Sunday, January 17, 2010

It's A Bull Roaring Sunday!

It's time again for another round of answering your questions!
AND remember people, if you'd like me to answer your questions, throw a question at me (gently) through this link! Ask early and ask often.

Are you an animal?

Yes. Here is an interesting fact about me. I am by all appearances and to the best of my knowledge a bipedal primate belonging to the species Homo sapiens in Hominidae, which is the great ape family. Although science fiction has taught me that it is entirely possible that I am actually:
1) an android who appears human and is programmed to think it is human OR one who is programmed to lie to you and say that I am human
2) the only human and everyone else is robots
3) some completely alien being somewhere having a wild dream or, in fact, a crazy alien or
4) part of a virtual reality program.
I am by all appearances of the only species on this planet with advanced consciousness and language although the dolphins seem to be gaining on us.

What are your thoughts on pre-destination?

The question refers to the biblical Christian doctrine of predestination which asks if God had His Elect, that is to say the specific people who he would save, in mind (or, indeed, planned) before Creation and for all time. It also often suggests (assumes the converse, derives, extrapolates, etc.) to some a doctrine of reprobation or, in even more stark language, a class of people (a very large class of people) who are "the damned."

As with any theological doctrine, one must turn to the source material and see what it says, otherwise one may as well just make up whatever doctrine one feels like. If you're subscribing to a spiritual path, your doctrine comes from the source text. Predestination is in the Bible. In fact, it's all over the Bible. A few starting points, if you're new to this, are Romans 8:29 & 30, Romans 9 the whole chapter, John 6:63-65, Genesis 50:20. But even more so, all of Scripture. I think that one must find in the Bible that God is all-knowing, all-powerful, Creator, not subject to time, not to be derailed by the schemes of humans, and above us. In short, I don't know how I would be able to understand Scripture without believing in some form of predestination and the sovereignty of God. It's there throughout the text.

In shorthand theological speak, I hold to the Reformed view of predestination. This means that I fully believe that God has predestined His Elect and that His will shall not be foiled. Yes, I think that also means that God has always been fully aware of those who do not fall into that category. We know that God works all things out for good and for His glory, so we must trust that if it is His will, it is good, fair, just, right and holy. If one has a problem with that, I usually refer them to Job chapters 38 through 41. I think God answers any reasons and objections just fine without my help.

A helpful model I have found is one written by John Frame in his book "The Doctrine of God" where he goes through many models of the relationship between God and Man suggested by different points of view. One is the teacher-student model, one the general-troops model. The one I think is the most helpful model is the author-character model. He uses as an example Macbeth killing King Duncan in Shakespeare's play Macbeth. "The reason why every event in Macbeth can have two complete causes without irrationality is that the two sets of causes are on different levels. In a sense, Shakespeare and his character Macbeth live in two different worlds. Shakespeare could, of course, have written into the play a character representing himself... But Macbeth cannot ascend from his position in the drama and become an author on the same level as Shakespeare... We can see one reason why Macbeth is responsible for his actions, even though Shakespeare in one sense `made him' kill Duncan. In his world, on his level, Macbeth is the necessary and sufficient cause of Duncan's death. He is fully to blame." And so, of course also as scripture tells us, you can see that God is not the author of sin.
And he goes on to say that characters are how they are because it is in their character and they like themselves and defend their character even though there is an author whether they know it or not. Again, this is a model and not to be interpreted as my exact view of reality. As with any model, it breaks down eventually. For example, although Shakespeare could write himself as a character in a play of his, the character of Shakespeare would not be Shakespeare in the same sense that Jesus is God. But I find it to be a helpful model in some ways.

It also does not tax reason. If you were to study physics or neuro-biology or even psychology in a major modern university (or even pick up some of the popular contemporary scientific texts. I would highly recommend this one), you would find that our lives are largely "predestined" or predictable, that time is relative in spite of appearances, and that the choices we make are a result of many factors, not from an autonomous Will which resides somewhere in a vacuum free from external influences.
Now, I should hasten to add that unlike many Reformed people I've met, this is not usually one of my first stops on my theological tour. And, unlike many people I've encountered on both sides, it's also not a point in which I think it's necessary for people to divide upon. I think that my view of predestination points to a sovereign and almighty God. I don't think it informs a change in my behavior toward my fellow man in any way. I don't know who is of the Elect and even after someone has died, even if all external evidence points in one direction, I don't think it's for me to say. As Laurie often says, "You know how you know God is still showing someone mercy? They're still breathing!"
I can have assurance in my own salvation by looking to Christ and His atonement for my sin. As for others, I preach the gospel, I love others and try to be as kind as I possibly can.

