The kingdoms parable interpreted

Please scan yesterday’s parable first if you haven’t read it already.  

Key facts of the story, for recall:  a talented Christian vocalist was chosen to impersonate a very non-Christian vocal performer on tours.  The vocalist seemed to leave her background behind, her fan base shifted, and no one seemed to recall that she had Christian roots.  She was, for all intents and purposes, functioning in another world.  Below is the interpretation of the parable.

The real story I have in mind is not yet over, so the conclusion to the last post was fabricated in the hope that it would eventually be proven false.  Yesterday’s storytelling amalgamated actual characters with some fiction, yet it was based on a lot of truth.

The problem here is not that a Christian vocalist was recognized as having huge dramatic and vocal talent.

Nor is the problem that she loved rock music.  (And I’m not just saying that because I myself like some rock music.)

That she patterned herself vocally to some extent after Parthenos is questionable, because it betrays something about Miriam’s standards, developed over a period of time, but even that might be excused.

The problem is that Miriam, purportedly from one kingdom, began to live in another kingdom, another world.  She seemed to have sold out, transferring her loyalty to the new world that stood opposed to the world of her first identity.  All her activity was in her new world.  The kingdom in which Miriam was living and Christ’s Kingdom were entirely incompatible, and she seemed to do nothing to counter either the impression or the underlying problem.

It has not been my point to make any sort of ultimate judgment, or even a temporal one, about “Miriam.”  I really have no idea whether the real character I have in mind has somehow been internally adhering to Christian faith during her Parthenos phase.  I do, on the other hand, mean to call attention to the apparent, dramatic shift from one system to another.  I find it inconceivable that one could live that much in the world of Parthenos and not be of that world.

B. Casey

Coming soon (Feb/March 2016): 

Subjects of the KINGDOM 
Foundations, Commentary, and Expository Essays

Historically, philosophically, and with pointed, timely commentary, this book deals with the two “kingdoms” . . . and, more directly, with the relationship of 

  1. the Christian, a subject in God’s kingdom
  2. civil governments, political systems, and military roles as manifestations of the other kingdom

The predominant viewpoints in this book, originating in the notion of the transcendence of God and His Kingdom, are relatively uncommon these days, yet they had in the past been more common.

Kingdoms and conflicts: a parable

Here is a short story—a parable—that leads to something bigger.

Please have these two things in mind when reading:  1) despite some obvious ties to one individual, I’m actually concocting a composite “vocal artist” based on more than one person; and 2) this was written nearly two weeks ago and has nothing to do with a famous performer who died more recently than that.

Once upon a time, there was a talented vocalist.  (Some people now call these “artists.”)

This singer gained a large following.  She went overboard with style.  She was flamboyant, known for excesses.

Her androgynous appearance was legendary, and she loved the attention.  She behaved flagrantly at times—even in overt crazes and drug-induced stupors.  Deviant sexual behaviors in public were commonplace with her.  Still, her popularity grew.

She was known ironically as Parthenos (≈ “virgin”) and made it a point to wear Christian symbols.  Many people were wowed by her and formed a fan club.  Other people were disgusted.

The story went on. . . .

During what we’ll call a “necessary hiatus” in Parthenos’s career, her backup band wanted to continue to tour, so they hosted a big Parthenos Soundalike contest.  One competitor rose above the others; without hesitation, the band accepted this new vocalist—”Miriam”—to play Parthenos in their concerts for the next year or so.  Now, as it happened, until this new opportunity came her way, Miriam the impersonator had been the lead singer in a Christian worship band.

That’s right, a Christian worship band’s lead singer was the soundalike chosen to play this Parthenos personage who was . . . well, not Christian except for a trinket or two.  As if to bolster the idea that she could “become” the other singer on stage, Miriam touted Parthenos as one of her major vocal influences.  Miriam took leave from her regular church role to tour as Parthenos.

For the next several months, Miriam lived in a dream world.  What a trip!  Concerts, benefits, new music, more concerts, and attention!  Adoring fans, knowing Miriam was not herself Parthenos, acted as if she were.

She originally thought she might “cross over” and influence Parthenos’s world from a Christian perspective.  Actually, though, Miriam began to capitulate to the other world.  GatherNoMoss magazine interviewed her and put her in a line with Ella Fitzgerald, Pat Benatar, and Miley Cyrus as an “influential female vocal artist.”  Miriam appeared on LGBTQ TV as an ideologically compatible guest, and the host didn’t even ask her about the Christian band she had been with only a few months prior.  Miriam did a solo album entitled “The Almost-Parthenos,” seeming to ignore her Christian roots.

