Archive | Uncategorized RSS feed for this section

Make up your mind already…

23 Jan

I was listening to a podcast today that was addressing the Internet’s vitriol with Scientology. Apparently, World Wide Web culture despises Tom Cruise’s worldview because his community believes crazy things and demands a bunch of money. One of the hosts of the podcast immediately noted that all religions are like that so he didn’t really get why Scientology was uniquely hated.

Then they made the statement that every religion has its skeletons. For example, the Catholic Church hasn’t always been best-friends with alternative perceptions of God as characterized by the Inquisition or the Crusades. While I agree with their understanding of these cruelties as cruelties, I can’t help but wonder if they know why they feel that way.

If I were to go into another culture today and accuse that culture of moral failure because of their customs or viewpoints, many would criticize me of something called ethnocentrism; basically that because of my culture and what I was raised in, I am biased against rival understandings of reality. Besides, who gave me the right to tell another person what clothes to wear, or how to worship their gods, or how to prevent their children from reproducing?

That being said, I CAN look back at virtually any culture from the past and freely accuse them of ignorance, savagery, paganism, foolishness, and downright evil without any fear of reprisal. Interesting, no? Because of the Internet age, I can write off the accomplishments of the past because anyone back in the 1700’s was clearly not as intelligent as me. I can look in derision at the moral failures of the Catholic Church, or the history of caste in India without much of any consequence. That seems a little double standard-ish to me.

First off, it assumes a standard in the first place. There has got to be a reason as to why they were savages and we are civilized. What line has been drawn? Did we draw it? Was it drawn for us?

Secondly, it assumes that we are objectively better than generations past, and that can be demonstrably proven by literacy, or morality, or the ease of cat-video dissemination to my neighbors across the Pacific. There’s that line again. Is it set in stone, and has our generation crossed over to the morally superior side? Or has it been tentatively drawn in pencil and each generation is frantically erasing where it was and re-placing it in their favor?

At the end of the day, honestly, I just get frustrated with my generation. It’s like our forefathers built a building called civilization. They got the straw for the bricks. They mined, they farmed, they produced. They worked their fingers to the bone to build up one storey. Then their children worked and built another, and so on. Then our generation comes. We were born on the 21st storey, kicked down the ladder, and assumed that we belonged here in the first place. THEN we accuse those who came before us of being moronic and close-minded. I can’t help feeling like we missed something somewhere.

This reminds me of the importance of the 4th commandment. “Honor your father and mother.” It’s (sinfully) natural to honor yourself above others, but God commands something different. Honor those who came before you. Remember what they taught you. Remember how hard they worked. Remember the grace they showed you when you broke their stuff. Remember the faith they had. Remember their love for God. Remember their moral fortitude. Remember their parents. Remember the generations before us. Remember. Honor. Continue their example.

But then, the question. The question that so quickly comes to mind. What about their example is so worthy of veneration? Why should I continue in their footsteps? Why should I honor them at all?

And this brings us back to that line. That line our generation so vehemently rails against, while simultaneously subverting their reasons for doing so. Is there good? Is there bad? Are there things that are actually worthy of praise and things that are worthy of rebuke? If not, whence all the fervor?

C.S. Lewis said it better than any I’ve heard in The Abolition of Man: “In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”

We’ve got to start somewhere in order to get anywhere. Objectively morality has got to be assumed in order to condemn or praise anyone or anything. Either way, without this, all discussions of right, wrong, good, bad, ugly, progression, regression, etc. are ultimately pointless. God, grant us faith and grace to be reasonable.

I wonder what the virtual podcasts of the 33rd century will say of the cavemen of the 21st…

Just some days more than others…

23 Oct

Romans 8: 19-21:

” For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, [i]in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

  As a Child of God, you always know the world is broken. Corrupted politics. Failing economies. YouTube Comments. All of these and more all cry out together in unison, “Something is wrong! We need saving!”

  My own heart is particularly indicative of creation’s current condition. Because of things like this, I always know that we need healing, just some days more than others.

