Are Singing and Instruments Permitted in Christian Worship?

“David Playing the Harp” by Jan de Bray, circa 1670

There are some people who say that we should not use musical instruments in church, should not sing, or should at least not sing anything other than the Psalms. They base this upon the regulatory principle of worship, which states that God should only be worshiped in the ways He has laid out in scripture. Well, does scripture have anything to say about this? Continue reading

Awaken!

A plaque with saints rising from the dead made in Limoges, France circa 1250. Photo by Marie Lan Nguyen

This is the latest in a series of essays on the topic of reconciliation. You can find links to the previous articles at the bottom of this page.

The year was 1971 and the new John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. was about to have its grand opening celebration. The late president’s widow, Jacqueline Kennedy, commissioned the famed composer Leonard Bernstein to create a new work that would be performed as part of the dedication festivities. Bernstein had already established himself as one of the greatest American musicians of all time, heading up the New York Philharmonic and writing the music for West Side Story and On the Waterfront. However, for this particular occasion, he chose to do something rather unconventional: he wanted to create a Catholic Mass.

Masses intended for performance were nothing new. Both Mozart and Verdi had reached the pinnacles of their careers by writing a Requiem Mass, though Mozart was famously unable to complete his before dying young. Those who went for a more general Mass, as opposed to one for the dead, included Puccini, Liszt, Schubert, Haydn, Stravinsky, Bach, Beethoven, Vaughan Williams, Schubert, Rossini, and Dvořák. The reason for this is obvious: the Mass was always meant to be sung, and it serves as the focal point of Catholic life. Even some Protestants have gotten in on the fun, including a few of the names on that list.

But why should Bernstein wish to compose a Mass? He was, it must be noted, not a Catholic. If anything, he seems to have been a rather secular Jew. He was also homosexual (despite not revealing that publicly and being married for many years) and held some views that were not in complete harmony with Catholic teaching. Yet, the Kennedys were well-known for their Catholicism. Bernstein no doubt wanted to honor this aspect of his friends’ lives, and according to his daughter, Nina Bernstein, he “had always been intrigued and awed by the Roman Catholic Mass, finding it (in Latin) moving, mysterious, and eminently theatrical.”[1] Continue reading

The Best and Worst Christmas Songs

The scene at Clifton Mill last week, all aglow for Christmas.

The scene at Clifton Mill last week, all aglow for Christmas.

It’s that time of year when you listen to so much Christmas music that by December 26th you’ll be begging for it to stop, wondering how you ever became so foolish. Then when Thanksgiving rolls around next year, you’ll be begging to break out those tunes again. It must be stated that there are some Christmas songs infinitely better than others, and all manner of authorities have attempted to rank both the best and worst in the hope of creating click bait that will boost their sites. I, however, would never stoop to such a level – would I?

Well, what the heck, it’s Christmas! You’ll forgive me for posting just one holiday related article. Therefore, I have ranked for you my five most favorite and least favorite Christmas songs (in no particular order) and will explain the rationale behind my decisions. The general criteria include tune, lyrical content, and a certain emotional factor (i.e. warm fuzzies vs. extreme annoyance). Here goes nothing… Continue reading

Revising (and Reviving) History through Fiction

Photo by Flickr user History Books

Photo by Flickr user History Books

 

“History takes a long time for us to reach.”

That rather obvious statement was made by a former president of the United States, George W. Bush, when reflecting upon his legacy. While some sneered that his B.A. in history from Yale University meant little, this was not the only time that Bush proved he had learned a little something about the topic. He told Brian Williams in 2006, “There’s no such thing as short-term history, as far as I’m concerned.” He also famously said, “History. We don’t know. We’ll all be dead.” (In Plan of Attack, by Bob Woodward)

While it is possible to view these quotes as simple explanations of a basic fact of human existence – time adds upon time adds upon time – or as an attempt to avoid responsibility, Bush was actually getting at something profoundly true. While we may view history as that most unchanging of all things, forever frozen in place, experience suggests otherwise. Continue reading

The Worst Christmas Ever

"The Mystic Nativity" by Sandro Botticelli, circa 1500-01

“The Mystic Nativity” by Sandro Botticelli, circa 1500-01

Henry was having a terrible Christmas – possibly the worst Christmas ever.

One might almost say he was experiencing hell on earth, and not just because he was in the midst of producing a translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy, famous for its fanciful depictions of hell in all its ghoulish glory. He didn’t need Dante to tell him the meaning of suffering and despair. He was all too familiar with both.

Two years earlier, his beloved wife, Frances, accidentally set her dress on fire. He heard her cries from a nearby room and ran to her aid, throwing himself on top of her in an attempt to extinguish the flames. He sustained serious burns in the process, but none so bad as his wife’s. She died the following morning. Henry’s grief was absolute. He stated that he was “inwardly bleeding to death” and resorted to taking drugs in an attempt to dull the pain.

But that was only the beginning of Henry’s troubles. Indeed, his wife’s fate served as an apt metaphor for the world around him, which was in its own way going up in flames. Continue reading

Captain Phillips is a Case of Greengrass Déjà Vu

Going to see the new movie Captain Phillips was a case of massive film déjà vu.  No, this is not because I was recently on a boat that was taken over by Somali pirates, or because I was once trapped on a lifeboat for several days.  Fortunately, there was nothing from my own life that bore a striking similarity to the events on screen.  Rather, it was a case in which one film reminded me of another film, and the similarities were no coincidence. Continue reading

Classical Music Isn’t Dead – It’s on the Big Screen

A live performance of the score from "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" accompanies a showing of the film at Radio City Music Hall in 2010.  Photo by Flickr user workinpana

A live performance of the score from “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” accompanies a showing of the film at Radio City Music Hall in 2010. Photo by Flickr user workinpana

Word on the street is that classical music is dying out.  Sales for classical recordings are plunging, attendance at many concerts is on the decline, and it is getting harder for new graduates from art and music schools to find a decent job.  The reasons for this downward trend have been much debated.  As you might expect when dealing with the subjective world of art, everyone seems to see the problem a little bit differently.

“The root of the problem, musicians tell me, is a plague of pirated Internet downloads and a spreading anti-intellectual climate in the U.S. music world, especially among the young,” read one article by the American Spectator’s Michael Johnson back in 2011. “Further pressure, as if any were needed, comes from the current economic squeeze.” Continue reading

Can Christians “Get Lucky”?

Kok Leng Yeo

The maneki-neko (“beckoning cat”) is thought to bring good luck in Japan. Photo by Kok Leng Yeo

Have you been suffering recently from friggatriskaidekaphobia?  Or perhaps I should refer to it as paraskevidekatriaphobia, the other name by which it is commonly known?  Of course, in this case, the word “commonly” means “those who spend too much time reading Wikipedia”, which I’m sorry to say includes myself.

For those who lead a more balanced life when it comes to Internet usage, I can tell you that both terms refer to the fear of Friday the 13th, that most unlucky of days.  Have you ever wondered why this day is considered to be unlucky?  I did, which was why I looked it up on Wikipedia, and here is what I discovered. Continue reading

Jay-Z vs. British History

Magna_Carta

An article by Bloomberg caught my eye this morning which compares Jay-Z’s new album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, to the original Magna Carta.  For those who need a quick brush up on their history, the Magna Carta (Latin for “Great Charter”) was a thirteenth century document outlining the rights of the English barons in relation to their king.  It is seen by many as a precursor for the kind of personal rights citizens enjoy today, though in reality the pledges contained in the Magna Carta were at times flouted by power hungry English kings.  Jay-Z’s new album, on the other hand, is more grandstanding than history lesson.  Check out the article here.