In fact, in time, no one even remembered that Miriam had been associated with anything Christian.  Her fan base shifted notably, and those who had once been inspired by the genuineness of her Christian offerings were amazed at how ideologically far away she had traveled.

The end.

Tomorrow:  the interpretation of the parable


From old correspondence, on “new” songs (3)

Referring to the request for feedback published here, I share now my father’s earlier, much more succinct response to the campus minister’s inquiries:

Having worshiped with brothers & sisters in over 40 states, with focus on worship (especially in song) in Colorado, Nebraska, and Delaware, I am very much interested in your attempt as outlined above. Just need to have some of the terminology dealt with initially.  First, what do you mean by “worship” songs?  Where would “Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life,” “He Bore It All,” “I Am Mine No More,” and “Now Thank We All Our God” fit–if they fit?  Then, what is a “new” song?  An “old” song?  (Is date written the determining factor? Musical style? Congregational familiarity with it?)

Without having your answers, I could still be fairly confident in saying that the “one thing” you mention would include “heaven”–yet maybe not in the way you mean.  We have a plethora of songs about the eternal home or ones that deal with some aspect of it, but most of these don’t have “worship” embedded within them and don’t do an effective job of drawing worshipers to worship.

Here’s trusting that your attempt to improve our assembly times will glorify the Father and will help all of us learn better how to adore Him. This “home improvement” project will take a lifetime and will never produce a finished structure, but your efforts may help us all do a better job of looking and reaching heavenward, “where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.”

Because of the One we revere,

Gerald Casey

From old correspondence, on “new” songs (2)

Referring to the request for feedback published here, I share now the bulk of my response, with only a couple of omissions for sake of relevancy.

I greatly empathize with your goals, having led and worshipped in Delaware, Arkansas, Texas, Tennessee, Kansas, Missouri, and Colorado.  I’m fairly well in touch with “contemporary” music and also hold dear the richness of true hymns (those that address Deity with reverence, not just the “old songs”).

Like my father, I also would encourage you to define some terms such as “old songs” and “contemporary,” if and where you use the terms.  A new song to our church may not be new to the E-Free church 3 miles away; the same song will be “old” to our church in 5 years, though another church may not hear it for 20 more years.  Is “Jesus Is Lord” a contemporary song?  “Here I Am To Worship”?  “Holy, Holy, Holy” — which may have a new lyric line or chorus that’s made it popular since Matt Redman or Michael W. Smith recorded it?  I find that the term “old song” means something slightly different, in terms of chronology, to just about every person who uses it.

Also, the words “worship” and “praise” delineate in one way for some, almost in the opposite for others, and are synonymous for yet others.  Some seem to have very little idea that not everything we do in the assembly is worship (nor should it be), or that worship can and should be an activity of believers outside of the assembly.

So on to your questions (and I will basically deal with only one), realizing that the time for your data collection has probably passed by now:

> What is that one thing?  (ie. heaven, forgiveness, creation, etc.)

Since you mentioned it, I don’t think we’ve had very many creation-oriented praise songs written recently.  A wonderful song by Chris Rice comes to mind — I think it was just called “Hallelujahs.”  It describes nature scenes and concludes each thought with “and my soul wells up with hallelujahs.”  Moving.  But it’s not really singable a cappella.  “How Great Thou Art” fits the bill and continues to be sung by most churches periodically, but we need more of these types.

Speaking in terms of songs that have been written in the last, say, 10 or 15 years, we might need fewer songs that use cliché expressions — “lift our voice(s),” “lift up the name of Jesus,” and “here in Your presence,” for example, and anything that rhymes with the word “free” (a pet peeve of mine, though I think I’ve even used that rhyme in my own writing a time or two).  🙂  Then again, there are phrases that bear repeating over and over again, such as “holy, holy, holy” and “we bow down.”

Something that strikes me as fairly unique is expressing to God that we “believe in Him.”  An Amy Grant song did that 10-12 years ago, and there’s the gospel-song chorus “But we believe Thy footsteps trod its streets and plains, Thou Son of God….”  But to say to God, “We believe in You.  We accept that You created the world.  We worship You” is a great thing, and perhaps especially in this age.

