Equipping followers of Christ to engage in their everyday work as the work of God, so workplaces are invigorated, communities flourish and culture is renewed to the honor and glory of the Lord.

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Friday, January 27, 2012

I Would Be A Muslim

Earlier this month I was in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, in West Africa, teaching teachers at Dakar Academy, a remarkable school with a dedicated staff and extraordinary students, living under harsh desert conditions. The school was started fifty years ago to provide Christian education for children of missionaries. Today, other expatriates in Dakar send their children to Dakar Academy also, including the US Ambassador to Senegal.

Dakar reminded me that if Jesus had never been born, I would be a Muslim, most likely. And probably you would be too.

Why do I say this? Because shortly after the death of Mohammad in 632 A.D., Muslim forces spread Islam westward from Saudi Arabia across North and West Africa (which explains why Senegal is about 90% Muslim today), and later set their sights on Europe. I say Muslim "forces," because if the "infidels" did not convert, they could find their heads being detached from their bodies.

The European expansion of Islam was stopped at the gates of Vienna by Jan Sobieski, King of Poland, who answered the call of Pope Innocent XI to save the city and the rest of Central Europe. Sobieski arrived with an army of 40,000 Poles, Germans and Austrians on the evening of September 11, 1683. Many think Osama Bin Laden's choice of September 11 for his attack on the United States was no coincidence. He was sending a message to us and to the West: "We're baaaaAAAAAAAaack!" 

If Islamic forces had not been repelled at the Battle of Vienna, in response to the Pope's call [and funding], my great-great-great-great grandparents in Germany would most likely have been Muslim [had they lived]. If Christ had not been born, not only would Joy To The World have never been written, and Bach would have had a different profession, and Johnny Cash would not have recorded HurtI dare say all of Europe, perhaps the entire Western Hemisphere, would be taking Fridays off today, rather than Sundays. Think what this would mean for you, your family and for history.      

While in Dakar, I was also reminded of how one dedicated follower of Christ changed the course of history through a different kind of force: courageous Christian love. I was reminded of the work of William Wilberforce, member of British Parliament, some 200 years ago. What connection did I make with Wilberforce in Dakar?

Next: The Door of No Return.  

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Friday, January 20, 2012

I Could Feel Papa Bach Looking Over My Shoulder

While taking music theory classes as an undergraduate student at the University of Washington in the late '60's, I was repeatedly struck by the prominent place given to Johann Sebastian Bach. When it comes to the musical "rules of the road" for composition, such as voicing and chord progression, the way J.S. Bach did it was just plain right. Not because he declared it to be so, but because it just plain was. Through his work, Bach provided the gold standard for musical composition, blazing a trail and setting the course for all Western music to follow. I could feel Papa Bach looking over my shoulder at each exam.

Bach's "Well Tempered Clavier" solidified the major-minor system we take for granted in Western music. He created the "well-tempered scale," which allowed musicians to begin a scale from any note on a keyboard, which was not possible before Bach. His development of the musical form called the "fugue" provided a foundation for all classical music. Some 200 years after Bach, when the French Impressionist composer Maurice Ravel complained that Debussy was stealing his musical ideas, Debussy replied, "Bach has said all there is to say in music. The rest of us only say it in different forms.”

Bach (born the same year as George Fredric Handel, in 1685), is a prime example of what it means to do one's work "wholeheartely unto the Lord," as the Bible puts it in Colossians 3:23. Bach consciously and intentionally wrote all his music to the glory of Jesus Christ, and literally left this message on the musical pages he penned. Historians can't miss it. That's because Bach left letters such as "S.D.G." and "J.J." throughout his manuscripts. S.D.G. was shorthand for Soli Deo Gloria, Latin for "Solely to the glory of God," and J.J. was an abbreviation for Jesu Juban, which means "Help me, Jesus." Bach dedicated many of his compositions "I.N.J.," which means In Nomine Jesu, "In the name of Jesus."

Why did the West produce Bach, and not the East, or Africa, or the Aztecs? It's because Bach viewed his work through the incomparable grid of a biblical worldview, and approached his work as an outworking of that unique belief system. A belief system that saw the world in ways only possible through the Bible, and the life and resurrection of Christ.

