Category Archives: Christian Essay

Treasures in Heaven

Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:20). I thought that it meant to give money toward activities that further the kingdom of God instead of buying stuff for myself that can and will be destroyed–yes, by moth and rust and theft but also, as I’ve noticed, by mice and falling trees and tornadoes and even by misplacing something so it can’t even be used. This is true, but the verse is in a context that points to more types of treasure. Some of our treasures on earth that we try to acquire are an impressive reputation (for years I’ve wanted to be impressive) or an ease of living (we worry and struggle to be sure we are well cared for).

But there are other magnificent treasures that we can lay up in heaven for ourselves. We can have a memorial before God like Cornelius did by his spending time in prayer and taking care of others who had needs (Acts 10:1-4,31). And Malachi 3:16-17 says that in heaven there is a book of remembrance where God has written the names of those whose conversations reflect that they take God seriously. God says that those people will be part of His own possession. Now THAT would be a seek to lay up for ourselves in heaven.

– Jane Freuler

Dancing Through Life

Absolutely – what I write is for me. This morning I was moaning about “just going through the motions of my life” and not “feeling it.”

Last night, my emotions of love and eagerness were strong toward Jesus, but so much of my life is not like that. What is wrong with me? What should I be doing? — Echo:  I be doing?  I be doing?

Much in the Bible gives commands to follow which, surely, I am to diligently attempt to do, but my life does not depend on me. Frequently, we are told that it is God who is able, willing, and even determined to grow us to be more like Jesus.

As I was pondering this, suddenly the piece “Dancing – A Parable” came to my mind. Dancing with Mr. Drill is my attempting in my own strength, to keep whatever law I have set for myself (a list to check off).  Mr. Thrill doesn’t show up very often (that’s for sure).

But Mr. Will, a very good dancer and easy to follow, will lead me in my life dance for the King if I diligently (diligently!) let myself be led—depending on and obeying—yes, by the Spirit of the King.

– Jane Freuler
jfreuler@comcast.net

Dancing — A Parable

I went to work with a team that danced in honor of the King. My first partner was a fellow named Mr. Thrill, who was a very good dancer, so my job was extremely enjoyable to me.

One day Mr. Thrill did not show up for work, and I had to dance with a fellow named Mr. Drill. After several days of this, I complained to the supervisor, who said, “Oh, no, no. We fired Mr. Drill. He should not even be here. But Mr. Thrill only works part time. When he isn’t here, you’ll have another partner.”

I went back to work, and was assigned a partner named Mr. Will who, in my opinion, wasn’t much better than Mr. Drill. When I grumbled, Mr. Will said to me, “Think about it. You like the wages, and Mr. Thrill is not dependable. You never know when he’s going to show up. So either dance or quit.”

It was true. I did like the wages. Day after day, as I danced with Mr. Will, I discovered that he was such a good dancer, I could quit focusing on my work so much and spend more time watching the King and enjoying dancing for Him.

I seldom come into work and find Mr. Thrill waiting for me, but sometimes I think that if Mr. Will shaved his mustache and took off his glasses, he would look a lot like Mr. Thrill. Sometimes I wonder.
– Jane Freuler
jfreuler@comcast.net

Jello

Jello is barking at a fly. How can I pray to the great God of the universe when this stupid dog is barking at a fly.

I sat down in my big chair to talk to my heavenly Father about the difficulties of my situation, the people and even potential threats that I’m facing. I must tell Him about this, but how can I concentrate.  Jello, my stocky white terrier, has planted herself, tensed for a fight, in the middle of my bed, which is as high as she can get, to rid us of this dangerous thing.

“That’s stupid. To bark at a fly is stupid,” I yell to try to stop her yelling.

Now wait a minute. Maybe God, My Father, is trying to tell me something. At II Corinthians 4:17 Paul uses the words “momentary, light afflictions.”  I have, as my personal Father, the wise and strong God, Who is totally capable of handling anything life can throw at me. The things that worry me do not worry Him. My forgetting Who He is and focusing totally on my troubles is not really praying. As someone once said, “It (my trouble) may be the truth, but it’s not the whole truth.” The whole truth includes the love and capability of my Father and His involvement in my life.

So when I just worry, even calling it “being in the presence of the Lord,” I am actually barking at flies, and that’s stupid.

Thank you, Jello.