I’m not currently leading musically, except, for instance, in the group we hosted in our home for worship last month.  But I am a constant observer (as well as participant!), and I’d like to observe this, while I’m expressing thoughts:  In a cappella churches that use “contemporary” music, it seems that there must be a concerted effort to teach harmony.  (And Ken Young’s arrangements should definitely not be the standard.  He’s got a great heart, but he doesn’t know how to arrange.)  The level of musical literacy is clearly decreasing.  Not that music is the end; it’s only one means of worshipping.  But in a fellowship that emphasizes singing so much, churches that don’t offer printed or projected music will soon not hear harmony from the pews.  They either need to make harmony available, or give up and use instruments.  Melody-only music will not hold people’s interest very long, no matter how “hip” the songs are.

Another pitfall is what I’ll call the “agitated style” of worship leading.  Typically, this problem exists in a cappella churches that have suffered in the past from funereal tempos that pervaded all songs and styles.  You know the type:  “O Happy Day” and “Christ the Lord Is Ris’n Today” were sung at the same tempo as “Abide with Me” and “When My Love To Christ Grows Weak” — all at about 60 beats per minute.  These churches live in comatose states for years, and then some fresh blood comes in to try to save the day.  Now many songs are not only too fast, but beats are skipped at the end of each phrase in an effort to breathe some life into things.  No one can catch a breath, and there is little feeling of congregational unity.  What results is often an annoying lack of rhythm — all in the name of enthusiasm and excitement that are well intended but out of balance.

It’s ironic that if this generation’s music is anything, it’s rhythmically oriented, but when contemporary songs are imported into an a cappella setting, the rhythm suffers so that no one can feel the beat anymore.  Part of the problem is the longer notes that are, in the original versions, supported by non-vocal musical material.  In a non-instrumental setting, it feels like forever to hold a whole note tied to a half note in the next measure.  Add to this the apparent shyness of some modern worship leaders about using their hands to help keep the beat and keep the congregation together — I know, it feels “old-school” to beat time — but the problem is made worse when beats are skipped and no one can predict when the leader is going to sing the next note because there are no visual cues, either.

I feel very strong about quality and depth in lyrics.  For 10 years or more I have been a proponent of newer songs, but I have tried to be careful about injecting a repertoire with a syringe full of all-new songs gathered simply because of their newness.  Yes, I agree:  God wants new songs!  Newness is good.  But not all songs that are written are worthwhile just because they’re new.  Neither does association with a performing artist, a movement, or a denomination guarantee quality.  I particularly get tired of Vineyard songs.  After one or two, they all sound the same.  It would help if they weren’t all in the keys of D and G—keys particularly friendly to the average or below-average guitar player.  🙂

What do we need more of?  I think you’re on the right track just by asking the question.  We need to give thought to such facets as the uniqueness of the thoughts in the given song.  We need more worshipful communion songs, for instance, but the thoughts need to add something to what we already have.  I surveyed 5 or 6 CofC hymnals 10 years ago and tabulated the topical themes of songs (e.g., <Songs of Faith and Praise> might have had 26% songs addressed worshipfully to the Father, while <Songs of the Church> only had 4% of the same category), but I doubt those results would be of interest to you now.

From old correspondence, on “new” songs

A staff minister in Colorado sent out a “survey” about new songs several years back.  I received it third-hand.  My dad wrote in reply to this youth minister, and I wrote a few weeks later.  Neither of us ever received a reply.

                I am currently serving as campus minister with the _______ Church.  I’m doing a small survey on the topic of worship songs, and I would be very grateful if you could take a few moments to respond with your feedback.

                I am blown away by the sheer number of times the psamist proclaims “sing a new song” in his lyrics.  New songs reveal the dynamic, growing nature of our faith, and can challenge, inspire, and simply provide a new way to celebrate.  But often, I feel that we either sing new songs simply because they’re new, without giving much though to what the songs communicate.  Or we just sing mostly old songs.  As a songwriter, worship leader, and growing follower of Jesus, I believe in a balance of not forgetting the old, but striving towards new (and even improved) expressions of our faith in songs.  What this requires is a dedicated effort by songwriters, leaders, and everyone else, to create songs that are meaningful, that lyrically address relevant issues/emotions, and that display musical excellence.  This is especially needed in many of our communities where singing a cappella, or mixing instruments and the a cappella singing style presents unique challenges, but also profound opportunities for innovation.

