Aesthetic Education; Understanding Scripture

October 9th, 2010

Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;

in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the LORD and shun evil.

This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.

Honor the LORD with your wealth,
with the firstfruits of all your crops;

then your barns will be filled to overflowing,
and your vats will brim over with new wine.

My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline
and do not resent his rebuke,

because the LORD disciplines those he loves,
as a father the son he delights in.

Blessed is the man who finds wisdom,
the man who gains understanding,

for she is more profitable than silver
and yields better returns than gold.

She is more precious than rubies;
nothing you desire can compare with her.

Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honor.

Her ways are pleasant ways,
and all her paths are peace.

She is a tree of life to those who embrace her;
those who lay hold of her will be blessed.

By wisdom the LORD laid the earth’s foundations,
by understanding he set the heavens in place;

by his knowledge the deeps were divided,
and the clouds let drop the dew.

My son, preserve sound judgment and discernment,
do not let them out of your sight;

they will be life for you,
an ornament to grace your neck.

Then you will go on your way in safety,
and your foot will not stumble;

when you lie down, you will not be afraid;
when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.

-Proverbs 3:5-24 NIV

After I read these beautiful words I looked out over the hay field to the trees surrounding it and observed the wispy clouds that seemed to envelop the very essence of all that was in my purview.  “By wisdom the LORD laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place.”  The simple experience enthralled me so much because perceiving so many wonderful things that fit together so perfectly was the very act of experiencing the wisdom of God.  Looking at the scene, thinking about what I had just read, and comparing it to the condition of my own heart was enough to be able to put that moment into an eternal context and dwell on it for the rest of my eternal existence.

What exactly was it that spoke to me so powerfully?  Was it the text itself?  Was it its meaning? Was it the encouragement the words brought in light of my broken elbow?  Was it other passages of Scripture coming to mind as I read the text?  Was it where I was when I read it?  Was it the cool evening breeze that picked up and diverted my attention to physical pleasure at just the right moment?  Was it all of the various emotions, sensations, and realizations being enjoyed in separate parts of my mind?  It certainly was all of these things, but it was so much more than that at the same time.  It was all of these elements working together to create a cumulative effect that refreshed my spirit and renewed my focus on God.

A week before this event, I had worked my night shift that Friday morning, and went straight from work to help with my church’s version of VBS (Sports Week).  I’d been there helping with the music and mentoring 12 and 13 year olds. I was very tired the whole week, but I felt so blessed to be able to be a part of what God did that week so the fatigue didn’t bother me.  Then in a split second I was laying on the basketball court with a fracture in my elbow that required surgery the following Monday.  As I recovered I’d been completely helpless and dependent on the wonderful people at my church.  But I’m not the kind of man that likes being dependent on people.  I love to help, but not to be helped; yet I needed a lot of help this summer.  That Thursday evening I was very upset.  I couldn’t work, couldn’t pack my stuff for moving that Saturday because I was so tired, could barely cook, and I wasn’t supposed to drive.  So the Spirit of God led me outside so that I could experience Him through His Word.  He gave me a gift of strength because I had very little left.  He led me to that passage, that physical context, and that level of brokenness so that He could breath His own strength into me.  He communicated his Word to me through an aesthetic experience.  He gave me a gift of realizing a new implication of that passage which resulted in the wonderful joy that is knowing God a little better.

Compare this passage with Psalm 104 and watch a sunset the next time you’re really down.  I dare you to not feel something.  How does God do it?  He does it by connecting His Word to His creation and then back to your heart.  That’s aesthetic.  That’s seemingly unrelated things being connected in your mind to create a cumulative effect so profound that you can’t contain your joy.  Aesthetic education teaches us how to make those connections.

