Tag: The Arts

A SPIRITUAL DEFENSE STRATEGY

Mycalesis_patnia
Photo by L Shyamal

All of us who are people of faith have times of testing, do we not? It’s for such times that we need a spiritual “defense strategy” ready. Also we’re called upon to  “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). Faith does not and should not have to be without reason, as some people believe.

(Nils Frahm, “Ode”)

For me there are three initial steps in a good defense strategy: step one is prayer, and step two is Scripture-by that I mean the Bible.

This post outlines my personal “step 3”. Step 3 involves mental and spiritual reference to the reasons I had for my faith in the first place, compiled and memorized while the going is good. I’ve fallen back on step three several times already in my life, and found it to be a valuable tool. However, please see my disclaimer at the end of the post *

Step 3 is a collection of acronyms, (or they may be “initialisms”, depending on your point of view), the letters each representing a key word which prompts me to recall a “reason” for the hope that is in me. The acronyms are pretty meaningless on their own, but they serve a purpose. They’re evolving perpetually. To date I have four:

1: DIO APO HAELJASE-E

2: MASHT PROCH

3: JELL MUSH

4: MAWF

Is that perfectly clear? Good, now I’ll give you a summary-a first layer of explanation -for each one.

Sam-Side

DIO APO HAELJASE-E

The first acronym supports my belief in the existence of a creator, or if you like, intelligent design. It also indirectly supports my faith in the God of the Bible, since it reflects the nature and character of that God.

D is for DESIGN.  I see incredible design in all of nature. Out of the thousands of examples which could be given, one of my favorites is of a moth I saw late one night near where I live (not the one in the picture). On the ground with its wings spread out in bright light it had a five-inch wingspan (12.5 cm), and on the back of each wing, no doubt to warn predators, it had a large eye-like pattern, so that you seem to be looking at a formidable, intimidating five-inch wide face. How would the moth “evolve” itself those “eyes”, and why would it, if it could survive long enough (millions of years) while it was evolving them?

4810137-portrait-of-a-cute-caucasian-baby-girl-beige-background

I is for INFORMATION. A strand of DNA, contained in each of the trillions of cells in our body, is packed with more information than a library. Information has never been observed to come from chaos. Researchers scan the skies for a radio signal which would confirm intelligent life in outer space, yet ignore the incredible message in plain view within life on earth;

O is for ORDER. The universe operates in a very orderly, lawful way, as does our own solar system and our own planet. The laws of nature hold all things together and allow us to exist and function.

A-P is for the “ANTHROPIC PRINCIPLE”, dismissed as mere coincidence by the evolutionist. Earth is uniquely placed and equipped for life in our galaxy and in our solar system, and benefits from many hundreds of extremely fortuitous conditions. As an example, if earth were tilted any more or less in relation to the sun, its temperature ranges would be too extreme to support life. If we didn’t have the moon at just the right distance from us and at just the right relative size with just the right orbital pattern, we would have no tides to keep the oceans alive and fresh, and there would be no life on earth. Earth’s magnetic field protects us from the harmful power of the sun’s radiation.

631px-FullMoon2010
Photo by Gregory H Revera

O is for ORIGINS.  Even famous evolutionists admit that they don’t know for sure how life evolved from non-life, and they’ve never seen it happen. When the first living cell miraculously produced itself, who did it mate with and what did it eat? I can much more easily believe in an intelligent creator than in a rock producing all the complexity we see.

There is plenty of scientifically supportable reason to believe in the Biblical view of origins. Try http://www.icr.org for a start, or http://www.answersingenesis.org

H is for man’s HUNGER for God. Man has an inbuilt hunger for the spiritual (Pascal’s “God-shaped vacuum”) which explains the existence of many religions throughout history and in every culture. Religion is not always a product of superstition: perhaps superstition is born of a longing for God, and the realization that there is something much greater than us.

