Category Archives: Bible and Theology

#215: What Forty-One Years of Marriage Really Means

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #215, on the subject of What Forty-One Years of Marriage Really Means.

About a week ago I posted on Facebook announcing our forty-first wedding anniversary.  The post drew a reasonable amount of the Facebook equivalent of applause, some of it from people I did not realize would see it.  So I wondered:  what are they applauding?  What do they think forty-one years of marriage means?

Well, I do not know what they think it means, but I have some idea of what it does mean.  I wrote web log post #65:  Being Married almost two years ago, and commented at the time that I was sure there were some things I was forgetting, so in a sense this is an addendum to that–but in a sense it is a separate observation.

Thanks to Kyler for this photo.

I suppose it should be said first that forty-one years of marriage probably means a lot of occasional doubts and suspicions, but fundamentally means learning to trust and to forgive–and there is something below that which gets in the way, and something above that which helps enormously.

What most people do not understand is that marriage is a covenant, not a contract.  People do not understand this, and they don’t generally know the difference, but it is important:

  • A contract is an exchange of mutually contingent promises.  That means I promise to do this, and you promise to do that, but if either of us fails to keep his “end of the bargain” the other is no longer obligated and does not have to fulfill his part.  This is typical in commercial transactions:  if I order something from you and you fail to deliver it, I am not obligated to pay for it even though I promised to do so.
  • A covenant is an exchange of mutually independent promises.  That means I make a promise to you, and you make a promise to me, and I am obligated to keep my promise because I made a promise, and you are obligated to keep your promise because you made a promise.  The part that is missing, that distinguishes it from a contract, is that our obligations are based not on the exchange but on our own individual integrity.  If you renege on your promise, I am still obligated to keep mine; if I fail, your obligation remains.

This is significant to the matter of trust and forgiveness.  I promised to be faithful, to love and cherish, pretty much to the best of my ability.  I did not promise to do so as long as she keeps her end of the bargain; I promised to do so as long as we were both alive.  If she fails, that has no impact on my obligation.  I still made that promise.  If you recall your own wedding, or weddings you have attended, I doubt you have ever been to one in which the vows included the words “as long as you do the same”.

That means that I don’t have to worry about whether she is keeping her promise, only about whether I am keeping mine.  I trust that she is, and were I to learn that she is not I forgive her, because it is irrelevant to my obligation to her.  It is not a contract, in which the failure of one party negates the obligation of the other.  Should either of us fail to keep our promise, even should we both fail, the promises still exist.  We pick ourselves up, forgive, and move forward trying to be and do what we promised.

Forty-one years of marriage is thus a long string of trust and forgiveness, of learning what it means to love someone and to keep a promise to do so even when it is not easy to keep it.

That’s what a forty-first wedding anniversary means.

#212: Gender Subjectivity

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #212, on the subject of Gender Subjectivity.

I somewhat predictably got some responses challenging my thoughts in mark Joseph “young” web log entry #207:  The Gender Identity Trap.  (There were a few supportive ones as well, and they are certainly helpful also, but the challenging ones are under consideration here.)  One of them indicated–and I am paraphrasing the thought, so I hope I am correctly representing it–that I should be sensitive to the feelings of those who feel as if they are in the wrong body.  They would probably feel persecuted were I to tell them that they are wrong.

Indeed, it is important always to be sensitive to the feelings of others, as individuals.  I should, for example, be sensitive of the feelings of someone who believes himself to be, or to be the reincarnation of, Napoleon Bonaparte, or Abraham Lincoln, or Marie Antoinette.

Whoa, brother, that’s not the same thing.

I agree.  However, it is more the same than different.  After all, the primary difference is that most of us do not entertain the possibility that someone we meet might be the reincarnation of some famous person.  Even if we believe in reincarnation, the probability that any particular individual happens to be one of the very few historically significant persons from among the millions of ordinary commoners and peasants of any particular era is phenomenally against.  If we do not believe in reincarnation, then even that tiny fraction of possibility vanishes.  Similarly if we do not believe that it is possible for anyone to “be” the “wrong sex” for their “internal gender”, then the probability that any particular individual is so becomes zero.  A person might believe that he is trapped in the wrong body type, or that he is indeed Emperor General Bonaparte, and I should treat such an individual with the respect due any human being, but I do not need to believe that they are correct in that self-identification.

That, though, underscores another aspect of the problem which I carelessly overlooked in that previous article.  What is the basis for that self-identification?

I might taste something and declare that it has too much salt.  You, presumably, have tasted salt, and therefore you know what I mean.  Assuming you were in a position to taste the same food, you would be able to say whether you agreed with my assessment of excessive salinity.  There is a sense in which that is subjective:  you might like food that is particularly salty, or I might prefer food that is more bland.  However, there is an objective connection here:  we have both tasted salt, and so both know what salt tastes like in food.  Had either of us never tasted salt, the question, “Is this too salty?” would become meaningless.

In contrast, the person who claims to feel as if in the wrong gender body is making a subjective judgment without an objective basis.  What does it mean to say “I don’t feel like I am a man, I feel like I am a woman”?  It can only mean “I don’t feel like I imagine a man feels, I feel like I imagine a woman feels.”  If you were born a man, you have no experience being a woman.  How, then, can you possibly determine that you feel like something you have never felt?  It would be like saying that you think this food has too much saffron if you have never tasted saffron.  You’re guessing based on what someone told you.  You have no objective connection for what it is to be the opposite sex.

That means you get that notion entirely from–as observed in the previous article–cultural biases and expectations.  You say, “I do not have the feelings and interests which society tells me a person of my sex ought to have, and find that I am far better attuned to the feelings and interests which society tells me are those of the opposite sex, and therefore I am the wrong sex.”  The problem is not that you are the wrong sex for your gender.  The problem is that society is wrong in defining men and women according to its preferences and stereotypes.  “Oh, but I have always felt like I was the other sex.”  You can’t know that.  All you can know is that you’ve always felt as if society was telling you that you are not the kind of person society thinks a man (or a woman) should be, and that you think that you are more like the kind of person society has told you that a woman (or a man) should be.

What does it feel like to be a man, on the inside, or to be a woman, on the inside?  Every one of us is a combination of traits which we identify as masculine or feminine, and every one of those identifications is a societal bias.  You like to cook, which you think is a feminine trait–but many of the best cooks in the world are men.  You enjoy bow hunting, which you think is a masculine trait–but the Greeks reported the existence in their time of an entire army of female archers.  The only thing that makes any character trait masculine or feminine is the arbitrary opinion of present society.

