Friday, June 29, 2007

praise and music

My dad subscribes to New Zealand's Open Brethren magazine, the Treasury, which comes out monthly, and here is an excerpt from the editorial by Ken Edgecombe in July's edition:

C.S. Lewis claims that only damaged people fail to give praise. Everywhere,
he says, the wolrd rings with the sound: praise of weather, of wines, of dishes,
actors, pets, flowers, rare stamps, beetles, colleges, even politicians or
scholars; of any conceivable thing. In fact, he believes that the giving of
praise completes the experience. Other people have come to the same conclusion:
Elvis Presley asked (All Shook Up), "Who do you thank when you have
such luck?" The healthy person looks for a way to acknowledge the

In that sense, God's people are offered a fullness of life. I always
admired Ed Hillary's Everest climb, but I was thrilled to meet him when I was at
high school, and his autograph is still in my book. We love to admire the music
of Handel, but what would it be like to hear the man himself play it? Surely
nothing would be more natural than to say "Isn't he great" if we watched the
maestro perform. And when we see the wonders of the created order, we are
invited to move beyond the creature and acknowledge the creator. It's the most
natural thing for a witness to do. "Let everything that has breath praise the

To me, this was a really interesting thought. It's true; it seems natural for us to want to look beyond a brute fact of nature like a sunset and to ascribe some sort of responsibility for it somewhere. In fact, how can a sunset be beautiful at all if we were not given minds that comprehend beauty? In looking at things created by humans, it seems stunted to ignore the existence of an artist figure or a mind behind it, because that can add so much more significance to the thing itself. If you look at most modern art, this rings very, very true. There's no point in observing Duchamp's Urinal, for example, as a work of art unless you know what the artist intended it to be, or it's just a urinal, nothing more and nothing less. So why should it be any different for the created world that owes nothing to humans?

I was especially interested by the analogy using Handel. I don't really like analogies usually, as I think you can make anything sound plausible using analogy, but I think this one is a good one. It seems to me that music is a perfect example of the way we are naturally inclined to give praise. In watching an oratorio like Messiah, or perhaps a concerto or symphony, a portion of the praise falls to the music itself. But a larger portion falls to the musicians. Sound cannot help itself, it just is, in the same way as a sunset is just light, even if it's beautiful. The musicians' skill, however, cannot be ignored; they have worked hard and long to perform something that is pleasing. If they are particularly good, their portion of praise grows slightly, and they become like a mini-creator.

But. At the end of every performance of Messiah I have ever been to, the conductor holds up his score above his head for everyone to see, and the audience claps long and hard - because the true genius behind the performance is not the performers or the acoustics of the hall or the minds with which we understand the music, although they are all necessary. It is the person who formed the music from nothing, who gave it meaning and rhythm and beauty. It is almost the most moving moment of the performance for me.

So: what this says to me. Understanding life and living a good one is, in a sense, a praiseworthy goal, and if we ever achieve some success in this, we are entitled to some credit. Often our parents are too, as the ones who performed the crucial step of bringing us into the world and teaching us how to live - much like the musicians. Appreciating beauty in itself can never be a bad thing. But if we fail to look beyond these aspects of life to the very first cause, if we cannot look past the sunset to see the Creator, we are missing out on the most important aspects of it all.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

urgent prayer request

To be brief: a woman I know has today been told she has days to live, an unexpected outcome of treatment she was having for cancer.

This woman was a friend of my mother's, who spent hours with her in Bible studies and at our church's craft group before my mother's death, but as far as I know this woman has never accepted Jesus as her Saviour. From what I have heard she's never quite got to the point of acceptance though she's come close to it several times. She's had some hard times in her life, not least being this cancer, and I think she finds it hard to get past them. She has two children who have become Christians; the youngest is only sixteen.

Since my mum's not here to pray for her and to visit her, I feel really strongly that I need to pray for her. For her recovery, which would now be miraculous, and her acceptance of Christ. I believe God can bring about the first, but if he doesn't, she needs to get to know him very quickly. Please pray for her. I know this sort of thing happens every day, and there are a lot of things to pray for. But please do.

