Perseverance, not Complacency

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Pet. 5:8-9).

In his essay/devotional last week, Insanity Builds Character, my fellow writer highlighted the importance, nay necessity, of stubborn perseverance to the Christian walk. In that post he mentions the following, “Suffering, pain, adversity, all work to elicit perseverance from a person. In this way (and others not mentioned here but outlined also in James 1 and 1 Peter 4), suffering is actually a blessing to believers, for without suffering we would never learn to persevere in trusting God.” There are many kinds of suffering in the world, but here I want to particularly touch on material and social suffering -or specifically lack thereof.

In the United States, and in some ways the West at large, culture has been largely prosperous in recent centuries, affording opportunities for self betterment unparalleled in previous times; along with that, Western civilization has maintained a social structure largely complementary to, at best, and ambivalent of, at worst, the Christian faith. This is not to say that eras of mass poverty and anti-Christian social movements do not continue to exist, but the prevalence of affluence and Christian nominalism, especially in the U.S., has made it possible to cheaply claim the Christian faith in many cases. This poses a challenge to perseverance in the faith that Peter addresses above: be sober minded, be watchful. It is not so much a trial of suffering as it is a temptation to complacency brought on by the material and social ease that many of us enjoy. As such, it can be easy to try and live out our Christianity so as to not rock the social and material boats of our lives. This is the kind of ‘Christianity’ that is hollow on the inside, the kind that is fundamentally defined, not by what Christ has done, but by a party line or special interest group. This is why perseverance in watchfulness is such a critical part of the Christian walk, and not merely personal watchfulness, but watchfulness performed in conjunction with the community that God has provided: his Church. God’s wrath is stirred up against those who walk complacently in the comfortableness of wealth and do not weep over the injustices on the earth:

“Woe to those who are at ease in Zion,
    and to those who feel secure on the mountain of Samaria,
the notable men of the first of the nations,
    to whom the house of Israel comes!
Pass over to Calneh, and see,
    and from there go to Hamath the great;
    then go down to Gath of the Philistines.
Are you better than these kingdoms?
    Or is their territory greater than your territory,
O you who put far away the day of disaster
    and bring near the seat of violence?

“Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory
    and stretch themselves out on their couches,
and eat lambs from the flock
    and calves from the midst of the stall,
who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp
    and like David invent for themselves instruments of music,
who drink wine in bowls
    and anoint themselves with the finest oils,
    but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph!
Therefore they shall now be the first of those who go into exile,
    and the revelry of those who stretch themselves out shall pass away.”

The Lord God has sworn by himself, declares the Lord, the God of hosts:

“I abhor the pride of Jacob
    and hate his strongholds,
    and I will deliver up the city and all that is in it.”

Amos 6:1-8

So the next time we are at a crossroads, it behooves us to ask ourselves WHY we are saying, doing, voting, spending time the way we are: is it driven by a Godly desire to pursue His glory, or is it a merely a crinkled Christianese wrapper around an idol of ease? The first will honor God and bless our neighbors, the second will only incur judgment and wrath.

Insanity Builds Character

What’s the definition of insanity?

One night, amidst a a hail of sarcastic barbs with a past roommate, the thought occurred–people often bring up an allegedly Einsteinian quote:

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. – Einstein, maybe

To give an example of how this quote might be weaponized: your friend has been buying Powerball tickets religiously for a year, and each time he says to you, “this’ll be the time!” You say, “Hey Ed, what did Einstein says the definition of insanity was?”

Let me show a different definition here:

To persist in or remain constant to a purpose, idea, or task in the face of obstacles or discouragement.The Free Dictionary

This, of course, is the official definition of perseverance. But I am surprised by the similarities between the concept of perseverance and what some would consider insanity. For what is perseverance but doing the same thing over and over again in hopes of a different result?

When someone gets up and goes running each day in hopes of losing weight or a faster mile, they may not always see immediate results. It’s true that some alterations happen overnight, but often, significant transformations take years of careful development. Along the way, it can become discouraging to see an apparent lack of progress, brought on by a narrow-sighted view that only sees the number on the scale that is greater than yesterday’s.