In other words, if you feel like you’re the wrong gender for the sex of your body, the problem isn’t that you’re the wrong gender but that you’ve bought a lie about what it feels like to be what you are.  If you were born a man, you have always felt like you, and therefore always felt like a man–not like every man, certainly, because not every man feels the same, but like the one man that is you.  If you were born a woman, you likewise have never felt like a man, you have felt like that woman who is you.  We do not have the ability truly to know what others feel, what it feels like to be someone else.  We have role playing games through which we explore such things, but very rarely do we find ourselves getting more than a glimpse of the externals–what it feels like to be persecuted, what it feels like to be famous.  We never really experience what it feels like to be the opposite sex, any more than we ever really experience what it feels like to be a dog, or a tree, or a rock.  It is outside our experience entirely.  In roleplaying we only approach what it feels like to be treated by others as if we were someone or something else.  And since it is outside our experience, we cannot know that we feel like we are the wrong sex.

What you really feel is that society has rejected who you really are and made you wish you were not yourself.  Many of us have felt that way.  The answer is not to try to become someone else.  The answer is to become the best you you can be, live with that self, and push back against the pressures of a society that wants you to conform to their expectations.  Be the best male nurse, the best female pile driver, and tell the world, “I break the mold.  I am comfortable with who I am, even if you aren’t.”  Don’t let the world tell you that who you really are is wrong.  It is the world that is wrong.

#208: Halloween

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #208, on the subject of Halloween.

An internet friend tagged me in a Facebook thread in which he had raised the question of the Christian response to Halloween.  It’s a subject we were addressing here in America at least as far back as the early 1980s when I was working at Christian contemporary radio station WNNN-FM, but my friend is in Europe, and the holiday is just making its first inroads there, so he wanted some feedback from people who had already reached a decision one way or another and had time to apply it and decide whether it worked.  I posted most of this there, but decided to tweak it a bit and repost it for a more general audience here.

If I have my history right, a lot of the trappings of Halloween come from the Celtic celebration of Samhain, which was a sort of new year celebration.  Like the Jews, the Celts ended a day at sunset, and so the year ended the night before the morning of the new year, a celestial event halfway between the equinox and the solstice.  That night was a sort of “no man’s time” during which the dead could walk the earth–not necessarily a bad thing, and I think in some places table settings were laid for the ghosts of recently deceased relatives, although people avoided going out without some sort of protection because of the potential for malevolent spirits of the restless dead.  Protections included carrying a gourd or turnip with a candle inside and a frightening face carved through it, or wearing a costume to appear to be something frightening yourself.

The Roman Catholic Church quite sensibly recognized that you can’t deprive people of their holidays, so they attempted to co-opt them.  Samhain was replaced by All Saints Day, the celebration of the lives of all the Capital-S-Saints and particularly the martyrs who either didn’t have their own days or whose days were overlooked because, let’s face it, no one celebrates every day

(well, almost no one.  I remember as a child seeing a birthday card that said, “Happy Birthday to a Man who Only Drinks on Holidays” and then inside had three hundred sixty-six listed holidays including such gems as Birthington’s Washday and several repetitions of Bluebeard’s Wedding Anniversary.  However, it is not really possible to celebrate every day and still live an ordinary life, and if you celebrate every day in some sense it ceases to be a celebration at all.)

Since Catholicism began the day at sunrise, the night before All Saints Day became All Hallows Eve, or Hallowed Evening, or Hallowed Even’, or Hallow’e’en’, our modern Halloween.  In that sense it was always a “Christian” holiday, but like most of our Christian holidays borrowed and attempted to Christianize the practices associated with the holy days it replaced (e.g., much of our Christmas tradition comes from Yule, and even some of our popular carols use the word).

Early Reformation Christians objected to the catalogue of Capital-S-Saints, and so their objection to Halloween was that they didn’t like what the Catholics were celebrating.  Thus they chose to use the day to honor the Reformation.  Modern Lutherans still often celebrate Reformation Day, but think it was created to escape the Pagan holiday, when it was a reaction to the Roman one.

In my experience, celebrating Halloween all my life, it has always seemed to be a modern secular holiday–something like our Memorial Day or Independence Day without the national idolatry, or our Thanksgiving without the non-sectarian religious undertones.  It is a cultural celebration, not a religious one.

Someone mentioned having read something by a former Satanist priest favoring Halloween.  I don’t know who they read, but the two most popular–Mike Warnke and William Schnoebelen–have both been discredited.  They have never had any connection to Satanism or Witchcraft, and frequently confuse the two as if they were the same thing (which they are not).  Both made a lot of money by selling their sensationalist stories of fictional experiences they invented and claimed as true.  Further, modern witchcraft–Wicca–has no history prior to the nineteenth century, so any claims they make to holidays are co-opted from information preserved by Christians.

Certainly there are children who are better off being shielded from horror stories.  Frankly, there are adults for whom that is true, and I tend to avoid horror movies and television because I don’t care for that kind of frightening if there isn’t some redeeming aspect to it.  That’s definitely a “weaker brother” issue:  some people very much enjoy such stories, and even gain faith from the notion that whatever evil is in the world, God is greater.

Touching on costumes, certainly you can limit them to dressing as “good” characters (although that becomes a definition issue at times–is a soldier a “good” or “bad” character?  What about a magician?).  On the other hand, psychology has found some benefit in “being the monster” as a way of defusing our fears of the monster.  The kid who is afraid of ghosts might be less so after being one for Halloween, because suddenly the ghost on the outside is just a person on the inside, and he knows the ghost isn’t dangerous.

I figure it’s neighborly to participate in Halloween, and every year we give out canned or bottled soda and/or water (kids need something with which to wash down all the candy).  A few times we’ve printed our own “Living Water” leaflet to tape to the containers, although in recent years the costs in time and money have been challenging. Still, kids look forward to finding our house, and we have made connections with some people through this–and we’re not otherwise particularly neighborly, I think.  The time when people knew their neighbors is behind us; we’re too mobile a society for that, and we tend rather to interact with people based on common interests rather than geography.  Halloween might be the only event that preserves that neighborhood interaction.

I suspect that when Nikolaj tagged me he knew he was asking for a long answer (in my mouth, all stories are long), so I hope this helps him and anyone else reading.

#207: The Gender Identity Trap

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #207, on the subject of The Gender Identity Trap.

What if it were really true,
Most girls like pink, most boys like blue?
Just what would color mean to you?

We live in a world filled with gender expectations.  Call them stereotypes if you like, but it goes deeper than that.  We have persuaded ourselves that girls, and women, have a certain inherent character that causes them to be interested in specific kinds of things, and that boys, and men, are similarly innately interested in a different set of things.

We can explore these with what we might call common sense wisdom and observation.  Boys tend to be athletic, and competitive.  We want to prove ourselves the strongest, fastest, toughest.  We communicate with our fists, and the emotions we are willing to show are all what might be called “hard” emotions–anger, jealousy, pride.  Girls, meanwhile, tend to be nurturing, interested in exploring relationships, in caring for those younger or weaker than themselves.  They are articulate creatures, talking even when no one listens, and they display the “soft” emotions–sympathy, affection, sadness.

Balderdash.

I don’t want to argue against the scientific work that has been done in this area.  Sociobiologist E. O. Wilson and his ilk make a potent argument for an evolutionary basis for gender differences, that women favor those qualities that enable them to manage child care and foraging while the men are better suited to hunting.  One does not need to be a religious person to believe that we are male and female, and that these are different.  However, I raise two objections to this concept.