  There was a crisis at my job today. The Lord was faithful, we got through it. But it left me feeling an overwhelming sense of the World’s brokenness, and my impotency to change that. Romans 8:20 says that creation was subjected to futility by God so that we could be set free. How does that work?

  2 Corinthians 3 says that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. How do we receive the Spirit of the Lord? Through faith in Christ (Ephesians 1: 3-14). How do we know that we need Christ? Because the world is broken (see Romans 8 again) It is crying out for relief! But all of our personal efforts are ultimately futile unless they are redeemed by the Lord. So, in desperation we cry out to the Lord for a Savior, He heals and redeems us from the decay of sin, and we are set free. Through the redemption of the sons of God, creation is being redeemed as well.

2 Corinthians 2: 15-16, 3: 4-6 

“5 For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; 16 to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things?…Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God,who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

  He will make all things right, but He is going to do it in His way and in His timing. Any attempts to circumvent His way will end in futility. God promised an Isaac. We should not make Ishmael.

The Result of Taking Lone Action To Obtain The Desire of Our Hearts

5 Oct

Before reading this entry, I suggest reading through Psalms 22-24.  While eating some sandwiches after a hard-working morning on my uncle’s ranch, my uncle and I discussed suffering.

This last March, I had been in a relationship with a dear friend.  I was deeply in love, and I truly believed that despite the hardship, differences in beliefs, we would be alright because we both vocalized Christian faith – simply trusting that Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient for God’s wrath on sin in our lives and His resurrection proved His power over sin.  I confirmed this before the relationship began. If we were not of the same faith, I was convinced it would be disobedience to God, being “unequally yoked” (2 Corinthians 6:14).

I was advised by friends to take things slow and even avoid a relationship until I was absolutely convinced of her faith.  Unfortunately, I wanted to love her in Godly way so much that I did not give full consideration to what their wisdom.  Throughout the relationship, off and on, something did not feel right about it, but I could never put my finger on it.  A little over a year later, she confessed she was not a Christian.  The complications of the sin allowed in the relationship broke me, and when it did, she was not forgiving.  The relationship was over for good.

Psalms 22 voices suffering I have felt over the last six months.  “…My God, why have you forsaken me?… you do not answer.” I received much criticism from her without any voice.  My beliefs were mocked.  I could not believe God allowed this to happen.  I struggled finding words to describe how I felt until just recently this last week: “God does not love me.”

What is striking to me is verse twenty-three, “All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him…” Jacob and Esau were in conflict from birth.  Jacob was a deceiver, walked in less-than-trusting circles, and even wrestled with God.  Like his forefathers, Abraham and Isaac, he was a part of God’s covenant, yet he was notably flawed in character and his actions.  What did he hope to accomplish with his human endeavors?  As of now, my theory is Jacob sought the blessing of God and would do anything to receive it.

His dishonest actions apart from God are by no means admirable.  Psalms twenty-three dismisses such pursuits.  God is our guide to and through right paths, and there is no separation from that.  Through the darkest valleys, even though we stray from Him frequently, God alone guides us well.

And Psalms twenty-four further fortifies such a claim of His sovereignty: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it; for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers.”  Who better to lead us than Him?

It is interesting to me that God is referenced here as the “God of Jacob” and that those to ascend to the hill of the Lord are those who have clean hands and pure hearts. Jacob is imperfect for such a comparison.  He did want the birthright though.

This thought is a work in progress and far from completion.  I look forward for some good critique of this thought with reinforced scripture. What I hope is taken from these few tidbits is an encouragement to trust and seek God for guidance in all things.  I do hope He is the desire of your heart, and His Spirit continues to make it as such. Do not be anxious and take matters into your own hands. The result of lone action to obtain the desire of our hearts leads to sin.  Jacob’s sin created some hefty burdens on himself and others.  Our sin creates messes, a potential of bringing great burdens.  Let us be grateful that despite our sin, God is in control and continues to fulfill His will.  Do not be in want. Let Him guide you and let others see His full blessing on your life.   

