Vibrant Belief

I’ve always looked up at the hill and the Vibrant Belief’s towering building, so standing in front of the church looking out in the other direction offers an entirely new perspective. From here, the sky is big and I can see a chunk of town, including a car dealership and an Arby’s just down the road and, beyond that, a strip mall. The atrium reminds me of a hotel trying to be fancy or perhaps a cruise ship. I pick up the program and a brochure that shows a faint image of guitar superimposed over a shot of the surrounding hills. A young man standing at the door to the sanctuary sees me studying the brochure and explains that the church pays a fee for the rights to use an entire catalogue of Christian rock songs.

The sanctuary is enormous, designed to seat many hundreds, though it’s not even half full. The stadium seating and my spot toward the back gives me an excellent view of the stage and all the rows in front of me. The band opens with a medley of Christian rock songs: “I Surrender to You” blends with “Count Me In,” fusing with “Take my Life.” Some of the younger audience members rush to the stage, and dance in the aisles. They sway and hop. One overweight fellow bounds and twists like a faux ballerina, his pants losing their hold of his ample backside. A row of sorority girls in front of me look on, exchanging glances, their eyes growing wider with his every leap, sucking the straws in their frappuccinos to keep from snickering.

A man’s voice booms from the loudspeaker, authoritative and deep. I look around to identify its source. It takes me a moment to realize it’s meant to be the voice of God. We are his children and he commands us to love one another. I created the cosmos and the earth, God bellows. Video screens display hundreds of points of light that fade in and out, like fireflies or stars being passed at high velocity. I start to feel a little nervous tingle in my toes, a panicky sensation caused by this unexpected reenactment of hurling through the cosmos.

The microphone is being passed through the congregation. It stops on a woman who says into it very seriously, “I sense someone is experiencing blurry vision.” I squint to check one eye and then the other. A hand goes up in the front and everyone around that person places a hand on or near her, other members of the congregation reach their hands in her direction. For a moment, the audience looks like a big sea anemone stretching towards a floating morsel. The microphone moves again, and another lady says, “I have a feeling of a stiff neck.” I pull my shoulders down and stretch my head in both directions as someone else claims the ailment and the tendrils stretch in that direction. Technically I wasn’t the one suffering, but my eyesight feels crisper, my neck looser. When the healing session is over, I see an older gentleman with a mop of white hair leaving an audio booth to the side of the stage. I think to myself: “That must be God!”

After his brief sermon, the minister announces the presentation of a short video. The big screen comes down again from the ceiling above the altar/stage. Someone has shot footage of the installation of a new of a new digital display board. I noticed it that morning as I passed through the intersection: at the street corner, a wide monitor sat atop two poles with freshly moved earth around their bases. The time lapse video shows the sign going up at warp speed. Everyone applauds at the freeze frame of the finished product. This morning it flashed a screen of the service time with the words, “Everyone’s invited!”

The new sign seems to soften the hard edges of the hillside, or at least draw focus to a more welcoming sight—it appears to be an attempt to present a more inviting image to the community at large. Though is it too superficial an effort? Something about it feels like collagen injections into the face of a movie star who’s lost the bloom of youth. Not that she isn’t lovely in her own way or can’t be great again in the right role, but first she has to accept that time has marched on. Otherwise it’s just uncomfortable watching her.

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62 thoughts on “Vibrant Belief

  1. Hi honey we r out in the country at Billy & Jean Luc adorb house. Just got your post !! Love you!

    Sent from my iPhone

    • OMG. Too much for me. My spiritual self would be hiding under the chairs or running through the fancy atrium, and out the door……….. But I did appreciate Frank’s last reply on Corinna’s “Carpenter” post which he calls “His favorite Anglican.” Watch the video, This is what I am talking about!

  2. Hi Frank! I think you’ve nailed it.
    Corinna, when you described the service I could feel my shoulders inching up to my ears…..kind of like a turtle backing into it’s shell. I have to say up front that this is not a service in which I would be at all happy. But that is just me. And I am aware that there are those who could rightly say that when the Anglican service goes into full paraphernalia, what we laughingly call ‘smells and bells’, it could be considered theatrical. Maybe what I am saying is that I prefer the ‘theatrics’ of Bach to Rock??

    Yours in Christ

    • Hi Patti, I doubt this kind of service would be for you in any long-term fashion, though you might get a kick out of witnessing something like it once. It’s theatrics were very modern, to say the least.

  3. I felt that I was present in the moment with you as I read this post. It reminded me of a similar experience a couple years ago. I attended a church seremony, for the first time in years, and found myself leaving surprised that I enjoyed myself. I may not have identified with everything discussed in the session but I felt one with the congregation and that made it all worth while.

    Thank you for sharing.
    Jeff.

    • Hi Jeff, Thanks for your nice comment. I find that whenever a group of people are gathered and are focusing on trying to be loving, it’s hard not to feel loving back even if I might see some things a little differently. Maybe that’s a good reason for us to come together and try harder to understand one another.

  4. Corinna, I have read several of your last postings. It seems to me that you enjoy, mostly, the “warm fuzzy feeling occasions” or the fast-paced “fun times” services. Where’s the most important part? The part which includes the Bible instruction, which brings us closer to God and Christ?

    • Hi Cheri, Good to have you checking in. I wouldn’t say that I’ve enjoyed the last few services any more than those that have come before–though I can see their appeal in that they are very lively. Actually, I found myself at times a little overwhelmed by all the sights and sounds (like when I describe feeling anxiety in this post). The feeling that speaks to me most deeply can strike at any time–and has at every service I’ve attended at one time or another–which is a sudden awareness of myself as a part of something bigger. It’s true that this last service was not as focused on Bible study, but the church holds classes and discussions outside the service so it might be that the congregants focus more on Bible readings during these.

  5. I would add to Cheri B’s statement and say that most important part is the hearing of the Word and the communion of the Eucharist. But that’s just me being a traditional Anglican, lol.

    • I meant that comment to go after your post on the Vibrant Belief experience, not after Patti’s comment. … I was at a funeral for a beloved teacher at her Baptist Church (believe it or not!) where there was a Christian Rock group performing and I just found it LOUD and raucous; very incongruous to the usual United Church experience. But when you put the ‘trying to be loving’ spin on it I suppose I can see your point.

  6. As a young musician who played many a church gig (for the $: never turn down a pay gig!), I’m aware of how religions often rely on the emotional power of music. I later enlisted in a military band as a young adult, and witnessed first-hand the use of music to stir the patriotic fervor and emotions of an audience: it’s not just religions that use music to influence the behavior of others.

    As far as this part:

    “When the healing session is over, I see an older gentleman with a mop of white hair leaving an audio booth to the side of the stage. I think to myself: “That must be God!”

    Why am I reminded of the scene from the ‘Wizard of Oz’, where Dorothy sees ‘the man behind the curtain’ emerging from the booth? 🙂

    Of course, this entertaining stage show combined elements of thinly-veiled appeals to Divine Authority (the voice of God), with the emotional appeal of rock-influenced music. Isn’t it interesting how faith-based artists often mix elements of pop/rock/heavy-metal/death metal into their music (whether it’s Amy Grant, or death-metal Xian band, Mortification)? What you see is music’s version of theological syncretism, blending elements of the surrounding culture into one’s expressions. It’s impossible to avoid, a fundamental tendency of human nature.

