Happy Nowruz to the People of the “King of Kings”

Today is Nowruz, the spring equinox festival of the Iranians.  To my Iranian friends, who have meant so much, hope you’ve had a good festival season (it runs about two weeks back in the old country.)

Last November I ran a piece about the Persian origin of the term “King of Kings,”  which most Christians are unaware of.  Since that time I’ve come to realise something else about the New Testament’s use of the title that I had never thought about, and I dare say most Christians hadn’t either.

Let me repeat the use of the title in Revelation:

From his mouth comes a sharp sword, with which ‘to smite the nations; and he will rule them with an iron rod.’ He ‘treads the grapes in the press’ of the maddening wine of the Wrath of Almighty God; and on his robe and on his thigh he has this name written– ‘KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.’ (Revelation 19:15-16 TCNT)

Any inspection of the maps at the back of the Bible will show that most of the action of the New Testament takes place in the eastern half of the Roman Empire.  (See below.)


Facing that eastern half was the Persian Empire, first Parthian and later Sassanid.  The two sparred for basically the same territory ISIS is fighting for today for about half a millennium, until the rise of Islam.

The Persians called their highest ruler the “King of Kings.”  They could use this as a battle cry, as the Roman historian (who actually served in this theatre of war) Ammianus Marcellinus noted at the Battle of Amida in 359:

Our men extolled the prowess of Constantius Caesar, ‘lord of all things and of the world,’ while the Persians hailed Sapor as Saanshah and Peroz, titles which signify ‘king of kings’ and ‘conqueror in war.’ (Res Gestae, 19,2)

Coming back to John the Revelator, he states that Jesus Christ will come back as a conquering king using the title that the enemy in the east used for their ruler.  This not only lifted up the lordship of Jesus Christ; it was highly subversive, and John’s readers in the seven churches would have picked up on that.

N.T. Wright emphasises that the early church’s message was that Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not.  John’s use of a Persian title for the returning Messiah drove that message home in a way that believers–and those who persecuted them–would not miss.

And as for the Iranians today, it is my prayer that you will know the peace and love that comes from the eternal “King of Kings.”

Getting it Right on Palm Sunday

We’re coming up on Holy Week.  Churches will be rolling out their Easter musicals.  Because people don’t go to church on Good Friday like they used to, churches will also put the Passion narrative on Palm Sunday.

Palm Sunday…what’s that all about?  It is, strictly speaking, the celebration of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, beginning what Bossuet calls “the last week of the Saviour.” The cheering crowds spread palm fronds along the way as he entered the city on a donkey.

For South Floridians, Palm Sunday echoes Palm Beach.  But that’s complicated too.  First the Town of Palm Beach doesn’t take kindly to people entering on a donkey.  Second, the church I grew up in, which made little palm crosses for everyone to wear, became the church of the double cross.

Further north, the battle cry for houses of worship is “…let’s do it the way the Baptists do it!”  Baptists for years preached against the liturgical year, but now Lifeway features Advent paraphernalia.  But they still can’t sing what they’re supposed to on Easter, and things aren’t better the week before.

It’s time for improvement.  The proper hymn for Palm Sunday is “All Glory, Laud, and Honour,” depicted in the highly English performance below.  (Personally I think we did a better job back home with our paid youth choir, but I digress…”

Dumping at Last the “Contract on the Episcopalians”

The ACNA has released their “Texts for Common Prayer.”  It’s something I’ve mentioned from time to time over the years.  But it’s obvious; if the ANCA plans to be a real church and a real Anglican province, they need to have a real prayer book.  The danger has always been that liturgists who were clumsy, revisionist or both would get into the process and ruin this important task.

I am pleased to report that, at least at one point, the ACNA has succeeded in undoing the dirty work of the 1979 BCP: they have excised the “Contract on the Episcopalians” from the baptismal rite.  You can read the new ACNA rite here but they’ve opted to revert to a more traditional Anglican approach of giving the world, the flesh and the devil the boot in baptism.

As most of my readers know, I believe that people should be of “riper age” before being baptised.  But the “Contract on the Episcopalians” has stuck in my craw for a long time, and kudos to the ACNA for putting it out of its misery.

If the Country Doesn’t Make It, Will You?