A is for ATHEISM. The condition of atheistic cultures to date has not been impressive or endearing.  Atheistic philosophy has been the cause of far more evil in our world than any religion has (refer to the regimes of such men as Stalin and Pol Pot). This is not to say that every atheist is a “bad” person: they are not. Instead it demonstrates that being God-less is not the answer to our problems.

11991563-the-russians-are-coming

Also consider the implications of atheistic philosophy. If there is no God or creator who sets the rules and standards, neither is there any fixed universal, objective standard of right or wrong. Hitler, then, was no more “wrong” than the West was-we just happened to disagree with him. What one person or culture decides is good another may decide is evil, and who has the right to deem it otherwise?

Since life, according to evolution, evolves by means of mutation and natural selection-the survival of the fittest-death, war, murder and the consumption of our competitors cannot be “wrong”. Our governments are oppressing us by deciding everything for us and by locking us into their system of thought, laws and regulations, and so government and the opinion of men has become our Master. Who’s satisfied with the results of that?

In God’s economy, each human life has great value. In the strictest and most logical view of the evolutionary worldview, I have no more value than a worm.

E is for EMOTION. Most of our emotions are superfluous and even detrimental to us if we are only here to contend with other life forms and emerge the winner (as we have). The God of the Bible made us in his image, and is himself a feeling, emotional being.

L is for LOVE. Real love produces commitment, caring, empathy, loyalty, faithfulness and truthfulness. Where does love come from if not from a loving, faithful designer? How could chemical reaction and interaction alone-born of rock-produce love? When your significant other asks if you love her or him, do you reply that yes, you are currently experiencing some chemical and hormonal interactions, and as long as they occur you will stick around and refrain from killing and eating him or her? Love in the popular definition of today is a reductionist ploy with the aim of reducing our relationships to one of temporary mutual use while the going is good. Godly love is that which produces stable relationships, homes and societies.

Gothaer_Liebespaar

J is for JUSTICE. Our sense of justice is evidence that we were made by a just, moral God. If we have ‘evolved’ a sense of justice, why do we still have crime, war and murder, at every level of every society? And why would or should we care anyway?

Again, if we evolved there is no such thing as absolute right or wrong, but only what we decide is right or wrong. It means that we cannot claim to have had the moral high ground over Hitler- we just managed to bully him and impose our view of right and wrong over his: it was a battle only for the ‘survival of the fittest’. This means that if a tyrant comes along in the future who defeats the forces of what we call “freedom”, he has every right to wipe us out and to rule over us. However, we recognize naturally in our hearts that there is such a thing as evil at large in our world, and that it needs to be checked. This recognition was given to us by a God of justice.

A is for “AESTHETIC SENSE”. We have an inbuilt appreciation for beauty of many kinds, and for all of creation, and not merely for our mate when we are busy reproducing, or for the food on our plate. We desire to be creative, to entertain, and to express ourselves, and we appreciate those who do so skillfully. We create and imagine often without any practical reason. We philosophize and think very deeply (well some of us do anyway).

harvest-in-provence-1888(1)_jpg!Blog

S and E are for SIN and EVIL. The Bible is right about human nature- just look around.  Those who claim that people only abuse each other when they are impoverished are often the same people who berate the ultra-rich for abusing the rest of us. And if we evolved, why shouldn’t they, since life is all about “survival of the fittest”? Those who claim that religion causes all unrest and abuse forget all about Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao Tse Dung, and other avowed atheists who murdered millions of their own people less than a century ago essentially for the crime of being the surviving “fittest”.

E is for EXPERIENCE. In the years I’ve been a Christian I’ve experienced God in many ways. This includes an acute awareness of His presence, and a feeling of indescribable completeness, inner peace and joy. It’s important for me to remember those experiences and continuous states of mind, and not to let them be dismissed as mere superstition, hormonal balance or positive thinking. I’ve experienced answered prayers, and I’ve seen the difference made by the Spirit of God in someone’s life, in a home, and in a society which has now turned its back on God to its own harm.

