A Simple Kind Of Life

In the late 1990’s, the band No Doubt released their album “Rings Of Saturn,” which was a less than entirely successful follow-up to their massive success “Tragic Kingdom.” One of the moderate hits from the album, “Simple Kind Of Life,” had singer Gwen Stefani bemoaning the gulf that existed between her desires for a simple kind of life and her inability to find that kind of life. Without delving too much into gossipy personal detail, in retrospect, it seems obvious that Gwen Stefani could not find the simple kind of life (and is not able to find it even now) because she is not a sufficiently simple kind of person. To want celebrity, to be unwilling to commit to a loving and stable marriage and build a family, these things are not simple qualities.

One of the striking aspects of seeing how people present themselves online is the fact that a great many people will say that they are simple people. To what extent is this true? I have often wondered if it would be right to think of myself as a simple man, lest I fall into the same trap as Ms. Stefani has in claiming a desire for a simple kind of life without having the character to find it or hold on to it. What is it that makes someone simple in the first place? When I think of simple people or a simple kind of life, one of the things that stands out is a marked simplicity (unsurprisingly enough) in the sort of life that makes them happy. Simple people need few things, some space of their own, some productive way to spend their time, the company of friends and family. Complex people need more complicated things. If you can feel reasonably content while spending your time inside a house, or in a remote and isolated chateau, you are probably a simple kind of person. If you can only be happy in crowded places or with complex entertainment like theater or watching team sports or live music, you are not a simple person.

This is not to say that simple people are superior (or inferior) to more complex people, only that there are marked differences between things that can be enjoyed if one has them versus what one considers to be necessary for one’s survival as a human being. Those who are complex people, whose needs and wants are refined and particular and have multiplied far beyond basic matters tend to look down on the simplicity of the simple as being a sign of being an inferior sort of being. Yet there is a great vulnerability in being a complex person, and that vulnerability exists in having one’s needs require a stable urban environment that can provide those needs. A simple person can be content in a farm or in a rural area where few people are around and only a few simple community institutions like a local grange or restaurant, or their own invitations to friends and family, can provide the social life necessary to be content. If one requires a professional orchestra, concert venues, professional sports franchises, and other institutions to feel content and happy with life, one must live around a lot of other people in sizable communities. Those communities can be under threat by incompetent political leaders with ideologies that destroy the economic and moral fabric of cities and various social conflicts that undermine the safety of people and property.

To the extent that we have a strong desire for cultural or intellectual attainments that are far beyond the simple and ordinary, it behooves us to be the sort of people who can create what we need. To the extent that we are creators of the culture that we need, it is only necessary that there be a few like-minded people who can share in that creative labor and in the communication between fellow people upon which culture is built. If we are only consumers of culture, we are highly susceptible to the decadence and corruption of the culture that is provided to us by corrupt people who hold a simple and decent life in contempt. How do we cultivate, at this late and unfavorable hour, the habits of mind and body that allow us to not only long for contentment in rusticity and simplicity, but also to be able to attain it and enjoy it?

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On The Sound Uses Of Unsound Reasoning

In exploring the possibility of there being sound uses of unsound reasoning, or examples of unsound reasoning that are viewed as sound by those people who engage in them, I am deliberately seeking not to prejudge the question. It is a trivial matter to find unsound reasoning in our present world. People deduce great and ponderous conclusions from flawed premises. People either deny the possibility of inductive reasoning at all or use induction in such a poor fashion that they end up rejecting and transgressing the basic principles of reasoning altogether. In contemporary arguments about identity, one cannot help but find uncountable examples of reductio ad absurdum, in that the denial of stable reality leads necessarily to absurd and meaningless discourse. And one can hardly go online and observe political discussion without spurious correlation, bad use of sampling for statistical reasoning, or various forms of logical fallacies on a regular basis.

Although ignorance of logic is common, even rampant, we need not assume that all bad uses of logic are done in ignorance of what good logic is like. We can know, for example, that spurious correlations are common and still make them, because we find a purpose in doing so for our personal or political benefit. We can know, for example, that it is a logical fallacy to view a given conclusion as debunked simply because it can be connected to an unpopular worldview or person rather than addressing the argument itself. It is not hard to see how such grounds would exist for the intentional use of unsound reasoning, such as a desire not to waste one’s time dealing with the unsound arguments that others make, as well as a knowledge that far more people will be able to understand (and support) an accessible logical fallacy rather than the more difficult and complicated work that is required to address the actual flaws in the reasoning themselves. Are such uses of unsound reasoning themselves justifiable?

Engaging in sound reasoning is not an easy matter. We must ourselves be equipped with the tools of sound reasoning as well as an understanding of the first principles of reality in such fields as morals and ethics, theology, philosophy, social and natural sciences (ranging from history to economics to biology and far beyond). We must then sharpen our skills in reasoning from accurate knowledge (itself no trivial feat to attain) with other people who are engaged in the same task, and then communicate that reasoning and accurate knowledge to other people in order to inform and persuade them to support sound public policy and encourage proper personal behavior. Given the immense difficulty and obvious importance of such tasks, it is little surprise that people would seek to find shortcuts to seek good ends via bad means, or seek to hurry along the process by skipping a few of the steps along the way.

Is this sound? Are the victories won by sophistry enduring and beneficial to those who win by using unsound reasoning to sway unreasoning and angry mobs, or to the people themselves who remain ignorant of sound reasoning and are simply manipulated by others? Does using logical fallacies harm our own understanding or even our character by so doing? Are we made more coarse and unjust by having acquired the habit of demolishing straw men or engaging in regular ad hominem attacks rather than sharpening our logic by casting down bogus arguments that seek to resist the truth? To what extent does our example of engaging in reasoned discourse help to educate those who may be ignorant of the finer points of logic and rhetoric, and to what extent is this educational value of example sabotaged by our poor example in these matters? Are we in such a state of crisis that we lack the time to gain the slow victory of reason over folly, of restraint over license, of education over ignorance, of righteousness over evil, so that we must resort to gaining quick victories via deceptive and dishonest means? Are things so dire as they appear to be?

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Kings And Priests In The Bible

[Note: The following is the prepared text for a Bible Study given to the Portland congregation of the United Church of God on September 28, 2022.]

This is a busy time of year for all of us as we prepare for the Feast of Tabernacles and for those of us who speak and prepare messages it especially a busy time. I hope you are all enjoying your fill of meat in due season as we talk about the return of Jesus Christ and the establishment of His rule on this earth. Nearly a year ago I spoke to you all about the Household Codes and how it is that the relationships we deal with in the family are a mirror of the relationships that we have with regards to God and Jesus Christ, and that authority on earth in the household is representative of the authority that exists in heaven, and that our earthly lives are preparation for the performance of relationships that will go on for eternity. At the end of that message I state that there were implications of these codes and relationships that went beyond the household to authority in the religious and civil world, the realms of church and the realms of politics, both places where authority exists over us as believers and as a residents or citizens of various nations and states and other political communities. I stated that it was not my intention to get further into that sort of material at that time. I wish to do so now.

However, in talking about civil and religious authority, it is not my intention merely to discuss that which is often discussed, our need to honor and respect authority. Rather, my intention today is to discuss this subject matter with you all here today in a matter that is perhaps a bit unusual, but in a way that is relevant to all of us here today, speaker as well as listeners and viewers. When I speak of civil and religious authority, I do not speak merely to people who are under that authority here and now, though we are all under various authorities at present and always will be. I also speak, though, to people who all expect to be in those positions of authority as kings and priests of the Most High God in the world to come. In speaking about kings and priests, therefore, I do not merely speak to the obligations that we owe to those people who rule over us, whether poorly or well, but I also speak to people who are in training to exercise that authority over others in the future, and it is this preparation for the future millennial rule of Jesus Christ and the eternity in the New Heavens and New Earth to come as part of God’s king that I wish to provide today.

Twice in the Bible, believers are promised authority as both kings and priests, in passages that mirror each other and that should all be familiar to us. It is worthwhile before we go into unfamiliar territory about what the Bible has to say about kings and priests, though, that we discuss these familiar places and ground ourselves in what we know well as we learn about things we may not know as well. Therefore, let us begin our discussion of the biblical role of kings and priests with those two passages that promise those offices to us as believers and that show the relevance of these subjects to all of us, regardless of how modest or humble our status may be on earth at present. The first of these passages is in Exodus 19:1-8. Exodus 19:1-8 reads: “In the third month after the children of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on the same day, they came to the Wilderness of Sinai.  For they had departed from Rephidim, had come to the Wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness. So Israel camped there before the mountain. And Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself.  Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine.  And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.” So Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before them all these words which the Lord commanded him.  Then all the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” So Moses brought back the words of the people to the Lord. “

We see from this passage that the offices that God had prepared for Israel as kings and priests was a conditional blessing. It was conditional on their obedience to all that God commanded and their faithful keeping of the covenant with Him that He was about to establish with them on Mount Sinai. Israel’s failure to obey God’s laws and commandments is notorious, a sad refrain that appears over and over again throughout the wilderness experience, throughout Israel’s experience with the judges, and throughout their subsequent history under kings and as a scattered diasporic population. But had Israel had a heart to follow God’s ways, God promised that they would be a royal priesthood and a holy nation. Their failure to obey God does not make God’s promises of no effect, it merely means that what was gloriously offered to the entirety of ancient Israel is only to be enjoyed by that comparatively small body of people who faithfully obeyed God and kept their covenantal relationship with Him.

