The sacred folly

It’s been several years since I was a wide eyed- and admiring- teenager who sat watching peers make wonderful music in stuffy dorm rooms. In the bipolar world of teenagerdom I was mesmerized by the wonderful freedom of singing live worship songs, and being disappointed by the similar live performance of many trendy (and relatively dodgy) secular tunes.

It was not long before I picked up my own guitar, and unconsciously swore a solemn oath that my own music would be pure and sacred; I would not allow my voice and fingers to play both divine and dirty songs. Nine years later, I have kept my secret vow, and largely refused to learn any song which was not in some obvious way related to worship; I have even refrained from writing love songs to my enduring wife!

I have joined worship teams, left bored, and now mostly lost sight of that wonderful and contagious music expression. Lately I’ve been dreaming of learning a new instrument, and maybe hoping that in so doing I will inexplicably stumble into the old simplistic pleasure now mostly abandoned in my playing. That was, until a recent night…

We were approaching a typical hip and vibey venue where some live music was drumming away slightly too loudly in the background. From a distance the music reminded me of the countless worship tunes I’ve heard over the years, yet close-up there was nothing overtly sacred about the lyrics. However, what kept me glancing back throughout the evening was the very visible delight of the musician as he sang and played his heart out. Inside, my own heart was thrumming and whisking over the strings along to the beat. I left knowing that my heart was not dead, but in a sense my thinking was.

The simple choice I made as a teenager between heaven and earth was very good for me. In the unstable and hormonal state I had been, this underlying choice was a constant anchor towards purity and the love of God. Now, several years later, this choice had choked up my ability to make passionate music in Jesus! This old thought, like a time capsule, was preserved in my private attitude, until now. Looking back now, I can see a very narrow view of holiness. Holiness which only relates to the heavenly, but not at all to the holistic new creation.

Over the years I’ve learned that God want to live in every aspect of my life, if I am also willing to die there in preparation and welcoming of his presence. I’ve seen that God desires me to be holy, a new creation with holy eating and working and talking and thinking and loving, and this may be reflected in my music also. I have freedom, no, even empowering in the Holy Spirit to now write sacred love songs to my wife.

The Finch – 20 June 2012

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11 thoughts on “The sacred folly

  1. I enjoyed reading this – and I got very excited for your wife! 😉 I think its wonderful that you feel free to have more discretion with what you avoid – it does appear that when we are young (as you say), there is a type of soft legalism which is helpful to us – as both baby humans and baby Christians – during vulnerable early phases. But there is such freedom and exhiliration in gradually ‘graduating’ into wisdom. It has been quite relieving to me that much of our walk with God is like this; process- and context-based (‘not now’ or ‘okay it’s fine during this season’) rather than contextless generic principles (‘never ever do that’ or ‘yes that’s always right’). To me, this natural development in our relationship with God and ourselves is demonstrated biblically in how the ceremonial law was given to Israel as a ‘nanny’ (custodian) until they came of age and could enter the freedom of faith in Messiah (Galatians 3). Laws leading to increasing liberty in wisdom.

    I thought I would share a quick story. I had an interesting church history lesson last year which touched on this same thing you are talking about – what can be made holy? The lesson was about a time during the age of the Roman empire when early Christianity was colliding with Greek culture, and about the debates that started raging around how believers should engage with ‘secular’ things such as theatre (where the word hypocrite comes from!) and philosophy. Apparently there were two opposite impulses from Christians at the time; some believed that it was possible for all/most secular things to redeemed in the Lord (Christian plays!), while others strongly resisted some things as inherently immoral (Christian public baths anyone?). Later on in history, some people thought cathedrals and statues were great and holy artistic expressions; others thought it was missing the point or even blasphemous. Anyway, I just thought that was so fascinating at the time because it seemed to be a root-level divide in the church still today – what can be made holy? Of course, this is slightly different to your point about whether secular songs can be holy! But it connected somehow in my head 🙂

    • And isn’t there a verse about ALL things coming from God being good. And one where things are made holy and acceptable through being received with thanksgiving and prayer.

      Certainly God is in the process of redeeming all good things – of bringing “heaven” to earth.

      • And surely if we all had sincere hearts and tuned consciences, we would not be able to pray and say thank you for some things in our lives? My question is, since when heaven will come to earth it will be a new earth, what things that will be removed should we NOT see as being good? And how do we exhort one another not to cover our hearts, sear our consciences and ‘do what is right in our own eyes’? If half of the church is fundamentalist and legalistic, the other is postmodern dude…

        • Well, in answer to your first question, as I’ve (or rather Scripture has already said): ALL things that come from God are good (טוב:tōv). Just like in the beginning.

          So the question of what will he remove becomes “what have we added”?

          I can think of man-made synthetic food which destroys our bodies, creating stomache problems, gas and cancer. 😉 I can think of shoddy music that dishonors him and his creation. I’ll stop here because it seems that he’ll basically be uprooting all aspects of his creation that we’ve abused, distorted or broken — be it pleasure, food, entertainment, music, etc.

          That said I think it’s a fun exercise to think about what will remain. Here’s my short list: trees, unstickered grass, beaches and mountains, tools, tobacco, grapes (and yes, wine), weed (why must the presence of natural plants necessarily entail that they will be abused: especially when the presence and power of sin is finally abolished), the animal kingdom (snakes and dinos?).

