The Wesleyan Advent Hymn the Wesleyan Pentecostals Don’t Sing

It’s the classic hymn for the Second Sunday in Advent: “Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending,” done in good Anglo-Catholic style here:

The lyrics were written by Charles Wesley in 1758; more than one tune has been affixed to them, this is my favourite.  It’s about the Second Coming, which is really what Advent is all about: Jesus Christ came once, he will come again.  A better known song with the same theme is “Joy to the World” but it’s been lost in the Christmas carols.

It’s a magnificent hymn, so why don’t those who claim the Wesleyan (albeit John) name sing it?  Probably the same reason they adopted Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology: because the Baptists didn’t do it that way!

I am sure, however, that our contemporary ministers of music can adapt this to their style and instrumentation.  Why?  Because the old High Church types and the smoke machine people have one thing in common: they both like it loud.

Does Anyone Really Believe This Current System is Permanent?

One of side “benefits” of being in the Anglican/Episcopal blogosphere is to get to know “Anglicans Unscripted,” the video interview series hosted by Kevin Kallsen, with frequent contribution by fellow Palm Beacher George Conger.  In a recent episode with Kallsen and the Queen’s former chaplain Gavin Ashenden, they discussed a float in Justin Welby’s parade of inept gaffes, namely his statement during a meeting with the Patriarch in Moscow that he lacked freedom to speak out on issues back in the UK.  In the course of discussing this Kallsen makes this observation:

What Kallsen is saying is that, in Russia, the church understands that kings and governments come and go and the church remains.  In the West, however, the church feels that it has to get with the program so that “society” and “culture” will allow the church the right to exist.  I also suspect that, even with the much shorter history of Christianity in China, the Chinese take the same attitude, which explains why Christian churches in China experience the growth they do even in the face of government and party hostility.

For an American to come to this realisation, let alone verbalise it, is amazing, although I’ve found the debate level in the Anglican/Episcopal world to be at a higher level than many other places in Christianity.  Americans take a notoriously short view of history, which more than anything else makes them inherently provincial.  The really sad truth is that, with more than fifty years of “liberation,” world travel and the fire hose of news that the internet affords, they still have the idea that this system of things will not basically change, which only reinforces the baneful provinciality.

That attitude is the one thing that actually unites both sides of our political scene in this country.   In spite of noises such as the abolition of the Electoral College or the institution of a parliamentary system on one side or amendments against abortion or same-sex civil marriage on the other, both sides see their destiny fulfilled in the current system with the current structure.  That’s a major reason both sides carry on as vociferously as they do; they look on success in politics as an existential necessity.

But countries come and countries go, and the way they’re governed goes with it.  Americans are out of touch with reality when they reflexively oppose any kind of secession (including Catalonia, Scotland, and the best one, Calexit.)  Christians in particular should understand that regimes and systems change (just compare those we have now to those in the Scriptures should make that clear) and that the church needs to fulfil the mission Our Lord put it on the earth to accomplish.  One reason why American Christians are having a hard time understanding (let alone supporting) Rod Dreher’s “Benedict Option” is that the original Benedict Option was made necessary by the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, an event which is entirely outside the experience of Americans.  (It’s hard to get Americans to understand what the collapse of the other superpower was really like, which is why we have so much foolish prattle about the Russians.)

It’s time for our ministers to earn their keep and set forth the idea that the church needs to really “be the church” (and not just in the way it worships either) and not constantly beholden to a system which is USD20 trillion in debt.  The results of that realisation may not be easy to carry out in this life, but doing so beats the blowback to what we’re doing now on the other side.

If You’re Goal is to Eliminate the Bad People in Power, What Happens When You Succeed?

