Saturday, October 22, 2016

10 Thoughts On Donald Trump And The Dignity Of Christian Women

We interrupt this music and faith blog to discuss the dignity of women. I promise we'll return to the regularly-scheduled programming after this special report. 

Dignity is the innate right to be valued, respected, and to receive ethical treatmentIt's what women lose in the wake of sexual mistreatment whether it's rape, groping, harassment, or vaguer forms of misogyny. Dignity is also what women (or any other group, for that matter) lose when fellow Christian leaders fail to defend us - we lose that sense of the very right to be valued. Thankfully, Jesus dignified women over and over. Christians on both the right and left agree with that. How I wish they all followed his example.

1. Imagine being a woman, especially a woman who has been sexually victimized, and hearing your brother in Christ say "I will defend your honor at all costs... as long as that cost doesn't mean losing a seat on the Supreme Court. In that case, all bets are off."

2. Believe it or not, God is powerful enough to handle the Supreme Court. Besides, the legal system isn't the only way to address abortion. Give God some credit. I think we can assume he has a few skills in the creativity department. It's absurd to say that we must elect a man who makes sexual liberty part of his brand in order to prevent abortion.

3. Christian leaders sometimes hurt women more than the predators. Let me put it this way: a woman is wounded when she is harassed or assaulted. She's wounded again when her self-proclaimed champions endorse a confessed predator for President. She's wounded yet a third time when those "champions" insist that she believe they are still her champions. That's an insult to her intelligence.

4. When pastors - not just remote leaders, but our own pastors - fail to lead the charge in defending a woman's honor and dignity, she feels so betrayed that she begins to believe that the whole idea of sexual purity was just a silly illusion and there's no honor to bother defending. The damage done in these circumstances is tremendous. Look, the possibility of ending up with a creepy lech for President is bad, but we've had that before. The thing that just devastates us is that this time, Christian leaders approve it.

5. Mormon men look like knights in shining armor on white steeds to a lot of women these days because they have not waffled in their unendorsement of Trump following the release of the Trump tapes and the surfacing of other things such as the time he humiliated a woman on stage at a beauty pageant. Christian men, your sisters-in-Christ are bleeding for want of loyalty from you. 

6. Those who say, "A vote for Trump doesn't indicate our approval of his character" have lost the right to tell anyone that actions speak louder than words.

7. When Christians communicate Jesus’ love for this woman and defend her dignity and sexual worthiness so passionately that she would bathe Christ's feet with her tears and wipe it with her hair, we're on the right track to the kingdom of God as well as the sanctity of life. When Christians endorse a man for President who rates her as a 10, 8, or maybe a 4, we're going to be stuck with sexual promiscuity and abortion for a long time.

8. In the wake of the Trump tapes, Kelly Oxford asked women on twitter to share their stories of sexual assault and within 3 days, she received 27 million responses with stories that ranged from fly-by gropings to outright rape. 27 millionI didn't tweet, but like almost every woman I know, I've been groped. Men, do you have any idea how common that is?  27 million is the number of wounded women's souls just on Twitter who need to hear how much God loves them and wants to dignify them. How many more beyond Twitter users? How are you ministering to them? I can tell you that no gospel message is credible if you sell my dignity for the paltry price of campaign promises made by a man who can't keep his marriage vows.

9. We have to protect our religious liberties, you say. There was no protection of religious liberty for first century Christian martyrs. Paul willingly abdicated his liberty at every turn for the sake of the gospel and thanked God for the honor of it. We 21st century Christians are no more special and deserving of protection than our first century forerunners. We are far less. God knows, we've had 2,000 years to finish what they started. Lord, have mercy.

10. We are charged by God to preserve the church - the spotless bride of Christ - until His return. He is jealous for her. This is a powerful metaphor that is is supposed to reflect the protection of a husband for his wife. But the metaphor is breaking down on both sides during this election. Christian husbands dishonor their wives by endorsing for the Presidency a man as blatantly misogynistic and unrepentant as Donald Trump. On the other side of the metaphor, when we support a man in the name of Christian purposes who disregards the things we believe are sacred, then we are not preserving the bride of Christ. Instead, we are like a medieval nobleman who marries his sister off to a boorish foreign prince for the sake of a political alliance. The bride of Christ is meant for the King of the empire and we are to defend her honor, dignity, and unity. Men, preserving unity means you don't blow off the worth of half the church.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Words on Wednesday

Not Here For High And Holy Things
by Geoffrey Anketel Studdert-Kennedy

Not here for high and holy things
we render thanks to thee,
but for the common things of earth,
the purple pageantry
of dawning and of dying days,
the splendor of the sea,

the royal robes of autumn moors,
the golden gates of spring,
the velvet of soft summer nights,
the silver glistering
of all the million million stars,
the silent song they sing,

of faith and hope and love undimmed,
undying still through death,
the resurrection of the world,
what time there comes the breath
of dawn that rustles through the trees,
and that clear voice that saith:

Awake, awake to love and work!
The lark is in the sky,
the fields are wet with diamond dew,
the worlds awake to cry
their blessings on the Lord of life,
as he goes meekly by.

