Reclaiming Supernatural Christianity

Confession time.  I’m sure some of you will relate!

When I became a Christian way back in my pre-teen years, I found the Bible quite difficult to read.  At the time, I was reading Terry Brooks (fantasy) and Tom Clancy (political-military thrillers), so I tried to approach the Bible like a strict narrative.  I fell in love with the opening of Genesis, but the genealogies were monotonous, so I skipped them. I loved Exodus… until it got to the laws. I skipped Deuteronomy and Leviticus entirely.  I skipped Numbers just because it sounded boring (a shame, since it turns out Numbers has some of the most tragic and violent stories in the Bible)!

I did okay with Judges, Esther, Nehemiah, Jonah, etc., but Kings and Chronicles? Nope.

I enjoyed Job… for about 10 minutes… but the dialogue was way over my head.  Nope.

The Psalms and the Proverbs seemed unnecessary to me.  I loved God and I had common sense (pre-teens know it all, right?).  Skip. Lamentations? Skip. Song of Solomon? SKIP!!!! I didn’t have the patience to sift through any of the prophets. 

The Gospels were great! I really enjoyed learning about the life and ministry of Jesus, and the accounts of His death on the cross were amazing.  I knew He did all that for me (and you), but reading it really put things into perspective. 

All the apostolic letters… again, I thought as a pre-teen I had it all figured out.  Skippity-skip-skip-skip.   

And then, I arrived at Revelation. 

I still remember sitting in my room reading Revelation for the first time late at night.  I had heard of it from popular culture and knew it talked about the end of the world. That was my kind of story! That night, I worked all the way through it.  I couldn’t put it down.

The fantastic elements, beasts, world governments, the Antichrist, death, destruction, the elders in the throne room of Yahweh, the worthiness of the Lamb… it was epic and engaging.  I fell in love.  

Through high school and college, I kept the faith but did not follow the teachings of Jesus to a T.  I should’ve read Paul’s letters and the Proverbs. I would have fared better; instead, I had to learn from my mistakes. 

The amazing thing is, I didn’t realize the elements that I found so fascinating as a child in the first chapters of Genesis and Revelation actually permeate the Old and New Testament!  I had missed it all because nobody had pointed it out to me. Now that I see it, I want to share it with you. My hope is that you’ll fare better in your walk with God and understanding the Bible.  

First things first.  Remember… 

The Weird Stuff is The Important Stuff

With that being said, let’s start with Psalm 82. 

A Scene from the Divine Council

Psalm 82

A Plea for Righteous Judgment. 

A psalm of Asaph.

1 God has taken His place in the divine assembly;

He judges among the gods:[a]

2 “How long will you judge unjustly

and show partiality to the wicked? Selah

3 Provide justice for the needy and the fatherless;

uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute.

4 Rescue the poor and needy;

save them from the power of the wicked.”

5 They do not know or understand;

they wander in darkness.

All the foundations of the earth are shaken.

6 I said, “You are gods;

you are all sons of the Most High.

7 However, you will die like men

and fall like any other ruler.”

8 Rise up, God, judge the earth,

for all the nations belong to You.

This passage is awfully interesting, if you just take it at face value.  God seems here to be judging an assembly of… other gods?! Right there in our Bible!?

Wait.  I thought Christianity was a monotheistic religion?!  Taken at face value, this sounds an awful lot like… a pantheon.  Like Greek, Roman, Ugaritic, and Canaanite religions!

This is understandably alarming for any American or European Christian.  The cognitive dissonance here is enough to make any Western Christian’s head spin.  If you read the footnotes in many study Bibles, in almost every translation, there are tons of notes trying to deal with, or dance around, this issue. 

Many commentators will say that elohim, the Hebrew word translated ‘God,’ ‘god,’ or ‘gods’ depending on the context, can refer to human leaders or rulers.  Or maybe the members of the Trinity are in dialogue. Neither of these are coherent, especially given modern scholarship.  For one thing, a member of the Trinity… being accused of corruption and wicked rule? Nah, man. Nah. 

Additionally, the ‘human’ elohim view wreaks havoc on many other Bible passages like Psalm 89 and Job 1:6 and 2:1.  This would basically elevate men to godhood in a practical, literal sense, which is blasphemy.  In fact, the Hebrew word elohim is never used to refer to humans in the Bible.  In Psalm 82, the point is driven home since, as judgment for their wicked actions, they will be sentenced to die just like men!

So, if we accept these elohim to be actual spiritual beings, and are part of a Divine Counsel that Yahweh, the Most High, presides over, then why are they being punished in Psalm 82?

That is where Deuteronomy 32 comes into play. 

How Ancient Israelites Understood Their World

Deuteronomy 32:7-9

7 Remember the days of old;

consider the years long past.

Ask your father, and he will tell you,

your elders, and they will teach you.

8 When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance[b]

and divided the human race,

He set the boundaries of the peoples

according to the number of the people of Israel.[c]

9 But the Lord’s portion is His people,

Jacob, His own inheritance.