Worldview matters.



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Friday, January 13, 2012

You Can Thank A Christian Monk

One can tell a lot about a worldview by the kind of music it produces.

The Buddhist worldview, for example, sees life as a cycle of suffering. This suffering is caused by desire. Salvation, for the serious-minded Buddhist, is escape from the cycle of suffering through the extinction of desire, and detachment from this world. A song like Joy To The World is not something you would hear in a Buddhist temple. Life is not something to sing about. There is no God to thank and praise. Creation is not something to celebrate. The closest thing to music developed by Buddhist monks, historically, would be a single-note drone. It helps. [Some Buddhists now incorporate Western-style music into their practice, but this is a relatively recent phenomenon, introduced by Westerners converting to Buddhism.]

If you visit any Muslim mosque, you will not see an organ or piano. No orchestra will be heard. Not even an acoustic guitar. Most devout followers of Mohammad believe music is heram, which means "illegitimate." Some make an exception for certain sacred “songs,” which sound more like non-melodic chants. [Again, many Westernized Muslims are not as strict, but historically, Islam is neither a melody nor harmony-producing worldview.] 

We take melody and harmony for granted. But Western music did not spring from a vacuum. Nor was it a chance happening. It came out of a worldview that saw music as a means of praise for an Almighty God who dresses flowers with colors a King's robe cannot match, and relates to humans in mindful and loving ways. It's a worldview that employs music as a celebration of joy and hope.

Western music came out of Christian worship that birthed new melodies—and harmony. Single-voice melody called “Plainsong” [notably Gregorian Chant] is believed to have originated in the 3rd century by followers of Christ in worship. In the 9th century, Plainsong developed two-voice melody, and eventually polyphony [multi-voice music] emerged. From this, in due course, came J.S. Bach and the musical tradition we call “Western music.” [That is, the music of “Western civilization.” Yes, it includes, but is not limited to, the music of Gene Autry and Johnny Cash.]

The next time you download that favorite song from i-Tunes, you can thank a Christian monk. Better yet, thank the living God, and think about what this world would be like if Christ had never been born--or resurrected.

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Friday, January 6, 2012

Elvis Presley Could Not Have Recorded You Ain't Nothin' But A Hound Dog

Having just passed through December, you may have seen the Frank Capra film, It's A Wonderful Life. The 1946 classic has become a Christmas tradition, rivaling eggnog and mistletoe. In the story, an "ordinary" man named George Bailey runs an "ordinary" building and loan company in the "ordinary" town of Bedford Falls.

Life goes along in an "ordinary" way until the Bailey Building and Loan Company falls into serious financial straits, through no fault of George. He goes into a state of depression, and tries to take his own life--but fails. In despair, he says, "I wish I'd never been born."

An extraordinary angel grants his wish, and we all find out what Bedford Falls would have been like if George had never been born. We discover that through the choices of an "ordinary" man who repeatedly put others above his own dreams and desires, the culture and history of an entire town was radically affected.

In the latest issue of The Journal, published by Summit Ministries, the lead article highlights a similar, yet far more profound, question: What if Jesus Had Never Been Born? The article references the book by the same title, by Jerry Newcombe and D. James Kennedy.

The answer to that question has all the elements of a great film. Christmas would never be, Handel's Messiah would not have been written, the video I mentioned last week would not have been done by the 5th graders of Kuinerrarmiut Elitnaurviat school, and It's A Wonderful Life itself would never have been filmed, because it was built around a simple Christmas card message that came to Frank Capra's attention. But this only scratches the surface.

What do we take for granted that would not be here apart from the life of Christ? What direction would Western history have gone? What would our world look like? Feel like? Sound like?

As a music major at the University of Washington, I took two years of music theory, along with a lot of music history. What I learned was, if Jesus had never been born, Western music would not have developed the way it did. Without the groundwork laid by Gregorian chanters (Christian monks) and Johann Sebastian Bach, Elvis Presley could not have recorded You Ain't Nothin' But A Hound Dog.

I'll continue next week.

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