Similarly, we see this same promise given to the Israel of God in 1 Peter 2:4-17. Some of these verses are familiar to us as connecting to this earlier promise given in Exodus 19, but it is also noteworthy to examine what responsibilities are placed on believers in the conditional promise that has been given to us today as believers. 1 Peter 2:4-17 reads: “Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.  Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, “Behold, I lay in Zion A chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.” Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.” They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed. But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation. Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good.  For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men—as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God.  Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.”

What are the conditions of our receiving the status of being a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, and a holy nation? Obedience to God is here included as well, a reminder that just as the promise was conditional to ancient Israel, so it is conditional to us. Yet something else is also included here. It is not only obedience to God’s moral laws that we are obligated to, but also respect for and honor of authority. However much authority is perverted by evildoers in high offices, the purpose of authority have always been to enforce God’s laws and God’s ways on a rebellious humanity who sins against God and men and whose evil ways must be restrained by the coercive power of authorities. We are not naturally inclined to do what is right, and therefore others are given authority to curb this bent towards evil that exists with us. Yet our attitude towards authority should be transformed by the knowledge that we are not only subject to authority but also in training and preparation to exercise that same authority over others. We respect offices of authority, regardless of the fitness of those who presently serve in those offices or who did so in the past, not because those authorities are superior to us but because by respecting the offices we preserve the honor of those offices for when we hold them ourselves. In honoring those people in positions of authority, we set the example for how we should ourselves be honored as those to whom offices of authority have been promised by the Eternal God Himself, who cannot lie. It is not merely the interests of others that we serve by giving them the honor and respect that those who hold offices of authority have always intensely craved, but we serve our own interests as well in so doing.

The commandment of honoring those in authority has been consistent in the Bible from the beginning, but it has always included within it some element of self-interest that has not always been recognized. Let us, for example, read the expanded commandment to honor parents in Deuteronomy 5:16. Deuteronomy 5:16 reads: “Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may be well with you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you.” Here we see that even the fifth commandments, the original commandment to honor those in authority over us from birth until adulthood, and who we are to continue to honor after that, includes elements of self interest. God promises us long life as well as life being well with us in the land God has promised for those who honor their father and mother. God understands that honoring other people is not easy for us, and provides us with self-interested motives to do that which reflects God’s own character. There is another way that this commandment is self-interested, and here I speak mainly to those who are younger. Children and teenagers are asked to honor not only their parents but also adults in general and to treat them with respect. However difficult it is to do so, it is important to remember that there is self-interest in this, because we all expect to live long enough to become adults whom others will be expected to respect and honor in time. We are expected to develop patterns of honor and respecting others in the full expectation that we will live long enough and well enough to receive this honor and respect back to us from others. In honoring other people we encourage a culture of honor and respect that will repay us in the same currency that we have paid to others. In denying this honor and respect to others, we cultivate an atmosphere of contempt and disrespect that we will also be repaid in.

From the beginning, the commandment to honor authorities was expanded to honor all authorities. We find this, for example, in Exodus 21:17, immediately after the ten commandments are given, we are given a warning of the severity of the command to honor our parents. Exodus 21:17 reads: “ “And he who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.” In the very next chapter, Exodus 22:28, we read an expansion of the commandment to honor parents to authorities in general. Exodus 22:28 reads: “You shall not revile God, nor curse a ruler of your people.” We know specifically that this latter expansion of the fifth commandment still applies to Christians today because the Apostle Paul applied it to himself in Acts 23:1-5. In Acts 23:1-5, we see Paul confessing that he had indeed broken this particular command: “Then Paul, looking earnestly at the council, said, “Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.”  And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth.  Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! For you sit to judge me according to the law, and do you command me to be struck contrary to the law?” And those who stood by said, “Do you revile God’s high priest?” Then Paul said, “I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’ ””

Why are we not to revile kings and priests? Surely there are a great many people, past and present (to say nothing of the future) who have held offices poorly and been generally corrupt and immoral people. This is not a problem that our generation has discovered in the world, but it has long been the case. Paul calling a corrupt high priest a whitewashed wall may seem like light criticism compared to what we would want to call our corrupt leaders in the city of Portland or Salem or Washington DC, but we are prohibited from reviling and cursing and speaking evil of those who role in church and state in our present world for a very simple reason that they are simply warming seats for us. In refusing to curse and revile the unworthy holders of high offices, we do at least some small part of preserving the honor and respect for those offices that we wish to maintain for the time in which we expect to be far more worthy holders of those same offices of authority. We will not cut the ground of the honor and respect that is owed to those in authority because those people now in authority are going to be replaced in the world to come by us, and we will properly expect and demand to be respected in those offices ourselves, and so we owe that same honor and respect to the offices, because in so doing we honor ourselves ahead of time.

Having discussed the self-interest that is involved with the command to honor those in authority, it must be briefly recognized that sometimes the duties that we owe to authority are not always in our immediate self-interest. In Acts 24:22-27, we see the relationship between Paul and Felix, the governor of Judea at the time. Acts 24:22-27 reads: “But when Felix heard these things, having more accurate knowledge of the Way, he adjourned the proceedings and said, “When Lysias the commander comes down, I will make a decision on your case.”  So he commanded the centurion to keep Paul and to let him have liberty, and told him not to forbid any of his friends to provide for or visit him. And after some days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him concerning the faith in Christ.  Now as he reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and answered, “Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you.”  Meanwhile he also hoped that money would be given him by Paul, that he might release him. Therefore he sent for him more often and conversed with him. But after two years Porcius Festus succeeded Felix; and Felix, wanting to do the Jews a favor, left Paul bound.”

Although we see that Paul honored the authority of Felix and was treated as an honorable prisoner by Felix in turn, Paul’s obligation to promote obedience to God’s ways on the part of a corrupt heathen Roman governor acted against his immediate self-interest in getting out of prison. Felix, whom Josephus viewed as having “the nature of a slave,” as an imperial freedman given office due to imperial favor, is not someone that the historical record indicates was very successful in living in righteous or self-control, and someone who might have had a lot of reasons to be wary of being reminded of the judgment to come, as has often been the case for corrupt people in authority, did not want to hear the standard to which he would be held as a ruler, and was quite willing to behave corruptly and leave Paul in prison even though Paul was innocent of the crime for which he had been accused of attempting to stir up sedition in the temple.

Even in those places where the Bible commands honor and respect to those in authority, there is also a responsibility being placed on those offices that people who hold positions of authority do not always recognize. Let us look at two such places in the Bible where the command to honor authorities is mixed with the responsibility that such authorities have to God. First, let us look at Deuteronomy 17:2-20. This entire chapter deals with the honor that we owe to authorities on different levels, so let us explore each of these aspects separately. First, let us look at Deuteronomy 17:2-7 and look at the respect that is owed to the criminal justice system and to the punishments given to evildoers. Deuteronomy 17:2-7 reads: ““If there is found among you, within any of your gates which the Lord your God gives you, a man or a woman who has been wicked in the sight of the Lord your God, in transgressing His covenant, who has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, either the sun or moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have not commanded, and it is told you, and you hear of it, then you shall inquire diligently. And if it is indeed true and certain that such an abomination has been committed in Israel, then you shall bring out to your gates that man or woman who has committed that wicked thing, and shall stone to death that man or woman with stones.  Whoever is deserving of death shall be put to death on the testimony of two or three witnesses; he shall not be put to death on the testimony of one witness.  The hands of the witnesses shall be the first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hands of all the people. So you shall put away the evil from among you.”

How is the criminal justice system to be administered? We see here. When people are witnessed to have behaved wickedly and treacherously, they are to be convicted on that testimony after a diligent investigation and are to be punished, the witnesses leading the way in enforcing the punishment on the evildoers, and so evil is to be put away from among us. In putting away evil and in properly honoring and respecting a criminal justice system that operates according to God’s laws and ways and is not biased or selectively applied only to work against the enemies of the present regime respect for law and order and the institutions of justice are maintained within society. The law is enforced fairly, and so people are trained to honor and respect a law that is even-handed and just in its application.

After this is done, Deuteronomy 17:8-13 discusses the role of and the honor due to priests in Israel’s system of government. Deuteronomy 17:8-13 reads: “ “If a matter arises which is too hard for you to judge, between degrees of guilt for bloodshed, between one judgment or another, or between one punishment or another, matters of controversy within your gates, then you shall arise and go up to the place which the Lord your God chooses.  And you shall come to the priests, the Levites, and to the judge there in those days, and inquire of them; they shall pronounce upon you the sentence of judgment.  You shall do according to the sentence which they pronounce upon you in that place which the Lord chooses. And you shall be careful to do according to all that they order you.  According to the sentence of the law in which they instruct you, according to the judgment which they tell you, you shall do; you shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left from the sentence which they pronounce upon you.  Now the man who acts presumptuously and will not heed the priest who stands to minister there before the Lord your God, or the judge, that man shall die. So you shall put away the evil from Israel.  And all the people shall hear and fear, and no longer act presumptuously.”