Notice verse 8 refers to the commonly known fact at the author’s time (ie, “ask your father and he will tell you”) that God had divided the nations according to their “inheritance,” or what they deserved.  What is this talking about? When did God divide the nations?

The answer: At the Tower of Babel.

You probably glossed over this story in Sunday School, but it’s included in the Bible for a huge theological purpose.  Noah’s descendants, instead of learning the lesson of the Flood, rebelled against God again, ignoring his command to fill the Earth and instead congregated in one city under Nimrod.  They sought to bring God, or the gods, to them on their own terms.  That’s what ziggurats in ancient Mesopotamia were for, and virtually all scholars agree that the Tower of Babel was a ziggurat.   

So God divided the nations up, set boundaries for them, and allotted each people group to…

… the people of Israel?

No. 

This makes no sense.  When the Tower of Babel event happened, the people of Israel didn’t even exist yet!

Many older Bible translations (including the King James Version) have “the people/sons of Israel” in verse 9.  Unfortunately, this is incorrect, taken from the Masoretic texts which were copied Hebrew texts from the 7th and 10th centuries A.D. When the Dead Sea Scrolls were uncovered in 1948, the copies of Deuteronomy that were found did not have bene yisra’el, but instead had bene elohim (sons of the gods) or bene ‘el (sons of God).  The Dead Sea Scrolls were from before the time of Christ, and therefore much closer to the original texts than the Masoretic texts. 

[As an aside, the Masoretic texts, which were copied versions of the Jewish Bible for individual families, were compiled after many Jews became followers of Jesus because of convincing proofs from the Hebrew scriptures.  Jesus, for instance, quotes Psalm 82 and Daniel 7:13-14 to prove His own Divinity. Jewish scribes and rabbis, in the aftermath of an exploding worldwide Christianity, had a vested interest in discouraging young Jews from discovering a supernatural Jesus hidden amongst their own texts.  Many tiny but important changes were made in response.]

If correct, this means that Yahweh, for lack of a better word, ‘divorced’ the peoples of the world for their infidelity.  Because He still loved them, however, He immediately assigned their care over to members of His Divine Council. These beings were commanded to, as it states in Psalms 82:3, provide justice, uphold rights, rescue the poor and needy, and save them from the power of the wicked.  As we saw, the sons of God in the Divine Council did not do their job.  

After this divorce and setting the nations under His Counsel, and because Yahweh still loved the nations, He immediately set out to win the hearts of the nations back to Him.  He called Abram out of Ur to be the father of a new nation, His own nation, Israel.  Israel’s job was to be a light unto the rest of the world and to produce, eventually, the One who would make it possible for the peoples of the world to come back to Him… through Jesus. 

By the way, don’t take my word for it.  I’m not a scholar, but I can read! For instance, check out this article by Dr. Michael Heiser or this one by Dr. Gerald McDermott.  There is a growing work of scholarship that is supporting this plain reading of the Bible text.  And the thing is, if you don’t agree with this interpretation of this one Psalm or this one part of Deuteronomy, you will still have to wrestle with all of these:

Genesis 1:26, 3:5 and 22, 6:1-4, 10-11, 15:1, 48:15-16; Exodus 3:1-14, 23:20-23; Numbers 13:32-33; Deut 32:8-9, 32:17; Judges 6; 1 Samuel 3, 23:1-14; 1 Kings 22:1-23; 2 Kings 5:17-19; Job 1-2; Psalms 82, 68, 89; Isaiah 14:12-15; Ezekiel 28:11-19; Daniel 7; Matt 16:13-23; John 1:1-14, 10:34-35; Romans 8:18-24, 15:24 and 28; 1 Corinthians 2:6-13, 5:4-5, 6:3, 10:18-22; Galatians 3:19; Ephesians 6:10-12; Hebrews 1-2; 1 Peter 3:18-22; 2 Peter 1:3-4, 2:4-5; Jude 5-7; and Revelation 2:26-28, 3:21.

So What Does This Mean?

The ancient Israelites, clearly worshiping only One God (the shemah from Deuteronomy 6 comes to mind), had what appears to be a worldview that included other “gods”.  Real gods. Not just wooden and stone idols, but spiritual beings with tasks, responsibilities, and free wills.  Some follow Him (Michael, Gabriel, the elders in the throne room of Revelation, etc.); some don’t (Isaiah 14:12-17 is clearly not talking about a human, bruh). 

Some of these real beings working against Yahweh make real problems for the nations of the world.  We’re not just dealing with demons… Paul said we’re dealing with powers, principalities, rulers, etc. who were assigned nations by God.  These elohim who shirked their responsibilities and failed in their mission lost their hold on the nations when Jesus conquered the grave.  

That’s right! Jesus not only sets us free as individuals; with His sacrifice, He set the nations free too! The world was no longer under the yokes of these spiritual forces but instead was offered the yoke of Jesus, whose burden is light.  He is a good God! 