But even in this apparent trough, perseverance is producing habits that can easily produce long-term rewards. If a weightlifter practices good technique instead of simply “maxing out” during each workout, he or she will initially not be lifting as much weight as possible, and this may be discouraging–I could be doing more! But persevering and mastering technique on easier weights becomes critical later in avoiding injuries on heavier lifts. In all walks of life, persevering has benefits.

For believers and unbelievers alike, perseverance is a virtue that can have many positive effects. But we can take it even further for the Christian. We know from Scripture, in Paul’s letter to the Romans, that for believers perseverance is produced by suffering. Suffering, pain, adversity, all work to elicit perseverance from a person. In this way (and others not mentioned here but outlined also in James 1 and 1 Peter 4), suffering is actually a blessing to believers, for without suffering we would never learn to persevere in trusting God, and without perseverance we will not experience what Paul says is the outcome of perseverance: character. And character leads to another blessing – hope.

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” – Romans 5:3-5

What are areas of your life that you need to be persevering in? Areas where you may have been discouraged and slacked off? Look to God’s promises in his word, and know that when we persevere it is not without hope but with expectant hope, because we have a reliable redeemer who is worthy to be followed with all the grit and determination we can muster.

Tomorrow, Tuesday, Earning Pay

It’s a misty and muddy Monday morning, or was as of this writing, and I cannot come up with a really good excuse for not going to work today. I’m fond of my job, don’t get me wrong, but, well, it’s raining, and it’s dreadfully cold, and I don’t want to. None of those are acceptable reasons, even to me, and so I layer on my clothing, drag myself out the door, and tell my phone to play some music as I drive, in an effort to find some comfort in the cold.

What plays is this, my latest official endorsement for A Song to Stare off into the Distance and Be Dramatic to This October Morning, a song with a steady, if quiet beat, good for making oneself get up and go out, out of a sense of duty, if nothing else.

Schooldays over, come on then John
Time to be gettin’ your pit boots on
On with your sark and moleskin trousers
It’s time you were on your way
Time you were learning the pitman’s job
And earning the pitman’s pay

Come on then Jim, it’s time to go
Time you were working down below
Time to be handling a pick and a shovel
You start at the pits today
Time you were learning the collier’s job
And earning the collier’s pay

Come on then Dai, it’s almost light
Time you were off to the anthracite
The morning mist is on the valley
It’s time you were on your way
Time you were learning the miner’s job
And earning the miner’s pay

That’s “School Days Are Over,” the cover the Chieftains did with this band called The Low Anthem. The original song is by Ewan MacColl; the lay listener might have a chance of knowing a much more popular song he is the original writer of, namely, “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.” MacColl has an impressive pedigree, as described by Wikipedia, being “a British folk singer, songwriter, communist, labour activist, actor, poet, playwright and record producer born in Lancashire to Scottish parents.”

Contrary to what you might expect, “School Days Are Over” is not an especially political ditty – although the adverb there is important. It’s meant, as far as my limited internet research leads me to believe, as a more general lament, “a wistful song,” as I read it described. And that is how I feel, listening to it: wistful. Though what I have to be wistful about it comparatively limited.

I awoke in a nice, heated apartment, and put on my nice, soft clothes and my nice, new (!) boots, deposited my belongs in a nice, padded backpack, and drove – not walked – the ten or so miles to my workplace, where I parked on the first floor of a parking garage and then walked, covered the whole way from the rain, to an elevator that took me up – not down, into the earth – where I spent most the day sitting in a not uncomfortable chair typing, which is not a very labor intensive skill. I’m hardly a lad newly off to a life of backbreaking work.

Am I wistful about the idea of my school days themselves being long over? I never much liked school, though. But perhaps it is the more universal themes espoused by the song that’s affected me just so this morning. You are grown, your school days are over, time to be earning the [insert occupation]’s pay.

Well. I look forward to what’s supposed to be another long rainy day tomorrow.

Stop and Smell the Daisies

“Have you ever heard this group before?  My wife and I go to their concerts every time they’re performing within 300 miles of us.”  I had just sat down at the Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem concert when the elderly man to my left spoke up.  I explained that I was unfamiliar with Daisy Mayhem, and we began to chat about the group.  When the lights dimmed, the audience fell silent, and the four performers walked onstage.  In the concert that followed, I discovered that in rare instances I do actually like bluegrass/soul/American folk music.

