Sunday, January 19, 2014

Some music from the Martins

I was cooking again today (yes, you are starting to notice a pattern in these posts) and listening to a Gaither hymns CD (yep, that's another pattern). This one included the Martins singing "He Leadeth Me." They have the most amazing a capella sound.

I've seen them sing the Doxology in person at a Christmas concert a few years ago. It brought the house down. Here is that number:

And this is a great, fun song for Epiphany, which happens to be the season we are in. (Sorry that there's an ad at the beginning, but it's a good, high-quality video.)

I don't know why I don't own an entire CD and/or DVD of the Martins. I should rectify that.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

"In the Garden"

Today while cooking I was listening to a hymns CD by the Booth Brothers, one of my favorite Gospel music groups. Unfortunately not nearly enough of their music is available on-line. So I can't link the version of Michael Booth singing "In the Garden." I harmonized with him while cooking. It sounded pretty, at least to me. (But I have to share a link, because it's the Booth Brothers, so here is Michael singing "Look for Me at Jesus' Feet," which is really wonderful.)

Anyway, I was thinking about "In the Garden," because it gets a certain amount of hatin' from the hymn purists. Here's how the position roughly goes: Hymns are fine provided you go way, way back. Like, to Bach. Or maybe to Wesley. But all that 19th century stuff, like Fanny Crosby and such, is more or less sentimental schlock unfit for manly singing. In such statements, inevitably "In the Garden" comes in for a whack.

Or there's an attempted tu quoque if a traditional hymn lover like yours truly makes some mention of the "Jesus is my boyfriend" tendency in all too many contemporary worship songs. "Oh, yeah! Well, what about 'In the Garden'? Huh?"

So here are the words to "In the Garden."


I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.


He speaks, and the sound of His voice,
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.



I’d stay in the garden with Him
Though the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling.


Now, as sentimental lyrics go, those beat many a Jesus is my boyfriend song hollow and then some. It's not the greatest poetry in the world, but it's perfectly respectable poetry. (How many people in 2014 even know that "discloses" can be used that way?) Moreover, the meaning is not actually romantic at all. The allusion is clearly to the book of Genesis where it is said that God walked with Adam in the Garden of Eden in the cool of the day. (Though here it is the early morning rather than the evening.) The impression is of a deep and close friendship but not a romantic relationship. The third verse deepens the meaning by bringing back in the voice of the world outside the garden with its worries and woes. The speaker comes to the garden to spend time with the Lord in order to be strengthened to go out and endure what must be endured. Jesus' voice, heard clearly in the quiet of the garden, will continue to sound through the voice of woe outside.

As I read the lyrics, too, I think of how many great saints of God have arisen early in the morning to pray and read the Bible. I love my own sleep, making sloth one of my besetting vices. I tried getting up early to pray for a brief time in my ardent youth but wouldn't even think of such a thing now in middle age, unless truly convinced that the eternal fate of my soul depended on it. Now I try to pray when more awake, later in the day. But many do not have that luxury.

At this point I am reminded of a scene I saw almost three years ago. My mother had passed away, and when I went to the funeral (in a different city) I stayed overnight for several days with my mother's pastor and wife. I did not sleep well with all that was on my mind, so I was up unwontedly early, sending a flurry of practical e-mails back home to my family. One morning I arose while it was still dark around 6 a.m., an hour at which I would usually be fast asleep. I saw the pastor's wife sitting quietly by a lamp with her Bible in her lap. She was a wonderful hostess and one of the sweetest, busiest, and hardest-working ladies it's been my privilege to know. (Just after her devotions, still very early, she put on her coat and went over to clean the church nursery in preparation for the next day's services.) But that time belonged to the Lord. She sat there quite still and read and prayed. I have not the slightest doubt that she was hearing His voice and gathering spiritual strength for the day ahead.

