Lost at C

Alright boys and squirrels, this one is going to take some explanation.

I recently visited the High Museum here in Atlanta, and I walked around the corner to find the installation piece titled Windward Coast by Radcliffe Bailey. At first, the sheer size of it caught me off guard; it filled one of the larger spaces on the second floor of the museum by itself! However, despite its size, it contained very few elements. Unlike his other pieces, which were mixed media and contained everything from fishing line to glitter drenched construction paper and old photos, Windward Coast was stark by comparison. The description posted on the wall informed me that what I was looking at contained nothing more than “piano keys, a plaster bust, glitter, and a shell with sound.”

The description also informed viewers the intention of the piece, what it was meant to convey. (Yes, I am aware that what an author or artist intends to say is meaningless to discuss because we all experience art and come away with different interpretations. I’ll not argue that here as this piece is direct proof of that fact.) The title of Mr. Bailey’s entire collection was titled Memory as Medicine, and it was his attempt to connect with his immediate and distant past as a black man, a soul abruptly uprooted because of the evils of slavery. The plaster bust, glittering and black in the spotlight floats amid a huge “sea” of piano keys that are arranged to replicate moving water and crashing waves.

I had to admit as I looked at it a second, third, and fourth time that the piece was impressive. However, when I sat huddled in the corner to examine it and take notes, I was able to see the keys  at eye level. Some were tipped with plastic, others with something darker (perhaps bone or ivory), and black keys, those glorious half steps, were intermingled with white. It was then that I got to thinking about the pianos themselves–their guts lying on the floor. What kind of pianos had these keys come from? What kind of “lives” had they led?

Which sat in cold parlors or warm family rooms? How many of them proudly bore the family manger scene at Christmas? How many had the pleasure of enjoying two family members playing them together or been a part of a child’s musical education all the way from “Hot Cross Buns” to more challenging pieces? Had someone fallen in love near one or spent an hour in solace using it? How many had been given up willingly, and how many were sold out of desperation or ignorance as to their true value?

The more I thought about it, the more I saw a parallel between the pianos and the slave floating in them. They, too, were displaced, stripped of their meaning, value, and voice! That’s what bothered me the most about the piece–all the stories of pianos and the families who owned them floating in there that could no longer be told. Theirs were stories worthy of attention, too, and they had been cancelled out to create this installation.

I was planning on writing a free verse piece to mimic the chaos of the sea of keys, but the more I thought it over, I came to see that a fixed verse poem was more appropriate. To make something orderly out of something chaotic, to give meaning to something so disjointed, I would have to try something requiring rules.

I didn’t want to rhyme or be stuck by a meter, so I chose the challenge presented by the sestina. Please take a moment to read the link here if you’d like to know more about this form.

Essentially, the poet must choose six words and repeat them at the end of each line. I chose sea/see/C (homonyms, homophones, and homographs are fair game), keys, tone, master, wood/would, and sound. The first stanza is A,B,C,D,E,F. You then repeat that pattern, using the last word in one stanza as the first in the next. For example, if you look at stanza two, you’ll see that tone (my F word) is the end word of that new line. That stanza is ordered F,A,E,B,D,C, and so on and so forth it goes until all six stanza are complete.

The envoy, the three line stanza that closes a sestina, includes all six words in three lines. They do not have to be at the exact end, but you must use the B and E words in line one, the D and C words in line two, and the F and A words in line three. (However, some poets change that up and use the six words in whatever order they prefer).

It’s difficult because of the repeated words that create a sort of internal rhyme structure. It’s not perfect, but I think it’s a solid start. I’ve not written a complete sestina on my own before this, so that’s progress!

Please read and comment. Let me know what you think!

***

Lost at C

A Sestina Inspired After Viewing Windward Coast by Radcliffe Bailey

The gallery floor lies buried beneath a sea

of writhing, cacophonous keys.

In the distance, as if discarded by his master,

a slave’s head bobs without a sound

amid the endless waves of splintered wood.

His suffering sets the tone.


But I’m left longing for the tone

that sounds when striking middle C,

the note among all others that would

help me place my fingers on correct keys.

A familiar place, safe and sound

on the instrument I longed to master.


In how many homes was it the master,

the symbol of domesticity? In tones

of chestnut and mahogany, the sound

made by each was like the sea,

rhythmic as a metronome, as key

to the security of its home as the roof or the wood.


If not for this artistic creation before me, how many would

still remain in the hands of a master

who’d polish its surface and clean each key,

tune it to maintain those harmonious tones,

relish the marriage of hammer and string, and the delicate C

atop the eighty-eight orderly architects of sound?


Would someone open the lid to release the sound

and the family history locked within the wood?

Would a starving soul sit on its bench once again and see

that while time is something we can never master

we can preserve memory in the mind’s sepia tones

and in sacred objects like a piano, those that are key


to understand our parts in life’s symphony? From key

signature to coda, from downbeat to the sound

of the final fermata, our pasts set the tone

for all that was, that is, and that ever would

be. None of us live lives made from a master,

without uniqueness, our own variation in C.


Knowing this is key to what otherwise would

be a sound failure. One cannot master his past

by stripping another of his tone and using it to create the sea.

Through a Glass Darkly

It’s not in its final form yet by any means, but I wanted to get feedback from my baker’s dozen of readers about this piece. I’ve been slated to write an article for the February edition of In Touch Magazine, and this is what I pitched. The theme of the magazine is God’s beauty, and I said something that always struck me as beautiful is stained glass. Something about how the light shines through it and simply lights up a room has always had the ability to take my breath.

I visited a gorgeous episcopal cathedral in the area and took some photos. I also listened to the organist rehearse and sat in a pew taking notes and making observations. What you have below is the third draft of the article to date. I have also included the pictures you might like to see.

Please do not hesitate to leave me feedback here or via email. I am looking for any and all the help I can get!

***

Through a Glass Darkly

At ten o’clock in the morning, the sunlight streaming through the stained glass windows fill the east side of the cathedral with kaleidoscopic brilliance. Everywhere I look, there are shades of scarlet, cobalt, gold, lavender, emerald, and aqua illuminating tiled floors and smoothly polished columns, gracing them with glittering embellishments. Standing in the midst of this radiance, the thought suddenly occurs to me that the sight I’m enjoying is what Jesus meant when He claimed the “stones will cry out” in worship should human lips ever fall silent (Luke 19:40).

