Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Empty Tomb and the Historical Jesus

On this Easter Sunday, I have a confession to make: sometimes, I find this all too hard to believe.  I have issues with some basic core statements and widely-held beliefs of the Judeo-Christian faith, and really wonder if things are as they seem.  In other words, I doubt.  I'm FULL of doubt.  For example, I do not comprehend the concept of the "fall of Man".  In order to believe that, you have to believe that sin was "introduced", via the myth (and YES, it IS a myth) of Adam and Eve eating from the fruit.  I wonder why were the Hebrews the "Chosen" people?  And I sometimes even wonder "what makes the Hebrew God so 'special'".  And when I do have those doubts, I try to avoid them.  I try not to think about them very much because I am afraid that if I start digging and start truly asking these questions, it will shake and destroy the foundation that much of my life has been built on: the faith in God and Jesus Christ.

And yet, it's there, I cannot avoid it.  And today, when there are now so many voices online and in other media sources that are saying "God IS dead", or "we have no actual evidence that God exists, therefore, he does not", it is easy to succumb to the doubts.  We have more and more scientific truth that does not jive with the mythical stories of Creation, or The Flood, or, let's face it folks, the Tower of Babel being the place where ALL men started to speak different languages?  Then I was reading something yesterday stating that religions evolved as man did, yet another thing that makes me doubt the veracity and validity of my beliefs.

Then I'm faced with the Empty Tomb.

While my faith might be slapped around a bit with some of these issues I raised, there is one irrefutable truth in my mind: Jesus of Nazareth did exist, and he did die, and something else happened.  Now, you might argue that I'm simply restating the "mantra" of Christian belief.  But I'm stating fact.  I am no historian, and I cannot cite the sources, but I do know that a famous Jewish historian of that 1st century Palestine wrote about Jesus, and how he was killed, but what is more important is that he documented the growth of a new "sect" of believers who stated, without fear or hesitation, that the "same Jesus who you crucified" is alive.  These wackos continued to preach this even though they were faced with torture, imprisonment, and death.  They were willing to DIE for this truth.  And there were eyewitnesses to this "resurrection" of Jesus as well.  These folk were not hallucinating as some have suggested.  You can't have 5000 people (probably more since they didn't include women in that count) hallucinating AT THE SAME TIME AND ABOUT THE SAME THING.  It is IMPOSSIBLE.  It is historical fact that the movement existed, so therefore, Jesus existed, and died.

And then again there's the pesky empty tomb.  Let's look at this carefully, because when I return to THAT, my faith is restored.  I don't have the answers, but my faith is refreshed, as if I'd taken a drink of ice-cold water on a hot day.  The tomb was empty.  Some speculate that the "angel" of the Gospel narrative was possibly the gardener, and he was actually telling the women that they had the wrong tomb, and that Jesus was somewhere else.  My rebuttal to that is Joseph of Arimathea was a wealthy man, and his tomb (which he generously donated its use) would have been known very well.  Plus, these women undoubtedly knew where Jesus had been put, since they most likely were there as the stone was rolled over the entrance.  But the simple fact to me is that the tomb was empty: granted, there are many who go to Jerusalem and see what appears to be an empty tomb of 1st century Palestine, and they say that it is "THE" tombo, but honestly, we have no clue where Jesus was buried. And the reason we don't is because He wasn't there.  The disciples and followers of Jesus did not make any effort to make a monument of that empty place simply because they were focused on the reality of Jesus being resurrected.  He was in their midst, day after day, for 40 days.  Who gave a crap about the tomb?  Some may argue that the disciples stole his body as a means of keeping the "lie" going.  Let's face it, when you read the accounts of the Gospels, the disciples dispersed in fear of their lives.  You think that they're going to continue such a charade and take the body just to keep the message going?  Or what about the Jewish leaders taking the body?  Then they could have said "Here, take a look!  See how his body is white and pale, bloated, and stinks?"  That didn't happen either.