Once we as Christians understand this, our job of spreading the Gospel and discipling nations becomes much more relevant and urgent.  Missionaries fighting real spiritual forces in the dark places of the world that don’t know they’ve been liberated by Jesus from these lesser elohim need our support.  The Gospel is good news not only because of individual salvation; every nation is free to serve Yahweh, the Most High God, rather than rebel divine council members from the spiritual world!

A Deuteronomy 32 supernatural worldview restores the richness of the Gospel to Christian evangelists all over the world.  It gives weight and urgency to the Great Commission. 

Why Haven’t I Heard of All This Before?!?

Our materialistic, postmodern worldview has become the default setting for Western Christians.  For example, this article by John Oakes is indicative of the problem.  Dr. Oakes, whom I greatly respect, avoids fully engaging with the content of Psalm 82 and Jesus’ quotation of it and doesn’t consider the plain reading of the text.  When Christians come across something difficult or weird, we must resist the tendency to just skip over it.   

If you are a Christian, you believe in a transcendent God that existed before Creation, before time.  You can’t get much more supernatural than that! But the world we live in insists that even if we believe in God and accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we must still fit everything else into an atheistic framework of scientific and materialistic explanation.  It’s just how our society is built and it has rubbed off on the Western Church. 

Other places around the world don’t have such inhibitions.  In fact, it’s a struggle for some missionaries to prevent tribes and peoples from simply incorporating Jesus as yet another god into their existing pantheon! The missionaries have to explain that Yahweh is the God Above All Else, not just another run-of-the-mill spiritual being. 

We have to be mature about the difficult parts of the Bible and constantly reevaluate the things we believe.  Not everything in the Bible is easy to understand… it was written thousands of years ago in a Mesopotamian cultural context after all!  But the truths contained within are God’s truths, timeless and universal. We have to engage, study, pray for guidance from the Holy Spirit, and expand our understanding of the scriptures.  

And if we don’t?

Well… we’d be no better than a pre-teen in his room, looking for cool stories in an old book. 

God Bless!

God in Ancient China – Who is Shang Di? Part 2: Moral Attributes

God in Ancient China – Who is Shang Di?


In Part 1 of “God in Ancient China,” we explored God’s “Natural Attributes” (or things about Him that are inherent in the nature of what He is) as expressed in the research of Dr. Chan Thong.  As promised, Part 2 will deal with Shang Di’s “Moral Attributes” (or things about Him inherent in the nature of who He is).  The natural attributes of Shang Di/God were things like omnipresence, omnipotence, and eternality.   However, this kind of a god could be a cold, Deistic god… but that’s not what the Chinese Classics show us about Shang Di, nor what the Hebrew Old Testament shows us about YHWH.

*Note – most of the following material comes from Dr. Chan Kei Thong’s book Faith of Our Fathers.  It’s a fascinating read and there’s a ton of material in the book above and beyond what I share here! I highly recommend it! As of today (3/28/20) it’s only affordably available at Amazon for Kindle; hard copies are extremely expensive.  I’m not sure why… I got mine for $25.

God is Love

The God of the Bible, even and especially in the Old Testament, is a God of love (read my article 5 Things to Consider About God’s Love for a more in depth look at this).  We find a similar description of Shang Di in the Chinese Classics.  The Book of Zhou, in the Middle Section of The Great Declaration, says “Heaven loves the people, the ruler should honor Heaven.”  In the Anecdotes of Lu Ming (in the Classic of Poetry), it states that “Heaven protects and establishes you… that you many enjoy every happiness.”  Further, Mo Zi, a philosopher from 4th century BC, asks: “How do we know that Heaven loves the people of the world? Because He enlightens them universally.

These writers don’t just declare Tian‘s love out of hand, but attach application or responses to this love.  It is clear this love, which are evident in both general revelation and personal blessings, should elicit a personal response.

God is Holy

Holiness is the concept of being “set apart” or “separated.”  When relating to God, it describes an awe-inspiring otherness that causes visceral reactions to those who witness His presence.  Even the hosts of heaven can’t help but glorify Him.  The reverence that God’s holiness inspires ought to move the observer to wonder and obedience.  Dr. Thong quotes Exodus 15:11 as an example of how the followers of God should respond to Him: “Who is like You among the gods, O LORD? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, Awesome in praises, working wonders?”

Shang Di, in the Classics, is described in similar terms, not just directly, but also pleading for the Emperors and rulers of China to be virtuous and fearful of Him.  The Classic of History is replete with examples and anecdotes where the Mandate of Heaven was rescinded if a ruler did not respect and awe Heaven’s glory.

For instance, in The Council of Great Yu (from The Book of Tang), it describes the first emperor of the Xia Dynasty.

It is virtue which moves Heaven.  There is no distance to which it does not reach.  Pride brings loss, humility brings rewards.  This is the way of Heaven.

The Book of Zhou further speaks of Yu, saying,

“Among the ancients who exemplified this fear there was the founder of Xia Dynasty.  When his house was at its strength, he sought for able men to honor Shang Di.” 

It also says,

“The king twice bowed low, then arose and said, ‘I am utterly insignificant and but a child; how can I govern the four quarters of the empire with such a reverent awe of the dread majesty of Heaven?'”    