This election cycle has been a wild one, and we’re not even halfway through the primary season.  Both parties are seeing broad-based revolts in their bases.  The Democrat establishment has done a better job of managing the upheaval, because they did what the Republicans did not: pick one candidate and get behind her.  Bernie Sanders would be doing a lot better today if the Democrats had split the vote against him the same way the Republicans have done with Donald Trump, although the candidate they’ve picked has some seminal weaknesses.

As for the Republican establishment, IMHO they deserve where they’re at.  Their current efforts are a miserable attempt to shove the “scab labour” out of the nominating process.  The more they try to do, the worse it gets.

The way Christians are handling this on, say, social media isn’t much better. The core problem is the idea that there is only one way to “vote Biblically,” which is all-pervasive, although there are variants on how to do this.  The Roman Catholics try to put some consistency by telling the faithful that voting for candidates that take certain positions is a mortal sin.  I find this a little amusing; there was a time when the Roman Catholic Church didn’t support the idea of the faithful voting at all, at least in certain countries.

Not voting at all brings up something Evangelicals in particular like to forget: the option for Christians or anyone else to choose their leaders is a recent one.  In New Testament times and for many years afterwards voting wasn’t an option.  Paul and the other apostles didn’t have to waste the believers’ time expounding upon which emperor would be the Biblical choice, something they might know since God used them to write the New Testament.  Caesar was there and that was it.

Christianity’s legalisation only thrust an unprepared church into a leadership role.  There was no time or impulse to develop the concept of a “Christian commonwealth,” and the result was that Christian emperors didn’t act any differently than their pagan predecessors.  That could be a wild ride, as anyone who is familiar with the Arian controversy will attest.  Absolute power was exercised arbitrarily.  Donald Trump, unpredictable and inconsistent as he can be, is a worthy successor of Constantine, Constantius and Valens.

There was another disconnect as well: Christians didn’t expect their rulers, even when they conquered by the Chi-Rho sign, to be the moral paragons we do now.  (The Church didn’t like to admit them to the priesthood when their time in secular rule ended, either.)  It took a massacre for Ambrose of Milan to force the hand of the Emperor Theodosius, but in general Christians recorded the less pleasant activities of their rulers with a minimum of moralization, as Gregory of Tours did with the Franks.  Islam was no different; the Ottomans broached the strictures of the Qur’an as they pleased.

This carried over even when democratic process took hold, as anyone familiar with the politics of the “Bible Belt” will attest.  Some of this was due to ignorance, but a lot of it was due to the attitude that those in power were by necessity both in the world and of it, and that it wasn’t the place for a good Christian.

It’s only been in recent years that Christians have seriously taken up the idea that their rulers toe the line Biblically.  How recent depends upon the place, but that attitude, while admirable in one way, defeats the purpose of Christianity in another.  It forces us to become too invested (financially, emotionally and otherwise) in the state.  In pushing for “righteous” leadership (which would exclude the likes of David) we too become both in and of the world.  The question we need to ask ourselves as American Christians before all others is a simple one: if the United States doesn’t make it, will we?

It is my opinion that, as a result of years of mismanagement, obsessively sexualised social policy (which has led to the breakdown of the family,) expensive warmongering, and strangling the economy with regulation while ballooning the debt, this country is headed for a crash.  I don’t think that it’s any longer a matter of if, but when.  It may result in the dismemberment of the country, much like the Soviet Union broke up in its own bankruptcy a generation ago.

Unfortunately American Christians have had the “God and country” thing drilled into them so unremittingly that they are unprepared for such a event and the many which will take place between now and then.  That, I think, is why Evangelicals support the likes of Donald Trump; they don’t have a game plan “after the ball,” to steal a term from our LGBT opponents.  And that’s sad, not a cause for anger, as many Christians think.

By “make it” I don’t mean that Christians will be living in the kind of mansions they think they’ll have in heaven, or hit the jackpot on the next money-making scheme.  What I mean, however, is that Christians need to realise that they have only one true country, to be free of unnecessary encumbrances, and to stick together when things get tough.  God will take care of the rest.

It’s still the question: when this country doesn’t make it, will you?  Time to think about it.

Free Speech and the Mikado

This past weekend my wife and I got to see Lee University’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado.  It was a strange production; it was one of those things where the audience sat on the stage and the performers did their thing in the seats.  The program regaled us with the usual politically correct rubbish of “it isn’t about Asians.”  (They could have chosen an all-Chinese or Korean cast; both would welcome a shot at making fun of the Japanese.)  It had the potential of being a serious dud, but Lee University, as all the world knows now, has a deep bench of talent in singing and the performing arts and the faculty to make the most of it.  So it was good.