Come, let thy voice be one with theirs,
shout with their shout of praise;
see how the giant sun soars up,
great lord of years and days!
So let the love of Jesus come
and set thy soul ablaze,

to give and give, and give again,
what God hath given thee;
to spend thyself nor count the cost;
to serve right gloriously
the God who gave all worlds that are,
and all that are to be. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Holy Alchemy

A wise music teacher once taught me something that is as true about writing as it is about performing. In my piano lesson that day, I was too emotive for the teacher’s taste. “If you don’t over-interpret,” he said, “you leave the possibility for the listener to interpret the music in his own way, and that creates a richer experience for him than just hearing your response to the music.” Later, I told him that he might just as well have borrowed a line from Carly Simon: "You're so vain, you probably think this song is about you." This story has become a parable for me that speaks to the mystery of how art can transcend my personal perspective.

In my last post, I expressed my dismay at the trend in Christian publishing houses towards confessional writing and the paucity of good fiction and poetry. I think we get closer to the mysterious ways in which God works when we allow that mystery full play in the genres of story and poetry. I said that creativity and artistic craft can transform personal confession into something greater than the author’s limited, personal truth, and I promised to explain myself. I might be in over my head with that. Philosophers and poets have written long treatises trying to explain how art can be transcendent, and none of them have written the definitive answer. Neither can I. I can only chip away at it, a little bit at a time, and maybe get close to it.

Whether I’m writing a story or performing a Brahms intermezzo, I can only write or play from my own experience and emotion. When I play Brahms, the pathos you hear is mine, prompted by the pathos of Brahms. The goal, however, is not for you to hear or feel my pathos, but for mine to cause you to feel yours. It would be so much easier to just tell you the story of what caused my pathos, but the buffer of expressing it through a character in a story or a musical composition is what gives the readers or listeners the opportunity to insert themselves into the work. This is especially true if the artist can avoid over-interpreting as I was inclined to do in my piano lesson.

The difficult task of the artist is to surrender personal experience and emotion to something greater. T.S. Eliot wrote about crafting poetry in his essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent.”
the more perfect the artist, the more completely separate in him will be the man who suffers and the mind which creates;  the more perfectly will the mind digest and transmute the passions which are its material.
Transmute is an arresting word. Transmutation is a complete change of one thing into another. In chemistry, it's what happens when one element is changed into a different element either through radioactive decay or nuclear reaction. The original context of the word was connected to medieval alchemy, the science by which practitioners hoped to change a base metal such as lead into gold. It's not merely a refiner's fire that burns away the dross and leaves the silver. It's a complete chemical transformation.

When we experience dramatic life circumstances that prompt us to say, "I should write a book about that," we have essentially two choices. The first is the choice of non-fiction: telling the story as it happened, recording our feelings and reactions, and either letting the story be enough, or in the case of most Christian writers, turning it into a testimony of God's faithfulness through the storm. There's nothing wrong with that, and there are many very good writers of Christian memoir. I do wish, though, that more people would make the other choice. The second choice is to surrender the story and our role in it to holy alchemy. This is where novels, poetry, and symphonies are born. 
What happens is a continual surrender of himself as he is at the moment to something which is more valuable. The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality.
Eliot understands something here that a lot of non-artists don't. Artists who aren't making art for attention or money but because they are compelled to by an inner need tend to feel that they are giving themselves away, or losing part of themselves, not that they're engaging in "self-expression." If the word expression is at all appropriate, it's more like what is meant when we express juice from a lemon. It's draining. Remember, my job as a musician or storyteller is to create an inner experience for you using the medium of my own emotions, without drawing attention to them as my emotions. My calling is to make you the hero in the story that was originally mine until the Holy Spirit's nuclear reaction obliterated it and changed it to yours.

When the “courage to tell your story” in confessional memoir format results in big book deals and an appearance on Oprah, maybe it isn’t actually courage. Maybe there’s more courage in surrendering your need to tell your story and allowing God to transmute it into a song that's not about you.

There are more aspects of art's transcendence to consider - the connection that is created between the maker and the receiver, for instance. At any rate, I hope that if someone reads here they'll consider stretching themselves and venturing into the realm of story or poetry when they find themselves thinking, "I should write a book about that."

Photo by Sergey Zolkin