Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Os Guinness's Review of Crazy for God

Os Guinness reviews Frank Schaeffer's Crazy for God, and in the process, lends the word of a witness to many of the events in it. I'll not summarize or quote from it; its power lies in reading it in full. Please do.

Thanks to Julie R. Neidlinger for the tip.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

There's a great interview with Larry Norman by Dale Ahlquist, president of the American Chesterton Society, which is devoted to writer and Christian philosopher G.K. Chesterton. Apparently, Larry was a great fan of Chesterton. He also has some great things to say about the Christian music industry, Rich Mullins, and Malcolm Muggeridge.

See You Later, Larry

Larry Norman died early last Sunday morning.
He's been ill for a long time, and the news of his passing is no surprise. I think I'm saddest mostly because if I hadn't happened to be browsing the iMonk, I wouldn't have known. I wonder how long it would have taken to find out. It pains me to think of how much he meant to so many, and how little he is known now.

Larry virtually single-handedly invented what he called "Jesus music," which later morphed into "Christian rock" and then "Contemporary Christian music," in the late '60s and early '70s. His aim was to reach out to a disaffected generation in terms that they would understand, without worrying about whether those terms would be acceptable to established believers. They weren't. Norman's music was banned from Christian bookstores and vilified from pulpits. He was thought to be trying to bring the devil into the Church, when what he was doing was trying to bring Jesus into the world.

He chose a hard road. He could have soft-pedaled his message and sought acceptance in the secular recording industry. His talent was easily among the greatest of his generation, not merely among Christian artists. In Another Land, the final recording of the "Trilogy" that began with Only Visiting This Planet, deserves a place among the great recordings of the 1970s, containing everything from driving rock to blues to lush orchestral pieces, and even a piano jazz song ("The Sun Began to Rain"). Yet Larry had ongoing struggles with his record companies from the time that Capital Records censored the intended title of his album with the band People!: "We Need a Whole Lot More of Jesus (And a Lot Less Rock and Roll)."

Or Larry could have soft-pedaled his music to seek acceptance within the church. His label, Solid Rock Records, had produced many of the early Jesus Music pioneers: Randy Stonehill, Tom Howard, Mark Heard, Daniel Amos (psst--that last is a band, not a person). And the venture fell apart, partly due to Larry's disappointment that this younger generation of artists were becoming complaisant in the Christian world, refusing to play to secular venues on the one hand, and neglecting to give the gospel in confrontational terms in between songs. Larry simply wasn't content to lapse into Christian celebrity, and so he kept to an iconoclastic path, one that left him in relative obscurity (apart from the following he had made in his early days) and relative poverty.

Larry's music, and that of other Jesus Music pioneers, was a tremendous influence on me in my youth. I am saddened by our loss, but glad to know that he is finally in the presence of our Lord. I look forward to the day when I'm there, too. It'll be nice to meet him.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

What Does "Church" Mean?

Lately I've seen a number of discussions involving the meaning of the word, "Church." The general tenor is that a) the church is the people, not the building; and b) expressions such as "I'm going to church" reflect a lapse into thinking that it is the building after all, and not the people, a lapse which we should be avoiding.

All of this is far too simplistic. Are we talking about the biblical use of the term, the historical use of the term, the contemporary use of the term, or what we think the contemporary use of the term ought to be? Is there one acceptable use, or many? Should it be qualified by context?

For one thing, such debates ignore what is known as "lexical range." Very few words have only one acceptable meaning. Most of them are technical terms, which are coined and defined precisely so as to exclude any ambiguity. That's why legal and medical terminology uses Latin so much: language in these disciplines needs to be precise. But language as it is used in everyday situations is much broader than that. There is a range of meaning that any word can have, based on context. "I set the chess set on the TV set while I watched a set of tennis." Words don't have just one definition.

So the very question, "Is the church the people or the building?" is quite possibly a false dichotomy. It may easily refer to both, and does so in contemporary usage, whether we may like it or not. It may be better, or more biblical, for us to view the church as the people, more so than the building, but that's not the same thing as asking what the word means.

It's also worth pointing out that the phrase, "I'm going to church," doesn't necessarily reflect a focus on the building rather than the people. As a matter of fact, you'll notice that when we're going to a service, we say, "I'm going to church," but if we need to go to the same place at a time when a service is not taking place, we say, "I'm going to the church." This is not helpful if we're trying to establish that the one legitimate meaning of "church" is people, not place, but it does reflect a distinction that we are making in our minds. Going to the church is not exactly the same thing as going to church.

