The Arts

Understanding the creative arts. Art is entirely diverse, wild, awe-inspiring, mundane, unable to be contained in description… but what we can say for sure is that every attempt at art can be interpreted, and through the interpretation of the arts, we can understand better the design of humanity and the cosmos… and thus the Lord of the cosmos. Let’s listen to what the arts speak.

Plaid Fedoras and Liberty for All – Come Visit my New Blog

Interpreting the Cosmos is a place for all kinds of posts ranging from Poems about Mars all the way to commentary on false Messiahs. I just kind of let loose here, offering my Christian worldview interpretation of all things in our world and above. It’s been a great project, very fun, and I hope to continue it for many years.

I am a writer by trade, which means sometimes I wear plaid fedoras and eat quinoa while tweeting about it, sometimes I take long walks and think about how every blade of grass was put there for our enjoyment… and so I’m a joyful person.

And that joy springs from Christian theology. In fact, you could say that Christian theology equals human liberty. All the ills of the human race are traceable to a lack of Christian theology, and any good on earth can only be explained through Christian theology (the pouring out of the grace of the God who reveals Himself in the Bible). I had to start a blog where I could exult publicly in Christian theology; where I could promote the honoring and loving of God, where then I could promote human liberty.

I’m asking you to come and visit my second home, the Citizen of New Jerusalem. If you enjoy the content, please subscribe (on the right side of the blog), and make comments to add to the rejoicing we have in Christ Jesus.

newjer_01-1

I’m not a good marketer, and I’m not savvy with the way of the interwebs, so I’m not commanding a big audience through these blogs – but for those of you who read and encourage me to keep writing, thank you. I hope I have been able to bless you in some way.

Here are some sample posts from Citizen of New Jerusalem:

A piece I wrote to help Christians see how silly living in guilt really is.

My Tuesday posts from Athanasius are a gold mine of ancient Christian wisdom.

My Friday posts focus on fulfilled prophesy in the Bible.

Here’s a prayer we can all pray together.

If Interpreting the Cosmos is “everything outside the Bible interpreted by it,” then Citizen of New Jerusalem is “everything inside the Bible interpreted for the cause of human liberty.”

Come and visit me at the Citizen of New Jerusalem, and bless the Lord, He is good!

Thanks for reading,

-Justin

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Magnificent Song and Video: Diem Ex Dei

This is one of my favorite orchestral performances I’ve ever seen, and the song is about Christ. It is by Globus, and called “Diem Ex Dei.” The song is especially worth watching from 2:21 onward. See my rough translation beneath the video (credit to Rev. Jonathan Fisk for the outline of the ideas there).

The Latin is not perfect, but the idea is this:

Umbra Dextras (In the shadow of His hands)

Umbra Crucis (In the shadow of His cross)

Umbra Deus (In the shadow of God)

Lucius Dei (Light of God!)

Fide Sponsa (Faith in His gift)

Fides per Dei (Faith through God)

Missaes Canta (Masses sung)

Mistraes Lingua (Mysterious Word!)

Ave Vitae (Hail! He lives)

Rex Promissa (King of Promise)

Ave Vitae (Hail! He lives)

Rex Veritas (King of Truth)

Missaes Magnus (Magnificent Mass)

Fides en Dei (Faith in God)

Christus Laudamus (Highest praises to Christ!)

Mistraes in God (You can guess)

Magnificent mass! Faith in God! Highest praises to Christ! Mysterious Word!

Yes, indeed! Thanks for watching,

-Justin

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Reading is Boring and We’re All Gonna Die

Mark Twain

“Classic’ – a book which people praise and don’t read.”
― Mark Twain

If you don’t think reading is one of the top five most important things a human being can do in this life, you’re thinking is wrong. Reading grants more power for human flourishing than anything else. It is the glue of a healthy society. The fact that today we have more books than ever, and perhaps a lower interest in reading than ever in modern society… tells me we’re all gonna die soon.

Now, I know that there are hundreds of things that we all have to do which get in the way of sitting down to read, but if we all don’t begin to read well, read deep, and read long, we’re all gonna die soon.

James Baldwin

“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”
― James Baldwin
Of course, there’s the audio book these days – just hit a button and go – you’re reading. No. Stop counting it as reading. Open a book and read it. I’m sure we all have a long list of books we intend to read, but then there’s Netflix. Downtown Abbey. Walking Dead. Movies. Porn. Everything we need in visual form. Everything a dying, distracted, emaciated, emasculated culture needs, anyways. Gonna die soon.
Joseph Brodsky