What is the role of priests in the civil authority of Israel? They are to be judges, adjudicating difficult cases that are too hard for ordinary Israelites to understand based on their knowledge of the law of God. These priests, more educated in biblical law and its application, are called upon to make those difficult judgments of what is right and wrong and what sentences apply in those difficult times. It is worth noting that God commands that the decisions of the priests is to be respected and followed on pain of death, and to presumptuously reject the authority that God has set in place is viewed as being worthy of the death sentence. God does not tolerate the anarchical system by which each individual person considers themselves to select their own system of right and wrong and avoid having to deal with the struggle of being in harmony with one’s neighbors. This passage makes it clear that God expects that the authority of priests and judges in difficult matters of law is to be respected.

The third and final passage within Deuteronomy 17, in verses fourteen through twenty, discusses the law concerning kings, the third aspect of civil government explored in this chapter. Deuteronomy 17:14-20 reads: ““When you come to the land which the Lord your God is giving you, and possess it and dwell in it, and say, ‘I will set a king over me like all the nations that are around me,’ you shall surely set a king over you whom the Lord your God chooses; one from among your brethren you shall set as king over you; you may not set a foreigner over you, who is not your brother.  But he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, for the Lord has said to you, ‘You shall not return that way again.’  Neither shall he multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away; nor shall he greatly multiply silver and gold for himself. “Also it shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priests, the Levites.  And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted above his brethren, that he may not turn aside from the commandment to the right hand or to the left, and that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children in the midst of Israel.”

There are a few elements of this brief law concerning kings that are important to recognize for us as we think about our own kingship in the world to come. God claims the right to choose rulers, and those rulers are to be among one’s brethren and not foreigners and strangers. Those rulers have quite a few restrictions placed upon them–they are not to be militaristic and seek to multiply military equipment or trust in the strength of their armies. Nor are they to put high taxation on the people to multiply the amount of money that the government has to work with, nor are they to behave as Solomon did in trusting the diplomacy of the harem to marry many wives that would turn away the heart of a ruler from God’s laws and ways. Indeed, they are commanded to copy by hand the law for themselves and are held responsible for obeying it, and for maintaining a humble attitude of equality with those people whom they rule over. And just as people are promised long lives through the honor they give to parents and by extension other religious and civil authorities, so too kings are promised a long life if they maintain a humble attitude in their offices of authority and do not depart from the right or to the left from the laws and commandments of God in their rule.

We see this same combination between the responsibility that believers have to honor those in authority and the statement about the accountability that rulers have to God in the most famous passage in the New Testament that deals with matters of rulership, and that is Romans 13:1-7. Romans 13:1-7 reads: “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.  Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.  For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same.  For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil.  Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake.  For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing.  Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.”

As believers we have committed ourselves to honor and respect God’s authority and expect to receive as blessings for that faithful obedience positions of authority and honor in God’s kingdom. Those who hold positions of authority, whether here or now or in God’s kingdom, are his servants (ministers, as Paul says) and are worthy of being honored and respected for their offices alone, apart from any personal virtue they may or may not possess. Those who are rebellious against authority and hostile to the just claims of authority to be honored and respected will not in turn be honored by God with authority and honor themselves. We must honor others if we want to be honored ourselves, and we must respect others to be worthy of the respect that we seek. It is not only fear of punishment for being seditious and rebellious that we obey the law and respect those in authority, but because a basic law-abiding attitude is an aspect of God’s laws that we have all committed ourselves to obey as baptized believers. And those authorities who rule ourselves are not the ultimate authorities, but are themselves accountable to God for how they rule, whether well or poorly, justly or unjustly. Let us not forget, after all, that the Roman emperor whom Paul commanded the Roman believers to honor was Nero, who would later unjustly command some of the recipients of this book to be put to death in gruesome and horrific fashion, if the Roman historical sources can be believed.

Given the honor and respect that is commanded towards those in authority, it is important also to recognize that the Bible also records a great deal of criticism of those who are ambitious for power and who hold their offices corruptly. Let us first look at the parable that Jotham, the only surviving legitimate son of Gideon, speaks concerning the rule of his murderous half-brother Abimelech, who unsuccessfully sought to make himself king with a power base at his birthplace of Shechem. In Judges 9:7-15 we read this political parable. Judges 9:7-15 reads: ““Listen to me, you men of Shechem,
That God may listen to you! “The trees once went forth to anoint a king over them. And they said to the olive tree, ‘Reign over us!’ But the olive tree said to them, ‘Should I cease giving my oil, with which they honor God and men, and go to sway over trees?’ “Then the trees said to the fig tree,
‘You come and reign over us!’ But the fig tree said to them, ‘Should I cease my sweetness and my good fruit, and go to sway over trees?’ “Then the trees said to the vine, ‘You come and reign over us!’ But the vine said to them, ‘Should I cease my new wine, which cheers both God and men, and go to sway over trees?’ “Then all the trees said to the bramble, ‘You come and reign over us!’ And the bramble said to the trees, ‘If in truth you anoint me as king over you, then come and take shelter in my shade; but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon!’”

This parable is one of the Bible’s bluntest and harshest condemnations of the ambition that has always led those who lack productive talents or personal honor to seek the offices of authority. The trees, symbolic of the people of Israel, ask four trees to rule over them. Three of those trees decline the office of kingship because it is more worthwhile for them to continue serving in beneficial ways to provide olive oil, figs, and wine to praise God and bless the lives of mankind rather than to rule over others. It is only the worthless bramble who seeks power to give himself honor that he would not otherwise have through his faithful and productive service. And so it is often with humanity, in that human beings who are the most insecure and lacking in character that seek the honor of office most intensely in order to give them honor and respect that they do not deserve from their personal virtues or the development of God-given talents exercised in service to God’s people.

Similarly, the abusive tendencies of Israel’s kings would be prophesied by Samuel when Israel asked for a king in 1 Samuel 8:10-18. 1 Samuel 8:10-18 details the abuses of the rulers of Israel as follows: “So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who asked him for a king.  And he said, “This will be the behavior of the king who will reign over you: He will take your sons and appoint them for his own chariots and to be his horsemen, and some will run before his chariots.  He will appoint captains over his thousands and captains over his fifties, will set some to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and some to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots.  He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks, and bakers.  And he will take the best of your fields, your vineyards, and your olive groves, and give them to his servants.  He will take a tenth of your grain and your vintage, and give it to his officers and servants.  And he will take your male servants, your female servants, your finest young men, and your donkeys, and put them to his work.  He will take a tenth of your sheep. And you will be his servants.  And you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the Lord will not hear you in that day.””

In pointing out these oppressions that Israel would have to suffer, let us note what sort of behaviors Samuel (and God) condemn in political leaders. For one, the militarism of drafting citizens to serve in the military is condemned here. In addition to that, the expansion of the federal bureaucracy so that people who could be doing productive work for the well-being of the ordinary people are instead serving rulers and their pleasure. Similarly, Samuel condemns the theft of property through the seizure of the land of ordinary citizens to increase the royal domains as well as the theft of income through excessive taxation. And rather than being the servants of the people and of God as God had commanded, wicked and corrupt rulers throughout history have tended to view the people as their servants instead. As bad as Israel would have it, the depredations of corrupt rulers has gotten far worse in the last hundred years or so than what was promised here. As tyrannical as Israel’s and Judah’s kings were, the corrupt regimes of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries with their restraint of freedom, desires to micromanage the lives of people, and their rapacious taxation and wholesale slaughter of many tens of millions of people in order to seek the security of their satanic ideologies makes the mere petty tyrants of ancient Israel out to be rulers of a libertarian paradise by comaprison.

Nor are religious leaders exempt from this harsh criticism. Let us see what is written in Zechariah 11:15-17. Zechariah 11:15-17 tells us about foolish shepherds, religious leaders who were not living up to their obligations to the people of God: “And the Lord said to me, “Next, take for yourself the implements of a foolish shepherd.  For indeed I will raise up a shepherd in the land who will not care for those who are cut off, nor seek the young, nor heal those that are broken, nor feed those that still stand. But he will eat the flesh of the fat and tear their hooves in pieces. “Woe to the worthless shepherd, who leaves the flock! A sword shall be against his arm and against his right eye; his arm shall completely wither, and his right eye shall be totally blinded.”” Let us note what qualities are held by the foolish shepherd–he seeks merely to fill his own appetites and not to serve the flock, to feed believers with spiritual food from the Bible, to care for the outcasts, to seek the well-being of the young, or healing those many who have been broken by the unjust and cruel world in which we live. Those who hold offices and authority who fail in these obligations and instead abandon the flock are promised the sword of God’s own personal judgment.

