Thanking Thee

A few years ago, my sister asked my dad to write a Thanksgiving song for the children’s choir at High Country Baptist Church, a church her husband pastors. Unfortunately, I don’t have a good recording of the song. You’ll have to take my word for it that Dad wrote a lovely melody. But he also wrote the lyrics, and this is how they go:

 “Oh, Heavenly Father, grant that we

May ever rightly thankful be,

Forgive us, Father, when we fuss

And fail to show our faith and trust,

Thanking Thee. Thanking Thee.

When You let troubling times arise,

And bitter tears come to our eyes,

Teach us to praise instead of wail,

And let our thanks to Thee set sail

To the skies, to the skies.

Oh, let us ever grateful be

To Thee, now, and eternally.

And let our voices sweetly ring

When every day we rise to sing

Thanks to thee, thanks to thee.”

This was specifically written for children, but when you think about it, Christians are all children to God. And it’s remarkable how like children we can act when things don’t quite go the way we want them to. We adults have more sophisticated ways of wailing and fussing and stamping our feet, but the underlying attitude is the same. We don’t trust and we think we know more than God does. It is hard to see our lives through God’s lens. He doesn’t often let us in on His designs for us, at least not at first. So like my music students who sometimes chafe and grit their teeth when I make them count and play or say their note names and play, we protest and buckle under the mundane, the waiting, and the pain God sends for us to bear. Just as my students don’t understand what the discipline of counting and saying note names is doing for them in the long run, I can’t figure out why God won’t just snap His fingers and make me mature instead of putting me through His paces. Yet, He tells me to give thanks whether I understand or not. But many times I don’t feel thankful at all, and I’m hard pressed to think of anything to be thankful for. How do I do it!

Last Sunday night, I was sitting in a church service listening to a Pastor preach through Psalm 100. He mentioned something about how thanksgiving is closely related to confession of sin. At that remark, I tuned in a little closer. He continued to say that when giving thanks is mentioned in the Bible, it closely follows repentance and confession. Why? Because of God’s forgiveness. The greatest reason for thankfulness is not the car God provided for me, my physical needs being met, my possessions, or my family, though I ought to thank Him for those things. The ultimate reason to give thanks is salvation and the forgiveness God offers when we become repenters—the very first time and all the multitudes of times after that. So, if my dog dies, the car breaks down, someone hacks into my computer and steals my identity, my boss fires me and I don’t know how I’m going to pay the bills, there is still cause for thanks left to me. Because God’s forgiveness is a perpetual reality and eternal life is mine right now, I can give thanks while I’m saying my “note names.”

So, with that I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands.

Serve the Lord with gladness:

Come before His presence with singing.

Know ye that the Lord, He is God:

It is He that hath made us, and not we ourselves;

We are His people, and sheep of His pasture.

Enter into His gate with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise:

Be thankful unto Him, and bless His name.

For the Lord is good;

His mercy is everlasting;

And His truth endureth to all generations.

Psalm 100

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It’s a Cold, Cold Day

imageIt’s a cold, cold day in St. Joe and a lot of other places. The wind is blowing icy breezes off the lake and it’s been snowing most of the week, though not much is accumulating here. Drat this fall! There are still a whole bunch of leaves on the trees in our yard and a whole bunch on the ground under a thin layer of snow. That should be fun to clean up. I had hoped the snow would hold off until late November at least. It couldn’t be bothered to wait my convenience, though. Oh, well. My brother’s little house is stout and warm and doing an excellent job of staving off the wind and cold. I am glad of that. Last winter, the apartment we lived in was cold almost all the time. Makes me shiver just to think of it! Houses are so much nicer.

Last weekend up until today was very busy in a good sort of way. I had the unexpected pleasure of hosting my older sister from Friday until this morning. Pastor’s wife and mom of six kids, she saw a brief opportunity to visit us and took it. I haven’t seen her in the flesh since the summer before last, and it was so nice to have her here even for a little while. We all had a lot of good talks and a lot of encouragement in the faith. Plus Monica got to attend one of my orchestra concerts for the very first time.

Speaking of which, the concert went so well. As I said last week, it was one of our hardest programs. Not THE hardest, but definitely difficult. Our soloist, Jun-Ching Lin pleasantly surprised the violin section by joining us to play the Stravinsky in the second half of the concert. This after giving a stellar performance of Prokofiev’s first violin concerto. That was fun! So now I have one more major violin part more or less under my belt, which is satisfying.

Sunday and Monday, I got to spend a lot of time relaxing and visiting with friends and family. I haven’t been able to do that in a very long time. After being this spoiled, I’m having a hard time getting back to normal. But I must! I have a Conciliar Post article to write and not a clue about the topic. Time to brainstorm.

Until next week, stay warm and don’t be grumpy about the weather!

 

 

Concert!