*DISCLAIMER

My disclaimer is the acknowledgement that in those awful situations some people face-perhaps all of us at some time in our lives- reason and information are inadequate or even counter-productive.  Sometimes all we can tolerate is some loving, prayerful company, and our own personal brokenness. Many times our brokenness is what our God is looking for.

ACRONYMS 2-4

The rest of my defense strategy part three will follow soon. Thanks for reading, and God bless you with truth and a sound mind.

Advertisements

THROWING PAINT FOR THE GLORY OF GOD

Family Portrait by Me
Family Portrait by Me

This is a continuation of a pseudo- series of mine which I could almost title “The Top Ten Things Christian Ministers Say Which I Disagree With”. The list may have to be expanded to twenty, or fifty, or five hundred. Not that I’m anti-minister, or anti Church: I’m not at all. Many ministers are doing a fantastic job, and I do believe that the true Church is the eternal bride of Christ. But there are just some things that ministers, authors and radio and TV celebrities say which should go unanswered no longer.

I’ve heard this one too many times, and it always gets my back up:

“People just throw paint onto a canvas and call it art.”

This criticism is always in reference to “modern art” which in the eyes of the Christian critic is anything deemed by his own range of tastes to be un-artistic and un-godly. That is, it’s not a virtual photographic reproduction of a mountain scene, a bunch of flowers, or Christ on the cross.

Once again, in such a sweeping, crass generalization, all Christians are painted (excuse the pun) with the same brush-that is, we’re all  lumped in and made to look like we have no imagination or semblance of individuality. Christianity is once again included with the likes of the Nazis in Germany, who destroyed a huge number of important works of art across Europe because they were considered to be “un-artistic”, or unpatriotic, or in opposition to true Aryan manhood. We’re all expected to have an appetite for the mundane, the expected, the predictable, the clichéd…the boring.

Contemporary art is now sometimes referred to as being “post-modern”. So what? We’re talking about pictures, not issues which affect salvation. Throwing paint onto a canvas is not going to make me deny my faith in Jesus, neither is it going to allow demons to inhabit me.

Where in the Bible are we told that a picture has to look like anything at all? Who says that a picture has to look like anything familiar to us? Isn’t the important thing, Biblically speaking, our attitude and our motives? Where in the Bible is our imagination-a God-given power and blessing- controlled or tempered apart from motive and the need for godliness?

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31 NIV).

So, if I want to “throw paint onto a canvas and call it art”, and do it for the glory of God, what’s it to you, Mr. Boring?

The phrase in question here (throwing paint etc.) is itself a cliché. So, to fight fire with fire (and to mix my metaphors), I will use a cliché of my own liking, and say that some of us actually want to think “outside of the box”, because we get tired of all those squares. Oh Lord…deliver us from the thought police!

I will agree that all that is called art is certainly not worthy of time or consideration or respect. But art pioneers are the ones who sometimes create things which are considered at the time to be a mockery of art, or even destructive. Such was the attitude of many towards the early Impressionists, who, rather than trying to create a photographic reproduction of a bunch of flowers, wanted to capture something else in their work: light, time, movement…reality. Now you can see the influence of their imagination even in many churches, because the style has so permeated the “normal” view of art in our present world. They enriched our lives, because they refused to bow to the small, narrow-minded criticism and mockery of those around them who had no imagination and no desire to have it.

467px-Van_Gogh_-_Country_road_in_Provence_by_night

The same principle applies to music. If there is any experimentation at all in Christian music, it’s never allowed to reach the ears of those of us who would like to hear it. It’s strangled at the source because it doesn’t fit the mold. The Christian world is today allowing into its consciousness some of the sounds and rhythms and styles that the secular world created thirty years ago, and actually has the nerve to consider itself to be “contemporary”, while the secular world has already moved on ahead.  Modernity is not synonymous with evil: its God who gave man the power to be creative-not Satan. Although I will agree that the devil and his kingdom makes use of it, that’s no reason or excuse to abandon it.

