Throwback Thursday

It’s Thursday, and in the world of social media, that means the hashtag #tbt is making the rounds. “Throwback Thursday” it’s called—an opportunity to post those photos from the years before social media, the ones sitting in albums and desk drawers.

I’ve actually never done a #tbt post. I considered using the hashtag on Tuesday of this week when I posted something one of the pastors had said in the hallway a few weeks ago (which he followed by telling me, “You can tweet that”). I figured, since I hadn’t, I should get it out. But the #tbt seemed off—it was Tuesday, after all, and while alphabetically, the two days align at their beginnings and ends, nothing else about them matches.

But I sometimes think about photos that I could use for a Throwback Thursday.  There are far too many. I am the daughter of a photographer after all.

Tonight, though, I figured I’d pull out the Pioneer Girls photo album I won as we left Pioneer Girls to go into middle school. We were the year that they decided to change the youth group to grades 6-8, rather than just 7-8. It was a big deal, because for our class, it could mean missing our final year in Pioneers—the year we would get to be the oldest group, the big dogs, the rulers of the roost.

I remember Amy’s dad, the youth pastor, sitting Amy and me down and talking it through with us. He asked us what we’d like to do and someone came up with the idea of splitting the year. Before Christmas, we’d be in Pioneer Girls and after Christmas we’d move to youth group.

It was an excellent option, and I remember that last semester of Pioneer Girls fondly. In fact, my parents still use the angel I made as a Christmas project to top their tree—ours had broken the year before when we had an unfortunate mixture of a crooked tree, a wood floor, and a kitten in the house.

So, #tbt:

Pioneer Girls

Radio Silence

I’m planning on going dark on social media over the next day or so. Partly, it’s for my own sanity; once in a while, I just need a cleanse. Need to stop being bombarded by the constant noise of online interaction. I love it – don’t get me wrong. My extrovert comes out in full force on social media; likes and comments, retweets and interactions are her drugs and she just needs a fix. But sometimes I realize that I’ve been living so much through my online interactions that my soul has begun to fray around the edges. And so I go dark – maybe for a day, maybe for less, maybe for more – and I shut off the noise, and I detox.

But this time it has a secondary purpose. I’ve done this radio silence at this time of year before. It is especially meaningful now, this weekend, more than others.
For this is the time when God went dark.
I wonder what it must have been like on the day of the crucifixion to see the sky growing dark in the middle of the day. I wonder if there was silence in the Temple after the priests heard the veil rent from top to bottom. I wonder how John must have felt, this woman, his Teacher’s mother, commended to his care, with no more chance of hearing the caring tones of the One who brought them together. I wonder if Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea spoke as they took the Christ’s body from the cross and moved it to a tomb. I wonder how Peter longed to hear his Lord speak words of forgiveness of his denial.
There is silence in death. Whatever commotion comes before it, when the last breath is breathed, quiet falls. Whatever grief and keening comes after it, there is a moment – however brief – as the realization settles in, when silence reigns.
There is darkness in death – both spiritually and physically. The eyes close, light no more to enter or exit them. The light that is personality, life, spark – the beaming smile, the sparkling eyes – goes dark. Before candles are lit in memory there is the closing of a casket, shutting out the light.
The Tenebrae service recognizes the darkness of death, the quiet of it. One by one, as the passages walk us through the darkness of betrayal, the darkness of Gethsemane, the darkness of denial, of accusation, of death, of burial, candles are snuffed and the light goes slowly from the room. And in the end, we sit, silent, in the darkness.
I’m going dark this weekend to meditate on the darkness of the death of Christ. The silence of God in a time of need.
I am fortunate to know what John and Mary, Joseph and Nicodemus, Peter and the Priests did not know. I am fortunate to know that light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. That knowledge changes my purpose as I take part in the silence, as I consider the darkness. Darkness now is not hopelessness. Death is now not an end.
The extinguished light in death is still real. The silence after the death rattle is still real. But I see them differently with what I know about the first fruits from the dead. A walk through a graveyard is a different experience when you know about resurrection.
Russ Ramsey, in “The Last of a Generation,” writes:
Over the years, as this church’s property has yielded to progress, the original sanctuary has expanded to add a wing of classrooms, offices, and the small chapel where we gathered to remember Nana. Filling the yard to the east of the sanctuary is a cemetery with ghost-white limestone markers dating back before the Civil War. They stand tall, thin, and rounded. I see one that actually bears the inscription “R.I.P.”
When it came time to build a fellowship hall, the land to the west was already developed to capacity. So they built a stand-alone structure on the east side of the cemetery. The strange effect is that for a person to go from the fellowship hall to worship, they have to pass through the center of this garden of graves.

