Friday, January 19, 2018

Kant's Objection to the Ontological Argument

(For my MCCC Philosophy of Religion students.)

Oral exam question #3: explain Kant's criticism of the Ontological Argument.

Here are the bullet points.

1. Kant says "exists" (or "being") is not a predicate (= "attribute"). For Kant there are two types of predicates: Logical (analytic) and determining (synthetic). This is important since Anselm's OA requires "actual existence" to be a predicate (attribute) of "greatest possible being."

2. A "logical" or "analytic" predicate analyzes the subject, but adds nothing to the concept of the subject. A "determining" or "synthetic" predicate adds something to the concept of the subject.

3. In a subject-predicate statement, "exists" is the "copula" that connects subject and predicate.

4. If "exists" were a real predicate then we would have the absurd situation that "the real contains more than the merely possible." (Use Kant's $100 example here.)

5. Anselm's Ontological Argument fails because it depends on "actual existence" being a real predicate that adds something to the concept of the subject "God."

6. State Norman Malcolm's response to Kant re. "necessary existence." Malcolm agrees with Kant that "exists" is not a predicate. But Malcolm think Anselm meant, not "existence," but "necessary existence." "Necessary existence" does seem to be a predicate. For example: My wife Linda necessarily exists. This statement seems to make an outrageous claim; viz., that my wife Linda cannot not-exist. It attributes necessary existence to her, and thus seems to function as a predicate or attribute.


Kant’s criticism of the Ontological Argument is that "exists," or "existence," is not a "predicate." By "predicate" we mean "attribute," or "quality."

Anselm's version of the Ontological Argument depends on "existence" being a "great-making attribute." But if "existence" is not an attribute at all, then Anselm's argument seems to fail. This is Kant's criticism. "Exists," Kant says, "is not a predicate."

Consider the form of a subject-predicate statement: S is p. 'S' denotes the subject, 'p' denotes the predicate. For example, John's car is red. "Red" is the predicate, or attribute, of the subject "John's car." "Redness" is predicated of "John's car." Or: "redness" is an attribute of "John's car."

In the statement John's car is red, where do we find "existence?" "Exists" is found, says Kant, in the verb "is." "Is" is the "copula" (connector) that connects subject and predicate. The verb "is," in the statement John's car is red, simply posits the existence of John's red car. And, this adds nothing to our concept (idea) of the subject.

Kant writes: "'Being' is obviously not a real predicate; that is, it is not a concept of something which could be added to the concept of a thing. It is merely the positing of a thing, or of certain determinations, as existing in themselves. Logically, it is merely the copula of a judgment."

What does that mean? Here is an example to illustrate that "exists" (or "being," "is-ness") is not a real attribute or predicate.

Consider this. I'm going to tell you some things about my wife Linda. I'll do this by making a series of subject-predicate statements, predicating attributes of the subject "My wife Linda."

  • My wife Linda is 5'6" tall.
  • My wife Linda has long brown hair.
  • My wife Linda is a sushi-lover.
  • My wife Linda is a piano teacher.
All of these predicates add something to the concept "My wife Linda." But consider this:
  • My wife Linda exists.
That adds nothing to the subject "My wife Linda." Actually, it functions more like a tautology: My existing wife Linda has the attribute of existence. That statement is tautological (redundant), which means the predicate simply repeats the subject.

Try this.

You go for a job interview. The interviewer asks you to describe yourself, which is another way of listing your attributes. You respond:

  • I have computer skills.
  • I graduated from Harvard.
  • I have worked for Steve Jobs as his personal assistant.
  • I invented the iPhone.
The interviewer, his eyes wide open and jaw dropping to the floor, is amazed! Probably, he wants to hire you. But then you open your mouth and say...

"Here's one more thing about myself, one more attribute I have that I want to share with you: I exist."

That was a bad move. Because "exists" is not an attribute. And you just lost the job.

Kant further explains this by saying, "The real contains no more than the merely possible." But if "exists" was a real predicate, then the real would contain more than the possible, but that is absurd.

You say to me, “Please go to the bank and withdraw a hundred dollars.” That is, you have in your mind the idea of one hundred dollars. I go to the bank with that idea in mind and make the withdrawal. But upon making the withdrawal I now have, instead of an idea of a hundred dollars in my mind, an actually existing one hundred dollars in my hand.

