Monday, April 30, 2007

Addicted To 'Grass

A frequent sight at Merlefest each year: 80-something years old Doc Watson with flattop guitar in hand(for you Yankees, Doc pioneered flatpicking guitar). I was schooled for a few minutes this weekend by some mandolin whiz-kid who was about 13. He taught me the first few bars of Charlie Parker's "Scrapple from the Apple" at an age when most kids are shrieking about American Idol. This was after he sat in with another group of whiz-kids on the Hillside Stage that call themselves The Belleville Outfit. Swingin' times at Merlefest '07. The Duhks, The Waybacks, The Infamous Stringdusters, Uncle Earl, and Toubab Krewe are a few of the other young faces to be seen in Wilkesboro, NC this time of year. Among the more venerables are the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Earl Scruggs, Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, Tony Rice, and Peter Rowan.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Christian Parenting

This is a link to a recent post by my fellow monastic character the Internet Monk. Titled How Religious Parents Royally Screw Up Their Children, it has quite a few stellar observations about the foolishness of certain parenting techniques used by Christians. Here is a quote:

Quite a few youngsters herded down the broad path called Christian approval never found the narrow road called Christ.

The iMonk's post reminded me of something I read on a glance-through of a book called Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity. The author cited a statistic concerning sexual activity among teenage girls. The activity that is the most likely preventer of pre-marital sex in girls?

Church attendance?
Inovlvement in youth group?
Daily Bible studies?
Rigorous instruction on the Christian moral understanding of sex?


Sports. The more involved she is in sports, the less likely the girl is to have sex.

Still think the Kingdom of God is of this world?

I am Triune

Something concerning the Trinity put a hook in me.

First, I will explain what led up to the reflection. I was raised in a Trinitarian belief. I attend a church with a Trinitarian belief about God. I however, don't see the big important truth in Trinitarian thought. The thing I am supposed to get, I don't think I ever got. I don't mean conceptualizing the Trinity, everyone's quick to admit that can't be done. But nobody I've come across has anything that compelling to say about why the doctrine of the Trinity exists, why it's so important that we adhere to the belief, what it does for faith and practice, or even how to make a compelling Biblical case for it. Of course that doesn't mean there isn't anything compelling to say. I assume. I mean, somebody, somewhere, sometime, must have had some reason for believing in Trinity.

I should qualify at this point that I have not read about the formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity, but it's on my list.

The hook: In matters that are incomprehensible, like particle-wave theory, or space-time, or matter-energy unity, it appears that the way people arrive at their conclusion is inductive rather than deductive. Since we can't "see" the conclusion, since our minds can't get around it, we have to work with what is observable, and make conclusions about what must be true based on the evidence. Light behaves like a particle. It also behaves like a wave. Thus it must be both, as far-flung and beyond my grid as that seems.

Maybe there are a few gifted folks from history who can grasp a little of it. The Newtons, the Einsteins, the Hawkings. But for the rest of us, at least for those in the habit of asking questions, there's got to be some way of think about these things instead of simply accepting the doctrinaire's position. This is probably where the practices of silence and solitude can help.

While I can't see the Trinity, I can see myself. I know that my most fundamental identity is beloved- I am he within whom God has initiated life, sustains and protects life, out of the desire that I should be alive and know him. I am built a certain way. I receive love in a number of different ways. Can we distill these multitudes of ways into a few categories?

1. I need to receive love from the community- I am dead unless I belong to people. Horizontal love is the evidence of my inclusion in the collective, the community. Receiving it properly insures my ability to give it properly when the time comes. Two children play in a sandbox. When one shares his toy with the other, a building block in the conditioned framework for regarding the needs of others slides into place. A lifetime of this kind of healthy interaction produces a congruency in the manifest self with the self as it exists in the mind of God- that of a person whose nature is to receive and give love to, from, and among his peers.

2. I need to receive love from above. My socialization, especially as a child, depends strongly on the affirmation I receive from those wiser, older, more experienced, more capable. Parents(perhaps uniquely, fathers), teachers, and mentors are among the most prevalent. Barring that, an adoptive parental figure, or an elder who chooses to put a significant stake in my development, namely by loving me personally and authoritatively.

