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Saturday, July 19


If you haven't already done so, you will want to see the comment GE has made for its new ultrasound system, found here. Predictably, pro-abortion groups have protested the commercial, so you might write GE to thank them for the invention and the commercial.

I think it significant, and let me be honest, disgusting, that the pro-abortion groups so hysterically try to block such knowledge from getting to the public. They do not care about the truth, only the ability to legally kill the unborn and if hiding the truth will help protect that ability, hide the truth they will.

My thanks to Dominico Bettinelli of Catholic World News for the link.

11:00 AM


One of our regular contributors, Dwight Longenecker, has just published Mary: A Catholic-Evangelical Dialogue (Brazos Press). Dwight is a Catholic and wrote the book with an old friend, David Gustafson, a Protestant.

The back cover includes blurbs from the very Catholic Peter Kreeft and the very Reformed Michael Horton, and from Cardinal George of Chicago and Dr. Timothy George of Beeson Divinity School.

I read the book in galleys and found it very helpful. Both sides are presented by articulate and convinced apologists, who question every dubious assertion (or apparently dubious assertion) the other makes. The back and forth of the discussion illuminates the subject in a way a book by one person never will, however hard he tries to be fair to the other side. I recommend it.

10:56 AM

Friday, July 18


I mentioned yesterday our upcoming conference, The time is near: The apocalyptic imagination in an age of anxiety , which I heartily recommend. And would recommend were I not involved in the enterprise, let me say for you cynics out there.

It may appeal particularly to members of the mainline churches, for a reason unrelated to the subject or the speakers. I was just talking with an Episcopal friend who dreads what he thinks will happen at the church's General Convention, soon to convene in Minneapolis. He's a layman who does not like argument and dissension, but has found himself forced by his convictions to speak out, and found that speaking out, however gently, has a cost even in mainstream parishes. He feels isolated, alone, and not a little abused.

I think those of you in the same position will find the conference - or any Touchstone conference - a sort of spa, with discussions replacing hot tubs and lectures replacing tennis. Just spending time with a diverse group of people with whom you find yourself in such agreement and unity, despite all your differences, is a wonderful thing. And just thinking about important subjects other than homosexuality is a great pleasure and relief. (I speak from experience, by the way.)

If you are fighting the good fight in a mainline church, you may find the conversation alone well worth the time and expense. It will like drinking cold water while resting in the shade after a long battle in the sun.

Catholic, Orthodox, and Southern Baptist friends may feel the same way, their own churches having their own divisions and battles. And if they don't, they will meet all sorts of interesting people who bring to the conversation ideas and insights they don't have and get some glimpse of worlds they otherwise never see.

On top of which, the papers look to be very, very good.

1:54 PM


Two more responses to my "Ruined choirs" and subsequent responses like Steve Hutchens'. (To find them all, start with mine and work back day by day.)

It seems to be a subject of some interest. And certainly, judging from some pastors' responses I've got, of some frustration and pain too.

Both of the following responses make very good points, I think. The first comes from Lou Ann Smith, who describes herself in her message.

I found your "mere comments" surfing the Net. I am Director of Music in a Lutheran (ELCA) parish in Texas. I come out of an Episcopal background and have been very active in charismatic renewal and Cursillo. I also hold Bachelors and Masters degrees in Organ Performance from a major music school.

Reading all the comments, I saw several themes emerge: 1) Gay musicians 2) Obstreperous choirs 3) Dictatorial pastors and 4) musical elitism (all kinds!).

1) Gay musicians: It is a fact that many male church musicians, e.g. organists (in particular) and choral directors, are gay. I have had many for friends. Most are emphatically not two-headed monsters or pedophiles. Most would prefer not to be as they are, but they feel that they cannot help it. Do we disqualify a talented and pious (yes, pious) musician for his preference? In my denomination, people in ministry who happen to be homosexual are expected to lead celibate lives.

Orientation is not the issue - actions are the issue. In the case cited there was a partner, and this complicates the situation. If the priest felt as strongly as he seems to have felt, he probably had no choice, particularly in the toxic working environment in the Roman Catholic Church today. My personal feeling is to let things be unless there is scandal.

