Monday, December 20, 2010

A Thousand Years

Each morning I begin my day with the lectionary readings and devotional commentary from Rev. Mike Michie, rector of St. Andrew Episcopal Church in McKinney, Texas. Mike is a biblically orthodox minister of the Word. Here are his thoughts from one of the morning readings for December 20, 2010:

I'm going to be brave and attempt to help you with our reading from Revelation today! We'll be reading all week about the hope of the Second Coming of Christ. Just as we prepare for His coming at Christmas, so should we prepare for His coming again. The message of Revelation, however you interpret it, is that Jesus is coming again to make things right. Heaven and earth will be redeemed, and sin and Satan will be judged. I think the best way to interpret Revelation is just to simply understand what it says, not to try and manipulate the text to make ourselves more comfortable. With that, let's take a look!

A lot happens in our reading today. Satan is bound, the first-risen saints reign with Christ for 1000 years, Satan is loosed and gathers the nations around his cause, and he is finally thrown into the lake of fire for eternity. Satan is first placed in a bottomless pit... Now, he gets a 1,000 year taste of his own medicine (v. 1). It is interesting to trace the activity of Satan through Scripture. From the beginning, he's been a deceiver. No doubt, he had thought he'd won the day several times! At the fall and at the crucifixion, things looked a little bleak. In Revelation, we see his final efforts sunk into the Antichrist figure and this great final battle. And just like before, it doesn't work. This 1,000 period is a time where Christ will reign with a group of resurrected saints who have been martyred. It also is a preview of Satan's final judgment in the lake of fire (v. 3).

The first resurrection (v. 4) is for those believers who were martyred and had persevered during the period of the Antichrist. It is quite a picture that verse 5 paints for us: Christ and His saints ruling the earth in an unprecedented time of peace! These resurrected saints will be much like Jesus, now that He has risen again (v. 5). They have risen never to die again!

After Satan is let out, he goes out all over the earth in one last ditch effort to fight against God (v. 6-7). (For more on Gog and Magog, see Ezekiel 38-39.) The end comes abruptly. The "beloved city" is, of course, Jerusalem (v. 9). God separates, once and for all, evil from righteousness. Satan's punishment is severe and eternal (v. 10).

Friday, December 17, 2010

Besides Daniel

Happy accident. Or divine providence. I stumbled upon the band Besides Daniel while looking at a review of Standing Small’s Asleep At the Oars… on the Blue Indian web site. In a corner of the page was a video of Danny Brewer and Molly Parden performing at a small club in their native Georgia. Intrigued, I looked them up on Youtube and discovered a knockout cover of Big Star’s ”Watch the Sunrise.”

Then I found Besides Daniel (Brewer’s band) and its video for ”The Field.” It rolls through my mind every time I visit the graveyard above my mom’s house in East Tennessee. It convinced me that Brewer is what my wife calls an “old soul.” The ancients know his type.

I’ve listened to every Besides Daniel song my computer can snag from cyberspace. This music moves in every direction while remaining nominally “folk” (and dodging that dull appellation, “Americana”). Every syllable Brewer sings, every note played is worth listening to. Standing Small’s Ryan Fletcher put it best: “From the first couple of notes and the first line of lyrics, Danny draws you in.” I’ll confine my thoughts to just three of Beside Daniel’s lesser known songs – three that are radically diverse in style from one another – to infer just some of the breadth of their work.

“Ignatius” is named for the bishop of Antioch who was carried to Rome in a cage and fed to the lions around 108 A.D. This taut, up-tempo piece combines driving layers of acoustic guitar and dense harmonies in a style that glances early ‘70s British prog. Lyrically, it juxtaposes incisive images from the mundane with the thoughts of the determined martyr: a homeless person looking to sell cigarette butts to a convenience store, a varmint ravaging a garbage can, and a man who has grown too large for his clothes. These elements are swept along by the ardor of Ignatius’ desire to be “ground by the teeth of beasts / made into flour or more / baked into bread for my Love to eat.” The song suggests that the sheer enormity of Christ’s death and resurrection – which the martyr longs to share – infuse meaning into the seemingly random events of everyday life. Among Brewer’s gifts is the ability to report what he sees with clarity, but free of premature judgment. A rare quality, indeed.

“car, duck, train, bird” is a devastating, funereal dirge. The one repeated phrase in the cut-and-paste soundscape is simply:

What were we thinking (of), me and you?
I thought better of love than this

The words merely frame the drama within the sounds: a glib female voice repeating “car, duck, train bird,” a descending, reverberating piano line, distorted accordion, and an overdriven electric guitar. Ringing over the first half of the piece is a Glockenspiel. Halfway through the track the tension reaches its apogee: the female voice and Glockenspiel give way to an electronic bleep. Brewer’s voice becomes manipulated and distorted. It’s an experience akin to not being able to take your eyes off a terrible accident: the spellbinding soundtrack of a relationship destroyed – or of Adam and Eve driven from the Garden.

And finally, “Lake Michigan.” Here, Brewer’s voice and guitar could easily be mistaken for a young David Gilmour, especially when he strkes G major in the refrain. Here, a week before Christmas, a young man is on the run (though not very far) from an abusive guardian, on a drinking and driving binge in an “old orange car….as big as a satellite.”

You wouldn't know it now
If you did, you would blow it down
Yeah, your anger, it would shake the ground
As it is you don't make a sound

Circumstances, including the weather, seem to conspire against him, until finally,

It happened so quickly
You lost control of your car
You lay looking up at the stars
Wondering how far they are
You closed your eyes
You took your last breath...

But this is never quite the end. In Brewer’s reckoning there is a providential love deeper than Lake Michigan:

And now here you are
Here on my front step
Son, welcome home

Grace. No matter where it roams, Besides Daniel’s music is surrounded by a grace that draws you in. So I keep listening...