The first can be stated as that generalizations are always false (including this one).  There are many men who have never been interested in sports, who have never been physically competitive or athletic, who have abandoned physical violence as a means of conflict resolution, and who are willing to let their softer emotions show and who are nurturing and caring.  There are similarly many women who are athletic and competitive, sometimes violent, sometimes violently angry.  When we identify traits as specifically masculine or specifically feminine, we are making a generalization, drawing conclusions from what we might call the “center of the bell curve”–most men have this trait, more or less, although some have it to an extreme while others seem to be lacking it entirely.  You will find men who are not at all “manly” in the stereotypical sense, and women who similarly break the mold that defines the feminine.

The second objection, though, is that these cannot truly be used to define what it is to be male or female, a man or a woman, and for a very simple reason:  we do not really know which ones are innate, or to what degree, versus which ones are learned, and to what degree.  Some little girls easily learn to play with guns and toy soldiers, while others put the guns aside and treat the soldiers like children in a schoolroom or nursery.  Some boys have no trouble playing with dolls or appreciating cute figurines, while others are ready to turn even Precious Moments figurines into combat-ready mechas.  When we have a quality that is generally true of a group, we always find that it is not universally true of the group, and even among those for whom it is true, it is true to varying degrees.  No quality is universally true of any group, unless it is itself a mandatory definitional quality of that group.  Not all those of African descent have dark skin–there are negro albinos born in some families.

We opened this with a question of color preferences–pink or blue.  Through most of the twentieth century, blue was the color for boys and pink for girls.  We might think that inherent in gender identity, as it was so common and still is generally thought to be the preference.  However, in the late nineteenth century it was quite opposite.  Blue was considered a pacifistic color, appropriate for girls, while pink was aggressive, the right color for the nursery of a male infant to encourage his masculine aggressiveness.  The matter of the right color for girls or boys proves to be entirely cultural.  We only think it innate, because it is our culture, and we are immersed in it.

Herein lies the problem of gender identity.  We have become persuaded that it is possible, first, for someone who is really, personality-wise, one gender to be born in a body exhibiting the opposite sex.  However, our conception of what constitutes the appropriate personality for a gender is constructed entirely of generalizations and cultural notions.  A boy who does not like sports is not internally a girl, any more than a girl who does like them must be internally a boy.  Whether boys play with dolls or girls with guns is in part innate, but it is also culturally learned to some degree, and a child who exhibits culturally opposite gender preferences in play is not the opposite gender, but a unique individual with unusual interests.

When people come to believe that they are the wrong sex on the outside for their gender on the inside, it is because they have been persecuted into thinking that if they really were a person of the sex they appear to be then they would have different preferences, different abilities, different qualities than they do.  We are taught, incorrectly, to think that the generalities are the definition, and that those who do not fit into the cultural expectations are aberrant.

So be aberrant.  Buck the expectations.  Be yourself, and embrace who you are as a whole person, inside and out.  I am a man.  That I raise my children and do the cooking and a certain amount of the housework and sewing and such, and that I disdain sports and physical competition, does not make me less a man or more a woman; it makes me a unique individual.  The girl who is an Olympic track star, who is competitive at the highest level of athleticism, is not therefore less a girl, less a woman; she is a unique individual, a woman with qualities that are less common in women.  Be who you are, inside and out, and don’t let anyone persuade you that anything about you was made wrong.  No one is the wrong sex on the outside for their gender on the inside, except those who foolishly let popular culture dictate who they should be instead of simply being who they are.

#197: Launching the mark Joseph “young” Forums

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #197, on the subject of Launching the mark Joseph “young” Forums.

Once upon a time, what now seems a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, there were forums at Gaming Outpost.

Well, there were forums almost everywhere, but the ones at Gaming Outpost were significant, big deal forums in the gaming world for a while, and then not so much but still important to me and to many of those who read my work and played Multiverser.  They were probably then the most reliable way to reach me, and there were plenty of discussions, not to mention quite a few games played, on those forums.

Then they crashed, and all of that was lost.

I can’t promise that this won’t happen to these new forums, but we’re going to make an effort, with the help of our Patreon and PayPal.me supporters, to keep them up and running, and to pay attention to what is posted here.

I arranged the forums in alphabetical order; I was going to arrange them in reverse alphabetical order, because I have always hated being the last in line for everything, but as I installed them the software put the next one on top, and although I could see how to resequence them, I realized that that would put Bible and Theology on the bottom, and while I’m not a stickler for silly formalities I could see that some people would object to that, more so than anyone would object to any other forum being at the bottom.  It is probably appropriate that it is on top.  The forum categories correspond roughly to the web log main topics, with a few tweaks and additions.

I long wished for a place to discuss time travel and time travel movies, and that’s there now.  I don’t expect most of the discussions will wind up here, but perhaps at least some will, and that will make it worthwhile.  I’ve also made a home for discussions of the Christian Gamers Guild Faith and Gaming series, and for the upcoming (this December) Faith in Play and RPG-ology series there.  There are music and ministry sections, space for logic problems discussions, law and politics pages, space for games, and a place to discuss my books, if anyone is interested in any of those topics.

I have also added a Multiverser game play forum.  I have in the past been overwhelmed by the number of players who wanted to play, even with my rule that I would only post one time per day to any game thread and expected players to observe the same courtesy (except for obvious correction posts).  Please do not presume that because you want to play Multiverser you can just start a thread and I’ll pick up your game.  I will give first priority to people who have played the game with me before, whether live or online, picking up where we were; I will also open the door on an individual basis to people who have wanted to play for a long time but for various reasons have not been able to do so (such as Andrew in South Africa).  Beyond that, well, talk to me and I’ll see what kind of time I have–after all, I have no idea how many of my previous players will return, or how much work it’s going to be to get back up to speed on their long-interrupted games.

My thanks to Kyler and Nikolaj, who have already helped me track down some of the bugs and fix them.  I’m told that if you are not registered, the link on the top left corner of the page will work, but the one on the top right corner will not–unfortunately, I can neither see either link while logged into the site, nor find how to fix a lot of those problems.  But I am working on it, and there is a forum specifically for contacting me about problems, and a link to my Facebook page if you can’t even get as far as that.

I look forward to seeing you.

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#196: A Church and State Playground

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #196, on the subject of A Church and State Playground.

Back in the winter we noted, in web log post #158:  Show Me Religious Freedom, that the United States Supreme Court was going to decide a case concerning whether a church-affiliated school could be denied participation in a public welfare program simply because it was sponsored by a religious institution.  That decision has been reached, in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Carol S. Comer, Director, Missouri Department of Natural Resources, 582 U.S. ___ (2017), and the majority opinion is very like what we previously suggested, but there are three concurring opinions that quibble on the details and one dissent that is scathing, fairly well reasoned, and as long as the other four opinions combined.