I wander through the space, drinking it in and savoring the sights before me. Every windowpane in the expansive room tells a vivid story. In one, Jesus sits at the well speaking to the Samaritan woman, gesturing towards her earthen jar that cannot contain the living water He offers. In the next window, images of Christ as the Great Physician are featured. In one, the Messiah looks upward as three men lower a paralytic in need of healing through the roof, and in another He glances down with love at the woman suffering from hemorrhages whose faith assured her, “If I only touch His garment, I will get well” (Matt 9:21).

Nearby, Jesus works His many miracles. Standing in a boat with the waves curling around its bow, He rebukes the wind and tells the sea, “Hush, be still” (Mark 4:39) as His disciples look up, their mouths agape. The same disbelief is evident in those who watch as He overrules death itself, summoning Lazarus from his tomb with the words, “Come forth” (John 11:44). However, the same countenance of power and limitless pity is turned upwards in supplication in the panel depicting His evening of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. The cup that cannot pass from Him floats above His head, rays light connecting them inextricably together. In a smaller portion of the frame, Judas Iscariot plots with Roman guards, as if the two moments are happening simultaneously. In each of the twenty panels that tell the story of His life and ministry, Christ is beautiful and otherworldly in turquoise robes and crimson sash, a golden nimbus encircling His head as a sign of divinity.

For some reason, however, I’m drawn to the image of the annunciation repeatedly, lingering before it longer than I do others. In this panel, Mary, clad in pale shades of rose and teal, is a picture of tenderness and vulnerability, especially when contrasted with the angel hovering above her, his angular wings aflame. One of his hands rests above her forehead in comfort while the other is raised in blessing, the words “blessed art thou among women” suspended on his lips (Luke 1:28). Mary’s hands also speak volumes, for one is open upwards, as if she is questioning the truth of the message she’s receiving, while the other hovers over her stomach, already having accepted the proclamation and protecting the womb that will shelter the long-awaited Savior.

This is the moment in which both Mary’s future and ours were forever changed by the Father’s ultimate act of love. It is framed by diamonds of royal blue, silver arches, and buds of every primary color—all manner of rococo embellishments—as securely bound as a book. There is no plaque posted nearby to describe the scene to onlookers, yet it speaks to me as clearly as if the narrative were written on the wall. It is a lesson meant to be experienced with the eyes as well as the soul.

This clarity and enlightenment was what Abbot Suger, the twelfth century clergyman, had in mind when he began the renovation of Saint Denis, his abbey church near Paris. Suger was an advocate of anagogicus mos, or “The Upward Leading Method,” and believed that light was a divine force that could compel a person to transcend the material world and better understand the very nature of God. As a result, he incorporated flying buttresses, arches supporting the church’s soaring rooftop, which allowed for taller, thinner walls with increased space for windows. The combination of high ceilings and boundless light filtering through the colored glass drew the eyes of parishioners heavenward and made it possible for everyone regardless of gender or rank to experience the spiritual in a tangible way. Also, the windows served another purpose—to communicate God’s Word to parishioners who were illiterate. That is why some refer to stained glass windows as “The Poor Man’s Bible.”

Even now, in our modern world where structures hundreds of stories tall dominate the skyline and light can be manufactured, stained glass still maintains the power to captivate. Perhaps it’s because these breathtaking works bear the indelible fingerprints of God. The artisans whose skills are themselves gifts from the Father create their works with fire and iron using only sand, soda, limestone, salts, and oxides, none of which are manmade. Therefore, glass attests to the truth of Revelation 4:11: “You are worthy, O LORD, to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created.”

However, no matter how intricate the designs are, how accurate the depictions in these fragile works might be, or how long they were lovingly labored over by craftsmen, without one essential factor, they remain dull and lifeless. Without light, the first creation of the Almighty God, our works are left as half formed as Quasimodo, the famous hunchback of Notre Dame. And only God can provide the light, the divine illumination that can release the colors within the glass.

For the Christian, they are even more compelling because we recognize them as kindred spirits. Unlike darkness and light, the sky and seas, and all moving creatures, each of which was created when God simply said, “Let there be. . . ,” man was “formed” from the dust by the very hands of the Creator (Gen. 2:7). Of all His accomplishments, only we are made in the image of God and according to His likeness (Gen 1:26), and for this reason, we are the most precious of all His handiwork. Because we received the breath of life and were made to commune with our Father, we see God most clearly in that which is lovely. Also, we desire to create beautiful things in order to obtain a deeper understanding of who He is.

Likewise, we understand that, just like the window is strengthened and perfected by heat and pressure, we too are purified through trials in order to be made more Christlike (see Mal. 3:2-3; 1 Pet. 1:6-9; Rom 5:1-5; James 1:2-4). And like that gorgeous glass, the light of Christ shines through us, compelling the lost in such a way that they can no longer turn aside from the truth of Christ. As the apostle Paul said of believers:

For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord. . . .For God who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves. . . .For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh (2 Cor. 4: 5-7, 11).

One thing, however, is certain. As beautiful as stained glass might be, it also reveals just how poor our power to present the full glory of God is and how limited our ability to fully understand Him remains while we reside in the flesh. In truth, our many-hued masterpieces undoubtedly appear to God like a child’s finger painting does to an adoring parent, paltry when compared to the extent of His skill but all the more valuable for their sincerity.

Yet, praise be to God, there will come a day when we no longer need rely on crude tools and materials for understanding because we will be in the presence of the Master Craftsman. For now, “we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. . . .For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now [we] know in part; but then [we] shall know even as [we are] also known” (KJV, 1 Cor. 13: 9-10, 12).

I’m Sick of Praying for People With Cancer…

I know the title of this blog may be a little misleading. I do not mean to say that I’m fed up with people who are dealing with cancer, and I certainly do not want to imply that I am tired of praying. What I am saying is that I pray for no fewer than ten people a week, all of whom are struggling with some form of this disease.

I’ve had enough of it…..Cancer, I mean.

According to the American Cancer Society’s latest data, 1,529,560 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in 2011. That’s just about evenly split between men (789,620) and women (739,940). For those who have cancer of any system or organ, it is estimated that 569,490 will lose their lives to it. Again, the numbers are fairly evenly split between males (299,200) and females (270, 290). Be aware that this is in the United States ALONE.