“There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.”
― Joseph Brodsky
How might a power-hungry elite, hell-bent on devouring the most productive, educated, intellectually rich, innovative nation in human history go about cracking the people right down the middle? Move them away from books. Teach facts and memorization, and move them away from critical thinking. Tell them they are beautiful, wonderful, and attractive… just stay away from all those boring old books. Steal the minds of the young by training them in entertainment learning. Forget reading Tacitus, just watch Gladiator. Russell Crowe and all. Forget reading the Bible. Don’t want to be a bigoted caveman. Greatest book in human history and all. Forget studying real science and history. Get laid. Drink a lot. Smoke a bong, maaaaaan. Comic books. Halo. Movies. Getting ready for the slaughter, we are.
Ray Bradbury

“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”
― Ray Bradbury
After the next big political speech, ask a neighbor how the politician looked and performed. They’ll be more likely to remember that than what was actually said. Critical thinking. Who knew? We’ve all been fooled by comfort, luxury, and leisure into thinking that reading and critical thinking is for weird people. Paranoid people. People who don’t have any life. Too many times I’ve watched leaders (pastors in many cases) brag that they are just as stupid as the next guy.
In other words, don’t worry (wink, nudge), I’m just like you. You can trust me that I didn’t get my head all fulled up with ideas. No no. I’m ready and willing to party right along with you all. We’re here for comfort, we’re here for fun. Everything will be just fine, if you’ll just stop talking about things that make me have to think. If you don’t stop, we will not be friends. 
Gustave Flaubert

“Do not read, as children do, to amuse yourself, or like the ambitious, for the purpose of instruction. No, read in order to live.”
― Gustave Flaubert
Read for life. Read to live. Read to give life to others. Read to grow. Read to survive. Read, because soon we’re all gonna die if you don’t.
Thanks for reading,
Charles William Eliot

“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.”
― Charles William Eliot
-Justin
P.S. I write because I love.
Categories: The Arts, Understanding the Culture | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Pause and Listen: Jim Croce – I Got a Name (1973)

When you live in a society that grinds the soul by constant, frenetic activity, it’s good to hit the brakes for a few moments here and there. Let me give you a reason to stop and listen: here is the gentle, pleasant sound of Jim Croce.

This song, I believe, is the epitome of the simple, somewhat innocent folk music of the 1960’s-70’s. I grew up shuffling through my dad’s collection of vinyl, occasionally coming across golden tunes like these. Here is yet another glimpse into the human being magnifying the Creator through our creation and expression of harmony, rhythm, and emotion. Enjoy.

Jim Croce, b. 1943 – d. 1973

Thanks for visiting,
-Justin

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Music for the Soul’s Delight

Presbyterianism for the 21st Century

“Music is the handmaiden of theology,” said Martin Luther, and theology is the key to the cosmos (says me). We ought to deeply enjoy good music with our whole mind and heart-we ought to seek out and promote the music of men and women who have a true gift. As some of you know, I haven’t been shy about my enjoyment of secular, even dark music like the Doors, but when it comes to fresh, talented, and richly theological music, there is no comparison.

Through Hymn is like a Thanksgiving dinner for the mind and heart-like a lyrically luscious foray into a seminary classroom. Even if you are not a fan of hip hop, you will find yourself maximally edified in hearing this album. Seriously. There’s even an accapella harmony piece which will make you want to stand to your feet and worship:

Please listen to these free tracks from this talented brother, and support him with a purchase if able. Soli Deo Gloria!

Thanks for reading,

-Justin

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Said in One Breath: Hunger Games is Us

We are the Capitol people, we are the brightly decorated Romans, we are the euphoric bloodlusters… we love to see each other punished. What a shame.

 

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Thinking About Hell at 2am

Last night I woke up with an extremely serious sense of the reality of hell. My mind was gripped in a dimension of it’s realness – not a realness like a movie or a book, but like as if standing in front of it and looking in. Knowing it. Experiencing the hopelessness of those who will be there forever. Absolutely overtaken with a sense of sorrow and desperation for them.

As odd as this may sound, specifically this painful grief washing over me turned to John Lennon, as I have recently watched a few video clips of the 1969 famous rooftop concert where Lennon appears jovial and carefree.

Awakening in the night with the realization that the man is forever trapped in hellfire has left me depressed and pensive today – my soul is laden with a grieving and anger at sin. It is a hateful thing to see anyone under the righteous wrath of God, especially because there is a Savior available to them.

It’s not that I see him and the millions of others as victims of an unjust punishment, but even in light of the perfect righteousness of God in damning sinners, my heart breaks for those who will be in unceasing anguish for eternity. No end! No peace!

Final!

Doesn’t your heart ache for this? Yes, the final truth about the population in hell is that they are tragically deceived criminals – deceived first of all by their own idols made by choice. Yet the fact of their culpability relieves little sorrow from my soul.

Artistic Glory as a Reminder

One reason I like to enjoy the beauties of secular music is because of moments like these; moments where I am stunned in joy by the art but also realizing the fragility of the human being in rebellion against the Almighty, holy God.