An interesting observation from Jonathan Haidt about what college students are being indoctrinated in these days:

But what do we do now? Many students are given just one lens—power. Here’s your lens, kid. Look at everything through this lens. Everything is about power. Every situation is analyzed in terms of the bad people acting to preserve their power and privilege over the good people. This is not an education. This is induction into a cult. It’s a fundamentalist religion. It’s a paranoid worldview that separates people from each other and sends them down the road to alienation, anxiety and intellectual impotence. . . .

And it’s a loser’s game, too: if the bad people are in power oppressing the good ones, and you manage to eject them and get into power, and power is all you’ve ever focused on, you’ll spend all of your time trying to stay there, and in doing so you’ll oppress others, and then you’ve become a bad person ripe for ejection by others…

It’s like the end of The Prisoner episode “It’s Your Funeral:” after #6 foils an attempt by the incoming #2 to assassinate the outgoing #2, he tells the incoming one that he hopes that, when the day comes, his masters have something equally suitable planned for him.

So do we.

Not Much on Taking Advice: Pentecostals and Anglicanism

Growing up–especially when we lived on Lookout Mountain, something of a fantasy land in itself–I always enjoyed the Disney movies and records I could take in or had.  One of those that’s stuck with me is the song “Very Good Advice” from Alice in Wonderland. The clip from the movie is below:

Today is the Feast of Christ the King where, in addition to celebrating Our Lord’s coming return, we put a wrap on one liturgical year and prepare for the beginning of another with the First Sunday in Advent.  Considering the liturgical year brings me to a topic that, I think, needs to be discussed: the growing interest that some Pentecostals have in Anglicanism and other liturgical/apostolic churches, and specifically my adventure (or lack of it) in this process.

This website has been around for over two decades and I’ve been on social media (first Facebook, then Twitter) for almost half that time.  Much of what’s driven that has been my participation in the “Anglican Revolt,” so much of what’s here is aimed in that direction.  It’s almost innate for me to discuss Anglican/Episcopalian and Roman Catholic things because I was raised in one and spent much of my early adult life in another; my intellectual formation (and first entry into the Charismatic/Pentecostal world) came largely from my years as a Roman Catholic.  And I’ve gotten into some interesting dialogues with my Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox visitors, some positive, some not as much.

Engaging my Pentecostal friends in a dialogue has been another matter altogether.  With a few exceptions, the general response from that direction has been silence.  In the meanwhile I see them posting things such as nice Anglican churches, interest in liturgy and even evidence that they sneak into an Episcopal Church from time to time.  After my father’s experience in trying to get through the shoals of the Bahamas without a native guide, I thought that they might like one as well, with perhaps some “good advice.”  But by and large they have not, preferring to risk hitting the reef and going to the bottom.

There are a couple of things that need to be said at this point.

The first is that I’d be the first one to admit that there are many problems with Pentecostal/Charismatic churches these days.   Coming from a tradition of spontaneity and Spirit-led worship,  worship in many of these churches is a well-programmed floor show.  There’s too much emphasis on income generation and system maintenance, which (unBiblical though it is)  is a lot easier to carry out in the demographic of, say, the Episcopal Church than it is with most Pentecostal and Charismatic churches.  And, of course, there’s always the political element, although in this country both sides of the debate have too many of their eggs in the political basket.

The second is that, relative to those of us who are products of liturgical/apostolic churches, people who are raised in a Pentecostal church are products of an alternative universe.  That means that they often don’t “get” what they’re looking at, or how might be used to improve their own situation.  For example, I have yet to see a cogent explanation from any Pentecostal about what a “sacrament” is, or what it’s supposed to do, or why they’re important, or how sacramental theology differs substantially from what we’ve been regaled with up until now.  And potential cognitive dissonance extends to other topics.  For example, with Advent coming up, how do you plan to turn the Christmas season into an Advent one after years of Dickensenian conditioning?   How do we do Lent when many of our congregations have already run off and done the Daniel Diet in January?  Will we ever ditch Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology?  Or how do we incorporate the move of the Spirit into liturgical worship?  (Having experienced this myself, I really thought that people would be interested in it, but silly me…)  Instead of tackling these questions head-on, what I see these days is Pentecostal thinkers papering over the problems with post-modern fudge (which, sad to say, is too much like Anglican fudge, with potentially the same result.)