Over half a million people will pass away this year because of this malady. Yes, that’s nearly 570,000 people, which is equal to one tenth of the population of Atlanta. Some cases might have been brought on by poor lifestyle choices or work environment, but many more are simply caused by genetic and environmental factors. People who have done their level best to take care of themselves and have shied away from any and all behaviors that can tempt this disease to draw near can feel ill, head in for a visit with the doctor, and come out diagnosed with this disease.

That’s because cancer doesn’t care who you are—male or female, rich or poor, black or white, gay or straight, conservative or liberal. You can be five, fifty, or one hundred and four when it decides to show up at your door. Whether you worship God, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or the almighty dollar, cancer can and will take residence somewhere in the amazing body the Lord has blessed you with. It is one of the few diseases that knows no prejudice. It has no agenda other than causing havoc in your body and putting a strain on patients and their loved ones.

Who said equality was impossible?

If you divide the projected number of new cases by 365, you’ll find out that, on average, 4,190 people will find out that they have some form of cancer each and every day in this country. Today, 4,190 people will start a journey that will take them from second opinions to treatment options and from offices and work stations to the chairs where they’ll spend hours getting chemotherapy or radiation. For some, there will come a day when their own comfortable beds, covered with linens still redolent of laundry detergent and their spouse’s shampoo, will be replaced by the stiff confines of a hospital bed and impersonal sheets, starched and bleached until they’re brittle and scratchy.

Life as they’ve known it will be over.

For some people, their bodies will be weakened and their immune systems as vulnerable to attack as a village once was to the war machine of Rome. For others, their hair will do an impersonation of Elvis and “leave the building,” so baldy jokes will be made and colorful scarves bought by the dozens. 5K walks will take place, and ribbons of every color of the spectrum will be donned by friends, families, and co-workers to show support and raise funds for research.

For some, survival parties will eventually be held, and the countdown to the one-year anniversary of the happy date will begin. For others, a more somber gathering is the end result as friends and relations are left to try to understand what happened and to breathe a sigh of relief because the person who came under cancer’s tyrannical grasp and fought so valiantly has gone to a place where it can never harm him or her again.

No soul is safe, no system immune. The tongue can play host to it just as easily as the prostate or the breast. The lungs serve as its dwelling place along with the brain, the skin, the colon, the stomach, and even the reproductive organs responsible for creating life. It travels from system to system, organ to organ, as easily as a family station wagon cruises the highways and byways of the nation on a cross-country vacation. No paperwork is required; no border systems are in place to check its progress.

I’ve lost two grandparents to this disease as well as friends and students. I name some here to tell you they were real people with souls who breathed and walked on this earth. They were not numbers or statistics. I loved them all and still do today.

***

Betty Hill, my grandmother, loved to watch boxing. She cooked a mean plate of eggs, worked harder than any woman I ever knew, and apparently talked as rapidly as I do.

Leonard Hill, my grandfather, fought in the Pacific Theater during World War II and was a deacon, a Mason, and a Gideon. He loved feeding friends and family, had a fondness for dogs, and was an amazingly generous tipper.

Catie Carter, one of the brightest and most beautiful girls I had the privilege to teach, loved pink and took pride in keeping up with her homework no matter what. She approached everything with humor and love, and everyone who knew her is better off for it.

***

Today, people I love continue to fight the cancer in their lungs and their prostates, in their bladders, their blood, and their bones. And I pray. I hate it, but I pray. Why? Because James 5: 13-16 tells me:

Is anyone among you suffering? Then he must pray. Is anyone cheerful? He is to sing praises. Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.

Praying for someone who is ill, especially if he or she does not get well, is one of the hardest things to do because it’s easy to feel like God doesn’t answer that prayer, no matter how fervently it’s offered. If you’re reading this and you’re angry with God or feel like He’s cruel and unjust, I can understand. I’ve felt the same way.

However, what I’ve come to understand is that God didn’t intend for this disease to exist. He created a perfect world without sickness and death, and it was we who lost it because of sin. What He does is allow it to occur so that those who are ailing, and those who stand by them through it all, can come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and attain the reconciliation that comes with accepting Him as Savior. One day, we can all know the glory of the body we were intended to have. One day, we can see those we lost again in a place where separation is no longer a possibility. One day, cancer will be a foreign concept, an impossibility no longer cause for concern. But until then, it is our burden to bear together.

Reader, I serve a Savior who raised a man from the dead four days after the fact (John 11:1-45). I serve Jesus Christ—He who walked on water, who gave sharp eyes to the blind and nimble legs to the cripple, and who, with His death, tore the veil between me and my heavenly Father clean in two, making it possible for me to be reunited in fellowship with Him forever.

As much as I might pray for it, I know God’s will is not that we all be spared from cancer. Some of us will have to walk that road in order to be brought to a place where true healing can occur. When our bodies betray us, our spirits begin the search for answers and find the Almighty had them all along. As one who God allowed disease to touch for His glory, I echo the words of the apostle Paul, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18).

My sickness led to my salvation, and that is why I would not ask for it to be removed from me were it even possible. My thorn in the flesh made me humble, dependent, and wise in the ways of the Father, and I am well in soul though I am weak in body. So I continue to testify to the goodness of God, to worship He who is already in my tomorrow, and to pray that His will be done in all things.

***

If you have cancer (or any other disease that is affecting you physically or spiritually), you are in my prayers. Post a reply, and let me know your story. More importantly, keep fighting! Keep following Dylan Thomas’ advice and “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Life is precious, and we have so much to do before it’s over.

The Voice of God

I want to begin this post by saying that I am not an expert in musical theory. I took two or so semesters of it in college, and struggled throughout every single moment of it. (I did, however, earn an A in both Theory I and Theory II, which is a testament to my scholastic work ethic!) I’m all ears if you have websites, videos, or books you know of that can help me learn terms to better explain what I’m about to say.

Ok, disclaimer over. Let the blog begin…

People are always saying, “The Lord told me” or “I heard the Lord say,” which strikes me odd. I’ve never sat down and had a conversation with the Almighty, but I can tell you that He does “speak” to those who are willing to listen. Some hear His voice when they look on a beautiful landscape; others find Him in the order of nature and its creatures and cycles. I have come to find that God speaks to me through music in two ways. The first is through the sheer beauty of song. Music used for worship lifts me up out of myself and connects me to Him in a way that words (my other great love) simply cannot. It reaches me on a more unvarnished, vulnerable level on which artifice and masks are unnecessary.