The same ole’ song and dance

26 Sep

A few years ago, “Batman:The Dark Knight” was released into theaters. In this film, Gotham City was being terrorized by a sociopath named the “Joker”, a psychologically scarred murderer with a penchant for anarchy and clown make-up. He challenged Batman to reveal his identity and “incentivized” the hero by promising to kill someone every day until his demands were met. The villain made good on his covenant, the city responded in fear, and betrayed their once beloved savior, demanding he capitulate to the Joker’s wishes.

In a particularly wise rebuttal to the city’s terrified re-activity, Harvey Dent (Gotham’s District Attorney), called the people to repent. He said that while Batman was guilty of being a vigilante, and will have to answer for that “crime” at some point, that should happen in the due course of the law and not in response to a madman. The people unfortunately didn’t listen and demanded the Batman give in.

It all works out in the end, but this scene, and a post of Jeff’s addressing gun control got me thinking about how we, as Americans, in this day and age (with all the kids and their loud music) decide to solve our issues. These issues can range from the disobedient child in our home to crazed gunmen in our streets or schools, and I believe we often come up with solutions that almost address the real problem, while ultimately missing the point.

In the past few years, gun control has become something much more polarizing than it once was. Increases in (or increased awareness of) public acts of gun violence have begun to swim through the “waves of the cathode rays” in greater frequency and many are calling for increased restrictions on firearms as a result. Some would prefer that privately owned guns go the way of the dinosaur or the Chia pet, but for now, there is too much political opposition for a total public disarmament.

I am not here to say that one is more right than the other. Europeans seem to be happy without them, and they are somewhat worthy of emulation. Then again, we did leave England for a reason and we don’t have to follow their in their footsteps if we don’t want to. I have my opinions about this, but that isn’t why I am writing. This post isn’t really about gun control. It’s about solutions. Notice ours: Gun violence occurs – media coverage – call for action/response – petitions for increased gun control. In other words, increased gun control= solution to gun violence. It does logically follow that no access to the cookie jar means reduced instances of unsanctioned desserts, but overeating doesn’t occur because food is available; it occurs because of lack of self-control. In a like manner, Gun violence doesn’t happen because people have access to guns, but rather because people do not love one another, and that is a problem that increased legislation will never be able to address.

We need to be new people. After all, if all people loved one another, cherished life, and the freedom to protect it, we wouldn’t have gun violence. Many reactions to this thought process would undoubtedly be, “Sure, that would be great. But it isn’t a reality and we need to take steps to reduce the chance of evil happening.” And, therein, lies the real reason I am writing this.

This worldview is built on the premise that people cannot change. When I look at what the Lord did through Jesus, I have to say this is inherently untrue. Jesus didn’t come to give us new ways to avoid the possibility of neutral things becoming tools for sin. He came to make us new people (2 Corinthians 5:17). In short, God’s way of eradicating evil isn’t found in reducing freedom, but rather through showing His people what freedom actually is. God’s method isn’t creating new laws. That was what the Pharisees got in so much trouble for. It’s the same old song and dance.

I see similar patterns in the way our culture handles failing marriages. Oppressive husbands? The proposed solution is often to attack the Biblical command for wives to be “submissive to their own husbands” because that view creates the environment for an oppressive relationship. The real issue, however, is the fact that husbands do not love their wives “as Christ loved the Church.” This is not a post condemning a wife to submit to the fist of a domineering husband, nor is it calling for husbands to sit silently under the constant drip of a nagging wife (I cannot stress that enough. If you are in a bad relationship or are in danger, get to a safe place, and get help.) But I also don’t think the problem is submissiveness, or marriage itself, which is what our proposed solutions ultimately undermine.

Let me put it this way: Some parents are jerks. They may be domineering, or neglectful, or abusive. I do not believe, however, that the answer to bad parenting is the abolishment of the command for children to honor their parents. I believe the solution is found in parents being made new creations in the Gospel, and then teaching them how to love their children.
In short, concerning gun control, bad parents, or unhappy marriages, I don’t have a problem with safety. I do, however, take issue with unbelief. These remedies illustrate an underlying premise of God’s impotence in human affairs.

