Monday, February 20, 2012

an experiment in the dark

I wrote a poem a year or two or three or something ago. Then, I forgot about it (more or less). Then, not so long ago, I was twaddling around at the piano, and jotted down a tune. Then I discovered this afternoon that the poem and the tune sort of ... match. I don't write songs, so this startled me slightly.

However, I'm not sure if the music is too melancholy for the words. What do you think? 

^(These two sentences constitute the main purpose of this blog post. NeedyMe needs to know.)

(The poem is below the video, for your analytical use; the chances of my actually recording myself singing are fantastically low, and I'm not apologizing.) Forgive the abysmal audio quality. Please?

(Oh, and I'm using this hibernating blog because I couldn't find anywhere else that would upload this video file. I fail at technology.)

I die to live: how strange a thing: 
And blood can set me free;
My lifeless tongue will learn to sing,
Glad slave of liberty.

I live to die: how great the cost:
Two natures war within;
How long the road, how dark the cross,
How fiercely clings my sin.

Through fire gold is purified:
In pain must healing start;
And so to suffering now, my Lord,
I yield my trembling heart.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


I'm following the trickling crowd over to wordpress ... we'll see about the permanence of the situation, but I'm at least going to give it a try. Follow me there, if you like.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

home school blindspots

"In the last couple of years, I have heard from multitudes of troubled homeschool parents around the country, a good many of whom were leaders. These parents have graduated their first batch of kids, only to discover that their children didn't turn out the way they thought they would. Many of these children were model homeschoolers while growing up, but sometime after their 18th birthday they began to reveal that they didn't hold to their parents' values..."

(click on the photo to read the rest of this article on Josh Harris's blog.)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

never too far gone

Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou
lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou
shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.
Mark 10:21

The love of Christ towards sinners.
This is a truth which is brought out in the expression used by St. Mark, when in his account of this man's story, he says that 'Jesus beholding him loved  him.' That love, beyond doubt, was a love of pity and compassion. Our Lord beheld with pity the strange mixture of earnestness and ignorance which the case before Him presented. He saw with compassion a soul struggling with all the weakness and infirmity entailed by the fall; the conscience ill at ease and sensible that it wanted relief - the understanding sunk in darkness, and blinded as to the first principles of spiritual religion. Just as we look with sorrow at some noble ruin, roofless, and shattered, and unfit for man's use, yet showing many a mark of the skill with which it was designed and reared at first, so may we suppose that Jesus looked with tender concern at this man's soul.

We must never forget that Jesus feels love and compassion for the souls of the ungodly. Without controversy He feels a peculiar love for those who hear His voice and follow Him. They are His sheep, given to Him by the Father, and watched with a special care. They are His ride, joined to Him in an everlasting covenant, and dear to Him as part of Himself. But the heart of Jesus is a wide heart. He has abundance of pity, compassion, and tender concern even for those who are following sin and the world. He who wept over unbelieving Jerusalem is still the same: He would still gather into His bosom the ignorant and self-righteous, the faithless and impenitent, if they were only willing to be gathered.

We may boldly tell the chief of sinners that Christ loves him (Matt. 23:37). Salvation is ready for the worst of men, if they will only come to Christ. If men are lost, it is not because Jesus does not love them, and is not ready to save. His own solemn words unravel the mystery: 'men have loved darkness rather than light.' 'Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life' (John 3:19, 5:40).

- from another entry in the same book as last time

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

will you go away sorrowful?

And, behold, one came and said unto him, 
Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may  have eternal life?
Matthew 19:16

A person may have desires after salvation, and yet not be saved.

Here is one who in a day of abounding unbelief comes of his own accord to Christ. He comes not to have a sickness healed; he comes not to plead about a child: he comes about his own soul. He opens the conference with the frank question, 'Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?' Surely we might have thought, 'This is a promising case: this is no prejudiced ruler or Pharisee: this is a hopeful inquirer.' Yet by and by this very young man goes 'away sorrowful'; and we never read a word to show that he was converted! We must never forget that good feelings alone in religion are not the grace of God. We may know the truth intellectually; we may often feel pricked in conscience; we may have religious affections awakened within us, have many anxieties about our souls and shed many tears: but all this is not conversion. It is not the genuine saving work of the Holy Ghost.

Unhappily this is not all that must be said on this point. Not only are good feelings alone not grace, but they are even positively dangerous, if we content ourselves with them, and do not act as well as feel. It is a profound remark of that mighty master on moral questions, Bishop Butler, that passive impressions, often repeated, gradually lose all their power; actions, often repeated, produce a habit in man's mind; feelings often indulged in, without leading to corresponding actions, will finally exercise no influence at all.

Let us apply this lesson to our own state. Perhaps we know what it is to feel religious fears, wishes and desires. Let us beware that we do not rest in them. Let us never be satisfied till we have the witness of the Spirit in our hearts, that we are actually born again and new creatures; let us never rest till we know that we have really repented, and laid hold on the hope set before us in the gospel. It is good to feel; but it is far better to be converted.