Chief Justice Roberts delivered the opinion of the court, joined in full by Justices Kennedy, Alito, and Kagan; Justices Thomas and Gorsuch also joined the opinion, with the exclusion of “footnote 3”, and each of them filed a concurring opinion, and joined in supporting each other’s concurring opinion.  Justice Breyer filed an opinion concurring in the judgement.  It is Justice Sotamayer who wrote the lengthy dissent, in which Justice Ginsburg joined.

To recount briefly, Missouri runs a program which provides funding to resurface playgrounds with recycled tires.  There is a tax on new tire purchases which funds the collection and recycling of discarded tires, converting these into a “pour-in-place” durable soft surface which reduces injuries on playgrounds.  The application process for determining eligibility to receive such a “grant” examines many factors including the economic circumstances of the area, the public use of the playground, and more.  On a list of forty-four applicants, the school ranked fifth, but did not receive one of the fourteen grants because it was affiliated with a religious institution, and the department had a policy of refusing to provide money to any religiously-affiliated institution, consistent with the Missouri State Constitution Article I, Section 7, which we quoted in the previous article.  This led to a court battle over whether the State, by refusing to permit a religiously-affiliated school from participating in a program that provided aid for non-religious programs, had violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, by making eligibility for a public assistance program dependent on renouncing a religious belief or association.

All five opinions discuss the balance between the Free Exercise Clause, that the government cannot interfere with someone’s beliefs, and the Establishment Clause, that the government cannot support one set of beliefs over another.  Neither clause is exactly absolute.  For example, it is agreed that the Establishment Clause does not mean that the publicly-funded fire department can’t put out a burning church or synagogue, or that the police won’t investigate a theft of church property.  The Free Exercise Clause has also been tested, and laws have been overturned which prevented ordained ministers from serving in elected public office, on the grounds that such laws forced a person to choose between his religious beliefs expressed in his vocation and his right as a citizen to run for office.

A lot of the discussion on both sides concerned the previous case Locke v. Davey, 540 U. S. 712 (2004).  In Locke, the State of Washington ran a post-secondary education scholarship program based on outstanding scholastic achievement, but with a specific clause stating that the scholarship money could not be used for ministerial training.  The student claimed that the program was a violation of the Free Exercise Clause, but the Court held that under the Establishent Clause the State could refuse to fund ministerial training, particularly given that the program did not exclude schools which offered such courses or the courses themselves, only a degree program of that nature.  They have always maintained that there was some space between the two clauses, in which States were not compelled by either to act in a particular way; the question was whether in this case the state was forced to act one way or the other, or was free to act as it chose.

The majority felt that this case was more like McDaniel v. Paty, 435 U. S. 618 (1978), in which ordained ministers were barred from seeking election to public office, and the Court held that this amounted to denying a citizen a fundamental right available to all citizens (running for public office) based solely on religious belief.  The playground was not part of a religious training program, but a part of ordinary educational aid made available broadly to the community, and the church had been excluded from the program solely because it was a church, having a religious purpose in its existence.  The denial of the right to participate in the program was a violation of the Free Exercise Clause, because it required the church to choose between abandoning its religious faith and participating in a common government welfare program designed for the protection of children.  A significant part of the decision can summarized in the Court’s words

…denying a generally available benefit solely on account of religious identity imposes a penalty on the free exercise of religion that can be justified only by a state interest “of the highest order.”

Under such “strict scrutiny” the policy failed.

To some degree, the concurring opinions have to do with footnote 3, which reads

This case involves express discrimination based on religious identity with respect to playground resurfacing.  We do not address religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination.

Justice Thomas expressed the view that Locke failed to apply strict scrutiny to the facts in that case, and ought to be overturned–but that that was not a question before the court at this time.  However, he thought footnote 3 too limiting, and deferred to Justice Gorsuch’ concurring opinion for that.

Justice Gorsuch says that the Court makes an indefensible distinction between religious status and religious use, and so distinguishes Locke from the present case.  He makes the point thus, comparing the two cases:

Is it a religious group that built the playground?  Or did a group build the playground so it might be used to advance a religious mission?….was it a student who wanted a vocational degree in religion?  or was it a religious student who wanted the necessary education for his chosen vocation?

The only justification for the decision in Locke, in Gorsuch’ view, is the “long tradition against the use of public funds for training of the clergy”.  As to footnote 3, he feared it would be misconstrued as saying that the principles on which this decision was based do not apply outside very narrow fact sets, which he thought was incorrect.

Justice Breyer put the emphasis on the fact that the program involved was intended “to secure or to improve the health and safety of children” and was in that sense not different from other public welfare programs such as police and fire protection.  He did not want to extend the decision too far, but thought in this case it was a clear violation of the Free Exercise Clause, and that for programs akin to this the fact that the applicant was a religious school should not exclude it.

Interestingly, none of these opinions declared that the Missouri Constitution’s Article I section 7 was unconstitutional; the majority opinion merely stated that as interpreted by the Missouri Supreme Court it ran afoul of the Free Exercise Clause, and so would have to be understood differently in the future.

Justice Sotamayer’s dissent is long, involved, and pointed.

Her most cogent point is that the church identifies the school as part of its ministry, intended to build the foundations of Christian faith in its students, whether children of church members or others from the community.  We have established that States can refuse to pay scholarships for ministerial training.  It is reasonable to conclude that the State can refuse to pay for Bibles, Korans, Torahs, as well as vestments, chalices, sacramental elements.  Arguably the doors, windows, roofs, and walls of church buildings are part of the ministry.  We would not use government money to pay for such acoutrements, because they are in a sense part of the ministry.

Yet it is clear that this is not so.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, it was established the Federal Flood Insurance and Disaster Relief could be used to rebuild damaged churches, as long as it was distributed even-handedly–that is, not favoring any particular religion.  So government money can be used for repairing physical plant of religious buildings.

Further, the National School Lunch Act provides discounted and free lunches to students in private and parochial schools without regard for the religious nature of the school, because lunch is neutral and it would be discriminatory against the religious choices of these families to exclude them from an otherwise neutral benefit because they are attending a religious private school.

So on the one hand we ask ourselves whether the playground is part of the ministry of the church, and in a sense it is, but in the same sense that the lunchroom is part of the ministry of the church.  Indeed, from the perspective of the Christian faith, every congregant is an extension of the ministry of the church, and yet we know that people cannot be excluded from government assistance programs simply because they are members of a faith which regards all of its members as ministers.  The government cannot avoid giving money to church ministries, as the church understands them, because whenever money is given to people who belong to the church, it is aiding the ministry of the church.

And on the other hand, we ask ourselves to what degree the support of the playground is supporting the religious mission of the church.  In many states it is a requirement that schools include a physical education program, and although Trinity’s school is essentially preschool the playground may be necessary to their certification–that is, if all schools must have some kind of playground for physical activity, then the playground is clearly meeting a secular, a non-religious, requirement.  Stating that it is a part of the ministry of the church certainly calls the matter into question, but seen in perspective, the answer should be obvious, that state money given to religious institutions for secular purposes such as meals and playgrounds are not a violation of the Establishment Clause, and might well be required, as the majority observes, under the Free Exercise clause.