    But ‘show biz meets theology’ is the oldest game in the Book, whether it’s Moses engaging in a Vegas-style stage show-down before Pharoah (attempting to upstage and outperform the act of Pharoah’s house magicians), or Elijah battling the prophets of Ba’al atop Mt Carmel to see which God could light their own sacrifice (then slaughtering the 400 ‘false’ prophets of Ba’al, where if the account is taken literally, someone forgot it was a stage show and didn’t use fake stage blood). 🙂

    • This all seems so manipulative to me. Getting power over people instead of empowering them. It may have been going on for thousands of years, but it seems worrisome to me that people today have to have such glitz and “mayhem” to experience “religion.” Things are always changing in the world, so I understand how the Church experience might also change, but this seems WAY excessive. Why does this have to be a “gang” effort? Give me quiet meditation in my sanctuary…..that is what my spirit needs…..and I am going to judgmentally say that I think it is a more likely path to becoming a better person.
      The Religious Critic ( apparently) Merrill.

      • Hi Merrill, Yeah, I wonder about the degree to which the congregation of “Vibrant Belief” is pressured to only socialize with one another and if that doesn’t go hand-in-hand with a subtle manipulation that blankets the entire experience. That, more than anything else about their “style”, bothers me.

      • Hi Corinna,

        As a blase’ citizen of the 21st Century (where it’s ever-increasingly hard to impress others, esp with the ready-access of abundant information provided by the internet), we often under-estimate the overwhelming effect that visiting a church or cathedral would have on attendees. Whether the stained glass, pipe organs, angelic choir, architecture, towering arches, statues, frescoes, paintings, iconography, etc: all were examples of the very best technology and artist the World had to offer in the period, and weren’t exactly something that the ordinary person would see anywhere, since the State church often had the support of ruler (eg RCC’s support of the Emperor). I’d imagine going to church to look at the stained glass windows must’ve been an amazing spiritual experience for many people, just as listening to the ethereal sound of an organ were (and anyone who’s seen Michangelo’s Cistine Chapel can imagine how those who saw the statue would conclude it could only be the product of Divine inspiration; hearing an organ in person as is very impressive, especially when an organist lays into deep notes that you literally can feel in your chest).

        Heck, just realized there’s no need to imagine all of this, since I’m describing something that anyone can watch for themselves on a PBS video, LOL:

        http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ancient/building-gothic-cathedrals.html

        The other point I wanted to say is that everyone’s religion once was new-fangled and strange to others, eg the early Xians were deprecated by Jews for being the cultic apostates who threatened Judaism, mixing it with other influences. The best example of such influence is seen in the Last Supper, where Jesus introduced the heretical concept to Jews of eating his flesh and drinking his blood, where drinking blood was associated with “pagan” religious practices for millenia before. Of course, drinking blood was a long-standing religious taboo amongst Jews, based on Genesis 9’s Divine command, “do not eat blood with the flesh” (even if done symbolically, the idea of drinking blood was abhorrent to his Jewish disciples, such that some are said in NT to have abandoned Jesus upon hearing the words). Hence Jesus’ Last Supper represented a moment of truth, the straw that broke the camel’s back, representing a clear-cut heretical break from Judaism that requiring a leap of faith.

        But as it pertains to use of music, I wonder what first-century Xians (who often gathered in private homes, in services that didn’t include ANY music, aside from group singing of hymns) would have to say of services being held in modern-day churches featuring instrumental music, whether it be an acoustic guitar, a talented singer performing solo on a stage, to (God forbid!) a rock band with the drummer behind a plexiglass isolation shield?

        (As an aside, speaking as a drummer here, many churches have gone to electronic drums to address the problem of loudness control and spillover into other mics, but the problem is that most electronic drum kits look far-too-modern for the aesthetic tastes of the more-conservative congregants (who only tolerate the presence of electronic instruments used in “rock” bands: remember that rock-music LPs were burned in the late 60s, being denounced as the “Devil’s Music”). Hence, many churches have actually modified acoustic drum kits by retrofitting the kit with silent mesh heads and piezo sensors, just so they maintain the look of an acoustic set, but the sound-man is fully able control of volume levels: that’s how high-tech some church bands have become, including the drummer!)

        I suspect most modern-day Xians wouldn’t recognize the liturgy or theologies presented in ancient churches which their current church claims as roots; as Dylan sang, ‘Times, they are a-changin’ and there’s no going back.

        Here’s some relevant excerpts from a site which confirms the controversy created by the introduction of instrumental music into the church:

        from http://www.called.org/studies/worship.htm

        “At first,” John Kurtz states in Church History, “church music was simple, artless, recitative. But the rivalry of heretics forced the orthodox church to pay greater attention to the requirements of art. Chrysostom had to declaim against the secularization of church music. More lasting was the opposition to the introduction of instrumental accompaniment” (Waddey, 1981, p. 48)

        “Musical instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting of lamps, the restoration of the other shadows of the law,” John Calvin concluded. “The Papists, therefore, have foolishly borrowed this, as well as many other things, from the Jews” (Brownlow, 1945, p. 180).

        “Music as a science, I esteem and admire” Methodist commentator Adam Clark stated, “but instruments of music in the house of God I abominate and abhor. This is the abuse of music; and here I register my protest against all such corruptions in the worship of the Author of Christianity” (Brownlow, 1945, p. 180).

        “I have no objection to instruments of music, in our chapels,” Clark quotes John Wesley, “provided they are neither heard nor seen” (Brownlow, 1945, pp. 180-181).

        And as you’d almost expect, cranky ol’ Marty objected to the use of organs:

        “According to McClintock & Strong’s Encyclopedia, Martin Luther called the organ “an ensign of Baal” and John Knox referred to it as a “chest of whistles.” Charles H. Spurgeon, a famous Baptist preacher, did not have instrumental music during the 20 years he preached in London (Brownlow, 1945, p. 181).”

        It’s not just Christian worship that has evolved: I’d dare say most modern-day Jews would be shocked to see how THEIR Jewish ancestors who lived in rural areas practiced popular forms of ‘folk religion’ (NOT practiced in Jerusalem, with it’s newfangled Temple, following rituals which evolved with time, as well). Archaeologists have uncovered hundreds of thousands of small figurines used in personal worship (what do we have here: the forbidden practice of idolatry?!) , including those of YHWH’s consort, Asherah.

        Archaeologist Bill Devers wrote a book a decade ago entitled, “Did God Have a Wife?” where he explains folk religion in Judaism, with prolific evidence confirming such widespread cultic practices via archaeological digs.

        @@@@

        All of this is part of the ‘coming of age’ life cycle, rejecting the music of one’s parents as a teen to stake a claim by adopting the music of one’s generation. In fact, parents arguably are breaking the unwritten social contract by FAILING to object to the music of their children: the teen then inevitably has to search out music that at least manages to elicit an exasperated sigh from their parents (if not a diatribe that, at a minimum, includes use of the mandatory adjective, “noise”). If they get that, the teen knows they’ve won a slight victory in the arduous march towards attaining adulthood status, and thus can halt the pursuit for music that’s slightly-irritating to their parents (but not so offensive as to warrant outright banning). 🙂

        The same fundamental process occurs in religions, except on longer time frames, where Jews are forced to accept the existence of Catholics, and Catholics look down at the newfangled Protestants, etc. It’s a generational thing. 🙂

        • I’d also add that the music adds to the ‘cloak of familiarity’ we experience in church -along with the liturgy and the symbols – it’s something that we respond to immediately as a recognizable ‘comfort factor’. Whether it’s the opening riff of “Sweet Child of Mine”(which you probably won’t hear in church) or the beginning notes of “Pachelbel’s Canon” we know what’s coming next. And we say to ourselves, “I love it!”