When people are trying to discuss the "real" meaning of words like that, what they're most often trying to do is to discuss the biblical meaning, with the underlying idea that we ought to be speaking, and therefore thinking, biblically. That's fair enough. The word used in the New Testament for Church is ἐκκλησία, ekklesia, Strong's 1577. While the root of the word may be literally translated "called out," and some have taken that to mean that the church is composed of those people who have been "called out" of the world, the usage of the word is much more mundane than that: in first-century Greek, ἐκκλησία was used for any sort of public gathering. So as believers in Jesus began meeting together, they naturally called one another the ἐκκλησία, the gathering, the assembly. It was not a technical term: the same word is used in the Greek New Testament for a mob in Acts 19:32 and a legal assembly (i.e., a session of court) in Acts 19:39. In time, the word began being used for Christians in general, and later in church history, for the places and finally buildings in which Christians gathered together.

The point I would like to make is that the biblical use of ἐκκλησία does not simply refer to the people of God. It refers to the people of God as they are assembled together. First Corinthians 11:18 makes reference to this explicitly: "When you come together as a church." Even references to the larger church composed of all believers have in view the idea of all these believers considered corporately as a single group, or body. It is for this reason that I, as an individual believer, and therefore a part of the church universal, can still say that I am "going to church"--because it is in the gathering together that individual believers become the church. We simply are not "the church" apart from one another.

Chuck Colson was once asked where his church was, and he replied, "All over the city," with the idea in mind that the church was the people. I understand his point, but I don't think it was quite correct. The church is the church only insofar as it coalesces, comes together as one. As long as we are separate individuals, each pursuing our own lives and our own relationships with Jesus, we are not "the church." It is not true, as I have heard some people say, that "I can have church out alone under a tree just as much as in a church building with a bunch of people." You may be able to have just as intense a worship experience, but that is not the same thing. The church is the church as it comes together. We need one another to be the church. We must be a part of one another to be the church. We must seek unity under the lordship of Christ to be the church. And it is that church against which "the gates of hell will not prevail."

Friday, February 22, 2008

Screwtape on Frames of Reference

In civilised life domestic hatred usually expresses itself by saying things which would appear quite harmless on paper (the words are not offensive) but in such a voice, or at such a moment, that they are not far short of a blow in the face. To keep this game up you and Glubose must see to it that each of these two fools has a sort of double standard. Your patient must demand that all his own utterances are to be taken at their face value and judged simply on the actual words, while at the same time judging all his mother's utterances with the fullest and most oversensitive interpretation of the tone and the context and the suspected intention. She must be encouraged to do the same to him. Hence from every quarrel they can both go away convinced, or very nearly convinced, that they are quite innocent. You know the kind of thing: "I simply ask her what time dinner will be and she flies into a temper." Once this habit is well established you have the delightful situation of a human saying things with the express purpose of offending and yet having a grievance when offence is taken.
So, yes. There's a flip side.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Frames of Reference

"Words, words. They're all we have to go on."
--Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
I recently had a misunderstanding with someone that's gotten me to think about the nature of communication. The odd thing about it was that the point I was trying to make had to do with exactly that--the difference between what a person thinks he has communicated to someone else and what that someone else thinks has been communicated to him. The difference between giving and receiving communication.

We've probably all had the experience of having someone say something that hit us as being insulting or rude or otherwise inappropriate, and when we call them on it, they respond, "No, no, that isn't what I meant at all." The conversation can go in many directions at that point, but isn't the feeling we usually have, when this protest is made to us, something along the lines of, "Well of course you did! What else could you possibly have meant?" We just simply cannot believe that anyone could have said those words and not meant them exactly the way they came across to us.

Of course, there will be those times in which the errant communicator is indeed, shall we say, fibbing about his original intentions. But I am also convinced that there are times when the EC truly did not mean what we so forcefully heard. Why is that? How is it that someone can say something, in all sincerity meaning one thing, and someone else can hear that same thing and just as sincerely feel that it means something completely different?
"It is impossible to say just what I mean!"
--J. Alfred Prufrock
Communication is a tricky thing. A communicator, attempting to convey a thought, a feeling, an idea, starts out with a particular frame of reference, a matrix of understanding that is a conglomeration of his personality and entire life experience, and more specifically, his experience of how words have been used toward and around him. He shapes this thought into words, the symbols by which we attempt communication, within this matrix; he says what he says because it makes sense to him to say it that way; to him, that's what the words he comes up with mean.

But the recipient takes these words into a completely different personality and life experience, into a different experience of how words have been used toward and around him. He receives the sounds, or the sight of print on paper, or on a screen, and has to create meaning out of these raw sensory impressions, and the meaning he creates has as much to do with his own matrix of understanding as it does with the actual words that have been used. To the extent that the two frames of reference are similar, the communication will be understood in the same sense as it was intended. To the extent that they differ, communication will be impeded.

It's most obvious when people speak different languages. Here, there is no common frame of reference at all, at least where language is concerned. But also, there is no real issue of misunderstanding, because there is no illusion of understanding at all. The dangerous situation--which is by far also the most common--is a partially shared frame of reference. We have just enough similar life and language experience to be dangerous. We know each other well enough to think that we know everything--or at least enough to understand what they said! And so we react, based not on the actual words that were said, but by what those words would have meant if we had ever uttered them. Coming out of our own frame of reference, saying such a thing might have been unthinkable, or would have been spoken only with a completely different intent. But we really have no way of ever experiencing anyone else's frame of reference. The closest we get to it, aside from shared experiences (we both know what "As you wish" means because we've both seen The Princess Bride), is--talking: i.e., communication, language. The very thing that seems to be the impediment is the only clue we have into one another's world.