None of this touches the deeper problem, that the language in the Missouri State Constitution is Blaine Amendment language, which as we observed was inserted for essentially religious (anti-Catholic) purposes.  However, since no party addressed this, that issue remains for the future.

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#192: Updating the Bible’s Gender Language

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #192, on the subject of Updating the Bible’s Gender Language.

The Southern Baptist Convention, presently the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, created a bit of a stir when it announced that it would be working to update the gender language in the Bible.  Among those outside the church who post on article reaction forums, there were two general types of reactions, the one that it didn’t really matter what one did with texts that were written millennia ago by ignorant peasants and repeatedly altered since, the other that it made no sense to claim that something was a communication from God but that it could be revised by people.

The former group might be excused their ignorance in a field in which many ridiculous notions have been promulgated as if they were true, among them this notion that the writers of the Bible were all ignorant uneducated peasants.  That status was so rare among Biblical authors that the Prophet Amos makes a point of asserting it about himself, as a difference between him and all the other prophets.  As to the New Testament writers, they were generally educated members of the middle class–a tax assessor, a son of wealthy parents, a medical doctor, the owner of a business large enough that he was able to leave it in the hands of subordinates for several years and return to find it still profitable.  Indeed, Paul was a rabbinic scholar, trained by Rabban Gamaliel I, who is one of the scholars whose teaching is included in the Talmud.  They were not ignorant peasants.  As to the alleged alterations of the text, our scientific textual critics have established the original text of the New Testament to within ninety-nine-point-nine percent using sources dating into the first century; very few “intentional” changes were ever made, and those which were were obvious and easily restored.

However, the latter group has a point, which is based on a very subtle misunderstanding of exactly what the Bible is and how we regard the Bibles we read.

The problem is that the Bible is not written in English; it’s written largely in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic (which is a language closely related to Hebrew commonly spoken by Jews in the New Testament age).  When we read English translations of the Bible, we are reading the best renderings of those original texts which translators thought they could produce–but it means that decisions are made regarding the best way to represent the ideas in our language.  Dr. J. Edwin Orr spoke of a man telling a story through a translator.  The speaker said, “My friend was tickled to death.”  The confused native translator told the audience, “I do not understand this myself; his friend scratched himself until he died.”  Translations can be tricky.  And on the subject of gender, four things should be noted about Greek to English translation that will illustrate the overall problem.

The first is the use of the word anthropos.  It means “man”, and it is a masculine word.  (Gender of words is also one of these four things.)  However, there is another word for man, andros, and the words are different.  Anthropos means man in the general sense, the way we use the word “man” to refer to humanity.  In many contexts it would be better to render it “person”–but there are contexts in which it is obvious that the person or persons in question are men, that is, males.  In that sense, anthropos refers equally to men and women; andros refers to men only.  But we tend to render anthropos as “man” because we don’t usually use “human” that way, and because philosophers and theologians sometimes use the English word “person” in something of a technical sense that has nothing to do with whether you’re a human.

So it makes sense that we might want to revise our translations such that the word anthropos is not usually rendered “man” but something more generic like “person” or “human”, sometimes “humanity”.  That would be a revision of gender language that is attempting to produce a more accurate representation of the meaning of the original text.

There is another aspect particularly in Greek that creates great headaches for translators.  The word andros, “man”, has a counterpart, gune, “woman”.  The problem is that in common usage the words “husband” and “wife” were rarely used, the natives speaking of a couple as man and woman, with the sense of a man who belongs to a particular woman and a woman who belongs to a particular man.  Thus particularly in many places where we have the word gune, we are not certain whether it means “woman” or “wife”; it happens also sometimes with andros, but not as frequently.

We also have, as mentioned, the problem of the gender of words.  Anyone who has studied a Romance language (e.g., French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese) knows that nouns in those languages have gender–they can be masculine, feminine, or neuter.  In Greek, the word anthropos is masculine, and thus adjectives and pronouns that are referential to that word must also be masculine, and we have the result that “man” is always “he”, even when it means “person” or indeed when it means “humanity”.  On the other hand, “church”, ekklesia, is feminine, and thus is always “she”.  In English, we tend to reserve masculine and feminine pronouns for people, and thus humanity and church are both “it” or sometimes “they”–although we make exceptions, sometimes personifying objects such as perhaps affectionately calling a boat or car “she”.  The problem sometimes arises that we are not certain whether a writer is referring to a woman or a feminine noun, a man or a masculine noun.  A masculine noun, such as soldier or guard, could be used of a female person, and in the Greek it would be proper for the pronoun to be masculine if its antecedent is the noun, feminine if it is the person.

Finally, there is the problem that Greek does not require the use of pronouns, and thus many statements lack any gender definition.  To understand this, perhaps an example left over in modern English from earlier forms might help.

In the present tense, “I say”, “you say”, “we say”, “they say”, but “he, she, or it says“.  If we see the form says, we know that it is third person singular.  We don’t really need the pronoun to know that, but we always use it.  In Greek, though, all verbs are conjugated for person and number, and because of this a Greek could have said, “says” and the hearer would extrapolate that some third person singular subject is the antecedent, the person or object who says.  That means that in many places where it says “he” does something or should or may or might do something, the “he” is an extrapolation of our Indo-european language, a word that we provide because we need a pronomial subject in English which is not present in the Greek.

This is a much more difficult issue to address, because it will not do to extrapolate in every instance where there is no subject “he, she, or it” says or does whatever the text indicates.  Nor will translating them to “she” or “it” make the text clearer.  Indeed, it is problematic, as there is very little way for the reader of an English translation to know whether that “he” is what the Greek says or what the translator extrapolated to make sense of the English.  Further, Greek is also an Indo-european language, and from Sanskrit to German to Portuguese it is the standard in such languages that where the gender of the subject is not determined by the gender of a noun, the feminine pronoun represents a female person, the neuter pronoun a non-person, and the masculine pronoun a person of either male or unspecified gender.  Thus even if the Greek says “he”, that does not necessarily mean that the author was excluding “she”.

Revising the gender language in the Bible is a challenging undertaking for these reasons and more.  It will not be done perfectly, and it certainly will not be done to everyone’s satisfaction.  Yet it is not as foolish a notion as it sounds.  In many places the specification of gender in the English translations is an artifact of translation, not a certain representation of what the original said.  Language and usage change over time; new translations are created to keep pace with the changes.  This may be one of them long overdue, but difficult to manage.