          • I also think using hymns or songs with words allows congregants to participate in the service because they can sing. It’s a very concrete way of of “joining in” instead of just observing. I think, in that way, it’s a useful tool. The calls and responses in more traditional services act in that capacity as well. I appreciate when all the voices come together in some way.

  7. Merrill and Dave’s posts were both spot on. No matter what your level of belief, there is always a danger when spectacle overwhelms content. After a few minutes thinking about Corinna’s post, what came to mind was the Nuremburg rallies of the 1930’s. Everything was designed so participants were swept up by the power and spectacle of the event, totally giving up their ability to discern and reason. Obviously, I’m not equating the Vibrant Belief folks with the Nazis, but the methods are the same even if the intent is different.

  8. It reminds me most vividly of Aimee Simple McPherson, the woman who’s religious side shows were the basis for “Elmer Gantry”. Yes…the movie is only a movie, but it was deeply chilling to me and I guess I worry that the sideshow aspect is all to easily inserted into spectacle and can carry even a true belief into dangerous territory.

    Just another reason I am more comfortable with the traditional, tried, true and fairly purely distilled form of Anglican mass. What’s funny is that one time I brought a young acquaintance to church, delighted to be showing her the beauty and tradition of the service. Her comment after a couple of Sunday’s was: “Is it always like this?” When I asked what she meant, her reply was: “Well, is it always the same thing over and over? Isn’t it ever different.” And I could tell from her body language and tone of voice that this was NOT the advantage to her that I considered it, lol. Needless to say, she didn’t visit any more.

    All of which brings us back to an oft discussed point on this blog, namely that there are flavors.

    But I would always say “Ware….ware!” when presented with anything that wants you to be so lost in sensation or superficiality that you forget to think as well. That’s just my feeling about it.

    I have had the same reaction, Merrill, when confronted with some practitioners of metaphysics. At one point I worked for someone who was going on and on (she was trying to get money out of a benefactor for decorating a meditation room) about how the aesthetics had to be perfect and the colors had to be perfect and you had to have all this (down to the furniture) ambiance just right for spiritual reflection. And my comment was that metaphysical reflection can take place just as easily in a concentration camp. I am a fan of Victor Frankel’s “Man’s Search for Meaning.”

    My response, alas, did not go down well with her – she was my boss at the time. But not for much longer, thankfully, lol.

    Yours in Christ

  9. Patti, I don’t want to leave you with the impression that I actually practice meditation….I wish I did….but I have worked with meditation, and I am with you on your comments.. If every thing has to be “just so…just right,” it kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it? Of being in the the present. the very now of your life….. where spectacle and sensation are far from where you want to be. Keeping it simple works best for me….and I appreciate traditions and repetitions in the service, too. It is not boring to me….it makes me feel connected to the past, the present and the future.
    Merrill

  10. Merrill, you express it perfectly – connected to past/present/future! As for meditation, it can catch you by surprise and it doesn’t always have to be disciplined. I go tunnel vision when I’m participating in the liturgy and very much go into a meditative state. I’m betting you do something similar in your spiritual practices.

    Good night friends. I’m off to bed. I am a serious Lark and it getting dark is practically enough to send me to bed, lol. It’s 8:34 our time and I am tucking my head under my wing. Til tomorrow.

    Yours in Christ.

  11. Corinna’s visit to Vibrant Belief brings up something I’ve wondered about for a long time: what is the part that emotions ought to play in public worship? Clearly, churches like VB, like the one I went to, are targeting the emotions primarily. The church I went to was big on showing short videos, most of which were tear-jerkers, for example, one about a man and his severely handicapped son who did a triathlon together, was shown several times. Specifically designed to work on our emotions. Others have mentioned the music and the theatrical “God-voice”. Why appeal to emotions? Tim brought up Hitler’s rallies, which I think was very appropriate, of course with the disclaimer that he’s not equating Hitler with VB. Is it a part of human nature that we will follow, or agree with, someone who stirs us emotionally, makes us temporarily vulnerable?

    This makes me think that churches which deliberately pander to the emotions are trying to manipulate people; as Merrill so perfectly put it, “Getting power over people instead of empowering them.” But….is there a place for emotions in communal worship? We are beings of emotion, intellect and spirit, right? So shouldn’t our gatherings exercise all our parts?

    Shelley

    • Hi Shelley,

      It’s no accident: it’s an accepted principle from psychology that humans don’t think as rationally when emotions take over; this is reflected in common expressions such as, “I was so mad, I couldn’t think straight!” or the old adage, “love is blind”.

      That rush of release of “feel-good” endorphins (eg serotonin) inside the brain comes at the cost of impairing rational thought, and musicians have to maintain their balance when playing between being a listener and being in control. It’s why some listeners get swept away by the music (Beatles fans come to mind), where a musician has to “get in the zone” to transcend the music while maintaining control. Attaining that state is a very zen-like thing…. 🙂

  12. Here’s another thought I had. The following quote is from Tim Keller, quoting CS Lewis:

    ‘Sentimentality is subtle. C.S. Lewis once told a young writer: “Instead of telling us a thing is ‘terrible’, describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was a ‘delight’, make us say ‘delightful’ when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (‘horrifying’, ‘wonderful’, ‘hideous’, exquisite’) are only saying to your readers, ‘Please will you do my job for me.”’. Lewis complains that authors of gushy and sentimental words are tyrannical because they tell the readers how they must feel rather than letting the subject work on them in the same way it did the author. Sentimental worship leading works in exactly the same way that Lewis describes. With typical comments – “Isn’t he just wonderful?” “Isn’t it such a blessing?” – the leader tells people how they ought to feel about God instead of telling them about God.”

    There’s something here, if I could express it well enough….that maybe it’s better to go to a gathering, service, whatever, to be present to God, to hear about and from God, and to let our emotions follow as they will, or not. It seems somehow disrespectful to people to TELL them how to feel. And it seems somehow disrespectful to God to come to church SO AS TO GET a feeling. But I’m not sure about this. What do you think?

    • I believe there is a place for emotions but I want them to be mine from within not ones that are induced or evoked by someone whose intent it is to grab my heart. I’ll grab my own heart, thank you. I do believe that most of the Jesus churches wouldn’t last a day without their emotion inducing music. They want you to believe that that is Jesus coming into your heart when in fact it is their attempt at spiritual seduction. Jesus didn’t sing the sermon on the mount nor did everyone hum when he took the young child’s offering of bread and fish and fed 5000. No one belted out Amazing Grace when he raised Lazarus nor did the women at the burial site start singing the Hallelujah chorus. Nevertheless, we would not take away from any of these moments the sense of inner joy that pervaded them such as the two men on the Emaus road. One translation has one man telling the other, “Were not our hearts burning on the road.” when they realized they had been walking and talking with Jesus. There’s a legitimate place for our emotions in spirituality and I am a lover of good spirit inducing music, too but if the music is drawing me more than the message it’s time for me to back off. One of the favorite questions I often ask myself in any circumstance is: What are my emotions trying to tell me? Listen….you might be surprised.