Let us look for our final passage today what the early Church of God had to say about that notoriously corrupt religious authority, the disciple Judas Iscariot, whose name has become a byword for treachery. Acts 1:15-22 gives both criticism of Judas and also a discussion of the biblical solution to bad leaders. Acts 1:15-22 reads: “And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples (altogether the number of names was about a hundred and twenty), and said, “Men and brethren, this Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus; for he was numbered with us and obtained a part in this ministry.” (Now this man purchased a field with the wages of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his entrails gushed out.  And it became known to all those dwelling in Jerusalem; so that field is called in their own language, Akel Dama, that is, Field of Blood.) “For it is written in the Book of Psalms: ‘Let his dwelling place be desolate, and let no one live in it’; and, ‘Let another take his office.’ “Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.””

The Bible does not give us the option to disrespect offices of authority, and we, who are in training to be kings and priests, would be foolish in the extreme to tear down respect and honor for those offices which we expect to hold in the future. Even the treachery of a Judas is not enough to diminish the biblical honor and respect that is due to an office, namely a disciple (and later an apostle). Instead, God’s judgment vacates that offices and leaves room for another to take his place. And that is indeed the response that God holds for the unworthy holders of offices in general. Those who are corrupt and wicked face God’s judgment and will be removed, ultimately so we believers can hold those offices in a godly and worthy fashion. It remains therefore for us to prepare ourselves through cultivating obedience to God and the development of the character and attitude that allows us to rule better than the wicked leaders we see all around us at present.

We have ranged far and wide in the Bible in our discussion of the offices of kings and priests in the Bible and of our obligations to those who hold those offices. Let us summarize the larger points so that we can keep in mind what it is that we need to cultivate to fulfill our godly obligations to authority as well as better train our character and attitudes to be able to hold positions of religious and civil authority within the kingdom of God. First, let us note that offices of authority have always existed and will always exist. God is a God of order and decency and there is always a structure provided that allows for the maintenance of order. Honoring God also means honoring the structure in which God leads us. As believers, we have all committed to obeying God’s laws, and those in authority have the responsibility to live by govern by and enforce God’s laws within the boundaries of the offices they serve in. The same law which promises us positions of authority as God’s chosen people in the world to come and which gives us the grounds by which to examine ourselves and those around us by God’s eternal and unchanging standards also commands us to honor and respect those in authority. Honoring those whom God has placed or has allowed in positions of authority not only pleases these authorities and honors God as the ultimate authority but also serves our self-interest as those who will serve in positions of authority in the future if we do not already here and now. Those in positions authority remain subject to God and to God’s laws and ways and will be judged for failing to serve God’s people and remain in obedience to God. God’s Word is not naive or ignorant about the low state of character of those who serve in leadership in the present evil world or have throughout human history, but the character of those who are in office at present or who served in offices in the past is irrelevant to the honor and respect that we owe those offices whose unworthy historical or present holders are merely warming seats for us to rule for eternity. Let us hope that we are all are able to develop the proper attitude and godly character through obedience to God’s laws–including those laws which command that we honor and respect those in authority–so that we are able to receive those offices upon the establishment of the millennial kingdom of Jesus Christ and rule for all time in the New Heavens and New Earth still to come.

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Hurricane Tales

In August of 1992, I remember having the day off of school for a very important reason–a hurricane, Hurricane Andrew specifically–was crossing the state of Florida and so school was canceled because of the threat that the storm posed to the whole state. Admittedly, the storm did not greatly affect the area where I grew up, although my neighbors and I played tackle football in the grass of our neighborhood while the storm bands circled overhead. It was, as one might imagine, quite a dramatic atmosphere to play sports in. It is also worth noting that the hurricane season had been a considerable disappointment in terms of the number of storms, but all it took for things to get serious was one major storm landing in the heavily populated areas just south of Miami for that to change.

As someone who has close family who lives in Florida, any time there is a major storm that finds its way north of Cuba into the Gulf of Mexico and hugging the peninsula draws my attention and concern. The concern springs from the fact that Florida tends to be a pretty vulnerable place when it comes to storms–whether one is looking at storm surge in low-lying areas near rivers and coasts, wind damage, or flooding from rains, to say nothing of the results of the power going out for days and weeks at a time. One of the things that makes hurricanes in Florida so tricky is the difficulty one has of evacuating to safety. There are only a few north-south routes, and when a storm is already moving northwards, it is very easy to flee into the path of the storm rather than to safety.

As someone who has spent about a quarter-century of time in Florida, there are many stories of hurricanes and tropical storms that I have acquired as part of my experience. I have left the safety of my apartment to make what I thought was an ordinary drive to services and found myself on the Courtney Campbell Causeway driving through an unexpected tropical storm that was directly overhead, threatening to be a terrible day for me as I fought to keep my car moving forward without any shelter or protection from the storm, only to find the day turn into a gorgeous and sunny and even glorious day after the storm passed over. At other times I have thought myself safe when a storm passed by the state of Florida moving north and east only for the storm to loop around and hit the place where I lived at the end of the Day of Atonement and knock out power (thus preventing me from doing laundry) until it was time to leave for the Feast of Tabernacles. Such stories could easily be multiplied.

In contrast to many natural disasters, hurricanes most remind me of wildfires of the way that they are fearsome and destructive but also subject to the sudden and changing whims of the wind. For days one examines the course of a given hurricane, with a wide variation in possible paths and the usual panicking press seeing a tropical wave pop up and predicting doom and gloom to one’s home or the homes and property and lives of loved ones. Then the storm makes its unpredictable course, often bringing winds and considerable rain but not the total destruction that one can often fear. Long experience with the hype cycles encourages a sense of cynicism about storms, which can lead people to fail to evacuate because of so many previous Chicken Little experiences, but it only takes one time for a particular area’s number to be called for massive death and destruction to result. So one hopes and prays, watches the course of the storm and remains sensitive to any shifts in the track that can bring safety to some and promise more trouble and threat to others. And when the winds and waters have passed, one assesses the damage, if there is any, offers prayers of gratitude for those who escaped harm and prayers of comfort and encouragement for those who did not, and then gets to the business of rebuilding in the knowledge that one cannot get rid of the risks of life, but must live in the knowledge that one’s number could always be up.

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Conversations In The Land Of The Deaf

In way that was strange but somehow deeply fitting for a Feast of Trumpets, there was a lot of resonance between the sorts of conversations and fellowship I had with the problem of deafness. As is often the case, I do not come at the subject of deafness merely as someone who observes it from the outside, however sympathetically, but rather as someone who deals with the problem as someone who struggles with aspects of it and thus finds in my own experiences and troubles as well as my observations a great deal of material to muse over.

We would do well to begin, when we talk about the problems that afflict people, that there are a great many different ways by which people reach the area of losing some part of their senses, to all of a sense. As is the case with blindness, some people are born deaf, some people become so as a result of disease or mishap, and still other people have conditions that afflict them part of the way to full deafness without reaching all of the way there. My own personal experience at least to date is in that last category, which is a common enough category of human being. Even among those who are at least part of the way to deafness, or hard of hearing as it may be termed, there are different gradations among these, and different ways that we judge among them, and even different ways that these problems may develop in our lives. Not everyone can hear that still small voice, but not everyone is to be blamed for that either, or for the natural repercussions that result.

I should note as well by way of context, that not only is deafness, at least in its partial form, something that I have long had to deal with, but also something that has long afflicted members of my family. I grew up in a family of big and loud people, and one had to speak loudly in order to be heard. Some people may ascribe that to a certain sort of desire for attention, but often it mundanely results from simply not being able to hear very well for one reason or another, and when one or a few people is loud as a result of hearing difficulties, the rest sort of have to do it in order to keep up with the conversation. In my late 20’s, after having a few months of a particularly rough case of tinnitus (something I deal with on an ongoing basis), I went to an ear-nose-and-throat specialist and had a particularly rough day including being asked if I had been a part of a rock band because of the extent of hearing loss that I had in my left ear, with no hint of any sort of device that would improve matters.

When one is interacting with people both at services as well as at a lovely picnic afterwards, I was able to encounter and experience a fairly broad range of deafness. We had a member join us who is deaf, entirely, and who communicates through American sign language, which alas I do not happen to know. His deafness is of the total kind. The rest of us so afflicted were of the partial kind. A friend of mine was there and happened to have his hearing aid in (perhaps not when around me). Another person I happened to know well and drive there also had the usual hearing loss that comes with advanced age. Even a couple of kids whom I know well exhibited some form of hearing loss, though largely of that selective loss that tends to allow people to hear only what they wish to hear and not attend themselves to anything that they do not want to hear, like being told that they cannot wade into a river because they lack dry clothes to change into and because it is uncomfortable to sit in damp clothes on long car rides before being able to shower and change.