557706_10151824777009424_470042064_nToday I write to you from a used 325 dollar Macbook Air. For the last several years, I have been doing my work on a faithful Toshiba laptop, bought for me by a friend when I was really, really poor. Well, last Friday it met its end through some dreadful malware and, judging from the way it was acting, an assortment of viruses. It literally happened in the space of two or three hours. So I harrumphed and grumped and groused for the next hour until my friend, Seth Haley, most likely tired hearing about it, took it upon himself to search Craigslist for a used Mac. He located one in Mishawaka for an exceptionally good price that evening. The next day, Justin and I zipped up there, paid for it and zipped back. It works beautifully. I’m so thankful to have found something so quickly and for just the right price. I have wanted to get a Mac for quite a while, but the price of even the refurbished Macs turned me off. So, here’s to the new old computer. May it live a long and healthy life. And may I not do anything stupid with it, like drop it or something.

Today is probably the only day this week I’ll have any down time. That’s why I’m writing now as opposed to Thursday when I normally post. The reason being that the orchestra I play in, Kalamazoo Philharmonia, will be performing on Saturday. So, on top of my teaching/writing schedule, I’ll have an extra rehearsal and a concert on Saturday. That boils down to six hours in the car just to drive to Kalamazoo as opposed to my normal two. But it is a worthwhile effort and I’m looking forward to playing our concert repertoire. On the program is a Rondo by Poulenc, a Gymnopedie by Satie, a Prokofiev violin concerto, and last but certainly far from least, The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky. It’s no slouch program, that’s for sure.

One of the things I really like about playing in the Kalamazoo Philharmonia is that, even though only a few of us are professional musicians (by that I mean only some make a living playing in multiple orchestras or teaching fulltime), our conductor treats us as if we are. He never picks easy stuff for us to play. So, each concert feels like a major accomplishment. I, for one, feel as though each major piece we play adds one more piece to the puzzle of my playing technique. Consequently, I believe all the musicians involved grow a little more each year.

Jun-Ching LinLast night, we had our first rehearsal with soloist, Jun-Ching Lin. My stand partner and I let out a little sigh of absolute bliss after only two or three bars of his playing. It was exquisite. He has such a beautiful tone quality and his vibrato is so smooth. I know the audience will enjoy his performance.

So, to all my readers in the Kalamazoo area, I hope you’ll be able to make it Saturday night. I’m including the link to K-Philharmonia’s event, The Ballet Russes, where you will find more details, directions and ticket information.

 

The Barbarians

Potty-Mouthed-Princesses-Drop-F-Bombs-for-FeminismI had intended to write another of “My Favorite Nonfiction” articles this week. My book of choice was Ideas Have Consequences by Richard Weaver. I read this book for the first time last year and ate it up. While I was refreshing my memory on the main points of Mr. Weaver’s arguments, I came across several quotes which unfortunately brought a video to my remembrance. Probably most of you have seen the video or something about it, Potty-Mouthed Princesses Drop F-Bombs for Feminism, floating around Facebook or making the evening news. When I saw something about it the first time, accompanied with the usual rhetoric of “empowerment and equality,” I just rolled my eyes and kept scrolling. One gets tired of having one’s eyes assaulted with sensationalism. Using six-year-olds to get attention albeit for a “worthy cause” seemed an all-time new low. I fully intended to put it out of my mind and go about my business. I realized today that I kind of have to say something about it. So, here I am, late to the party as usual.

Unfortunately, I watched the clip and now wish I hadn’t for reasons I will explain below. But since I have, I’ll give you a few initial comments on the video itself. The things I’m going to list next are what I consider side issues. The main problem runs far deeper.

  • First of all, I find it interesting that in a society where the only thing that makes sexual acts with children illegal is a child’s inability to give informed consent, little girls were given scripts containing the frequent use of the word “f–k”*(in case you didn’t know, this word is a vulgar expression for sexual intercourse), gestures that indicate sexual intercourse, and discussions of sexual assault. Somehow, that just doesn’t seem right to me.
  • Secondly, the first point voiced in the video is so illogical that it borders on absurdity—namely that somehow we find profanity more offensive than sexual assault and wage inequality. I think pairing profanity with sexual assault and then describing both as offensive is a bit insulting to those who have experienced sexual assault. Profanity is offensive. Sexual assault is far, far worse than offensive. Besides that, I don’t know anyone who finds sexual assault and wage inequality less reprehensible than little girls spewing profanity.  But I do know a lot of people, including myself, who find sexual assault reprehensible, wage inequality unfair, and little girls spewing profanity as offensive. I do not need to applaud filmmakers who put filthy words in little girls’ mouths to find rape and sexual abuse wicked and perverted.
  • Third, the claims raised and the statistics used to bolster the claims regarding sexual assault and wage inequality are not entirely accurate. See here and here and here. This is not to say that there is no problem, but inflating the problem doesn’t help anyone.

For argument’s sake, let’s suppose that the video’s claims are entirely factual. The bigger problem remains. And here is where Richard Weaver comes in. In his book, Weaver takes us all the way back to where the problem began—William of Occum. He says, “It was William of Occam who propounded the fateful doctrine of nominalism, which denies that universals have a real existence [read: transcendentals and ideals]…The issue ultimately involved is whether there is a source of truth higher than, and independent of, man; and the answer to the question is decisive for one’s view of the nature and destiny of humankind. The practical result of nominalist philosophy is to banish the reality which is perceived by the intellect and to posit as reality that which is perceived by the senses.”