To me, the Resurrection of Jesus is a fact, plain and simple. He DID rise from the dead, and in doing so, conquered death.  You may say "we still have death.  Look at those kids on that ferry that died, or the kids in the bus crash."  I won't address those issues, because I cannot explain that.  I also cannot explain why "death" of the physical body is the punishment of sin, as it is stated by Paul in one of his epistles.  I can only state that I believe in the Risen and Resurrected Lord, because historically, I believe it is fact, not fiction.

That is the Core of MY Faith.

Soli Deo Gloria

Friday, April 11, 2014

Why all the fuss?

I must confess that at this time of the Church year, namely Lent and Easter, I feel a let down.  I mean, we celebrate Christmas with all sorts of things: presents; decorations; concerts of music; Christmas-themed movies; baking; parties; Christmas trees, and on and on and on.  The "season" now tends to start in September, and is done on December 26th.  Of course, anyone that knows my wife and I know that we continue to celebrate Christmas up to Epiphany.  Yet I find myself wondering why the Church and why Christians don't celebrate the Resurrection as much as they celebrate Christmas.  It perplexes me that we don't.  We have our observances here in our home, with decorating (two boxes of decorations, which includes Easter baskets - but not the garage-full of boxes for Christmas decorations).  We do the coloring of the Easter eggs, and usually spend the day with Lorrie's family egg hunting and having a good dinner.  But that's it.  No "Easter Cards" to mail out to family.  No "Easter tree" to buy at the corner lot.  No "Easter carols" to sing around the nursing home.  No "Easter Black Friday" to get things at 50% off.

But why is this?  Why is it that the Church and Christians do not put such a celebratory emphasis on Easter as they do Christmas?  We don't KNOW for sure the date of Jesus' birth (most scholars put in in the spring of about 6 or 3 BC), and Easter itself changes dates because it's tied into the full moon and Passover.  But that really isn't a factor.

Some may argue that we must celebrate Christmas more because it is the Gift of God's Grace made man.  It is when we observe the birth of the Christ-child in a stable over 2000 years ago.  But I would argue that if we did not have the Resurrection on Easter Sunday, then there'd be no faith, no church.  There is a great hymn with the lyric "Had Christ that once was slain, ne'er burst his three-day prison, our faith had been in vain."

I feel that we MUST celebrate Easter with as much fervor and depth of feeling as we do Christmas.  Granted, we don't have a "It's a Wonderful Life - Easter edition", which would have spring flowers instead of snow.  But Easter is the REASON we celebrate at all.  Let's face it, had Christ NOT risen from the dead, his followers (who had dispersed after his death) would not have proclaimed it in the streets of Jerusalem, and died horribly for that very reason.  The movement that eventually took over the Roman Empire would not have happened.

So let's CELEBRATE EASTER!  He is ALIVE!  He is NOT here!  He is RISEN!

Soli Deo Gloria

Saturday, April 05, 2014

To the man I never sang for - an open letter to Paul Salamunovich

Dear Paul,

And I particularly use that salutation because you ARE dear - dear to the ones who sang for you over the decades, and dear to your family.  And, even though we met once and just briefly, you are dear to me.

I remember how we met.  It was, oh, 20 years ago.  I knew some people (the Brothertons) who were board members of the Los Angeles Master Chorale, and during the intermission of a concert that I was attending at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, they escorted me to the Founder's Room - the "inner sanctum" of the wealthy benefactor, Dorothy Chandler - where you were meeting and greeting the patrons there.  You were obviously in a hurry to return to the podium.  Grace Brotherton introduced us, and I mentioned that I, at that time, was singing with Bill Hall in the Orange County Master Chorale.  Either due to your need to return to your duties, or perhaps hearing I sang with Bill (and later on I would find out how little respect Bill had for you and your approach to choral music), you politely greeted me, listened to Grace briefly tell you about me, and then you excused yourself.  I was disappointed that we couldn't have engaged in a conversation, but I understood.  

