MARS HILL AUDIO Journal

Volume 43

Guests on Volume 43: Jedediah Purdy, on the ironic mood and its effect on public life; Lendol Calder, on the cultural significance of consumer credit; John Nelson, on Soli Deo Gloria, commissioning sacred classical works; George Arasimowicz, on crafting a tone poem about the life of Peter; James Calvin Schaap, on writing and the challenge to piety; Frederick Buechner, on the ministry of memoirs and the importance of remembering; Kay Hymowitz, on mistaken ideas of adulthood and childhood; and Calvin Stapert, on My Only Comfort: Death, Deliverance, and Discipleship in the Music of Bach.

Part 1

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    Jedediah Purdy on the ironic mood and its effect on public life

    For Common Things: Irony, Trust, and Commitment in America Today (Alfred A. Knopf, 1999)

    Jedediah Purdy believes the common mood of cynical fatalism present in modern culture undercuts the possibility of meaningful civic involvement. In his book For Common Things: Irony, Trust, and Commitment in America Today, Purdy maintains that the ironic mood, represented in popular culture by such television shows as Late Night with David Letterman and Seinfeld, exemplifies the notion that it is impossible to take life seriously and that all things are open to debunking and mockery. He particularly bemoans the fact that this vein of cynicism appears to run deepest among the best educated, a fact he finds tragic because of his belief that these cosmopolitans are thus less likely to pursue careers of public service. Purdy, unlike many of his generation, insists that politics can be a realm where depth and moral courage can flourish and the common good can be promoted.

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    Lendol Calder on the cultural significance of consumer credit

    Lendol Calder's book, Financing the American Dream: A Cultural History of Consumer Credit, was published by the University of Chicago Press in 1999.

    Unlike other cultural historians, who believe that the Protestant work ethic was undermined by the rise of new forms of consumer credit in the twentieth century, Lendol Calder says that Americans have always had an ambivalent attitude about debt. The rise of the installment form of repaying debt (as opposed to lump sum payment, common in previous centuries) is ultimately a paradox, according to Calder; on one hand, the rise of the installment plan may have limited the subversive effects of debt, by promoting self-discipline in repayment, but on the other hand it reinforces the idea that being happy (through conspicuous consumption) is the highest goal in life. The irony of the Industrial Revolution, according to Calder, is that it was supposed to provide citizens with more time for leisure, not more wealth for spending.

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    John Nelson on Soli Deo Gloria, commissioning sacred classical works

    Conductor John Nelson says that the founding of Soli Deo Gloria, an arts organization which commissions the creation of sacred musical works, was borne out of his frustration at the lack of new sacred pieces. One composer working with Soli Deo Gloria is Wheaton dean George Arasimowicz, whose tone poem on the life of St. Peter premiered in December of 2000.

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    George Arasimowicz on crafting a tone poem about the life of Peter

    George Arasimowicz's work on Peter, entitled Window Rock: Peter's Dawn was premiered in Paris on December 12, 2001.The site for the premiere was the Theatre Champs Elysees, the scene of the scandalous premiere of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring in 1913. During the Arasimowicz premiere, no vegetables were thrown.

    George Arasimowicz, dean of the Wheaton College Conservatory, says that composing a commissioned tone poem on the life of St. Peter required him to reflect musically on the themes of the apostle's experiences. Peter's remarkable story, with its elements of tension and impetuousness, of faith and doubt, is also archetypical of lives of success and loss.

Part 2

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    James Calvin Schaap on writing and the challenge to piety

    Romey's Place, published by BakerBooks in 1999, is one of James Calvin Schaap's works of fiction.

    James Calvin Schaap understands the ambivalence toward fiction felt by many Christians who are more comfortable in the world of sermons. Fiction writing, according to Schaap, involves the "sheer joy" of storytelling to describe the fabric of everyday life. Many Christians are uncomfortable with the moral ambiguity that can exist in fiction (a fear of imagination, in many ways), but Schaap claims that the complexity and unpredictablilty of life is essential to truth-telling in fiction.

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    Frederick Buechner on the ministry of memoirs and the importance of remembering

    The Eyes of the Heart: A Memoir of the Lost and Found (HarperSanFrancisco, 1999)

    Frederick Buechner, author of more than thirty books of fiction and nonfiction, experimented with a different form of memoir in his book The Eyes of the Heart. Previous memoirs have detailed the events in Buechner's life in a more chronological fashion, but in The Eyes of the Heart Buechner uses the room in which he writes and the history of the room's artifacts and curios to recall friends and family members. Buechner sees the current resistance to "remembering" in our culture as a sign of a continuing fear of depth.

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    Kay Hymowitz on mistaken ideas of adulthood and childhood

    Ready or Not: Why Treating Children as Small Adults Endangers Their Future-and Ours (Free Press, 1999)

    Kay Hymowitz, author of Ready or Not, believes that mistaken ideas about childhood reflect an equally mistaken idea of what it means to be an adult. The resistance to affirm a concept of adulthood, according to Hymowitz, leads to a treatment of children which is more akin to friendship or advocacy as opposed to authority. Parents who are uncomfortable with their own adulthood tend to celebrate the autonomy and individuality of their children, as opposed to functioning as an authority intent on passing down thought patterns and traditions of the family.

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    Calvin Stapert on My Only Comfort: Death, Deliverance, and Discipleship in the Music of Bach

    My Only Comfort: Death, Deliverance, and Discipleship in the Music of Bach (Eerdmans, 2000)

    In his book My Only Comfort: Death, Deliverance, and Discipleship in the Music of Bach, Calvin Stapert examines the theological and spiritual themes of Bach's cantatas. He sees a distinction between what he calls the canonical Bach (that is, the popular instrumental works rediscovered in the early nineteenth century) and the essential Bach (the many choral cantatas). An understanding of Bach must begin, according to Stapert, with the study of the essential Bach, because of it's emphasis on what Stapert calls "well-appointed church music."