Monday Morning Music Ministry

Start Your Week with a Spiritual Song in Your Heart

The Nature of Human Nature

1-11-16

Solomon, who seldom got things wrong, wrote, “There is nothing new under the sun,” in Ecclesiastes. The French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr wrote, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” – the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The subject of such aphorisms, and much of the world’s wise sayings, is not, say, the weather, or taste in fashion. It is human nature.

We humans, most of us, have shinier toys, and live in somewhat more comfortable homes, than of generations ago; and eat more food, or in more variety, than did our ancestors.

Yet we still bash each other’s heads in at every opportunity: the last century was the bloodiest in world history. We still get sick and die, and in general terms plagues and poxes merely have been replaced by heart conditions and cancers. And stress, and psychological disorders, and addictions – the demons of the 21st century.

We complain about the same things that the ancients did. I am reminded that Mark Twain said, “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody ever does anything about it.” It is probably true that the early Egyptians and Chinese and Athenians and Romans and Persians and Mayans complained about their bosses, spouses, landlords, scheduled events, children, shoddy footwear, and mothers-in-law.

And when human nature got more serious about things… well, there always has been cheating and jealousy and theft and lying and murder. Pride and arrogance. And, more constant than any of these things, brokenness, hurt, the need for forgiveness. The need for a Savior.

God provided that Savior, and He inspired love and forgiveness, sacrifice and charity; all in precious scant supply now as forever, thanks, once again, to the fact of human nature.

Recently it occurred to me that we have scarcely progressed from the essential afflictions of our distant ancestors in another important manner. I love these revelations, because I maintain that the human race requires periodic lessons in humility. In important things, and in the many trivial things that are the mortar of the important things. These wake-up calls can even be amusing, but are wake-up calls nonetheless.

Many of us consider the “cult of celebrity” a normative cancer. You know: movie stars, singers, and sport stars vs heroes. Skewed standards. Truly this is a contemporary phenomenon, because protean antecedents of our times’ celebrities – painters, composers, poets, artists – often dedicated their work to God and were fulfilled by serving Him. “Less of me; more of Him.” In researching my biography of Johann Sebastian Bach, I continually was struck by how utterly humble he was about his work, his accomplishments, his “celebrity,” in contradistinction to his God.

When we think we in America have been liberated from the trappings of royalty, repressive social and economic systems, and checks against free thought, is when we swindle ourselves most extravagantly, however. A very common denominator illustrates this the best.

We frequently hear complaints from, say, sports fans about ticket prices and athletes’ salaries. In the proverbial next breath the same fans often admire those salaries (“hey, if the owners didn’t have the money, they couldn’t pay it, right?”). Of course, owners – just like shop or factory bosses faced with higher labor costs – pass it along to the consumers. In sports, fans themselves pay those obscene players’ salaries by accepting higher prices for cars and candy bars and shaving creams that sponsor the games. Ticket prices for cold, hard seats. And stratospheric fees, parking costs, merchandise, and absurd prices for hot dogs, popcorn, and drinks.

The same with concert tickets, apparel festooned with logos, and advertised items hawked by celebrities paid millions to sell them to us gullible consumers. Little different than “tributes” paid to robber barons in the Middle Ages. Except that we willingly put these exalted peoples’ feet on our heads. We have thrown off royalty – oh, yeah? look at the faces on supermarket tabloids. We do them honor; we practically worship them. Plus ça change…

Compounding our foolishness, we are supremely inconsistent. Half of the people in America grouse about oil company profits – usually citing income, not profits – and ignoring research, development, costs of operation and such. In contrast, I have heard nobody offer anything other than admiring whistles over George Lucas’s $4-billion sale of the Star Wars franchise. Who do we think is funding that crazy purchase?

Neither any resentment, ever, of the rapid and mammoth wealth accumulated by Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. “Oh, but they made things that people need.” Yes. Like… oil products and gasoline?

Why do people hate – yes, hate – the CEOs whom Michael Moore tells us to hate – “oh! those big houses!” – but have no problems with actors being paid $20-million and more per film? Most of the money paid at the gas pump goes to government taxes, not the gasoline or research or development or executives’ salaries. And a portion of every movie ticket is obeisance to the glamorous stars. In effect, a celebrity tax. Few complaints.

These are only a few reality-checks about our value systems. And, as I said, some reminders that human nature has not changed that much.

Returning to the spiritual aspect of our lives, more important than any of this. We think we have graduated from a society where highwaymen once lurked behind trees, whereas a multitude of internet pirates lurk behind our computer screens today. Wall-street cheats. Our jails more crowded than ever. Nothing new under the sun.

No, in God’s world we need to remember the old days, good or bad, by better or worse standards.

But there were times in human history when the vast majority of artists and writers and scientists acknowledged God as behind everything, the Maker and Redeemer. And they sought to honor Him in all they did. Common people toiled and sometimes suffered, but always consoled themselves in the ministrations of the Holy Spirit. Communities were built around churches, and the Word was central to everyone’s lives. Prayers were lifted daily – often continually throughout the day – and church attendance was weekly, or sometimes daily. Jesus was at the center of peoples’ lives, in all classes, in villages, towns, and cities.

