Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Music, Longing, and God

(reposted from 2009)

Tchaikovsky's 5th Symphony is such a gorgeous piece of music. LaRae's youth orchestra (the St. Louis Symphony Youth Orchestra) performed it at their most recent concert.

I sat listening yesterday afternoon, contemplating meaning, pondering how haunting, soaring, aching melodies evoke a sense of the insatiable longings we humans experience.

When I was young, I didn't understand how my cravings were to be rested in my Creator. I thought maybe they would be satisfied by "true love," intimate, exclusive connection with another human being. And surely, there is a sense in which our treasured, lifetime companion meets a certain aspect of our longings; but if I read history correctly, if I observe others' lives correctly, if I understand my own experience, there is a longing that no human relationship can fulfill. This truth is evidenced in the unending saga of broken relationships in our society, even the most beautiful, rich, and famous people go from one failed relationship to another trying to find solace in another human being.

In the classic book, Jane Eyre, Edward Rochester asks Jane if a repentant man might "secure his own peace of mind and regeneration of life by attaching himself (forever) to a gentle, gracious, genial stranger." He says, "You find in this stranger much of the good and bright qualities you have sought for twenty years, and never before encountered; and they are all fresh, healthy, without soil and without taint. Such society revives, regenerates..." Jane wisely responds that "a sinner's reformation should never depend on a fellow creature." She adds, "Men and women die; philosophers falter in wisdom and Christians in goodness: if anyone you know has suffered and erred, let him look higher than his equals for strength to amend, and solace to heal."

Exchanges like this fuel my love for classic books! What valuable insight! I'm so thankful my children learned from books like this.

But back to Tchaikovsky and his Fifth Symphony... The entire symphony is linked below. If you are not familiar with the music, the "haunting melody" is in the middle of the second movement.

Tchaikovsky is said to have been troubled by his longings; he was moody, sensitive, prone to melancholy and even attempted suicide. I can confidently say his unhappiness, his unquenchable desires could have been entrusted to God, and he would have found rest there. I hope he did before he died.

As you listen, think about how the music reflects your longings, your desire to know happiness in its fullest measure.

I believe we can only begin to experience a sense of rest as we pursue a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Jesus promised He would provide living water that would satisfy. I'm drawing on that as best I know how, and there is a sense of rest as I do. I look forward with great anticipation to the fulfillment that is to come!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Master’s Monday: Academic Charity

Keble College Chapel, Oxford

Do you ever think about how much authority you’ve been given when someone asks you what you thought about a book or a work of art? Some artist or author has placed the fruit of his God-given creativity in your hands, and you are now being asked to pass judgment on it. I pray we never take that opportunity lightly.

One of the pitfalls of academia that I find most troubling is the tendency to hold oneself superior to the artists, thinkers, and authors one studies. Certain academics seem to take pleasure (whether consciously or not) in deriding their predecessors and their subjects of study: “he really was quite stupid,” and “just too naive,” are comments I have heard more than once in lectures at this University. I wouldn’t say this tendency is overly widespread—or at least not in such a blatant form. But whenever I catch that note of derision in the voice of a lecturer, I find it deeply troubling. Sometimes, I just want to raise my hand and ask why the person has chosen to “waste his time” studying such “stupid” and “naive” subjects. But then, I suppose, that could very easily come out rather derisively itself.

As a young Christian academic, I want to treat the authors whose works I study with the utmost respect and charity. By leaving behind their own thoughts and artistic creations, they have made themselves supremely vulnerable to me and to countless others, in order that we might share a conversation with them that crosses the boundaries of history and culture. By entering into that timeless dialogue, I certainly don’t expect to agree with them in every respect. But I must remember that they themselves are long gone, and that they can no longer defend or explain the words they have left behind. They have done the hard work of crafting something enduring for future generations. I pray that I may always treat their works with the same charity I hope others will one day offer me.

~ LaRae ~

Monday, April 18, 2016

Master’s Monday: “I don’t care.”

I dont care.” 


Those three words make up one of the scariestor at least weightiestsentences that I can conceive.


Have you ever thought about how much weight your care” carries? 


Who or what do you care about right now? Who or what have you determined does not merit your care? 


How much thought, I wonder, goes into those three little words every time they pass our lips? Sometimes I fear that we toss them around with hardly a moments consideration of what we are actually saying. 


As Christians, we are called to be caring people. In many ways, care” is simply another word for love. Caring for a friend or family member or someone across the sea is one way of actively showing our love for them. Caring for the ideas or values that they hold dear is another. Caring about how our lives and actions represent the name of Jesus demonstrates the solidity of our love for Him. And caring for His creation, stewarding His giftswhether they be material, artistic, intellectual, or theologicalis a form of love that flows out from our relationship with Him and from our gratitude for the love He has bestowed upon us.


What a friend once called the dont know, dont care” attitude of millennials is of deep concern for me. It denies the fundamental interconnectedness of human beings and ideas. I have to say, there are very few topics that I can imagine simply shrugging off with a simple I dont care.” Ideaseven silly oneshave consequences. And every single person has a voice and an impact that will reach far beyond anything he or she likely imagines. 


Lets step out from the careless culture that surrounds us, and take time to reevaluate what things are so insignificant really to merit no care from us at all. Yes, we must steward our care and prioritize its objects in alignment with the pattern Jesus provided for us. But the next time you find yourself about to turn away from a question with an I dont care,” just make sure you ask yourself if thats really what you mean, and if so, why.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Master’s Monday: Relevance, or Practicality?

Edinburgh, Scotland
As promised, this week I’d like to spend a few moments thinking about why it is that we so often confuse the two adjectives “relevant” and “practical.” Last week we looked at the difference between relevance and popularity; today we’re considering whether “practicality” is not a rather limited means for measuring relevance—that is, a significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand.”

When faced with the question of relevance, academics tend to turn to the aspects of their work that might be termed most practical: geometrical proofs become important when they’re used to build bridges and schools; Latin is helpful for learning medical terminology; physics provides us with faster and safer transportation and technology. While I would never want to deny that such aims have a good in themselves, I fear that if we only look to the practical benefits of a field or subject of study, we are in very great danger of missing out on many other kinds of relevance the pursuit may have on offer.

The dictionary defines the adjective “practical” as “concerned with the actual doing or use of something rather than with theory and ideas.” At first, it may appear almost like common sense that the ability to put something to use rather than just considering or discussing it would carry the greater significance and the greater “demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand.”

In many cases, however, it is the correct theorizing of an idea or method that must precede its practical bearing and appropriate use. What’s more, it seems to me at least plausible that in many cases, our culture tends rather to idolize the practical, material benefits of a thing, often at the risk of losing sight of those things which are immaterial, even eternal. In 2 Corinthians 4:18, Paul warns us not to fix our eyes too firmly on the things which are “seen” and are “temporal.”

As Christians, often it can be helpful to pull our eyes upwards from those things which are material and which show immediate, practical benefit. It can be good to contemplate (and even better, to discuss with friends!) the things which are “unseen”—a few of the theories, beliefs, and ideas that lie at the heart of the physical world we see around us. Sometimes the practical benefits of an idea may very well take their time in showing their fruit. Let’s not automatically question the relevance of the unseen benefits of the immaterial.