A few years ago I was, in my personal life, engaged in the music ministry of an Evangelical church we might call thoroughly undiscriminating and perpetually innovative. (It was not innovative in the least, but it felt innovative to be doing things in a way that hadn’t ever been done before.) This group of people engaged in all sorts of self-amusing, experimental flops including congregational jazz.
But, bizarrely enough, I was also engaged at that moment in correspondence with Evangelicals of another stripe whom we might call unstintingly parochial and valiantly conservative. (They weren’t actually conserving anything, but the word had a miraculous effect when incanted.) They were especially fond of pirate-evangelism and Arsh Music.
The two groups viewed themselves as being at war with each other.
One of the spokesmen from the second group had a prosaic name, but to better characterize his views (and to protect his family from embarrassment) I shall call him Fluffles. Fluffles was a minor clown whose views, he believed, deserved a wider hearing. One of the things he said which he thought was perceptive was that “there was no golden age of liturgy”, and the purpose of his comment was to assure others in his group—who also had no powers of observation or discrimination—that the nonsense that they preferred to sing and play could not be compared unfavorably to “some golden age”.
Fluffles had not, and still has not, distinguished himself as an expert in the arts, nor in history, nor even in metallurgy. He’d heard the phrase golden age, it sounded sweet to his ears, and his heart felt strangely warmed when repeating it.
It was during this time in my life that I finally concluded that no change was in the offing, no reform could be expected, and no improvement was possible. It was as though everyone had grown up eating greasy burgers and cold french fries, but was nevertheless divinely inspired to be a food critic for Bon Appétit and to teach at the Culinary Institute of America.
That’s when I knew for sure that it was over.
But I knew that while reform was impossible, someone somewhere was going to have to start to talk sense even if only to himself. Scrunchy-faced public emoting wherein adolescent and effeminate souls in funny hats try to use facial contortionism to convey transcendent ideas would not be convincing for much longer.
So for those who might want to begin a rational inquiry into why we call things good, better, and best, there is a book you ought to read.
I can recommend it indiscriminately because I have no fear that clowns like Fluffles will understand the book, will know what is important about it, or will even be able to finish reading it. It is a book for adults about serious things.
I don’t want to ruin the reading for anyone, but I will offer one introductory observation: when we say that God extends his grace to mankind, bear in mind as you read this book how God’s grace was extended to mankind. It was not grace that gave us just a Vivaldi or a Handel or a Bach; it was a grace that God brought out of the Thirty Years' War a set of conditions, a set of necessities, a set of sensibilities, a set of desires, a set of appetites, a set of skills that provided a meaning for all worship.
If you are an adult, you really ought to read it.
The day-to-day services of the Christian churches are embarrassing reminders of the fact that religion is losing its sublime godwardness.
There is irony here of a very high order. The religious movement that more conspicuously than any other attempted to make the gospel “relevant”, and the movement whose first recourse was always pop culture, now finds itself especially victimized.
Here are three Evangelical gurus pondering the sad impracticality of a misunderstood gospel.
They will be puzzling over this for some time, I’ll wager.
Neither should we ordain young men as preachers, unless they have been well exercised in music.
Music should bring relief, it should rehabilitate the mind and soul. It cannot be just rhythm and color; it must reveal, as simply as possible, the emotions of the heart.
It has seemed good to Evangelicals to reject Luther’s counsel, and things have degenerated so badly that you now must try to worship in a local religious dumpster with the depleted imaginations of a Hamilton, Everson, Getty, Tomlin, Ivey and a thousand scrunchy-face wannabes.
Evangelicals still don’t know how this happened.
Much less known but as enlightening an observation was Rachmaninoff’s, though we now should add spectacle to rhythm and color:
Music cannot be just rhythm and color and spectacle; it must reveal the affections of the heart.
You might want to reflect on those two ideas long enough for you to begin asking serious questions of yourself, and then you might read about how we once regarded the importance of music. You could start here for a rough outline of this idea.
If we as Christians know what real love is, shouldn’t we be able to write some [love songs] of our own?
As a general rule I don’t believe divorce is an option for the Christian believer. I say as a general rule because Ben Everson has convinced me with words and music that general rules should perhaps not be applied in all specific cases.
If my wife, for instance, got a song like this from me, I could understand her inquiring after the name of a good divorce and family law attorney.
Shall God call himself the God of the dead, of those who were alive once, but whom he either could not or would not keep alive? Is that the Godhood, and its relation to those who worship it? The changeless God of an ever-born and ever-perishing torrent of life; of which each atom cries with burning heart, My God! and straightway passes into the Godless cold! “Trust in me, for I took care of your fathers once upon a time, though they are gone now. Worship and obey me, for I will be good to you for threescore years and ten, or thereabouts; and after that, when you are not, and the world goes on all the same without you, I will call myself your God still.” God changes not. Once God he is always God. If he has once said to a man, “I am thy God, and that man has died the death of the Sadducee’s creed,” then we have a right to say that God is the God of the dead.
---George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons
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