Fado

On our last night in Lisbon, Portugal, my brother, myself, and 10 other world travelers made our way to the upstairs dining table at a small local restaurant. After filling up glasses of wine and beer, accompanied by sides of bread, cheese, and fried cuttlefish, the lights were dimmed. Soon, in came two guitar players accompanied by a couple singers, and thus began a night of Fado music.

Fado is a Portuguese genre of music originating in Lisbon during the early part of the 19th century. Meaning ‘fate’ in Portuguese, this genre is often characterized by bitter sweetness -missing something that has passed on. However, this westernizing of the translation doesn’t really capture the full depth of the meaning, because not all Fado can be characterized as sad. An example our guide gave was: “It is like being sad to leave Lisbon to have to return home, but at the same time looking forward to getting back and being excited about the future”.  The Fado we heard was very much about setting a mood: the lights were dimmed, and the style of singing of both the male and female singers was very emotional.

After performing for two twenty minute sessions, the musicians retired, and the night was over. One by one various members of the group headed back to hotels and hostels through the moonlit streets of Lisbon with the haunting sounds of Portuguese music lingering in their ears.

Some brief thoughts on death

And he [the thief] said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’” For the past several months my community group has been going through the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Through this study we have gotten to discuss and explore the Biblical basis for many different parts of our faith, and this past week one of the questions discussed was number 37, which deals with the benefits believers, at death, receive in Christ.

Up until last weekend, death was not a topic I had given much thought too. Maybe due to my age, or a general carelessness, the question of what exactly happens when we die had never crossed my mind with any seriousness. However, after reading through question 37 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, the issue was placed front and center:

37. What benefits do believers receive from Christ at death?
A. The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united in Christ, do rest in their graves, till the resurrection.

Here the topic of what happens to believers at death is addressed directly, and the answer is divided into two halves: the first focusing on the spirit, and the second on the physical body laid in the ground.

A good passage to read to understand the first half of the answer is Philippians 1:21-23, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” Here we see that Paul believes that at death he will be with the Lord Jesus Christ in paradise. This is in contrast with many views such as those of Roman Catholicism, ‘spirit sleep’, and the idea that we just cannot ‘know’ what will happen after death.

Whenever looking at the second half of the answer, a good explanation to understand the importance of the physical body being united to Christ in hope of a future resurrection can be found in 1 Cor. 15:12-14, “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” Here Paul demonstrates the importance of the physical resurrection. Unlike many religions, Christianity does not downplay or minimize the importance of the physical—after all God made man and woman with both souls and physical bodies in the beginning.

Death is something that men have feared for thousands of years, and yet the Bible shows us that God, in Christ, has made a way of life. By studying this catechism question, and more importantly the Biblical passages that it draws from, we are reminded even more of the love that God has shown us—a love that enshrouds his people now, in the grave, and ultimately to the end of times and the resurrection.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person, though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die, but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” Romans 5:6-11

Some Theological Resources

As has been made quite apparent probably from previous posts, podcasts have become a staple of my weekly routine, and I am constantly on the lookout for new content from different people. Thanks to a friend, I have recently come across several from various denominational backgrounds but wanted to mention two of them here:

The Reformed Forum:

Hosted by (you guessed it) a group of Reformed pastors from all over the U.S., mostly from the OPC and PCA, this site seeks to offer solid analysis and discussion of theology from a Reformed perspective. The topics and discussion might be described as ‘academic’ to some degree, but this does not mean that they are not accessible or eminently practical. In fact, Reformed Forum is clear in their desire that theology should be practical and have feet—lived out and impactful in daily life.

The Thinking Fellows:

Hearkening from a Lutheran background, this podcast is currently doing a series on various Christians throughout church history. Beginning with Saint Augustine, Johan Arndt, and Gresham Machen, this series is looking to explore, at a high level, many different men throughout history who have played important roles in the growth and doctrines of the church. The show is very approachable, and in their archives they have many podcasts that discuss a variety of contemporary and theological topics from a Lutheran perspective.

Who are you?

‘Who are you?’ While quite formulaic in today’s culture and typically resulting in a formulaic response, this question, taken to its logical conclusion, points to a much deeper and foundational idea: that of identity.

