Thursday, January 29, 2009

Confronting Criticisms of Christianity

What's So Great about Christianity
by Dinesh D'Souza (Tyndale)

Is Christianity a good thing? Dinesh D'Souza says it is. His book is a case for Christianity that directly confronts both historic and contemporary criticisms. I think he does a good job making good arguments. I enjoyed his direct approach and clearly defined objectives.

Taking as my foil the anti-religious arguments of prominent atheists like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and the others, in this book I will demonstrate the following: 1. Christianity is the main foundation of Western civilization, the root of our most cherished values. 2. The latest discoveries of modern science support the Christian claim that there is a divine being who created the universe. 3. Darwin's theory of evolution, far from undermining the evidence fo supernatural design, actually strengthens it. 4. There is nothing in science that makes miracles impossible. 5. It is reasonable to have faith. 6. Atheism, not religion, is responsible for the mass murders of history. 7. Atheism is motivated not by reason but by a kind of cowardly moral escapism. (From the Preface, p. xvi)

Just after I finished reading the book, I was able to see him in a debate at the University of Minnesota, and then again the next day at a lecture in Golden Valley, MN. He seemed like a genuinely nice fellow. He signed my book with the words, "In Christ."

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Avant Jarred

jarred - having an unpleasant, annoying or disturbing effect

Sad to say, but this was the most disappointing SPCO performance I've attended to date. It was an awful selection of pieces, and the performances were poorly executed. Is it possible that the musicians don't like 20th Century music any better than most audiences? Or do they think that atonal music is so esoteric that no one knows whether or not something is going wrong?

Not only were the performances mediocre (it seemed more like a performance for a music appreciation class), the use of amplified sound for the CD and the guitar was a major disappointment. If you're going to blend electronic and acoustic music, you might want to place the speakers in more sensible places and actually have a sound professional monitoring the mix.

The Copland was the only decent piece of the evening, and I think that was because the musicians seemed to actually like and understand it. The rest of the evening was pretty much a bust. This music is hard to do well, as this concert proved. Instead of endearing respect, appreciation, and enjoyment of 20th Century music, I'm afraid this concert gave or reinforced the impression that atonal and experimental music is either a stupid novelty or a boring waste of time.

◊ ◊ • • • 2/5

St. Paul Chamber Orchestra
Chamber Music Series
The Music Room, SPCO Center
St. Paul, January 23, 2009

Selections from John's Book of Alleged Dances for String Quartet and CD (John Adams)
Twilight Music for Horn, Violin, and Piano (John Harbison)
Two Pieces for String Quartet (Aaron Copland)
100 Greatest Dance Hits for Guitar & String Quartet (Aaron Jay Kernis)

Monday, January 12, 2009

SPCO Weekend

Saturday, January 10, I was able to take my grandsons to a St. Paul Chamber Orchestra woodwind concert at the Ordway Center. The concert was a music appreciation event for kids, and they performed Mozart's Serenade for 13 Winds, Gran Partita. There was even an actor in full costume playing the part of Mozart. We had a great time.

On Sunday, January 11, my wife and I saw the Chamber Orchestra of Europe under the direction of Douglas Boyd performing at the Benson Great Hall at Bethel University. The program included: Shostakovich Prelude and Scherzo for Strings, Shostakovich Chamber Symphony, Op. 110a (arranged from String Quartet No. 8), and Tchaikovsky Souvenir de Florence for String Orchestra.

During the intermission all the chairs were removed from the stage, and then risers with chairs brought in for the four cellists. With the exception of the cellos, the orchestra performed the Tchaikovsky piece while standing. I thought this was brilliant as it allowed the players to really throw themselves into to piece. I think in greatly enhanced the intensity and feeling of their performance. It was wonderful.

The SPCO is a fantastic organization. I have enjoyed every one of the concerts I've attended in the last two years.

Friday, January 09, 2009

One Thumb Up, One Way Down

Gypsy Caravan [NR]
◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ 4/5

I heard about this documentary in a review on National Public Radio. I was especially interested in it for a couple of reasons. First, because I enjoy gypsy music. Secondly, I have several connections (family and friends) with people in Romania, and two of the groups featured in this film are from Romania.

I'm glad that the DVD included some extra full performances, since you never get full performances in the film. A couple negative comments: I don't think the Johnny Depp interview added anything, and I thought the contrived use of the stage manager's microphone to slip in extra background details was hokey. Overall, I found the movie to be enjoyable. Oddly, the best footage was not the performances, but rather the visits to the homes and villages of the performers.

The film documents a six week tour in America by five very different musical groups including Esma Redzepova, Maharaja, Fanfare Ciocarlia and more. The wide variety of musical styles (flamenco, brass band, Indian folk, Romanian violin, jazz and raga) reflects both the diversity and similarities of the Romani peoples from India to Spain.

What the Bleep Do We Know [NR]
• • • • 1/5

I read about this movie in several blogs discussing physics and metaphysics. As it turns out, the movie is basically a piece of new age propaganda from several adherents of the Ramtha School of Enlightenment. The teachings of the RSE claim to be received from an entity known as Ramtha who is allegedly "channelled" through JZ Knight.

The movie uses the mysteries of quantum physics as a springboard for advocating RSE concepts. Viewers may be surprised to find out that they, along with everything, are God; that there is no right or wrong; and that reality is just a projection of the mind. Everything is pretty much your fault, but don't worry, you can think it all better.

Don't waste your time with this movie. If you're really interested in physics and metaphysics, look for books and interviews with John Polkinghorn. There is a wonderful interview with him on the Speaking of Faith website.

Friday, January 02, 2009

The First Job Each Year

My brother, Joel, gave me a book for Christmas. It's a collection of excerpts from the writings of C.S. Lewis arranged as 365 daily readings and entitled The Business of Heaven. It also has selected readings appropriate for Feast and Fast days of the liturgical year.

I've placed the book on my morning reading shelf and plan to have a little C.S. Lewis everyday in 2009. It's a very simple way to make the New Year a little brighter. Thanks, Joel.

I thought I'd share this passage from the January 2 reading. Lewis talks about the whirlwind of ideas and goals that rush in upon us at the beginning of each day and threaten to distract us from what is most important. Here at the beginning of 2009, it seems appropriate to expand his concept to the beginning of each year.

"The real problem of the Christian life comes where peope do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to tht other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussing and frettings; coming in out of the wind."
(C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, ch. 8)