The Seismic Stone

They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. (Mark 16:3,4 NRSV)

Mark mentions the stone 3 times. Matthew mentions it twice, Luke and John once. I wonder if Mark wants to draw our attention to the stone. I think he makes a very strong point that the stone was indeed quite large. That the stone was large would have been fairly obvious. It was a simple enough security measure against thieves and animals. But Mark, through the women’s lips, indicates that the stone is quite large because they need help to move it. Then he again indicates the largeness of the stone when he tells us it had been moved.

What does Mark want us to see? Could he be scoring a few political points for his alleged source and mentor Peter whose name, (given by Jesus) means rock? I don’t think so. Mark actually doesn’t even mention that story, interestingly enough.

This stone is near the end of Mark’s story. This stone that has been rolled away proclaims the resurrection. This stone shows that the everlasting kingdom is most definitely here. This stone crushes empires and outlasts them. This stone disturbs a pagan emperor.

???

Yes, we’re back in Daniel now. Is this random association on my part? Yes it is. But what of Mark?

If we look at Nebuchadnezzar’s first dream and Daniel’s first dream/vision we see various parallels. The dreams are about 4 kingdoms. The 4 kingdoms will all pass away. At the end an everlasting kingdom is established that is over all.

In Daniel it’s the ‘Son of Man’ who has the everlasting dominion. For Nebuchadnezzar it is the stone that grows and covers the whole earth. A very large stone indeed.

Another set of parallel passages again intertwine.

‘There shall be a time of anguish, such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence.’ Dan 12:1

‘For in those days there will be suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, no, and never will be.’ Mark 13:19

One of these passages leads to resurrection; the other to the appearance of the Son of Man ‘in the clouds’. This is the climactic statement that Mark recounts twice from Jesus’ lips: the first in Jesus’ narrative of the apocalypse (Mark 13) and the second when Jesus utters the words ‘I am’ to the council at his bogus trial in the temple. (Mark 14:62)

Now I think that Mark sees the Son of Man’s arrival and establishment of his dominion at his resurrection. Why can’t he say it more plainly? Well Mark’s Jesus is himself barely plain. To say these thing plainly though could have led to immediate physical danger but there was a greater danger Mark wants to avoid: complete misinterpretation for the purpose of power.

So he points to the stone. The stone that disturbed an ancient king of kings. A stone that the power drunk emperor ‘couldn’t remember.’ A stone that a prophet brings back to memory. A stone that rolls into power’s way, crushing oppression and releasing life.

Silence 2

I wrote about the silence that Jesus demands in the gospel of Mark and silence that is placed upon Daniel after his marvelous visions. I don’t understand this requirement of silence for these great things. It feels like being part of an upside down repressive regime.

Maybe a couple of quotes from Rowan Williams’ great book Christ on Trial can stir something.

….could there be a language in which it could truly be said who Jesus is? Whatever is said will take on the colouring of the world’s insanity; it will be another bid for the world’s power, another identification with the unaccountable tyrannies that decide how things shall be. Jesus, described in the world of this world, would be a competitor for space in it, part of its untruth. (p6)

Speaking of Jesus overall silence at his trial (other than one statement), Rowan says

…it is we who are silenced, we who have our careful and exact expectations overturned. (p9)

Expectations overturned. That does seem to be a chief feature of Jesus’ impact upon the expectant Jews. Maybe his want of our silence is so that our broken deluded way of looking at God and his world can be stripped away.

Silence

The gospel of Mark has a strange feature. Everyone is asked to keep silent. Jesus silences demons; he ‘sternly’ tells the people he’s healed not to tell anyone about him. When Peter says who he is, again he tells his disciples sternly not to tell anyone. The ending of the gospel is as strange. In Mark 16:8 the women don’t talk to anyone even though the angel told them to go and tell the others.