So if you can’t understand it or appreciate it, why shouldn’t I? Why should I be limited by your imagination? I’ll tell you now-I refuse to be!

Please please give me something fresh, something creative, something new, something thought-provoking, something which compliments, feeds and fully employs my God-given appetite for all that is possible, and not just what satisfies the accepted norms and what Mr. Boring has for me.

ALTERNATIVE SHAKESPEARE

“If all the world’s a stage, where does the audience sit?”

“If music be the food of love, turn up the volume”

“To be or not to be – that’s a very profound question, considering it’s made up of mostly two-letter words”

“Now is the winter of our discontent made even more frustrating summer by this awful English weather”

“Friends, Romans and countrymen, lend me a tenner. I promise you’ll get it back as soon as I get paid”

“Romeo, Romeo, you’re standing on my foot!”

(The first is not mine)

MUSIC AS A LOVE LANGUAGE OF GOD

If you’re a music lover and a believer you’ve probably experienced at least one of those sublime moments while listening to a piece of music, when you feel that the Spirit of God is right there with you, and when you’re convinced that the music was inspired by Him. I’ve enjoyed that sensation many times, with many different kinds of music. No-one could persuade me that Beethoven’s hand and mind were not guided to write “Moonlight Sonata”, or that Liszt was not similarly driven to pen “Consolation No. 3”. Could Debussey’s “Claire de Lune” have been the product of chance and time – a creature evolving from nothing via slime? Ridiculous! I even experience this feeling occasionally in Techno and other electronic music, Surf, or “Classic Rock”. You may get the buzz from something very different, but I know it’s a fairly common phenomenon: I’ve heard people say that they feel close to God when they hear certain music.

I’m not saying that every time someone has this feeling it’s because God is giving it to them, or that the music they’re listening to was necessarily inspired by God. It can be caused by drugs, or by our amazement at someone’s skill, or for a number of other reasons. I’ve experienced the feeling while watching the Blue Angels at an air show: their display was breath-taking.  But God has made humans creative. He’s arranged the physical universe so that music can be enjoyed by humans. He’s given us the ability to make it, hear it, decipher it and experience pleasure from it, but it’s not always Him writing it, and it’s not only believers who get that buzz, because we are all created to be able to enjoy what He has made.

Scripture suggests that our Enemy is an inspirer, a writer, and a shaper of music. You don’t have to hear much modern music to notice that. So how do we tell the difference between what God has inspired, what man has contrived, and what Satan is using? That’s not the subject of this blog post, except to say that the result of our listening experience is a clear indicator. Does it leave us feeling empty, angry, insufficient, incomplete, suicidal, or like doing something we know is against God’s will? Then it’s certain that God has not just spoken.

I’m sure that most often neither the Lord nor Satan wrote the music: it was contrived by the mind of man using God-given creativity.

However, I’m convinced that sometimes that feeling, that emotion, that buzz is a physical sign that the Spirit of God is ministering to us.

I once thought I heard God speak to me as a teenager while I was listening to Deep Purple. I said “What did you say? And he said “Turn it down!” It was my Dad.

Here’s a little joke:

Knock-knock

“Who’s there?”

Knock-knock

“Who’s there?”

Knock-knock

“Who’s there?”

Knock-knock

“Who’s there?”

“Philip Glass”

(Those of you who don’t know his music will not understand, sorry).

I’m a predominantly melancholy sort of character, and people who are not may not understand my following ramblings, but I’m attempting to illustrate what I want to convey.

I was listening to Glass’s “Solo Piano” recently. His music – not the very repetitive material which inspired the joke, but his rather more melodic music – moves me to tears. While composers of the past would devote a few measures or perhaps a short piece to something in a minor key to stir the soul just a little, then bounce back to the lively, more cheerful clichés and movements, Glass not only stirs our melancholy emotions and keeps them stirred, but takes our hearts down to the depths of our souls and makes them wallow there for some considerable time. It was in one of these wallowing sessions that I observed within myself the emotions and thoughts evoked by the piece, and by the passionate sensitivity and sincerity of the piano playing.

