Monthly Archives: September 2010

Whatever is true… whatever is lovely

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

(Philippians 4:8 ESV)

The Medievals, or rather- the premoderns, thought of beauty, goodness and truth to be inescapably tied to each other.  By definition, if something was beautiful, it must necessarily be also true and good.  If something is to be called good, it must be both beautiful and true, and lastly, if something is true, it is therefore both good and beautiful.  Today, however, we say, “Well, the truth can be ugly,” as well as holding both beauty and goodness to be subjective properties- subject to how each person “feels” about it.  Yet centuries of Saints (that is, our brothers and sisters in Christ) counter this thought.  They hold that our human vision of what is beautiful and what is ugly is distorted due to our inability to see as God sees.

In his treatise on Music, De Musica, Augustine says this,

“ God made sinful man ugly; but it was not an ugly act to make him so.  Man became ugly by his own wish.  He lost the whole, which, in obedience to God’s laws, he once possessed, and was given his place in part of it, since he was unwilling to practice the law, and therefore is governed by the law instead.  Lawful acts are just, and just acts are not essentially ugly. (That is, it was just of God to curse sinful man- to make him ugly.  Yet justice is true and good, and therefore beautiful- though to our human eyes it is ugly.)  Even in our bad deeds there are good works of God.  Man, as man, is good.  Adultery is bad.  But from adultery, a bad act of man, is born a man, a good act of God.”

The reformer Martin Luther speaks of the “hidden” acts of God.  The most hideous and beautiful act in all of human history are one- the crucifixion of Christ, God in human flesh.  Humanity, in the pinnacle of depravity, took the creator of the cosmos and killed Him.  In this same moment, God, the definer and essence of all that is good, beautiful and true- became Man, and gave Himself up to be killed in order that His fallen creation could be reconciled to Him.  Here is the epitome of beauty hidden within the epitome of ugliness.

What does this have to do with music or worship (the supposed topic of this blog)?  Everything.  We think of music as something completely sensuous- that is something that appeals to our senses.  We get to decide what is beautiful and what is ugly based on our personal opinion.  But what if we do not perceive reality correctly?  What if we don’t truly know what makes something ugly or beautiful?  Are beauty, truth and goodness subjective or objective? How can we worship in spirit and in truth if we do not know what truth is?

Crossover

There is this group I love to listen to called the East Village Opera Company. Basically they are a rock group who take pieces originally from opera scores and arrange them in more ‘modern’ settings. It’s a lot of fun. The most ironic thing about my liking it is probably the fact that I don’t care for opera much as a genre, nor do I listen to large amounts of rock, but the fusion of the two somehow hits me as fantastic. I stumbled across one of their albums my freshman year of college and heard Léo Delibes’ Flower Duet for the first time. I understand, for all you opera fanatics out there, that A) the fact I had never heard the flower duet until college and B) that I actually enjoyed listening to it sung in straight tone accompanied by drums and electric guitar, will be more than mildly disturbing to you. Oh well. Regardless, I ended up falling in love with the piece and ending up singing the original version as a duet with my voice teacher for my senior recital.

This idea of a crossover artist (musicians who combine different musical genres and traditions) has been gaining more and more popularity in the last few decades. Much of it has been put forth by the art-music community reaching out to the popular music community (if I may oversimplify). It could be seen as a form of musical evangelism if you will. From Josh Groban to the Three Tenors, this kind of music is popping up all over the place. It is fun, and a lot of it I find fresh- a new way to listen to things. The problem is- it isn’t really “converting” popular music lovers into giving classical music a try. What it is doing is giving people unfamiliar with art (or classical) music little snack-bites of what art music is … but it isn’t the real thing. What it is more often doing is making art music “poppy.” It is music that has been mass marketed, mass-produced, and then outsourced. Soon it will be for sale at Walmart posing as the genuine article but for half the price, half the time and half the effort. But it’s not the real thing…it just isn’t.

We in the Church often do the same thing when we “market” our faith. As is often the trend in evangelism, and especially prevalent in evangelism involving music – we attempt to reach out to those in need of Christ by putting “Christ” in their language, their style. This is not completely without precedent. In the book of Acts chapter 17, the Apostle Paul does the same thing. He appeals to Greek Gentiles through their  idea of the “unknown God,” as well as quotes from their own philosophers in a way that was both respectful and understandable to those he was witnessing to. But by the end of his testimony, Paul has distanced himself from these poets and philosophers- making his appeal only in Christ. There is validity in presenting the Gospel in a way that is comprehensible to those we are trying to reach- however caution is needed. To bring Christ into the world’s idiom dilutes His message. While a new style may bring freshness to the message, or share the old truth in a new way, it is often only a snack-bite of the whole message. It’s like Christ…not actually Christ. It’s the Walmart version- cheaper, quicker and easier. Essentially, East Village Opera Company has little to do with classical music, and Jesus Christ Super Star has little to do with the Gospel.