shooting on record, at UT in 1966)

Scott McAllister’s Freebirds (2010) didn’t work too well for me; it seemed a gratuitous, vain attempt to bring Lynyrd Skynyrd into the realm of wind instruments.  Leonard Bernstein’s Symphonic Suite from On the Waterfront (1955), transcribed in 2012 by Jay Bocook, was performed by the UMKC Conservatory Wind Symphony and Conservatory Dancers.  This piece does work, and very well!  The performance was one of a kind in spatial and visual terms, and the music was celebratory, energetic, and musical, to boot.  I had the added pleasure of seeing a former student from South Texas perform in this group.

It should be stated that the schools represented above are some of the finest, most highly reputed schools of music in the country:  Michigan State and the universities of Georgia, Texas, Kansas.  (These schools tend to rank alongside the U of Mich, Eastman, the New England Conservatory, U of North Texas, CU-Boulder, Indiana U, and others.)  In a future post, I will treat the concert I considered the best of the entire conference—a Saturday afternoon offering by Northwestern University’s (Chicago) Symphonic Wind Ensemble—specifically appraising two stellar pieces that ensemble performed.


¹ The other clarinet concerto heard during this conference was transcribed by Craig Davis from John Corigliano’s original orchestral version, was performed virtuosically by Jonathan Gunn, but it is not high on my list as a composition.

An ill-conceived brochure on tithing

I invite readers to consider churchianity’s affirmation of the practice of tithing.  While tithing per se is no longer applicable to believers, some form of this practice is assumed by nearly all established churches.  Certainly, generous giving can be a good thing, yet God’s purposes can also be subverted by greedy institutionalisms and doctrinaire concoctions related to tithing.

Some might not understand the energy with which I pursue this topic.  In my mind, at least, it is not a “hobby” (see introductory last post here); rather, it is a real concern that should be considered by more serious believers.  Why not just be nice boys and girls and give money to your local church, not worrying about whether it’s considered a tithe?  Again, there is much to be said for simple generosity and for supporting bona fide benevolence, outreach, and teaching efforts with one’s money.  However, the problems related to tithing per se run deep, and they call for elucidation.  Here, I hope to facilitate consideration and growth in understanding.


Last fall I was in a large, contemporary church building for a couple of events, and I happened to amble over to a rack full of brochures.  One of them was called “Guidelines for Giving,” and I should never have picked up a copy.  Or maybe I should have.  The brochure was replete with a hermenuetical error, not to mention some other carelessness.  The fundamental error, seen in its best light, is a lack of discrimination that melds Old Covenant Torah law & the Levitical priesthood with the contemporary Christian church’s M.O.

Here is the inside of the brochure, with a few of my markings:

givingbrochure

Depending on your device/computer and its applications and settings, you may be able to click on the image and see as much as you’re interested in.  Essentially, my highlights and notes acknowledge that sincere love may be seen in giving.  They also point out that most of the proof texts employed are found in the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament).  When God told (past tense) ancient Israelites to do something, that telling cannot logically be pressed into the Christian age without a hermeneutical jump or gyration of some kind.   Moreover, I would suggest that the author of this brochure manifests a rather flat, non-granular view of scripture.

Now, here are some separate bits from the other page of this tri-fold, with commentary below each insertion:

tithe2The make-believe dialogue hits me as . . . well, made up.  Who really asks, “What if I can’t afford to tithe?”  Not as many people as the institutional church wishes, I’m sure!  When a church fabricates this question, it makes for itself an opportunity to say, “Give to me!  This church!  Give to us!”

I don’t mind that this denomination used and defined the expression “spirit of poverty,” but I don’t find it to be a particularly scripture-based phrase, and I wish the brochure had acknowledged that fact.  Furthermore, connecting a monetary contribution to the notion of “stepping out in faith and obedience” risks an improper tie between a denomination or its pastor on the one hand and God on the other.  In other words, obeying a denomination’s or pastor’s whims is not tantamount to obeying God.  (The difference between the notion of papal infallibility and hierarchically induced accountability to a protestant pastor or creed is a matter of degree.)

The advice set off between the bold lines (ahem . . . besides having a word missing) perpetuates the ignorance by presuming 10% is (still) some sort of magical God-ration.  In terms of general financial stewardship, it’s obviously a good idea to have a budget and not to overspend it.  I’ll give them that, BUT … being “faithful to tithe” is an Old-Covenant idea, not to be equated with Christian obedience.

tithe3

They go on.  I can hardly believe someone had the uneducated gall to put that assertion in print.  I beg to differ that “the Bible is very clear” here.  The church that was distributing this brochure meets in Missouri, so I demand, as if a good Missourian, “Show me!”  I counter-assert that there is no such passage in Christian scripture that says any such thing.  Not only is there no clarity on this; there is no solid information at all, really, and precious little hint.  The very phrase “the local church” above has taken on an identity beyond mere locale, suggesting an institution and a building with doors—doors that, by the way, wear out and need replacing, remember, so we need your money to buy new ones.  The idea of contributing to your local church is rather obviously not inherently bad, but neither is it a topic of scripture.  Further, the notion that any kind of giving is an “act of worship” is an extension of worship ideas at best and an adulteration of them at worst.  It would have been better to say something like this:  “The heart that wants to worship God vertically will also likely want to give money horizontally in order to help people—perhaps first in one’s own locale, but also beyond.”

Below is my own paraphrase of 1Corinthians 16:2.  (For more detail and translations of the surrounding context, see this blogpost.)

2 On the first day of the week, each one, put some money aside—saving it up (according to your financial prosperity)—so a focused collection effort as such shouldn’t be necessary when I get there.

Here, individuals are to set money aside, planning ahead for a specific need.  While there is some room for alternate translation, interpretation, and follow through here, it should also be said that the above text is really the only one in the Christian scriptures that suggests anything remotely connected to an institutional offering.¹  The connection is ostensibly negative:  Paul doesn’t want to have the hassle of a collection later.  We might surmise further, then, that a regular collection would not have been normative in Corinth, or else he might have just used that method-in-place when he got there.  No, the collective funding he was after was no regular occurrence but a one-time thing.  There is no ongoing, institutional common treasury suggested here; the picture painted is rather one of specific purpose, of a timely response to a need in one particular time period.

#3 offers helpful procedural advice, but it is a trifle self-serving for a church organization to be saying such things.  It comes off to me like salesmanspeak:  answering potential objections, closing the sale.

One can find good reason to contribute.  There are psychological/altruistic reasons to give charitably, and theologically based ones, and community-based ones.  Sure, give $ to your church collection plate if you want to, but don’t do it because it’s a “tithe” (originally a tax to support the Levites).  The simple fact is that habitual, institution-supporting weekly giving to a church treasury is not explicitly supported—or dealt with at all—in canonical Christian scripture.

Thus ends what some may feel was a ride on a hobby horse.  In the future, should I feel like yanking the ol’ gray mare down from her hook to take a spin, maybe I’ll have the restraint simply to refer to this post.


¹ I suppose the “widow’s mite” story could be seen as positively connected to institutional offering, but that was an observation in Jewish context.  Moreover, the lesson to be learned here may be primarily, or even exclusively, a negative one about the pharisees rather than a positive one about the widow.  Consider the surrounding context in Mark 12 and Luke 21.