Monday, June 22, 2009

Stupid Rock Musicians

“The Flame Deluge”

I feel that I was meant for something more;
My curse, this awful power to unmake.
And ever since you found your taste for war,
You’ve forced me onto those whose lives you’d take.

While Guernica in peaceful valley lay,
And Dresden dreamed of anything but death,
The day was turned to night, and night to day;
You let me loose upon their fragile flesh.

And so I hid among the smallest things;
You found me there and ferried me above.
The flame deluge is waiting in the wings;
The smallest thread holds back the second flood.

And who will stand to greet the blinding light;
It’s lonely when there’s no one left to fight.

“Kings Upon the Main”

This lesson you’d do well not to forget.
Your life could be the one it’s wisdom saves,
At sea, when you’re beleaguered and beset,
On every side by strife of wind and waves.

Despite the best of maps and bravest men,
For all their mighty names and massive forms,
There’ll never be and there has never been
A ship or fleet secure against the storms.

When kings upon the main have clung to pride,
And held themselves as masters of the sea,
I’ve held the down beneath the crushing tide
Till they have learned that no one masters me.

But grace can still be found within the gale;
With fear and reverence, raise your ragged sail.

“Silver Wings”

From tender years you took me for granted.
But still I deigned to wander through your lungs.
While you were sleeping soundly in your bed,
(Your drapes were silver wings, your shutters flung)

I drew the poison from the summer’s sting,
And eased the fire out of your fevered skin.
I moved in you and stirred your soul to sing;
And if you’d let me I would move again.

I’ve danced ‘tween sunlit strands of lover’s hair;
Helped form the final words before your death,
I’ve pitied you and plied your sails with air;
Gave blessing when you rose upon my breath.

And after all of this I am amazed,
That I am cursed far more than I am praised.

“Child of Dust”

Dear prodigal, you are my son and I
Supplied you not your spirit, but your shape.
All Eden’s wealth arrayed before your eyes;
I fathomed not you wanted to escape.

And though I only ever gave you love,
Like every child you’ve chosen to rebel.
Uprooted flow’rs and filled the holes with blood;
Ask not for whom they tool, the solemn bells.

A child of dust, to mother now return;
For every seed must die before it grows.
And though above the world may toil and turn,
No prying spade will find you here below.

No safe beneath their wisdom and their feet,
Here I will teach you truly how to sleep.

-Written by Dustin Kensrue from Alchemy Index Vols. I-IV

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Is Exclusive Psalmody an Option?

Any serious examination of the Biblical teaching on music must deal at the beginning with the question of exclusive Psalmody. While this question provides little insight into the issue of musical form, it is vital to answer the more central question of content. Does accepting the Bible as normative for Christian worship entail limiting the content used in worship to that found in Scriptural text itself? I would like to argue that the phenomenon of the Psalms itself nullifies the contention of those who hold to exclusive Psalmody.

Briefly stated, the Psalter of the Old Testament is a varied compilation of timely material. A casual, surface examination demonstrates the variety found in the Psalter. Aside from the collection of Psalms attributed to various authors, the Psalter appears to be composed from various earlier collections of material. Consider the note at the end of the second book of Psalms, “This concludes the prayers of David, son of Jesse” (Psalm 72:20). While Psalms attributed to David are predominant in this section, other Psalms from the sons of Korah, from Asaph, and even Solomon, to which Psalm this note is attached. Further David’s Psalms are found later in the Psalter, the most notable being the vital Christotelic Psalm 110. What this note in all probability signifies the end of a previous collection of Davidic Psalms incorporated into the larger collection by the compilers of the Psalter. A similar self-contained unit can be seen in the Psalms of Ascent found in 120-134. Perhaps also the final Hallelujah Psalms concluding the Psalter were originally an independent self-contained unit. All this points to the great variety of material the compliers of the Psalter had to select from when choosing the individual Psalms or groups of Psalms to include in their collection. We would be mistaken to conclude that they chose these 150 Psalms because they were the only songs available, or even the only ones used in worship during their time period. The differing endings between the Masoretic text of Psalms and the various other concluding Psalms in the Old Greek traditions suggest that the collection was not absolutely set even in the period directly preceding the New Testament era.

A close examination of the individual Psalms themselves explains the expansion of collections. Simply put, what the Psalms are at a basic level demanded their continued composition. Psalms are individual or corporate responses to God’s varied providence. At an individual level, the Psalms of David obviously display this pattern. The Psalms attributed to David vary from individual laments for defeat, betrayal, depression, and confession to triumphant hymns celebrating victory. The frequent connections made in the prescript to incidences in David’s life (whether these were original or added by a later redactor is an irrelevant question), give a fuller and deeper understanding of a Biblical and Divinely sanctioned and inspired response to the situations God brings his servant. The same pattern is visible on the larger, corporate level, whether of joyful corporate worship or despairing lament at the calamity of the exile. What makes the Psalms unique is that they are the response of the individual or community in covenant with YHWH. It is natural that as the covenant people’s experience with their God develops their response to that experience continually finds expression. After the collection of the Biblical Psalter was nearly set, this pattern was clearly continued. Early collections of Psalms from the Pharisees and the Qumran community remain, and it is impossible to estimate how much other material was in use, but lost to time. In many instances, the extra-canonical Psalms read so similarly to their Biblical counterparts that they are impossible to distinguish. It is also impossible to demonstrate that the extra-canonical Psalms were excluded from the formal, corporate worship of the people. A standard collection of songs for the Jewish community was not seen, even by the more conservative elements of Jewish society, as a limit to their expression of their faith and life as God’s covenant people.