The Problem

Identity is certainly not a new topic of discussion; however, it has lost none of its relevance or importance to contemporary conversation. As Americans, this battle for identity has been playing out in very real, tangible, and heartbreaking ways -ways that have become more and more visible as time has gone on. Slavery, while in many ways a result of cultural perversion and economics, was at its core an identity problem: defining men and women based on biology (skin color, physical ability, mental acuity, race, etc…), rather than on any reference to the dignity that God has given all mankind by the fact they are made in his image. Abortion, at its root, is a question of identity: whether an unborn baby is merely a clump of cells with no inherent selfhood of its own, or the converse position, “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:16), where at conception we have identity given by God himself. Transgenderism is inherently an identity problem: defining ourselves in ways that completely divorce us from any scientific and spiritual standard of reality (Macarther). However, while these are all examples of high profile and visible identity crises, it often takes more subtle forms. When asked to describe myself, my past and who I am, descriptors such as introvert, single, family guy, etc.etc tend to be some of the first used. Many people do the same: identifying themselves by their work, friends, hobbies, relationships, parents, organizations, entertainment preferences, and preferred foods. Not everything people identify with is ‘positive’, sometimes people identify themselves (whether they admit publically or not) by the ways others treat or treated them, or even by the things in their lives that they are most ashamed of: sins or failures in their pasts. While reality dictates that all of these things do indeed affect us, if this is where our ‘identity’ ends, then we are just as divorced from reality as the most insane person.

The Solution

Identifying the self with causes, relationships, and any number of other things is inherently insufficient in itself, and leads to the same core problem found in slavery, abortion, and transgenderism: man, left to his own devices, provides no absolute for defining identity, but subjects it to mere practicality, politics, and selfishness. So, where does one look for identity? For all men, believer and unbeliever alike, it is found in God alone. Calvin addresses this whenever discussing self-knowledge:

“True self-knowledge only comes after first contemplating the face of God and then, afterwards, looking into ourselves. We as sinful men think of ourselves as righteous, holy, and just, and when comparing with the world around us, can find ways to rationalize this belief. If our behavior is at least some better than another’s we have ‘justification’ for our self satisfaction[…]so long as we keep our mind within the confines of human pollution, anything which is in some small degree less defiled delights us as if it were most pure ” ~Institutes, Bk 1, Ch1, Sctn 2

Only by “contemplating the face of God” can man gain any real understanding of who he is, how broken he is, and where his true identity is found. Because all men fell in Adam, they are ultimately defined by that fall apart from the grace of God: men living in active and willing rebellion. That is the identity of every man, woman, and child on this globe proceeding from natural generation -none is innocent. However, there is  another identity offered, one made possible through the sacrificial death of God himself in Jesus Christ. For those who believe, although still living in the realities of the fall, identity is found in Christ and his victorious and finished work. We are no longer vessels of destruction, but rather vessels of mercy (Rom 9:23-24). In the end, at the root of all, one of these two realities defines us, not our family, age, work, social circles, organizations, causes, etc. Either Adam or Christ.

Conclusion

The question of identity is incredibly important, and yet it is very easy as Christians to fall into shallowly defining ‘self’ in just the same way the world does: by starting with ourselves. Jesus is the answer to man’s broken identity, the anchor which alone can provide the mooring where men and women can thrive and by His grace become ever more as they were originally designed. Apart from Him we are all but rebels and traitors, destined for wrath and torment, and justly so. Who are you?

 

Colony House

A Little Backstory

A friend recently introduced me to an excellent video interview between Eugene Peterson and Bono discussing the Psalms and how modern music should draw more from them (see interview here). During the interview, Bono made a broad statement questioning the authenticity/honesty of the majority of Christian music, and while I would agree that a lot of mainstream ‘Christian’ music is pretty anemic, an article on the interview by Andrew Peterson (here) offered an alternative perspective that I have found provocative and helpful. All that to say, Peterson’s article also provided a list of what he called excellent Christian music, and so I decided to track down some of the bands that he mentioned beginning with one called ‘Colony House’.

Colony House

Based out of Nashville, TN, Colony House has been making music since 2009. Made up of a quartet of musicians, including two brothers, they sport a clean indie-rock sound. As of now, only two full length albums exist (one that just came out this year), and so I have only listened to When I Was Younger which was released in 2014.

The band has a bright sound that was surprisingly appealing to me -especially since I tend to prefer heavier and darker music. However, despite their brighter instrumental sound, the lyrics address a wide variety of struggles: loss, love, the future, growing up; thus providing depth and making the songs eminently relatable. In fact, the lyrical/music combination packs a punch similar to the rawness of a lot of modern hiphop/rap artists while providing what is arguably a more musical experience. Part of what makes their music so appealing to me is that they can sing about very real struggles, but do so in the context of redemption and the hope that we as Christians have in our Savior.

While Colony House is only the first band on Peterson’s list that I have explored to this point, I have to say that they are excellent and worth a listen. With their bright and approachable sound, lyrical depth, and redemptive outlook, they offer a beautiful, authentic, and relatable album that can be enjoyed for both its musicality and content. Now on to the next artist on Peterson’s list.