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#187: Sacrificing Sola Fide

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #187, on the subject of Sacrificing Sola Fide.

img0187Luther

My Gordon College friend Walter Bjorck has apparently been posting a series of suggestions concerning how to create a genuinely Christian genuinely non-denominational fellowship.  He has been doing this via Facebook–which I find a particularly poor medium for that kind of thing, both because it is challenging to find all the posts in the series and because it provides a rather limited opportunity to respond and discuss.  To the former, I have no easy answer for him (try a web log, or possibly start a Facebook group?), but for the latter I have removed a piece of the discussion hither.  It happens that shortly after he posted this it was his birthday, so I was alerted to visit his page and saw this, and was prompted to respond here:

6. Justification by faith. All Christians believe in justification by faith, but Protestants went a step beyond by saying justification by faith alone. Both views must be allowed, understanding that all viewpoints have usually agreed that true faith produces godly works. We should also understand that Christians have agreed that fallen human beings cannot produce good works apart from the grace of God in Christ. Christians agree that Christ alone lived a sinless life and fulfilled the mission that Adam and his descendants have failed to fulfill.

Let me mention that Walter is one of those people whose intellect impressed me.  In our collegiate days he would visit meetings of various unorthodox groups (Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science) and discuss with them how their views differed from Evangelical Christianity, and why the latter was more likely true.  That he was able to do this at all impressed me; that he did it in an open and friendly non-confrontational way which created dialogue and got people listening even more so.  So as I come to his ideas here, I think it important to express my admiration of his ideas and his efforts.

I must also mention that this is the only item on the list I found, but I found part of the list (without links) and recognize that there are some other issues on it I would find problematic and might eventually address if I manage to locate his comments on them.  Overall, I think C. S. Lewis was right when he somewhere said that what divides Christians is not that we disagree about the important things but that we disagree as to what the important things are.  I have a wonderful example of this, reported to me by Presbyterian Reverend John Highberger who said that an Episcopalian priest commented to him that Episcopalians and Presbyterians would never get together because Episcopalians go forward to receive communion and Presbyterians have it delivered to them in their pews.  It sounds silly to the Presbyterian that this would be an issue, but that specific act conveys a tremendous amount about the beliefs of the two denominations:

  • To the Episcopalian, the priest is a representative of Christ and God, and so standing as Christ gives the bread and wine to the individual individually, an act of communion between the individual worshipper and God.
  • To the Presbyterian, the minister is an officiant, a servant performing the ritual, which partly for convenience is done all at once by everyone so that everyone is involved in the service continuously (i.e., no one is sitting awaiting his turn to be involved again) and which incidentally connects the worshippers to each other as they take the bread and then the wine simultaneously, corporately as one body.

The form of the act itself expresses the theology behind it.  In this case, Episcopalians go forward because the act of going forward matters to them; Presbyterians remain in their pews because it does not matter.  I am disinclined to believe that either represents first century practice or the origin of the ritual, but on some level that’s not the point.

There is a degree then to which Sola Fide, “Faith Alone”, matters to Protestants.  Yet the deeper question is, should it?  Should we be willing in the name of Christian unity to sacrifice this doctrine, one of the defining identifiers of Protestantism, or should we maintain it?

I think there is a problem with the Reformation doctrine of faith, but I do not think it is in this aspect of Sola Fide.  For those who do not understand it, Sola Fide means that faith is the only means of obtaining grace and thus the only way to obtain salvation, and specifically justification.  Nothing else matters but that you have faith in Christ.  If you do not have faith in Christ, nothing else will ever be sufficient to earn God’s forgiveness; if you do have faith, nothing else will ever add anything to that salvation or reduce it in any way.

For those for whom Sola Fide is not a correct doctrine, there must of course be some alternate means of justification.  Two candidates are commonly mentioned.  Walter references one, good works.  The other is technically known as “means of grace”, which we will explain in a moment.

In regard to faith and works, I am going to mention Dr. J. Edwin Orr, who visited us at Gordon College and addressed us on this subject (among quite a few others).  I will be citing some of his statements on it.  The issues are, can one obtain justification by doing good works without faith, and if one has obtained justification by faith can that be improved by works?

The first question suffers from the issue of the perfect score, the 4.0 grade average, “batting a thousand”.  To be “justified”, as in the colloquial definition “just as if I’d never sinned,” you have to be perfect.  Doing good works doesn’t earn you points because that’s the default–you lose points every time you fail to do good works.  As Dr. Orr suggests, if you think that doing good works will make up for bad ones, ask your local police chief whether it would be all right for you to murder your spouse if you build a clinic first.  To earn justification by good works you would need to be perfect every minute of your entire life–including all that time before you realized that you needed to be perfect.  That not being humanly possible, you are going to need grace, and thus presumably faith, and you are now looking for justification based on works plus faith–not much different from justification based on faith plus works, addition being commutative.

So the other side of the question is if you are justified by faith, what can works add to this? Can you then be more justified?  If being justified means being treated as if one is sinlessly perfect, without flaw or blemish, what can be added to that?  Or are those justified soley by faith somehow less justified, regarded as less perfect, than those who are justified by faith plus works?

Certainly works are part of our salvation.  However, as Dr. Orr put it, we are saved by “the faith that works”, that is, faith that inspires us to act differently–and at this point maybe we should stop and identify what “faith” actually is.

One of the complications is that the New Testament has only two words for the concept we call “faith”, a noun and a verb–which would not be problem but that we recognize that there is a range of meaning in those words which we then attempt to capture by rendering the word to different English words in different contexts.  We take the one verb and make it “have faith”, or “believe”, or “trust”, or “be faithful”, all of which are valid senses of the word–but then we think that because the English words are different the meaning is different.  We do much the same with the noun.  Fundamentally the sense of the verb is to trust, and the noun then refers to that trust.  Being justified by faith means that by placing our trust in Christ we are treated as if we had never failed, never done anything wrong.

It is that aspect of complete justification that becomes the problem for any doctrine of “faith plus”.  If we say that those who add works to their faith are “more justified” than others, then we have unquestionably said that those others are “less justified”.  However, in all of Jesus’ parables about judgement, the outcome is always black and white–no one is told, I’m sorry, you can come to the party after we clean you up a bit.  Either you are completely justified and “in”, or you are not completely justified and “out”.

Arguably, in quite a few different senses some are “more saved” than others.  The penitent thief on the cross had enough time to make a confession of his own sin and his trust in Christ, and received a promise of salvation without anything else (and it is difficult to imagine that he had no ill thoughts toward those who would be watching him struggle for life and then breaking his legs so he could no longer do so).  Of some we might recognize that they went through far more trials and struggles toward a life of devotion to Christ than most of us; for others, we might recognize that they seem closer to God, more changed, more loving, than most people.  Some people clearly are able to trust God through far worse challenges than others, and so seem to have–and to need–more faith.  Grace expresses itself differently for each individual it touches.

Yet there is a sense in which that is an illusion.  If I ask whether you have faith, I must mean do you trust God completely.  That faith might be more or less tested, and all of us will fail on one point or another during life, but that trust means that we also trust He forgives our failures, and that the tests we fail were there to make us stronger.  Trusting God completely is in that sense a yes/no proposition–either you do or you don’t.  Trusting Him enough for the problems that come in life is different, but only in the sense that the problems come to teach us to trust Him completely.

