Monday, August 20, 2007

Consonance, Dissonance, Division, And Union

Yesterday's sermon at church was preached by our new youth minister. He has been on the staff less than a month and this was his first time to preach to our congregation. Like most who are making a first impression, he "put on his best hat" (or in his case, alb) and gave it his all.

He is a charismatic speaker, so he grabbed my attention immediately. He also used a music metaphor, which kept my attention, maybe too much so. Below is the Gospel reading that he spoke about.

Luke 12: 49 - 56 (NRSV)
12:49 "I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52 From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53 they will be divided:
father against son
and son against father,
mother against daughter
and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."
54 He also said to the crowds, "When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, "It is going to rain'; and so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, "There will be scorching heat'; and it happens. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

In his metaphor, the preacher considered division, as it is used in the above passage, and dissonance as synonyms. The more I think about this notion, the more I believe his premise to be faulty, especially since he chose to use dissonance as it relates to music.

The way I see it, division is the opposite of union - either things are divided into parts or they are one. They are two unique things. Consonance and dissonance are not opposites - they are the extremes of a single thing, that being harmony. Harmony contains both consonance and dissonance and both are equally important to the overall effect of the musical composition. Are both union and division equally important to the significance of a single thing?

In the above passage from Luke, Jesus says that "I come to bring fire to the earth and how I wish it were already kindled. I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed." Jesus has brought the power of the Holy Spirit and until all people on earth are filled with it, He will feel the stress of the division which exists between those who have been touched by the power of God, and those who have not. I don't think that it is dissonance that is sounded between these two groups; it is division. Until this division becomes union, there will not be peace on earth. Consonance and dissonance, however, will still be present even when division ceases. Each one of us has a unique relationship with God;therefore, how we each are called to serve God is also different. God may come to you in the perfection of a major triad and God may come to me in the beautiful dissonance of an augmented sixth chord. The point is not when or where God comes to each of us, but that the Creator comes.

In the last few verses of this passage, Jesus gives examples of the unfailing human ability to predict the negative outcome of particular weather conditions. He asks why then can we not accurately interpret the present time? Is He asking us why we can't see that division is like the rain cloud - a storm is inevitable. If we could rid our world of the clouds of division, the "weather" would be much more tolerable. Though there may no longer be devastating storms, dissonance will be found in the extreme temperatures of summer and winter while consonance resides in the mildness of spring and fall.

Perhaps I am over thinking this whole issue, but isn't that what a good sermon is supposed to do - make me think. Even if I don't agree with what was said, if I am forced to look closely at the words of Scripture and what was preached, the sermon was successful. My disagreement with our youth minister's premise does not create division, it creates dissonance. Musically, and perhaps theologically too, dissonance always yearns for and finds its own meaning in resolution whereas division remains true only to itself.

May the ebb and flow of consonance and dissonance fill your world with beautiful music.