A Gracious God Shows Mercy and Compassion

In the Classic of Poetry, Shang Di is described as being graceful, showing favor to those who don’t deserve it, just because it is His nature.  The Classic of Poetry, in Anecdotes of a Child, says, 

Shang Di regarded her with favor,

without injury or hurt, 

her months were complete.

She gave birth to Hou Ji, 

who received all His blessings.

In the Classic of History, in Part 2 of Tai Jia in the Book of Shang, says, “There is peace throughout our numerous regions, there has been a succession of plentiful years, Heaven does not weary in its favor.”   

This graciousness of Shang Di is the same as the God of the Bible, who grants blessings and favor on those who even deserve punishment.  Jesus shows grace to the soldier whose ear was cut off by Peter in the garden (Luke 22:51).  Time after time in the book of Judges, Yahweh shows grace to Israel following multiple transgressions.

Because of this grace, Shang Di showed mercy and compassion to the people, and the emperor was always to follow suit.  In the Announcement of Duke Zhao (from the Book of Zhou), the author writes:

“Oh! Heaven had compassion on people everywhere.  His favoring mandate fell on our founding fathers.  Let the king cultivate virtue and reverence.”   

God is Faithful

God never breaks His promises and always provides what we need (Deuteronomy 7).  This faithfulness is also demonstrated of Shang Di in Classics.  These authors demonstrated trust in Heaven’s reliability:

The ordinances of Heaven, how deep are they and unceasing!” (Wei Tian Zhi Min, from the Classic of Poetry)

Faithfulness is the way of Heaven, to be faithful is a man’s way.” (Book of Means, Chapter 20, verse 18)

God is Good

The Psalms are brimming with declarations of how good God is.  He is always desiring the best for us and even pleads through his prophets for His people to test Him with obedience so that He can shower them with more blessings than they can handle! (ex. Malachi 3:8-10)

We see the same desire to promote the happiness and joy of others found in Shang Di.  Emperor Yu is said in the Book of Tang that “Almighty Heaven regarded him with His favoring mandate, Giving him all the four seas so that he reigns as ruler of all under heaven.”  The Book of Zhou also claimed Shang Di changed the rulers of China for the good of the people.  When the Xia Dynasty became cruel, Shang Di passed the Mandate of Heaven on to the Shang Dynasty: “Tang [the first Shang emperor], rising to the throne, greatly administered teh bright ordinances of Shang Di.”

My favorite passage Dr. Thong quotes is from the Book of Poetry (Chen Gong):

What have you to seek for? How to manage the new abundant crops? How beautiful are the wheat and barley.  Whose bright produce we shall receive! The bright and glorious Shang Di will in them give us an abundant year.

God is Just and Righteous

The God of the Bible is Just, and holds people accountable according to His own perfect standard of Righteousness (which cannot be attained).  Though He provides a way to be forgiven through the resurrection of Jesus Christ out of love and grace, His perfect Justice still had to be satisfied by Jesus paying the penalty for our sins.  God insists on this high standard of behavior and thought-life because it is in His nature to do so.

Shang Di also insists on a high level of righteousness from the Chinese, especially the rulers.

For the many sins of the Xia Dynasty, Heaven has given the charge to destroy them.” (from Speech of Tang, from Classic of History)

“In Heaven’s inspection of men below, He first considers their righteousness.  He bestows on them length of years or otherwise.  Heaven does not cut short men’s lives – they cut short their lives themselves.”  (from Day of Sacrifice of Gao Zong, from Classic of History)

Now, in modern times, just as in the Biblical Book of Job, people question God’s Justice.  The Anecdotes of Tang from the Classic of Poetry addresses this:

“It is not Shang Di that has caused this evil time,

but it arises from Yin’s not using the proven [ways].

Although you do not have old and experienced men,

there are still classic models [to guide you].

But you will not listen to them,

so the great mandate is overthrown!”

God is Wise

The last moral attribute of God that Dr. Thong covers has to do with the Wisdom of God/Shang Di.  One of the coolest things about the Bible, in my opinion, is how God’s Wisdom is so prominent that “she” is actually personified as Yahweh’s co-eternal partner in the book of Proverbs (by the way, if this sounds awesome to you, read this article Who Is Lady Wisdom in Provers 8? by Dr. Michael Heiser)! God’s infinite intelligence, omniscience, and even middle knowledge loom large in the Bible.

Shang Di shares these characteristics!

From the Classic of Poetry, we read “Great Heaven is very intelligent” (Anecdotes of Tang) and “O intelligent and high Heaven, Who enlightens and rules the people below.”  (Xiao Ming, from Anecdotes of North Hill)  The Book of Shang and the Book of Zhou show that wise rulers’ source of wisdom was from Heaven:

Heaven gifted our king with valor and wisdom to govern the vast nation.” (from Announcement of Zhong Hui)

“Examining the men of old, there was the founder of the Xia Dynasty.  Heaven guided his mind, allowed his descendants to succeed him, and protected them.  He acquainted himself with Heaven and was obedient.”  (from Zhao Gao, beginning of verse 11)


So far, we’ve established that the God of the Bible, Yahweh, and the ancient Chinese God Shang Di share both natural attributes and moral attributes.  However, is there anything indicating that this God of ancient China desires the same things as the God of the New Testament? Did the ancient Chinese truly worship the God of the Bible?