What, though, of “means of grace”?  These are often called “sacraments”.  The Roman Catholic Church has at least a half dozen of these; the Baptists as a rule have none.  Lutherans have a couple, and it is more difficult to tell exactly what things are and are not sacraments in other denominations.  Baptism and that bread-and-wine ritual for which we have at least four distinct names (Mass, Eucharist, Communion, Lord’s Supper) and many times as many theologies are the two most commonly recognized.  I have never been a “means of grace” person, so I am sure to misrepresent this, but the theory seems to be that you use up the grace you were given in the past and have to replenish it, and that the performance of these rituals by authorized persons delivers more of God’s grace to you.  It is the difference between the belief that justification by faith at a specific point in your life forgives you for all the wrongs you have not yet committed and the belief that you have been forgiven for everything you have done so far but need more grace for those wrongs which you continue doing.  However, it also involves the recognition of a priesthood as a conduit of grace–you do not receive forgiveness by confessing your sins, exactly, but by being given forgiveness by God’s representative.  It again suggests that the grace of initial total justification is less than total, and needs to be supplemented if you are to have any hope of heaven.

Yet to some degree this might be less egregious than faith plus works, because it seems fundamentally to be faith plus faith.  That has not always been so, or at least, not everyone has so understood it–stories of Spanish conquerors in the New World having priests throw water at Native Americans and pronounce the ritual words so that when the Spanish armies slaughtered them they would go to heaven suggest a mechanical magical process by which the power of the ritual releases grace even on those who do not have faith, but this is still based on the theory that someone else has faith by proxy, that the faith of the one performing the ritual releases grace on the unbeliever.  So “means of grace” are fundamentally about faith, faith in God through a ritual believed to have been instituted by Him for the purpose of conferring grace on His people.  I don’t believe in the ritual delivery of grace; I do believe in grace through confession and prayer and other aspects of a personal relationship with God, though, and accept that for some people, at least, those personal aspects might include rituals which have no meaning to me.

Ultimately, then, it seems that justification must be by faith only, or it fails to be justification at all.

On the issue of the relationship between faith and works, I recommend my Parable of the Boiler, elsewhere on this site.

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#184: Remembering Adam Keller

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #184, on the subject of Remembering Adam Keller.

Some of you know who Adam Keller is (that is a link to his Facebook profile).  Indeed, some of you know him better than I, although I have known him for over a decade, having met him at Ubercon (I do not recall which number, but I’m betting on III), gamed with him online and at conventions, and exchanged visits to each other’s homes.  Still, he was much closer to my second son Kyler and our perennial houseguest John, both of whom lived in his home for a while, probably more than once.  I knew him, but never very well.  But then, I know very few people very well.

img0184Keller

However, I was notified of this, and ultimately found it on that Facebook profile (dated April 24th, 2017, posted by someone from Adam’s own personal account):

I regret to inform all of Adam’s friends and family that he passed away last night at 11:20 pm at home.

We are looking for any family members of Adam. If you are family or have contact information for family please call….

As we make arrangements for Adam I will post them here.

Thank you very much.

Digging through threads on that page I learned that he died of pneumonia.  Co-workers say he was sick and in some pain for most of a week, but refused to go to a doctor.  Some attributed this to his fear of the high co-pay on his (Lockheed) company employee health coverage policy, and so some blamed the Affordable Care Act.  That is more than I know.  I do know that many excellent company health care plans have been eviscerated to avoid the tax penalties of that law, and there are claims that it is discouraging people from obtaining needed medical care.  If that is the case here it makes the event the more tragic, but it’s also not the point.

Adam was a gamer, and an outstanding one.  He was a champion Hackmaster player (I understand he held a national title thrice) and ran the game at conventions, in some capacity on behalf of Kenzer & Company.  It was while he was running a Hackmaster game at Ubercon that he heard me running a Multiverser game at the next table for Kyler, and became interested enough to inquire about it and test play it.  He became an avid fan, player, and supporter, coming sometimes to company meetings, trying to advise us on our hopeless financial situation, and promoting the game to his gaming friends.  He was one of the best power players I ever ran, and he has left behind a couple of characters who genuinely earned their superhero status and abilities through game play, whom I will seriously consider how to use as non-player characters in the future.  I will not forget him.

Because I am the chaplain of the Christian Gamers Guild, I am often asked whether I believe a particular departed individual is in heaven.  I try not to speculate, but I realize that it matters to people, particularly in regard to those I have at least briefly known.  The only person besides Jesus that I am completely certain will be in heaven is me, because I have that promise from God; for everyone else, there are some that it would shock me were they not there, and probably some that it would surprise me if they were, but I am not the one who makes those decisions.  Regarding Adam, I can only say that I have insufficient information.  He never talked about spiritual matters, but he was generally quiet and with me he rarely spoke about anything other than gaming.

(Just because people will ask, and some (notably Timothy and Anne Zahn) have asked, I am reasonably certain of Gary Gygax, and very sure of Dave Arneson.)

Multiverser gamer John Cross has several times said that he believes that when I created Multiverser, God revealed to me what heaven was going to be like:  that we would leap from world to world becoming involved in adventures of all kinds forever.  I deny it on every level.  God revealed nothing to me; the concept of leaping between universes was not new with us, and most of how it worked came from Ed Jones, not me; it is not the heaven which I am eagerly anticipating.  However, somehow I think if it were so, Adam would like that.

Rest in peace, friend, and whatever adventure you find beyond the grave, may God have mercy on you.

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#181: Anatomy of a Songwriting Collaboration

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #181, on the subject of Anatomy of a Songwriting Collaboration.

I have long been of the opinion that the best way to learn to write songs, initially, is to find someone who already does and work with him, in essence apprenticing as a songwriter.  That’s how I learned, although it occurs to me that I never really wondered how my mentor learned.  Still, I had learned quite a bit of music theory and had attempted quite unsuccessfully to write songs before I met him, and very quickly learned the secrets once I started working with him.  I have since worked with quite a few people who had never written a song before, and taught them the basics of how to do so.  So there might be other ways to get started, but working with someone who already knows what he is doing is a tried and true approach.

img0181Music

Because of this, I’m not claiming that anything I write could ever teach you how to write a song.  I can teach you quite a bit of music theory (I did some of that in Mr. Young’s Music Theory Class on Facebook), but to learn to write a song I think you would have to go through the process with me.  On the other hand, this past weekend I persuaded my youngest son to collaborate on a song, and it came out fairly well, and so I am going to attempt to explain the process that brought about the song here.

I am going to state the caveat I have often stated in other contexts:  all songs are different, and there are many different ways in which they come into being.  When people ask whether the words or the music come first, I always say no, because it does not work that way.  There have been times when I have begun with words that had no music, and other times when I had a melody but no lyric, or even a chord progression or background that was worth forming into a song.  How it happened this time is one example, but it shows aspects of process.