Unlike some people, I don’t have any problem investigating “how the other half lives.”  In some respects that’s what I’ve done here for a long time.  What bothers me is that others that do aren’t interested in the experience and observations of those who have trod the path, even if they had started from another place and took the path in a different direction.

And that leads me to something that bothers me even more: that these investigations, for some at least, are a part of moving up.  Pentecostal churches have two things that most of American Christianity only dreams of: the preferential option of the poor and ethnic diversity.  Nevertheless, in spite of rhetoric to the contrary, it seems that some who trod the Anglican/Episcopal road want to end up in a place which, really, has neither, because their own life situation no longer matches the state of their church.  And that, of course, will draw them into the struggles which have convulsed the Anglican/Episcopal world for the last half century.  Which side will they choose?  I am fearful, if for no other reason than that they will project their own problems with their own past into the conflict.

But, as I said at the start, many eschew the native guide.  Like Alice, they peer into the Gothic cathedrals and churches “through the looking glass” not realising what they’re really peering into is a palantir.  Those of us who have slogged through the battles with the likes of KJS and now Justin Welby know what’s coming but theological Siegfrieds know no fear at their peril.  They and their churches will end up pointless and they will, like Alice in the video at the start of this post, will end up crying in the dark, wishing they had taken some good advice.

It’s All About Moving Up, Only the Ladder Changes

Consider this nasty, self-righteous screed:

Christianity has died in the hands of Evangelicals. Evangelicalism ceased being a religious faith tradition following Jesus’ teachings concerning justice for the betterment of humanity when it made a Faustian bargain for the sake of political influence.

It’s amazing that people can so lack self-reflection that they don’t see they’ve destroyed themselves in the first sentence.  If the Christian Left isn’t about currying favour with the opposite side of the spectrum, by twisting the Gospel to conform with those whose first goal is to get laid, high or drunk, than I don’t know what it is.  As Julian Assange pointed out a while back:

The received wisdom in advanced capitalist societies is that there still exists an organic “civil society sector” in which institutions form autonomously and come together to manifest the interests and will of citizens. The fable has it that the boundaries of this sector are respected by actors from government and the “private sector,” leaving a safe space for NGOs and nonprofits to advocate for things like human rights, free speech and accountable government.

This sounds like a great idea. But if it was ever true, it has not been for decades. Since at least the 1970s, authentic actors like unions and churches have folded under a sustained assault by free-market statism, transforming “civil society” into a buyer’s market for political factions and corporate interests looking to exert influence at arm’s length. The last forty years have seen a huge proliferation of think tanks and political NGOs whose purpose, beneath all the verbiage, is to execute political agendas by proxy.

Or to put it more directly, everyone–including the self-righteous lefties–is shilling for someone.  Everyone wants to move up, the main difference is the ladder each has chosen to climb.

There was a time when ex-officials of the state were not permitted to be ministers or priest on account of the corruptionThere was even a time when the faithful were not permitted to vote, although the reasons for that were as much a secular insult as a spiritual one.  Now we’re all expected to be political animals, and enthusiastic ones at that.  We’re not permitted to admit that we were forced into this game by the wish to stay out of jail.

Personally I find all the climbing by people who profess and call themselves Christians hard to take.  But it’s the American way.  I guess we’re stuck with it for the time being, but the left doesn’t have any business being in denial about what they’re really trying to do.

In Defence of Prog

It was a sorry moment on Twitter when I found the Atlantic‘s James Parker’s “book review” on David Weigel’s The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock.  It’s not as much a book review as an assault on “prog” as it’s called.  Given that everything else “progressive” gets good press in the Atlantic, that strikes me as odd.  So I think it’s time for me to Stand Up (pun intended) for the one form of secular rock that really made an impact on me.