Next time we will look into issues of sacrifice, the expectations for emperors, and clues that could show us if the ancient Chinese were waiting for a man like Jesus!

Alright, Music Teachers… Let’s Do This. #covid19

As the crushing reality of Covid-19 settles in, I can’t help but be excited, and you, my music educator friends, should be too.  After all, we’ve been training for this since the moment we first picked up an instrument, sang our first note, learned our first song.  We were placed here and now exactly for such a time as this.

Really.

Let me explain.

Two Fridays ago, on March 13th, I had a feeling I would not be seeing my students again for a long while.  On March 8th, Italy had declared a national lockdown and the World Health Organization had declared on March 11th that Covid-19 was officially a pandemic.

So, I kept things normal at the middle school.  The kids played their instruments, working on solos and music for the concert, and my student teacher and I ran things like normal.  When we got to the high school, I let the band kids chill and talk while I got some purchase orders finished up since the deadline for turning those suckers in was that same day.  Can’t lose dat money, yo.

Anyway, at the end of all of my classes, middle and high, I had the kids huddle up before we dismissed.

At the time, the teachers were all going to meet on Monday to decide how we were going to do distance learning (we didn’t end up having that meeting, unfortunately… ).  But I already knew what I wanted them to do.

I told them that now was the time that they needed to step up and be musicians.

We talked about what it was to have a gift.  Making music… that’s our gift.  How many adults have we met in our lives that have expressed regret for not learning an instrument, or not sticking with lessons, or knowing that they couldn’t sing their way out of a paper bag while appreciating the fact that their kid could?

I told my kids that they have the very well-being of our society on their shoulders (… well, I wasn’t that heavy with the middle school kids, but the high school kids? shyeah… they can handle it.  Have you seen their Instagram accounts?… *shiver*).

How many of their parents are going to struggle financially over the next few months? How many of their little cousins and siblings are suddenly going to need babysitting? How many community members are going to be haggard and worn as quarantines and lock-downs grip take their mental, physical, and spiritual tolls over time? As this goes on, how many of their neighbors work in the medical industry, from doctors to housekeeping workers, are going to be stressed, drained, and worn down when they arrive home after hours and hours in hazmat suits and perhaps even terrible triage situations as this winds on and on?

I told the kids… that these people are going to need joy in their lives.

The kids’ neighbors, family, and friends are going to need their souls edified.     

And MUSIC can be that catharsis.

We already are seeing what I’m talking about:

I told my kids that part of their responsibility as musicians is to be good citizens and figure out a way to fight the tide of panic and dread.  Find a battle and fight it.  Share their musical skills and talents using the internet, the open air, the living room, whatever.  Do it!

And you, my music educator comrades-in-arms, are part of this battle.  You are the generals of what could become a rebellion against the spirit of chaos that seems to slowly be rising up.

All across the country, all across the world, YOU have on your email lists, your Remind.com accounts, your Twitter feeds, your Facebook groups… you have an army of musicians that you’ve trained all through your entire career for this very moment.

So… pause your Netflix show, grab a roll of toilet paper and a handful of your favorite Covid-19 memes, and get cracking.

Inspire your kids, your students, to take back the soul of our struggling and fearful society.

Music, after all, is the art of social-togetherness and shared experience.  At a time when we are told to be socially distant, let’s do our part to make sure it doesn’t stay that way.

I love you, music educators.

 

Hiatus OVER! What’s Next?

Hello everyone!

Back in 2019 I posted that I would be taking a hiatus from writing on this blog.  I am a music teacher and I had received a grant to build a recording studio in my high school.  I had no clue what I was doing and needed to focus on that.

Since then, I have learned a LOT! I have plans for the new Contemporary Music class I’ll be teaching next year, I know what a DAW is, I know what an Audio/Digital interface is and how it works, and suddenly, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I have a lot more time on my hands to refine and develop my mixing and mastering skills.  Woo!

(By the way, if you ever need advice and guidance on sound equipment and how to get started on your own home studio, I highly recommend Sweetwater, and Dustin Keesbury in particular.  He was fantastic and a huge help to me!)

Now that I have that monster more or less under control, I wanted to share my plans for the future of this blog.

The Goal: Write a Book!

This goal of writing a book grew out of a lot of prayer and a desire to help people struggling with the same questions I had regarding science and my Christian faith.  This all started about six or seven years ago when I was meeting regularly with a great friend and mentor, Matt.  He and I had been meeting to study the Bible and discuss Christian apologetics.

He inspired me with the strength of his character and his insightful approach to the Bible and how we should apply it to all aspects of our daily lives.  I’d always wanted to write, to teach, to serve others, to wrestle with tough questions; why not write a book as a tool to do all these things?