Of course, it is easy to counter that the distinction lies in the inspiration of the Biblical canon opposed to the Psalms authored solely by human impulse. However, this distinction does not stand. It was not only the Pharisees or the Qumran sectarians who expressed their distinctive faith in the pattern of the Biblical Psalter, but the community formed around the confession of Jesus as the Christ that followed this same pattern. This is only natural, understanding the pattern that the Psalms set forth. The people of God, experiencing the presence, deliverance and victory of God in the person and work of Christ, express their distinctive faith in song, as they had done throughout their history. Whole songs can be found in Revelation. Fragments of the songs remain throughout the New Testament, most obviously in Colossians 1, Philippians 2. It is most reasonable to presume that Paul did not write these songs de novo, but was using songs commonly in use in the early Christian communities. Perhaps other passages, such as John 1 betray the remnant of the early church’s worship. All this evidence clearly leads Paul’s statement that the church sing “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” was not limited by the Hebrew Psalter. Rather, the apostolic church’s praise of God, following the trajectory of the Hebrew Psalter, was alive with their continued reflection on Christ’s finished work and present reign fueled by presence of the Spirit.

The application of this pattern is the basis for the church’s hymnody. The justification for “non-inspired” songs is not found in scattered proof-text from the New Testament, but is found in the nature and the pattern of the Psalms themselves. In this sense, the Psalter does regulate the worship of the New Testament church, not by limiting the content of the church’s expression in worship, but by guiding it in how to properly express its faith (more on this point in a later post). The Old Testament Psalms perfectly represent the breadth of experience and the depth of emotion that the New Testament community and individual experiences, as well as the tension between the reality of covenant communion and the consummation of covenant fulfillment. This pattern also demands that God’s covenant people continue to express their experience of defeat and triumph, of joy and despair in new songs, until the consummation of Christ’s kingdom, when the victory of the Lamb will inspire the saints to compose again new songs of praise to God.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Excursions in Exodus- Beginning Blessings

As an attempt to post more regularly, I am beginning a series of posts on the book of Exodus. I am leading a study on Exodus at a local nursing home, so I will adapt my study notes to use as posts. My goal will be to explore Exodus through a redemptive-historical perspective. Below is the first, brief study.


Exodus begins where Genesis left off, but the situation has changed radically. A new pharaoh rules takes the throne who has no memory of Joseph and how he had preserved Egypt from disaster during the famine. The honor once accorded Joseph’s family was rescinded, and now the sons of Jacob were made slaves in state building projects.

The family of Jacob, the clan of Israel, was not just another ancient near eastern people-group suffering under unfortunate circumstances. This was the people of God, bound to the creator of heaven and earth by his solemn bond and covenant. God had promised Abraham that he would “bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse.” Their current plight seems on the surface to be a direct contradiction to God’s promise. Has God abandoned his people? Is the Fear of Abraham impotent in the face of the gods of the Egyptians?

In spite of the desperate condition of God’s people, Exodus 1 is clear that God had not abandoned or forgotten about his people. God was with Israel, and he was blessing them even in their bondage. The author show this by describing the incredible growth of Israel in Egypt. Compare the statement from Exodus describing Israel’s growth with God’s blessing on creation in Genesis 1. “The Israelites were exceedingly fruitful; they multiplied greatly, increased in numbers and became so numerous that the land was filled with them.” “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” The growth of Israel was not an accident of nature; was not the natural genealogical progression of a clan, but was the direct blessing of God upon his people. God was blessing Israel, and it was manifest in their amazing birthrate. The Lord was fulfilling through Israel his initial creation blessing on mankind.

The growth of Israel is also a result of his special, covenantal blessing. God had promised Abraham that “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you.” God began to fulfill his promise by blessing his people, and causing them to expand, even in the midst of their exile. God blessing for the children of Abraham was not only in the general realm of creation, but specifically redemptive. In fact, by God’s fulfillment of his special, redemptive blessings ensured that the general, creational blessing could be extended beyond Israel to all nations. God ends his blessing on Abraham saying, “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Practical Necessity of Unity in Action

Below is another passage from Confronting Kingdom Challenges focusing on Christian unity in mission. The author powerfully presents the dangers of neglecting unity as well as the benefits of seeking this unity in action. May God grant that the Reformed stream of His church may seek, treasure and defend unity as strongly as it does doctrinal truth.