But that’s just part of the story.  Let’s address the Bible outside of any other context.  Are we supposed to think about the Bible as a sequence of words put together in a certain way so that we know how we’re supposed to live?  Are we supposed to read Leviticus and begin stoning people who work on the sabbath, or are we supposed to connect that to Mathew 5, Luke 6, and Romans?  Or let me raise another issue.  How can you expect a high schooler to enjoy Jeremiah when they don’t have a firm enough grasp on literature to read Edgar Allen Poe?  How can anyone understand David’s passion for God when they can’t figure out how to connect the psalms to his life?

Aesthetic Education increases our ability to perceive everything, even Scripture and how it’s integrated with all of reality.  Find an artist (painter, dancer musician, etc.) and start taking lessons; not so that you can create great art, but so that you can perceive great art.  If you can’t perceive human art well, how do you expect to stand a chance in accurately understanding the greatest literary work ever written?  The words of God created the universe.  Do you really think you can understand them when they’re written down unless you learn to see and understand the world around you?

Don’t just tell your children to read the Bible.  Teach them how.


Aesthetic Education; Loving God

July 22nd, 2010

So far this series of posts has dealt with matters of intellect, enhancing people’s awareness of the world, and their overall cognitive abilities.  To the academic world these are matters of significant consequence (Although I am quite certain that I have not persuaded anyone).  But now that we’ve defined our terms and unpacked some sensitive concepts it is time to apply them to things of great consequence to the church and her members.

Getting to know God and becoming more like Him should be a Christian’s chief concern in life. Following His commands is a given, and not sinning would be a very simple task provided we grew to love God with all our hearts.  There are two methods that God as given us to grow closer to him: general revelation and special revelation. Special revelation is God’s word given to us through the prophets and any teaching or analysis done that originates from scripture.  The church handles the word of God quite effectively for the most part, and I have taken a lot from the teaching I have received.  But, unfortunately, simply teaching the word only goes so far and the intense division in the church we have today bears witness to this.  The word of God is only part of the picture, and for the church to not teach general revelation as much as it teaches special revelation is to limit the church’s perception of God’s glory and majesty along with the deep knowledge and wisdom that result from studying his creative work both aesthetically and analytically.

To only study the word is like getting to know a person only by talking to them.  When I first met Liz (my fiance) we got to know each other initially through conversation, but as our friendship deepened conversations by themselves only went so far.  We started to experience life together; listening to a stream together, attending to a specific part of the sky, running, going to the symphony, studying pedagogy, and countless other activities enhancing not our factual knowledge of one another, but in a profound sense our aesthetic understanding of one another.  I didn’t ask Liz to marry me because of the factual knowledge about her that I had accumulated; it was because of the things I had learned abut her aesthetic characteristics in between conversations that I fell in love with her.

Do we somehow expect our relationship with God to develop differently?  How is it that He can give us such a clear picture of what kind of relationship he wants with us using marriage and we (mostly) ignore it?  Just as it is impossible to fall in love with another person by talking it is impossible to fall in love with Christ only by studying the Bible.  You have to spend time with him outside factual knowledge and dive into the richness of his creative work.  By enjoying other people’s perceptions of that work, creating representations of your own perception, and perceiving his wonders first hand, you will gain an aesthetic understanding of our Savior beyond words.  This is when and how you will fall in love with Christ.  Feel free to memorize every word of the Bible, but until you learn to actually perceive Him in the world around you, you cannot know Him well enough to love Him.

Now, when it comes to the study of scripture, it’s impossible to even understand the depth and beauty of the Bible until you’ve experience life with God.  Much of he factual knowledge in the Bible is rooted in the aesthetic understanding of the world.  I, for example, was bored to tears trying to read the major prophets until I had composed the Dark Process since that was how I learned to understand a large work rooted in emotion rather than story.  Several symphonies and concertos by various composers also acted as gateways into the major prophets for me.  But this isn’t even the best part; I met with God and glorified his name in the midst of these aesthetic experiences that also enabled me to enjoy His Word.  So it hasn’t been the Bible alone that has caused me to love God, it has been the perception of His creation through the lens of Scripture which I gained through an understanding of creative work..  That said,  I also want to make it clear that the lens of scripture is vital to the accurate perception that draws us to worship.