Is Mark again alluding to Daniel here? It feels like Mark is twisting and unfolding the ending of Daniel. At the end of the book of Daniel towards the end of the visions, he is told twice by an angel to seal the prophecy. He is not to tell anyone. He is told to go his way and rest and he will rise at the end of days. (Dan 12:13)

According to Mark, the women of the tomb are silent even though they were instructed by the angel to go and tell the disciples. Were they being true disciples of Jesus by heeding his consistent command to be silent and not to tell anyone? But we know they did tell someone. That’s how we know the story. How did they come to point of telling the story of the empty tomb? How did silence turn to proclamation?

I think Mark is alluding to Daniel that only at the end of days can the silence be broken. The end of days is captured by the image and event of resurrection. So the women break their silence when they meet the risen Christ who is the end of days.

The warning to be silent is difficult. We want to be heard more than anything. A willful silence is hard. It requires trust in something or someone beyond words. Maybe that’s why Mark ends in silence. A silence we keep until our true future confronts us in the Risen One.

The upside down king of Mark

The book of Mark is like a music video. Full of allusions, disturbing, twisting and probing. It consistently has odd phrases popping up here and there seemingly innocent in comment but alluring in strange possibilities that twists our reading again and again.

One such phrase occurs in Mark 1:13.

‘He was with the wild animals…’

There have been various explanations given about what this meant. I think Richard Bauckham has said that this is a sign of the new Adam where Jesus neither domesticates nor is in conflict with these animals. He is simply ‘with’ or ‘next to.’ There have been explanations that the ‘beasts’ as some translations have it could be demonic powers.

I wonder if Mark is pointing us elsewhere.

The king of kings, ruler of the whole world was driven into the wild to be with the beasts. This was the fate of Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar? From Daniel? Well,  I’ve chanced upon Daniel because Mark seems to keep alluding to various stuff from Daniel most prominently the title ‘Son of Man.’ Taking a look through I’ve found a few more possible allusions that Mark has to Daniel and think that Mark is far cleverer than I’ve been led to believe. I’ll come to the other allusions later.

We know the story from Daniel 4 where Nebuchadnezzar has a dream and asks Daniel to interpret it. I won’t recount the whole story but just look at some of the parallels and the inversions that seem to happen with Mark’s introduction to Jesus.

Daniel interprets the dream and warns of the future. John the Baptist proclaims a future that is to come and in Mark I can’t make out whether it’s a warning or a blessing.

In Daniel a voice from the sky declares something about Nebuchadnezzar, in his case it’s judgment. In Mark a voice from the sky declares something about Jesus’ true state and it is that he is a Beloved Son. (The Wiki page on Nebuchadnezzar seems to suggest that the name Nebuchadnezzar has some play on Beloved Son. But I haven’t checked that out.)

Then Nebuchadnezzar is driven into the wild. Jesus is driven into the wild.

Nebuchadnezzar is with the beasts. Jesus is with the beasts.

Nebuchadnezzar becomes like a beast. Jesus doesn’t.

I know that this kind of reading can be very selective but I wonder whether Mark is alluding to this Bablylonian King of kings and saying that the new King of kings is entirely different to the point where the word ‘King’ is nearly meaningless.

Nebuchadnezzar from Daniel’s account is power drunk as can be seen from the previous parts of the story. The warning doesn’t help and he falls to become like a beast. He does seem to come to his senses but then vanishes from the story without a trace.

Jesus is the king from the gutter and goes for John’s baptism which is the baptism for sins. This is the opposite of Nebuchadnezzar who was warned to repent but didn’t. The contrast is huge. Jesus doesn’t lose his humanity to the drunkenness of power. He is with the beasts and remains who he is. Fully human. Jesus has an entirely new relationship to power. Jesus is a redefinition of what power is. And Mark’s story has barely begun.

Delusion of Gender

Recently my wife read a brilliant book. I must confess that I’m a bit of a vicarious reader with me reading over her shoulder or she reading bits out to me. But it is amazing how science and crucially the science that makes it to the mainstream media is so biased against women. There are a few experiments which seem to point that males are better at this and females are better at this. But there are many more experiments which can’t really can’t find any difference. But what gets reported? The one that normally reinforces prejudice. (Oddly enough I came across this as well.)