Weaver then lays out the logical progression from that point forward, a progression which modern civilization has dutifully followed, “The denial of universals carries with it the denial of everything transcending experience. The denial of everything transcending experience means inevitably—though ways are found to hedge on this—the denial of truth. With the denial of objective truth there is no escape from the relativism of ‘man the measure of all things.’ The witches [referring to Macbeth] spoke with the habitual equivocation of oracles when they told man that by this easy choice [deny transcendentals] he might realize himself more fully, for they were actually initiating a course which cuts one off from reality. Thus began the ‘abomination of desolation’ appearing today as a feeling of alienation from all fixed truth.”

Because of this lack of fixed truth, Weaver says society is gradually but surely losing grasp of any concept of propriety. And yes, I mean, propriety, not prudery. Propriety is the fading notion that some topics and some situations must be handled with more care and sensitivity than others. The opposite of propriety is sensationalism, shock value and a general disregard for time, place and method. My parents, grandparents and their parents simply did not speak of certain topics within earshot of children or in mixed company. This is not because these topics were inherently wicked or taboo. It just meant that some things like sexuality were too precious and too important to be bandied about lightly. It also meant that children had not reached the mental or emotional maturity to treat those topics with the care they deserved.

But so often, that kind of discretion towards important topics is considered inauthentic by the barbarians as Weaver calls them. The barbarians want to strip everything of its symbolism, its ritual, its protective coverings, and make it bare. The barbarians think themselves very brave and original for doing so and getting to the dirty truth. “Forms and conventions are the ladder of ascent. And hence the speechlessness of the man of culture when he beholds the barbarian tearing aside some veil which is half adornment, half concealment…His cries of abeste profani are not heard by those who in the exhilaration of breaking some restraint feel that they are extending the boundaries of power or of knowledge…Every group regarding itself as emancipated is convinced that its predecessors were fearful of reality. It looks upon euphemisms and all the veils of decency which things were previously draped as obstructions which it, with superior wisdom and praiseworthy courage, will now strip away. Imagination and indirection it identifies with obscurantism; the mediate is an enemy to freedom.”

You see, there are ways to address issues like sexual assault and wage inequality, one of which is not coaching children to be profane. The cause simply does not justify the method.

At the beginning of this piece, I mentioned that the problem goes deeper than profanity and you’re probably wondering when I’m going to get around to telling you what it is. It is this: That there is any debate going on about the appropriateness of this video. There should be no debate. It should be roundly and uniformly condemned by culture as a disgraceful example of sensationalized junk. It should be tossed out by feminists (I’m pretty sure Susan B. Anthony with her eloquent speech is rolling over in her grave at such an exhibition), anti-feminists, conservatives and liberals, to the man and to the woman. To be fair, it has been in some corners. But in other places, it’s been praised as brave, bold, and empowering.

So, how do we bring this kind of tripe to an end? As a society, we’ve already followed Weaver’s progression from denying universals down the line to embracing the sensational. Is it even worth fighting? I say yes. And the most effective way to begin is to stop being a consumer. Don’t hit the play button. Don’t share it. And while we’re at it, let’s do our best to stop the spread of other kinds of sensationalism. For instance, when that pastor of a mega church stands up on his stage with a big bed up there as a prop and with a mischievous glint in his eye says, “Now we’re going to talk about sex,” as if he with “praiseworthy courage” will now get more real and transparent than all those prudish Christians huddling under their hymn books in embarrassment, don’t buy it. Turn it off. Walk out. There’s as much grace, beauty, and discretion in that as there is an earring in a pig’s snout.  Other examples of sensationalism are as follows: News (perhaps not all, but quite a lot of it is); political ads with dark, eerie music (can I hear an amen?); a lot of movies; reality TV shows (yes, even Duck Dynasty and 19 and Counting, though I cringe at the thought of the trouble I’m going to get over this one); those idiotic “camp gyno” commercials, and the list goes on. Of course, these are all sensational to greater and lesser degrees, but I believe the principle still stands.

Anything that smacks of shock value, sensationalism and desperate publicity stunts doesn’t deserve our attention. Anything that offers the “inside scoop,” headlines that blare “*well-known personality* tells all,” anything that handles a serious, beautiful or sensitive topic in a flippant and disrespectful manner is not fit to be seen. So, what happens when we stop paying attention these stunts? Well, like that silly boy on the playground who teases people to get a rise out of them, the barbarians just sort of give up and go home when we stop adding fuel to their fires. Of course, it’s better when everybody stops being a consumer. But one person at a time is better than no one. Little drops of water make up an ocean and so on and so forth.

Speaking of which, don’t watch that stupid F-bomb video.

*Please don’t try to argue that this word no longer carries an inherently sexual meaning. I often hear people say that this word is a general term to express disgust or strong emphasis. The point is, it is  a disrespectful term for the sexual act and that’s what gives it its shock value, even when it is divorced from its original context.