- from "Day by Day," a devotional collection of J.C. Ryle's writings 

love, joy, and spit milk

(an article by Douglas Jones)

Where Christ reigns humor and laughter are sure to prevail. We shouldn't even hesitate to say that laughers will inherit the earth. "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks," and nothing expresses the deep triumph of Christian joy better than laughter tumbling out on all sides. Somewhere even Goethe recognized that "Men show their characters in nothing more clearly than in what they think laughable." And if we are Christians, then joy, humility, and gratitude should lead us to burst with hearty laughter. And I'm not just speaking of "pious" chuckles over "polite" quips or self-righteous sneering. True joy finds humor in all the weird details of life - the curse of broccoli, the dullness of males, the cruelty of insurance forms, and the tragedy of English cooking. Humor tells us so much about our hearts.

Terry Lindvall recently said it so well,
Laughter is a divine gift to the human who is humble. A proud man cannot laugh because he must watch his dignity; he cannot give himself over to the rocking and rolling of his belly. But a poor and happy man laughs heartily because he gives no serious attention to his ego.
In a similar note, G.K. Chesterton remarked,
As long as a man is merely witty he can be quite dignified; in other words, as long as he is witty he can be entirely solemn. But if he is mirthful he at once abandons dignity, which is another name for solemnity, which is another name for spiritual pride ... And a man must love a joke more than himself, or he will not surrender pride for it. A man must take what is called a leap in the dark, as he does when he is married or when he dies, or when he is born, or when he does almost anything else that is important.
The prideful don't give in to humor. And we should rightly learn to be suspicious of people and ministries that are not characterized by genuine humor (not Toronto laugh-spasms). They're showing us their heart. The humor doesn't have to be good to be humble. Bad jokes are far more humbling than good ones. (But for your friends' sake, do remember Paul's advice, "Shall we continue in bad jokes that grace may abound? Certainly not!" - Col. 5:2)

Laughter reveals not only joy, humility, and gratitude, but also patience and mercy. Cold reason (not wisdom) demands neatly brushed and hermetically sealed answers. But tidy rationalism isn't Christian. Christians should know that mystery surrounds us, that the secret things belong to the Lord, that we see through a glass darkly, and that golf is still legal.

Laughter rejoices in unresolved problems. It doesn't seek a clean repair job but rejoices in the incongruities of life. That's why explaining a joke often ruins it. Germans can illustrate this point well. John Morreal recounts the story of a single-pane comic strip published in a German magazine in the 1940's. The strip showed two skiers, one staring in amazement at the other whose ski tracks cut smoothly around both sides of a tree. Many Germans actually "wrote in with their 'solutions' to it. Instead of being amused by the drawing, they took it as a cognitive challenge."

Laughter doesn't demand a calculus for everything. It is the fruit of patience with an often mysterious world full of people at different levels skipping in different directions. Laughter reveals a state of rest within us. Flannery O'Connor observed that "Only if we are secure in our beliefs can we see the comical side of the universe." Laughter in no way excludes truth, careful argumentation, thoughtful distinctions, and the rest, but it won't allow you to throw a fit and break the little wagon wheels when no one wants a ride.

Is your life characterized by shiploads of laughter? - not constant, boorish laughter oblivious to the pains and fastings of life, but easy laughter from the heart? Does laughter prevail in your family? At work? At church? If not, then pride and ingratitude are probably lurking somewhere. It's worth looking into. Life is short and the days are evil. Why miss the best parts of it? Pursue laughter seriously.

Why Do We Laugh?
A barrel of snoots will always tell us that defining and analyzing humor is a pastime of humorless people. That's certainly true of individual jokes but not of humor in general. We certainly don't say that sort of thing about music. In fact we say the opposite: the more we understand about music, the more we can appreciate it. I'm sure this is false in regard to humor, but the temptation is just too great to avoid.

Three theories of whywe laugh at something have held sway over the millennia, with each being snipped and qualified in interesting ways hundreds of times. In the most general groupings, the three theories are Superiority, Release, and Incongruity. I think Christianity has something distinctive which excludes the first two.

Superiority theories suggest that all laughter necessarily involves a feeling of triumph and superiority or "sudden glory" as Thomas Hobbes argued. This seems to fit with old jokes like: What do you get by crossing a Californian with a gorilla? A retarded gorilla. But though feelings of superiority cause some laughter, and Don Rickles types have made a career of it, it doesn't appear to be central to every kind of laughter. When babies laugh at tickling or a stuffed cow on dad's head, do they have deep feelings of superiority? Well, okay, maybe for the cow hat, but not for the tickling.

The Release theory of humor suggests that we laugh when we need to vent excess nervous energy. Some jokes surely do this. In its more Freudian version, laughter releases energy normally used to suppress forbidden feelings and thoughts. Release theories usually rest on passing scientific fads about bodily energies, but they also don't take into account all examples of humor. Take the following Steven Wright line: "Why is it a penny for your thoughts, but you have to put your two cents in? Somebody's making a penny." If you find that mildly humorous, where is the suppressed nervous energy in that? What forbidden feelings are we venting? And again, when infants laugh, we can hardly charge them with overactive Superegos. We could only wish.