It is generally believed that men are better in math. An interesting experiment illustrated in this book was where one group was told that they were being tested on mathematical ability and one group was told something else but in actual fact they were also being tested in their math ability.

The result was that the women in the group who knew that they were doing math did worse than the men but the other group where they didn’t know about the real test men and women did the same.

That is interesting and disturbing. It is difficult when the oppressed share the delusion of the oppressor. It is also difficult when science seems to prove one thing but what gets to mainstream consciousness is totally different.

This is part of the great delusion. It has to be said though, that things have improved over the last few hundred years. But there is this strange yearning for a mythical simpler time when everything was? Simpler. Yes it’s as silly as that.

I have to add this distortion in science reporting is not skewed by the women reporting this as it happens on a wider scale. Check this.

Worship Futures

Three bits of news have hardened my suspicions that guitar music is going to be increasingly niche. One is Paul Gambaccini’s last rites on rock. The second is that Guitar Hero has been discontinued. And the third is that Beyonce could be headlining Glastonbury. I think this shows that the guitar has definitely moved away from the centre stage in society’s music consciousness.

This has interesting implications for worship music. A good proportion of contemporary worship leaders lead from the guitar. A huge number of worship songs today are written around the guitar. I’ll go out on a limb and say that there are more guitar worship churches than organ worship churches. So, if the guitar is moving away from the centre of secular music but is the centre of church worship music, should we be concerned?

Concerned in a positive way I would hope. It does warrant thinking and discussion. We are products of our culture and God’s kingdom advances through some of the features of the culture we inhabit. Our worship will always reflect some part of our culture. So we should experiment with new ways of doing music away from the guitar.

How about an ipad/ipod orchestra? Or a more ethereal laptop orchestra?

Sounds alien? Impossible? Impractical? or exciting? Perhaps all of them? Imagine how alien we would sound to Christians a century ago. We have so much more technology than they did. Whether technology is out of control or too much in our lives is open for debate but technology has played an integral role in the way music in the church has evolved. Here’s an interesting quote from the book ‘Electronic Music.’

“baroque music cannot be imagined without the advances of 16th and 17th century luthiers, rock could not exist without the electric guitar, and jazz or hiphop without redefinitions of the saxophone and the turntable.” p89

So as technology changes new kinds of music can appear, not by a wholesale dumping of the past but as natural inheritors to a tradition. ‘(T)he pipe organ was the most complex man-made device,[5] a distinction it retained until it was displaced by the telephone exchange in the late 19th century’ (Wikipedia). Using software is a natural progression from the pipe organ which under pinned church music for centuries. From the same book :

Good new instruments should learn from their traditional ancestors and not impose their music on the performer.

This is where the challenge really lies. It’s easy to make music sound from the computer. You just press play on whatever music player you have. The challenge lies in actually making music with the computer.

Laptops are a common sight in worship but they seem to be used mostly as a screen for words or for projection. Are there any worship leaders who use a computer as their leading instrument? In my limited experience I haven’t heard or seen any. Within the band context I have seen computers used musically but mostly as a sound bank for the keyboard or as a loop machine.

Loops sound good but they barely scratch the surface of computer music. Live sampling would be the next step. This could be of the singing and we could even sample the congregation’s singing to maybe pray over or recite a liturgy over. Generating sounds from the computer could take things further. It could give us a real sense of the otherness and the unpredictability of God. The next crazy step could be where there could be a network server in our worship space where people with their smartphones could all connect to the server and participate and contribute to the music with the various apps in our worship. Wild.

The possibilities are endless. Everything’s possible but not everything will be useful, Paul reminds us. But surely we have to start trying it out? So over to you.

What could worship sound (and look) like if we used the full range of the computer’s potential in worship?