Since my last post was about Bridesmaids, a chick flick, I decided to write a blog based on a more sophisticated form of art: classical music, Chopin to be exact. This is also a response to Dr. Ben’s post extolling the excellence and excitement of scripture.
The Music of Scripture
I know everyone has certain metaphors that show the gospel particularly stronger than others. I remember reading about a physician who saw God’s glory when he noticed the intricacies of a patient’s ear. For another it might be seeing their new born baby for the first time or watching a sunrise at the top of a mountain. For me, watching musicians has always cast a spell on me, the passion and skill always stuns me and brings me to see the glory of God. Music is a metaphor of the gospel.
Rubinstein and Chopin
When I watch Rubinstein it stirs something within me, his technique, his expression, his emotion. (Watch the clip if you get a chance it’s quite worth it.) Rubinstein basically embodies Chopin. Maybe it was because Chopin was also born in Poland and they had a Polish connection. But in the field of Chopinists Rubinstein has no peer; he is in a category of his own. When I watch Rubinstein I think of the years of practices, the day in and day out of perseverance. I also took piano lessons for ten years, I dabbled in a bit of Chopin, but I never reached anywhere near Rubinstein’s grasp.
The Three Violinists
Once at a chapel service the speaker shared an analogy of a musician. He said that there was one violinist who played perfectly, everything was correct, his tempo, his dynamics, his technique, but there was no passion and no love, no emotion. He was all skill, but no emotion. The audience did not like his performance.
Another violinist, however, played the same piece, but he played so passionately and emotionally banging on his violin and plucking the strings that the crowd went wild. But the composer did not recognize the music.
The third and final pianist, though, mastered the skill and technique, but also played with love and emotion. This pianist ultimately played for only one person in the audience. There was only one applause and nod of approval that he played for. He played for his teacher and the composer of the music.
As an exegete of scripture, I pray to learn to be the third violinist. There are so many intricacies of scripture so many areas to err in, the historical aspect, the cultural aspect, the linguistic aspect, the theological aspect. There are so many different views and interpretation. There are literally thousands of journal articles and books to sift through. There is so much technique that goes under the science and art of hermeneutics.
One of my professors taught me that there are 96 steps to correctly interpret scripture. I think he only showed us the first 17 and we could barely handle that. When a Pastor has to prepare a sermon on Sunday, sometimes even 40 hours of preparation is not enough. 40 hours is not enough, just as with Rubinstein it takes thousands of hours to reach a point of expertise. It takes living with scripture and constantly constantly living in scripture to acquire it. There is so much technique and discipline required to be a scholar of scripture.
But there is also the second violinist who was full of passion and emotion, but lacked technique. I usually fall under this category. Recently, I had to preach on 1 Corinthians 13, but I completely taught it out of context and spoke about it as general love. However, Paul’s theme was loving in the context of spiritual gifts. (those who could speak in tongues looked down on others who couldn’t.) Everything in my message was Biblical and scriptural, but I didn’t stay in the context of 1 Corinthians 13. I didn’t do the task of discovering the world of the text and trying to understand St. Paul and his audience, the Corinthian Church.
As I read the Bible there are so many things that I don’t understand. When I was relaying my preaching fumbles to my Hermeneutics Professor, he basically shook his head and reprimanded me saying that he had warned us of 1 Corinthians 13 when he taught us. I asked if I’ll ever get another chance. He said there’s only one time that it really counts and that is before the Lord.
This reminded me that ultimately we have an audience of one. Everything else is a draft, a dress rehearsal. People will love the way we interpret scripture or hate it. And we each choose how we individually will play and perform the sheet music we’ve been given. We choose to whom we will cater our music to. Will we please the composer or the majority? Will we play to make money or to stay faithful to the music? Will we spend the time and energy necessary to practice? Will we strive to play well or just wing it and pretend like we know what we’re doing?
We are given the notes to play, but not everyone’s song looks the same. The music has different flavors and contextualizations. Our lives are variations of a theme. I hope we get the theme.
How about you? How does your process of hermeneutics and exegesis go? Do you struggle with the technique or passion? What is the metaphor of the gospel for you? Where do you see God’s glory most?
As you might guess, as one who loves text and is rather unemotional, I default to being like the first violinist. I had some complaints about my preaching of Isaiah that I shared it like a lecture with TMI–too much information–rather than as a sermon with a clear theme.
If you have 20 minutes watch this lovely video clip about Bono and Eugene Peterson, the author of The Message sharing with each other about their love of the arts and the love of music and of the Psalms: http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2016/april/bono-eugene-peterson-most-searched-shared-psalms-fuller.html It would be well worth your time.
Thanks for sharing Dr. Ben. I love how in the beginning the interviewer asks Peterson how he could turn down an invitation to meet Bono. The interviewer says, “It was Bono!” But Peterson answers, “It was Isaiah!”
It’s amazing to see two people Bono and Peterson come together. Under any other normal situations they would have never known have known of each other, but they are both artists and communicators and lovers of scripture.
I liked how Peterson first translated a psalm for a friend to understand it. This was Peterson’s goal from the get go. To provide others with a language they could understand. I think this is the purpose of art. Bono also commented how the language of the Message Translation is one that he can understand. Translation requires one to be proficient in the target language/culture.
There is so much art and beauty in scripture. It was funny how Peterson inadvertently learned what a metaphor is at 12 years old. Life must be sacramental. Our lives are full of symbols and signs because we are creatures created to worship. Every person has a sacred part of their life whether that be God or gods: music, money, football games, etc. We all worship.
I also appreciate how Peterson said imagination is a way to get into the truth. I cannot live without art or imagination, mystery or sacrament, that would suffocate me.
There’s one quote by Rubinstein I like, “I was born very, very lazy and I don’t always practice very long. But I must say, in my defense, that it is not so good, in a musical way, to overpractice. When you do, the music seems to come out of your pocket. If you play with a feeling of ‘Oh, I know this,’ you play without that little drop of fresh blood that is necessary -and the audience feels it”
I don’t like when people come across with easy answers and 100% assurance in their interpretations, as if they know everything already. And I think the Psalms represent not knowing the answers. The Psalms honestly depict “the hurt and disappointment of being human.” Oftentimes you hurt and you don’t know why. And as Peterson said, you want to find a way to curse, without curse, hence the Psalms.