This hits me close to home in my natural tendencies toward legalism. I very often see myself as sinful, recognize God’s holiness, and immediately try to make myself more righteous through performance and self-legislation. This is futility. The Bible clearly teaches us that salvation is in Christ alone, not in my works (Titus 3:3-8). So while I may have good intentions for self-improvement, I am essentially turning my back on what God wants to do in me through His son; another solution that almost addresses the real issue. When I look to myself for righteousness I am telling God that I don’t believe he can change me.

My issue with increased gun control is that it assumes people cannot or will not learn to love one another, and therefore we need more restrictions. My problem with more accessible divorce is that is assumes that our spouses cannot change; ere go we need an out. Jesus said in Matthew 19 that Moses permitted divorce because of the hardness of our hearts. I think this is what He meant by that. We assume God will not work, and take “precautions”.

Even as I am writing this, I am confronted with the thought that this is very idealistic, and some even may feel judged or condemned by it. Please know that this is not my intention or desire. Lately, though, my heart has been confronted by the fact that following Christ is not difficult; it is impossible. It is the height of idealism. But he came to make the impossible possible through the power of God (Matthew 19:26). If He has a better way of doing things, that’s what I want to be a part of. I don’t want to settle for less.

At the end of the day, if Jesus Christ rose from the grave, what can God not do? My soul, be quick to respond in faith to the God who has never let you down.

On Scripture, On Loyalty — Part 1

14 Sep

The Psalmist says:

The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. Psalm 19:7-11

What is it of Scripture that makes it such? What is it of Scripture that makes it revive the soul? Makes wise the simple? Rejoice the heart? Enlighten the eyes? True, and righteous altogether? More desirable than even much fine gold? Sweeter than the drippings of the honeycomb? Warns the servant of the LORD? That in keeping them there is great reward?

Surely it is not Scripture in and of itself, isolated from the One who spoke and inspired it! We do not worship a book but an Author! It is that Scripture reveals and relates to us the Character and Person of the LORD that we find the words to be our sustenance, and our bread and water to be insufficient. It is the Character of God and the knowing the Character of God that revives the soul, rejoices the heart, is more desirable than fine, is sweeter than the drippings of the comb!

If I set to godliness by merely reading, memorizing, and even practicing words on a page with no relation to the One who inspired and spoke them, then I am not walking by faith but by sight—by words that I see on the page. If I set to godliness by glorying in the glory of the Character of God, then I find myself to be loyal to Him, even He who is not seen with eyes (yet)—indeed, I walk by faith.

Jesus said of the unbelieving Jews:

“…And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. I do not receive glory from people. But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:37-47)

Those unbelieving Jews knew the Scriptures, knew the word of God, but in their knowledge of the word of God, they didn’t know the Word of God, the Logos, Jesus. They knew to esteem the Scriptures, and in their esteeming of the Scriptures, they were able to completely miss the Character of God revealed by those Scriptures. Had they known the God revealed to them in those Scriptures that they did know, they would have rejoiced that the God they claimed to worship was One who calls the lame to stand up and walk; that He is One who comes near to the Samaritan woman and calls her to life, to holiness away from her life of sin; that He is One who takes notice and pity of the blind man, accounted a sinner by the seeing, and calls him to see, even on the Sabbath, which speaks of the rest to which we look forward; that He is One who weeps over the death of friends, but is also The Lord over life and death. They would have seen that the Kingdom of God had come near and that the Jubilee was at hand!

As it was, they missed the Word for the word. They missed the Word not because He isn’t revealed in the word, but because they did not have the Spirit. It’s not that the word of the LORD returned void or empty—its purpose went out to harden hearts rather than soften; they stumbled over the stumbling stone.