    • Shelley, I was so touched by your comment….and Frank’s. God is the author/inventor/creator of emotions…and aren’t we all glad! The emotional draw of the “voice of God” in that “service” I probably would characterize as fraud, a manipulative pulling on our emotions–and such shenanigans make me honestly angry. What also makes me sad/mad is something referred to by Corinna, “after his brief sermon…..” which indicates that whatever he said didn’t seem important enough to Corinna to mention, only its brevity. God certainly tugs on our emotions. Can you imagine how the disciplines “felt” after Jesus calmed the storm and they were say, “what is this man?” We can love him with ALL our heart, every fiber, even and especially our emotions. I can never forget the first time I realized–after I cried out to God in frustration, “what do you really think of me?”–that the Father delights in me. Within a couple minutes after I asked the question, I thought of a verse that I only ever heard quoted in a context of church discipline: “My son, despise not the discipline of the Lord…., for who he loves he chastens, as the father the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:12). I was not a little excited for the next several hours….days, even. WOOF!!!

      • Walt, I had a similar experience to yours. I was thinking about my son, all his idiosyncrasies, shaking my head with a grin saying, “That’s so Matt! He just tickles me!” and I felt someone inside say, “That’s just how I feel about you”. WOW! To think that the Creator is delighted or tickled by the likes of me!

        • so you think God doesn’t laugh? He invented that one, too 🙂
          Peter, when he wasn’t bringing about consternation or something akin to “Doh!” a la Homer Simson, must have brought a lot of smiles to the face of Jesus!

          • Writer ex-monk Thomas Moore quotes one of the gnostic gospels, “The Sophia of Jesus Christ”:: “The Savior laughed and said to them: “What are you thinking about? Why are you perplexed? What are you searching for?” Philip said, “For the underlying reality of the universe and the plan.” Among his comments, writer Moore says, “I understand Jesus to be saying, “Why are you asking all these questions? Get on with life and have some faith.” and, “Some laughter is cynical and crude, but there is another kind that expresses a simple trust in life. I have heard this laughter from many men and women of wisdom I have known over the years, and I am certain that Jesus laughed in this way as he taught. It is unfortunate that the church established to perpetuate his presence has chosen not to picture a laughing Jesus. It is an oversight that leaves the teaching unnecessarily severe and incomplete.”
            ~ Original Self by Thomas Moore

          • Hi Walt,

            Walt said: “so you think God doesn’t laugh?”

            Hmmm, interesting question that I’ve been pondering for awhile!

            Psalms records a few examples depicting God as laughing, but it’s seem more derisive mocking, as if He’s laughing AT the folly of mortal fools. And as Frank said, you’d have to turn to Gnostic gospels to find an example of Jesus laughing (which apparently was out-of-keeping with desired theology as to not earn entry into the canon). Of course, the NT offers two words in John 11:35, “Jesus Wept”, where he’s depicted as expressing grief).

            Psychologists tell us that laughter, grief, repentance, weeping, etc. are “surprise emotions”, premised on NOT actually knowing what the future holds (ie lacking foreknowledge). A being that actually possesses foreknowledge thus cannot experience being pleasantly surprised to by a turn of events, or suffer the pain/grief upon receiving a call in the middle of the night telling of the unexpected and untimely death of a loved one. So when the Bible says, “unforeseen circumstances befall all”, that doesn’t apply to God(s): mortals only need apply.

            Of course, Divine foreknowledge is the entire basis of being able to bestow mortals with the gift of end-time prophecies, etc, but we can’t have it both ways, right?

            Thus it’s impossible to sneak up on God and startle Him, since Divine Foreknowledge (a sub-category of omniscience, possessing a knowledge of EVERYTHING) means he KNOWS you’re coming. And if you tell God a funny joke, He’d always preempt it with, “Oh, I’ve heard that one before” even BEFORE you could say, “Stop me if you’ve heard this….” 🙂

            Check the Xian apologetic sites, and we find many explanations for scriptures where YHWH is said to have changed His mind (eg Exodus 31, where Moses pleads on behalf of the Children of Israel, appealing to YHWH not to carry out plans to destroy them). Apologists typically argue that YHWH only APPEARS to be changing his mind, as if He’s patronizing humanity by allowing mortals to THINK they’re influencing His decisions, when they’re really not: they say it was His plan all along (which reminds me of the PeeWee Herman retort: “I MEANT to do THAT!).

            That argument actually has some merit in examples where God is interacting with mortals (and all parents know how this works: parents threaten to turn the car around and take the kids home if they don’t straighten up RIGHT NOW, when the parents knows full well THEY want to go to Disneyland as much as the kids, having already paid for season passes (that soon expire) and the parents are NOT going to let that $$$ go to waste!). However, It’s a rather duplicitous and deceptive control tactic, so God only gets partial credit of that’s his motives.

            (Other examples of an omniscient YHWH seemingly patronizing mortals appear in the Garden of Eden account, eg playing ‘Hide and Seek’ with Adam and Eve, calling out, “Adam, where art thou?” as if He didn’t already know EXACTLY where Adam was hiding; or YHWH asking, “Who told you that you were naked?” (which, even if only by the process of elimination, there’s a 50:50 chance of it being snake or Eve), or “Did you eat the fruit I told you not to eat?”)

            Apologetics claiming the lack of foreknowledge as a charade performed for the benefit of mankind fail with the Genesis 6 Flood account, where YHWH expresses regret for creating the man/animals/plants: that decision was made BEFORE man was even around to try and pin the blame on (much less to influence the decision; remember YHWH decided to carry out the Flood BEFORE telling Noah of the plans to destroy mankind, and Noah didn’t try to intercede, as Abraham did on behalf of Sodom).

            Thus the Noah account depicts God as being unable to anticipate His future reaction to prior decisions He made using His Divine free will. That’s a problem….

            (And if you have any answers to address this seeming irresolvable contradiction presented in Genesis 6, I’m all ears.)

            So, to answer your question directly, I’m leaning towards a strong “NO”: God cannot genuinely laugh (ie be surprised) AND possess Divine foreknowledge, as they are mutually-exclusive.

            • Gee, Dave, your human logic is impeccable! I suppose if God only appears to change his mind, but lets on that he does, he would in reality be a liar. I know it is as you say, Dave, that there are apologists and theologians who would argue that way. That’s one of the problems with some theological systems: trapped in ineluctable human logic (I call it putting God in a box). I hope you have your ears on David….as I hope re myself and everyone else who reads this blog….I don’t have an answer that would likely satisfy you, but here’s what I would say off the top of my head (that’s above my ears): In addition to God’s regret at creating people and expressing to Abraham that he now knew that Abraham would trust him, there was Jesus weeping over Jerusalem: “How I have longed to gather you under my wings…but you would not”. This whole line of thinking should make us wonder: why didn’t God just go ahead and make everyone at once, then kill everyone except those who believed him, thus bypassing the entire history of mankind….?

              I guess we’re all just too uncomfortable with mystery, n’est-ce pas?

              • Walt said:

                “Gee, Dave, your human logic is impeccable!”

                Thanks for the compliment, although as an ex-Xian, I’m guessing that’s likely intended as a passive-aggressive insult in Bible-speak (as your ineluctable human logic comment confirms). Communicating with Xians is SOOO confusing, as y’all just don’t say what you mean straight up, but speak in Bible-code! 🙂

                Beginning in Genesis, the message of the Bible is clear: mankind is incapable of making choices apart from the wisdom of God. Jeremiah 10:23 says that our lives are not our own, and it’s not in us even to direct our own foot-steps (since we trip).