I often listen to some very hard hitting, wild and fast euphoria-inducing music, but I usually find that melancholy music is my ticket and my courier to peace, rest, resolution, hope and faith. It connects with my inner being. It unlocks my soul and opens it up to be repaired, cleansed, refreshed and loved.

Part of what gets to me in Glass’s music is the simplicity, the understatement, and the  masterful control amidst those perfectly selected minor scale intervals and chord changes: a delicious touch of minimalism. And more than that, there’s the knowledge that in order to write that very piece which touches my soul the composer and musician must also experience very similar feelings to my own. Perhaps Glass does not have similar beliefs to mine, I don’t know, but no matter, because God can speak through a gentle breeze, a donkey, a storm, or an unbeliever. We drive cars designed and made by unbelievers, we wear clothes designed and made by unbelievers, we watch movies conceived and made by unbelievers, so why not listen to some beautiful music created by unbelievers?

Philip was sending waves of sensations down my back and through my body, making my hair (what I have left) stand up. But beyond the physical, he was connecting with my psyche, my soul. Unwittingly perhaps, he was causing me to think something along these lines:

“There is a God! God is incomprehensibly creative and powerful! He is in ultimate control of this universe, both the physical and spiritual. One day, all things will be as they should be!”

Now, some people are going to listen to the very same music and after two measures proclaim: “This is boring! This is depressing! This is garbage!”

I wrote several weeks ago that I wish there were some real variety in Christian music to reflect God’s creativity. Thankfully, contrary to what some would have us think, He did not create one kind of music wishing to force-feed us with it. Instead, we find that we all have differing tastes: music I like may be detestable to you, and although you may find it hard to believe, your kind of music may be detestable to me. But here’s one of my main points: God made us all different intentionally, and it’s okay to have different tastes. It’s not sinful to politely dislike what others think you should like. Even better, God can speak to us individually in what moves us but what may not move others, because somehow there is a universal “language” behind music, behind our conscious minds, and music is just the interface that translates between us and the spirit world what our very finite human brains cannot process.

In heaven, yes, everyone sings the same songs together. But oh what music! Oh what songs! The Inspirer of “Moonlight Sonata” and “The Alleluia Chorus” has something far better in store for those of us who want to praise Him for ever.

I personally prefer to listen to instrumental music. I find that most lyrics are contrived and dull, unable to really express what needs to be said. So many songs say so little, but music alone can be free to let that language of the spirit do its work for me, unhindered.

Paradoxically, there is a song which expresses the conundrum of words being inadequate. Andy Partridge of XTC wrote many brilliant songs later in his career, and the world has very few equals to his lyrical genius in my opinion. Not only so, but the accompanying music and the band’s musicianship amply complimented and reflected the message in his words.  His song “No Language in Our Lungs” laments that we humans are unable to adequately put into words our deepest and most profound thoughts and feelings. In fact he sang:

“I want to write this instrumental but the words got in the way”.

Unfortunately for Andy and so for us all who could really benefit from a song-writing talent like his if he were a believer, while that spirit language is free to use his talent to minister to others, and while he may well sense something beyond the music, his agnosticism/ atheism prevents it ministering to him. Oh the dreadful irony!

Even more ironic is the fact that Andy’s words “There is no language in our lungs to tell the world what’s in our hearts” are actually in agreement with the word of God.

THE SCRIPTURAL CONNECTION

The apostle Paul also observed that there are times when we are unable to put into words what needs to be said. However, says Paul:

“The Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will (Romans 8:26, 27).