It is deeply interesting to reflect upon the way that we judge different sorts of deafness. When we know people to be deaf or hard of hearing, especially if they acquire that deafness from disease or over the long course of a life well lived, we do not tend to judge them for it and we just deal with the consequences of it without attaching any sort of blame to it. If someone acquired their deafness from being a rock & roll musician, or thought someone’s deafness to be either of a moral nature by shutting one’s ears to what others were saying, or the result of reckless behavior, we are more likely to judge them harshly for it. Perhaps more unjustly, if we are not aware that someone is hard of hearing, we may see the repercussions of their hearing loss without properly ascribing it to the right causes. We may think someone a drama queen or someone who demands to be the center of attention when we are dealing with someone in other circumstances. We judge unwisely when we judge based on surface appearances and effects rather than seeking to examine causes in a thoughtful manner. Wisdom requires discernment and distinction of the kind that is frequently lost when we ourselves become unable to distinguish between shades and tones and simply rush to judge on that which we can recognize, as incomplete a picture or soundscape as it happens to be.

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What Does Poetry Have To Do With Philosophy?

For most people, the relationship between poetry and philosophy may not be obvious, even when poetry is understood in its original Greek broader form as including all sorts of creative arts. For many people, philosophy is such an abstract task that its connection to beauty and creativity seems to be entirely absent. Of course, if one happened to spend time with my mother and I at an art museum, then the connection between art and philosophy becomes all the more obvious. After all, there are a great many questions that lie behind the art that one sees. Why did the artist choose to focus on these elements? What media did they choose to express themselves in? Why did the artist choose a particular subject to express? How do the elements of the creation combine to send a particular message? These and other questions spring to mind naturally when one examines a given piece of art, and the more one asks such questions, the more obvious and natural these questions come.

When one examines music, for example, the lyrics and music can combine to create a complex picture and mood. In the music of ABBA, for example, heartbreaking lyrics are combined with cheery music to create a feeling where great sadness is borne with a stiff upper lip and a strong resolution to bear the burden of existence as cheerfully as possible. In the song “You’ve Got It All,” by the Jets, the exact opposite elements are combined with similar effect. A song whose lyrics express trust and confidence in a partner in the aftermath of a bad and potentially abusive prior relationship has its optimism slightly undercut because of the minor keys used in the music that add a feeling of grief, anxiety, and doubt to the picture. The result is not tonal dissonance in the fashion that one gets from Christian death metal, for example, but rather a complicated emotional resonance that strongly connects with my own complex emotional palette. Not everyone relates to these sorts of songs in the way that I do, but the fact that such songs do for me has always prompted me to ponder what it is about these songs that speaks so strongly to me personally.

One thing to note when it comes to artistic creation is that all works of art require a great deal of work. At least when we are dealing with the better forms of art, and this is even more true of literature, works take a considerable amount of effort to create. Musical artists can labor over an hour or so of music (or even less) for years and years. Even in cases where art is created relatively quickly, like my annual novel writing competition every November, the novels that are written over the course of a month require a great deal of work in planning, hours a day of typing after one has already outlined what one wants to discuss, and then a great deal of time spent in tedious (for me) editing. For the creator, especially if they are philosophically inclined, a work can have a strong deal of interest in and treatment of philosophy, whether of a heavy-handed manner or not. The same work, though, is encountered by people who will ask their own questions, and those questions often hinge on philosophical questions.

If we consider philosophy to be an examination of causes, art furnishes many questions as to causes. Why does a given piece of art exist? What motivated a given artist to create what we have before us? An examination of the genre of the art and its references (if any) to other pieces of art will provide an intellectual history of the piece of art in question, and demonstrate the artist’s familiarity with certain conventions and certain conversations that this work is a part of. Why does the artist include what they include, and why do they not include certain things that we might think would be obvious. For example, in the Bible, one of the more striking aspects of the Bible is the lack of detail it provides about the appearance of its most dramatic personages, even as it includes detailed references to their family history. Interestingly enough, one notices the same thing about Jane Austen novels, which mention their characters as being some shade of pretty if they are young women or not quite handsome if they are men, but which do not provide the sorts of details that we would expect. Why these works did not do so while we expect those is itself the sort of subject that also invites philosophical inquiry. After all, it is not only a given piece of art that we should examine for causes, but also ourselves for what it is that we expect to find and feel disappointed about if it is missing. For there are reasons not only for art, but also for ourselves.

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The Feast Of Trumpets In Reverse

[Note: The following is the prepared text for a sermon delivered to The Dalles congregation of the United Church of God on Sabbath, September 24, 2022.]

It is customary as we approach the Feast of Trumpets to view this festival from the perspective of the millennial reign of Jesus Christ back through the various plagues of the seventh trumpet and perhaps the seven trumpets spoken of in Revelation. What I propose to do today is the exact opposite of this. After all, as we come to the Feast of Trumpets, we do not know exactly how or when events will unfold. We have prophecies but do not know exactly what their fulfillment looks like. This puts us at least somewhat more in the perspective of those whose knowledge of God’s plan had not been entirely revealed in detail, but was rather expounded through symbols and rituals that included details added over the course of time.

In order to uncover the Feast of Trumpets in reverse to the way we normally look at the festival, we will first discuss what is said about the Feast of Trumpets in scripture that provides the basis for how the Feast of Trumpets was understood. After this we will look a bit broader at the symbolism of the trumpet in particular. Finally, we will close with a brief discussion of how the themes and symbols of the Feast of Trumpets connect with the first coming of Jesus Christ. And it is to that task that we will now turn.

There are only two places where the Feast of Trumpets is referred to explicitly by name. The first is exactly where you would expect, in Leviticus 23:23-25. This description is by far the sketchiest of any of the Holy Days. Leviticus 23:23-25 reads: “Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a sabbath-rest, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation.  You shall do no customary work on it; and you shall offer an offering made by fire to the Lord.’ ”” The bare minimum of information is given here. It is said that the Sabbath rest on the first day of the seventh month, at the very middle point of the year, is to be a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a day of commanded assembly, and a day where no customary work is to be done and where an offering is to be given to God. That is literally all that we are told about the day from this passage.

The offerings that were given on that day during the tabernacle and temple worship system are the second of the two locations where the Feast of Trumpets is referred to by name. We find this reference in Numbers 29:1-6. Numbers 29:1-6 reads: “‘And in the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work. For you it is a day of blowing the trumpets.  You shall offer a burnt offering as a sweet aroma to the Lord: one young bull, one ram, and seven lambs in their first year, without blemish.  Their grain offering shall be fine flour mixed with oil: three-tenths of an ephah for the bull, two-tenths for the ram, and one-tenth for each of the seven lambs; also one kid of the goats as a sin offering, to make atonement for you; besides the burnt offering with its grain offering for the New Moon, the regular burnt offering with its grain offering, and their drink offerings, according to their ordinance, as a sweet aroma, an offering made by fire to the Lord.” This passage gives considerable detail about the sacrifices that were offered on this day up to the destruction of the temple of Herod in Jerusalem, but all it has to say about the day itself is that it is to be treated as both a normal new moon and also as day of blowing the trumpets, which we already knew from Leviticus, and is the only thing that the Bible explicitly tells us about this day. Everything else we know about the Feast of Trumpets we know from applying the symbolism of the trumpets. For ancient Israel, this day must have seemed to be highly mysterious.

From the fact that contemporary Jews refer to the Feast of Trumpets as Rosh Hashannah, or their New Year’s Day, suggests that much of the symbolism that the Jews have attached to this day relates to the inauguration of a new year. There is some evidence, based on the chronology of the kings of Israel and Judah provided in 1 and 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles, that this association of the Feast of Trumpets with the start of a new royal or civil year is something that began in ancient times, even though the Bible is very plain that the beginning of the religious year takes place in spring. We can tell, therefore, that the Jews understood Trumpets in a similar sense to the way that we do. From the symbolism of the trumpets and its meanings about the inauguration of rule–which we associate with the inauguration of the rule of Jesus Christ–the Jews extrapolated a more general inauguration of the civil year and of the counting of the years ruled by its kings year after year. How did they do this?

The first time we hear about trumpets is when we hear about them several times in Exodus 19:10-20. Let us read about trumpets and what they signify in Exodus 19:10-20: “Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes.  And let them be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, ‘Take heed to yourselves that you do not go up to the mountain or touch its base. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death.  Not a hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot with an arrow; whether man or beast, he shall not live.’ When the trumpet sounds long, they shall come near the mountain.” So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and sanctified the people, and they washed their clothes.  And he said to the people, “Be ready for the third day; do not come near your wives.” Then it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled.  And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.  Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly.  And when the blast of the trumpet sounded long and became louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by voice.  Then the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.”

Let us note a couple of things about this use of the trumpet. Already, when trumpets are mentioned, there is already a method of their use. The trumpet sounds long as a signal for Israel to come near to the mountain, but they are not to touch the mountain on pain of death. The trumpets signal the approach of God near them, but they are not holy nor have they committed themselves wholly to Him, and so they are not allowed to be close to God in the sense that Moses is welcomed to come up to the top of the mountain and speak personally with God face to face as it were. The trumpet, though, is a method of communication, and what it communicates is the presence and power of God. From the first use of the trumpet, the connection between the arrival of the one who was to become Jesus Christ and the trumpet blast had been made clear. It is worth nothing briefly as well that Exodus 20:18-19 gives us the response of Israel to the thundering of the ten commandments and to the trumpet blast that communicated God’s approach. Exodus 20:18-19 reads: “Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off. Then they said to Moses, “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.”” Rather than being motivated by the sound of the trumpet to approach God and recognize His authority and rule, Israel was terrified at the approach of God and wanted to hide from God as did Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. It was a bad omen of what was to come in the relationship between God and ancient Israel in the wilderness.