                Hence, lowly and foolish (effable?) humans are not worthy, and MUST follow the dictates given by an omniscient, omnipotent wise ineffable God (who’s commands are interpreted by other mortal men: again, why am I flashing back to The Wizard of Oz, sitting behind the curtain)?

                Walt said:

                “This whole line of thinking should make us wonder: why didn’t God just go ahead and make everyone at once, then kill everyone except those who believed him, thus bypassing the entire history of mankind….?”

                Nahhh, that wouldn’t really be sporting of God now, would it? It’s better to make the buggers waste their lives striving after an unattainable goal, since what else are we going to do with our lives? 🙂 That’s the irony here: people who get bored on a long holiday weekend are often the ones greedily chasing after the promise of eternal life….

                However, your question only begs another one:

                How do we know that God didn’t create other universes? God has supposedly existed for an eternity (which, if I’m not mistaken, easily trumps the Big Bang’s 4.5 Bil years), which implies He MUST’VE been doing SOMETHING all that time, right? (Although, you’d think YHWH would’ve worked out some of the bugs by now, since He’s ALWAYS EXISTED: that’s a REALLY LONG TIME….)

                It makes me wonder if the Noah’s Flood couldn’t have been done more efficiently? eg

                Wouldn’t it have been easier for YHWH to mutate the DNA of a pre-existing airborne cold virus, such that it was rendered deadly to all human beings, causing hemorrhagic pneumonia (ala Andromeda Strain)? But YHWH could give Noah and his family the oral vaccine that protected them? Mankind alone would be selectively targeted, and Genesis 9 could’ve contained the same ‘fix’ (prohibiting the spilling of blood/delegating Divine authority to men to rule over other men, after mankind was wiped off the face of the Earth). Slate wiped clean, without a nasty lingering mold problem!

                Easier? It would avoid the need to bother collecting (not to mention drowning) innocent animals and plants from all over the Earth (collecting pandas from China, koalas from Australia, etc), building the Ark, loading all of them onto ark w/ food & fresh water to last a FULL YEAR (remember the door was sealed tight by YHWH from the outside, so Noah would’ve needed to have built a rainwater collection system on the roof, feeding tanks inside the ark, but with openings to eliminate waste), flooding the Earth, and staying adrift for a YEAR? That’s a LOT of work that requires believers to incant a string of miraculous “God Dun Its” to sustain belief.

                The mutated pathogenic virus idea could use already existing biological matter, followed up by a touch of rational drug design to develop the vaccine, PLUS it would be believable to modern people. That should be child’s play for the “Intelligent Designer” of viruses, as it’s right up His alley (and developing it SHOULD be easier than developing a tasty, appealing fruit that grants humans wisdom, which only opens ANOTHER can of worms: WHY would God even BOTHER making such magical wisdom-bestowing fruit for humans, unless it was needed as a plot device?).

                So you can go with THAT, or we can accept that many of these myths are Hebraic attempts to explain the origins of commonly-observed natural phenomena (Sun, Moon, Stars, plants, animals, humans, death, floods, rainbows, volcanos, etc). So working backwards, what we’re seeing are attempts to explain origins of these sights, since no parent wants to appear ignorant when their kids ask, “Daddy, where do rainbows come from?” In the absence of actual knowledge, we go with the explanation we were told by OUR parents.

                And who knows: perhaps science will use different theories in 1,000 yrs to explain phenomena that we’d explain as ‘the differential diffraction of light rays through water molecules in the air’? Maybe that current explanation will seem backwards to those living in the future, as well? That’s the benefit of not relying on “perfect” ancient myths to explain phenomena: there’s no room for improvement.

                Oh, Here’s a list of prior myths used by other cultures to explain where rainbows come from:

                http://www.angelfire.com/tx/CZAngelsSpace/Rainbows.html

                Hope that posts, as some links won’t!

                  • Frank asked:

                    “And where does that leave YOU, Mr. Dave?”

                    Same exact place you are, Frank, although you probably won’t publicly admit as much. Your question dove-tails into a prior comment I wanted to respond to, so read on.

                    Merrill said:

                    “Some here in Corinna’s followers have a hard time believing that there may be more than one way in this search for goodness…”

                    True, but a Xian’s spectrum is intentionally limited by other alternatives being completely dismissed out of hand (eg philosophies of men which Paul constantly deprecated), since a believers close-mindedness is actually lauded as a POSITIVE trait: that’s what results from placing faith above rationality.

                    It’s been my experience that Xians are actively encouraged to protect their “faith” by avoiding the free marketplace of ideas, which is what Corinna’s blog is trying to encourage (kudos if you’re reading, as it means you’re NOT a sheeple). More typical though, is Xians who claim to ‘examine’ beliefs of others within the safe confines of their church, when the pastor is free to misrepresent the views and only create a straw-man to set on fire and declare it a victory).

                    To paraphrase Shakespeare (or butcher, as the case may be), ‘there is more to morality, Horatio, than is dreamt of in your philosophies’. The Hebrews didn’t invent philosophy or morality, and the Law of Moses wasn’t the World’s first or best moral/legal code. Instead, morality is a product of men and their culture, which needs to change as time progresses; there are few situations where quality improves with the passage of time (as with fine wines), but morality isn’t such a case!

                    One MAJOR problem with Bible-based morality is it offers a mish-mash of contradictory advice (Chuck stated it didn’t contradict; here’s the most OBVIOUS example).

                    On the question of slavery, do we trust Exodus 21:20 for guidance? It says it’s OK to beat one’s slave with a rod, just as long as it doesn’t die within “a day or two” of the thrashing. After all, it represents “his (the master’s) money”, to do with as he pleases. Or do we accept Jesus’ words, “love your neighbor as yourself”?

                    Wait a minute: are you SURE of that answer?

                    Remember that Jesus often used the slavery motif in his parables, eg the ‘Faithful and Wise Servant’ parable found at Matt 24:45, where Jesus spoke of the master who sliced and diced his slave to death for failing to fulfill the responsibilities with which he was entrusted. Hence Jesus is depicted as making a verbal death threat against slaves, offering the specter of being killed at the hands of their master, as if it were fair punishment for not following orders (which is even more EXTREME than the Torahic law found in Exodus 21:20).

                    “Love thy neighbors”? What readers often willingly ignore is the historical context, failing to note the subtle distinction that a master’s slaves weren’t viewed as his “neighbors” (which connotes equality in status), but as mere possessions. So “love they neighbor” doesn’t apply to the situation of how one treats slaves.

                    (And I’ll leave it to Chuck to provide the contrasting view, thus paradoxically providing the very evidence which points to the Bible’s being contradictory.)

                    This is not some esoteric internet forum quibble: the question of Bible’s views on slavery was the ENTIRE basis for the American Civil War, where the South felt the Bible justified slavery, and the North felt it was wasn’t, relying on the SAME “perfect” Book to justify their thinking (when clearly the Bible schizophrenically justifies BOTH sides of the argument). So 600,000 deaths on both sides (where both sides believed their dead were in heaven), and 150 yrs later, and we STILL have some who claim the Bible is a valuable moral yardstick? Did anyone miss the ongoing situation in Syria, where Sunnis are killing Shiites for killing Sunnis, both sides believing in an equally infallible Qur’an and Allah?