Take the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s masterwork, Messiah, for instance.

Everyone knows it, has maybe even sung it either for fun or for a performance, but not very many people know about the oratorio as a whole. Messiah is divided into three parts. The first tells of the prophecy of the Messiah in the book of Isaiah and extends through the annunciation of His birth to the shepherds. The second tells of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension as well as the spread of the Gospel around the world, and the third tells of the resurrection of the dead and Christ’s glorification in heaven. The “Hallelujah Chorus” occurs at the end of part two, and in the scene before it, the people of the world have rejected the Gospel and have instead chosen to battle it and one another. However, when this piece begins, the gates of heaven have opened where all can see Christ glorified.

The people you see standing up in the audience are doing so in keeping with the tradition supposedly begun when King George II first heard it performed in London. According to musical lore, the king was so moved by the revelation he heard that he stood up early in the chorus and remained on his feet throughout the piece. Whether or not it is true, folks who know their musical history stand from the moment the piece begins. It’s a great tradition, regardless of whether or not it’s totally accurate. If there was ever a moment worthy of getting to one’s feet, this is it, my friends!

***

The other thing about music that reveals God’s voice to me is the undeniable logic of it. I’m not getting into major and minor, diminished or augmented here. There’s simply not enough space in the world to discuss all that. Suffice it to say there is a great deal to be garnered from learning about the Circle of Fifths and Pythagorean Tuning; both can teach you just how logically arranged sounds are. There is no happenstance with music. Pitches vibrate in harmony with one another to create pleasing sounds, and dissonance is all the more beautiful because it shows what can occur when God’s balance is not maintained. That relief you feel when a chord resolves into harmony is God revealing Himself to you!

Music is mathematical, and that is where my ability to explain it to you comes to a screeching halt. I am mathematically inept and can in no way explain mathematical relationships in music. If you are interested, try a book like Math and Music: Harmonious Connections or The Math Behind the Music. The basic point I’m trying to make is this–just because He isn’t using words, it doesn’t mean that God doesn’t speak and present Himself to us. We only need to understand the language He’s choosing to employ.

Here are two videos that have made the rounds on YouTube and Facebook recently, both of which might better explain what I mean. The first is a musical presentation of the mathematical constant, ∏ (otherwise known as pi), or the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle.

However, tau, the circumference of a circle divided by the radius, can also be represented musically.

I find it interesting that both of these irrational numbers measure a circle, one of the greatest symbols of love and continuity I know of. By the way, for those of you who, like me, are absolute crap at math, here’s what an irrational number is according to Wikipedia.

An irrational number’s value cannot be expressed exactly as a fraction, the numerator and denominator of which are integers. Consequently, its decimal representation never ends or repeats.

Think of it! These numbers that measure a circle never end or repeat, just as everything God creates is unique and specially designed, and that includes you and me. None of us have the exact same fingerprints or retinal patterns, so, in a way, we are like these numbers in that we never repeat. I’m not even going to pretend I’m intelligent enough to understand the level of mathematics involved in this, but once I listen to the beautiful melodies contained within the decimal places of these two numbers, I cannot help but think that the same beauty is hidden in the construction of all living things, but because of our sin and fallen nature, we can only hear a fragment of what God is saying to us. Happily, that does not have to be the case eternally! Jesus Christ is returning, and all will be as He intended for those who have accepted Him as their Savior, the one who paid their sin debt.

***

One of my favorite poems is John Dryden’s “A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day.” It was written to celebrate St. Cecilia, the patron saint of music and speaks of the beauty of music, the creative power of God, and the Second Coming of Christ. It reads:

From harmony, from heavenly harmony
This universal frame began.
When Nature underneath a heap
Of jarring atoms lay,
And could not heave her head, 
The tuneful voice was heard from high:
“Arise, ye more than dead!”
Then cold and hot and moist and dry
In order to their stations leap,
And Music’s power obey. 
From harmony, from heavenly harmony
This universal frame began;
From harmony to harmony
Through all the compass of the notes it ran,
The diapason closing full in Man.

What passion cannot Music raise and quell?
When Jubal struck the corded shell,
His list’ning brethren stood around,
And, wond’ring, on their faces fell
To worship that celestial sound, 
Less than a god they thought there could not dwell
Within the hollow of that shell
That spoke so sweetly and so well.
What passion cannot Music raise and quell?

The trumpet’s loud clangor 
Excites us to arms,
With shrill notes of anger
And mortal alarms.
The double double double beat
Of the thundering drum 
Cries, “Hark, the foes come!
Charge, charge, ‘t is too late to retreat!”

The soft complaining flute
In dying notes discovers
The woes of hopeless lovers, 
Whose dirge is whispered by the warbling lute.

Sharp violins proclaim
Their jealous pangs and desperation,
Fury, frantic indignation,
Depth of pains and height of passion, 
For the fair disdainful dame.

But oh! what art can teach,
What human voice can reach
The sacred organ’s praise?
Notes inspiring holy love, 
Notes that wing their heavenly ways
To mend the choirs above.

Orpheus could lead the savage race,
And trees unrooted left their place,
Sequacious of the lyre; 
But bright Cecilia raised the wonder higher:
When to her organ vocal breath was given,
An angel heard, and straight appeared–
Mistaking earth for heaven.

GRAND CHORUS

As from the power of sacred lays 
The spheres began to move,
And sung the great Creator’s praise
To all the blest above:
So, when the last and dreadful hour
This crumbling pageant shall devour, 
The trumpet shall be heard on high,
The dead shall live, the living die,
And Music shall untune the sky.

In other words, when God created the heavens and the earth as it is told in Genesis, harmony, the “music of the spheres,” is what He used to do so. God spoke, and all things were created. One word from Him, and the “jarring heap of atoms” became ordered, and the greatest of all these orders is man. We are the perfection of God’s celestial symphony. That is why we respond to music as we do, be it from the rousing tones of the trumpet, the mournful sounds of the flute, or the powerful voice of the organ that fills a cathedral and draws our ears heavenward as surely as a vaulted ceiling draws our eyes. Music is anywhere and everywhere around us, and it will be there on Judgement Day when it “untune”s the sky when Christ returns to take His children home.