As I said in my writing on the Doors, once the final Day comes all will see that the beauties in the arts are copyright Jesus Christ, circa eternity. He is worthy! All beauties are on loan to the artist, and to Jesus belongs all our affection and worship. To Jesus let us give our love for His having determined not to let the entire human race go into the pits of hell. To Jesus let us cling in joy and fear, lest we collect our wage in the afterlife.

Until the final Day when clarity comes, my heart (may it always be), is torn and grieved for the futility and justice awaiting those who die in their sins without Christ.

Thanks for reading,

-Justin

P.S. Of course I do not know for certain where Lennon is, or anyone for that matter… but to be clear, faith in Christ and repentance from sin is the only means of amnesty with God. Lennon seems to have died without that faith, according to what I can tell from his life and words.

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King Christ and The Lizard King – Interpreting the Artistic Power of The Doors pt2

After my first post about The Doors, I received some interesting feedback from an intelligent, well-educated Christian who said she would not have “wasted the ink” writing about Jim Morrison in light of his wickedness. This was no hipster kiddie shooting off her mouth – this lady was there in the late 60’s and followed The Doors in person. I respect her feelings and viewpoint, yet I wonder if as Christians we were to avoid mention or interpretation of people based on their lifestyles, how would we ever speak biblical truth into a lost and dying world? We must speak with clarity and conviction about sin, never making peace with the world, but we also must address the culture in a way that glorifies Christ as King and Sovereign… and how shall we do that if we do not understand and interpret what the culture is doing?

Jim Morrison and The Doors are a key icon of the cultural revolution in the west which has taken place over the past 50+ years. The allure of their artistic power captured the world from 1967-1971, but has also captured millions and millions of young people in each generation since then. Because I love Jesus more than anything, and because He commands me to make disciples of all the nations, I therefore live to make Him known – and in the world of the arts, Jesus is unfortunately quite unknown, not-praised, not-loved and cherished and obeyed and adored as He should be. Think of the irony and craziness! The KING of the universe, the great and greatest artist of them all, and the western world has largely dismissed Him as irrelevant, even a nuisance who gets in the way of true artistic freedom. Christians, hear me – we must be able to interpret the arts and speak biblical truth into this lost community of our neighbors.

Face to Face with Hijacked Beauty

How do we articulate the interpretation of ungodly beauty – or is any beauty ungodly?

We cannot tell people that there is no talent or lovliness in the works of The Doors, (or, for that matter, Jackson Pollack, Led Zepplin, or 1,000 other artists who didn’t love Christ): that would be absurd and would belie the God-given beauty detectors with which we were all born.

People who know and appreciate art and who know good music will laugh us off if we do not have a coherent, biblical answer to these questions. If we believe that the Bible is the best lens through which to interpret our cosmos, then we should fearlessly acknowledge the beauties in the arts.

Yet the question remains for me: if a work of art was not meant to glorify God (in the mind and heart of the artist), is it then forbidden to Christians? The Bible does not give us a clear prescriptive ideal in how to walk this out – we are instead bound by biblical principals of wisdom, love, holiness, etc.

Christ is King, and none other

In the final analysis of the matter, there are far too many people who go beyond recognizing the talents of the Lizard King and place a dead poet in the place of Christ Jesus. Jim Morrison contributed very little to the building up of western civilization, and did much to tear it down in his youthful ignorance. If he died without trusting Christ Jesus, which sadly is most likely the case, then his art will be swallowed up in judgment – and even old Jim will bow to Jesus on that final Day, confessing that all beauty is Copyright Jesus Christ, circa eternity.

For Christians, we acknowledge truly alluring beauties despite their fountain. We also glory in the ultimate reality that all good and all art is breathed into life by that First Mover and Cause, the Lord and King of the Cosmos, Jesus…

So if your conscience allows, go and listen to “Indian Summer”* by The Doors, and give thanks to God who graces even dark people with bright beauties.

Thanks for reading,

-Justin

*My wife and I danced to this song at our wedding

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When Beauty and Darkness Kiss – Interpreting the Artistic Power of The Doors pt1

Let’s interpret the beauty in the art of The Doors. Much of the artistic expression in this world grieves me because it is dead even while it lives, so to speak… disoriented and misshapen. In my opinion, the epitome of what I would call “stillborn glory;” art which is brilliant yet dead – is the poetry and music of The Doors. What I mean is that when an artist expresses himself so as to exalt anything as more valuable in itself than the Creator, the artist becomes blind and spiritually ugly, yet ironically their art can and often does still point us to the glory of God.