– Jane Freuler
jfreuler@comcast.net

 

Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” and the Devil’s Waltz

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XcATvu5f9vE&feature=youtu.be
The opening 7/4 meter says it all — boom-DA boom-DA boom-DA-DA. A 7/4 meter is a very confused meter — stuck between duple and triple time. The beautiful girls behind him with no emotion and a total lack of interest. At a great distance they seem to play instruments that are a lie in their hand when you look closer. This a perfect artistic statement about a state of being appearing one way but actually totally different. Palmer himself says the song describes the hell of addictive personalty — the dichotomy of addiction. It is the rebellion that leads to servitude. The joy that leads to destruction. It is the march to freedom that leads to a waltz with the devil — bum-DA bum-DA bum-DA-DA.

– Donnie Bryson

The Musical Prayer: Personal Example of Abstract Musical Reactions

There are always discussions of the ‘spirituality’ of abstract musical devices or style in Christians circles. Some say a sound or rhythmic beat has the anointing of God or smells of hell.  I disagree. Abstract music is amoral. No instrument, chord, cadence, pulse, or device is good or evil. It is the message conveyed that is good or evil.

However, we must understand that we communicate with music on many levels. There is the verbal level of sung lyrics. There is the pulse of the beat and, more importantly, the variation in the pulse. Increasing the tempo gives one emotional cue and slowing it down gives another cue.  A raspy jazz singer conjures different mental images than an operatic soprano. Cadential elision can give the listener the feeling longing.

The most significant way abstract music communicates, however, is with the context that we place on the sound from our own story line. Here is an example from my own life.

In late 1999 Heather, my oldest daughter, developed a significant deep-vein thrombosis. The clot was half the length of her leg. Although she recovered, it was very serious. I looked down at my little girl in the hospital room and I was terrified beyond words. Suddenly, I started hearing  this melodic riff in my head that was almost loud enough to hurt. I knew it was from the Romantic period but I could not remember its   original source. All I could remember at the time is that it the melody you often hear when the villain is tying the girl to the train tracks. It was only later that I remembered it was Erlkonig by Goethe and set to music Schubert that I heard once during undergrad school. My subconscious had conjured up that melody to express the horror I was feeling looking down at my daughter who I expected to die.

Read this translation of the Goethe’ words and listen to the musical link below it.

Who rides, so late, through night and wind?
It is the father with his child.
He has the boy well in his arm
He holds him safely, he keeps him warm.

“My son, why do you hide your face so anxiously?”
“Father, do you not see the Elfking?
The Elfking with crown and tail?”
“My son, it’s a wisp of fog.”

“You dear child, come, go with me!
Very lovely games I’ll play with you;
Some colourful flowers are on the beach,
My mother has some golden robes.”

“My father, my father, and don’t you hear
What the Elfking quietly promises me?”
“Be calm, stay calm, my child;
The wind is rustling through withered leaves.”

“Do you want to come with me, pretty boy?
My daughters shall wait on you finely;
My daughters will lead the nightly dance,
And rock and dance and sing you to sleep.”

“My father, my father, and don’t you see there
The Elfking’s daughters in the gloomy place?”
“My son, my son, I see it clearly:
There shimmer the old willows so grey.”

“I love you, your beautiful form entices me;
And if you’re not willing, then I will use force.”
“My father, my father, he’s grabbing me now!
The Elfking has done me harm!”

It horrifies the father; he swiftly rides on,
He holds the moaning child in his arms,
Reaches the farm with trouble and hardship;
In his arms, the child was dead.

Listen to Erlkonig

All of this was being churned non-verbally in me. Weeks later I pondered the strange experience and mediated on how it was vaguely similar to the groaning we send up to the Lord in our times of need. It starts with a painful groan and often morph into priase. So, as a musical experiment, I took the painful melodic motif and weaved it into my musical prayer below for piano and trumpet.

Listen to Musical Prayer

– Donnie Bryson

Preaching and Freedom of Speech

I am going to avoid discussing what I believe theologically for a moment.  If you wonder what I believe theologically, you can go to http://ag.org/top/Beliefs/Statement_of_Fundamental_Truths/sft_short.cfm. Additionally, I believe homosexuality is a sin. I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. I believe it is a life choice. I have thought about it, and I would go to jail before I performed a same-sex ‘marriage’ in the name of God. I think whatever they have needs to be defined in purely civic terms. In all fairness, I think adults in a free society should be able to define their relationships to their own specifications. Just don’t expect me to call it a marriage and certainly don’t expect me to try to stamp the name of God on it. However, I don’t make a big deal out of what I believe about gay relationships. My commission was not, “go into all the world and make heterosexuals out of all.” My commission is to preach the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe only the absence of Jesus sends people to hell. So, the main thrust of my preaching is Christ.

