Friday, July 30, 2010

Abortion Personalized

My sprained ankle is almost fully healed. I was concerned that I’d miss the screening of 12th & Delaware (loki, hbo, imbd) since it’s impossible to keep a leg elevated while driving to Hollywood. I did attend though, and the film was well worth the traffic. I’d recommend all Christians with HBO to see it this Monday.

Last night, filmmaker Heidi Ewing explained how her intent was to move the debate out of the courtroom to focus on the personal experiences of those whose lives are completely wrapped up in the abortion issue: pregnancy care center volunteers, abortion clinic employees, and pregnant women at a turning point in their lives. There were no celebrities. No politicians. Just two opposing street corners on opposite sides of the debate.

What I really appreciated was how the documentary showed the pro-life movement’s reluctance and inability to address the mothers’ real financial needs. In one instance, a woman on the phone complains that it’s easy for the volunteer to suggest keeping the baby when she’s not the one who has to find a way to feed and care for it. Towards the end of the film, a team of protesters rejoice that another woman changes her mind after being promised various types of material support…most of which she doesn’t receive, as the Q&A session revealed.

It’s troubling that some pro-life activists would justify willfully making promises that they have no intention of keeping when these women are desperate for food, clothing, shelter, and security, often for children they already have as well as themselves. If sidewalk counselors were just as passionate about helping resolve problems that exist prior to pregnancy, then they might be far more effective in preventing abortions later on.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Perfect Parallel Harmony

During my college days, I became fascinated with Early Music, both instrumental and vocal. Plainchant sounded so beautiful, and I’d always loved polyphonic music. So I began to read more about the subject. One unfamiliar practice was singing in parallel organum. It theoretically made sense as part of the development of harmony, but the idea of actually singing Perfect Parallel Fourths or Fifths seemed rather rebellious. Didn’t only music geniuses like Charles Ives do things like that? What if my music theory professor caught me?

Once or twice, I attempted to play the piano and sing familiar melodies but in different keys. I usually quit with a headache. I needed a partner in crime so that I could reasonably concentrate on one part. However, I did notice that chant had the advantage of stepwise movement, making it easier to stay on key. “Happy Birthday” was out.

At some point, I felt bold enough to recommend parallel singing to the older two of my younger sisters. One was excited, while the other was convinced that we’d never make it work. I selected Of the Father’s Love Begotten because all three of us knew the hymn fairly well. We probably tried it two dozen times, restarting because it was so easy to fall into “normal” harmony, and fumbling around for the best keys to make the song’s range singable. Eventually, we mastered it, and we’ve been singing like that ever since.

Don’t tell my theory teacher.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

In His Time

While lying in pain from a sprained ankle, I took the opportunity to read a book that has been sitting on a bookshelf untouched for years. It was the Repertorium Columbianum edition and translation of Christopher Columbus’ The Book of Prophecies (not The Libro de las profecias of Christopher Columbus one). It’s a fine edition, providing a lot of historical and textual background for the unfamiliar reader like myself. However, there are only two words to describe Columbus’ actual work: unconvincing and boring. It’s probably just as well that Ferdinand and Isabella likely never saw it.

Not to say that I didn’t get anything out of reading the text.  It provided some food for thought, introducing me to the work of Rabbi Samuel of Fez and unapologetically bringing Psalms into the “end times” discussion. (My general observation is that contemporary interpretations of prophecy, whether preterist or dispensationalist, seem to shy away from mentioning Psalms despite its New Testament use as prophecy.)  One curious passage was an addition made by Columbus’ editor, the monk Gaspar Gorricio, concerning the use of past tense in Old Testament prophecy:

But why are events that have not yet happened described as if they have already taken place? Because those things which are presently in our future have already taken place in God’s eternity. [009.3,4]

Although I found this statement a weak defense for his interpretive method, something else caught my attention. Gorricio seems to describe a God who lies outside of time and can see and access all points in time all at once. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas are famous for their claims about God’s timelessness, but this was the first time I had read something from the past that resembled contemporary discussions about God transcending the space-time dimensions of our world.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Plan B

Earlier this year, I happened upon a (negative) review of Jennifer Lopez’s movie The Back-up Plan (site, imdb). The plot didn’t surprise me in the least. Artificial insemination is a hot topic for any social medium targeting aging single women. As a younger member of that demographic, I can sympathize with their frustration over the lack of options in the marriage market and the sense of panic when their biological clocks begin “ticking.” It’s no wonder that women will pay a pretty penny for a chance at motherhood, even if it’s unsupported by a father.