Is the concept of a hundred dollars in my mind any different than the actual hundred dollars in my hand? If you answer “Yes,” then is it because the hundred dollars in my hand actually exists? In other words, is “existence” a predicate of the hundred dollars I hold in my hand? If you say “Yes” to this, then the hundred dollars in my hand is different than the hundred dollars in your mind. I will have withdrawn from the bank something different than what you asked me to withdraw. I withdrew something that has an extra “predicate” which your idea did not have.

You are thinking of $100. If we then add that the $100 "exists," in asserting that it exists we add nothing to the concept of the $100. The $100 is the same whether it exists or not; it is the same size, the same weight, the same colour, the same value, etc. The fact that the $100 exists, that the concept-of-$100-in-the-mind is exemplified in the world, does not change anything about the concept-of-$100. Therefore “existence” is not a real, or first-order, predicate.

A real predicate adds something to the concept, which is the subject of the judgment. If the actual $100 has a predicate (“existence”) which the idea of $100 does not have, then they are not the same thing. And the thing I withdrew was not what you had in mind. Which seems absurd. I don't wish to say, "Here is the $100 you were thinking about but it has the extra attribute of "existence."

Kant writes:
"A hundred real dollars do not contain the least coin more than a hundred possible dollars. For as the latter signify the concept, and the former the object and the positing of the object, should the former contain more than the latter, my concept would not, in that case, express the whole object, and would not therefore be an adequate concept of it. My financial position is, however, affected very differently by a hundred real dollars than it is by the mere concept of them (that is, of their possibility). For the object, as it actually exists, is not analytically contained in my concept, but is added to my concept (which is a determination of my state) synthetically; and yet the conceived hundred dollars are not themselves in the least increased through thus acquiring existence outside my concept. . . ."
(By "analytically contained" Kant means a predicate that adds nothing to the concept of the subject, such as in the statement: John the bachelor is not married. A "synthetic" judgment contains a predicate that adds something to the subject, because it is not analytically contained in the subject, such as: John the bachelor is 99 years old.)

Therefore existence is not a predicate. It merely posits the existence of the concept in mind. As Kant puts it, a hundred real dollars contains as much as a hundred imaginary dollars. 

"The real contains no more than the possible."

For Kant to say that something "exists" is to say that the concept of that thing is exemplified in the world. Existence, then, is not a matter of a thing possessing a property, "existence," but of a concept corresponding to something in the world.

Anselm's version of the Ontological Argument, at this point, seems to fail.

Kant writes of this in his Critique of Pure Reason. The relevant passage is found here

Gaunilo's Criticism of Anselm's Ontological Argument

For my MCCC Philosophy of Religion Students. Here is what I want you to be able to say for the oral exams.

Anselm's contemporary Gaunilo thought Anselm was a fool for believing that you could just think of something in your mind, and it would then actually exist in reality.

Gaunilo said, if that's true, then I can think of a great island, and because it is greater to exist in reality than just in the mind, my "greatest island" must exist.

Our objections to Gaunilo are these:

1) Gaunilo misunderstands and misquotes Anselm. Gaunilo writes: "How is the fact that this greater being has been proved to be greater than everything else supposed to show me that it exists in actual fact."

But Anselm is not talking about "a greater being," or a "being greater than everything else," but rather a "greatest possible being". 

2) Even if Gaunilo had correctly understood Anselm's "greatest possible being," there would still be a problem, which is: Contingent things like islands have no intrinsic maximums. For example, you could not think of a "greatest possible number," or a "greatest possible pizza." So, Gaunilo cannot think of of a "greatest possible island."

3) Even if "greatest possible island" was conceivable (which it is not), it would be a subjective thing. For example, my "greatest possible island" would include sushi at every meal with the music of David Hasselhoff playing 24/7. Presumably your greatest possible island would not.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Moving From Self-Hatred to Self-Forgiveness

My backyard - a light at the end of the tree tunnel

There are things in my past that I wish I would have done differently, words I wish I would have spoken, and words I wish I would not have said. I'm thinking of one of my past failures right now. The good news is that I am not hating myself for it. 

If you struggle with self-hatred I recommend Everett Worthington's - Moving Forward: Six Steps to Forgiving Yourself and Breaking Free From the Past. Worthington is Professor of Psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University, and a follower of Jesus.