The next time that trumpets are mentioned in the Bible that we have yet to discuss occurs in the first ten verses of Numbers 10, when two silver trumpets are made with specific purposes. Numbers 10:1-10 reads as follows: “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying:  “Make two silver trumpets for yourself; you shall make them of hammered work; you shall use them for calling the congregation and for directing the movement of the camps.  When they blow both of them, all the congregation shall gather before you at the door of the tabernacle of meeting.  But if they blow only one, then the leaders, the heads of the divisions of Israel, shall gather to you.  When you sound the advance, the camps that lie on the east side shall then begin their journey.  When you sound the advance the second time, then the camps that lie on the south side shall begin their journey; they shall sound the call for them to begin their journeys.  And when the assembly is to be gathered together, you shall blow, but not sound the advance.  The sons of Aaron, the priests, shall blow the trumpets; and these shall be to you as an ordinance forever throughout your generations. “When you go to war in your land against the enemy who oppresses you, then you shall sound an alarm with the trumpets, and you will be remembered before the Lord your God, and you will be saved from your enemies.  Also in the day of your gladness, in your appointed feasts, and at the beginning of your months, you shall blow the trumpets over your burnt offerings and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; and they shall be a memorial for you before your God: I am the Lord your God.””

Just as the Feast of Tabernacles is to be a memorial of the blowing of the trumpets, so too these two silver trumpets that were commanded to be made had specific purposes for ancient Israel and those purposes help to inform what the Feast of Trumpets means. This passage is very detailed about the way that these trumpets were to be used. For one, these trumpets were to be used to bring the people before God. If one trumpet was blown, the leaders were to approach God, and if two, then the entire congregation of Israel was to assemble, as days of national celebration, at appointed easts, and at the new moons. The trumpets were also used to call Israel to journey to the promised land and also to go up to war against the enemy who oppressed them. These varied purposes are all connected to the meaning of the Feast of Trumpets. The trumpet announces the coming of God’s feasts and the passage of time from one month to another. The Feast of Trumpets is not only one of God’s feasts but the only one that occurs on the new moon. The trumpet calls Israel’s leaders and Israel to assemble before God, as in the feasts and when God has something to communicate to them. Similarly, the trumpet signals the call for salvation and deliverance from oppression and evil. And so it is that the Feast of Trumpets also signifies salvation and deliverance, in Jesus’ first coming from sin and death and in the second from the systems of evil under Satan that have ruled over this earth for thousands of years.

Not surprisingly, when we see the trumpet referred to in the book of Joshua and Judges it is in a military capacity that these trumpets are blown. We see, for example, in Joshua 6:1-21 the trumpet being referred to repeatedly as a sign of Israel’s holy warfare against the doomed city of Jericho. I will read out this passage and emphasize whenever the word trumpet is used. Joshua 6:1-21 reads: “Now Jericho was securely shut up because of the children of Israel; none went out, and none came in.  And the Lord said to Joshua: “See! I have given Jericho into your hand, its king, and the mighty men of valor.  You shall march around the city, all you men of war; you shall go all around the city once. This you shall do six days.  And seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark. But the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets.  It shall come to pass, when they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, and when you hear the sound of the trumpet, that all the people shall shout with a great shout; then the wall of the city will fall down flat. And the people shall go up every man straight before him.” Then Joshua the son of Nun called the priests and said to them, “Take up the ark of the covenant, and let seven priests bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark of the Lord.”  And he said to the people, “Proceed, and march around the city, and let him who is armed advance before the ark of the Lord.” So it was, when Joshua had spoken to the people, that the seven priests bearing the seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the Lord advanced and blew the trumpets, and the ark of the covenant of the Lord followed them.  The armed men went before the priests who blew the trumpets, and the rear guard came after the ark, while the priests continued blowing the trumpets.  Now Joshua had commanded the people, saying, “You shall not shout or make any noise with your voice, nor shall a word proceed out of your mouth, until the day I say to you, ‘Shout!’ Then you shall shout.”  So he had the ark of the Lord circle the city, going around it once. Then they came into the camp and lodged in the camp. And Joshua rose early in the morning, and the priests took up the ark of the Lord.  Then seven priests bearing seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark of the Lord went on continually and blew with the trumpets. And the armed men went before them. But the rear guard came after the ark of the Lord, while the priests continued blowing the trumpets.  And the second day they marched around the city once and returned to the camp. So they did six days. But it came to pass on the seventh day that they rose early, about the dawning of the day, and marched around the city seven times in the same manner. On that day only they marched around the city seven times.  And the seventh time it happened, when the priests blew the trumpets, that Joshua said to the people: “Shout, for the Lord has given you the city!  Now the city shall be doomed by the Lord to destruction, it and all who are in it. Only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all who are with her in the house, because she hid the messengers that we sent.  And you, by all means abstain from the accursed things, lest you become accursed when you take of the accursed things, and make the camp of Israel a curse, and trouble it.  But all the silver and gold, and vessels of bronze and iron, are consecrated to the Lord; they shall come into the treasury of the Lord.” So the people shouted when the priests blew the trumpets. And it happened when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, and the people shouted with a great shout, that the wall fell down flat. Then the people went up into the city, every man straight before him, and they took the city.  And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, ox and sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword.

Trumpets are mentioned over and over again in this passage. The trumpet blasts signify the arrival of the rule of God and God’s people Israel over the city of Jericho and over the Promised land as a whole. The trumpets announce that the time of the corrupt and oppressive rule of the Canaanite rulers over the land had come to an end and that judgment and destruction had come upon their polities. Whether or not Israel understood the connection between trumpets and God’s rule as well as the importance of the trumpets as a means of communication to Israel as well as to everyone else who could hear those trumpets is irrelevant. To Israel, the trumpets were a sign of victory and of the establishment of their rule over the land, and to Israel’s enemies, the trumpets were a sign of judgment and impending destruction. And it should not be a surprise that the Feast of Trumpets carries the same double meaning depending on whether one is a citizen of the Kingdom of God or an enemy of that kingdom.

And again when we see trumpets referred to in the book of Judges, we similarly see them being used as symbols of the deliverance that was coming to Israel from the oppression they suffered and as means of communicating that the time of that deliverance had come. So it is we read about Ehud in Judges 3:26-28. Judges 3:26-28 reads: “But Ehud had escaped while they delayed, and passed beyond the [a]stone images and escaped to Seirah.  And it happened, when he arrived, that he blew the trumpet in the mountains of Ephraim, and the children of Israel went down with him from the mountains; and [b]he led them.  Then he said to them, “Follow me, for the Lord has delivered your enemies the Moabites into your hand.” So they went down after him, seized the fords of the Jordan leading to Moab, and did not allow anyone to cross over.” Similarly, we read of Gideon calling together the Israelites to fight against the Mideonites in Judges 6:33-35: “Then all the Midianites and Amalekites, the people of the East, gathered together; and they crossed over and encamped in the Valley of Jezreel.  But the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon; then he blew the trumpet, and the Abiezrites gathered behind him.  And he sent messengers throughout all Manasseh, who also gathered behind him. He also sent messengers to Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali; and they came up to meet them.”

Later on, when Gideon led Israel to battle against Mideon in Judges 7:15-23, the symbolism and the literal use of the trumpet coincide as a way of announcing God’s judgment of Mideon and His deliverance of Israel. Judges 7:15-23 reads: “And so it was, when Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, that he worshiped. He returned to the camp of Israel, and said, “Arise, for the Lord has delivered the camp of Midian into your hand.”  Then he divided the three hundred men into three companies, and he put a trumpet into every man’s hand, with empty pitchers, and torches inside the pitchers.  And he said to them, “Look at me and do likewise; watch, and when I come to the edge of the camp you shall do as I do:  When I blow the trumpet, I and all who are with me, then you also blow the trumpets on every side of the whole camp, and say, ‘The sword of the Lord and of Gideon!’ ” So Gideon and the hundred men who were with him came to the outpost of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just as they had posted the watch; and they blew the trumpets and broke the pitchers that were in their hands.  Then the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the pitchers—they held the torches in their left hands and the trumpets in their right hands for blowing—and they cried, “The sword of the Lord and of Gideon!”  And every man stood in his place all around the camp; and the whole army ran and cried out and fled.  When the three hundred blew the trumpets, the Lord set every man’s sword against his companion throughout the whole camp; and the army fled to Beth Acacia, toward Zererah, as far as the border of Abel Meholah, by Tabbath. And the men of Israel gathered together from Naphtali, Asher, and all Manasseh, and pursued the Midianites.”