I’ve heard the highlights from this, H.M.S. Pinafore and The Pirates of Penzance most of my life, but it’s only been this late in the game when I got to see them.  One of those highlights came at an unhappy time and in an unhappy place, but as always there’s a lesson to be learned.

I think one reason I ended up in STEM and gravitated towards French and Latin literature came from my less than satisfactory relations with most of my English teachers, from elementary school to my last English course at Texas A&M.  I’ve documented one of the more egregious incidents in The Geniuses Commit Suicide, but for mutual non-admiration the award must go to my first junior high English teacher at Palm Beach Day School (now Palm Beach Day Academy,) Robert Bayless.

Both in class and on the football field (a sport I should have never tried,) Bayless thought I was a sissy, and wasn’t shy about expressing that opinion.  Having an English surname only made matters worse because he was a devotee of all things Scottish.  What neither one of us realised is that I had more Celt in me than was clear.  On my father’s side, I had the McArthurs.  On my mother’s, I had all the Scots-Irish worthies (“horse thief types” as she put it) whose foibles are well documented in this blog.  Had I discovered my inner “hillbilly wildman” then, it would have ended badly.

In spite of all this, he could make profound points that stuck.  Probably the most profound one was in connection with Gilbert and Sullivan; in playing the highlights in class, he observed that G&S lived in a country (the UK) where you could make fun of the government and other social institutions.  In other parts of Europe (like Tsarist Russia) such satire was forbidden.

At the time I really didn’t understand what he was saying; like many raised at the top of this society, I lived in a world where the benefits of real freedom didn’t mean a lot.  Getting away from that was educational.  But now those who haven’t gotten away from that have the upper hand, and one of the casualties of that is an erosion of freedom of speech, especially on college campuses.

A lot has been made about the pressure on free speech from the students.  And that’s a problem.  Today we have a generation that, faced with a society which changes at a blinding pace, is running scared.  The last thing anyone wants to hear is someone advocating changing something else, especially when every change makes a new set of people unemployable, either temporarily or permanently.

But none of this stifling could move forward without the acquiescence of collegiate governance.  And it’s often more than acquiescence; they write many of these speech codes and carve out these “safe spaces” which make free expression on campus tricky.  That even applies to what gets performed on campus; one victim of our obsession with not offending anyone is The Mikado itself, which can’t be performed in many places.  I should be thankful that Lee actually put it on, politically correct drivel notwithstanding.

If we allow this trend to continue, we won’t be any better off than Russia, Tsarist or Putinist.  And that’s going to cost us in the long run.  Without the free exchange of ideas we won’t have any ideas, which only works in a corporatist bubble.  And we’ve had enough bubbles to burst the last few years to last us a lifetime.

But back to Bayless…I would be remiss in not mentioning that I wasn’t the only student/athlete who lived on his bad side.  There was one other, and I think he gave him a harder time than he gave me.  His sister teaches at Palm Beach Day Academy, along side Bayless’ own daughter.

God still has a sense of humour.  I wish our elites could say the same.

Tom Belt and the God Unlimited Singers: The Agape Factory

GIA M/S-142 (1971)

God Unlimited’s earliest works were a hard act to follow.  A group that, in some ways, set the pace for Episcopal/Catholic folk music sounds more “mainstream” than creative in this work.

Part of that was the inclusion of a set of “Mass ordinaries” (use of the term “Mass” wasn’t quite according to Hoyle in the Episcopal church of the day.) And those ordinaries showed that they were “in the groove” of the trial liturgies of the day and not the official 1928 Book of Common Prayer.  As a result they’re more in sync with Roman Catholic efforts than, say, The Winds of God.  It’s not the best Mass out there, and the multi-part harmonies almost guaranteed that it seldom saw daylight at the parish level.

The rest of the album is a good effort but a little of a let-down from their earlier heights.  The title track is an allegory of the “Jesus Music” era.  Unfortunately after the 1970’s most of American Christianity went back to making only grey bricks, with the disastrous result we have today.