3. I need to receive love from myself. The relationship with self is perhaps the hardest to see, and therefore the least acknowledged(thus the marginalized role of the Holy Spirit, in practice, for many Christians???). Self-love(and I'm writing off-the-cuff here, so I may reverse my opinion later) follows from Above-love and Community-love. The ones who are the most convinced that they are beautiful are the ones who have been affirmed in it by their parents and their community. Without self-love we are doomed to constantly add stuff onto our persons, and think of the stuff as what makes us good and lovable. True self-love is demonstrated in self-forgetfulness, unwavering conviction that we are worth being friends with, that we are holy beings, and that we are capable of startlingly great things. And all without the slightest aquiescence to the need for attention, praise, and self-deification.

So we have Above-love, realized in the Father; Community-love, realized in the horizontal love of the Son; and Self-love, realized in the inward love of the Holy Spirit. Triune love reveals itself to me, and defines me. As far as I can tell then, the most compelling witness to Trinity is the inner witness, and the witness of the world around us, not the Biblical witness. The Biblical witness seems to attest to it after the fact- once it has already been established by opening our eyes. The best evidence that God is Triune is, quite simply, I am triune. And if God made me, loves me, and has come to meet me, then he has to do so with regard to my nature. Thus God must be triune. The small puzzle piece fits into all the numerous and diverse pieces surrounding it.

Augustine, they say, was theocentric instead of Christocentric. As far as I can tell that means he arrived at Christ through transcendent God, rather than at transcendent God through Christ. Pretty much unheard of in most churches, with their alter calls to put faith in Christ that they may know God; maybe there's something we need to recover here. Could we possibly understand revelation(i.e. Trinitarian doctrine) more thoroughly if we began with God Undescribable and followed the path from there, through what we see around us? This instead of beginning with the Trinity(or some other revelation), and trying to mash and misshape the facts around us so they will fit into the creed we profess. This method, I've noticed, doesn't exactly evoke the sympathy of critically-minded onlookers. Not that that evoking their sympathy is that important, of course.

But wouldn't it be neat if people thought that Christians were intelligent?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Reading List

I think I had more to say on this art subject, but the other day I had a great, interesting post to tie the whole thing up, and I lost it because I forgot to save it. That discouraged me, so I didn't post for several days, but I think I'm back now. I don't know if I'll be able to tie things up so nicely in my discussion of art, the way I did in the disappearing post. So I may be on to a new topic, for now.

Currently reading: The Narnian, by Alan Jacobs

Started a booklist, including: Dante's The Divine Comedy, Tolstoy's War and Peace, Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, and Augustine's Confessions. I'm upping the ante slightly in my reading material. I don't normally read such epic works. At least I haven't put Augustine's City of God or Summa Theologica on the list. I'm sure there will be plenty of posting to do on these gargantuan reads.

I find myself having a greater interest in the learning and teaching process. Having been through a teacher education program in college, I can say my philosophy of education differs immensely from that of public schools, and probably of most Universities. That's probably why I have no interest in teaching public school, notwithstanding the words on my diploma. It doesn't necessarily follow, I'm realizing, that I don't want anything to do with teaching.

I couldn't exactly tell you what my philosophy is though. I know it has something to do with "educing" from the student that which has been deposited in him or her. If we are so fearfully and wonderfully made, shouldn't we be more concerned with becoming who we are than adding a bunch of knowledge onto ourselves, and expecting it to magically produce the results we're, families, skills?

My education, in many ways, seems to be just beginning. I think this part of my life will be occupied by filling in the gaps that "the system" has left blank. Which are considerably large in many areas.

This has been a test post. Had this been a real post, there would have been something of substance written. Just keeping things afloat, folks.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Self In Seeing

This is a continuation of an ongoing discussion of art that began here and continued here and then here.

I have a very refined sense of what I like, aesthetically, and what I don't. I have an opinion about all music. I can usually create a framework of an opinion about any visual art I see. I love critiquing creative works, and understanding what it is that tickles me about them, and what makes me scoff.