I resolved to write this book, but it was only going to happen with God’s help and guidance.  I felt wholly unprepared and unqualified because… well, frankly, I’m not a writer by trade, I was unfamiliar with the subject matter I wanted to write about, and daunted by the task of trying to fit it all in very busy home- and work-life.

A recipe for success, right?  🙂

But God helped me in addressing all these concerns, and now, here I am… writing this entry!

The Purpose and the Plan

The questions that started all of this were:

What about ‘that guy’ on the desert island who’d never heard of Jesus or God?

Is there or has there ever been such a person?

Is God truly Just for letting this person go to hell if he’d never had a chance to hear the Gospel?

While there are very good (and brief) answers to these offered by Christian apologists and philosophers like William Lane Craig and Frank Turek, I kept pressing and asking, well, what if this? What if that? (I’m obnoxious like that)

So in November of 2017 I developed a plan to write the book.

  • Year 1 and 2 – Research and Practice writing using a blog
  • Year 3 – Write the first draft
  • Year 4 – Edit/Revise toward a final draft
  • Year 5 – Seek editors and publishers, or figure out how to self-publish

I am now in my third year, and I’m ready to start sharing my findings.  The answers I discovered were surprising and ultimately quite satisfying, but in the process they enriched the way I understood Jesus’ mission, Christianity as a whole, world history, my faith, and how big my God truly is.

My purpose for this is to provide a resource and food-for-thought to both Christians and non-Christians, especially missionaries, apologists, and anyone interested in history, science, or religion.  I studied several topics and I hope people will find them as fascinating and rewarding to study as I have.

Here are some of the topics: 

  • The existence of a transcendent God.
  • The science of human origins and its Biblical resonances.
  • The history of early humanity and our spread across the globe.
  • The religion of these earliest humans (it’s not you think!).
  • Soteriology (the study of salvation) and its implications for all people.
  • The development of world religions in light of a Deuteronomy 32 supernatural worldview from ancient times to today.
  • A defense of this supernatural worldview of Christianity and its incredible implications for missions, discipleship, and evangelism.

Now, being a music teacher, my training is not in any of this; I am not a scholar and I don’t pretend to be one.  However, my contribution, and why I think God has led me here, is what I’ve synthesized from these various threads of interest.  I am excited to share what I’ve found over the next few months.

I will do my best to release weekly articles laying the groundwork and background knowledge on these topics.  Then I will present my hypotheses and defend my positions using the materials I’ve discovered.

So… join me on this adventure and we’ll see what happens.  I pray you will be as changed and encouraged as I have been these past several years.  🙂

Love you all! God bless you and your family in these uncertain times.

Two Sarcastic Moments of Jesus :-)

Hey folks! Still on hiatus, but this was too good not to share!

I heard of this from Dr. Michael Heiser doing an interview with Josh and Donna Peck on Matthew 7 and what Jesus meant when He says “Thou shalt not judge.”  The conversation itself was fascinating and revealing, but one thing that I think about sometimes and was brought up toward the middle of the conversation was the discussion of Jesus’ sarcasm.

Jesus was really funny, and employed sarcasm to drive home points that mere civil discussion just couldn’t do rhetorically.  But when Jesus tells his audience to remove the log out of their own eye before trying to remove the speck out of someone else’s…

I just just imagine the snickers in the crowd from the visual.  Well, yes, of course! What a practical way to the think about it! Don’t be a hypocrite, in other words.  Love it.

Dr. Heiser points out another one in John 10.  Jesus has just declared that He and the Father were one (another clear claim that He was YHWH).  The Jews pick up stones to throw at Him and He calmly says… “I have shown you many good works from the Father.  For which of these are you going to stone me?”

Can you imagine the guts to say that to an angry mob? And how ridiculously sarcastic that is?

Anyway, I love it.  Enjoy!

Should Classical Music Die? A Calm Response to Nebal Maysaud

It’s Time to Let Classical Music Die.

That is the title of the article that popped up on the Band Director’s Facebook group of which I am a member.  There were lots of comments and lots of reactions to it, but I wanted to see for myself.  Why would anyone call for the death of classical music?

So, I read the article.  And then I read some more of Nebal Maysaud’s work.

I found myself disagreeing with the vast majority of what Nebal Maysaud writes in the “It’s Time to Let Classical Music Die,” but only on a logical, semantic level.  There’s so much hurt and hope and drive mixed all together in Nebal’s writing.  Nebal has a gift for weaving experiences and the creative process into a narrative form.

Before you read further, I’d encourage you to spend about 11 minutes and listen to Decolonized Arabesques with an open mind.  I find that listening to a composer’s music allows you to better understand a person.  It’s quite humanizing, in fact.

This particular piece was born out of Nebal’s experience of going through college and early adulthood grappling with issues of identity and cultural dissonance between the West and Nebal’s Lebonese family in Lebanon.  It is especially interesting as it results from Nebal’s long hard look into the music of his family’s culture and yet struggling to learn more.  I have a special place in my heart for Middle Eastern music as it is, and truly enjoyed the weaving of the quartertone aesthetic within the classical idiom (though in the article “I’m Learning Middle Eastern Music the Wrong Way“, Nebal states that the goal was to write a piece free from “unwanted Western influence”).