But we know better in the 21st century. We are smarter – smart enough to dismiss God from our lives. We are happier – at least we pay more for things that promise to make us happy. We live more comfortable lives – if we would slow down for a moment to enjoy them once in a while. Our religion, as a society, is something we are so comfortable with that we don’t feel the need to “force” it on others… even our children.

Maybe the French got it wrong. The more things change, it might be that the worse they become. Is there anything new under the sun? Well… we still need a Savior.

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Some people think that the greatest creation of Franz Josef Haydn was not one of his 104 symphonies; or a string quartet, the genre he molded; or the mighty oratorio The Creation. Here is his Mass For Troubled Times, an astonishing, stirring, church piece, one of 14 masses he wrote. We live in troubled times, no less than his 1800 Vienna. Let it minister to you – traditional Latin words, in Kyrie; Gloria; Qui Tollis; Credo; Quoniam; Sanctus; Et Incantus Est; Et Resurrexit; Sanctus; Benedictus; Agnus Dei; Dona Nobis Pacem. Conducted by Grete Pedersen in a magnificent Oslo church.

Click: Mass for Troubled Times

When Missing Your Father Is Sometimes a Good Thing

6-20-11

Theodore Roosevelt, about whom I currently am writing a biography, began his own autobiography – the story of a crowded life and successful careers – with the sentence “My father was the best man I ever knew.”

Surely, no man could desire a better epitaph. Such an assessment by one’s children is worth more to one’s soul than material success or inventories of accumulations. Even the plaudits of peers or hoped-for “posterity” are fickle and, in the end, worthless. Fathers who have earned the loving respect of children do not need such things; and without the sincere regard of one’s children, other things seem meaningless.

These are universal truths. It matters little whether you meditate on them from the perspective of being a father or being a son or daughter; whether your father has passed on or is still with you. I believe I can say without fear of contradiction that if you are reading this, you have a father. And let’s say that you cannot quite quote Theodore Roosevelt about your own dad, think for a second about words attributed to Mark Twain: “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to be around him. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

There is, in the Bible, a concept called the “Scarlet Thread of Redemption,” where the person, and the work, of Christ, is seen in countless prophecies, references, allusions, allegories, types, numerologies, before His coming, apart from His immediate incarnation. So it is – or should be – with our families, and our fathers. We cannot be free of examples and influences, words and advice. We cannot even escape what every generation of human history but our own has believed in: bloodlines, tendencies, inherited talents. “We are our fathers’ children” is meant to convey the inevitable patrimonies we inherit.

In the rare and sorry cases where fathers are not the role models we wish for – like some Dickens characters – it is still wise for us to learn and know about our families’ pasts. For correction, for reproach, as curatives. In my own case, I can state a variation on TR’s tribute: my own father was the best friend I ever had. Every project I do, I wonder how he would like it; every week, I start to reach for the phone to share something he would find interesting. But he has been gone for more than a dozen years.

But this is not about my father, or me as a father; or your father; or – stick with me – even on Father’s Day, any mortal fathers. God did not put any qualifiers on the Commandment. “Honor your father and your mother.” Nothing about “if” this or that; or “after” they have proven themselves. Think of another famous Father in the Bible – remember when God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac: a father should sacrifice his son??? God intervened, of course, when Abraham showed his obedience, and then our minds rush forward – along the Golden Thread of Fatherhood – and realize that we had a picture of our Heavenly Father willing to sacrifice for the sake of history’s children, all of us, uncountable numbers except to Him, “for He so loved the world.”

As good a man, as good a friend, as we have in this world; or try ourselves to be, or ever hope to be, is nothing compared to the love of Father God. In this regard, every day of the year should be FATHER’S Day. And at the end of our days, if our children can say (doubly paraphrasing), “Well done, good and faithful father,” then we are blessed indeed.

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I have chosen a memorable and beautiful song, “Going Home,” to illustrate this message. It has been a Negro spiritual, hymn, and folk song; its tune is taken from, of all things, Antonin Dvorak’s 9th Symphony (which, in turn, had relied on American folk melodies). Clearly, it sings of death… but in the context of that precious tradition I spoke of, of family-generations not being separate things, but close parts. One day we shall not only share eternal life, but be reunited with mother and father who, the song says, “are waiting there; expecting us.” The performance is by the astonishingly impressive London boys’ choir called Libera. This will move you.

Click: Going Home

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About The Author

... Rick Marschall is the author of 74 books and hundreds of magazine articles in many fields, from popular culture (Bostonia magazine called him "perhaps America's foremost authority on popular culture") to history and criticism; country music; television history; biography; and children's books. He is a former political cartoonist, editor of Marvel Comics, and writer for Disney comics. For 10 years he has been active in the Christian field, writing devotionals and magazine articles; he was co-author of "The Secret Revealed" with Dr Jim Garlow. His biography of Johann Sebastian Bach for the “Christian Encounters” series (Thomas Nelson) was released in April, 2011. Read More