                So for now, I am trying to find out what kinds of worship songs we need more of in our worship gatherings.  I know you’ve probably had the feeling of wanting to sing or lead a song that communicates a certain feeling or idea, but you didn’t know of any or many songs that communicate that one thing.  So my question is:

    • What is that one thing?  (i.e., heaven, forgiveness, creation, etc.)
    • What kind of songs do we need more of?
    • Less of?
    • What are we missing?
    • What should we be communicating to God and each other in our corporate times of singing?

                 I would appreciate your feedback on any of these questions, and for that matter on any other relevant ideas or issues that relate to this discussion.  I plan to compile the information I receive and write it up in article form, so let me know if you’d like to read that when it’s done.  If you wish to be placed on an email list that will serve as a discussion forum for these issues, just let me know.  Also, please forward this to anyone you think might be interested in this discussion.  Thanks so much for your time!  May God be glorified and be given the very best we have to give!

What are your thoughts on the above?

As usual, I’m more interested in the content than in the style, and for that reason above others, I appreciate this guy’s questions:  they ask what we are saying (or missing) not how we are saying it.  In the next installments, I will share my own reply and then my father’s.

From a packrat’s nest

I’m something of a packrat, and I don’t think I should apologize for the trait.  While most of my friends and acquaintances, including my wife, prefer good-natured chiding of my resourcefulness to mouths-agape awe at the sheer volume of information at my fingertips, I maintain habits related to e-data storage and retrieval.

Although these habits amuse or even annoy others, I often enjoy getting into some old files and retracing some steps.  Just today, my eyes happened on a reply I’d written to a Christian acquaintance about ten years ago, and I was pleased to feel that I would write essentially the same things today.  Today I’d like to share this background question, “fresh” from the corner of my e-attic where my little nest is found . . . followed by my reply, with only minor alterations to broaden the applicability and to avoid annoying extraneousness.

Here’s the question:

Suppose you were part of a group forming a new church, a community church, leaving you free from restrictions so to speak, what would you do musically?  I’m speaking directly here of the worship assembly. We would love to get your feedback.

And here’s my reply:

I’d say that my first concerns would be variety, meaningfulness, and not getting stuck in a rut in any way.

In the area of variety, I would say it’s important to include both music that any given assembled group can relate to already AND music that perhaps stretches the preferred genres a bit.  In other words, if I had a typical group of teenagers I would probably resist confining myself to pop and rock.  I would incorporate a bit of New Age, jazz, and, in the church context, some hymns and more traditional, time-tested music. And, within a given genre such as rock, I would make sure that of variety of tempos, moods, and keys existed, for instance.

Meaningfulness? That probably speaks for itself, but let me just say that I think any music used in a Christian setting should be subjected to a test of meaning.  Does it have any?  Not that there can’t be some music “just for fun,” but I would think even “fun” music should have some meaning for the group.

When I say I would watch out for getting stuck in a rut, I mean more than one thing.  Certainly the stylistic variety has something to do with it.  I would also absolutely include thematically appropriate “special music” that allowed the more musically gifted in the group to use their talents.  I would, however, steadfastly avoid becoming slave to a program that said, for example, every Sunday assembly must include four worship choruses and one piece of “special music.”

Some of my leanings include “blended worship” and worship music itself.  I find that Christians need to emphasize vertical worship more, with deeper, more authentic, and more heartfelt expressions; some others seem to find that Christians should deal more with each other than with God on Sundays.  Some emphasize Romans 12 service, whereas I emphasize the worship of the Psalms, Heb. 13:15, etc. I have certainly seen abuses of the assembly that essentially left all Christian interrelating out in left field, but I am still led to work along the line of fostering the vertical priority.  I tend to think that the horizontal goals are met when the vertical ones are placed first.

I spend quite a bit of time reviewing contemporary praise and worship music and have composed a fair amount myself.  You probably are aware that I also have a family heritage that appreciates and capitalizes on hymnody of the 1st through the mid-19th centuries.  There are pros and cons, of course, with both the “ancient” hymns and with modern praise choruses, to name a couple of prominent genres.  Personally, I believe in exploiting the best of all types of music.  At Cedars, I think I do a fairly good job balancing styles as a song leader — not always leading only the new stuff, for instance. In a contemporary church with very few Christian musical traditions, I might put even more effort into drawing from the rich history of the past. In a church more staid and stuffy than Cedars, I would be looking even more for ways to incorporate fresh expressions of the current day into the worship assembly.