The Superiority and Relief theories fail rather decisively I think to grasp the heart of laughter. Heaven will be a place of great laughter, and yet it will also be a place of freedom without sin. But both these theories involve sinful drives - human superiority and forbidden thoughts - which will be wonderfully absent in the future state. Nonetheless, our perceptions of incongruity between glorification and the previous life or between divine perfection and our own finitude will stand out sharply. Humor will prevail.

This bodes well for the most popular theory of laughter, the Incongruity theory - the view that laughter results from a pleasant psychological shift. In other words, we are amused when something clashes with our expectations of regularity. The world runs according to certain patterns, and then we suddenly find something out of place, facing the wrong direction. So inside we say "No, that's not how it goes!" and express this with laughter. Now not all incongruities are pleasant. If they are frightening, say, an odd bump in the night or a stranger in our bedroom, then we don't laugh but scream. Horror and laughter may not be that far apart. Puzzles in life - like the occultic incantations necessary for plumbing - are incongruities too, but they aren't usually funny (until years later). Laughter demands pleasant incongruities, and our judgments of these vary widely. That's why we don't all laugh at the same things.

Incongruity - that "No that's not right!" delight - is evident in Fran Lebowitz's observation that "Being a woman is of special interest only to aspiring male transsexuals. To actual women, it is merely a good excuse not to play football." Another case of strong incongruity occurs in Monty Python's movie, In Search of the Holy Grail, long an underground favorite in Reformed circles (yes, I know the objections; put your hands down). Consider this dialogue in which King Arthur questions some medieval peasants:

ARTHUR: How do you do, good lady. I am Arthur, King of the Britons. Whose castle is that?
WOMAN: King of the who?
ARTHUR: The Britons.
WOMAN: Who are the Britons?
ARTHUR: Well, we all are. We're all Britons and I am your king.
WOMAN: I didn't know we had a king. I thought we were an autonomous collective.
DENNIS: You're fooling yourself. We're living in a dictatorship. A self-perpetuating autocracy in which the working classes--
[The discussion heats up more and then:]
ARTHUR: Shut up! Will you shut up! (Arthur throttles democratic Dennis)
DENNIS: Ah, now we see the violence inherent in the system.
ARTHUR: Shut up!
DENNIS: Oh! Come and see the violence inherent in the system! HELP! HELP! I'm being repressed!

Children's laughter too can be explained via incongruity. The drinking straws don't normally stick out of dad's nose. Mom doesn't usually hang upside down from the sofa. Things are out of order, and the child laughs. Of course, if you're too incongruous, you terrify children, but this is a worthy price for parental comedy. Little children themselves are the funniest things on the face of the earth. They are incongruous aliens in our world - little humans who don't know the rules or how things work. Their eyes are too big for their heads. They put electrical plugs in their mouths, and they try to brush their hair with spatulas. And when they are three, they often have ludicrous explanations of the world. At that age, my son once explained - with a deep scientific frown - that milk comes from a cow's butt.

Always the Limits
Not all comedy is pretty. Much certainly violates biblical norms (Eph. 5:4; Ex. 20:7). Contemporary, sentimental evangelicalism tends to sin in the other direction though, being embarrassed at any Christian laughter. A sinful sentimentalism also clamors against the legitimacy of holy ridicule. Some claim that any sort of ridicule is unloving and unChristlike. One wonders what Bible they are reading. The Father (Ps. 2:2, 4), the Son (Matt. 23), Elijah (1 Kgs. 18:27), and others reveal the necessity of ridiculing arrogance. Bold arrogance against God deserves ridicule. Who do the arrogant think they are to raise themselves up against God and His Christ? But you can almost hear some Christians complaining against Christ's rude treatment of the Pharisees or Elijah's harsh attitude toward the priests of Baal.

At the base of all our laughter, even our holy ridicule, stands an overwhelming joy - a joy that pushes us to laugh aloud at the glorious incongruities of life. Our joy is the joy of triumph. We were dead, but now we live! We were abandoned, but God became flesh! How can we not shout and laugh in triumphant joy? I will never forget the best picture of this sort of triumphant laughter. My wife was giving birth to our fourth child, but things weren't going well. The pain was especially bad, and the time seemed to drag. I was of little help by her bedside. I couldn't take her pain, though I wanted to. Her body became rather badly mangled in the process, but just before our new son finally made his painful entrance into the world, my wife laughed and laughed, again and again, heartily and triumphantly like one finding a prodigal son. The tears were gone, and laughter prevailed - incarnational laughter.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

33 minutes that will rock your world

Until today, I've had this sort of meaningless hangup about including photos or videos in my blog life. I inflicted myself with the vague challenge to always aim for posts written well and clearly enough to not need such crutches. I haven't abandoned that idea altogether, but I'm going to have to give up on it as a law, because this video has to be posted.

Actually, it's already phenomenally popular, and I'm a bit of a latecomer to the scene, so there's a fairly good chance that many or most of you have already seen this. But if you haven't, here's your chance.

I'll warn you, the video deals in part with the Holocaust, and includes some graphic imagery. It's not for children.

Prepare to have your world rocked.