All have seen

All the ends of the earth
have seen the salvation of our God:
sing joyfully to God, all the earth. – Psalm 98:3

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Church in a Honey Boo-Boo Moment of History

 [This is a comment I left to a Facebook posting with a question on appropriateness, with attached video of a 4-year-old-ish child dancing in front of a congregation to an upbeat Christian worship song "He's The Light" - I don't have time for much more than this, but wanted to share more widely.  I'm not including the video, because I do not want to expose the parents or the child unnecessarily - I edited my comment to request that the rather critical posting in the facebook not be shared with the original video poster.

The very, very cute 4 year old is dancing and pointing up - "He's the Light!!"  Nothing particularly noteworthy nor different from what we see in so many churches in America.  This is not aimed at the family that posted the video - rather, "this is us," this is American Christianity]

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Since this is a child, and we don't know the context - it is very, very difficult for us to tell what is going on (esp. in the mind and spirit of the child).

From what I remember of childhood and "public behavior," performance, acting - I can say this: It is very very easy for a child to become swept away with the reactions of others, esp. to "cutesiness."  I can't really think of any Biblical injunctions against "cutesiness"  per se - but at the same time, that does NOT mean that this is not a potential problem!  It is very, very, very true that almost all Americans get really carried away with "cute children," and if you put a child doing something cute almost everywhere - we are almost socially compelled to say, "Oh, how wonderful, how cute!" and to ignore almost all of the potential consequences as "not our business."

However, from what I remember about public situations as a child, when many people were watching me - I would say this:  It is much, much, much better for kids to praise God in a group, where no one of them is somehow "shining" more than the others in getting attention - because this attention alone can get the child thinking about all sorts of things that are very very different from praising God.  If you want your kids to do some kind of cute stuff in a solo act - then by all means, have them sing a Spice Girls song or something like that - *unless* you have very, very seriously discussed and prepared them for what is going on, and you are confident that they are ready for what they are going to do - and you also have some kind of discussion with the kid afterward about what went on.

As a kid - I know I had all kinds of other things going through my mind, I was doing a little bit of praising God, but mostly it was putting on a show to please the adults.  It is not bad to please adults!  But when a child gets to an age of a little bit more self-consciousness - this can become difficult!  The question arises - "OKAY - what is happening here?  Is my 'churchiness' simply a cute little show to please mom and dad and the other church-goers?  Why did I do that little show X years ago - and why am I doing it now?"  A kid probably won't even ask their parents this question - they will probably just try to dissociate themselves from that kind of activity in general, because they find it inauthentic.  "BUT IT IS SOOOOO CUUUTE!!!!" - this is not the kind of response that is going to convince a 14 year old kid that doing this type of thing is honest, good, is praising God - it is rather the opposite of what a lot of them aspire to.

It boggles my mind as to why we continue to do this type of thing with children / to children.  It seems to me like a sure-fire recipe for disaster in the development of spirituality in children.  Children begin to rebel against this - *Of course they do* !!!  Parents, I have seen them do this in a church Sunday school program - where the highschoolers did not, did not, did not want to do skits - in fact, they wanted to study the Bible instead.  And what did the Sunday School leadership mandate???  They *had* to do the skits.  And since the highschoolers were so self-conscious, they wanted to do these silly skits as well and perfectly and thought-out as they could.  So we spent just about ALL of our time doing these SILLY skits that the kids HATED but then went up on stage and dutifully performed because their parents somehow wanted to still have these cutesy moments where they felt like their kids .... I dunno???  The Sunday School teachers told the youth pastor about this problem - and still, we had these skits mandated.

This was so utterly ironic.  The kids, in hindsight I think, could "see" what was happening - how they were being cutesified for their parents, publicly, by doing these skits - and they realized it was a waste of time, and they wanted to be doing what kids should be doing in Sunday School class - studying the Bible!  But - well, no, parents pay for the church and not the kids - so the kids had to do the cutesy stuff.  I am still rather awestruck at how ironic this was, and in other ways, how I have been a rather willing participant in the cutesifying of church in such a way that makes church exceedingly unappealing except for a particularly "duty-bound" type of advocate of cutesy church - which oddly enough, seems to be most Americans who have kids!  Somehow, this seems to be a thing which almost all parents believe in.  And so sad they can't believe their kids just want to study the Bible, and engage in thoughtful conversation, but instead want to do all this cutesy-kid stuff.  For me - it marked a very important point in my dissociation from "Evangelicalism" - since there is more to life than movies, skits, and other kinds of "kid-stuff" - or at least, I want there to be (though it somehow seems to be increasingly impossible - but this is not a direct fault of the kids, it is a very indirect thing which has to do with how adult culture is in an odd symbiosis with kid culture in America - or maybe rather, imagined kid culture - which then ends up conditioning adults, and indirectly conditioning kids).

Do you parents really need to cherish a cutesy churchy moment so badly that you are willing to blind yourselves to the normal pattern of development, of what just about any healthy growing mind would begin to ask itself?  And then churches so reliant on the money of such parents that they are more or less forced into this, beyond better judgment?

What does this say about the generations of people in church, and worship??  Why is it that we continue to think that kids want kiddy-kiddy stuff, and that it's the kiddy-kiddy stuff all out-and-proud-and-public that is gonna save the church?  This has gotten ridiculous, it is like church is going through a Honey Boo Boo moment of history.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Beck's New Revolutionary Album

Beck's new album will apparently contain no recorded music.

For those who are speed-reading: Beck's new album will apparently contain no recorded music.  Yes, you read that correctly.

Here: a McSweeny's article on his forthcoming (album?) Song Reader.