I don't know much about classical music, but I'd like to learn more. Do you have any suggestions for where to start?

You don't know how much you've made my day.

First of all, listen to a lot of classical music. Hopefully you've a decent classical radio station in your area but if you don't (Chico), you can stream KUSC or WNYC or WGBH or any number of classical music stations from major metropolitan areas who have the support to maintain a good classical station, on iTunes or their websites. You can listen to them anywhere in the world through the miracle of the Internet. Which is not actually a miracle, but, rather, a explainable system.

If you're in America, use your local library. If they do not have a large classical music library, often they will have a "resource sharing" program with other libraries and you can request material from other places or even request that your library GET a certain recording that you just feel like listening to. Libraries are cool like that. Ask your librarian.

As for what to look for specifically, start with Beethoven's odd numbered symphonies, Bach's Brandenberg Concertos and the Goldberg Variations (or any recording by Glenn Gould) also Bach's Cello Suite No. 1 and if you're feeling ambitious his Mass in B Minor, Wagner's Die Meistersinger Von Nurnberg (or, if you naturally like to geek out on things, grab yourself a copy of Das Rheingold and jump right in to The Ring Cycle. Some people spend years in that cycle of operas. Heck, some people spend their whole lives in there), Liszt's Hungarian Rhaphsodies and Brahm's Hungarian Dances and Saint-Saen's Carnival of Animals (you'll recognize a few tunes with these three), also Brahm's 4th symphony and his piano concerto no. 1, Mendelssohn's 4th, Schubert's Wintereisse or Trout Quintet or String Quartet no. 15 in G major "The Death and the Maiden" or Impromptus or his 8th and 9th symphony (Schubert is, as you probably know, one of my favorites), Mozart's Magic Flute (especially if you can borrow a DVD of it) or The Marriage of Figaro and also his 40 and 41st symphony, Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake or his Pathetique symphony, anything by John Dowland, Gershwin's An American in Paris and Rhaphsody in Blue, Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Haydn's Emperor String Quartet. If you find a Strauss, go with Richard. Steer clear of recordings of Leopold Mozart which mainly only exist to show why there aren't more recordings of Leopold Mozart.

If you're looking for an intro to modern classical, check out Philip Glass, John Adams, Meredith Monk, Steve Reich, and John Zorn. Although I have probably just dated myself as well as I think every person on that list is pretty close to at least old enough to collect social security at this point.

So much more I don't even know where to begin, but you can print and clip that for your wallet. But poke around. There's an embarrassment of riches out there for anyone who wants to get started (and a lot of free material too.) See what you like and what you don't. Look around for things you've heard of and for things you haven't. When you see something you like, check out some composers from roughly the same time and place and see if you like that too.
As for books, Aaron Copland wrote a fine beginner's text called What To Listen For In Music. It's your basic music appreciation text (and, to be candid, I like it a lot better than any actual music of Copland's. Apologies to his fans out there, but aside from Wagner, I usually don't go for "cinematic" music.) There's a good collection called The Glenn Gould Reader of his various writings. There's another good beginner's reference text by Jim Svejda which you can probably find used online called The Record Shelf Guide To The Classical Repertoire. It goes through the major works by the major composers, guides toward the better recordings, and gives a lot of basic information, trivia, and opinion. Svejda is way more of the "music died with Stravinski" crowd than I, but his work is beyond value. If you listen to KUSC streaming, you'll probably hear him as a DJ at some point.

There are a few entry level movies too, if you'd like. Amadeus is a fine film about Mozart and Immortal Beloved is a fine film about Beethoven. Both are very true to the events of their life, except for a key thesis which is entirely made up by the people who wrote the scripts. Both are excellent films on their own, but I mention them because both kind of immerse one in the music. You ought to come away from both passionate about the music of the composer.

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