2) Obstreperous choirs: In most liturgical traditions the main purpose for a choir is to lead the congregational singing, with anthems definitely being "extra". The church choir was never intended to be a "Sunday Morning Performing Society"!! As a director I actively discourage a "performance mentality" - of course, being in a loft in the rear of the church helps. I know of a local parish (not Lutheran) which is looking at remodeling. When the idea of a loft in the rear was raised, the choir went berserk. The only answer to choirs like this is to fire them post-haste and recruit a new group.

Good literature can still be done, but in a better spirit. Unfortunately, too many musicians and choristers confuse love of God with their love of the art. There IS a difference! I practice my personal piety in silence and make two or three silent eremitical retreats annually. That is the only way I know of to keep my piety from becoming confused with my love of music and art.

3) Dictatorial pastors: it is not only the fault of musicians!!! Church polity, especially that of the Anglicans and Romans, is, for some narcissistic types, an open invitation to abuse the staff. Many a musician has been summarily fired for no good reason, to feed the inflated ego of "Herr Pastor". I personally do not intend ever again to work in the Anglican church - the church of my childhood - because of their polity, which is very much like "the Divine Right of Kings". Yes, the pastor does and should have the final word, but that does NOT give him the right to abuse the musicians - passive-aggressive games, etc.

4) Musical elitism: I think that the "worship wars" are about nothing so much as who gets his way. That is all. I personally hate it that it seems that 2000 years of fine sacred music is going down the drain. However, is it THAT which is disappearing, or is it dreary anthems played by left-footed organists at funereal tempi, etc? This latter NEEDED to go. I think that the pendulum will equalize eventually.

I have found, however, that often it is the "renewal" wing which is the very worst in demanding its own way, under the guise of being "Spirit-filled". (I am a charismatic, remember?) I have never understood why people's tast goes straight to their mouth when they get turned on to the Lord. The only thing I can figure is that these folks are trying to replicate that wonderful experience they had at Cursillo or whatever. You can't camp on Mount Tabor - it is forbidden!

This discussion, or variants thereof, is going on all over the place. Keep up the good work!

Here is the second, from Fr. Robert Hart, an Anglican priest and frequent contributor to the magazine (his two latest, "No dread of the undead" from the July/August issue and "The problem with St. Skip" from the April issue, are not available online):

I Our friend Dr. Hutchens has made a good point about renewal music, and the music of the various ages of the Church. Not everything survives its own age to become part of the canon, if I may use that word, of Christian music for worship. I am reminded of St. Paul's Epistle to the Church of Corinth, in which he says that the words of the prophets must be judged by the Church. Perhaps music is like this sort of prophecy. Perhaps it is best to use newer music very sparingly, and stick mostly to what has been judged worthy of use.

As a very traditional Anglo-Catholic, I never hear anything particularly new anymore, as I did many years ago in a rather Charismatic kind of Episcopal Church. I am like the man who has tasted both wines, and says the old is better. However, the parable of the wine skins does not really apply, for the music is not "old" as Christ spoke of "old." It belongs to the new Covenant, and speaks of Christ.

My favorite Hymn of all is the Breastplate of St. Patrick, and for a Christian such a powerful hymn of worship and prayer, filled with theological richness, and love for God, can never get old. If the contemporaries will write with profound faithful expression, their music will never be old either; but a lot of contemporary music gets old real fast, for it is not truly prophetic.

A suggestion to anyone aspiring to write Church music is this: Learn the Traditional way of prayer, especially daily emersion in the Psalms.

1:07 PM

Thursday, July 17


I should bring to your attention the conference we are sponsoring in the fall, which promises to be quite good. Titled The time is near, it is subtitled "The apocalyptic imagination in an age of anxiety."

It is being held Thursday, October 16th through Friday, October 18th, at the conference facilities at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Illinois. Mundelein is thirty to sixty minutes drive north of Chicago, depending on traffic and depending where in Chicago you start.

The speakers range from the Orthodox theologian Vigen Guroian to the Evangelical literary scholar Alan Jacobs to the Catholic medievalist Sandra Meisel to the Southern Baptist biblical scholar Craig Blaising, and include our own Patrick Reardon, James Hitchcock, Stephen Hutchens, and Lee Podles. All of them are interesting thinkers and good speakers.

It would be well worth coming to. The conference will not only provide interesting and useful ideas, but a lot of time to talk with other participants and the speakers themselves. We take a bit of pride in drawing together a genuinely diverse and ecumenical group of people, who not only learn from others sharing from the riches of their particular traditions but make friends they would not have made otherwise.