Even if we do not come to the garden literally while the dew is still on the roses, let's be sure that, at some time, we do come.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

The Strange Attraction of Political Alienation: "Silent Running"

Back when I was "out there" in the office working world, twenty-some years ago, "Silent Running" by Mike and the Mechanics was playing on the radio all the time. I felt then that being forced to listen to the radio constantly while trying to concentrate on office work was a version of water torture, and I tuned out the repetitious songs as much as possible. I'm pretty certain I'd feel the same way now. So this one got a bad rap. I've become more open-minded since then. Not being forced to listen to a song over and over again helps one to be more objective about it. (But certain Billy Joel songs, like "Honesty," are eternally ruined for me.)

So when I heard "Silent Running" in the store a couple of weeks ago, I got curious: What in the world is that song about, anyway? Now we have the Interwebs (unavailable twenty-some years ago), so I was able to find out.

According to La Wik, the songwriter said that the lyric:
is about a guy who's traveled light-years away, out in space somewhere, and he's ahead in time. Therefore he knows what's going to happen to his wife and kids back home, on Earth. And he's trying to get the message to them to say what's going to happen, the kind of anarchy, the breakdown of society, to tell them to be prepared.
In 2013, the lyric has something eerily evocative about it:
Take the children and yourself
And hide out in the cellar
By now the fighting will be close at hand
Don't believe the church and state
And everything they tell you
Believe in me, I'm with the high command
Can you hear me, can you hear me running?
Can you hear me running, can you hear me calling you?
Can you hear me, can you hear me running?
Can you hear me running, can you hear me calling you?
There's a gun and ammunition
Just inside the doorway
Use it only in emergency
Better you should pray to God
The Father and the Spirit
Will guide you and protect from up here.
Can you hear me, can you hear me running?
Can you hear me running, can you hear me calling you?
Can you hear me, can you hear me running?
Can you hear me running, can you hear me calling you?
Swear allegiance to the flag
Whatever flag they offer
Never hint at what you really feel
Teach the children quietly
For some day sons and daughters
Will rise up and fight while we stood still.
I have little doubt that Mike Rutherford conceived these lyrics in terms of the Evil Republicans (or, in England, the Evil Thatcherians). There is a hint in the "swear allegiance to the flag" line. I realize I'm jumping to conclusions here--assuming that Mike Rutherford was not a Tory. But I think that's a safe guess. It was, after all, 1985, when all the artists were a-twitter (before Twitter) about the Power of the Right. Nonetheless, there's something refreshing about the gun and ammunition. It is interesting to see that the rebel spirit in 1985 did not always take the form of hating guns.  It's difficult to imagine any lefty in 2013 counseling the use of a gun even in an emergency, such as when one's home is attacked by an anarchic mob.

But what is particularly striking is how swiftly the passage of time has made these lyrics applicable on the other side of the political spectrum. Who is it now who is being asked to "swear allegiance to the flag, whatever flag they offer"? Who, now, is having to teach the children in secret? The phrase "political correctness" is really much too tame to describe the ideological totalitarianism and the lockdown on the free exchange of thought that has taken over our Western world, whether the topic be the morality of perverted sexual acts, the blatantly racial aspect of increasing thuggish violence, or, for that matter, gun ownership. Is it not now the Right that is said to be encouraging "vigilantism" by suggesting that people be prepared to defend themselves and their property, as the police in various parts of the West become ineffective at keeping the peace?

These words resonate with a home schooling right-winger in 2013. Now we find ways to keep our countenance in public, and we teach our children to do the same. Now we adults find ways to avoid saying the wrong thing, to avoid losing a job or even getting a visit from the authorities. Now we teach the children politically disallowed truths. We teach them, if not precisely in whispers, at least not very loudly.

This lyric is first and foremost about political alienation. To be sure, it's also about anarchy. In fact, one might have thought a priori that there is a tension: The lyric portrays at one and the same time a totalitarian and controlling State that makes everyone swear allegiance to the flag and, simultaneously, an impotent State that cannot prevent anarchic violence. Ah, but real-world history cannot be done a priori, can it? For anarcho-tyranny is a reality. We in the West now know better than we could have known in 1985 that it is entirely possible to have a government that makes itself impotent to carry out its real functions of keeping streets and homes safe and punishing evildoers but at the same time creates endless fear and harassment for peaceful people who simply want to go about their legitimate business. And naturally, that causes those peaceable people eventually to conclude that their government does not, to put it mildly, represent their best interests.