          Things I’m not sure about: electricity, vehicles. I guess it’s the modern enterprise which stumps me. Will we still harness the elements in such a way that we genetically engineer, create light after the sun goes down?

          How will we spend our time? Will we still use iPhones to comment on a friends blog half way across the world?

          All I do know is this: it’s going to be a lot more real than I ever thought it could be. There will be so much more concentration of vitality that I’ve ever experienced. I won’t have wings or a harp. I won’t be swimming in the clouds (at least all the time!). And I won’t be singing a perpetual worship song with my hands raises. Thank God. Though we will all be on the mountaintop with Moses, Elijah and Jesus, I don’t think well have the same desire as the disciples to camp out for fear lest they lose such a presence.

  2. I think this is what I was trying to get at – it’s very convenient (and at some stage safe) to have a very “narrow” box for what pleases God. But if God’s redeeming work in us should really be holistic, we can’t afford to hold on to this box.

    Maybe saying this in terms of music would be this: There is holy expression of much more than just “praise” in music. Like scripture, there is Godly expression of gladness, sadness, love (even sensual desire), excitement, youth, wondering, thinking, ad infinitum.
    The point is, it is not the words that make a song holy, but the Spirit empowering it’s singing. (On the flip side, words can make a song unholy – similar to the “christian public bath” picture.) Ultimately this calls for honest wisdom and earnest love for God.

    • Another great example of this is the passage about the ‘weaker brother’ in Romans 14, where Paul says that there are some (younger?) believers that have quite a rigid understanding about how to please the Lord, whereas the more mature are able to live with a freer conscience on lifestyle issues such as food and holy days etc. Here again, we see that the Lord seems to acknowledge a process in our growth, and that somehow we can please Him at each stage simply because (as the text says) we are aiming to please God to the best of our ability according to our conscience and spiritual development (maturity). Like Solomon said, there is a time for everything. That’s probably why Peter and Paul talked about giving young believers milk and older ones meat.

      If we pull this a little away from personal convictions and closer to church and corporate discipleship, I wonder how we can best apply the understanding of these things when counselling and ministering to the Body? So often I have seen the ‘truth’ given out of season – and probably done the same myself! For instance, we might actually rob a younger Christian of needed emotional security by trying to rid them of their seemingly ‘legalistic’ approach to things like alcohol or whatever it is their conscience might be pricked by. On the other hand, we might be holding older Christians back from maturing if we don’t introduce them to the responsibility of discernment.

      • I really like this thought of giving truth in season and out of season: when a brother or sis is ready to be stretched and when their stiffness is actually helpful.

        I always feel loved when I recall how slowly and gently God has transformed some of my judgments on mundane activities or even biblical doctrines.

        It’s amazing to see how much one can change from their early Christian years — even into someone you never (initially) wanted to be.

        How funny it is that when we’re babies we don’t know what we really need yet what we want is crystal clear.

  3. Something that this thread has reminded me of is how organic the new birth experience is – of how messy and risky the path of righteousness can be compared to the ‘neatness’ of doctrines and theologies. You can’t make rules to ensure that Christianity is safe from abuse – like Finch says it requires honesty and love from WITHIN the believer to make it work. I do not mean the laws of God, but rather the ‘tradition of the elders’ that has developed in churches today. Just talking about these things exposes how easily one can think of the Christian walk as something which can be ‘managed’ or ‘systemized’ by US prospectively, rather than judged or vindicated by God retrospectively. I just think of how much is said about holiness that is one-dimensional and built on the assumption that we can know something is of God if it follows our understanding or definition of orthodoxy. The Pharisees judged Jesus by their orthodoxy and traditions, rather than by his fruit and testimony. But Jesus said, ‘wisdom will be known by her children’. I once heard a preacher say – God is much easier to describe than to define. Maybe that is also true of holiness – we try to define it with doctrine to make it watertight, when in fact much of God’s redemptive works are seemingly unorthodox, surprising and non-determinate. Basically what I am trying to say is this: most times people don’t want a Christianity with a way of life that contains ambiguity and uncertainty in the present and which will only be proven right or wrong over time. We want to be able to judge before the time – “that won’t work, it isn’t biblical”, “that is wrong it can’t be God” – so that we can reduce the risk of righteousness and make Christianity safe and predictable. But I really do think that righteousness will always be risky, and the only time it will be watertight and safe is after the judgment.

    • “You can’t make rules to ensure that Christianity is safe from abuse”. For sure. And there won’t even be a need for rules, as you say, after judgment.

      As for holiness. I used to think of this term in the OT as referring to a status, a quality of moral purity. But now, I’ve come to understand this word as describing the activity or lifestyle which precedes and causes this purity or perfection. Namely, devotion.

      When I go back now and read OT passages discussing this idea of holiness, things now make much more sense if I substitute this English gloss with the concept of “devotion”.

      The ground where Yah chooses to reveal himself is earth devoted for receiving his presence.

      The tabernacle where Yah resides is devoted to the purpose of being a worthy location to temporaily house him.

      The day of rest is a day that is devoted to renewal and appreciation.

      As new creations we are now wholly devoted to/for/before Yah for He is similarly devoted to himself – and our new lives are hidden with Christ in God. The devotion of the Son to his Father is imparted/imputed to us. His devotion is our devotion.

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