However, I want to  discuss a related civic matter in general terms using elements common to Christians, Jews, atheists, Muslims, and others. Let’s contemplate free speech.  It is the cornerstone freedom. Societies are only as free as they are free from the thought-police.

It seems some folks want to label, or  libel,  social conservative evangelical Christians for committing some type of hate crime when we say homosexuality is a sin or, as almost all societies throughout recorded history, that marriage is an institution between a man and woman ordained by God.

Morality is Defined within each Group
How each group defines sexual morality, at least between consenting adults, is completely a matter of freedom of thought. It is an exercise of our rights to say homosexuality is a sin. It is an exercise of the same right when GLADD says it is not a sin.  I shouldn’t be allowed to prevent them from saying it isn’t a sin. They shouldn’t be allowed to prevent me from saying it is a sin. Allowing one group to define morality for the other group makes as much sense as  giving editorial control of the democratic national convention to the replications. Our moral compass is intricately entwined with our personal inner self.

A Free-hand to the thought-police will get us all, eventually
The group that I am most amazed at trying to use thought policing tactics is secular homosexuals. Their party line is that homosexuality is genetic and not a matter of choice. As secularist, they also believe in evolution via natural selection.  The main dynamic, according to evolution doctrine, of species morphing is the ability of members holding one trait to replicate more than the other group. Homosexuality,  if you are indeed born that way, with natural selection guarantees a dwindling minority. Thought-police are the sword that best fit in the hand of the majority.  The secular homosexual’s own axioms should trigger a very healthy fear of the thought-police.

I am also amazed at my own group when we try to silence our opponents with the same tactics. We are in the minority too. Especially my flavor of Christianity. I am a Pentecostal. That means I speak in tongues, I believe in divine healing, and I believe the Spirit leads me. I am in a very small minority.  I certainly do not want the thought-police pressuring me.  I have a vested interest in the right of GLADD to make public statements although I strongly disagree with what they are saying. GLADD has a vested interest in my right to preach homosexuality is a sin although they disagree with it. The rabbi down the street has a vested interest in my right to preach that Jesus was the virgin born Messiah and I have a vested interest in his  right to preach he is not.

Everyone wins with freedom of speech and everybody loses when it is restricted.

I guess I need to add the obvious: violence, denying fair housing, equal employment, equitable health care (including hospital visitation and insurance) is NOT speech. We have every right to preach that homosexuality is a sin. We do not have the right to discriminate. We also do not have any right to target an individual and bully them.

– Donnie Bryson

 

Strive for Excellence – Really?

I cringe every time  hear someone use the phrase, “strive for excellence”, when discussing  theatrical components of church services. I don’t know what folks mean when they say it. I don’t even know what I understand when I hear it.  Excellence can mean so many different things.

One use of ‘excellence’ highlights mechanical sophistication.  This use judges a  poorly read Shakespearean sonnet to third graders more excellent than a perfectly read rendition of an old “Sally, Dick, and Jane” primer.  I doubt the third graders would agree. But, it has some validity. A piece of art can stand on its own without any consideration of a particular audience’s capacity to understand it. Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring triggered a riot at its first performance. However, it was, and still is, a great piece of art. Bach’s wife sold some of his manuscripts as scrape paper because she, nor his contemporaries, valued his genius. Their ignorance did not flaw a single fugue. Great art isn’t made great art by popular acclamation.

However, we see a tension between sophistication and target audience in the Bible. For example, the new testament was written in Koine Greek which was the written style of the common masses instead of one of the more academic styles, such as Ionic, used by Homer and Herodotus.  Paul even plainly stated that he, “came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”

So, although structural sophistication is a form of excellence, we cannot use it as a goal for church theatrics. I am not saying that all theatrics in church should be simple to the point stupidity. There is a place in the harvest field for men like C. S. Lewis, Victor Hugo, G. K. Chesterton, J. S. Back, Soren Kierkegard, George Herbert, and Frederic Hart.  Some need the intellectual stimulation of thoughtful seed but the masses only miss the pearl of great price if it is wrapped in a pretentious package. Go ye unto ALL the world. That is why it is fine that most sermons are on an eighth grade level and wall music is below most pop music standards. Most services should target the lowest common denominator.