It goes without saying that political alienation is a dangerous and troublesome thing. But it is worth saying that, for an individual and especially for a Christian, reveling in political alienation is also a dangerous and troublesome thing. Dangerous to the soul if nothing else. I do not wish to be unclear: We need to have a clear-eyed view of the present situation and the future prospects for freedom in our country (or, for my readers abroad, countries). Being a bunch of Christian Pollyannas will only trigger blunders which could cost us dear.

At the same time, however, we need to be aware of the dangers of treachery. I do not use that word lightly. When, inspired by a series of quotations on Bill Luse's blog, I read Witness for the first time all the way through, I was much struck by the way in which treachery comes upon a man unawares. Each of us is preoccupied with his own affairs, and the more thoughtful of us are preoccupied with our own ideas and theories. When the suggestion comes that, because of those theories, a man should do something genuinely treacherous to his own country, the suggestion always comes in plausible guise--at least, a guise that is plausible to that man at that time. No one says to himself, "I am about to be a traitor, but treachery is a good thing." Rather, a man says to himself, "This country is no longer my country, so I am not being a traitor," or "By doing this I am fighting for the true essence of what my country ought to be," or "I am moving forward with the right current of history," or some other excuse.

Of course, most of us ordinary folk are in no position to commit any treachery anyway. At the most we are tempted to commit the tiniest and most trivial of infractions--running a red light or something of that kind. Nonetheless, he who is faithful in the least is faithful also in great matters, and he that is a scofflaw in the least is more likely to be treacherous in the great matters. It is a matter of daily, cultivated attitude, and it is especially an issue for those on the non-mainstream right.

I therefore say: Yes, let us be clear-eyed. Let us acknowledge that we are strangers in a strange land and are, in a real sense, much beset by an increasingly hostile government at various levels. Let us not duck the fact that government officials are not our friends. But at the same time, let us not cultivate in ourselves or in others a spirit in which we are, in essence, waiting only for the right trigger to go from being dissidents and critics to being seditious.

The strange attraction of political alienation is real and therefore calls us to walk a crucial, and all-too-fine, line. It is a line that we cannot afford to ignore, in either direction.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Lazy Sunday--John C. Wright has a Christmas story

I'm being a bit lazy this Sunday. Put it down to the large blizzard cum sub-zero temperatures we are having here. Not that that weather is actually demanding any serious action on my part, beyond sliding my car gracefully into something on the road the other day and bending my left front wheel, that is. (It'll be going into the shop tomorrow, if the mechanic isn't snowed in at his home.) Or some extra snow brushing for the purposes of store runs. Or carrying all the groceries into the house from the snowy driveway. Exhausting stuff like that. Esteemed Husband is the one doing the snow-blower and shovel shtick.

My children and I start home schooling again tomorrow after our two-week Christmas break. I'm pretty well prepared. I have just ordered live paramecia and amoebas from this science supply company, with a special live stain which is supposed to make them easier to see and slowing drops which are supposed to keep the paramecia from running away. Or something like that.

Meanwhile, I offer you a link to a Christmas story that made me cry. Mind you (backhanded compliment alert), I'm not entirely sure why it made me cry. It is a John C. Wright fantasia. Digression: John C. Wright either never sleeps or types faster than any man on the planet. I don't know how he writes things that long. End digression. Imagine a Roman Catholic mash-up of A Christmas Carol, a sci-fi short story, complete with changing the past (if I'm understanding the ending correctly), visions of the end of the world, complete with a monster that eats continents, the Book of Job, and St. Nicholas doing theodicy and performing miracles. Oh, and did I mention a little girl going to heaven and getting to hold Baby Jesus? I didn't? It's in there, too. But it kept my attention, peering short-sightedly at the screen (I hate reading fiction on the computer), and it made me cry. So if you think you will enjoy such a story, give it a whirl.

Blessed Epiphany!