We end up looking like what we believe

We end up looking like what we believe September 18, 2018

• The Divje Babe flute is “a cave bear femur pierced by spaced holes that was found in 1995 at the Divje Babe archeological park … in northwestern Slovenia.” The evenly spaced holes might just be a coincidence, but the thing sure looks like a flute. It seems to be a a musical instrument — quite possibly a Neanderthal musical instrument.

Our ancient human cousins aren’t entirely gone, since many of us still bear traces of their DNA. But the last Neanderthal died some 40,000 years ago. They didn’t leave us any sheet music, and we don’t have any record of any of their songs, but we do have — maybe — this ancient, broken flute. Scientists have built a working model of the flute and there’s something poignant and haunting in hearing it played:

The Slovenian musician Ljuben Dimkaroski does a lovely job playing this instrument, as does Katinka Dimkaroska here, but given that the flute is a lost relic of a long-gone people, I keep thinking I’d like to hear it played by Jean Luc Picard.

Again, it’s possible that this artifact isn’t actually a musical instrument — just an oddly punctured fragment of bone from the leg of a long-extinct cave bear. Even so, that would make it tens of thousands of years older than Ken Ham’s universe.

Here is another thing that is tens of thousands of years older than Ken Ham’s universe. It’s more than 80,000 years old and it’s very much still alive.

Our name for it, Pando, comes from the Latin for “I spread out.” We call it that because it spreads over more than 100 acres, and because its true name, the name it calls itself, is not pronounceable within the span of our human lifetime.

Pando. (Wikimedia photo by J. Zapell)

• If you are now or ever have been a fan of “Christian rock,” or if you find the whole thing bewildering and frustrating, you’ll want to read Kelefa Sanneh’s sharp, perceptive essay for The New Yorker,The Unlikely Endurance of Christian Rock.” It features a bit of the Too Much Larry problem that many such introductions have, but Sanneh’s evaluation of Larry Norman’s role and influence is more nuanced and multi-layered than most.

It’s an impressively wide-ranging piece. Sanneh knows this stuff — well enough to reference the Altar Boys and Zao with appropriate levels of respect, and DeGarmo & Key with an appropriate level of squeamish discomfort. Either Sanneh spent part of the ’90s buying bootleg CDs at Cornerstone, or else he’s really good at research and found some top-notch native guides to steer him through this music.

This bit had me thinking back to my days writing for Notebored, the Christian music ‘zine where I first wrote regularly:

“When it came to art, evangelicals weren’t very discriminating,” Thornbury writes, and indeed it often seemed as if any halfway competent group of Christian rockers would be awarded a modest record contract and sent out to play concerts for youth groups for as long as they could stand it. Reviews in Christian publications tended to be kind — although not kind enough for some Christian musicians, who, in 1986, published an open letter arguing that “the whole area of reviewing albums and ripping apart one another’s offerings unto the Lord is disgraceful.”

Notebored was founded, in part, in reaction against this idea — believing that fans deserved honest appraisals before spending their hard-earned money on CDs, no matter how earnestly well-intentioned the artists might be. (My willingness to write candid reviews of bad albums backfired on me a bit. It made me one of the ‘zine’s go-to reviewers for bad albums, and since we only got “paid” in free review copies, that meant hours of work in return for nothing but, for example, the latest shameless collection of rip-offs from The Allies.)

There’s a longer essay to be written, I think, about the thinking that underlined that 1986 “open letter” condemning the “disgraceful” practice of less-then-positive reviews for records from our brothers and sisters in Christ. That parallels a common thread in the popular white evangelical understanding of ethics, wherein intent and “a good heart” outweighs any other consideration — outcomes in particular. I’ll want to think about that some more.

Sanneh’s essay teaches me something I didn’t know about one youth-group camp-fire classic:

Maranatha! Music was an enterprise of Calvary Chapel, in Orange County, which was led by Chuck Smith, who did as much as anyone to get the Jesus People off the street, literally and figuratively. Smith ministered to bedraggled hippies, whose appearance sometimes shocked his older congregants. (When some worried that the newcomers would ruin the church’s fancy carpet, he said he would rather tear out the carpet than turn away the hippies.) Calvary helped nurture a number of Christian singers, including Marsha Stevens, who wrote “For Those Tears I Died,” a folk song that became a contemporary-Christian favorite. In a recent memoir, Stevens recalls the Jesus Movement with mixed feelings. She writes that women were expected to be “submissive,” both in the church and in her band—Smith appointed one of her male bandmates the leader. Stevens says that her relationship with Calvary disintegrated after she told Smith that she was gay. She writes that he responded coldly, “with conviction and a tinge of condemnation,” and suggested that she simply hadn’t married the right man.

• Mark Heard doesn’t show up in Sanneh’s essay, nor do Buddy and Julie Miller, but reading about the Divje Babe flute and re-watching that scene from “Inner Light” brought this song to mind. And I suppose Marsha Stevens’ story did too.

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