What comes to mind is an interesting parallel with a biblical warning of God’s judgment against Judah and Jerusalem (Isaiah 2-4:1). The prophecy tells of the miserable conditions that the people later suffered: famine, oppression, loss of wealth, defeat in battle, etc.  Assuming that the standard interpretation of Isaiah 4:1 is correct, the passage portrays single women desperate to have children to secure their position in society. What I noticed is that they were willing to forego all the other expected benefits of marriage (love, financial support, fidelity, etc.), in effect putting up with a man who’s unwilling to commit to a relationship and can’t be relied upon for child support. What mattered was removing the shame of childlessness. Although women today might not be suffering the extreme hardships experienced in ancient times, I see a similar desperation expressed and a similar solution pursued.

For a Greater Watts

“Your hair is pretty!”

That was probably one of the nicest compliments I have ever received. The two-year-old who said that was completely unaware that I fought a daily battle to get everything in place.

That summer of 2007, I had joined a group of volunteers for The Greater Watts Child Care Center’s reading program. Having played the part for years as the older homeschooled sister teaching my littlest siblings how to read, I wasn’t exactly jumping up and down to sit one-on-one with the many struggling African American and Hispanic children who lived at a nearby shelter. I lucked out. No one else in the group really wanted to entertain the ones, twos, and threes, whose attention spans usually lasted only a few sentences before they would hand me another book.

The toddlers would take turns sitting in my lap, showing me their favorite books and toys and chatting the hour away. I don’t remember getting a chance to finish a single book. At first that troubled me, after all reading was my purpose for being there. However, I quickly realized that what these children really needed was someone’s attention, someone who valued what they had to say…or attempted to say in inner-city babytalk. I probably failed to install in them a love for books, but maybe the brief personal connection will have a lasting effect.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Conversion by Caste

Last winter, I discovered the lectures available on Buddhism is a popular religion, not only among local Asians but also for non-Asians as well. Since my familiarity with the particulars was limited to the typical overviews gleaned from general books on world religions and history, I decided to listen to Dr. Timothy Tennent’s Introduction to Buddhism.

I immediately noticed that Christianity and Buddhism have a few things in common. Both claim a monopoly over the Way, the correct spiritual path (salvation through Jesus Christ vs. the Eight-Fold Path), and both place importance on the end of suffering. In addition, early on, both stole converts from the traditional religion, which in my opinion was due to their ability to offer hope in a way that Hinduism, with its thousands of reincarnations and ascetic demands, was unable to do.

However, the lecture made me curious about the different initial acceptance patterns. A more egalitarian religion than Hinduism, Buddhism was promoted by the Kshatriyas, who sought to expand their political power by diminishing the Brahmins' spiritual power. (This story tends to remind me of the German princes who supported Martin Luther primarily to remove the Holy Roman Empire’s authority rather than for religious reasons.)

In contrast, Christianity, with its condemnations against partiality, appealed to the Brahmins of Kerala, who later became the St. Thomas Christians. They came to accept a religion that might have severely weakened their religious control and most likely would have encouraged them to eat and interact with members of inferior castes. This would have been an especially dangerous position to take because of the risk of becoming “outcasted” from Hindu society.

So a possible, but not necessarily accurate, interpretation is that ancient Buddhism appealed to the self-seeking “middles” while ancient Christianity appealed to the self-sacrificing “uppers.” Christianity has always had a reputation for bringing a message of comfort and hope to the oppressed, but it’s ability to change the heart of the oppressor says something very special about it.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Just Ignore the Man at the Piano

Yesterday, a friend of mine, visiting from out of state, asked me to take her to LACMA. Since we’re both mild jazz lovers, we decided to stay for that evening’s Jazz at LACMA performance featuring Grant Geissman and the Cool Man Cool Band. Sitting under the BP Grand Entrance Pavilion, I enjoyed the quartet’s contemporary sounds and the opportunity to people watch. All sorts of people were sprawled out on the lawn and under the canopy, eating picnic dinners and chatting with their neighbors. A number of attendees were obviously musicians themselves, having the “look” of aged baby-boomer performers getting into the music. I even spotted a few students intently scribbling in their spiral-bound notebooks, words that were probably unintelligible this morning.

Being there took me back to my college days, helping inflate the attendance at classmates’ gigs so they’d be asked to return. That was probably 90% of my lifetime exposure to live jazz. Being a classically-trained pianist whose improvisation skills would’ve made Bach cry, I always appreciated jazz piano players at their work. So it greatly annoys me when the audience, regardless of the venue, rarely (if ever) claps for the piano solos.