And with that glorious thought, I’ll leave you to listen to Bach’s “Cantata 140,” which was written for the last Sunday of the ecclesiastical year when one’s mind is on the beginning of the new, particularly the second advent of Christ. You may read the libretto, which was taken from Matthew 25, here or simply listen to the beauty of the music itself.  Soli Deo Gloria!


We’re All a Bunch of Egotistical Opera Singers….

….singing, “Me, me, me, me, me!” And apparently, we’re lazy and impatient ones at that.

According to the results of The New York Times best seller list labeled “Hardcover Advice & Miscellaneous, ” Dr. Stanley’s new book, Turning the Tide, hit the list at number eleven this week. Not bad at all. However, when I looked through the other books in this category, I saw a disturbing trend.

Aside from the new parody book about sleepless children and the zombie parents who attempt to raise them, Go the F*** to Sleep, every other tome in the top ten made me worry about the future of America. Yes, I am aware it is the “Advice” category, a sort of catch-all for the non-fiction reading types who might not be keen on a David McCullough history or a weighty memoir by an aging politician put out to pasture. I expected a certain number of self help books to be there. Classics such as How to Make Friends and Influence People, Men are from Mars–Women are from Venus, and Who Moved My Cheese? have all done their turn on the wheel of fortune that is the bestseller list. However, the other nine texts ranked above Dr. Stanley’s book all have something in common–they are all about taking the easy way out.

For instance, behind the soon to be canonized classic currently sitting atop the heap,  The 17 Day Diet by Dr. Mike Moreno is another book designed and written to inform another group of overweight Americans that they can change their bodies with just a few changes in their diet and a few hours of walking a week. Granted, this information is not new. Eating less and exercising more will, in fact, leave you a little closer to your ideal fighting weight. However, why anyone feels the need to give Amazon.com $14 of his or her hard-earned money on a book to teach them something common sense could provide is beyond me. According to his author blurb on the aforementioned bookseller’s (and everything else you could even think of ordering online) website, “Dr. Mike takes pride in being viewed not only as a doctor, but also as a friend and confidant.” I don’t know whether to yak or suggest him as a cast member in the reboot of The Golden Girls.

Timothy Ferriss has two books on the list, at number three and number seven, and both of them have something to do with the number four. The 4-Hour Body (currently in third place) actually boasts a much more jaw-dropping full title….The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman. I’m not kidding. Go look it up.

According to the publisher’s blurb on Amazon, by reading this book,

You will learn (in less than 30 minutes each): how to lose those last 5-10 pounds (or 100+ pounds) with odd combinations of food and safe chemical cocktails, to prevent fat gain while bingeing (X-mas, holidays, weekends), to increase fat-loss 300% with a few bags of ice, to sleep 2 hours per day and feel fully rested, to produce 15-minute female orgasms, to triple testosterone and double sperm count, to go from running 5 kilometers to 50 kilometers in 12 weeks, to reverse ‘permanent’ injuries, to add 150+ pounds to your lifts in 6 months, and to pay for a beach vacation with one hospital visit.

Well, heck! I bet we could read this and learn how to solve the conflict between Israel and Palestine, too…and in under thirty minutes! Seriously, everything in that list is pure vanity–physical satisfaction that can only be temporarily attained. I quote Yoda, “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.”

Sadly, The 4-Hour Workweek isn’t much better. It is essentially a guidebook that instructs readers how they can quit the 40+ hour a week grind and work remotely from some tropical paradise. In one chapter I am especially interested in reading, he claims he can “eliminate 50% of [my] work in 48 hours using the principles of a forgotten Italian economist.”

If Mr. Ferriss’ words were true, we’d all be beautiful, bronzed minor deities with washboard abs who could sling a pigskin over a mountain and be crazy good in the sack. However, anyone who has lost a substantial amount of weight or who has built a company from the ground up will tell you that what he proposes just isn’t possible. Few people are successful in such things because, well, because they’re darned hard. And when something is difficult, few people have the tenacity to see it through to completion.

In truth, his first book sounds a little too Mein Kamph for me….minus the eugenics, of course. The second might work for .009% of the American workforce, which makes it about as useful as nipples on the Batsuit. I also have to wonder, if the man is so over the moon about efficiency, why does his name have unnecessary double consonants? Shouldn’t “Feris” suffice? I might give you the second S, but two F’s is just folly.

Another diet book, The Dukan Diet, graces the list at number four. It, too, promises to provide a foolproof weight loss system (primarily geared towards women) that can help us get the bodies we crave by using a diet French women have followed for decades. (Because when I think of good nutritional health, the French are the first group of people who come to mind….) Apparently, the plan involves unlimited lean protein and an oat bran galette for a few days, followed by what I’m sure is an indecipherable combination of veggies, proteins, carbs, and other food groups until the perfect Hollywood starlet’s body has been achieved. Unlike diets in the past that involved jump-start days filled with only boiled eggs and grapefruit juice or vitamin pastes spread on Wasa crackers (I’m not making that up…I remember those days well), dieters are also “allowed two weekly celebration meals to stave off boredom.” Isn’t it pitiful that we have become slaves to entertainment to the point that our diets must also refrain from being lackluster? Man, how did the native tribal cultures of America manage without food that tickled their fancy after they’d hunted it down? :-/

And now for something completely different…

Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived by Rob Bell ranks number five on the list. I have not read this “Christian” book in its entirety; however, I have read enough of it and discussed it with other Christian apologists to the point that I feel comfortable saying that this book is utter nonsense. Bell, a pastor with a large and ever-growing following, tells readers that hell is really something we suffer on earth, heaven is a place we can all reach regardless of whether or not we have accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and that Jesus “is bigger than any one religion.” I would argue that Jesus is bigger than any denomination, sure, but those who bow down and worship other gods are not followers of the Risen Lamb. I am sure that there have been other claims as outrageous as his in mass media before, but I can tell you that, in my lifetime, I’ve never seen anything so close to the warning in 2 Timothy 4:1-5:

I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

The other “Christian” book in the top ten, ranked just one spot above Turning the Tide, is One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp. Thankfully, this one is more on point with the Christian method than Mr. Bells, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily perfect. It is a book that encourages readers to see God’s amazing grace around them every day, learning to live for daily joys and find contentment even in sorrow. In the immortal words of William Shatner, “I can get behind that.” The sample chapters I’ve read are a little, shall we say, florid for my taste…as overpowering emotionally as my grandmother’s gardenia scented perfume once was in the confined space of the Chrysler on the way to church each Sunday.