I can never hear enough about forgiveness. I need it for myself. And I need more wisdom in dispensing it to others.

I meet many who cannot forgive themselves from past failures, whether real or imagined. Un-self-forgiveness is a mental and spiritual assassin. Self-forgiveness rooted in God's great act of forgiveness in Christ is liberating.

Self-forgiveness will free you from guilt. "Sometimes guilt arises over unrealistic expectations and standards of perfection that none of us can achieve. When you are able to forgive yourself, that weight is lifted." (Worthington, p. 45)

Self-forgiveness will free you from self-blame. "Self-forgiveness frees you from the chattering, accusing voice in your head." (Ib., 46)

Self-forgiveness will free you from stress-related illness. "Self-forgiveness can improve your health, and here’s why. Holding on to self-condemnation elevates your stress, which has been associated with a long list of physical and psychological harm." (Ib.)

Self-forgiveness can liberate you from alcohol misuse. "Forgiveness of the self might be, for alcoholics, the most difficult type of forgiveness to achieve. But if they were able to do so, it could help control their drinking." (Ib., p. 47)

Self-forgiveness can liberate you from accusation. "By bringing our sins to God and receiving God’s forgiveness, we can then forgive ourselves and we can rest in the knowledge that the accusations of Satan are groundless. If we forgive ourselves, we can silence the oppressive voice of the enemy." (Ib., 47)

Self-forgiveness provides freedom for flourishing. "By not being so wrapped up in self-condemnation, you can enjoy more pleasurable and positive experiences." (Ib.)

Self-forgiveness provides freedom for focusing on God. "Instead of being wrapped up in condemning yourself for past failures, you can seek God and enjoy that relationship." (Ib.)

Self-forgiveness provides freedom for focusing on others. "Self-forgiveness allows you to focus on others, with the goal of helping to meet their needs." (Ib., p. 48)

Self-forgiveness provides freedom for health. "Self-forgiveness provides energy and vitality. It supplies both a freedom from the past and a forward-thinking orientation that helps you seek the benefits of exercise, a healthy diet, and energetic work." (Ib.)

Self-forgiveness provides freedom for a better quality of life. "Self-forgiveness can matter greatly in enhancing one’s quality of life." (Ib., 50)

Self-forgiveness provides freedom for peace. "People who continue to wrestle with self-blame are unsettled. They find it difficult to exhale and relax. Forgiving yourself will help you live at peace." (Ib.)

Worthington cites empirical studies supporting these conclusions. Why, given the great benefits of self-forgiveness, would anyone choose to wallow in self-condemnation? 
Why is forgiving ourselves so hard? 

Worthington says there are two kinds of self-forgiveness: decisional, and emotional. 

In the first you no longer seek retaliation against yourself. You choose to not punish yourself for past failings. Instead, you choose to value yourself. 

In emotional self-forgiveness you replace negative, unforgiving emotions with positive emotions toward yourself. "It is emotional self-forgiveness that cools the heat of anger in your heart; it’s what Corrie ten Boom referred to as “the temperature of the heart.” The emotions we use to replace negative, unforgiving emotions are empathy, sympathy, compassion, and love for ourselves." (Worthington, p. 52) 

Why are these things so difficult to do?

Worthington cites studies showing that forgiving yourself is different from forgiving others. It is harder to forgive yourself than to forgive others. He writes:

"When you attempt to forgive someone else for an offense, you are adopting the viewpoint of the forgiver. The wrongdoer, of course, is someone other than yourself. However, when you try to forgive yourself, you have to operate from two points of view— both forgiver and wrongdoer. Holding contrasting points of view at the same time is a strain. It is hard to bounce back and forth from one perspective to the other." (Ib., p. 54)

In forgiving someone else we are not with them (for the most part) 24/7. But we are with our own selves  and thoughts all the time. We can't get away from ourselves. This can make forgiving ourselves harder than forgiving others.