These uses of the trumpets demonstrate what we have spoken of, that the trumpet was used to call Israel to war and to signal the deliverance of Israel from oppression. We see the trumpet being referred to numerous times in the books of 1 and 2 Samuel as well as 2 Kings to demonstrate troops being signaled that military combat is at hand by Saul, Joab, David, Absalom, Sheba, Jehu, and others. If you wish to do a word study of the word trumpet and examine these uses of the trumpet as being heavily involved in military combat during ancient Israel’s history, it is an interesting and rewarding study. For our present purposes, though, let us turn to a couple of examples of how the trumpet was not only used for military matters but also to signal important moments in the worship of God during ancient Israel’s history.

In 1 Chronicles 15:24-29, we see the mention of trumpets as a way of calling the people of Jerusalem to assemble to celebrate the bringing of the Ark of the Covenant into the city, repairing the shame that had been brought to Israel more than a century earlier during the time of Eli the priest when the Ark had been captured by the Philistines. This passage ends with an ominous reference to one who did not have the same spirit of celebration as everyone else. 1 Chronicles 15:24-29 reads: “Shebaniah, Joshaphat, Nethanel, Amasai, Zechariah, Benaiah, and Eliezer, the priests, were to blow the trumpets before the ark of God; and Obed-Edom and Jehiah, doorkeepers for the ark. So David, the elders of Israel, and the captains over thousands went to bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord from the house of Obed-Edom with joy.  And so it was, when God helped the Levites who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord, that they offered seven bulls and seven rams.  David was clothed with a robe of fine linen, as were all the Levites who bore the ark, the singers, and Chenaniah the music master with the singers. David also wore a linen ephod.  Thus all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the horn, with trumpets and with cymbals, making music with stringed instruments and harps. And it happened, as the ark of the covenant of the Lord came to the City of David, that Michal, Saul’s daughter, looked through a window and saw King David whirling and playing music; and she despised him in her heart.”

In the next chapter, we see that trumpets were regularly blown during the time of David in obedience to God’s earlier commandment. 1 Chronicles 16:5-6 tells us this fact. 1 Chronicles 16:5-6 reads: “Asaph the chief, and next to him Zechariah, then Jeiel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Mattithiah, Eliab, Benaiah, and Obed-Edom: Jeiel with stringed instruments and harps, but Asaph made music with cymbals;  Benaiah and Jahaziel the priests regularly blew the trumpets before the ark of the covenant of God.” If you drop down in this chapter to verses 37-43, we will see the regular worship that existed during the time of David and the role of the trumpets in this worship. 1 Chronicles 16:37-43 reads: “So he left Asaph and his brothers there before the ark of the covenant of the Lord to minister before the ark regularly, as every day’s work required; and Obed-Edom with his sixty-eight brethren, including Obed-Edom the son of Jeduthun, and Hosah, to be gatekeepers; and Zadok the priest and his brethren the priests, before the tabernacle of the Lord at the high place that was at Gibeon, to offer burnt offerings to the Lord on the altar of burnt offering regularly morning and evening, and to do according to all that is written in the Law of the Lord which He commanded Israel; and with them Heman and Jeduthun and the rest who were chosen, who were designated by name, to give thanks to the Lord, because His mercy endures forever; and with them Heman and Jeduthun, to sound aloud with trumpets and cymbals and the musical instruments of God. Now the sons of Jeduthun were gatekeepers. Then all the people departed, every man to his house; and David returned to bless his house.”

So far we have seen that both the command to prepare for war as well as use the trumpet to call the people for religious assembly were both common in the Bible, and many more examples of this could be chosen. Trumpets, though, took on a symbolic meaning apart from these two purposes, though. In Job 39:19-25, as God is challenging Job about the forces involved in the created world, He says: ““Have you given the horse strength? Have you clothed his neck with thunder? Can you frighten him like a locust? His majestic snorting strikes terror. He paws in the valley, and rejoices in his strength; he gallops into the clash of arms. He mocks at fear, and is not frightened; nor does he turn back from the sword. The quiver rattles against him, the glittering spear and javelin. He devours the distance with fierceness and rage; nor does he come to a halt because the trumpet has sounded. At the blast of the trumpet he says, ‘Aha!’ He smells the battle from afar, the thunder of captains and shouting.” Here we see that God portrays this particular horse as being immune to terror simply because one sounds a trumpet. Instead, the call to battle is something that it relishes. One is reminded in all this, of course, of the fierce and bloodthirsty first two horsemen of the first and second seals in Revelation 6.

In Psalm 47:1-9, we see the trumpet being used as symbolic of the inauguration of God’s rule over humanity, in a way that is expressly millennial, not least because it comes as part of a millennial set of psalms written by the Sons of Korah between Psalms 42-49. I recommend these psalms as good reading material for this time of year as they provide a musical voice to the feelings before and at the very beginning of the millennium. At any rate, Psalm 47:1-9 itself reads, in its entirety: “Oh, clap your hands, all you peoples! Shout to God with the voice of triumph! For the Lord Most High is awesome;
He is a great King over all the earth. He will subdue the peoples under us, and the nations under our feet. He will choose our inheritance for us, the excellence of Jacob whom He loves. Selah God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet. sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises! For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with understanding. God reigns over the nations; God sits on His holy throne. The princes of the people have gathered together, the people of the God of Abraham. For the shields of the earth belong to God; He is greatly exalted.”

Here we see that from the Hebrew scriptures themselves, even before the trumpets are explicitly associated with the return of Jesus Christ in Revelation, that a reader of the Bible who was sensitive to and aware of the symbolism of the Bible would recognize that trumpets itself was a symbol of the beginning of the rule of God. Historically speaking, we know from reading ancient Mesopotamian texts and also from closely studying the chronology of the books of 1 and 2 Kings that the regnal years of rulers both in the Bible and in heathen antiquity was related to a political year-end calendar that began in the fall at the start of the seventh lunar month, on the Day of Trumpets. This day symbolized, for many years in the ancient Middle East, the beginning of the rule of the king, when his first official year began, and every regnal year since then. It is interesting to see in all of this the counterfeit way that heathen and often very corrupt rulers seek to use that which is meant to honor God to honor themselves instead. It is also important for us to recognize that the Feast of Trumpets, with its symbolism of Jesus’ millennial rule, was already in the air thousands of years ago as being associated with rule and royal authority.

Let us now turn to the third and final part of this message and look at the way in which the themes of annunciation apply not only to the second coming of Jesus Christ at the seven trumpets in Revelation, but also with regards to the first coming of Jesus Christ. In the story of Luke 2:1-20, we have a story that sets the chronological timing as well as the theme of inauguration that we have seen fits the Feast of Trumpets. Luke 2:1-20 reads: “And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.  This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria.  So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child.  So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered.  And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid.  Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.  For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.”  And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child.  And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds.  But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.  Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.”

While it must be admitted that this passage does not mention the word trumpet or say that the angels announcing the birth of Christ and of the inauguration of His first coming to earth were blowing trumpets, we can see that the language of Psalm 47, with the commands to praise God and the gathering together of the family of David in Bethlehem at this time by the command of Caesar Augustus, is echoed here by the shouting of the angels as well as the praise of the shepherds who were gathered together to celebrate the birth of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords in a humble place as there was no room for them at the inn.

Let us reflect that whether we look at the Feast of Trumpets looking backwards from what we are told in Revelation about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ or whether we look at the Feast of Trumpets in reverse, from its beginnings in scripture as well as its symbolism and meaning, we end up in the same place. Trumpets call people together in assembly, inform the people of struggle and conflict, and announce the workings of God throughout human history in both the First and Second coming of Jesus Christ as well as other matters related to the religious and political well-being of God’s people and of the nations they are a part of. As both civil and religious authority are concentrated in God the Father and in Jesus Christ, it is little surprise that trumpets is symbolic of both religious and political matters. Let us therefore celebrate the coming Feast of Trumpets with a knowledge that God made the meaning of the day plain and had for a long time before Jesus’ coming, so that those who read the Bible shall be without excuse in seeing in the trumpets of scripture a picture of the announcement of God’s kingdom and God’s rule over mankind through His only begotten son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

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Mankind As A Social Animal

One of the axioms that philosophers tend to point to about mankind is that mankind is a social animal. Indeed, for centuries, the sociability of mankind has furnished a great deal of the interest of certain novels that strive to explore humanity when coping with the problem of isolation. Rather than taking the sociability of mankind as something that can safely be assumed, mankind’s status as a social being is something that can rather be proved, sometimes in ironic ways.

One of the most poignant ways that one can examine the sociability of mankind is by exploring the fate of orphans. It has been shown through painful observations that orphans whose survival needs are met but who are resolutely deprived of their emotional and social needs suffer terribly as a result. Those who, like Abraham Maslov, have posited the existence of social needs are not speaking speciously when they say that some kind of social relationship is a need for humanity. One of the principal vectors for suffering for humanity is precisely those harms that result when the desire to belong in a community and the desire to receive honor and respect from one’s fellow human beings is denied, and this damage can be quite serious. Even the disapproval of that small group of human beings we happen to be around can do great harm to us.