5:12 PM


Our business manager, Geoff Battersby, sends along a friend's observation that Word's spell checker produces "bondservant" for the publisher Zondervan. I have checked, and it also produces "Honduran," "wonderland," and "sunderland." I grew up near a town called Sunderland but I wouldn't have expected the name to have made the spell-checker list.

5:12 PM


As I mentioned the Orthodox Peace Fellowship the other day, I should mention some articles by an Orthodox writer taking a different point of view. See "'A Plea for Peace' Flawed by Moral Equivalency" by Fr. Johannes Jacobse and "9 responses to 'A Plea for Peace'" with his comments.

They are found on the Orthodoxy Today website, which I mentioned earlier today.

10:46 AM


A good summary of the challenge before us after the Supreme Court's Lawrence decision: Maggie Gallagher's "The stakes: why we need marriage.

Also very helpful is the Family Resource Council's page of resources on marriage found here.

6:34 AM


An Orthodox reader recommends the website of Fr. Johannes Jacobse, Orthodoxy Today. It has lots of interesting links and will be of interest to anyone who reads "Mere Comments," not just Orthodox. Today's page includes, for example:

- The Village Voice writer Nat Hentoff's "Assisted suicide: license to kill";

- Oxford philosopher Richard Swinburne's "The justification of theism"; and

- Alexander Solzhenitsyn's "Live not by lies".

This is a site worth putting on your favorites list and checking regularly.

6:26 AM

Wednesday, July 16


My blog "Ruined Choirs" has gotten a lot of responses. Some people wrote private messages agreeing with my observations but not saying much else, while others sent more substantial messages for publication. Here are two more of the latter, in addition to the ones I've already posted today.

The first comes from a Canadian reader, who has served as a pastor:

This is an item on which you'll no doubt get a number of submissions. A thought, and a somewhat humourous one, by way of a Presbyterian minister who serves in the same village in which I pastored:

Question: What is the difference between a terrorist and a church organist (or, I suppose, a choir director)?
Answer: You can negotiate with a terrorist!

Which is why, I suppose, the Presbyterians are known more for their preaching than for their humour. However, it does seem to strike a common chord of frustration among pastors with those who coordinate music in our churches.

It has been my experience that music or choir directors are godly, pleasant, yet determined people. I haven't seen moral sin of the type you mention. However, it is dismaying to see how quickly orthodoxy can be let fly in order to have a memorable tune! The number of choruses and special music pieces whose "theology" wouldn't pass muster in a junior Sunday School class is astounding. Who writes some of this stuff, anyway? And why, as pastors, are we not more assiduous in vetting it before God and our people are subjected to it?

The blame extends not only to musicians, but to pastors, the guardians of the flock which God purchased with his own blood. Bravo to Holy Family Church for showing the courage to resolve the problem mentioned in your blog ("For if I still pleased men, I would not be a servant of Christ" [Galatians 1.10]).

The second response comes from Mark Wyman, a graduate student in the department of physics at Cornell:

While I am in complete sympathy with the reservations you express about the poisonous, insular atmosphere that can develop in Church choirs - having, despite my relatively young age, fairly extensive experience with them! - I have equally often noticed an often unremarked cause of this development: the unwillingness of ordinary folk to come out and sing with the choir.

Whatever the societal or cultural reasons, most people, and emphatically most men, are content to claim an inability to sing, and so to leave the singing to those who "like to sing" - among whom, inevitably, the prima donnas and dissenters are prominent, for indeed, one must either feel especially convinced of one's own talent or at least be willing to ignore almost universal skepticism about the value of singing to donate one's time to a choir!

Since virtually all men can, in fact, sing, there is a straightforward, if difficult, remedy open to any pastor or Priest willing to tackle the problem of his dissenting choir: a membership drive, and, especially, direct encouragement - both in word and by example - for young men to sing. When I have visited both Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholic churches, I have been struck every time by how normal their cantors and choir seem compared to the choirs I have known, and trace this directly to the fact that many of those churches have a culture of singing that doesn't single out singing men as either gay or weird.

Steve Hutchens and I both think he makes a very good point about the unwillingness of ordinary people to sing in the choir. It made me feel slightly guilty, in fact.

