Music, Art, Beauty

Witnessing the extremely gifted at their work has the strange effect of simultaneously inspiring one to attempt to join them in what they’re doing (because they make it look effortless), and provoking one to quit one’s own efforts in that field (because one is made so painfully aware of how bad one actually is).

I was reminded of this not so long ago when hearing John Piper preach, which is both a spellbinding experience in person, and also immensely discouraging to someone whose profession is in large measure based on public speaking, as mine is.

Jack and JeffI was reminded of this principle again some days ago when hearing a friend and his band perform. Derek’s sound is like a mixture of Jeff Buckley and Jack Johnson, and his obvious quality made me wish I had the stuff to be a performer. As I lack just about everything that is needed to be a rockstar, I decided to settle for thinking about why I couldn’t witness talent without wanting to have it for myself, and why it is that Derek isn’t famous yet.

The first issue is probably fairly simple. As with all things human, our desires are a tangled mess of the good and the evil. I want to be a rockstar because I’m jealous of the attention and praise that such people receive. And I want to be a musician because it is hard to be a human worthy of that name without a deep love for beauty, and witnessing beauty should legitimately provoke in us a wish to participate in it.

As for achieving fame, that’s not so easy to understand. Getting the attention of the public is something that countless unworthy people achieve and many great talents fail to do. Becoming famous probably is a combination of skill, timing and a generous helping of luck. The best one can do is to work hard, I suppose, because as someone once said, ‘The more I practice the luckier I get’. Or you could get yourself killed during a late-night swim in all your clothes, which did wonders for Jeff Buckley’s career. Continue reading

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The Reckless Courage of the Non-combatant

Church AttackThe BBC reports that Iraqi Christians are increasingly being targeted in Al-Qaeda terrorist attacks. On 31 October, a Catholic church was taken hostage during Mass, and an attempt to end the siege left 52 dead. As a result of this, a Syrian-Orthodox Iraqi leader based in London has urged all Christians to leave Iraq.

On the one hand, this makes perfect sense. What stronger instinct is there than to protect one’s self and one’s family? If I was in their position — with a target on my chest, and with a government prioritising other things than my safety — I might be doing the same.

On the other hand, from across the ocean and from the relative safety of my beautiful home city of Cape Town, I deeply hope that those who are truly Christ’s would remain in spite of the danger. Sure, they are unwilling participants in war being waged by Islamic militants. Sure they are in country unwilling to give them the protection due to citizens. But is this any different to the way in which the Bible describes all Christian habitation of our world?

We are always citizens of the city of God and aliens in our ‘home’ cities here. We are always engaged in warfare of a kind, even if the weapons are usually unseen. The whole point of being a Christian in exile from our eternal hope is that we have the task of fighting back — not, of course, bringing death, but making the invitation to life, offering our enemies reconciliation and a share in our final hope.

I can understand Iraqi Christians saving themselves and leaving. But leaving the physical war behind is also leaving the spiritual war unfought, and in fact it is a concession of defeat. If the ‘salt and light’ in Iraq is leached and snuffed out, it will mean leaving the country to deeper darkness.

Those of us familiar with Early Church History will recall empire-wide extermination orders against Christians, where merely bearing that name was a death sentence. In the midst of that horror, leaders such as Tertullian observed that the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the Church. As much as her enemies cut her down, all the more the Church sprang up stronger.

It’s easy for me to speak words of courage when the bravery must be someone else’s, but I hope that the Iraqi Christians stay to fight for the eternal prize and not for temporary comfort, and I hope that if such decisions ever face us in our time that we’d do likewise.

“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him.” Philippians 1:29

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13