Worthington says self-forgiveness is harder because we have "insider information"; i.e., we have information about who we really are. "The fact is, we know too much about ourselves. We know that we are capable of repeating the same wrong even when we know how hurtful it is. We also know that, as much as we profess love for God, we are like Paul who wrote: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7: 15). That is, we know the weakness of our will to do the right thing." (Ib., 55)

Self-forgiveness is different and in some ways harder than other-forgiveness because:

1. We live with ourselves 24/7. That is, we live constantly with the one who has hurt us, which is us.

2. We have insider information about our own self that we cannot have when it comes to others.

How, then, can we forgive ourselves? Worthington gives Six Steps to Self-forgiveness. They are: 

STEP 1 - Receive God's Forgiveness

  • Go to God for understanding (the task is too big to handle alone)
  • Go to God with regret, remorse, and repentance

STEP 2 - Repair Relationships

  • Take responsibility (you are not the model citizen you'd like to be)
  • Confess to any you have hurt (admitting you're in the wrong goes far in turning things around)
  • Make amends through responsible compassion (thinking of others can help you make things right)

STEP 3 - Rethink Ruminations

  • It's not necessarily helpful to wrestle with the Almighty
  • Adjust perfectionistic standards and unrealistic expectations (Worthington shows how to do this. Getting real about yourself moves the process forward.)
STEP 4 - REACH Emotional Self-forgiveness

  • Worthington shows how to move from saying it to feeling it, using the acronym REACH:

1. Recall the hurt. 
2. Empathize with yourself by considering the reasons that you disappointed yourself. 
3. Give yourself the same Altruistic gift you would give other people— understanding and forgiving. 
4. Commit to the emotional self-forgiveness that you experience in order to … 
5. Hold on to self-forgiveness if you ever doubt that you have forgiven yourself. (207)

STEP 5 - Rebuild Self-acceptance

  • Live in the truth that you are deeply flawed and also valuable beyond belief
STEP 6 - Resolve to Live Virtuously
  • Live virtuously, but give yourself room to fail
And through it all, remember Galatians 5:1 - "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free."

Cell Phones are Banned in My Classes

No automatic alt text available.
Warren Dunes State Park (Michigan)

This semester I am teaching one class - Philosophy of Religion - at MCCC. On my syllabus I put a skull and crossbones, with the words: No texting or laptops allowed in this class! I am a teacher. I want my students to learn the material. They will not learn it while multitasking with their cell phones.

Multitasking is the enemy of excellence. While doing a two year degree in music theory I was required to learn basic piano. I did not have a piano, so I went to the practice rooms in the music building. Have you ever seen a music practice room? It has no windows, bare walls, no pictures, no media, just a piano and piano bench. Why so austere? Because to learn piano all distractions must be removed. Serious piano players know this, and want it. They understand that distractions lead to mediocrity.

This is how it is with anything, to include relationships. Even our relationship with God.

So far, in my class, students have been respectful, and have stowed their cell phones away. (Thank you!) I consider this a minor miracle, since a growing number of students are addicted to their cell phones. They are neurally incapable of existing with them. Many students do not know what to do if they cannot text while in class. This feels like a violation of their human rights. My response is: no one can learn philosophy, or anything, while multitasking. 

The beast every teacher today fights against is cell phone addiction. This is addiction, not rebellion. Many have become "behavioral addicts."

Check yourself here. Perhaps this is you. For one of the best explanations of this, see NYU professor Adam Alter's Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked. Alter writes:

"One recent study suggested that up to 40 percent of the population suffers from some form of Internet-based addiction, whether to email, gaming, or porn. Another found that 48 percent of its sample of U.S. university students were “Internet addicts,” and another 40 percent were borderline or potential addicts. [That's 88%!] When asked to discuss their interactions with the Internet, most of the students gravitated toward negative consequences, explaining that their work, relationship, and family lives were poorer because they spent too much time online." (Kindle Locations 340-344) 

Cell phone addicts are "nomophobic." This is a term researchers have invented to describe the fear of being without mobile phone contact ("no-mobile-phobia"; see Alter, Kindle Location 207). Nomophobics suffer the "loss of ability to choose freely whether to stop or continue the behavior (loss of control) and [the] experience of behavior-related adverse consequences." (Alter, Kindle Locations 333-334) 

One adverse consequence is diminished cognitive ability. Nicholas Carr writes:

"A pair of Cornell researchers divided a class of students into two groups. One group was allowed to surf the Web while listening to a lecture. A log of their activity showed that they looked at sites related to the lecture's content but also visited unrelated sites, checked their e-mail, went shopping, watched videos, and did all the other things that people do online. The second group heard the identical lecture but had to keep their laptops shut. Immediately afterward, both groups took a test measuring how well they could recall the information from the lecture. The surfers, the researchers report, "performed significantly poorer on immediate measures of memory for the to-be-learned content." It didn't matter, moreover, whether they surfed information related to the lecture or completely unrelated content - they all performed poorly. When the researchers repeated the experiment with another class, the results were the same." (Carr, The Shallows, Kindle, 2,236-43)

