Archive for October, 2013

Ya wanna huge, beautiful chord to hang in your aural space? Try the major 9th. These things are wonderful, with a sound that evokes large but not barren spaces. They are luxurious.

If you’re music theory is a bit rusty or you are new to extended chords, a major 9th begins with a major triad – root, major 3rd, perfect 5th – and adds the major 7th (a half-step below the root’s octave) and a major 9th (an octave above the major 2nd).

For example:  Cmaj9 = C E G B D’    Bbmaj9 = Bb D F A C’

The maj9, has a mildly suspended sound, and when several are bundled together they sound woven together. To hear this, try a progression of fourths, such as

Cmaj9  /  Fmaj9  /  Bbmaj9  /  Ebmaj9

Without hearing the progression you can see how they weave together.

C E G B D  /  F A C E G  /  Bb D F A C  /  Eb G Bb D F

If you haven’t used chords larger than 7ths, give the maj9 a try.

Caveat:  Because maj9 chords are so fat they leave less room to improvise over. It helps to keep lead lines simple.

As I prepare for my 7th funeral in 8 weeks, I am dealing with something a bit different. The previous funerals were for folk who had lived long and full lives (one was 103 years old). The funeral I officiate tomorrow is for a woman in her mid-40s. Because she was relatively young, this feels different than a funeral for someone of venerable age. This is more difficult, and not because of her age. It’s more difficult because her death, at her age, is so difficult for her family to make sense of.

When an old person dies we can write it off to the ravages of age and mileage. The notion that we just break down and eventually die is accepted rather easily. But when death, especially the sudden death of an otherwise healthy person, occurs, we feel more compelled to blame something. There has to be a reason.

Seeking to understand untimely death is not only fruitless but often leads to some very bad theology. What makes me cringe almost every time is voiced something like, “God must have wanted to bring her home,” or “His time was up, so God took him home.” While I get that people, especially grieving family, say these things because they seem logical and affirm the understanding that “God is in control” (which is thought to be of comfort), I am still a bit horrified by the implications of God taking someone home because his time had come.

(By the way, if you are a Calvinist or other flavor of believer in predestination, I suggest you change channels, since I will only annoy you from this point forward.)

My biggest problem with the God bringin’ ’em home thing is that for God to take the initiative in someone’s death means that God is a murderer. If I took the initiative in someone’s death, that’s what I’d be labelled. To my knowledge, God is not a murderer.

So . . . what is both theologically sensible and of pastoral help?

First, asking who or what is responsible for a death beyond the brokenness and fragility of our human condition is a fruitless question to ask. We die because we are break down in ways we cannot recover from. Our dilapidation is not God’s fault (indeed, the brokenness of creation is what God intends on fixing).

Second, the more fruitful question to ask is how and where we go from the point of crisis when the death of a loved one takes place. Once we do this, all the promises of God unfold before us, from being God’s people, as promised during the Exodus, to being shepherded to green pastures and cool waters, as spoken in Psalm 23, to the granting of peace beyond understanding, as promised by Jesus, to the inevitable defeat of death through Christ’s resurrection. God cares. God loves. God provides.

The best thing to offer a grieving family is a hopeful future based in God’s promises and the experience of believers down through the centuries.

What more useful thing can I possibly offer?

“You’re bald an…

Posted: 2013/10/27 in Uncategorized

“You’re bald and I’m dilapidated.”
– Bette Davis as Fanny in “Mrs. Skeffington”

Imagine what it might be like to be bald and dilapidated!

Hey! The national parks are open again—let’s go on vacation!

Now that the smoke is beginning to clear and the dust is starting to settle, I’m ready to pitch my $0.02 about the recent federal government shutdown and default near-miss.

If you are hoping for a blistering partisan rant excoriating one side or the other (or both) . . . sorry—I don’t have one. A bizzillion other people are already filling cyberspace with that kind of stuff.

Instread, I have only two things to add to the overall discussion:

#1 —  The politics and conflict that has led to the recent shutdown and threatened to besmirch the “full faith and credit” of the United States demonstrates a failure of the people we’ve put into office to uphold and enhance the common good.