On the pragmatic side, I would seek to involve as large a proportion of the group as feasible and would try to emphasize group participation to the greatest degree possible (I do retain some Restoration Movement ideals!).  I do, however, find both biblical and common-sense support for the use of individual gifts, i.e., sharing special, non-congregational songs.  I would de-emphasize formality and ritual, trying to foster a “natural” atmosphere for the music of the assembly, as well as other aspects.  Though I still do it, I have come to be annoyed by the Church of Christ “song leader” paradigm.  I doubt that model would have a valid place at all in a newly begun community church.  I subscribe to an “open church” model (there’s a book by the title that espouses some really great concepts) in which the predominant “feel” is one of mutual involvement and not formal leadership vs. audience, if you know what I mean.

I would not introduce an instrument in a typical Church of Christ setting, given the way things are now in our denomination.  I do think instruments can quickly and easily take control of things during an assembly; I would tend to use more acoustic, “low-key” instrumentation such as a single piano and/or guitar, adding perhaps a flute or something like that, from time to time.  Full, amplified bands with drums and the works have their place in larger settings, and I get into all that when I experience it, but my ideal church is a smaller, more intimate group, and it seems to me that the application for large instrumentations groups is limited in small groups.

These reflections give me pause even today, as I continue to dream of a church more closely aligned with New Covenant ideals and less tied to human tradition.  Music, I suppose, will always be a significant part of group worship.  For me, even private, individual worship has been fostered primarily within the context of musical sounds–both as I heard and as I made the sounds.  Music is not, however, necessary, and I would like to see more worship occurring in Christian gatherings apart from whatever styles and extents of music are employed.  For instance, I think spiritual drama is a very important direction for a new church to pursue in its assemblies, and well-conceived drama can well contribute to worship in the hearts of a gathered group of Christians.

It seems appropriate here useful to remind readers of the Soul Survivor church in England where Matt Redman led worship through most of 2002. Apparently, at some point, the “senior pastor” decided that there was too much fluff or periphery or something, and the leadership decided basically to fast from music. They had no singing or other music of any kind in their church assembly for a period of weeks, believe it or not. (Paradoxically, it was during this time that Matt wrote the song “The Heart of Worship,” in which he reminded that church and the world that “it’s all about You, Jesus.”)  Truly, worship is about reverent adoration of the Father and Son; music is peripheral, although clearly a gift, and frequently a likely vehicle for worship.

MM: Lord of All Being

[The “MM” initials are not intended to betray my fondness for the little chocolates with the candy coating. They stand for “Monday Music”; I’ve been endeavoring to post on Mondays on the lyrics of hymns and other worthwhile Christian songs.]

I can quickly become annoyed when people use the words “praise and worship” to refer to a musical style.  We can know what they’re talking about, yes, but I like to be more careful with language than that.  While this care I try to take may strike some as legalistic or just plain annoying, I find it warranted, for instance, to point out that praise and worship is not something that’s been happening for only the last 20 or 30 years since Amy Grant picked up a guitar.

On my “top 3” list of worship songs is the hymn Lord of All Being, Throned Afar.  The tune I know and find perfectly married to these words is “Arizona.”  I have loved this song since I was a teenager and don’t expect to stop when I’ve moved on from this life.  I wish so much that churches would sing words like these!  May I invite you to praise and worship YHVH with me through these words?

Lord of all being, throned afar,
Thy glory flames from sun and star;
Center and soul of every sphere,
Yet to each loving heart how near!

Sun of our life, Thy quick’ning ray
Sheds on our path the glow of day;
Star of our hope, Thy softened light
Cheers the long watches of the night.

Our midnight is Thy smile withdrawn;
Our noontide is Thy gracious dawn;
Our rainbow arch, Thy mercy’s sign;
All, save the clouds of sin, are Thine.

Lord of all life, below, above,
Whose light is truth, whose warmth is love,
Before Thy ever blazing throne
We ask no luster of our own.

Grant us Thy truth to make us free,
And kindling hearts that burn for Thee,
Till all Thy living altars claim
One holy light, one heavenly flame.

Yes, Lord.