While I enjoyed many songs in the concert, my favorite piece at the time was the Appalachian song “Singing in the Land.”  The style of the song was wistful, for it was about wanting to go to heaven.  All four musicians stood around one microphone, and Anand Nayak accompanied on acoustic guitar.  Arbo started the singing alone, and the rest of the group began harmonizing.  Then, bass player Andrew Kinsey, percussionist Scott Kessel, and Anand Nayak each sang a solo.  At one point, Kinsey performed alone on a wind instrument that had a mellow timbre.  When the singers sang about heaven, the music was higher in an example of word painting.  The song ended peacefully with the guitar fading out right before the last word.

Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem group
From left to right: Scott Kessel, Rani Arbo, Andrew Kinsey, and Anand Nayak

Since the concert, I have gone back and listened to several Daisy Mayhem songs, and my two regulars now vie with “Singing in the Land” for top spot.  The first is “I Love This City,” which is a beautiful depiction of how a person can become fond of a city—in this case New Orleans.  The song is lovely and resonates with my sentimental affection for my hometown (word of caution: there are occasional curse words in some of the group’s songs, including this one, but it tends to be for dialect purposes).  My second Daisy Mayhem top hit is “Roses.”  Arbo explained that this song was about a friend of her mother’s who began a rose garden in New York City years ago near one of the churches.  The friend was diagnosed with terminal cancer later in life, and when she asked her oncologist whether she should start spending her money, he told her “yes.”  So, she went on a cruise in Scandinavia.  A European couple on the cruise mentioned that they had visited New York City, and the woman asked them how they liked it.  While the husband had loved the city, the wife said that she didn’t really like it—except for this particular rose garden near a church…the very one the friend tended!  When the friend returned home, her oncologist told her to stop spending her money after all because her cancer was in remission, and she lived for several years longer.  This story combined with the music and lyrics of makes “Roses” a special song.

Many concerts finish with on a rousing note, but Daisy Mayhem closed with a meditative song called “Crossing the Bar.”  The lyrics are from a poem by Tennyson, and Arbo explained that her mother-in-law quoted the poem on her deathbed, leading Arbo to write a melody for it.  Arbo described the poem as an expression of “conscious dying.”  I think this conclusion to the concert represents a lot about what makes the group unique.  Their songs are often personal, tender, and haunting.  Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem’s music brings out the beauty, character, and joy of everyday life and reminds their audience of the seemingly unimportant moments that make life special.  Not only do these songs encourage you to stop and smell the roses, but they also encourage you to enjoy the daisies—humble flowers that have their own kind of beauty too.


Note: I originally wrote parts of this review for a music appreciation class but wanted to share it in an updated form so that perhaps others can enjoy the music too.  For those of you who aren’t usually fans of this mix of genres, I encourage you to give it a try because, like me, you might be surprised.

Do not forsake me oh my darling

The battle between William Kane and Frank Miller in the movie High Noon epitomizes what makes good Western films powerful: the struggle between duty and chaos, good and evil, and self-sacrifice and selfishness. Through the movie’s one hour and twenty-five minute runtime, the audience is given a glimpse into the many motivations that lead men to take what doesn’t belong to them, live in apathy, or stand their ground in the face of insurmountable odds. One facet of the movie that sticks with you long after you leave is the main theme which is interwoven throughout:

 

Do not forsake me, oh my darlin’
On this, our weddin’ day
Do not forsake me, oh my darlin’
Wait, wait along

I do not know what fate awaits me
I only know I must be brave
And I must face a man who hates me
Or lie a coward, a craven coward
Or lie a coward in my grave

Oh, to be torn ‘tweenst love and duty
S’posin’ I lose my fair-haired beauty
Look at that big hand move along
Nearin’ high noon

He made a vow while in state prison
Vowed it would be my life or his’n
I’m not afraid of death but oh
What will I do if you leave me?

Do not forsake me, oh my darlin’
You made that promise as a bride
Do not forsake me, oh my darlin’
Although you’re grievin’, don’t think of leavin’
Now that I need you by my side

Sporting a solid cast with Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly, High Noon was, and still is upon recent re-visitation, one of my favorite Western films of all time, and well worth a watch if you enjoy tales from the old west.

 

Lyrics:

Read more: Frankie Laine – High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me) Lyrics | MetroLyrics