Alter says we have become the "United States of Nomophobia." (Alter, Kindle Location 357) This would make us the fourth most populous country in the world, after China, India, and the United States. He writes:

"46 percent of people say they couldn’t bear to live without their smartphones (some would rather suffer physical injury than an injury to their phones)...  
... Up to 59 percent of people say they’re dependent on social media sites and that their reliance on these sites ultimately makes them unhappy. Of that group, half say they need to check those sites at least once an hour. After an hour, they are anxious, agitated, and incapable of concentrating. 
...Meanwhile, in 2015, there were 280 million smartphone addicts.
... Human attention is dwindling." (Kindle Locations 352-359).

Are you still here?

My cell phone is my shepherd,
I shall continuously want.
It makes me lie down with it,
it leads me beside restless waters,

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

My Book Leading the Presence-Driven Church Reviewed

My book Leading the Presence-Driven Church is available in paperback, Kindle, and hardcover.

This is a book about the primacy and centrality of God and his unsurpassable presence, and what this means for the Church. The presence of God is the core, the sine qua non, of mere Christianity. God’s presence is what is needed to win the day over the present powers of darkness. This book shows what it means for a church to be presence-driven, and what leadership looks like in the presence-driven church.

Bob Myers reviewed my book and writes (thank you Bob!):

"I am very fortunate. God has given me enough of a taste of his presence and power in my life that I deeply yearn for more. As a pastor, there is no greater desire that I have for my church than for my people to experience the powerful presence of Christ in our life together. Along with experiencing God in my own life, that fire has been often flamed by reading prophetic books such as A.W. Tozer’s The Pursuit of God and Knowledge of the Holy. For me, the deep yearning began with Tozer, but other authors, such as Brother Lawrence, Ruth Haley Barton, Dallas Willard, Henri Nouwen, and many others have kept me unsatisfied with my own spiritual lethargy and that of the wonderful people I’ve served in ministry.

I found John Piippo’s book, Leading the Presence-Driven Church, to be a blowtorch that has reignited the deep yearning that I have for God’s presence in my life and in the life of my church. It’s that good. I’ve been following John’s blog for many years and I’m so glad that he has finally gotten his book published.

Piippo’s philosophy, theology, and methodology are not just words. He lives it. Even more, his church lives it, too. Perhaps that is why this book is so compelling. It resonates with every Christian who years to know Christ on a deeper experiential level. The author not only offers an understanding and a practical pathway towards “leading a presence-driven church,” but numerous personal anecdotes are given to illustrate the power and effectiveness of what he is teaching in the book.

Not every church will be like the author’s. Few will. The principles in Presence-Driven Church must be contextualized. I resonate deeply with his theology, passion, and most of his methodology. Some of what he is proposing as far as approach, I don’t necessarily agree with. My gifts tend toward bringing meaning and passion to a traditionally ordered corporate worship service. I’m of a more “liturgical” bent. But I can also envision a good deal of what Piippo prescribes and describes in this book. I believe that corporate worship is engaging with God as we rehearse His Story. If he doesn’t show up, then why bother? I’m convinced that God would have so much more for most of us as we gather in worship each week. Piippo’s book is an effort to help churches discover and release the power of God’s presence. It is my hope that the book may be a catalyst of renewal and real spiritual movement in my church and many others. God knows. We need it.

Pastors who yearn for God to manifest Himself in their churches should read this book and then invite sympathetic leaders in their church to join them in the journey. The book is not only for pastors; all those who yearn for God’s presence in their church should get this book and, in one of Piippo’s favorite sayings, “slow-cook it” together with others of like spirit."

Why People Try to Control Others

Image may contain: ocean, sky, twilight, cloud, outdoor, water and nature
South Haven (Michigan) lighthouse

I meet a lot of control freaks and controlees. Many marriages are the coming together of these anti-types. Every control freak needs a controlee, and vice versa. I call these "master/slave" marriages.

Most people, if not all, struggle with control issues. I have, and at times still do. The Control vs. Trust polarity is an ontological reality; i.e., it lies at the base of human personhood. 