Of course, there’s a clear explanation for this. The piano isn’t particularly loud. In your average jazz band, the acoustic grand isn’t miked appropriately or amplified like the other instruments, so only an attentive listener will notice the difference between rhythm section backup and a virtuosic solo. In addition, the most impressionable attendees don’t even consider the piano as very important, preferring to cheer on the brass, woodwinds, percussion, guitar, and even the violin when it graces us with its lofty presence. The only member who gets a worse deal than the piano player is the double bassist, but he rarely tries to show off anyway.

I didn’t spend the whole concert reminiscing. It was a little too cold outside for that. I enjoyed the audience for what it was, a group of locals excited to be able to hear the music they love. I just hope one day, they’ll notice the invisible man at the piano.

By the way, his name is Emilio Palame.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Leona and the Monster

While organizing files on my laptop, I stumbled across this story. Originally, it was written for Vision Forum’s 2010 Catalog Essay Contest, but I lost interest in finishing it and, therefore, couldn’t submit it. It’s probably just as well since it was written in one setting and is hardly original, but I’m posting it now just for the fun of it. Here is “Leona and the Monster” in its original incomplete and unedited form:

“AGGGGHHHHHHH!!!” screamed a little peasant girl, running for the underground compound that would be her only protection from the Monster. Her name was Leona, and as she ran, the dropped the colorful wildflowers she had been picking to make a chain necklace. She did not stop to pick them up because she was running for her very life.

 The terrible creature was a large as three village huts and raided the countryside for its dinner, generally sheep, deer, and little children. It only went after the clean children as the dirty ones were not nearly as appetizing, and Leona’s grandmother had just given her a bath before supper. It had seemed like a good idea at the time, since she was all dirty from a hard day’s play. The Monster usually did not hunt in the evening, but today was an exception.

The Monster continued to gain on the peasants as they scrambled for safety. The shepherds did their best to hide their flocks, but it was too late. The sheep cried, “Baaaaa!!!” as the Monster chomped down on them. It devoured half of the sheep and let out a loud burp before toddling back to the Cave.

Leona’s older cousin, Derek, was a village scout. “The Monster is gone!” he yelled out from his secret scouting post in the tall trees. Everyone sighed with relief. Their village had survived better than others in the countryside.

Leona overheard some of the adults discussing how the Monster had been so hungry that it ate an entire village that was twenty miles away. The only person who escaped was a town elder, who had traveled to the palace to visit King Herbert. He asked King Herbert to send a knight to kill the Monster, but the king was too busy with other royal duties.

King Herbert was angry. All of the other kings in the world had pet llamas in their royal zoos, and he wanted pet llamas too. King Herbert asked another king for some llamas, but that king would not share. So King Herbert sent his knights to battle the other king’s knights. He did not have a knight to spare for something as unimportant as the Monster, who ate all the children and sheep. The elder was sad because the king only cared about his royal zoo.

This elder came to Leona’s village since everyone in his village was eaten by the Monster. He told the people how selfish the king was. “What are we going to do?” someone asked him. “The Monster has eaten all of our sheep. We will starve!”

The elder thought and thought all night. In the morning, he had an idea. “We should kill the Monster ourselves, and then eat it. The Monster is a big as three huts. If we store it properly, it will provide enough meat all winter.”

The people looked at each other as if the elder was crazy. They had eaten sheep, oxen, chicken, deer, rabbits, bugs, snakes, and sometimes even bear, but they had never ever before eaten a Monster. “Will it make us sick?” someone asked. “I heard it tastes like chicken,” someone else whispered.

Finally, everyone agreed. “How will we kill it?” asked Leona’s cousin Kira. Kira was Derek’s older sister.  Leona wished she was Kira’s age. The Monster only ate older girls when it was really, really hungry. It even preferred sickly, old men. Some people joked it was because older girls talked too much and gave the Monster indigestion. “How will we kill it?” she asked again, after no one answered her the first time.

Finally, someone got an idea. The little children were made to leave while everyone else discussed the plan. Leona ran outside with her mother calling after her, “Be careful, Leona! The Monster! It might return!”

Leona played with the other children, getting really dirty in case the Monster wanted an evening snack. When the adults’ meeting was finished, everyone went home and slept with one eye open. The next morning, Leona woke early. She wanted to find out how the village was going to kill the Monster. She went outside where the adults were talking and climbed into her father’s lap.

“It’s a good plan,” said Leona’s father. “I don’t like it,” said her aunt and uncle at the same time. They were worried because the village elders had told Derek to find and explore the Monster’s Cave while it was out searching for breakfast. He was the best scout in the whole village, so Leona was certain that he would be successful. The Cave sounded exciting. She wished she could see it, but then she remembered that she did not want to be eaten.

