Friday, July 03, 2009

The Pop! Goes Our Hearts Partnership (Philippians 1:1-11)


At the CIMB Singapore International Piano Festival last week, Vladimir Feltsman strode on stage to polite applause before sitting down perfunctorily and launching into J.S. Bach's Partita No. 1 in B-flat major. The initial excitement of the audience soon gave way to the dawning realisation that there was something very familiar about his style - it had all the symptoms of a child being forced by proud and somewhat musically-clueless parents into playing his Hanon exercises for visitors. Feltsman's use of rubato seemed merely an attempt to allay his boredom rather than to add colour to the piece. Chopin's Polonaises and Ballade No. 3 fared little better though Feltsman actually showed a bit of interest in Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition with glimpses of technical brillance and even, emotion. Later, I thought his first encore piece really did sound like piano exercises and recently ex-fan R was insulted by the triteness of his second encore piece.
Vladimir Feltsman, Victoria Concert Hall, Singapore
Travel-weary performing-monkey syndrome theory was put to rest by reports that Feltsman was similarly uninspired in his adopted homeland. The South Florida Classical Review likened "his stage personality and musical style" to "that of an impatient, vaguely irritated professor who wants to get class over with as quickly as possible". Though describing his interpretation was individualistic, The Philadelphia Inquirer noted that "Feltsman's moments of boredom [were] unfortunately obvious". (Edit: Chang Tou Liang's review in the Straits Times probably attempted to be far more constructive and positive.)

Wall, Victoria Concert Hall
What a great contrast between the pianist free to practise his art in front of a willingly-adoring audience and the effusive Paul fettered and mired in opposition as he writes the letter to the Philippians.

Astonishingly, the letter is in a joyous major key with I, IV, V chord progressions, with the main themes of partnership (Philippians 1:7, 4:14-15. 1:27, 2:1, 3:10 (I want to partner in his suffering), 4:2) and what standing firm in partnership might look like (Philippians 1:27 - 4:1), always with an eye on the last day (Philippians 1:11, 4:17).

In his various letters, Paul uses different imagery to describe the relationships between the church and God, and between the members of the church: God is the Father and we are his children and members of one family; Christ is the head and we are parts of one body etc.

Here, he appears to be using the imagery of partnership (κοινωνί). It is not just the loosely bandied "fellowship" which Christians term just about every gathering regardless that there is little difference between such chowtimes/ weekend football sessions/ gossip meet-ups and the gatherings of pagans. The partnership to which he refers is akin (hehheh) to that found in the business world, where people get together and commit to working singlemindedly, and do indeed work passionately, towards a common objective. William Taylor suggests the active, energetic picture of a takeover situation where the accountants, lawyers, business people are working hard overnight with a common target in sight. But more than that, the partners in a partnership relationship are stakeholders; they are in close relationship, each contributing his part, and each sharing in the ups and downs - directly reaping the profits of the success of their enterprise and also directly bearing the losses of the failure of their business.

There is partnership between Christ and the church, and the members of the church with each other. It's not just a shake-hands commercial deal with one eye always on protecting oneself and being ready to sue the other for breach of contract but a real teamship, a heartfelt joint venture. Just as the "affection of Christ" was no Saturday night whisper to be melted away by the stark sunshine of Sunday, but shown in his sacrificial death on the cross, so Paul's love for the Philippians is real - shown in his concern and affection for his partners (Philippians 1:3-4, 1:7, 1:8) and the amazing joy welling up even in his private prayers (Philippians 1:4) because he can see they are keeping in partnership with him (Philippians 1:5, 1:7) even as they all partner with Christ (see later chapters). The evidence of this is their monetary support, their being faced with the same opposition and their standing firm in the gospel (Philippians 1:7).

Post-Concert Late-Night Prata, Serangoon
Christians find each others' testimonies tearduct-tickling. It was really wonderful to hear R's 11-year journey to the faith through the unlikely help of a Nobel Prize winner's book on Barrabas and the Christian (heritage) of favourite poets. Heck. God's sovereignty being, err, really sovereign, even The Simpsons can be his messengers through which he calls his people.

It's easy to start out strong and full of promise (this is a general comment and not specific to prata-buddy's future!). Think of the childstars who crashed and burned when they were no longer cute enough to hide their lack of (other) talent, or the one-hit wonders, or the sportspeople who grew old and weary and then retired to collect royalties from their eponymous range of sports equipment, until those too were retired because their achievements had been eclipsed by others.

How do we know we will last in this partnership with Christ to the end in a world full of temptation and opposition and suffering? And furthermore, churches fester with all sorts types, how can we manage to remain in such intimate partnership with people we can't quite stand the sight of?

Well, we didn't discover the faith under our own steam or through dumbass good luck, but God ultimately who first called us to this salvation. So unsurprisingly, it is he who began a good work in us who will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6). And our sharing in Paul's imprisonment (facing the same conflict and opposition and persecution he faced), and our sharing in the defense and confirmation of the gospel (confirmed no doubt also by our standing firm in it), far from being signs that God is punishing us, are signs that God's approval is on us - for Paul considers these part of the grace, the undeserved favour given to us by God (Philippians 1:7)

And yet, in that familiar both-and scenario that is replete through the Bible, we are to rest on God but not on our laurels. Paul prays that the Philippians' love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that they may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, and in the same letter, tells them how they are to do this. No instant makeover from God. Wounds, difficulties, pain and suffering to follow.

Choosing Games at Revision Party
Christian camps: camaraderie in the cause of Christ. The joy of Christian service together (and silly games and sillier photographic memories of the same).

This is all with the aim to bring praise and glory to God on that Last Day (Philippians 1:11, 4:17) through our fruits of righteousness, overwhelming evidence of his work in us, a massive harvest, an overflowing bank account because of our faithful gospel partnership.

But more on what remaining in true partnership, what abounding love with knowledge and discernment, looks like to come. Yay!

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At July 04, 2009 9:26 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Feltsman played just one encore: the Bach-Siloti Prelude in B minor. There was no second encore. Your friend must have gone to a different concert

At July 04, 2009 10:52 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon and Shadow- I was there on 25 June. The second encore was Waltz in C# minor by Chopin.

At August 23, 2009 6:06 pm , Anonymous prata buddy said...

amazing how that prata photo turned out looking so good! ;P

thanks for the reminder about perseverence.


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