"Control" is the antithesis of "trust." Trust is huge in the Jesus-life, and life in general, since we control so very, very little.

Keith Miller writes: "control is the major factor in destroying intimate relationships." (Compelled to Control: Recovering Intimacy in Broken Relationships., p. 7) Why do we do this? Why try to control others when we can't control our own selves, and are often out of control? Miller writes:

"The fear of being revealed as a failure, as not being "enough" somehow, is a primary feeling that leads to the compulsion to control other people. When we were children, the fear of being inadequate and shameful was tied to our terror of being deserted or rejected and we had little control over getting what we needed. To counteract that basic terror, we have evidently been trying all our lives in various ways to "get control" of life. This includes controlling other people." (14)

A controlling person is an un-free person. Insecurity is the emblem of control. I like the way Richard Foster once put this: God wants to free us from the terrible burden of always having to get our own way. "Walking in freedom" and "controlling other people" ("always getting our own way") are oppositional. 

The control freak crushes the spirit of the other person, who wears a sign saying, 'Crush me." "I'm in control of you"/"Control me" - "I'm in control of you"/"Control me" -  this is the cycle that destroys marriages and relationships. The antidote is trust. Because where trust is, control is not. 

Begin breaking free by learning trust in God. Pray to be less controlling than you now are. Pray to be less controlled by others than you now are. Trust God even when you don't trust other people. 

Go basic, repeating and praying Proverbs 3:5-6:

Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
    don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
    he’s the one who will keep you on track.
Don’t assume that you know it all.
    Run to God! Run from evil! (The Message)

To trust God when around distrustful people is an experiential act of freedom. God can use you to be the catalyst that heals others of their fear of not measuring up.

How to Forgive Yourself

My feet, in Hockeytown Restaurant, Detroit

I'm thinking again of the inmate at Mansfield (Ohio) State Correctional Center who asked me to pray for him because he could not forgive himself for killing his parents.

One reason that request affected me so much is that I have, in my own moral and spiritual failure, sometimes felt unable to forgive myself. I meet many people plagued by the hell-designed incapacity to self-forgive. How can we do this?

Everett Worthington says that "repentance and humility are at the core of breaking free from self-blame." (Worthington, Moving Forward: Six Steps to Forgiving Yourself and Breaking Free from the Past, p. 76) To be repentant and humble people need to do three things:

  1. Accept responsibility for their wrongdoing.
  2. Feel and show regret and remorse for what they did.
  3. Realize that making up for the wrongdoing and repairing the relationships damaged by the wrongdoing is going to be costly in time, effort, and self-sacrifice. (In Ib., 77)
Failure to accept responsibility "shoots forgiveness in the foot - and makes it difficult for the one we harmed to forgive us as well." (Ib.)

Conversely, three things render self-forgiveness impossible:
  1. Acting like a victim, and blaming others for your wrongdoing.
  2. Showing little or no remorse for what you did.
  3. Expecting that repairing the damaged relationships will be a quick fix (which often leads to blaming others for their "inability to forgive"). (Like: "Aren't you over this yet?")
Worthington's book is one of the best books on self-forgiveness there is.

My two books are:

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Seminar On the Presence-Driven Church - Feb. 11, 18, & 25


*Three sessions - Feb. 11, 18, & 25. 

5 – 6:30 PM. 

Redeemer Fellowship Church. Monroe, MI.

Open to everyone.

Child care provided. (Please notify me if you would like child care - 

I will teach my new book, Leading the Presence-Driven Church, in three sessions. 

For the first session read chapters 1, 2, and 3. 

If you don’t have the book please come anyway. I’ll be giving handouts. 

And, invite any friends who might be interested in a church that is presence-driven!

*Note the date change. 

The Power of Music to Fuel the Revolution

(I get to lead worship this Sunday at Redeemer!)

This morning I'm going to set up my laptop and work and pray and study on this  Sunday's sermon, "The Missional Church and Freedom From the Spirit of Control." I'll place my Bose Soundlink Mini on my desk, and channel music through my cell phone.

At the top of my listening choice for writing is Mark Isham's cd "Pure Mark Isham." I love this music!

I listen to a lot of minimalism - the subtle layering of Steve Reich, Jeroen van Veen, Philip Glass, Eric Satie. And Alexandre Desplat. Desplat's sound track to the movie "Tree of Life" is on my top ten list of music that moves me.