Perhaps what we most suffer from is a lack of empathy. We simply don't have the imagination to conceive of another way of looking at life, at people, at language. Our way seems so obvious, so right! The problem is that everyone else stubbornly refuses to agree with God and me! Or perhaps it is merely inconvenient. It's easier simply to think that the other person is wrong than to think that they view things from a different point of view. It's easier simply to react than to give the other person the benefit of the doubt, to imagine what might have caused them to articulate what they did. I've found myself in the position of being a translator on numerous occasions, not between different languages, but between different frames of reference, trying to get two people to see things from one another's point of view, and it can be exhausting. But really, if we're to love our neighbor as ourselves, isn't that exactly what is being asked of us?
"That was when I learned that words are no good; that words dont ever fit even what they are trying to say at."
--Addie Bundren
Of course, I can only hope that anyone could possibly understand this.

Saturday, February 16, 2008


It's the obligatory "Why I haven't been posting post."

There's been a lot going on recently. My mother had major back surgery, and just as she was getting over it (quickly and wonderfully, I should add) my son suffered a broken arm, and we found out he had a bone cyst, and there was plenty of drama over the sling that the ER originally put him in, before we took him back and they replaced it with a shoulder stabilizer. (Evidently casts are now passe.) And there's also been drama over the work situation that I also make a point of not discussing here.

Anyway, I've had several ideas for posts, including
  • a snarky take on the media's questioning whether we (Americans) are "ready" for the first African-American, or woman, or Mormon (too late) president, as though we couldn't possibly decide on any other basis;
  • a humorous commentary in dialogue on people who essentially hold to inerrancy but quibble over the term;
  • a few things that I've forgotten about now
but I either never started them or started and abandoned them. I'm simply mentally and emotionally exhausted.

So in lieu of having something actually to say, I offer my first attempt at painting. Just did it on a lark. It's quite amateurish, but it was fun to do. And that, not the outcome, was the point.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

A Couple of Minor Tweaks

[Note: since making these changes and composing this post, I've finally taken a look at the site in Explorer, and found that my font changes don't seem to have any effect in that browser. So at least 2/3 of my readers--that's right, both of you--would have had no clue regarding what I was talking about. Sorry about that. Plus, in my first paragraph, I morphed from talking about what I had changed and why into talking about how to accomplish this wonderful feat in your own Blogger pages, without telling you that that's what I was describing. So there might have been hapless readers desperately trying to figure out how to do what I was describing in order to see the wonderful changes I said I had made. Well, probably not, but if you were by any chance, you have my deepest regret and sympathy. I've now carved that first paragraph into two, and added an explanatory line, to make things clearer.

On the brighter side, the printing trick seemed to have worked in both browsers. Not that anyone is going to want to print out this stuff. But still.]

I've made a couple of minor alterations to this site that I hope improve readability and usefulness. First, I've chosen 'Lucida Grande' and 'Lucida Sans Unicode' as the preferred fonts (Mac and PC, respectively) for most of the text. They're the closest thing to Optima that I can find that would be in common usage. The varying thickness of the lines gives it the readability of a typical serif font, but without all the actual serifs that sometimes don't come out well when viewing on-screen.

[If you want to achieve this stunning effect on your own Blogspot blog, here's how to do it.] Unfortunately, Blogger doesn't actually offer these two Lucida fonts as options in the "Fonts and Colors" screen of its Template tab, so you have to alter the HTML template itself. In the "Edit HTML" area, scroll down a bit to get to the "Variable definitions" section; then, in the description of fonts, change whatever sections you want from the current settings to "'Lucida Grande', 'Lucida Sans Unicode', Verdana, Sans-Serif". Make sure you back up your template before doing this; if you run into problems, check punctuation.

The other alteration is less apparent, unless you choose to print out a page. If you click on "Print Preview" from the File menu, you'll see that the blog header, sidebar, and other extraneous material will not print; instead, the main body will expand to fill the page. If you would like to do something similar on your Blogger blog, here's the code I used:

<style type='text/css' media='print'&rt;
#outer-wrapper { width: 100% }
#main-wrapper { width: 95% }
#sidebar { display:none }
#header { display:none }
#h2 { display:none }
.post-footer { display:none }
.comment-footer { display:none }
#blog-pager { display:none }
.post-feeds { display:none }
#footer { font-size:x-small }
#navbar-iframe { display:none !important }

What this is doing is adding a new CSS style sheet that only applies to printing. You can choose whatever aspects of your page you want to hide from printed output. Add this code in at the very end of the <head> section, just before the </head> code.