Aesthetic education teaches the believer to learn about God through general revelation.  It is through God’s gift of his creative work perceived through the lens of His word that we will learn to love Him.  Therefore opportunities for aesthetic education in the church are essential to foster a passionate and unifying adoration of our Savior.


Professional Musicians?

May 2nd, 2010

I want to make something very clear before I start:  Some people have recently confronted me with the fact that many people don’t believe that there is a God (or that he is not who he says he is).  A few people have even unfriended me on Facebook out of anger because I say what I know to be true (How’s that for religious tolerance?  I could understand leaving my website group, but wow…).  They think that my approach to reasoning through these discourses is flawed because I assume that everyone agrees that God exists. The thing is, if we are going to be held accountable for the things we did here on earth after we die, and if God did reveal his word to us which we are expected to obey, and he did make the atoning sacrifice so that our sins could be forgiven provided that we believe and behave in accordance with that belief, then that changes everything.  To not mention God in my arguments would be to say things that I don’t believe to be true.  If you want to say anything about how to live life at all, you have to choose whether you’re living for yourself, or living for the Creator.  I happen to know God, and I happen to talk to him every day through prayer and the study of his word.  I don’t simply think he exists; I know he does and I’m in very good company.  I will never post anything outside this context.  Moving on…

Not professional in the sense that one is trained and very good at what they do, but simply in that one makes most of their income from writing and playing music.  My new CD, Purpose, is hopefully coming this June (although it may end up being later since life keeps happening) and it has been causing me to reflect very deeply on the purpose God intended music to serve.  Each purpose that I’ve considered while writing the music for this project does not seem to require the existence of professional musicians.  While the project itself proves that a very high artistic level is pleasing, it is being done by students who will probably never make the majority of their income from performing or composing.  If I myself stay the course I am on, I will never be a professional composer but I will be a teacher.  For some time now I’ve been bitter about this and have had a desire to make a valiant attempt to work out a way for professional composers to actually exist to the extent that I could hope to become one.  But I’m beginning to see that the purpose of music can be fulfilled without people generating most of their income from it.

At this point we have to establish what purpose God originally intended music to fulfill.  My subjective explanation is that the all encompassing purpose of music is to communicate difficult concepts decisively and in a different way.  For example, I was told by many people that my abortion piece provoked tears.  This indicates to me that the music effectively communicated what I intended, which was to depict abortion for what it is.  Obviously, God has blessed that work with the ability to communicate its intended message very effectively.  To me this is a clear demonstration that music can teach us things that can be difficult to express in other ways.  That piece taught me personally just how awful and devastating abortion is, and yet I’ve perceived countless hours of very good presentations devoted to the subject.  Once I finished that recording and listened to it, I understood  the situation much more clearly than I ever had previously.  “Music is communication.”

In order for this purpose of effective teaching/communication to be fulfilled, musicians being paid is not at all a prerequisite.  Replace my proposed purpose with something else and you will most likely be able to reach the same conclusion.  Extensive knowledge and skill is a prerequisite, but myself and all of the people I call my peers are already fulfilling these purposes and none of us are making a living by making music.  Apparently music’s purpose is being fulfilled without any significant amount of money being paid.

I suppose I must now address how I justify undergraduate and graduate level studies while knowing that my education is relatively useless for generating a larger income.  As believers, since when has anything God led us to do been for the sake of our own selfish pleasure?  Since when has God called us to make an enormous commitment like college in order to indulge our desire for more wealth?  My education in music composition has not been for the sake of me generating an income, but rather to serve by effectively communicating truth that can’t be expressed in any other way.  I would not be able to write like I do had I not had the training that God clearly called me to endure.  Graduate study has been the only way for me to be prepared to serve the church in the way that God wants me to serve.

Don’t just give a gift, be a gift.

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