History in Bitesize Pieces

The Thanksgiving to Christmas season means an increase in time spent travelling for most people, and while music or books on tape fill that well, podcasts are another great way to spend the time on the road. One such podcast that is excellent for longer drives is Hardcore History.

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History, along with literature, has always fascinated me. However, pulling out an actual history book after a long day at work is pretty much a futile effort -like the church history book I started months ago and have yet to make major headway in. That being said, much of the time I spend in the car each month driving to see friends or family affords an opportunity to listen, and Dan Carlin’s history series has proved to be infinitely informative….and entertaining. Each podcast or ‘series’ is about 2.5+ hours long covering topics from Genghis Khan, to the Persian Empire, to medieval Europe, to 20th Century history. Also, on his website he lists all of his sources, and provides links to the various books from which his information comes. Much of what he discusses are the less savory or well known aspects of history, hence the title ‘Hardcore’ History. However, as such he provides insight into topics that are rarely covered in-depth elsewhere -like the Persian Empire (and not the Greek interpretation of it).

If you have a long commute, or maybe a weekend trip coming up with the holidays, consider giving Hardcore History a try instead of the book on tape or cd. It will be informative AND entertaining, and is a great way to learn something new about our past without having to pickup a college history book.

A New Sound for the Day

Whenever I discover a new album or group they tend to take up hours worth of listening time over the first weeks after discovery. Following are a few of the groups who have recently made it onto my repeat playlist:

  1. Lish Starshine and the Spirit Animals. Based out of Shreveport, Louisiana, they blend a beautiful classic rock sound with great vocals. Their music is energetic, upbeat, and is enjoyable to listen too while performing a variety of activities.

2. A Hill to Die Upon. Based out of Illinois, this black/death metal band creates songs that are dark, intriguing, and hauntingly beautiful. Given their genre, the style will not appeal to all audiences (harsh vocals), but the style is befitting of the subject matter (e.g. two of my favorite songs of theirs are “Oh Death” and “Satan Speaks”).

3. Lumsk. Hearkening from Norway, this folk metal band features clean Scandinavian vocals, interesting instruments (including pipe organ), and mythically inspired lyrics. The group has produced three albums with the newest one being more rock/pop than metal; however, all three albums feature strong folk elements that create beautiful and fascinating soundscapes.

 

 

Something New to Listen To

Over the past several months podcasts have been working their way into my weekly schedule. Whether for the car rides on weekends to visit family and friends, or as a way to fruitfully engage my mind after a long day at work while eating dinner,  I have found them to present intriguing and challenging ideas. Some of them deal with more socio-economic issues (EconTalk), while others are religious in nature (Reformed Pubcast). However, the one I want to talk a little bit about today is one that I have found myself listening to more and more lately: Doctrine and Devotion. The show is hosted by Joe Thorn and Jim Fowler, a Pastor and Elder candidate from Redeemer Fellowship in IL. Each week they release a couple episodes discussing various things such as corporate worship, spiritual gifts, spiritual warfare, the doctrine of election, and more. Each episode is largely structured around an informal discussion between the two hosts on the topic at hand. Also, each episode ends with book recommendations for further reading and study on that week’s subject. If you have been looking for a reformed discussion of different topics, or are just interested in exploring a new podcast, “Doctrine and Devotion” is a great place to start.

Another DC Film

The cinema has been flooded with remakes and superhero films over the past several years: True Grit, Wrath of Khan, X-Men, Avengers, Batman, and the list could go on. While this is not inherently a problem, the saturation of films (especially superhero ones), has started to become tedious. There was a time when I genuinely got excited to go watch a new film about some guy/gal in spandex saving the world, but not so much anymore. Marvel, which has been consistently hitting it out of the park with story, characters, etc. has become (in my opinion) very samey in their films. On the opposite end of the spectrum, DC has produced some stylistically intriguing films, but they have largely lacked (with Christopher Nolan’s notable trilogy as an exception) well-paced stories and characters. DC’s latest entry, Suicide Squad, suffers from most of the same weaknesses as past films from the publisher but makes up for it in other areas.