The various stories of human isolation that have been current for centuries often themselves presuppose some sort of social reality that human beings are a part of, even those human beings who are cut off from the company and succor of their fellow human beings. Romulus and Remus were raised by a she-wolf, at least for a while, because of the political conditions of their birth, and Romulus himself became the founder of a particular society. Robinson Crusoe ordered his island life and sought a return to society based on his own English upbringing. The Swiss Family Robinson’s orderly life in isolation represented them as a small society, tellingly organized in part because it was Swiss. The lonely young woman of the Island of the Blue Dolphins still operated in her life based upon the ways she learned as part of her previous society. Even Tarzan sought society among animals and was himself embedded, however uncomfortably, as part of English society despite the privations of his childhood. Examples can be repeated indefinitely for how the sociability of mankind has been explored and deeply mined as a rich source of dramatic heft in a story.

As is often the case, the power of the social nature of mankind is simultaneously a source of both vulnerability and strength. That it is a source of vulnerability is something that is learned by every bully and tyrant that seeks to attain power at least in part in order to abuse their fellow man and exploit their own need for society to provide them a means of power over others. The refusal to go along with a given society’s characteristic social evils can lead to serious and drastic consequences for those who live with integrity, including a denial of a social identity and even a threat to survival that results from such social exclusion. Yet we need not see the social aspects of humanity only as something that makes us vulnerable to being taken advantage of by our fellow human beings, although this happens often enough. Simultaneously, it is a source of great strength, in that the social nature of human beings lies at the base of equitable trade and any genuinely philanthropic behavior that seeks to provide aid and comfort to those in need. When we recognize someone’s needs, and our own, our result need not be a desire to exploit that need for our own power, but it can lead us to relate all the more to those around us.

Even people who may feel isolated still leave a large social footprint on this world. Our desires to connect through technology, to bridge the distance of physical and social distance, is testament to the strength of our longings to connect with others even in conditions that are less than favorable. Our desire to live comfortably often carries with it a great deal of connection with others–the goods we consume have supply chains that connect us with a great many other people, and the services we use and provide connect us to many more, sometimes personally. Not all of our connections with other people are of the nature that brings us happiness and joy in life, but there is perhaps a great deal more happiness that could be found in such connections as we all possess if we had the right attitude to reflect on it and act on it.

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Album Review: Aerial

Aerial, by Kate Bush

No one would ever accuse Kate Bush of being a prolific artist. That said, she has always aimed at quality over quantity, and if her artistic production has waned over the course of her career, an album by the artist or even a song, even a song that is already relatively familiar, is something that many people celebrate. And so it is with Aerial, an album that came out a dozen years after he previous album (and was remastered in 2018 with some changes, including a change in male vocals). During the time off the artist did not lose her artistic ambition–this album is a double album at 80 minutes in length–but she did raise her son and take a step back from what was already an increasingly infrequent career as an artist. If Kate Bush still had art she wanted to make, it was clear that she was not at this point in her life ambitious about topping the charts. Does the album stand up compared to her earlier work? Let’s see.

“King Of The Mountain” begins the album with a gorgeous and somewhat austere track that takes a while to kick in with more instrumentation and a sound like being on top of a lonely mountain. “Pi” offers a gentle character study of a gentle but somewhat troubled man before moving into an exploration of the transcendental number itself. “Bertie” offer a gorgeous love song that sounds like it could come from a 16th century madrigal or something equally historical in nature. “Mrs. Bartolozzi” provides another intriguing character study about someone, in this case what seems to be a story about washing machine and swimming. “How To Be Invisible” sounds ghostly and continues an examination of lonely and obscure people, continuing an apparent theme that this album has established so far. “Joanni” offers intriguing production and another story song about a woman who sounds like Joan of Arc dealing with raging medieval battle. “A Coral Room” ends disc one with a spare piano ballad about a mysterious town poetically described and connected to the narrator’s mother and her little brown jug. “Prelude” offers a brief bit of spoken word from a small child set to lovely but spare piano playing. This blends into a “Prologue” that shows the same gentle and spare piano and sweet strings playing behind an optimistic Kate Bush singing in hope. “An Architect’s Dream” offers drums and a subtle bassline and another character study about an artist’s creativity, which is continued by “The Painter’s Link,” which follows the same theme. “Sunset” provides a comparatively lively song about the concern of death and endings, cutting against the dreams of immortality that have filled most of the album. “Aerial Tal” offers a short interlude with a chirping bird. “Somewhere In Between” offers the beauty of going on a high hill, calling back to the album’s opening but with more gentle music and a less harsh and lonely wind and a focus on the beauty that one sees and experiences. “Nocturn” provides a dreamlike song about a dreamlike state of solitude that like much of this album builds up gradually from a very spare beginning. “Aerial” then closes the album with a return to the seashore with nervous and anxious instrumentation behind a song that expresses the narrator’s desire to be on the roof and sees a return of the chirping bird we met earlier.

This album is certainly a concept album with a high degree of internal cohesion. One might almost say that it has almost too much cohesion in the way that the songs blend together and many of them start extremely austerely before picking up as they go along, adding tempo and more instrumentation. There is a sense of purposeful repetition here, not only in that the lyrics of the songs frequently are repeated over and over again, but song titles are repeated here in some fashion, and the album as a whole deals with a certain consistent set of themes. Most of these themes–like the relationship between men and women, between isolation and communication, between memory and life on the one hand and death on the other hand, are themes that have continued throughout Bush’s body of work. There are a lot of beautiful moments on this album, but it is an album that really lacks not only any obvious single, but in a great deal of variety between the songs. If the artist had made one track lasting for more than an hour, she could have hardly made it blend together any better than she does here. Whether or not this album suits the listener depends on whether they like albums that are ambitious in scope but austere and somewhat severe in their execution, with the negative spaces carrying much of the burden of the meaning of the material.

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Tales Of Celebrity Misery And Woe

I may not be the most charitable music listener around. Earlier this evening, as I write this, I just finished listening to a long-unreleased album by country singer LeAnn Rimes, “Whatever We Wanna,” which was recorded in 2006 but only released in 2021 after any audience that wanted to hear confessional mid-2000s pop had long ago moved on to other artists and was not looking for the long-awaited sequel to Rimes’ “Twisted Angel” project. An album placing the artist’s vulnerability and self-destructive behaviors with glossy dance-pop production would not be everyone’s idea of a fantastic album but it is right up my alley, I must admit. Of course, those who know my own taste for bittersweet and melancholy music would not at all be surprised by my fondness for polished production and songs about celebrity misery and woe.

In 1992, as I have written at more length about, former Chicago singer Peter Cetera released his album “World Falling Down,” a largely forgotten adult contemporary album that combined polished production with searing lyrics showing a man in a state of intense personal crisis. Naturally, I have always loved the album. That mix of having music that keeps everything together with a sense of harmony and balance with lyrics that reflect everything falling apart is just the perfect Nathanish mood that I appreciate in music. Perhaps it is not the most praiseworthy mood, but it seems to resonate with a deep and abiding aspect of my own personal heart and mind and spirit.

Later in the 1990s, Christian singer Amy Grant released “Behind The Eyes,” her last album which attempted to reach a pop audience. While afterwards the singer compared the album to her Alanis Morissette “Jagged Little Pill” period, seeing the era found her first marriage falling apart and the singer reflecting on the anguish of having her life fall apart even as she sought to understand what the crisis of her life meant about her character. I do not think that the album is quite as depressed as Grant makes it out to be. It is an honest album about heartbreak but also has a realistic sense of optimism and a hope in a brighter future that the singer would find. By the cheery standards of the singer, though, it is not a happy album, and it was not recorded in a happy place. Not everyone likes to linger on tales of misery and woe, but not everyone is me either.

What is it about celebrity tales of woe and misery that is so compelling to me? I do not think my interest in the subject springs from a sense of envy or hostility to famous people. Rather, I do not think that fame makes the lives of famous people any better. Most people who seek celebrity status are immensely damaged people with a high degree of sensitivity and a lack of self-control and personal discipline. The very act of seeking fame and celebrity indicates something has broken down in what could be a well-ordered soul, as well as a lack of dedication to that which is practical and sensible and likely to lead to lasting contentment in life. It is little wonder when people who have sought to make themselves well-known and well-liked in a world as hateful and broken as our own find that celebrity makes them a target of envious criticism as well as the exposure of their personal vices for the misanthropic entertainment of others. And frequently they are cheated by companies who profit off of their labors but abandon them as soon as they are not worth the trouble.

When artists indulge in their own misery and woe and create work that plumbs the depths of their own divine discontent, what they do is give voice to the larger discontent that exists within this world. When they can give voice to their misery without making their music sound miserable in the process, they provide the listener with a complex listening experience. Those who merely enjoy the vibe will find pleasure and enjoyment in the melodies and harmonies and production elements that indicate that things are going well and under control–at least under control of the producer of the material. Those who pay attention to the lyrics, though, will tend to discover the material is far darker and far more melancholy than first appears to be the case. The result is a tension, if not contradiction, between sounding as if everything is going well while communicating that indeed things are not as well as they may seem. And whether it is a good thing or not, I find that tension to be deeply resonant with my own emotional state.

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