After reading and listening to Nebal’s work, I wanted to share some of my reactions and thoughts on the article calling for the death of Classical Music.

The Arguments and a Discussion

The article, in my opinion, starts off with a very interesting premise: that, metaphorically, classical music is the abuser in an abusive relationship in which musicians of color or the LGBT lifestyle inside the world of classical music are victims.  This is an intriguing metaphor, and is further fleshed out in the article “Am I Not a Minority?“.  In that article Nebal describes some aspects of that abusive, unspoken paradigm:

1. I am not allowed to be too “radical” in Western classical music.
2. I must depend on white funding and institutional support for my projects.
3. I must work within an institution, never against it.
4. I must never express anger or resentment at my treatment.
5. I must remain calm when harassed by a white individual.

I am not here to debate the merits of these specific arguments, so I will leave them for your consideration.  Suffice it to say that, from Nebal’s perspective, the abuse is real and should not be trivialized just because the calling for the death of classical music as an institution is anathema to many.

Nebal goes on to explain some reasons for calling for the death of this abuser.  The first is the declaration that Classical music is “inherently racist.”  Here is a quote from that section:

Western classical music is not about culture. It’s about whiteness. It’s a combination of European traditions which serve the specious belief that whiteness has a culture—one that is superior to all others. Its main purpose is to be a cultural anchor for the myth of white supremacy. In that regard, people of color can never truly be pioneers of Western classical music. The best we can be are exotic guests: entertainment for the white audiences and an example of how Western classical music is more elite than the cultures of people of color.

I’d like to discuss and refute some of these assertions.  I’d agree that music is not about culture… music is only about whatever it’s composer intended.  Music is about beauty or sharing an experience or emotion.  To label an entire genre of music about whiteness robs the intent and meaning of every piece of music inside that genre.  For instance, a classical piece I wrote (It’s Not Fine) is about abuse, coincidentally, not whiteness.

Also, I’d agree that whiteness does not have a culture; geographic areas and familial/ethnic collections of people have cultures.  However, I do think that some cultures are superior to others; I’d much rather live in the ancient Chinese culture that values honor, respect, and dignity than the ancient Canaanite culture which allowed and encouraged the sacrifice of babies on molten-hot statues while beating on drums so the mothers couldn’t hear their babies screams.  If you agree one culture is preferable to another, then you must agree that it is possible to have a single preferable culture over all others.

But leaving that aside, even if we grant Nebal’s premise that Western classical music’s main purpose is to be a “cultural anchor for the myth of white supremacy” (which I don’t), what do we do with the fact that there truly are pioneers of color in Western classical music? What do you do with Duke Ellington? What do you do with James Carter, arguably the best musician in the world right now?

Do we label them as token black artists just to make Nebal’s assertion work? Is James Carter just an exotic guest for my entertainment just because he’s a black man and I’m a white guy in the crowd? I should certainly hope not.  To do so would diminish their talent and hard work just because they’re black, and that would be racist.

  • (As an aside, this actually happened! Back in March, Carter played with the Boston Symphony Orchestra… I was there, and it was magical!! Anyway…)

I think Nebal realizes a fundamental problem with the argument deep down.

It’s not uncommon to love your abuser. I know the experience, and can understand how hard it is to leave. Despite all that classical music has done to me, I still can’t help but marvel at the religious splendor of Bach’s works for organ. Nor can I help but weep at Tchaikovsky’s raw expressive power.

I will forever love my favorite composers. It is possible to be critical about the way classical music is treated and to adore the individual works which inspire you at the same time. I am not making a judgment call on specific works in the canon, but instead their function in modern classical music institutions[.]

(emphasis mine)

So the argument here is not against classical music per se, but rather against its function in “modern classical music institution[s].”  The skills those composers have developed are passed down through the generations by institutions as others try to mimic and expand upon what made those composers and performers enjoyable to their ears.

But Nebal treats this passing on of knowledge and wisdom as analogous to the scars handed down by abusive parents.  I have two responses to this:

  1. A technique is independent of the person who uses it.  If this were not true, the concept of leitmotif would be just as anti-Semitic as Richard Wagner was.
  2. The beauty of Western culture is that you can choose not to use the tried and true methods and experiment.  The scientifically grounded concepts of consonance and dissonance is at constant odds with what an audience perceives as “good” or not.  That is the nature of art.  Having rules makes the bending or even breaking of the rules that much more effective.  Beethoven comes to mind!

These two things in turn make me excited for Nebal because of statements like these:

While most composers of color are responding to a calling, that calling is to create artwork in our own voices not to behold ourselves to the social construct of Western classical music.

Great!!”Classical music” is just a label.  New music like what Nebal writes is just as cool to me as David T. Little‘s work.  I’d still label it as “classical” music because, to most people in Western culture now, “classical” music is synonymous with “art” music.