Also, another woman at my church who is her friend has been visiting her every day in hospital lately, but her mother has taken ill and she has had to go away to another city for at least the weekend. I am praying then, also, that this woman will be able to come back to talk to the dying woman and be a friend to her in her last days, if that is God's will.

I seem to slip into Christianese when I talk about things like this. It may come across as a bit inane. Hopefully not; I'm actually really serious about everything I've said, and I believe it all.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

a grudge

I have had, for a long time, a grudge of sorts against Pentecostals. I'm not saying this is fair, or unilateral, or anything - in fact, it would be hard to live with a bitter aversion to Pentecostalism as some of my best friends are Pentecostal, or go to a Pentecostal church (ha! this is sounding worse and worse and I'm just digging myself a deeper hole).

Please let me try to explain myself (properly): I went to a Christian high school, where a lot of people went to Pentecostal churches on Sunday, would talk about amazing miracles and how they spoke in tongues, and then the rest of the week be bratty, insincere, drunk teenagers. That, for a start, put me off, because I don't see how the Holy Spirit can give you such wonderful 'gifts' and then for the rest of the week you can forget about them. Obviously, this is not the behaviour of all or most Pentecostals, and I have long since got over that.

But for the purpose of this blog post, the more important thing that has annoyed me about Pentecostalism is the implication that if you 'have' the Holy Spirit, you're going to be showing it in some fairly wacky ways. Last year one of my very best friends would go on about this all the time, and I could tell she thought I wasn't that great or fulfilled a Christian because I don't speak in tongues or fall down screaming all over the place on the slightest encouragement, and I don't dance around when I sing at church, and my church is a quiet, fairly restrained place. I also have some pretty strong opinions about faith 'healers' such as Benny Hinn. While this perception of my 'spirituality' annoyed me, it also made me feel quite insecure about my acceptance by God. What if the Holy Spirit did only come to believers in that way? What if I was a cold, repellent being who hadn't yet come to true faith or true acceptance? Who is the Holy Spirit, anyway? (Although, then, I tended to think of him more as an 'it'.) Because I'm not the sort of Christian who is going to go to the other extreme and say that there's no such thing as speaking in tongues etc etc, I found it very hard to find a firm place to stand on the spectrum, and I've tended to be sometimes a little flippant, even rude, about the Pentecostal church.

Lately, however, I've begun (thank God) to feel very strongly that the Holy Spirit is always present in my life. Because some Pentecostals presented him in a very specific light, it took me a long time to come to a realisation that he'd never actually been gone from me - but now, I've realised that whenever I hear God talking to me, through the Bible or through my conscience or through people or through anything else, it's him. That seems such a simplistic, obvious thing to say, but it's taken a long time for me to realise it. As I write this, I'm not quite sure how to put into words exactly what this means to me. It's like I've had a friend hanging round me all my life whom I've only just discovered, a personality that has only just made itself known to me, although I've felt him there all along - it's just I always assumed I had to label him God the Father or Jesus Christ, because I wasn't experiencing him in a way that made me inclined to writhe around on the floor. I suppose it's a bit like that footprints in the sand poem that people always quote.

So this is my grudge against the Pentecostal church (although it's not really a grudge, perhaps more of a concern): I'm only just getting to know someone who has actually been there for a long time, because the way they portrayed him didn't add up with my experience. Who says the Holy Spirit needs to work in the same way, every time? Not the Bible, that's for sure. I think the fact, also, that Christians feel forced to categorise God into three neat little boxes (that's the Spirit, that's the Father, and that's the Son) goes entirely against our own doctrine and the Word of God - God is not an entirely understandable God. He is mysterious. This doesn't mean he's unknowable, but there are things about him that we don't need to understand quite yet. That is what I was trying to do, unsuccessfully.

So I would encourage any Pentecostals who may read this (not that I'm saying every Pentecostal fits into the same box, either) to be very careful about the way you present God. (I would also encourage the other extreme not to scoff at acts of the Holy Spirit; it's just that the former view has presented more problems for me personally.)