However, I couldn’t read the entire book, and according to a reviewer named Cindy from the blog Books and Chocolate, “I was also wary of the mystical/contemplative spirituality/emergent church references, as she quotes those of the contemplative movement and recognized mystics such as Brother Lawrence, Henri Nouwen, and Dallas Willard. In addition, I was uncomfortable with the chapter on making love to Jesus in which the author speaks of seeking communion with God in what can only be termed as sexual language, taking it to a level that I personally don’t believe scripture intends” (emphasis mine). That entire concept reminds me of the song by Kari Jobe I used in a previous blog to discuss what was wrong with modern praise and worship music, and it just gives me the huzz. God is God after all—not Buddy Jesus, my homeboy, or my BFF.

One spot up from the love-fest that is One Thousand Gifts, Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness,  looks to be one of the most practical of the ten. In it, he explains how a few simple steps such as working hard, paying for things in cash, and staying out of debt can lead to financial freedom. It seems fairly obvious to anyone with a modicum of what Southerners call “good raising,'” but in a Hot-Pocket-eating-instant-gratification-I-can-download-that-book-in-one-tenth-of-a-second world, being told to save your money and to live within your means is pretty revolutionary. I think the book itself is a wonderful thing, but I have to worry about the mental fortitude and general willpower of a culture that has to buy a book (AKA spend money) to tell them how to save it.

The last two books on the top ten list, The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch and The Secret  by Rhonda Byrne are also both books that jump up and down like a Jack Russell Terrier that got into an open bag of espresso beans shouting, “Hey, hey, hey!!!! Pay attention to me!!!!”

Granted, the first was written by a college professor who died of pancreatic cancer and who delivered a “Last Lecture” that was just that, a lecture of information he wanted to impart to the world before he left it. I haven’t read it, but I’m sure it is a touching book. However, it is focused on the temporal–what can I leave behind, and why do I matter in the grand scheme of things? You can actually watch him give this lecture live and judge it for yourselves. He does say that he isn’t there to talk about religion or spirituality and refers to his “Deathbed Conversion” that involved not finding God but rather finally deciding to buy a Mac. It’s more concerned with childhood dreams and the self-realization that comes with finding what you really want.

I can appreciate the desire to leave something of oneself behind, the human need to leave a sort of mark that will stand as a testament to the fact that you once converted oxygen into carbon dioxide and that you were more than a social security number or a blood type. It’s the reason cavemen painted on walls and why prisoners carve their names into the concrete of their cells. I was here, these messages tell the world, I mattered enough to be remembered. Yet, at the same time, I find the idea nauseatingly self-serving. What’s the purpose of leaving something behind, or teaching/enabling someone else to, when it’s all nothing but shadows and air? This world is a temporal, ephemeral thing, as easily discarded as a flyer in the mail. We should be more concerned with spending our time here growing closer to God, serving Him with all our mind, heart, soul, and strength, and making being used by Him to lead others to Christ. THAT, my friends, is something that lasts.

And then there’s The Secret. Oh my stars and garters, that book makes me want to kill myself via listening to Fran Drescher sing the role of Cio-Cio San in Madam Butterfly. From what I’ve heard from misty-eyed acolytes, the nugget of wisdom in the book is “life changing.” Granted, I might be simplifying a bit. Now, pay attention or you might miss it.

Think REALLY HARD about what you want = You get it.

That’s it. THAT’S “The Secret.” No serving a cause greater than yourself, no finding joy in simple things….like making love to Jesus (which still makes me twitchy)… and certainly no working diligently for what you desire. Simply wish non-stop for what you want and it will manifest itself like the Red Rider BB Gun that always seems eager to shoot one’s eye out. Who knew!? Imagine, I could have gotten that Albert Pujols autograph I’ve always wanted if I stood there and shook, my hands clenched in tight fists, and thought of nothing but Pujols signing my virginal, white baseball. Like someone trying to play a telekinetic superhero, all I have to do is grit my teeth and look like something cerebrally mind-blowing is going on between my ears, and it will magically appear like that lollipop that came down the chute when I was a good girl and didn’t cry at Fantastic Sam’s.

And to think, I schlepped through three years of graduate school for nothing!

When did we become a herd of self-serving, lazy nitwits who want all the joy and success life has to offer without putting forth a single iota of the effort? Why is the upper echelon of “self help” chock full of books that only show why we’re in this mess in the first place? Gracious sakes, people! If you want to lose weight, eat less and work out more. If you want to have money, earn it and save it. If you want to be happy, realize that the world does not revolve around you and that it is instead God who is at the center of everything! The answers are so simple, yet they sit untouched while the world trudges along looking for the path to wisdom and the route to enlightenment by picking up and looking under every rock on the side of the road.

Etch A Sketch Moments

I don’t know about anyone else, but I have a tendency to get into ruts. I become comfortable in a routine, and I stay there so long I border on turning into an Ent.  Now, while there is some pleasure to be taken in routine, especially in the security and predictability it provides, it is also dangerous because it makes me myopic. I tend to only see what is directly in front of me, and like a Beagle after some elusive scent, I put my proverbial nose to the ground, only to look up several miles later in a place I don’t recognize and without a clue as to how to get home.

However, I can always count on God to provide me with something I’ve come to term “Etch A Sketch Moments.” If you’re my age or older, you remember the toy I’m talking about. The red frame, the dual knobs, the line that snaked its way across the flat, gray screen as we turned them in frustration. I don’t know about the rest of Generation X, but more often than not, my tongue was often stuck in the corner of my mouth in total concentration as I tried to draw Castle Grayskull or Soundwave, my favorite Transformer. Unlike the talented soul who created the reproduction of Van Gogh’s The Starry Night in the image to the left, my attempts at art often ended up looking more like something Salvador Dali might have created after a long night spent consuming Ouzo and playing Cootie (in that order). All I ever created were lopsided stick figures all connected by a tether, because I could never figure out how to double back and cover my lines, or the generic depiction of a house–blocky, square windows, triangle roof with a smoking chimney hanging off it at a perilous angle, and a door smack in the middle.

Not Mine, But Close!