1:34 PM


For what it's worth, my own parish mixes chant and traditional hymns with "renewal" music, all of which are always quite singable. The choir seems to be made up of people who sacrifice their time and energy to serve God and the people, without any pretensions to being the musical gurus who know best what the people should sing and hear.

I would prefer Mozart, Tallis, and the like, but I am content with the music we get because it is a culturally authentic mode for the congregation. I do think the lyrics of the renewal music tend to be much too thin and sometimes stupid, and have always thought it would not be too difficult to put deeper and richer lyrics to these tunes and create songs just as popular with the congregation.

The gurus of relevance have pointed out that we do not sing to be taught but to praise, and this is true but not accurate, if you see what I mean. It makes a false distinction. We praise in part by saying what we know as precisely and completely as we can.

Think of the great Lutheran hymn "O sacred head sore wounded" and the verse that ends with the wonderful line "to mourn Thee, well beloved, yet thank Thee for Thy death." It's our saying this out loud after having said all that we said before that makes this line so powerful an act of worship. There is no way of saying this, of worshipping like this, in the "renewal" mode.

12:16 PM


Steve Hutchens replies to the Canadian reader's message given in the next blog (next on the list though posted first).

To our Canadian reader I would reply that church music is part of the Great Tradition. It does not, as such, reject the music of any particular age out of hand, but it does subject it to a winnowing process, in which relatively little from any particular age survives.

What makes the traditionalist seem like an elitist is that he has a prejudice toward the proven, and all of that is the music of the past, sometimes the far past. If he is a consistent traditionalist, he admits newer forms to trial (although not uncritically), understanding that this is the way the tradition grows and maintained. There are within this ages of gold and ages of baser stuff.

I doubt whether any traditionalist in this sense can escape the charge of elitism, because his sense of history and unwillingness to give too large a place to modern contributions will make him appear so to those who prefer modern church music, or feel that it must be used consistently to attract and hold people in the churches.

That is, to be sure, part of the use of music, but a small part. It admits of modern contributions, but it also insists that once a person is in church, he is to learn what the church is - and it is not the servant of the spirit of the age in music or anything else.

12:12 PM


An interesting response from a Canadian reader to my "Ruined Choirs" and Steve Hutchens' response "More on choirs". He writes:

A belated but hearty Amen to the Mills/Hutchens comments on choirs. I could add numerous anecdotes consistent with what you have stated, but they wouldn't add much to the substance.

But I do think these observations could be a challenge to some self-described "traditionalists" who identify faithfulness to tradition with clinging to old musical forms. I don't know if this applies to any of you at
Touchstone, but I am pretty sure I have read some remarks in the magazine putting down the use contemporary music in worship.

The only church I have attended that did not have the problems described by Mills and Hutchens is one where the music is all contemporary, done with guitars, electric keyboard, and drums. If you insist on using archaic musical forms in worship, you are going to pay the price of getting musicians who are all part of a cultural elite.

I'm not going to draw any hasty conclusions from that observation, but it has made me rethink my own love of Palestrina, Byrd, Tallis, etc.

Incidentally, a friend who is a Presbyterian pastor once told me that every pastor he knows calls the choir "the war department" when speaking to other pastors.

I hadn't thought of this, but from my observation he is right, with one caveat. Judging from charismatic Episcopal parishes I've known, the people playing guitars and drums often represent the group that won an earlier struggle for the parish. That's why they're not divisive. But they were once.

At one point, when the parish was either fairly traditional or in the first stages of "renewal" (a word deserving of ironic quotation marks), they were often as divisive and elitist as the choirs Steve and I discussed. Their own snobbery or elitism had a different excuse than the classical choir's, but if anything it was more destructive because they believed themselves to doing the work of the Holy Spirit when they replaced the old hymns played on the organ with "renewal" ditties played on guitar.

About the magazine: I don't think any of our writers have ever simply put down the use of contemporary music in worship. What some have attacked is the idea that worship must be "relevant" (meaning successful in the upper-middle-class market) and to be "relevant" must be "contemporary" (meaning using the forms of pop music and avoiding anything "churchy," complex, or demanding), and the assumption held by so many of the gurus of relevance that the Church ought not to demand people submit to her judgment and requirements. We worry more about the ideology than the practice.

12:11 PM

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