Their keeping of the Law that they knew so well was a piling up of filth and condemnation, as they knew not so well the Character of the Lawgiver. They thought Him as being like them, and missed being like Him.

There is no one righteous…not even one

1 Sep

A few years ago, I asked my buddy, Jeff, to refute utilitarianism for me. For those who don’t know, an extremely simple definition of Utilitarianism is “the ethical doctrine that virtue is based on utility, and that conduct should be directed toward promoting the greatest happiness of the greatest number of persons.” (Dictionary.com) It is the guiding light of atheistic evolutionary morality, and it can be a doozie to defend against. After all, there aren’t many people chompin’ at the bit to bring down ideals supporting lots of people being as happy as possible.

Anyway, back to the story. He was a philosophy major and a solid believer so I trusted his knowledge on the subject. Expecting a long, strategic answer, I was very surprised when he turned and said in simple, yet authoritative tone: “It’s ugly.” It was a reminder that truth, goodness, and beauty are inextricably intertwined with one another, and ultimately with the
character of God.

This story surged through my mind along with a plethora of other memories and emotions as I processed the Hunger Games trilogy. I read these books recently, and I felt a very strong response to them. It has been difficult to put it into words. Suffice it to say: Utilitarianism is the ugliest thing I have ever seen… And the Hunger Games paints a very good picture of that.
​​
I am a stickler for spoiler free communication. There are few things I find more lamentable in the world of entertainment than having a good story ruined. As such, I will endeavor to spare you of unnecessary details pertaining to the plot. I will be as judicious as an old farmer at an old farmers market (note to self for writing development: improve similes). With that being said, a brief synopsis will benefit the reader who is not familiar with the series.

The story takes place in Panem, the fictional, future ruins of North America. Wars and natural disasters have left the country a fraction of its former glory. Now split into 12 districts being oppressed by the seemingly omnipotent Capitol, the majority of the county’s people are mired in poverty. The Capitol came to power roughly 3 generations prior to the events of the first book, and it represents the clear antagonist in the story (at first). The government keeps the general populace isolated in their respective districts, and denies them basic supplies needed for survival. It is unjust of the Capitol to be so oppressive- to keep people mired in poverty – but on top of that, to remind the people that any resistance would be futile, they demand a tribute of 2 (1 male and 1 female) teenagers from each district to participate in the deadly Hunger Games, an annual battle royale (imagine Gladiator but all the contestants are people you might find on a cover of Teen Vogue). “Insult, have you met my good friend, Injury?”

​In these types of stories, most people yearn for a protagonist. Enter the main character, Katniss Everdeen. Katniss’ younger sister, Primrose, is chosen to participate in the games, but in a true act of selflessness (one of the few in the series) Katniss volunteers in her place. It’s a long story from there on, but Katniss survives her experience and inadvertently sparks a rebellion in Panem. Once wind of the rebellion graced the pages of the second book, I was relieved. I wanted the Capitol to be overthrown, for people to be free, for goodness to overcome evil. In our day, however, these types of dichotomies are often considered prosaic and un-relatable. The doctrines of utility would dictate that the evil aren’t actually evil and the good aren’t actually good; they just have competing goals, and it depends on what side of the fence you are on. I was slowly, but surely horrified to find the “good guys” were just as willing to do the same things that the “bad guys” were being condemned for, all in the name of victory. This is the problem with the Hunger Games. It generates and calls out to the desire for justice against the Capitol, but then it gives no satisfactory origin for this justice to come from. When you look to Katniss, or the Rebellion, or, just about anywhere, for something better, it is rarely found.

​It is the same concerning Utilitarianism. Preference and cultural expectations have shaped our ideas of right and wrong. While things like murder, theft, and adultery all seem wrong for their own sake, this is mere illusion. Generations of evolution have taught us that working together helps us survive-therefore it’s probably not a good idea to senselessly murder your neighbor. It is not because their life, or my life, or life itself is inherently valuable, but because they are an asset needed for survival. This essentially says that Hitler wasn’t morally wrong because unjust killing is actually bad – he was simply misled as to the best way to assure the survival of our species. His actions weren’t evil, they were inefficient. This view of morality is profoundly ugly to me. There is no truth. There is no beauty. There is no good. There is only the useful and the counter-productive.