                    BTW, the Governing Body (GB) of Jehovah’s Witnesses use that same exact PARABLE to justify taking control of the organization, acting as if Jesus’ PARABLE were intended as a PROPHECY foretelling their existence. Problem with that interpretation: who EVER heard of a prophecy which has TWO (2) possible out-comes (verses Matt 24:46-47 for the wise slave, 48-51 for the evil slave)? The GB conveniently ignores the latter, since it really doesn’t ‘fit’ into their desired eisegesis (or they claim that it refers to OTHER head servants, ie the spiritual leadership of other religions, thus defying the Greek use of words which clearly convey a SINGLE master, and a SINGLE head servant who choose to be derelict in his duties).

                    Rabbis speak of the “70 faces of the Torah”, noting it can be used to argue almost any side of an issue, based on one’s command of it’s passages. Others have pointed out that the Bible is like a person: torture it enough, and it can be made to say anything you want. It’s also been noted that “No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says; he is always convinced that it says what he means.”

                    The REASON this kind of eisegesis is even possible is that the Bible often approaches morality by running contradictory answers up the flagpole to let the reader cherry-pick which one they’re going to salute. (I hate to pick on JWs again, but their blood policy based on Genesis 9 is a GREAT example of this kind of thing.)

                    Hence Xians choose which scriptures God REALLY wants them to follow, when their decision is based on THEIR OWN (or their leaders) concepts of morality. This is what psychologists refer to as ‘confirmation bias’, only seeking out answers which confirms what we WANT to believe, discrediting anything or anyone else that conflicts with their preconceptions.

                    So getting back to Frank’s question, whether they admit it or not, Xians are in the same boat as us Godless atheists and all the other non-Xian believers, as in the end we’re ALL forced to rely upon our own “flawed” internal moral compasses (Xians describe their inner moral compasses as “flawed” and “untrustworthy”; ironic, as how did they CHOOSE to trust God as their perfect moral source, if they accept they are not able to make moral decisions, in the first place? There’s a paradox!).

                    For better or worse, my conscience (internal moral compass) is the ONLY compass I trust, and thus it’s preferable to hone our INDIVIDUAL sense of morality than to rely on convictions that are sacrificed to and controlled by others. Obvious caveat being: ALL of US are under the domain of secular laws, with all existing under a secular social contract.

                    I’d assert that people who are seeking for a religion are actually selecting from a palette that’s limited by the dominant culture and their personal biases, conceptions, and emotional needs, based on their personality and prior life experiences which shapes their moral sense. Isn’t it odd that N. Americans generally don’t become Sikhs if not Pakistani, or bother to explore Shintoist beliefs? Why not? Because religion is as much about selecting from YOUR culturally-acceptable options, thus participating in a communal group experience.

                    But wait: isn’t religion SUPPOSED to be about learning God’s will for mankind, so mankind can comply with the “perfect” moral law-giver?

                    I’ve offered examples of how men will abuse God by trying to fit Him into “their” personal ideas of what He is (irony being that Walt tries to defend God by accusing others of trying to put His God in a box, when he’s likely complaining that it’s not his box being used; Xians unconsciously limit the concept of God to being Jehovah, the deity who “gave His only begotten Son, Jesus” to mankind to redeem the sins of Adam: that’s Walt’s “box”. The writers of the Bible placed YHWH “in a box” by ascribing certain traits to him: hence the reader cannot be blamed for noting inconsistencies in his depiction: it would take significant rewriting of the Bible to break the walls of the “box” God is in).

                    Marketing 101 says that it’s much more difficult for businesses to CREATE a demand for products in people’s lives, but much easier to locate consumers who have a pre-existing need for their product. Churches are no different: hence, why some will open the Yellow Pages to “shop” for religions (like one shops for clothes), selecting the one that offers the best “fit” for their psyche.

                    Churches thus become groups of like-minded individuals who self-select to join, agreeing to certain basic beliefs (which they wouldn’t accept, if they found them untenable). Thus members, whether they know it or not, are agreeing to reinforce the decisions of others to join/stay the group. The group thus becomes a self-congratulatory spiritual multi-level pyramid scheme, where everyone sees the shining faces and warm bodies of others, which only confirms their decision. That’s how group dynamics operate!

                    Don’t get me wrong: it’s GREAT to be a member of a social group, a movement that’s bigger than oneself. HOWEVER, the problem is the Bible actively encourage blending reality with fantasy, inviting the reader to join into the story line (as if it were Dungeons and Dragons). THAT’S absolutely a recipe for disaster for some people prone to delusional beliefs (eg those with a family history of bipolar/schizophrenia), when people start to die (or kill others) based on their inability to separate fantasy from reality; or they relinquish their powers of independent thought over to the ones in control.

                    I’d recommend taking a Psych 101 course at a nearby community college, or studying group psychology, looking how individuals are manipulated by groups, whether through peer pressure, appeals to authority, etc. I know, you’re saying, “Sure, that applies to the other guy, but NOT to me!”, but that kind of denial is likely just more evidence of how subtle the control is, esp when people are locked into their beliefs for emotional reasons.

                    • Well, you certainly told me far more than I needed to know from my simple question that wondered where you were at.. Your words work every bit as well as the Jehovah’s Witness who believes that he/she MUST defend their position even though you go on to place Xians in the very same light as well as most if not all religious thought. When you say you are in the same place as I am I have to say I have no desire to research or spend as much time defending my position with words as you do. In fact, I find staying away from a defensive posture as much as I can quite comforting. I don’t always succeed.

                • “Logic” is certainly NOT Bible speak, but yes, it was intended with a bit of sarcasm. If you understand what I was trying to say, I wasn’t targeting you so much as other apologists and theologians who think they need to defend God somehow. These are the ones who put God in a box, then try to defend the box (while it’s really a box of their construction, not God’s). Your line about the Wizard of Oz makes me wonder if I shouldn’t change the box to a curtain. Although, to do that, they would also have to put some type of clasp on the curtain to keep God from getting out….Gee, if he did, then these guys would no longer be necessary!

                  I’m not a Calvinist, Dave, if you’re familiar with that form of near fatalistic thinking–although I was involved in that milieu for a decade. At about five years in, I began to have questions about that neat and tidy system. At about the same time, I concentrated on getting a huge dose of the Gospels, kind of a “back to Jesus” thing, that helped me to put some of the “logic” in proper perspective (which I actually think might be a bit closer to God’s perspective).

                  If God really operated the way I posited in that statement about by-passing human history or the other scenarios you’ve painted so imaginatively, then it would leave us to think that God was just playing with us for his own amusement. My understanding of Scripture leads me to see that he honestly wants relationship with his creatures (even you and even me, of all people). I cannot help but think (I know, it’s my own logic) that God could have created us as automatons (i.e., puppets), having relationship with only the ones he had predetermined to respond to him by injecting faith into them–but that he has chosen instead to make us able to respond freely, or reject him freely, so that the relationship would be genuine and not forced–and, of course, unfortunately that would mean that we would also be free to inflict all manner of evil.

  13. I think you have expressed it very well, homewithin. I remember being told once by a very saintly Lutheran pastor that sometimes you come to church and you simply go through the motions. There will be troughs of not feeling anything at all. THAT is when it is important to continue the commitment to obedience (I’ve mentioned this before.) Lewis said something very similar.