“Working together in missions, by limiting attention to the core gospel itself, may well refresh our own theology and piety. Too often that core gospel is taken for granted by orthodox churches, while disproportionate attention is given to the denomination’s own distinctives. Especially the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation have suffered neglect in the many evangelical/Reformed circles, while even the atonement and justification have been studied more in relation to the inadequate views of other Christians than to the need to proclaim them meaningfully to a non-Christian population. When churches do missions on their own, there is a constant danger that a desire to replicate themselves in every detail may overshadow the centrality of the gospel. Cooperative missions ought to bring key doctrines back to center stage.

It can be a healthy exercise, also, to operate outside the familiar patterns that our own churches believe and practice. Our distinctive practices and beliefs may seem to be of less importance than we imagined. But they may also be seen as more valuable than we had previously appreciated when seen from the perspective of other churches and Christians who may never have encountered them before.

Working with other Christians from other backgrounds may enrich our piety and worship by introducing us to new concepts in prayer and sung praise, new styles of preaching, and new examples of profound piety and ministry. Of course, such influence can be harmful, but those of the Reformed faith should be the last to be instinctively negative, remembering the sovereignty of a God who can reveal his truth, or parts of it, in the most unlikely places.

Finally, working with other Christians frequently enriches our whole faith and assurance through a very real experience of active fellowship within the body of Christ- a body that, we now realize, is much larger and more strongly united than we had previously known. In this, cooperation satisfies a very real and profound Christian instinct.”

John Nicholls “Sharing the Opportunity of Missions” in Confronting Kingdom Challenge: A Call to Global Christians to Carry the Burden Together edited by Samuel T. Logan, 2007.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Church, Women and Global Sex Trafficking

The following passage is taken from a book compiling presentations given at the Second General Assembly of the World Reformed Fellowship. It presents a powerful call for action of the church on behalf of the nearly one billion abused women worldwide. It is a call for the church to repent and follow the lead of her Master. "A body that does not follow its head is a sick body."

“God says to seek justice, break every yolk, defend the orphan, set the prisoner free, and care for the widow. This list is also a match for the list given previously regarding who is vulnerable to trafficking. The list of God’s commands, the list describing our Head, and the list describing those vulnerable to trafficking are virtually identical. Our Head pursues those marked by the characteristics making people vulnerable to trafficking. A body that does not follow its head is a sick body.

I have been struck recently- in studying topics such as trafficking, abuse, incest, genital mutilation, suttee, female infanticide, and rape- by how the Christian community has focused for so long solely on the issues of the role and place for women. We seem far more concerned that women not overstep whatever boundaries our particular circle deems right than we are about their safety. I am not suggesting that those boundaries should not be considered in the light of the Word of God. They absolutely should. But they are not the only issues regarding women that need to be discussed. We must also face the fact that the body of Christ has failed to lead the way in this world regarding such issues as rape, incest, violence, HIV/AIDS and sex trafficking.

Going outside the camp to rescue trashed females has not been the church’s clarion call. We seem far more focused on keeping females in the so-called “right” place and concerned about anything that would take them away from the parameters we prefer. In the meantime, those in power are preying on females around the world, dragging them into positions and places far outsideany human being, male or female. the parameters of God for The girls and women of this world are dying on the dung heaps…

We who are the body of Christ often pour our money into all kinds of things while women die. We work hard for fame and success in our ministries while they are trafficked. We fly around in jets and build more buildings and drive big cars while they give birth in bullock carts. We condemn them for their immorality while AIDS increases exponentially or their children die in their arms from starvation. All the while the voice of our Savior is calling us to crawl all over the dung heaps of this world, searching for the abandoned, neglected, dying, abused, and trafficked females of our century.

Our Head has called us to go to the poor, the afflicted, the broken, the needy, and the imprisoned. He invites us to go where humanity is broken in pieces, violently rent, maimed, and shattered. He asks us to follow him into prisons, deserved and undeserved, places of little light and restricted movement, place without hope. He leads us into places of worthlessness and decay- places that appall and horrify us.

These are not places where you and I want to go. I fear we prefer light, freedom, beauty, comfort, and familiarity. We prefer healthy and alert minds to traumatized ones. We prefer clean bodies to dirty ones and whole bodies to crippled ones. But a body that does not follow its head is a sick body. These issues regarding the girls and women of this world are of grave concern for our God. The trauma and abuse that are devastating the females of this world are not merely the jurisdiction of psychologists and social workers. Nor is it to be left to governments and welfare institutions. The trauma and trafficking of females worldwide are the business of the body of Christ.”

- Diane Langberg “Sharing the Burden of Global Sex Trafficking” in Confronting Kingdom Challenges: A Call to Global Christians to Carry the Burden Together edited by Samuel T. Logan Jr.