That afternoon, Derek returned. He drew a map that showed the location of the Cave. It was in one of the large hills surrounded by forest. He and the other scouts had climbed deep into the Cave to hide in it dry wood, leaves, and pinecones that would burn quickly and easily. Now they were organizing a hunting party. Everyone was talking, crying, hugging, and running around in circles looking for weapons.

“Stay out of the way. Play with your cousins,” Leona’s mother told her. Leona looked around. When she saw a cousin, someone would walk in front of her so she could not see where she was going. Finally, she saw Kira talking to some of the older girls and decided to join her. Leona did not want to lose Kira in the crowd, so she grabbed her cousin’s long skirt and clenched it tightly in her hands. Wherever Kira went, Leona toddled behind her.

After what seemed to be a long time, Leona noticed everything seemed quiet. There were not as many people around. Kira was walking slowly through the forest, and Leona silently kept up with her. She almost tripped over a few rocks that her little feet could not grip properly, but she managed to keep up, never letting go of Kira’s skirt. Once when Kira did stop walking, Leona peeked around her to catch a glimpse of some of the village hunters, large men who towered over her in size, carrying spears, swards, and all sorts of weapons she had never before seen. Suddenly nervous, but not scared, she would have insisted, Leona hid back behind her cousin’s skirt.

“Here’s the entrance, and this is where we put the leaves. If you light them, a good fire should get started immediately,” Derek was whispering. Leona stifled a yawn. She was tired and wanted to go home to her soft bed, but she was told to be quiet and to stay with Kira. Leona looked around. Tall dark trees covered the sky. There was hardly any light since the hunters had put out their lights soon after stopping. Her cousins continued to talk, but she hoped they would decide to return to the village soon.

Then suddenly Kira started walking away from Derek and the hunters. She began to climb some large rocks. Leona almost let out a cry as she let go of her cousin’s skirt. She did not want the Monster to hear her, since it could identify a little girl’s scream a mile away, but she feared losing her cousin in the black night. Frantically, Leona scrambled up the rocks and caught up with Kira.

Leona rushed to her cousin and threw her tiny arms around Kira’s legs. “AGGHHHHH!!!” screamed Kira, spinning around. “Leona!  What are you doing here?” she asked, her voice half yelling and half whispering.

Leona hid her face in Kira’s skirt. “Mama said to stay with you,” she whimpered, realizing that she must have done something wrong, but had no idea what it was.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Mexicanized Ice Cream Punch

Not long after I first tried Sangria SeƱorial, the Mexican non-alchoholic soft drink, I thought it might do well as a stand-in for both the soda and the fruit juice used in homemade ice cream punch. Not too discouraged after I couldn’t find a recipe online, I waited for an opportunity to test it out on my own. Well, today, I finally had a half-empty bottle and some French vanilla ice cream on hand with which to experiment. And, TA DA!!! It tastes fabulous. Also, with only two ingredients, it’s easier to adjust the taste. I’ll definitely be serving it at my next house party.

Speak Ill of the Dead

Last Thursday, iPalpiti Artist International kicked off their 13th Annual Festival of International Laureates not with a chamber music concert, but with a screening of Spring Symphony (1986) (, a bittersweet drama about the careers and romance of Robert Schumann and Clara Wieck. On the whole, I enjoyed the film’s portrayal of 19th century European society, the hard life faced by even the most accomplished musicians, and Schumann’s determination to succeed against all odds. His future wife, of course, is the young and innocent martyr, suffering at the hands of a greedy (if not outright abusive) father and being cheated on by her patriarchal husband-to-be. Unfortunately, “abusive” takes on not only the connotations hinted at in rumors of the time, but also a more sinister meaning.

Although there’s plenty of historical evidence to support creating a dramatized conflict between Clara Wieck and her father, the movie strongly hints at an incestuous relationship. This inadvertently brings to the surface questions about “artistic license.” Where is it appropriate to draw the line? Amadeus (1984) ( has convinced two generations of the musical illiterati that Antonio Salieri was an envious murderer and Joseph II was a simpleton. If it were possible for Spring Symphony to gain a similar level of popularity here in the United States, then perhaps we’d see the same effect on Friedrich Wieck’s already tarnished reputation.

So, why is it acceptable to invent horrible stories about someone long deceased purely for our own entertainment? Doing the same for someone alive today might bring about a slander or libel suit, but those from the past don’t have that freedom. Although it might be difficult to build an economic case around this, there’s surely room for an ethical one. The facts alone are certainly enough to create a moving story, and disputes among historians offer plenty of opportunities for creative interpretation, while still remaining within range of what’s probable. Spring Symphony probably won’t discourage anyone from purchasing Wieck’s exercises, but our society’s continued acceptance of adulterated truth should be mourned.