The musicians:

  • Mavis Brechan
  • Jim Dumbauld
  • Tom Belt
  • Betsy Belt
  • Cindy Hofman
  • Robbie Bethancourt
  • Todd Sorensen

The songs:

  1. Kyrie Eleison
  2. Glory To God
  3. Creed
  4. Holy, Holy
  5. Our Father
  6. Lamb Of God
  7. The Agape Factory
  8. Light The Day
  9. Israel
  10. Free To Live
  11. I Am Here Lord
  12. This Is My Song Alleluia

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Ed Gutfreund: From an Indirect Love

Epoch VII EG100 (1974)

“The old folk Mass” has become the phrase used by teary-eyed, nostalgic Catholics (and some who left the Church) for the liturgical events of the 1960’s and 1970’s, when the organ gathered dust and the guitars–six and twelve string–were unpacked for the celebration of the sacred mysteries.  But was it really folk music?  Or was it just music done in a folk style and instrumentation?

Falling into the first group is this album.  Ed Gutfreund, familiar to many old NALR aficionados, is a real folk musician who put out this, a real folk album.  He’s best known for his rendition of the Baptist classic “How Can I Keep From Singing,” which introduced this to many Catholic churches. That alone made him memorable, but many of his other songs deserve much more play and performance than they get these days.

Gutfreund, in some ways like Sebastian Temple, is an upbeat composer and performer. That contrasts him with the more moody, minor key style we see in, say, a Roger Smith, and that should have made him more popular as a liturgist.  The problem, however, may be that, as a true folk musician, his work is harder to perform than many of those who simply use folk instrumentation.

And it doesn’t take much for Gresham’s Law to work in Catholic music.  Gutfreund, like many other good Catholic composers and musicians (like fellow folk musician Juliana Garza) got thrown under the OCP bus during the pontifical reign of John Paul II.  Coupled with the liturgical translation changes, much of the “old folk Mass” is pretty much history. And that’s a pity.

Note: this album is unusual in one other respect in that the music specifically for the Mass is interspersed with the other songs, as opposed to the time-honoured practice of putting these pieces at the end of Side 2.

The songs:

  1. Good Morning, Zachary
  2. Lord, Have Mercy On Us All
  3. Alleluia, Praise To The Lord
  4. When We See
  5. Back And Forth
  6. In The Day Of The Lord
  7. How Can I Keep From Singing
  8. When We Gather We Proclaim
  9. The Children Of Sunlight
  10. Your People Of Faith
  11. The Lights Of The City
  12. From An Indirect Love

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Bernie Sanders and the Test Pattern T-Shirt

Shepard Fairey, who designed the Obama “Hope” logo back in 2008 (which has spawned many parodies) is “feeling the Bern” and backing Bernie Sanders, not only in word but in deed, with his tee-shirt design:

shep-shirt-black-front_1024x1024I dunno, this reminds me of the old test patterns TV stations used to use at the start of the day.  Below is WTVJ Miami’s test pattern from the old days:

TP-WTVJbBut I guess that a test pattern is right for a guy who could actually remember seeing these things on TV.

And those flames at the bottom…didn’t Saul Alinsky dedicate one of his books to the guy who lives in the hot place?

These hippie dreamers are just too much…

Sandi Yonikus: Building the Earth

Liturgical Press  11468 (1968)

This “pre-NOM” album (which means we’ve had one and a half liturgical upheavals since then) is, despite its pretentious title, a mixture of a children’s’ album and early Catholic folk.  Or maybe the pretentious title is reasonable: children are the future, something that the dropping birth rate of the time tended to lose sight of.  In any case, it’s a reasonable effort in both respects.  It’s also a composite effort: in addition to the children from the parish school, it includes seminarians from St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston and some help from the Catholic Student Centre at the University of Texas.  (That’s hard to take for an Aggie, but…we knew how to deal with Catholic students from Austin.)

In addition to this effort, Sandi Yonikus (1936-1988) was also a writer of children’s books.

The songs:

  1. Building The Earth
  2. Our God Is Good
  3. Spirit Of God
  4. Gio (The Little Yellow Bird)
  5. We Come As Your People
  6. I’ll Find Me A Mountain
  7. He’ll Come Again
  8. Knock On Any Door
  9. Sing Alleluia
  10. Teach Me
  11. Christ Takes His Throne
  12. Sing With Joy
  13. Gather ‘Round The Table

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Sailing the Last Voyage with Newton and Pascal

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