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The Bad:

Suicide Squad has a plethora of protagonists—think Avengers but with all villains. However, while Marvel manages to introduce their cast in a way that does not feel rushed, Suicide Squad manages to only introduce three of the characters in any depth: Deadshot, Harlequin, and Diablo. As such, the film has multiple characters that feel very flat since their backstory and motivations are not fully drawn out. Overall, the pacing of the movie did not bother me too much although the introductions of characters is placed heavily on the forward end of the film which creates an odd division between the two halves.

diablo

The Good:

For any pacing or character/plot problems the film has, there are still positive aspects that made the film fun for me. Firstly was the music. The film makes ample use of contemporary music which fits extremely well with the style of the movie. Songs like “Sucker for Pain” by Lil Wayne, and songs by Imagine Dragons and others, create a soundtrack that provides immediately recognizable theme music. However, while the music was entertaining, the visual presentation of characters and settings is what I enjoyed the most. As I mentioned in the introduction, DC often has interesting stylistic approaches in their films (see their animated shows/movies and the 90’s Batman series). This approach of translating the comic book to the screen has always pleased me because, being a huge fan of comic books in general, any time a film tries to capture the eccentricities of the drawn page, it usually creates a very unique experience. Suicide Squad manages to do this with its bizarre and over the top characters like Harlequin and the Joker, as well as with Deadshot, Diablo, and others. By created a visual experience most certainly NOT grounded in reality, the film does a good job of carrying over the visual themes and characters from the comic book genre.

harlequin

Conclusion

Suicide Squad, although suffering from some poor pacing and weak character development, offers a humorous musical experience combined with a unique visual presentation of its subject matter. While this film will certainly not win over those who have become tired of the superhero genre—or never had an interest to start with—those who are drawn to the more visually stylized films will probably find it an enjoyable romp through bizarre super-powered action.

“Better to die than to be a coward.”

“Better to die than to be a coward.” Such is the official motto of the Royal Gurkha Rifles. Renowned for their bravery for well over 200 years, Gurkha soldiers are recruited by nations across the globe. While famous for their fighting prowess, they are also iconic because of the unique knife that they carry called a “kukri.” Understanding the history of the men who have made the blade globally known, coupled with a look at its effective design, are keys to understanding why the kukri has become legendary worldwide to knife and sword enthusiasts.

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The history of Nepal, and the use of the kukri, gives a picture into why it has become as popular as it has. The first major conflict between Western Civilization and Nepal took place in 1814 between the British and native Gurkhas. During this two year conflict the Gurkhas developed a well earned reputation as being fearless fighters—a reputation that they have maintained all the way until the present day. To this fact can be attributed the renown that the kukri—which they carried into battle against the British—has attained to. Although the British did not manage to gain control of Nepal through this conflict, they were so impressed by the Gurkha’s fighting ability that they recruited them into the East India Company. Gurkhas played roles in many wars that took place during the 19th century in that part of the world. Since then they have continued to serve in the British armed forces, even being deployed to Afghanistan—all the while continuing to carry their iconic kukri.

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While the exploits of warriors have made the kukri famous, it is the effective design that keeps people coming back to use it as a weapon, camping tool, etc. To most people, the forward “bent” blade is what stands out most about the knife. This is actually part of the design that makes the kukri an incredibly powerful cutting tool. Hank Reinhardt comments, “The forward angled blade gave it [the kukri] great cutting power”(188). This forward angled design is not unique to the kukri, but can also be found in other weapons such as the Greek Kopis and Iberian Celtic Falcata, although both of these are much bigger than a kukri since they are swords. The unique aspect of the kukri’s design is that essentially the entire blade is the knife’s “sweet spot.” On any edged tool there are portions of the blade that provide the greatest amount of force with minimal vibration (192). For the kukri, this optimal striking point (sweet spot) exists for virtually the entire length of the blade, making it an incredibly efficient cutting instrument. Because of the knife’s single edged design, it is also possible for the user to choke up on the blade by holding it on the spine, permitting for quite detailed work to be done and making the knife incredibly capable in a general utility/camp role. Another aspect of the design, although not related to the practical function of the knife, is the notch at the base of the blade: “[…]the Gurkhas don’t know for sure its exact meaning. The notch is of two cut out semicircles side by side, leaving a small projection. It has been described as intended to catch the opponent’s blade (a sure way to lose a hand should it be attempted), […] and a representation of a cow’s udder (Gorkha—old spelling—means “Protector of Cows”), or the Trident of Shiva”(192). While not always contributing to the practical use of the knife, the nuances of design placed in an object by a culture are always interesting to study and try and understand.

The kukri is a design made famous by the proud and warlike culture that has carried it into battle. By understanding the people and the history surrounding the knife, along with the very real design and engineering excellence present in the execution of the blade, one can appreciate the kukri as a functional and well-storied design. The kukri will keep outdoorsmen, soldiers, and knife lovers generally enthralled and dependent on it for years to come.

Works Cited:

Reinhardt, Hank. The Book of Swords. Riverdale, NY: Baen Pub. Enterprises, 2009. Print.