But when Nebal says, “By controlling the ways in which composers are financed, it can feel like our only opportunities for financial success as composers are by playing the game of these institutions”, Nebal falsely equivocates the music itself with the institutions like record labels, publishers, and schools of music.  Yes, it’s hard to make it as a minority composer.  But do the capitalistic pressures that make it hard to succeed as a composer diminish the art that they create? Perhaps.  “Playing the game” by writing what people want (ie, what pays the bills) versus writing what’s in your heart is a constant struggle every artist faces, regardless of color or lifestyle.

So yes, I agree that there are not be as many classical composers who are minorities that make it big or get a lot of play.  And yes, it will take time and creativity to change that.  But what I as an educator and musician am concerned about is this:

Is it good music? 

Music is not good because of the color or lifestyle of the person who wrote it.

For instance, I LOVE City Trees by Michael Markowski.  I don’t love it because Markowski is a white male.  In addition, I love it independently of the fact that it was commissioned to celebrate a lifestyle with which I strongly disagree.  I loved it before I discovered the commissioned purpose, and it didn’t take anything away from the music after the fact; actually, I realized that that revelation enhanced it’s transcendent existence as a piece of art for me.

I’d also like to point out that this piece was shared with me by one of my students.  That’s how Markowski grew another fan; his art was good enough to share.  I discovered Nebal’s music through an article good/shocking enough to share.  One goal has been achieved in all this: one more consumer of music is now interested in Nebal’s compositions!

This is the power of the internet! In this brave new world, if a composer is good, they will be shared and performed and gain popularity not because of the color or lifestyle of the composer, but because of the content of their art!

Conclusions

Art comes from people.  People learn to make good art by developing their craft.  And unfortunately for Nebal’s arguments, developing craft require institutions.

Institutions (which include the institution of family, as Nebal discusses in “I’m Learning Middle Eastern Music the Wrong Way“) are precious since they preserve knowledge and tradition.  If Nebal laments the loss of Lebanon’s musical traditions and institutions because of colonialism, isn’t it hypocritical to call for the abolition of other musical institutions, even if they promote “whiteness?”

Wouldn’t that just be… revenge?

And what would we gain? Just more lost musical traditions, right?

In the end, it seems to me that Nebal doesn’t actually call for the abolition of Classical music at all.  Instead, the solution that Nebal espouses at the end of hte article seems to be for people of color and those engaged in the LGBT+ lifestyle to exit the system entirely and build a new one.  This is, I suppose, positive; it’s a proactive solution that takes advantage of what makes Western culture great: ingenuity, independence, hard work, and the freedom to go for it.  This surely worked for the Jazz and Hip Hop genres.  Serious musicians doing serious work operating outside the “system”.

But is this really what we need in the classical world? More division?

Don’t we have enough of that in society at large?

Instead, let us dispense with the militancy which divides our society and lead by example in the arts.  Minority musicians who produce good music, who work hard and advocate for themselves in creative ways, will individually become known and eventually successful, especially in lieu of the internet.  It may not be as easy for a black LGBT+ musician in poverty to make it as a rich white musician, sure, but difficulty does not inform or define what is possible.  Saying so disregards and disrespects the strength of character of people like Nebal who work their butts off every day to make it in this world.

Dizzy Gillespie is a great example of this.  A poor black man who taught himself how to play trumpet (no institution) rose to international stardom on the strength of will despite his color.  Eventually, he became an institution in and of himself.  And we look up to him and his memory because of that!

In other words, difficulty of success does not mean that we must tear the whole system down.

One last thing.  Disparaging me because I’m a white classical musician just because I’m white and lumping my whiteness in with jerk conductors, studio executives, and educators who also happens to also be white… well…

… doesn’t that sound kind of racist to you?

God bless!

 

A Hiatus… and a Recording Studio!

Hello everyone!

God has blessed me so much over the past several years, and you are part of that.  Several of you have reached out and let me know how much you appreciate my blog, and I can’t thank you enough for that encouragement.

One of those blessings is the opportunity to build a recording studio in the high school where I work.  I received a grant for $13,000 and have several students lined up to learn and build with me.  The problem with starting this recording studio, though, is…

…wait for it…

…I know nothing about recording studios! 🙂

hahahah… haha… ha…

Anyway, I found out about this grant a couple months ago.  I had fasted and prayed about what in the world to do about it.  I received some amazing and clear guidance from God almost immediately concerning the direction that I needed to take when it came to my priorities.

The downside to this re-prioritization is that I will be writing on this blog much less than I have been.  The goal had been weekly/biweekly posts; it will now drop to one every month or two, if at all.

On the bright side, the plan is to focus on learning how to record and write analog and digital music from the ground up, including developing a curriculum for a Music Industry class that will begin in Fall 2020.

I love writing, and I love being able to dig into various aspects of my Christian faith, and I especially love sharing those musings with others.  So I’ll be back.

Thank you all again! Pray for me in this new endeavor and that God will receive all the glory throughout this whole process.

Love you!