#2 —  If you are unhappy about what’s been happening (and polling data says that, by and large, we are), then get your *donkey* out there and vote in the next elections, including and especially, the next primary election. If we choose not to participate in our hard-won democracy by exercising our right to vote (a right Americans have fought and died to protect), then we have no place crabbing about how our government functions. No excuses! Get thee to a voting booth!

There . . . That’s as close to a rant as I’m going and all I really have to say about it all.

Veering off the road to Sunday morning’s sermon and into blogland, I am finishing my sermon series on the Ten Commandments here. Why? Because this last bit is social and political commentary rather than proclamation of the Gospel. This seems a more appropriate place than Sunday’s worship, so, here it is . . .

The Ten Commandments, or Decalogue (from the Greek “deca” – “ten” and “logos” – “word”), either written out in a list or represented by a replica of the stone tablets Moses hauled down off Mt. Sinai, is used as a symbol bearing several meanings within our culture. One meaning is “Christianity is here.” Another is that a particular kind of morality, based in the ethics of Judeo-Christianity, is practiced in the place where the Decalogue is displayed. The irony is that most people, Christians in particular, cannot recite more than one or two of the Ten Commandments.

Regardless of our general ignorance of the content of the Ten Commandments, some people, presumably Christians, become rather upset when their display in a public space (such as a public school, city hall, or courthouse) is challenged. Others, presumably Atheists, become rather upset when the Ten Commandments are displayed in a public space.

My own preference is to rescue the Decalogue from both neglect and abuse by our culture and remove its display from public spaces that are under government control. My reasons for this are as follows:

(1) The first four of the Ten Commandments are explicitly about God as understood by Judeo-Christianity. To place the Ten Commandments in a courthouse, city hall, or public school implies that our government favors a particular religion. This violates the Establishment Clause within The Constitution’s Bill of Rights. This may sound nit-picky, but it goes back the constitutional framers’ concern that there be no state religion in America so that all faiths may be free. Thus, I want our government separated from the Decalogue and Judeo-Christianity as well as from Sharia Law and Islam, and the Noble Eightfold Path and Buddhism.

(2) Ignoring the first four commandments, we do not need the last 6 commandments of the Decalogue to outline the moral basics of a safe and healthy society. Judeo-Christianity does not have exclusive ownership on “Respect your parents,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,”, “Do not lie about others,” “Do not commit adultery,” and “Do not desire other people’s stuff enough to violate one of the other commandments.” These are basic morality in almost every culture. Besides, our culture either neglects or intentionally violates these commandments frequently. Our culture often devalues and mistreats our elders, glorifies violence, gives a wink and a nod to adultery, promotes stealing from poor and powerless in order to enhance profits and shareholder returns, and uses misrepresentation, partial truth, exaggerated marketing and opinion in place of fact and truth. As to the last commandment (do not lust after stuff you do not own)—America’s economy, based in consumerism, is based in stoking desire to have what we do not own (but can purchase).

In other words, why bother displaying the Ten Commandments in public spaces since we, as a society, violate them anyway?

(3) My last reason for getting the Decalogue out of the public space is to keep it from being misused. Some Christians use the Decalogue to symbolize their own preferred religious and ethical views regardless of whether those views are reflected in the Decalogue or not. Rather than being a summary statement of how we should relate to God and each other, some use it as a totem to say, “Christianity and Christian values live here!” The problem is that Christians are (and have never been) agreed on exactly what constitutes Christianity and Christian values. Most notably today, well-meaning Christians have differing views about homosexuality, gender roles, and what constitutes a family. To assume that the Decalogue represents a particular set of values in those areas is problematic. Furthermore, placing the Decalogue in a public space is too often a way of claiming that space for a particular variation of Christian values, thus indicating who is and who is not welcome there.

By the way, if none of these concerns register, consider that the Ten Commandments are not actually a Christian symbol. They represent the whole of the Law given by God through Moses to the Israelites, the practice of which defines them as a people. While helpful to us in knowing the heart of God, we have been freed from the Law (see both Galatians and Romans).