When I put my creation on display, my poor family members would all put their heads together to try to discern the meaning of the Rorschach Test I’d created, hoping to guess correctly and avoid hurting my feelings. When they’d guess “Choo Choo Train” instead of the Thunder-Tank from Thundercats or drew a blank at my rendering of the scarf wearing and umbrella toting fawn, Mr. Tumnus from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I’d perform my patented eyeball roll (which could never be interpreted as anything but exasperation) and shake the poor Etch A Sketch until my otiose attempts at creating visual art were no more.

I’ve often wished that my mistakes were as easily erased as those crude drawings, but alas and alack, life is not as simple as the Ohio Art Company would have it to be.

However, when I say God provides me with “Etch A Sketch Moments,” I don’t mean he gives me some sort of celestial mulligan. I mean that He sends someone or something into my life to shake me out of a certain way of thinking, to erase some stale and lifeless pattern I use to interpret the world. He removes all those limits I and others have placed in my life and makes me see the world in a different way.

Today, a wonderful gentleman named Christopher Coleman spoke at our weekly chapel at In Touch Ministries. You can click on his name and visit his website where a more detailed testimony can be found, but here’s the long and short of it. When he was born, the doctor’s pronounced him dead and went on to work on delivering his twin sister. Fifteen minutes later, after another doctor worked on him, he began to cry! He had been without oxygen for fifteen minutes, and doctors told his mother to send him to a home and forget about him because he had cerebral palsy and would never walk, talk, or speak.

Well, thankfully, she didn’t…and he did.

Now, he’s a college graduate (the only one in his family) who travels around the world telling his life’s story and showing people that God is truly able. When Christopher was called by God into ministry, he asked the Lord, “Do you see me? Do you see my hands that won’t stay still, my feet that go in every direction but the one I want? Do you hear my voice that’s so hard to understand?” God replied to him, “I don’t have to look. I made you. You are exactly what I planned for you to be because I don’t make junk.”

He shared several scriptures with us during his presentation–my life’s verse, 2 Corinthians 12:10, and the story of the cripple at the Pool of Bethesda found in John 5. With regards to the latter, Mr. Coleman pointed out that Jesus Christ asks an odd question, one that bears some consideration. He asks the crippled man, “Do you want to be made well?” What is this man’s answer going to be “No”? He’d been a cripple for thirty-eight years, unable to provide for himself or move without aid. Of course he’d love to be healed! However, Christ asks him because, if made well, this man would be compelled to spend his days walking and telling as many people as possible about the blessing he’d been given by Jesus. He would no longer be living for himself because his body would be a living testimony to Jesus’ power and mercy. I’d never considered it that way before but the truth is that Jesus understands our wants better than we do. I love it!

Throughout his talk, Mr. Coleman amazed me with his wit, his positive attitude, and his joy. He said that people often look at him and wonder, “How can he, with all his physical challenges, be so happy when I am whole and miserable?” The answer is a relationship with God! Not having that one amazing thing can alter and skew our perspectives in such a way that we forget just how blessed we are–how loved and how cherished we are by God the Father.

Sure, I could always want for more money, more things, more security, but no matter how much I acquire, none of it will never make me happy. Thankfully, that’s not what makes me feel joyful. From time to time, I do get into ruts as I mentioned earlier, and I forget the things for which I should be truly grateful. I can look over those things, take them for granted, and forget just how marvelous they truly are. For instance, I am, above all, a child of God who will one day be with Him in heaven. That alone is cause enough for lifelong celebration. However, while I am here, He blessed me with an amazing family who loves me unconditionally, a husband who cherishes and cares for me, a mind that is able to handle complex ideas and problems, and a body that is healthy and whole despite my illness. Yes, I have Multiple Sclerosis, and I tell you that I am thankful for it because it is what keeps me mindful of God’s hand on my life. Without it, I was on the completely incorrect path. I wasn’t relying on Him, and I wasn’t living the way He would have me live.

Now, I wake up most days and wiggle my toes to make sure I can still feel them. I blink my eyes and check to make sure I can still see. For seven years, I have been able to do all that and more! Let me tell you, when you have MS, it can compromise your life in a multitude of ways, so when I wake up each day and discover that I can walk, talk, see, and do any and everything I want, every task I complete is done in joy. Taking out the trash is more fun than a field trip to the zoo, and running errands is more fun than a shopping spree on Fifth Avenue because I can do them without a struggle! However, there are some days I roll out of bed and don’t think about that simple truth, and that’s when little things frustrate me. I lose my gratitude, my perspective gets skewed, and my life is much less mirthful for it.

Mr. Coleman was God’s way of sharing that truth afresh with me today. I am like him in that I have that thorn in my flesh that Paul spoke of in 2 Corinthians. But my thorn is not Paul’s thorn, and it isn’t Mr. Coleman’s thorn. Ours were given to us at different times and for different reasons because we all have our own roles to fulfill in the furtherance of God’s kingdom. However, as I looked around the chapel today and saw my co-workers being taught and blessed by him, I was reminded again that, like the cripple by the pool, my body is healed so that I, too, can be a witness for Christ. Like I often did with my Etch A Sketch, God shook me up today and erased all the crooked lines in my mind, and He will no doubt help me create a more accurate rendering of my world.

I have but to consult Job 5:6-9, 17-19, the words of Eliphaz, to keep my perspective accurate. He tells his friend Job:

For affliction does not come from the dust, nor does trouble spring from the ground; yet man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward.But as for me, I would seek God, and to God I would commit my cause—Who does great things, and unsearchable, marvelous things without number. . . .Behold, happy is the man whom God corrects; therefore, do not despise the chastening of the Almighty.For He bruises, but He binds up; He wounds, but His hands make whole. He shall deliver you in six troubles.Yes, in seven no evil shall touch you.

The World Loves Its Own

I read a blog here on WordPress this morning about everyone’s favorite “Booty Shakin’ Believer,” Beyoncé. The author of said blog claimed the following:

…[I]f the goal is to touch the un-churched, I think Beyoncé has the right idea. Sending moral messages via the contemporary art form of the day is like sowing new seeds of life into a community void of a Judeo-Christian worldview. It is like a drink of fresh water in the scorching desert of life.

The statement got my gears to clicking much too quickly for a Monday morning, and the more I chewed on the thought, the more I felt it getting firmly lodged in my craw. Beyoncé apparently prays for her cast and crew before going on stage and did Bible studies when she was younger; however, in my mind, those could just as easily be meaningless gestures as they are meaningful acts of witness. After all, what game winning wide receiver or award winning actress hasn’t uttered the phrase, “First, I’d like to thank God for giving me the talent to…” when giving an acceptance speech?