I don't believe that the consequence of everything I have said about art is "we need to throw away our judgements, and accept all expression as having equal value, and like every piece of art we are witness to." I have expressed that it's a mistake to place an ultimate qualitative judgement on a work of art. So what kind of judgement criteria do we use? Because we earthlings judge our surrounding simply by being there, much like God does. We bring a certain lens of experience, a tint of our socially constructed selves(for better or worse) to everything we witness. The key to beholding is to recognize this filter as a gift.

The real question, maybe, is "who are you?" This may even be more important than the question of what is before you. If I bring so much to the table by simply observing, there must be a great deal that I'm capable of building onto what the artist has begun.

The self exists without surroundings, but it may as well not. Without surroundings, without community, the self goes unexpressed. I book of matches next to a pile of hay is not a fire. And it certainly will never become one if everyone who walks by says "I see no matches" for fear of having to decide what to do with it.

Which is really how most people live. Afraid of striking a match and kindling something dangerous, but equally afraid of deciding against it, because then the cold is there fault.

Who are you? The felt value of the created depends on how that question is answered by your engagement with things. By all means, despise Shakespeare at college, and enjoy Britney Spears in the jazz underground. Believe that Raphael was less spiritual than Rembrandt.

But like so much, the value in this process depends wholly on whether or not we want to be real with ourselves.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Love is all you need, love is all you need, love is all...

Some stellar thoughts from Leopold over at Water for Words. On love, and being in love. Or "in God" as it may be more appropriate. The post. And its prequel.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Is God In Denial?

I have mentioned that art is legitimized in some sense simply by the fact that it is there.

Externals are utterly faithful representations of internals. Actions are manifetations of the mind, which is the product of choices. Societies faithfully show us choices that a body of people make. Trends represent choices based on what the mind declares to be necessary. Art is the touchable(or these days not-so-touchable, but sensable) picture of an invisible source.

If my body/intellect is contingent on my spirit, my art is contingent on my body/intellect. The same way, my spirit is contingent on God, who is spirit. As are all things. God inhabits the universe as the spirit inhabits the body, it has been said.

Thus my art is not ultimate reality, but it is a window into ultimate reality, into irreducible existence. All it must do, then, is represent a something that is more inward then itself. Gee that's a pretty broad definition of art.

Must it represent God then, the ultimate, irreducible reality? Well, it seems that it does whether it intends to or not. If the artist is taking a shot at something invisible, perhaps "farther down" than the, say, sculpture, she is only shooting at something less visible than the sculpture, which is in turn contingent upon, and more visible than God. Or you may add as many steps in between as you prefer.

So what do I do with art and music that is lascivious, offensive, harmful, degrading, immoral, pagan, Nazi, neo-liberal, Republican, gay, absurd, unreedemable, establishmentist, sophomoric, novice, cold, libertine, abstract, idealistic?

The twentieth century saw a blurring of the lines between art and audience, art and entertainment, art and work, art and personal conversation, art and life. Do we need a line between "good/moral/spiritual art" and "bad/immoral/unspiritual" art? Perhaps to acknowledge our personal taste, govern what is allowed access to our selfhood, save time when it comes to judging what we will listen to and look at, and what we will not. But do I need to go into attack(defense?) mode over the downhill slide of modern culture? Or is this just the inner jury, the manager complex, the bug-eyed anxious grab at the video game controller someone has just beaten us to? "People get angry when they are defending something they believe because they don't actually believe it. Or else because they are actually defending their self-esteem." (paraphrase TM)

Let's say I have discovered that bluegrass music is, irreducibly, the best form of music there is. I have seen that it is the best representation of artistic righteousness in music, technically, morally, and spiritually. I naturally go home and discard, perhaps ritually burn, all my non-bluegrass CDs. I poster my walls with bluegrass artists. I attend festivals that are devoted strictly to the purest form of bluegrass, untainted by the waves of musical miscegenating libertines and their electric instruments, their long hair, their rock 'n' roll beats, and their minor seventh chords.

Have I then denied a real world fact of non-bluegrass. Not to mention the invisible reality that supports the existence of the music- namely people's like of other idioms? Perhaps even ignorance that the bluegrass idiom exists?

Is God in denial? (of anything, not just bluegrass...)