As we walk, my cousin points at a headstone bearing my mother’s maiden name-Aspinwall…Just like the others, this headstone offers nothing but a name and a date. Yet for every pilgrim moving between the fellowship of men and the sanctuary of God, these headstones-like a choir half buried, half rising from the dead-sing the same refrain: For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, a time to die, and a time for the life that happens in between…

I don’t have all the time in the world. One day I will leave this fellowship of the saints I love so much, and I will step across that threshold into an eternal sanctuary of exultant praise in the presence of the Maker and Lover of my soul. Between the two I will be buried. People will gather and offer words in my memory. They will lay my body down in a grave and my headstone will rise from the dirt and join the chorus in the land of the living, singing: “A time to be born, a time to die, a time to live again.”
Nate Wilson says that in death we are planted, that graveyards are a garden planted with seeds.2 “These are seeds, these are human seeds waiting a long time to break the earth, to grow…As Christians with faith, we know that when we walk a graveyard we are walking a Farmer’s field. And we’re not the Farmer. This is not our field. This is Somebody else’s field. This is His crop we’re walking on…the entire globe has gone from one little garden to an entire sphere that has been planted. This world is God’s garden. This world is His field, and there is going to be an enormous harvest. The corn will see the springtime. When the end does come, I think we’ll see an eruption. I think the resurrection is going to come with thunder and it’s going to be more dramatic than any spring has ever been.”3
Where, O Death, is now thy sting? Swallowed up in victory.
I’m going dark for a time this weekend. Radio silence. I am taking time to consider the darkness, to listen to the silence.
For anticipation is part of the gift. Crocuses bloom through dead leaves, making them beautiful again.
Easter is all the more beautiful when examined through the lens of Good Friday. Resurrection morning is coming. It will be all the brighter if I consider what it took to get there.
Notes:
1 Ramsey, Russ. “The Last of a Generation.” The Molehill, Vol. 1. Nashville: Rabbit Room Press, 2012. p. 189-191. 

2 Wilson, N.D. Notesfrom the Tilt-a-Whirl. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009. 

There’s a Drought in My Hymnal

This morning, on Facebook, I posted the following as a status update:

So, I always feel a bit perturbed when we sing hymns of the early 20th Century in Church. It is not that I dislike singing hymns, just that I’ve never thought the first half of the 20th Century particularly fertile soil for hymn-writers. I think to myself, “There are so many great old hymns of the church, why are we singing this or that one?”

I had to laugh, then, when I came across this line, written by Helen Gardner in The Art of T.S. Eliot published in 1949, describing the Modern Era: “An age which has hardly produced a hymn which can be sung without embarrassment…”

I know just what you mean, Helen.

Image from Church Music Today
It started a surprisingly long thread of comments, one of which was my own further thoughts on the matter. As I wrote it, and its length grew, I thought, “I should turn this into a post.” (And now you know how I come up for material for this blog.)
But it began with a friend asking for some examples of early 20th Century hymns that I found lacking. I was in the midst of a phone conversation with mi madre when I read it and we got going on the topic.
Her comments: “That whole period was very internally focused. There’s a lot of ‘I, I, I’: ‘I Come to the Garden Alone,’ ‘I Love to Tell the Story,’ ‘I Will Sing the Wondrous Story.’ Others: ‘Showers of Blessing,’ [perhaps myleast favorite] ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus.’ There’s another one that goes, ‘Does Jesus care when my heart is pained too deeply for mirth and song?’ Many are the hymns of the late 19th Century tent meetings and gospel awakenings and the early 20th Century modernist/fundamentalist controversy.
“Often you have what was at that time a rather daring rhythm; they have syncopation and swing to them – so they are very singable. They are the songs that built the Sunday night Gospel meetings in churches – often they were evangelistic meetings because the church had gaslights or electricity when individuals didn’t. The services were lighter, the preaching evangelistic, and there was lots of music. Even as late as when I was a child [1950s] the evening service was called the ‘Evangel’ or the ‘Gospel’ service. But by then the people who came because it was a novelty were gone. By then the Sunday evening service was full of those who came regularly on Sunday morning.”

Mom got me thinking about my Grandma Givens’ stories about her courtship with my grandfather. They met as Mennonite teenagers in 1936 and all of their “dates” were Sunday evening gatherings at all the various Mennonite churches in Lancaster County for singing nights. My mom reminded me that in the later Little House on the Prairie books (1890s), they start up an evening “singing club” at the schoolhouse and it’s where all the young people go. Even today that is the tradition among the Amish.

We have an incredible tradition within the Christian church of singing. I don’t want to put that down in any way. I think our contemporary culture is reaping the blessing of this tradition in the music that is being produced by contemporary pop and folk artists. Look at the participants in and winners of singing competitions on television in recent years; across the board, the majority of the stand-outs were raised in church. Bands like The Avett Brothers, Mumford and Sons, The Last Bison (who you should seriously check out), The Fray, OneRepublic, Owl City – heck, even Katy Perry – grew up singing in church.