I look at what someone does as well as the words of her mouth to ascertain her true beliefs. According to Beyoncé in an interview with The Son, a Christian newspaper:

I never mixed Christianity with how I felt [about God]. I am about faith and spirituality more so than religion. Doing right by others and not judging. The thing that keeps me grounded is knowing that I’m always protected and that God is in control of things. Even the name of our group, Destiny’s Child, we got out of the Bible. . . For me it is about the way I carry myself and the way I treat other people. My relationship and how I feel about God and what he does for me is something deeply personal. It’s where I came from. I was brought up in a religious household and that’s very important to me.

Something about this statement sets my teeth on edge. She seems to be saying the right things–God is in control, treat other people well, have a relationship with God. However, it’s the second sentence that sets the alarm bells to ringing. “I am about faith and spirituality more so than religion.”

She’s correct in one way; religion is not God. Being a Baptist doesn’t make me a child of God. My relationship with Him does, my acceptance of God as my Savior and Master of every single aspect of my life. However, she seems to be taking another tack with the idea. For her, it seems to mean that she’s accepted that there is a God and that, by and large, He means for her to live a happy and fulfilled life. Therefore, in return, she must be good to others and “carry herself” a certain way. That sounds closer to the concept of Karma, something associated with Hinduism, Buddhism, or even Sikhism rather than a tenet of Christianity.

The video that garnered the most flack and (in some Christian communities) praise was her hit “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).” Many Christians took issue with her attire, her dance moves, and the overall tone of the song. However, others saw it as a ringing (no pun intended) endorsement of marriage before sex and used it to teach their daughters about the value of chastity and the preservation of virginity. However, I’m not going to rehash this old territory.

While searching through her videos on YouTube, I came across one for one of her newest singles, “Run the World (Girls).” Like many of her other videos/songs, it gives me great pause.

In essence, the meaning behind the song is “Women run the world because they have what men want,” meaning, of course, sex. Women can work for their own money, not be dependent on a man, and still make demands of men because all the money in the world can’t replace this one thing men crave. The military/Mad Max overtones of the video coupled with the aggressive dancing and animals on chains reflects the rapacious nature of this new woman who asserts, “My persuasion can build a nation. Endless power, the love we can devour. You’ll do anything for me.”

What is a young girl supposed to think with images like this flashed before her on television and the Internet? She hears someone say, “Beyoncé, oh, she’s a Christian” and sees this same woman dancing seductively and using her sex rather than her mind to get what she wants. What are the two options the girl can assume? 1.) Beyoncé is a Christian and does this, so it must be okay or 2.) Christians say one thing and do another, so I don’t think I want to be one of them. Either assumption is going to send that child down the wrong path, the former a more slippery one to be sure because it has the trappings of righteousness and the mantle of Christianity attached to it.

Later in the interview with The Son, Beyoncé claimed that there’s no double standard regarding her faith and her performing style. She claimed:

I honestly believe [God] wants people to celebrate their bodies so long as you don’t compromise your Christianity in the process.

I am not a Bible thumper who believes all dancing and celebrating are immoral acts; however, I fail to see how videos like “Run the World (Girls)” don’t fall under the “compromising my Christianity” umbrella. I don’t see a Christian who is following the will of God when I watch this video. She is dancing not as David did, to celebrate God’s benevolence and majesty, but to attract fans both male and female who both want her and want to be her.

In James 4:4, James tells the Jewish Diaspora, “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” In short, you cannot sing about what the world sings about, dance the way the world dances, and lust after the trappings of the world and also be of God. It’s a classic case of trying to serve two masters, which cannot be done. This is why James continues in verse eight, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded!”

This double-mindedness is what is slowly killing the Christian church in the United States; we are sacrificing our standards in order to bring new Christians into the fold. But what we’re doing is not building up the faith of these new believers; rather, we are watering down our beliefs so as not to offend them. We should be worried less about who we offend and worried more about who we can bring to the Lord that they might be saved.

This is why, in I John 2:15-17, the apostle John warns Christians they must, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world” because “[i]f any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.”

This is why I cannot say that Beyoncé is acceptable for young girls to admire. I can tolerate her behavior even less than someone like Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj, or P!nk. These women, as far as I know, were not raised in Christian households as Beyoncé claims to have been. Unlike her, they were not brought up hearing the Word of God, well aware of what is expected of a Christian. The fact that she is willing to completely eschew what she knows to be right and pleasing to God in favor of what pleases the world speaks volumes about her faith and her relationship with God. This is not a personal opinion or one formed according to my own tastes. I garnered it from scripture.

In 2 Peter , the apostle Peter warns against compromise and the tarnishing of Christian witness by being too closely aligned with the world and falling prey to what he calls “false teachers.” He writes:

For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage. For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire. [Emphasis mine]

If someone is truly saved, he or she has no desire to turn back to the same lifestyle he/she lived before. To know what true freedom from sin and death is only to turn back to its ways and trappings is worse than blind disobedience. The world doesn’t know any better, but a Christian should.

If the Christian church does not stand up to these double standards and tell the world, without hesitation, “This is NOT what it means to be a child of God” and then offer the truth, there’s no hope for us. We’re already so lukewarm and vapid in many congregations that we’re utterly indistinguishable from the “un-churched” so many are worried about.

Don’t believe me? Check out this article about Katy Perry, the performer responsible for “I Kissed a Girl.” Please note that it is posted on a so-called Christian website called “Beliefnet,” a repository of all kinds of “feel good” dogma. Honestly, it’s like a Golden Corral of religions—take what you want from this bar and this one until you find the belief that fits your worldview rather than you conforming to the will of God. The thing has a quiz you can take called the “Belief-O-Matic” if you’re having trouble deciding between faiths. This site makes it blatantly obvious that, to many, Christianity is a choice, one as easily wriggled out of and discarded as a wet bathing suit. And that is not the message we should be proclaiming to the nations.

So to those who think it’s acceptable to support artists who claim to be Christians just because they espouse the faith, I say you’re wrong. We are not meant to be like the world or liked by the world. To be of God means the world will despise you and try to tear you down, not fill your arms with Grammy Awards and platinum records. Jesus never claimed otherwise. Instead, he warned His followers:

If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. — (John 15: 18-22)