​For the Christian, we are taught that there is a truth that exists outside of our goals. God reveals the truth of His existence through the created order, through His Word, and through His Son, Jesus Christ. (Romans 1: 19-20, John 1:1). We are also taught that goodness is inextricably connected to God’s character. In fact, good is simply a word to describe who He is and what He does. If there is good at all, it is Him. If there is evil at all, it is anything that is not Him. With this viewpoint, there are actions that are inherently good because they reflect His nature, regardless of their usefulness concerning human survival or happiness. Thankfully, the Lord does not make a distinction between man’s ultimate benefit and His glory (Romans 8:28). People are benefitted by following God’s laws, but this is a by-product of obedience, not the end goal. I could write a whole ‘nother article on God’s glory and Man’s benefit not being mutually exclusive. Suffice it to say, I believe the Word teaches that if we do what is right, we will be happy (or more specifically, joyful) whereas Utilitarianism teaches us if we do what makes us happy, we will be right.

​Essentially, this is what you get when you come across the verse “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10, Psalm 14)- but then don’t read on to find that Christ is the exception (Romans 3:21-24). ​In a Godless, Christless world, there are none righteous. If the atheists are right about God, than utility, preference, and the vox populi is all that you will find in the marketplace of ethics.

This leads me to why the world of the Hunger Games, and the world of Utilitarianism are both so hideous. We see the injustice of the Capitol, and naturally want good to take its place. But when we look to Katniss and the Rebellion for hope, we find that they are two sides of the same coin. We know we should hope for better than the status quo, but when we look at the barren, philosophical landscape for an alternative, we only find something eerily similar to what we turned away from in the first place. Familiarity breeds contempt, and these mirrored images produce a contempt in me that I find unbearable if it is indicative of the way the world really works. In this type of world, hopelessness and despair prevail. It is futility. It is feeling a deep, cavernous hunger, and being told that not only is there no food to satisfy your emptiness but that your hunger is an illusion, thereby robbing it of any meaning or purpose.

After a while, I found myself wondering why the author first put pen to paper if this was the story she really wanted to tell. ​Typically in dystopian novels, the purpose is to point people in a direction; to show the audience the logical outcome of their current philosophies. The audience puts up with the despair of 1984 to learn that Orwell’s Big Brother is truly hideous. Mockingjay, the last book in the Hunger Games series, makes a feeble attempt at a warning like this, a paragraph essentially saying that no one wins in a society who kills its own children. That may be the case, but the world of the Hunger Games long since abandoned God and goodness and therefore, any objectivity in making that kind of statement. If the Capitol has power, and they see the death of children as a means to an end, then who can really argue with them? They tossed aside righteousness and evil in favor of utility, and murdering children logically followed. Why wouldn’t it?

While I don’t think it was the warning the author intended, that was the warning that I received. A world without absolute right and wrong is truly one of the ugliest things I have ever seen, and I refuse to accept a morality that is not beautiful.

If you are looking for something better, look to Jesus. This is what Christ is like- Romans 12: 9-21.

May The Lord give us grace to know His truth, goodness, and beauty so that we will know how to respond to evil without capitulation. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

~[Dying Cats v (Pots & Pans)]

4 May

There is a very important principle of Classical education that I have come to greatly value for its humility, effectiveness, and the ease by which students learn while using the principle. The principle is simply that the classical educator instructs his students to study the Greats of the past and imitate their work.

The principle of imitation can be clearly displayed in the way that a musician learns to play or write music. The music student can read the latest book on theory they can get their hands on, and would be encouraged to do so, but when it comes time to actually learn how to play a piece of music, the student must turn to the past. They look first to simpler pieces, memorize them and then play them over and over until they can do it without faltering. Then, to the next difficult piece of music, and so-on.

