We finished discussing The Best of the Reformed Journal in our book club last night, and we did so with great joy because reading the essays collected in that volume brought us back to a time when we cut our teeth on the theological and cultural problems facing the denomination and the tribe in which we grew up, problems that really haven't disappeared. Reading that book invited me back into a retrospective of my own life and reminded me, vividly, of what people really cared about only a couple of decades ago.
Well, what specific people cared about. I didn't grow up with the Reformed Journal. I grew up with a sister publication, a magazine devoted to assessing change within the denomination and the tribe from the right side of the poilitical aisle, something called The Torch and the Trumpet. What I really should do someday is visit the college library and spend a day reading old copies of that magazine. Chances are, I'd feel something of the same warmth I felt reading Best of RJ, a return to a distinguished battlefield where some significant blood was shed, all in the name of righteousness, sadly enough.
That isn't everything, of course. The Best of RJ was a joy because, for the most part, I loved the points of view taken toward most every issue its essayists examined. The essays therein not only capture the best of those submitted and published by the magazine, they also offer what my very prejudiced eyes and mind and heart would offer as the best thinking in the denomination and tribe in which I was reared and still worship and exist.
It's something of a treat to read thoughtful men and women hold forth on topics of world concern from a vantage point they mutually regard as significant, a "Reformed perspective." Their spin--for the most part--is progressive, but their regard for what they share is so great that it goes almost without saying. One of the few topics that isn't there is a definition of what those words mean. They all know--or, as the editors of The Torch and Trumpet might have said, "they think they do."
Would I want to go back to that time? Shoot no--I'm not that old. But did those essays light some fires that have long been smoldering, at best?--you bet it did. But then, most of the writers were--still are--my heroes.
They're thoughtful and wise and greatly familiar. Hence, the blessing, I suppose.
Yesterday in church a couple of men got up and sang a duet that included no harmony at all. They sang a familiar hymn in unison, a hymn highly regarded--really highly regarded--among good conservative people from the clan--"Great is Thy Faithfulness." It just so happens that when these guys stand up to sing, I pay attention. They're good. They're very good. They had me before they'd started in on a note.
But the arrangement was compelling this time because what the pianist offered those two men was a musical line that was altogether different, yet equally beloved. Their voices offered that old hymn, but simultaneously the pianist played "Jesus, Joy of Man's Desiring," and the result was just about as divine a confluence as could experience in an old church full of warm, devout, ordinary folks. It was just plain beautiful.
Later, over the coffee, one of the guys mentioned that the piece was an arrangement by a woman named Emily Lund, a former student of mine, a delight, a creative kid originally from just down the road in Hull, Iowa.
I don't know--maybe I'm being silly. Without a doubt my being so taken by yesterday's "special music" was a result of a number of factors, but I dare bet that one of them was the gorgeous setting of an old hymn, Bach right there among us, an arrangement created by someone who somewhere along the line, almost certainly, worshipped in that same church herself.
Familiarity may well breed contempt. I know it does, know it can.
But it doesn't have to. It can also prompt love, as it did yesterday, I swear.
This morning, this Monday morning, I'm deeply thankful for a Sabbath of one grand duet and a book full of essays.