So what do we mean by excellence? Many confuse accuracy and excellence. They mean they are striving to sing on pitch, quote scripture correctly, and use proper grammar. That is a good goal and we could build a biblical argument for it. “And if there be any blemish therein, as if it be lame, or blind, or have any ill blemish, thou shalt not sacrifice it unto the LORD thy God.” (Deuteronomy 15:21). However, many good commentaries discuss the relative quality of the greek grammar of books in the new testament. The amanuenses, the scribes taking dictation from the apostles, had varying grammatical skill. Some of the books even contain obvious grammatical errors.  Thus, accuracy, while a good goal, is not the mark we need to hit.

Can we say a perfect reading of “Sally, Dick, and Jane” is more excellent than a sonnet reading that has a stumble? Which would you rather hear after elementary school graduation? Substance matters. Being engaged by the material matters.

Have you ever heard a music box? It sounds mechanical because it is 100% accurate. It has no soul.  In fact, the only pop music I like is slightly flawed. I like Willy Nelson because he is out-of-step and I like Bob Dylan because he is slightly off-key. I hate the bland perfection of American idol contestants because they are just mindless perfection. I love Van Gogh because his paintings are not a Polaroid.   It is said that, “Art imitates life”  but it shouldn’t be a brainless carbon copy.

I like the ancient Greek concept of Arete. Excellence is intimately bound to purpose and function.  Using that standard to judge excellence in the house of God, we look at the true goal of the activity. A sermon is excellent if the target audience is engaged and understand. Who cares if the Illuminati thought it was brilliant? Music is excellent if the entire congregation is engaged and participating in worship. Who cares if they are entertained with a ‘professional’ performance? The entire assembly should sing to themselves in spiritual songs. That is not an audience. The apostle Paul spoke of building the church with wood, hay, stubble, and gold. Entertainment is stubble. Facilitating a heart of worship in the house of God is eternal gold.

– Donnie Bryson

The righteous red-headed priest

Vivaldi – Gloria

Antonio Vivaldi is my hero. Not so much for his music but his life. His music is okay but it can become a little old after awhile. In the words of Liszt, Vivaldi wrote a great concerto — seven hundred times. His music sounds too homogeneous. But, there may be a very good reason for it.

My hero, who was also a priest, ministered for a good portion of his adult life at the Ospedale della Pieta.  It was a home for orphaned and abandoned girls. It also had music school for them. That was the main reason the church sent it Vivalid, one of the best composers of the day. The Red Priest (Tony’s nickname) would write his concerti for whichever instrument played  by the best soloist de jeur.  His compositions were very functional. It was created for a very specific purpose. Provide a series of notes to challenge her the same way the previous music challenged the girl before her. I think the single purpose gives the concerti their too common thread.

What a righteous reason for his presumed flaw. Providing an opportunity for some young girl that had lost her parents through death or circumstance. That is why he is my hero. That is why I can forgive him for writing the same great concerto seven hundred times. He took his art and used it for its greatest good — to enrich the lives of children that have been marginalized and forgotten.  What a great way to spend the token of talent the Lord put in his pocket.

– Donnie Bryson

God and the MacGyver Method

God has been good to me because I get to do something that I love for my daily bread. I am a professional software engineer, architect, and inventor. I have been doing it for over 25 years. I have worked on a multitude of systems and used more computer programming languages that I can remember. My choice of system and language was almost always dictated by what I had available. If I could access the system and it had any tools on it then I could eventually achieve the customer’s business goal.

However, different systems have different quirks and strengths. The same can also be said of programming languages. Some tools make it easy to execute mathematical calculations yet very hard to perform database operations. Some are good at both but very hard to program on-the-fly. Some are easy to program on-the-fly yet it is nearly impossible to manipulate graphics with the language.

I am no different than any other professional in a hundred different trades. Any professional takes the tools available to him and creates some acceptable solution that is flavored by his choice of tools. His expression of the solution would have been different with different tools available. In other words, the tools flavor the solution but do not deter from the goal. There is a little MacGyver in any experienced professional.

It hit me today that God does the same thing with us. He has a goal in our church, our community, our nation, and our world. He looks at the tools that He has at His fingertips that are ready and willing. One tool doesn’t have to be like another tool. The solution will not be the same when He uses one tool instead of another. But, God is a master craftsman that can craft a solution to achieve His goal with whatever He finds at His fingertips.

– Donnie Bryson