By taking this path they are attached to music history, they are learning the grammar of theory in their fingers (even if they aren’t reading theory books), and they are becoming better players of better music. In a word, they are improving.

I paint this picture of the musician to show how natural this method of learning is. We learn many things through imitation. The Proverbs bid us to learn life through imitating the wise, Paul asks us to imitate him, we are called to be imitators of God as his children.

I also wanted to demonstrate this principle to show just how far our culture has tried to remove itself from the principle of imitation. Since the sixties, we have been learning that the generations which preceded us are now completely irrelevant. They are old, washed up, and from a different time. The Enlightenment demands we retract all respect for them, because we do it better now. Now the Millennials, as they call us, are even more independent than our ancestors. We lack respect for the generations which preceded us, but we have the arrogance to presume that every generation which preceded us was full of lunatics. We have taken the Enlightenment as far as we can.

We do not seek the Greats of the past to imitate, because we are our own individuals. We parade our individuality as the means to our self-realization. “I just need to find myself, and I can do that only by looking inside myself. I shouldn’t listen to what others tell me. Rather, I will become truly me without anyone’s help. Any outside influence would be biased, anyway,” we say.

The perfect irony with this mode of thought is the Platonic hotness that is known as the Learner’s Paradox. How can he who has no knowledge apparently have the knowledge to teach himself remaining knowledge? We won’t admit we need past generations to teach us.

We take as a priori truth the notion that the ultimate good is finding ourselves (whatever that means), and that the only way to find ourselves is to spurn outside input and reach deep  inside – where ultimate truth lies.

The view opposite imitation is this self-expression, then. Where imitation encourages one to look to others’ mastery and try to attain it, self-expression’s claim is that no person nor things can do you better than you can, therefore go and “be you”, “do what you do”, “express who you are to the world” ad nauseam. I don’t think I need to demonstrate that this is the lean of our culture. That much must be obvious.

(Before I go on, I want to be clear that I don’t oppose individualism as such. But I do heartily oppose the parts of it that I think are a detriment to both societies and individuals.)

The problem is that self-expression isn’t valuable in itself. It certainly can be valuable – for instance when an artist or musician creates some or other masterpiece – but it ain’t necessarily so.

Back to the young musician – we’ll call her a violinist. Suppose you give her a violin, and lessons on music theory, and any and every other fact about violins and musicianship you can muster. You would want to avoid anything subjective, because the student needs to express herself without being biased by outside sources. If she is to truly express herself, you say to yourself, it must be truly and only her.

So, she has a violin, she has the facts about the violin, and she knows theory. She puts the bow to the strings and starts expressing. And boy, does she express.

It’s true that that form of expression would be the most pure, unadulterated, unbiased expression possible. But it would be terrible. But why? Is it that she is uglier on the inside than other violinists who play better music? If their unbiased expression is better than hers, then it stands to reason that what they are expressing is better than what she is expressing.

This is folly. The reason she doesn’t play well is because she doesn’t have the skills she needs to express herself. If only she could have learned from a leader in the field how to do the things she wanted to be able to do. If only she had had someone to imitate.

Self-expression only works when we know how to express ourselves. When we give children the tools to make noise and tell them to express themselves, we get dying cats or pots and pans. (Or, a more apt example, we give them pen and paper and tell them to express themselves. The result is that even people who want to write (take me, for example) still lack the skills necessary to do it well. )

Even the self-expression crowd knows that the method doesn’t work. Avante garde is the acknowledgement of  self-expression’s failure. “It turns out we aren’t very good at doing this all our own, but we’ll show those prudes. If we redefine our goal to make something ugly, then we will succeed just by self-expression.” And the self-expression purists eat it up like a dog returning to its own vomit.

I’m sure I’ll be back on this subject on-and-off. For now, just heed my point: You trying to “be you” by yourself is not only foolish, but it’s less effective than the alternative. So, strive to learn from those who have gone before you, read history books, and talk to old people. Pick a role model, and try to imitate them.