I have recently been reading Plato, Aristotle, others on music - there are many indicators that the Hellenist (Greek) understanding of music would have been exceedingly important in the culture of the Palestine where Jesus was brought up, and conducted His ministry. I even believe that at one point, His own words refer indirectly to some of the issues discussed at that time regarding music, education, character, and the divine.

One of the things we have lost from the pre-Romantic understanding of music is the way that music is active with regards to the listener - that it moves the heart and mind of the listener, but this itself is also dependent upon the listener's own activity (and cultivation).

I.e., music ALWAYS implies doing something yourself. Plato and Aristotle actually thought it best to avoid as possible professional musicians - simply because this meant not making the music one's self.

In modern times, we essentially have a problem of a market of extraordinarily lazy music listeners who lack the imaginative powers to put together (synthesize) interesting musical developments in their minds. As Bernstein said, we all hear much too much music, and listen to very little music. This cultivates a habit of non-active listening.

What Beck has done here is very much like turning us back to Plato and Aristotle when we consider our relationship to music.

BRAVO! This is not only a musical mind - it is a profoundly deep mind in the consideration of how we relate ourselves to music, and how music effects us over time - even over multiple generations.

Up until sometime in the middle ages - the word "musician" was not even applied to singers and instrumentalists - it was applied exclusively to thinkers who could imaginatively grasp what music was doing - like Boethius.

So Beck here is being a musician in a very profound sense.

I found this link thanks to Eric Whitacre - a composer who himself is very much a musical mind in the older sense, with his Virtual Choir (and who has done such incredible things as setting Paradise Lost to music).

If Western culture is to re-gain an ability to listen to music, we probably first need to do something like this - very simply, more people making music, and less people hearing music in the background.  And after a while, with an audience that's more capable of listening to interesting music (instead of music that's mostly intended to be a kind of background or sound-track), it might again become possible for truly fantastic music to find an audience that's more than a tiny, highly select group of individuals.  As Aristotle put it - good musical education is so important, it's something that should belong to everyone.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Occupy and the Unasked Question: Conspicuous Consumption


Thornstein Veblen
First Things rightly points out how wrong it is for us to entirely bat away the concerns of the Occupy group - however intentionally annoying the Occupiers may be - in an article Occupy and the Injustices of Inequality.

"We ought to ask of economics the same question of that we ask with regards to any other moral issue: how it fosters or frustrates human flourishing."

It is true that the Occupy movement is difficult to deal with - given that its critique of society seems so vapid and monolithic - and reverberations in the press don't seem to be generating anything deeper, either.

Nonetheless - it is a good thing to examine our economic and political system, with the aim of arriving at more poignant questions, new avenues for dialogue, and uncovering our blindness to issues that don't usually grab our attention.
And the three authors of this First Things blog post do a great job at summarizing the social ills that accompany a high degree of economic inequality between classes.

I suppose though that it is also worth asking: "Is a society based on liberal capitalism which has embraced conspicuous consumption as an ideal to the degree that America has, not predisposed toward fostering such economic inequality?" This is a question of rather serious magnitude and would take a great deal of thought, research, and unpacking. But let us first consider one element of this question - that of conspicuous consumption.

My own "take" here is more or less this: that conspicuous consumption is the greatest enemy, greater than the economic inequality itself. In nearly all societies, power has been held by a few - whether they be aristocracy, elected officials, or the wealthy. But we rightly expect this power to be exercised wisely and justly. We have been aware since ancient times that mob rule is one of the very most painful and unjust forms of government.

When the wealthy invest their wealth in the creation of jobs - e.g., in farms, factories, shops, corporations, stocks ... they are investing wisely and justly, and re-distributing wealth in a productive manner for the public good.

When they invest their wealth in ridiculously large houses, insanely expensive sports cars, boats, fashion accoutrements etc. etc., though there is some initial employment, the house or sports car is economically speaking a "dead end" - it does not further employment or the public good.

What is particularly ugly are the social effects - envy and jealousy, social stratification which has little to do with merit or talent, and widescale loss of trust in employers and governments for the portion of work which does not go toward feeding, housing, and educating, but is rather tied up in such an economic dead end with its toxic effects on society.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Schubert Holy Holy Practice

Videos for practicing Schubert's "Holy Holy" (from the Deutsche Messe) in parts, intended especially for congregational singing:

Soprano

(alto, tenor, and bass follow)

Doxology Practice

Sheet music- Link
Videos for congregational singing practice of the Doxology (set to the "old 100th"):

Soprano

(alto, tenor, and bass follow)

Gloria Patri practice

Videos for practicing congregational singing for Gloria Patri (Greatorex):

Congregational Singing Index

I've created a number of videos to help congregations (like our own) which are interested in singing in parts practice a few basic pieces.  There is nothing beautiful about these videos - rather to the contrary - but they should help anyone who can use help in singing in parts.  With each video, one or two of the four parts is emphasized with a "brighter" voice/tone in a louder volume, with the other parts in the background, with the notes to the musical parts displayed as the music progresses.

Schubert Sanctus (Holy Holy)

For Passion Week (Easter):
Part-specific practice vids for "Holy, Holy, Holy" from youtube user Choirparts - I didn't make these vids:
http://www.youtube.com/user/Choirparts/videos?query=Nicaea
Sheet music for Holy Holy Holy:
http://www.ccwatershed.org/pdfs/209-holy-holy-holy-lord-god-almighty-nicaea/download/

Part-specific practice vids for "O Sacred Head": http://www.youtube.com/user/Choirparts/videos?query=Sacred+Head

Christ Jesus Lay in Death's Strong Bonds (not a practice-type video; simply a choir singing this piece): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XA3P244DSss