It was during that 1994-95 season that you introduced me (and the world) to the glorious and gorgeous music of Morten Lauridsen.  I was immediately smitten with his tonal colors, and how you evoked those from the singers in the Los Angeles Master Chorale.  It was then that I decided I wanted to sing for you, too.  I knew some singers in the Chorale from a brief stint singing in a church in Pacific Palisades, and I felt that with some work, and perhaps an "in", I could come up to Los Angeles and sing for you.  So, I auditioned for and was accepted into the Pacific Chorale (which I knew you had a good relationship with John Alexander), and I was determined that after a couple of seasons there, I'd come to the LAMC.  Things changed, (singing with the Boston Symphony Orchestra on their only two West coast performances made me feel that I wanted to stay with the Pacific Chorale) but I still had a great respect for what you did up in Los Angeles, and loved the music that Lauridsen composed for the Chorale.

Then you reached out and touched my soul again, in the stunning and evocative recording of "Lux Aeterna", more wonderful and stunningly beautiful music of Lauridsen.  I had sung his "O Magnum Mysterium" in the Pacific Chorale, but to hear more of his tonal color sung so exquisitely by the Los Angeles Master Chorale, moved me deeply.  And it still does.  I find that sometimes I just start humming a line from that piece, or from "Ave Maria", or the "Les Chansons de Roses", attempting to pick out the bass part, or hearing in my head the total tonal structure, and I am moved again.  I began to find out what I could about YOU, and about the magical relationship you had with Lauridsen.  I began to think about how you did things to produce that wonderful tonal color.  I listened to the recording over and over, listening to the intonation, the phrasing, the expressiveness, the diction.  Granted, you had gifted singers that were part of the whole process, but it was YOU who guided them.  It was YOU who took Lauridsen's voice and interpreted it in your direction.  

And I found myself wanting to know more about YOU, the man.  Not the director, because that's easy to find out.  And thankfully, I found YOU in Facebook, in a page dedicated to you.  It's where I became acquainted with your son Stephen, who obviously loves and respects you greatly.  It's where I read countless stories and memories by Loyola Marymount students and Chorale singers.  And in reading all these posts and reminiscences, I found out about you.  

I found that you were demanding, but NEVER harsh.  For you, it was the music that must be served, not your ego.  I found stories about how generous you were with your time and advice.  I found people who were influenced by you to become choral directors themselves.  I found people dedicated to you, not because you were charismatic, or flamboyant.  You inspired people to follow you because you lead naturally.  You know what you want, and you strive to get it.  I read recently that you "imagine" the sound in your head, and shape the singer's tone until you get it.  I find that I too, as a budding choral director, feel that way.  

And then just yesterday, with all the accolades and tributes, I found out that you never took formal education in choral directing or singing.  That you, like another choral icon, Robert Shaw, never were formally trained as a musician (in that you didn't go to college or get a degree).  And I find that illuminating.  For I believe firmly that the gifts you possessed were God-given, and you knew that.  And so each performance was, in your mind and heart, a dedication back to God for the gift He gave you.  

I so wish there'd been a way in the last couple of years that I could have reached out to you and met you, just to discuss our mutual passion.  Your son had even given me your phone number at one point, and I hesitated to call.  Why would a giant of choral music wish to talk to me?  And now, in reading all these wonderful tributes, I realize that you would have listened to me, discussed things with me, and possibly even given me the chance to meet you.  Your generosity of spirit is now evident in all these things being written about you.  I regret never having picked up the phone to call you.

And so, dear Paul, I must say that I will miss you.  But you have left an incredible legacy in the hundreds if not thousands of people who have sung for you over the decades.  You have imprinted yourself on the souls of those who have attended any concert or workshop you directed, or purchased a Chorale CD.  You have given the world the music of Morten Lauridsen.  More than that, you have done it all with grace, humility, generosity, and the constant recognition of God as the giver of all music.  I am sure He is saying "well done, thou good and FAITHFUL servant."

Soli Deo Gloria