It’s not an understatement to say that, for a span of about four years (later years in prep school and first years as an undergraduate) prog rock dominated the turntable.  Principally it was Jethro Tull, but Emerson Lake & Palmer, the Moody Blues (and later Mike Oldfield, Kevin Ayers and 10cc) joined the domination.  They turned into tour guides on my 1976 trip to the UK, leading me to places such as the Fulham Road and Hergest Ridge.  The obvious question, then and now, is “What did you see in these groups?”  Prog, more than any other type of rock, is an acquired taste, and it’s one of those things that was acquired first and the “why” figured out later, if ever.

The first was that they were all British, or more broadly unAmerican.  To be raised where I was resulted in being raised out of touch with much of American life, and what most Americans thought important wasn’t on the radar screen.  The endless “hick moving to town” theme meant nothing to me.  Prog was a way to escape a culture I didn’t like and, in some ways, didn’t like me.

The second was, believe it or not, a product of church upbringing.  Let’s put it this way: when people raised on the “Red Back Hymnal” (one former Church of God state overseer refers to it as the “Red Neck Hymnal”) got into rock, they listened to Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis, who themselves were raised in that kind of church.  For someone like me who was raised on the Episcopal 1940 Hymnal, prog artists like ELP fit the bill, to say nothing of Jethro Tull’s Aqualung.

That underscores another aspect of prog that’s forgotten: many prog artists, such as Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman, had classical training.  ELP’s Pictures at an Exhibition is, in many ways, the best rendition of Mussorgsky’s piano piece; Ravel is too restrained.  There was also Tull’s Bourée.  But classical influences and training are, usually, the kiss of death on this side of the Atlantic.

Parker’s characterisation of prog as the “whitest music” only shows his uncritical acceptance (along with much of the American left) of the white supremacists‘ racial model.  Prog is better described as European, as opposed to American.  That’s in evidence in the rhythmic clapping during Mike Oldfield’s Exposed (his live album of a Continental tour) rendition of Incantations.  His use of Longfellow’s Hiawatha as an “incantation” is hilarious, but much of his music had a satirical underpinning.  To look at things differently, at the time country and Southern gospel were very “white” forms of music, but the result is entirely different.

Getting back to the UK trip, in addition to a guide it was a nice mental soundtrack, from 10cc’s fine motorway driving music at the start of How Dare You! to the late Lindsay Cooper’s haunting oboe solo at the top of Hergest Ridge.  Such were things that, in the day, made life sweet.So how did I “get past” prog?  That’s easy: it wasn’t that I tired of the music, but I tired of the message.  That occasioned a culture shock, but also a shift in music styles to what you see on this site.    There’s certainly Christian prog, but there isn’t a lot of it, and it was years before I found it.

Progressive music was the product of a world with universal health care, planned urban spaces and public transportation (as the Baker Street Muse knew all too well.)  Nearly a half century later, these are mostly unrealised in these United States.  Those who wanted them to happen and survived the years of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll should have worried about something else than what happens when the hick moves to town.

As for me, I think I’ll stick with the show that really, truly, never ends.  But leave my prog alone.

Bolshevik Revolution: Ten Days That Shook the World Still Shake

The Cruiser Aurora, where the “first shot” of the Bolshevik Revolution came from and began seventy years of communism. From a Soviet-era photograph in then Leningrad.

This week we remember the Bolshevik Revolution.  I’d have to say that the “ten days that shook the world” (to use John Reed’s phrase) have certainly shaken my life.  But it was the back end of that revolution–the collapse of the Soviet Union and its aftermath–where things really got interesting for me, and the world looks different after that experience.

A video of a 1990 trip to the then Soviet Union:

I’ve done many pieces on the subject, some of them are as follows:

And a couple of more videos…

Sailing the Last Voyage with Newton and Pascal

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