    The structure of the liturgical church ( that I have mentioned so often I am sure you are all going “Ok, Patti, WE KNOW,”) is what I find to be a safeguard to ‘manipulated’ emotion. The structure is the same. The discipline is the same. The sequence is the same. The beauty of it all is awesome, to me, but it is……………seemly. That’s a good word. Yet I often find myself emotional. when I least expect it.

    What I’m trying to say is that I agree with you that it IS somewhat disrespectful to God to come only for feeling, because you are supposed to be there to offer TO God your worship and it needs to be from the heart, not MANUFACTURED for the heart. Or even the gift of the Holy Spirit to give BACK to God. But not ‘created’ Not even led. And I think the key difference is one of artificiality. Showing someone a heart jerker of a film is artificially manipulative. Being suddenly struck by the beauty of words you have said thousands and thousands and thousands of times, that is a gift of the Spirit.

    Yours in Christ

  14. Patti

    Funny you should mention Amiee Semple McPherson. My mother grew up literally down the street from Angelus Temple in Echo Park, and my grandmother lived there into the 1970’s. Lucky for us, St. Athanasius Episcopal Church was right across the street from their apartment, or I could be rolling around on the floor of my church as we speak!

    One thing that strikes me as incredibly hypocritical of the mega-churches is that they’re among the hotbeds of the current “War on Christianity” hysteria that seems to be pervading the media these days. Everything from same-sex marriage to the prohibition of school-sponsored prayer are just more signs of our societal slide into perdition.

    Yet these are the very institutions that have cheapened religion into another commodity. A few years ago, I read an interesting article about the so-called rise of the evangelical mega-church. For years, the belief ahs been people are leaving traditional main-line churches for more of these “non-denominational” churches, which are growing year by year. The author of the article analysed the trends and found that, indeed, many mainline denominations have lost members, but not particularly to mega-churches. A lot of them are becoming “nones”. What the author did discover is that people tend to shift from one mega-church to another, like they switch brands of cars or toothpaste. One mega-church may be getting larger, but its usually at the expense of the other mega-church across town. Is it any wonder that so many of these churches have to depend on slick marketing and Broadway-style theatrics to keep members in their seats. To me, the soft peddling of Christ’s radical and loving message is far more damaging to Christianity than prohibiting nativity scenes at my local city hall.

    • Tim said:

      “Yet these are the very institutions that have cheapened religion into another commodity.”

      Yup. I alluded to this in my prior post, mentioning how the look of e-drum kits has blocked their acceptance into many churches for looking too sci-fi. That reluctance based to aesthetics has driven many musical instrument manufacturers to alter/tone down the look of their new products, with many (eg Roland and Yamaha) now taking appearance into consideration when designing the look of their new products: they realize sales to churches represents a HUGE and GROWING % of the total marketplace, so they’re responding. Some manufacturers have even set up “Worship Divisions” within their Sales Dep’t, staffed by trained product specialists/consultants who feature their faith to facilitate sales.

      Why is this happening?

      In the secular World, the sales of musical instruments has been decreasing for a decade, for a number of reasons (the economy, being the most obvious!), but primarily as more and more night/dance clubs are shifting to popular music (ie rap/techno/DJs spinning EDM (Electronic Dance Music)) which doesn’t even use a live band. Hence the opportunities for musicians playing live instruments is decreasing, while opportunities for church worship services are growing to take up the slack).

      Sounds cynical, I know, but it always seems to comes down to the bottom line, the $ Almighty (which is dropped onto a collection plate).

      • You may not be as cynical as you think, Dave- think you called it. A “free market” will always follow the money. In Yamaha or Roland can make money “rebranding” to churches, they’ll do it. Combine that with the marketing mentality of the these kinds of churches, you have a perfect partnership, centered around money. Mega-churches need ever more impressive music and light shows to draw in millennials, and manufacturers are only too happy to supply them.

  15. Also, the whole “marketing” approach to faith could be another reason these congregations are so insular. Think about one of the aims of a good advertising campaign. If you drive a nice car, that puts you a notch above the slob next door driving the mini-van. Drinking the brand of scotch with the red label makes you more sophisticated than the blue-collar jerk chugging the swill with the blue label. Being a member of the latest and greatest mega-church makes you a better person who goes to the traditional church down the hill, or even worse, the rival mega-church a few blocks away.

    This whole thread really hit home today. After attending my usual fuddy-duddy Episcopal service, I was driving past a Jesus church that recently occupies a line of abandoned industrial buildings. I couldn’t help but notice the high number of fresh-faced well-scrubbed kids going in and out, and nearly each one with a Starbucks in their hands. Trendy clothes, trendy coffee, trendy church.

  16. As citizens of the 21st Century (when there’s ready-access to information via the net), it’s easy to under-estimate the overwhelming effect that visiting a church or cathedral had on attendees. Whether stained glass, pipe organ, angelic choir, architecture, arches, frescoes, paintings, statues/gargoyles, etc, all were representative of the best the World had to offer, not something that the average person would see anywhere else. Entering the church to see stained glass windows must’ve been an amazing spiritual experience for many, just as listening to the ethereal sound of an pipe organ was (and anyone who’s seen Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling can imagine how those who saw it were awestruck, concluding it could only be the product of Divine inspiration; hearing an organ in person still is impressive, when an organist lays into deep, powerful notes that you literally feel in your gut).

    Heck, there’s no need to imagine all of this, since I’m describing something that anyone can watch on PBS video, LOL:

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ancient/building-gothic-cathedrals.html

    Remember too that everyone’s religion once was new-fangled and foreign to others, eg the early Xians were seen as cultic apostates who threatened Judaism, mixing foreign influences into their worship. Such is seen in the Jesus’ Last Supper, introducing the heretical concept of symbolically eating his human flesh and drinking his blood, where the latter was well-known as a “pagan” religious practices of Gentiles for thousands of years (eg cult of Dionysus). Of course, drinking blood was a long-standing forbidden taboo amongst Jews, based on the Noahide Covenant in Genesis 9: “Do not eat blood with the flesh”

    (The Book of James says the idea of drinking blood was so repulsive to Jesus’ Jewish disciples, that some abandoned him upon hearing his words. Hence Jesus’ Last Supper represented a moment of truth requiring a leap of faith, a clear-cut heretical break from Judaism. The Torah indicated death to idolators who engaged in such cultic non-traditional forms of worship.)

    But back to music: I wonder what first-century Xians (who often gathered in private homes, in services where they likely sang hymns, if that) would think about services held in modern-day churches featuring instrumental music, be it an acoustic guitar, a singer performing solos on stage, or even (God forbid!) a rock band with the drummer behind a plexiglass isolation shield!?

    (I chuckled at the plexiglass barrier comment, as many churches have gone to electronic drums to address the problem of loud acoustic drums spilling over into other mics. Most electronic drum kits look far-too-modern for the aesthetic sensibilities of the more-conservative congregants (who barely tolerate the presence of electronic instruments used in rock music in church: remember, rock LPs were burned as recently as the late 80s, being denounced as “Devil’s Music”). Hence, many churches have modified acoustic drum kits, retrofitting with silent mesh heads/piezo sensors to maintain the look of an acoustic set, but giving the sound-man precise control of volume levels offered by electronic drums: THAT’S how high-tech some church bands have become, even the drummer!)