And Arvo Pärt. His music haunts me. It makes me cry. I listen to him when I need a metaphysical readjusting.

I can barely listen to Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings." Yet I must.

Gregorian chant. For many years I took Gregorian Chant into the forests to pray. Now, whenever I listen to it, my soul is transported to praying in the woods.

The solo piano work of Bach artists Andres Schiff and Glenn Gould.

I've listened a lot to Aphex Twin, and similar artists.

The amazing Bela Fleck. (I especially like "Perpetual Motion.")

Jeremy Begbie, in Resounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music, writes of the power of music to frame worldviews. I'm now thinking of when I was a campus pastor at Michigan State University, and the massive offensive lineman Tony Mandarich was there. Mandarich used to listen to Guns 'N Roses music before he ran onto the field to play the game. That music empowered him.

I was listening to Tracy Chapman's incredible "Revolution" song recently, and felt like running into the streets to change the world.

This summer I've listened again to my favorite lyricist, Bruce Cockburn. His passionate lyrics and melodies interpret nature and life for me. I used to cover "All the Diamonds," the best conversion song I have ever heard. And then there is "What About the Bond?", the best musical apologetic for marriage ever written.

As a musician myself, I have no doubt that music has "power." Begbie writes that "few doubt that music can call forth the deepest things of the human spirit and affect behavior at the most profound levels. Anyone who has parented a teenager will not need to be told this - study after stufy has shown that music often plays a pivotal part in the formation of young people's identity, self-image, and patterns of behavior." (15-16)

I wrote a song that was sung at my wedding. I had it recorded, because I would not have been able to sing it to Linda on that day without totally losing it. (It was picked up by some Christian artists and recorded.)

Music relieves factory workers of boredom and fatigue, "warriors forget their fear and rush into battle, and the mentally ill are helped to health." (16)

Music fuels revolutions. Begbie writes:

"Polish sacred music played a key role in the solidarities that eventually overturned communism. It is small wonder that some totalitarian regimes have been extremely nervous about music (the Taliban administration in Afghanistan sought to ban virtually all music because of its perceived social dangers) and that others have unashamedly harnessed it precisely because of its influence (the Nazis, for example). Any Christian who cares about the good of human society ought to be concerned with what kind of power music might possess and how such power might be used responsibly." (16)

After my son David died, listening to U2's "One Tree Hill" was part of my healing.

For the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, "the slow movement from Brahms' third Quartet pulled him back from the brink of suicide." (16)

Sting has said, music "saved my life. It saved my sanity." (16)

"Music," wrote George Steiner, is "a preferred medium for expressing religious meaning." (16) Steiner says:

"Music and the metaphysical, in the root sense of that term, music and religious feeling, have been virtually inseparable. It is in and through music that we are most immediately in the presence of the logically, of the verbally inexpressible but wholly palpable energy in being that communicates to our senses and to our reflection what little we can grasp of the naked wonder of life... It has long been, it continues to be, the unwritten theology of those who lack or reject any formal creed." (In Begbie, 16-17)

Begbie cites, for example, "the fierce crucifixion symphonies of James MacMillan." (17) My soul bleeds out as I listen to MacMillan's "Christus Vincet," or his "Eli, Eli, Lama Sabachtani?" (Both songs are on his "7 Last Words From the Cross.") Begbie gives us six pages on MacMillan. (176-182)

I could barely listen to Glen Hansard's "Once" soundtrack, since I was playing it at the time our dog So-Fee had to be put down.

And then there's the thing about worship. Over the past 40 years as a Jesus-follower there have been only a few worship songs (among bazillions of them) that have simultaneously broken and elevated my heart before God. When it happens, when it hits, it's non-discursive experience time. Such music is, for me, anointed by the Spirit of God, and speaks to me in ways that sermons and books cannot. Sometimes it heals. Sometimes, in and through and by it, I see sub specie aeternitatis.

Bono & U2 wrote "One Tree Hill" in honor of their friend Greg Carroll who died in a motorcycle accident. In the recording studio Bono felt he could only do one take of the song. It was too emotional, too power-filled, for him to do it again. Now U2 is doing it on tour. Will they make it through that song without breaking down?

Who will write the music that will fuel the revolution?