In this case, I know there are many who would not think much of The Doors – whether musically or aesthetically, the art would seem odd, dissonant, and jarring. Even if you would consider it to be average or nothing special, there are many who see it differently. I would point you to the numerous Doors fanatics out there still today, 41 years after the end of Jim Morrison’s life – they are serious fanatics many times. I am regularly disturbed and grieved by the exaltation of Morrison, as I have come across people who compare him to Jesus, when in fact the two could not be more different. Obviously there is something here which is powerfully attractive. The depth of thought and care which went into Morrison’s writing and expression is in itself impressive, and remarkably unusual. From a young age he read esoteric literature and developed his own interpretation of the cosmos, one which became magnified to truly worldwide, generation-spanning proportions.

This is worth understanding.

If we might set aside momentarily the manifestations of spiritual darkness which clung to the lives of Morrison, Manzarek, Krieger, and Densmore, we will hear a stunningly passionate musical art which for me has been at times quite moving. If you have read my other posts at all, you will know that I am easily fascinated, easily impressed, and profoundly moved by beauty and wonder.

Watch this video – first part is a poem written by Jim Morrison hearkening back to the blues bands he would watch live while living in Alexandria, Virginia in his late teens. The second part is one of the band’s most famous songs – performed in Copenhagen in 1968 on a sound stage without an audience, (an important part of this performance, since without an audience Morrison was much more focused on the music itself, in my opinion.)

I picked this performance because you can plainly see the raw talent and effort of the artists. In other words, here is a dramatic display of one of the 20th century’s most influential acts… and I ask, why does this music endure and profoundly impact so many people? No simple answers now – think about this! It is not simply that people are sinners and The Doors were sinful so therefore people find a haven for their sinful desires. Equally, it is not true that these were good men with good intentions, and that we are drawn to be moral and generous by listening. There is something more which happens to us as we behold the power of art, something which for us Christians is crucial to understand and communicate to our culture. Let’s interpret the cosmic significance of beauty found amongst the ashes. Please do share any thoughts you have… and

Thanks for thinking,

-Justin

P.S. In a future conclusion to this post on The Doors, I will offer a clear biblical interpretation and answers to the questions I attempt to raise here. I believe that through the biblical worldview we can redeem and celebrate the God-honoring aspects of those works which in themselves did not intend to be God-honoring.

Yours [O God] is the day, Yours also is the night... Ps. 74:16a

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Grateful for the Art of Whitney Houston

1963-2012

As a child of the late 80’s and early 90’s, I inevitably grew up listening to the peerless voice of Whitney Houston being played in my home, Walkman, and at any given supermarket around Buffalo. Before I was 10 years old, I knew I wanted to dance with somebody who loved me. I believe it is safe to say there are very few if any other recorded voices in history which were as marvelous as Whitney’s.

When I consider the works of a particular artist, especially regarding musical arts, originality and uniqueness are just about at the top of my list of criterion for how I judge quality. In this sense, Whitney did not invent R+B or soul music, but she was queen of the mountain in her class, doing it better than the others. I did love her style, and in memory of her life and career, give thanks to God for the lovely gifts He gives to the society of men.

It is singers and artists like Whitney who set the bar so high that I am made to feel like I am being cheated by the many wannabes out there pretending to have talent. Maybe that’s why my iPod does not have an extremely wide variety of artists…

Interpretation of her life and death

The media will inevitably molest the last fiber out of her death, prodding and poking into the deepest speculations of her psychology and downfall. I, on the other hand, will simply recognize that Whitney’s life and death illustrates biblical truth on a public, spectacle-laden level.

1) She was given a gift which brought her intense fame and success – a gift which was meant to awaken a worshipful thankfulness to God from her and from us the audience. I’m not saying her music didn’t do that, but sadly her lifestyle seems to have more so followed the Romans 1 darkening of the heart rather than the Psalm 107 enlightening of gratitude.

2) She was a mortal, a sinner like anyone else, and needed the same redemption as the lowest, most obscure peasant in India. No amount of talent or fame can lift a person above their need for the saving atonement for sin which Jesus accomplished at His cross, and in His resurrection from the dead. In this I do not judge whether or not Whitney trusted her life to Jesus at some point, receiving the forgiveness of her sins, but rather I recognize that her private life spoke of an unfulfilled longing for something more which all the money and fame did not provide to her. As C.S. Lewis said,

“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

3) We can and should appreciate her art and talent, but never in a way that glorifies her, the creature, as it was all a gift and signs meant to point us to the glorious Creator – the greatest lover of music. The full meaning of music and the ecstasy we feel in listening to it is found in completing the equation: Beauty + the perception of beauty = joy and goodness unto thankfulness and worship of the Lord of the cosmos. God loves a cheerful worshiper, and He gives talents to men and women to then bring us the deepest, most satisfying joy of all; the joy of knowing and loving Him, being a vessel of mercy in the house of our Creator forever.

In coming months, I plan on delving into the art and interpretation of the cosmic meaning of another famous singer who died similarly to Whitney… my boyhood anti-hero Jim Morrison of The Doors.

Thanks for reading,

-Justin

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