As an aside, some Christians are convinced that Paul was here referring to the gift of “speaking in tongues”. If this were true, then Paul is saying that the Spirit only prays for Charismatics, which I totally reject. Paul had made it clear that tongues are (or should be) expressed in “words” (1 Corinthians 14: 19), whereas the Spirit prays in ways that “words cannot express”. Anyway, how could non-words be translated into words (1 Cor. 14: 13)? If tongues were non-words, interpreting the “inexpressible” in words would somehow defeat the purpose of the tongues in the first place, would it not?

No, it’s that which cannot be put into words which the Spirit is praying, and it is the Spirit praying, not the believer: that’s Paul’s point.

Linking Paul’s point with mine, it’s my belief that the Spirit does indeed pray for us, not only when we are on our knees in meditation and supplication, but often when we are being repaired, cleansed, refreshed, serenaded and loved, through a beautiful piece of music.

BEAUTY AS A REFLECTION OF ITS CREATOR

In the fear that one day it will be deemed illegal harassment to find a woman attractive unless she finds you (a man) attractive first, I will take the opportunity to say that some of them do look fantastic. And, to balance out this sexist remark, I also wish to observe that some men look pretty fine too. Come to think of it, before you begin to feel your inferiority complex coming on (as I do), I hasten to add that well, everyone, when you look at them in a certain way and in a certain mood, has their own appealing and winsome side to them.

Our attraction isn’t limited to other people. We’re surrounded by dogs and cats which at some time in their lives have been cuddled, loved, petted, stroked, kissed, and generally praised.

Continuing in the realm of nature, people will travel hundreds and thousands of miles to look at some scenery and take a few pictures.

Most of us have spent many hours looking at our babies and children, admiring their young, fresh and appealing appearance and their ways.

There’s something in us which makes us find some things to be beautiful, and other things to be ugly: we have an inbuilt aesthetic sense which causes us to gravitate towards things we are attracted to. It’s not just our eyes which funnel and filter the outside world for our pleasure, but all our physical senses bring impressions into our brains, which act as interfaces between soul and universe. I love to listen to music, and I often imagine the sounds “tickling” my brain cells, setting off all kinds of emotions and feelings. I know that doesn’t sound at all scientific – it’s not meant to. How blessed we are to have this appreciation for life, the universe and everything.

However, there always seems to be something to spoil or tarnish our view of the thing or the person we admire. That “beautiful” woman may actually be selfish and cold. That man we admire for his good looks and his strength may be arrogant and self-centered, and rather smelly. That cuddly little cat, all playful and covered in soft fur, may have just caught the prettiest little bird and ripped it to pieces. That amazing piece of scenery may consist of un-scaleable rocks, and be subject to harsh weather conditions.

Ultimately, everyone and everything is temporary. What we almost see to be somehow divine turns out to be blemished, short-term and powerless. All of nature, including the beautiful (and the ugly) woman, the handsome man, the cuddly cat, the stunning scenery, is nothing more than a creation: a work of art. When we look at a child, we are looking at someone’s handiwork – someone’s creative genius. We are looking at a reflection of the creative power of God, albeit “fallen”. We have mistakenly admired the creature, and forgotten its Creator.

The woman did not make herself beautiful. The child did not create his striking young skin or his infectious giggle. The faults, the selfishness, the blemishes, are the result of us turning out backs on our Source.

When we look at a painting and marvel at how well it represents someone or something, what we are really looking at is a talent given to man by God, whether the artist knows it or not, and also the ability to appreciate it. When we hear a piece of music that moves us body and soul, we are hearing a reflection of the creative power of God, whether the composer knows it or not: the gift of imagination and creativity given by our Creator. Yes, we can appreciate the composer, but let’s give God the glory He deserves.

We make the mistake of thinking that what we see and hear speaks of our value. It doesn’t. It speaks of the power of our amazing, almighty, omnipotent Creator God.

Scripture speaks clearly on this subject in several places. Paul said of those who suppress the truth about God:

“What may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine nature-have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse”

(Romans 1:19-20, NIV).

NEXT WEEK: Part 6 of my series: Mao Zedong. You may be glad to know that this will be significantly shorter than the previous  posts.