It began while I was driving in the car.  I should credit the Reverend Jack Haberer, because if I recall correctly when we were together at Ramsey High School he put under his yearbook picture, “Secretly desires to be born again again,” and the line has stuck with me over the decades.  It was nagging at me as I was driving, so I pulled a digital recorder from my pocket (I have one on my cell phone and another that is just that) and dictated something roughly poetic.  I do this sometimes with ideas for articles, stories, songs, and tasks I should complete, because I know I will forget quite soon if I don’t, and even with the convenience of recorders that I don’t always think to use too many ideas escape me.

Upon arriving home, I played back the recording and cleaned it up a bit, typing up a document that read

If deep in your heart you remember when–
Did you want to be born again again?
The good news is the news is true:
Jesus comes to make all things new,
Even you.
Even you.

So I had the beginning of a song idea, but I had no melody, no music for it at all.

What I did have was a desire to help my youngest son Adam with his own music.  He happens to be a natural–like me, he picks up instruments and figures out how to get music out of them.  He plays the piano for hours, but has very little notion of the names of the chords or key signatures.  He is learning; he questions me frequently, about what he’s doing on the piano or the guitar or the recently-added cello or other instruments.  He is very creative, but he doesn’t often write what we call “songs”–he does improvisational music, and then tries to remember fragments of it, or he records himself jamming at the piano and uploads it to the Internet but can’t otherwise reproduce it.  I wanted to give him something of an understanding of how I write a song, and so I wanted to collaborate with him on something.  I printed those words and kept them on my desk for a couple hours.

He is notoriously difficult to catch, but while I was rushing about getting his mother ready for work I saw him standing in the living room, grabbed the lyrics, and said something on the order of, “I thought you might like to collaborate on a song.  Here are some lyrics to get it started.”  He took them over to the piano and started playing something and singing something.  I was only half listening as I was otherwise occupied, and by the time I joined him he had worked some of the bugs out of it and I tried to pick up his melody.

Honestly, I was a bit disappointed with the rather stock chord progression he had adopted, even with the unusual stray notes, and the melody was nothing terribly original–but the song had vitality and drive, and that fit it extremely well, so I quickly tried to learn his melody, which probably changed a bit in the process.  He had also doubled the end words, so that Even you was sung four times rather than two.

He then grabbed the paper and ran looking for a pencil or pen.  People who know me will wonder that I didn’t just reach into my shirt pocket and hand him one, but around the house I don’t wear the shirt with the pencils, only the pocket T-shirt, so I only sometimes have a pen available.  He grabbed one from the kitchen, and scrawled words on the page as the pen died in his hands.  Still, there was enough there that we had a second verse, and I got one of my pens and filled it in, with a few tweaks, thus:

There in your mind when you feel abused,
Don’t you get tired of being used and used?
Darkness falls, then the light breaks through.
Jesus comes to make all things new,
Even you.  Even you.
Even you.  Even you.

After that, we were talking about a bridge.

That progression I mentioned was A minor, G major (with a suspended 4 frill), F major, E major (with a suspended minor second frill)–yes, quite common, quite boring from a musical theory perspective, and it repeated, playing through three times for each verse.  I wanted to exit into a bridge with an unusual transition, and he had played something I liked (he was on the piano, I was on the guitar).  I started talking about where the chord would be “expected” to go, and before I’d gotten very far he told me what chord to play.  Well, he didn’t exactly tell me, “Play an F major 7 with an added augmented four,” but he told me where to put my fingers and that’s the chord he wanted.  As root progressions go, it was not terribly interesting (from the V of VI to the IV), but the dissonance inherent in the chord was interesting, and he wanted to slow it down so I shifted to a light picking (I tend to avoid tempo changes in my songs, preferring meter changes that achieve the same effect but are more precise).  He sang the next words, You want what you want, creating the shape of the melody for the bridge, and then started spitting out words that he liked as individual lines.  I told him to write them down, because it was obvious we were going to lose some potentially good material if we didn’t do something.  He wrote you got the joy, Jesus got the pain, then crossed out Jesus got and replaced it with He took, and added away to the end.  He next wrote your sin is a stain–redemption sustains, but it was all disjointed.  I said I wanted to invert that line, strike the away, and make pain rhyme with stain, but we needed a line between to make it fit.  He suggested you get what you get, and with a bit of scribbling arrows on the page we wound up with

You want what you want.
You got the joy, He took the pain.
You get what you get.
Redemption sustains, sin is a stain.

I still wanted a second bridge, something that would break out of the ordinariness of the progressions so far, because the other chord in this bridge was a G six nine, and we played it in essence F to G to F to G, returning to the original progression–and the melody was only slightly different from that of the verses, although slowed.

My vision at this point was that we were going to write a third verse related to that idea of sin, do a different second bridge, and resolve it in a fourth and final verse.  The tempo being what it is, the song was moving fast and I thought felt short.  I put forward an opening line for the third verse, Asking yourself why you want to sin, and we started talking about what to say next.  The contrast between losing and winning came to the fore, and I wanted to say something about choosing to lose, but couldn’t fit it comfortably and still get to the word win for the rhyme scheme.  Between us we hammered out the second line, and along the way Adam said that the words to win should flow into the next line, the object won opening that line.  I observed that the second line in previous verses always had the double ending–again again, used and used, and that we should maintain the pattern, to win to win–and then that this would achieve what he wanted, if we made it to win.  To win victory in the opening of the next line.  The rest of that flowed quickly, and we had a third verse,

Ask yourself why you want to sin,
Why you lose, you were made to win.  To win
Victory, and to make it through
Jesus comes to make all things new,
Even you.  Even you.
Even you.  Even you.

And now we came to the point where I wanted the second bridge, and I pushed for the resolution from the E major to go to something at least a bit unanticipated, the C major.  I also agreed again to reduce the drive.

At this point we needed a progression, and Adam said that he wanted me to go from the C up half a step, so I slid it into the D-flat major.  That certainly satisfied me for unusual progressions, and he liked it as well–but he said we needed to resolve that, and since I was the expert on that point he left it to me.  I decided I could go from the D-flat to the A-flat to the E-flat, and from there I could get back to the C easily enough (all major) and repeat the progression.  I also recognized that the last note of the melody of the verse was the E, and I could hold it into the beginning of the bridge and start this melody on the same note.  The melodic line at the first chord change was tricky, but I managed to bring it down to be on the G by the time we reached the E-flat chord, which was the common note going back to the C chord, and a leap back up to repeat the line worked.  I wrote the words with the melody at this point, and Adam put them on paper.  I also after the second descent held the G with my voice and changed the chord from the E-flat to the G major, thinking that it would give me the leading tones to get back to the A minor for my final verse.

But–

That fourth verse was supposed to resolve the message of the song.  There were probably a lot of things we could have said, but I had none of them in my mind yet and I realized that the unexpected shift to the G major chord provided a musical resolution to the song, and that the words of what was supposed to be the second bridge resolved the message rather well.  I presented the alternatives to Adam–write a closing verse, or end the song here–and he agreed that this was a decent ending for the song.  Thus our fourth verse never materialized, and our second bridge became instead our coda:

Thank God for what He’s done
To set us free
He gave His only Son
For you and me.

And you should be able to hear the song here on SoundCloud.

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