    If we could time-travel, I suspect most modern-day Xians wouldn’t recognize the liturgies presented in ancient churches from which they are descended; as Dylan sang, ‘Times, they are a-changin’.

    Here’s some relevant excerpts from a site discussing the controversy created by the introduction of instrumental music into worship:

    http://www.called.org/studies/worship.htm

    “At first,” John Kurtz states in Church History, “church music was simple, artless, recitative. But the rivalry of heretics forced the orthodox church to pay greater attention to the requirements of art. Chrysostom had to declaim against the secularization of church music. More lasting was the opposition to the introduction of instrumental accompaniment” (Waddey, 1981, p. 48)

    “Musical instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting of lamps, the restoration of the other shadows of the law,” John Calvin concluded. “The Papists, therefore, have foolishly borrowed this, as well as many other things, from the Jews” (Brownlow, 1945, p. 180).

    “Music as a science, I esteem and admire” Methodist commentator Adam Clark stated, “but instruments of music in the house of God I abominate and abhor. This is the abuse of music; and here I register my protest against all such corruptions in the worship of the Author of Christianity” (Brownlow, 1945, p. 180).

    “I have no objection to instruments of music, in our chapels,” Clark quotes John Wesley, “provided they are neither heard nor seen” (Brownlow, 1945, pp. 180-181).

    As expected, ol’ Marty objected to the introduction of pipe organs in his day:

    “According to McClintock & Strong’s Encyclopedia, Martin Luther called the organ “an ensign of Baal” and John Knox referred to it as a “chest of whistles.”

    It’s not just Christian worship that has evolved: I’d dare say most contemporary Jews would be shocked to see how THEIR Jewish ancestors, living in rural areas, practiced various forms of ‘folk’ religion (which likely was NOT practiced in Jerusalem, with it’s new-fangled fancy Temple, following rituals). Archaeologists have uncovered thousands of small figurines buried throughout Israel which were likely used in personal cultic worship, including figurines of YHWH’s female consort, Asherah.

    (Archaeologist Bill Devers wrote a book a decade ago entitled, “Did God Have a Wife?” where he explains folk religion in Judaism, with prolific physical evidence uncovered via archaeological digs confirming such widespread cultic practices.)

    @@@@

    All of this seems a part of the ‘coming of age’ cycle, rejecting and/or challenging the values of one’s parents to stake one’s claim, adopting the music of a one’s generation. In fact, parents arguably are breaking an unwritten social contract by FAILING to act like parents, not objecting to the music of their children: the teen then inevitably find even-more-rancorous music that manages to at least elicit an exasperated sigh from their parents (if not a verbal polemic containing at least one occurrence of the word, “noise”). 🙂

    The same process occurs in religions, except on larger time frames, eg Jews are forced to tolerate the existence of Christians (where 1st Cent Jews felt it was their religious DUTY to stamp out followers of the false messiah, Jesus, having been commanded by the Torah to drive false worshipers out of the Land; remember, Saul was such an admitted “persecutor of Xians” BEFORE his roadside conversion), Catholics look down at the newfangled Protestants, and Protestants sneer at the practices of Evangelicals, etc.

    Seems to me it’s a generational thing. 🙂

    • That’s a good point–I imagine that even the massive ceiling heights of many of the early cathedrals inspired strong emotions back in the day. Being in a building like that would have been an extraordinary experience for those who were accustomed to squat structures…really, it’s still a particularly emotional experience to be in a cathedral like that. So, emotions and worship have been intertwined in one way or another from very early on…

  17. I have been interested to find out that the Young Life organization here in my small city/town is based in one of the interdenominational “Jesus” churches, as some of you have called them and they have been actively recruiting young people from the community by using the school organization…..I sure it will come as no surprise to any of you when I say that this is not only offensive to me, but it is also illegal. When I first came here 20 or so years ago, I spoke with the principal about this and the Young LIfe bulletins and posters were removed from the school….as they should be. Separation of church and state is a protection for all of us, not just for those in the minority religions….no parent should have to worry about their child being actively recruited by teachers and other “popular” students….and no student should have to feel pressured in this arena.

    The real point I am making, however, is that the leaders of these groups do not seem to worry about breaking the rules regarding church and state….which are clearly constitutional in nature. They believe that they have “God’s will” on their side so it is all right to utilize the school setting for their ministry. I am constantly a watchdog for this activity, and I will be visiting the school district office this summer to inform the administrative level staff about this……and I am sure that it will not be continuing next fall.

    Those fresh, well-scrubbed faces will have to be rounded up in some other way.. I have no problem with Young Life. I just don’t believe that it should be advertised in the school nor should teachers be active recruiters. It is a powerful message to our kids and the community when this happens.

  18. I probably should add that these are middle schools, where kids are at a particularly vulnerable age, but even if it was at the high school level, the posters and active recruitment from a religious group like Young LIfe would be against intent of the law! Even if this is a Christian majority community! Or perhaps, especially since it is a Christian majority community. .

  19. Good morning. I am leaving to go camping for most of the week, and I thought I’d say goodbye til I get back.

    Tim, I am SO glad St. Athanasius was there for you. 🙂 And I am betting that you said the creed that was his, as well. When we talked about bottom lines, that was what came to mind.

    Merrill, you made me think of the same saintly Lutheran pastor I’ve mentioned before. It’s in relation to school prayer but it is a part and parcel of the right wing attempt to keep a presence in the school. He was utterly appalled at the thought of prayer in schools. His basic premise was that forced prayer imposed on an unbeliever was a much greater sin than omission of prayer. And as I said to a devout Catholic Tea Party friend, “You could cut out my tongue, and I could still pray. You could cut off my hands, so I couldn’t make the sign of the Cross, and I could STILL pray. The only way you can stop me from praying is if I’m dead.” (Considering how I feel about pain, I was making a VERY serious point!!!!).

    So I am with you one hundred percent in the separation of church and school, for two reasons: One, it’s one of the earliest tenants of our Founding Fathers and two, nobody could stop me from praying in school even if they wanted to. They can only keep me praying silently in my ‘closet’, thus following EXACTLY Jesus’ teaching, lol.

    I’ve never understood why the people screaming so loudly about prayer in school don’t see that.

    On another note….I just read an article about music and the brain. Apparently both as anticipation and for hearing the music itself, our brains fire up in the dopamine reward area (details to technical to repeat) and gives us fairly intense pleasure. This is the neuroscientific aspect of what Dave was saying in his post. So it makes sense that a musical presence in the church services does have serious impact. I guess it sort of depends on what music tickles your brain best, mmmhhh????

    Have a great week. I’ll catch up when I get back.

    Yours in Christ

    • ditto on the “good time” wishes, Patti. Shelley, camping can be risky, but so is the rest of life. Life is just not very satisfying if we don’t take a few risks from time to time….Wish I’d thought that way for most of my life.. 😐

      • Fat fingered that one! I meant to say..

        I hear belting out a good Gregorian chant keeps the bears away. Enjoy your time off!

      • The talk about Gregorian chants reminds me that the California Castle of newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst (Hearst Castle) has lampshades in one of the rooms. Docents explain that they were original parchments that Mr. Hearst imported.

        • That is one freaky place! Opulent and tacky at the same time. But Heasrt broke new ground by hiring a female architect, Julia Morgan, to design most of the buildings. So I guess he did something besides start the Spanish-American war.

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