I love the moments around the piano that my family would gather and sing together. I love the times for singing in a worship service. I love that we sing in times of joy and in times of sorrow This is not just the American church – it is universal, it is historical. Dr. Brian Toews, Provost at Cairn University, pointed out once that, “What became very clear [to me] teaching the wisdom literature is that one thing unique about Christianity is that in the midst of trouble, Christians sing.”

I love the tradition of song in the Christian church. My issue is with the musical and lyrical mundanity and shallowness of the early 20th Century. The richness of the truly old hymns – both musically and lyrically – and the beauty of some more contemporary works far outweigh that period in my mind.

In the course of the commentary on my Facebook page, another friend mentioned her frustration with hymns written after 1960: “Apparently, people forgot how to sing in harmony ‘cause it feels like everything was written in unison.” Another was frustrated with the musicality of mid-19th Century American hymn tunes. There’s probably quite a bit more to be said on the topic, and I would by no means consider myself an authority on the subject. What are your thoughts?

 

"Every Creation Myth Needs a Devil."

I finally saw The Social Network yesterday. Yes, I know I’m well behind the times. But, you know, these things happen. There were many fascinating aspects to the film. I see why they have continually pointed out that this is an unauthorized version of events, and that these are characters based upon the real people, not representations of the people themselves. I see exactly why it has been winning awards left and right. There are great things I could mention about the writing, the directing, and the acting – but those are all well-discussed elsewhere. I don’t need to.

Instead, I’ve been dwelling on one line that caught in my memory, which in the context of the story being told is directed at the main character, Mark Zuckerberg: “Every creation myth needs a devil.” The phrase is stated to Zuckerberg at the end of the film, following the depositions which have been used as the framework device to communicate the tale of the origin of Facebook. The character speaking is saying that Zuckerberg himself will play the role of the devil in that particular creation story – that is, the version that arose from the depositions. But what fascinates me is the layering of this creation story throughout the film.
Aaron Sorkin, the screenwriter, and David Fincher, the director, have managed, in a single film, to tell at least two creation myths for the phenomenon which is Facebook. Atop the myth that reveals itself through the depositions in the film, casting Zuckerberg as the devil, is the myth revealed by the film overall, in which identifying the devil is more complicated.
In the film’s version of the creation story, Zuckerberg certainly is one candidate for the role of devil. He begins the film by eviscerating an ex-girlfriend in a blog; he promises three other students that he will build a website for them, and instead builds Facebook for himself; he begins the company with his best friend, and then dissolves his friend’s ownership share in it down to nearly nothing, while keeping his own share absolutely intact. There’s plenty of evidence for the deposition version of the creation myth.
But there are enough nuances throughout the film which raise doubt about Zuckerberg’s role. When he meets the girl he wrote about in the blog later in the film, he goes to speak to her. He does not apologize, per se, but the audience is not quite sure whether he would have had he been able to. His attitude is such that we think he might truly regret his actions. When he reneges on his promise to build the website, there’s a certain amount of understanding we have for him. He was 19 years old. He talked with some guys who had a great idea for a website. He said he’d help them out. Then he started thinking more about it, and came up with a better idea – yes, inspired by the first, but bigger and broader – and got excited about it. Perhaps the fact that he didn’t follow through on his promise was not, after all, deliberate perfidy, but rather the immaturity of a teenager who has a brilliant idea. The betrayal of his best friend is, perhaps, the hardest element of Zuckerberg’s devil-role to poke holes through, but the film brings in other characters whose influence over him could be the reason for it.
It is one of these characters, Sean Parker, the founder of Napster, who is, in the end, the other best contender for the devil role in the film’s version of the creation myth. I was reminded every time Parker came on screen with Zuckerberg of a snake fascinating its prey before it strikes, weaving to and fro before it, beautiful and dangerous. The character Zuckerberg is on the one hand, lured into a world he doesn’t really care about.
But here’s the thing about humankind: even when they are archetypes in a creation myth, they don’t stop being human. Zuckerberg is not innocent. While the character is portrayed as not caring about the money his new company will bring him, he is consumed with a desire for prestige on his own terms. We see that he was not deeply involved in the dissolution of his friend’s shares in the company, but we also see that he allowed them to be dissolved. While Parker fascinates him, he buys into the fascination, because he sees in Parker something of what he wants to be.
In the end, the film leaves us with a creation myth that needs a devil, and Zuckerberg is probably the best option for the role. But it also leaves us with questions about the nature of mankind, about brilliance without guidance, and about the idea of influence and power.
And, finally, we’re left with a character who could be any one of us: a young man who had a great idea and was capable of accomplishing it. And we’re left asking what the cost was for him to do so.