Thursday, June 27, 2013

Why all the finger numbers?

One of the most frustrating things about early piano method books is the dependence on finger numbers to locate notes. (For the non-piano-geeks, this is where, instead of a student looking at sheet music, seeing which line or space a note is on, and correlating that to a piano key, is simply seeing a number written above the note which correlates to one of the 10 fingers, 1-5 for each hand, and playing that finger.) Almost all of the students who have come to me from other teachers have had issues reading music- I think that this is why. I use Faber and Faber, which is a great deal better than some, and which tries to take students on little mini-trips out of the static hand positions, but I'm still not satisfied. Even in Faber, the letter names for the complete lines and spaces are not introduced until the second book. (Level 1) Thus, students get through the first 2-6 months only knowing the notes in C position, if that, and being completely dependent on finger numbers to locate notes. Presumably the reasoning is that the reading will come with time, (that's just supposition) but I think it's better to avoid those bad habits in the first place. Students get so, so locked into the hand positions if they are fingering-dependent, and that's a hard habit to break, irrespective of the actual reading issues. Then, of course, you have the physical/technique issues that come from rigid hand placement...... Until I find a method series I'm completely satisfied with, (hint hint, publishers!!) my m.o. is:
  • Students start learning the names of the lines and spaces, all of them, via backronyms, (except for FACE, which is more just letters) midway through the Primer, or as soon as they start playing on both staves.
  • I consciously supplement with "extra" theory worksheets, whether by myself or others, specifically emphasizing note naming/writing.
  • We sightread. This is a lesson staple, especially for those struggling with the note reading. Sometimes the sightreading in the Theory book is enough; sometimes it isn't. I'm loving my full Finale suite right now for both the worksheets and sightreading exercises. 
  • As soon as students are able, I supplement with extra pieces (some original to me, some not) which specifically move the student out of the five finger position. We do this with sightreading, too- sometimes I'll hand them a sheet with random notes all over the staff and instruct them to forget about the fingering and just play the notes. 
  • Sometimes, I instruct students to just forget the fingering until they have the note names, then add it back in. This is generally only necessary with older students who can play far better than they can read.
It is so, so important for us as piano teachers to refuse to let our students get by with shoddy reading skills. If they miss this skill early, it's much harder to gain, with the relearning they'll have to do. I think that learning to "speak" (read, sing, play, etc) the language of music is much more important than finishing songs quickly, or doing new songs every week. Students have a tendency to evaluate their progress based on number of songs passed- this can be rather unfortunate, because sometimes we have to go back and learn skills that they missed as a beginner or put advancing in general competency above advancing with a specific piece. I try to show them the value in basic skills (of course we are also always working on some sort of music that they can reasonably pass in a week- going for weeks without any shift in repertoire would be hard for the young ones) and point out all the ways that actually knowing your stuff really does make it much easier down the road. To me, continuing to pass pieces a student can't read is like taking lessons in a foreign language and, instead of learning vocabulary, grammar, etc , just memorizing poems in that language. I say- why memorize a specific equation when you could memorize the formula?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Modesty, Part 3- Other Perspectives

Starting with Jonalyn of Soulation's response to Jessica Rey's talk, here are some other really good posts/series on the issue of modesty, specifically female modesty from a christian perspective.

Modesty, Part 2- effacement of the female form

Another issue I have with modesty doctrines (besides the impossibility of defining modesty and the rapey ickiness of holding women responsible for someone else's behavior) is the seeming preoccupation with hiding the female form. Modesty rules look a little different for the fuller figured among us than for the more willowy types! It seems to me that some modesty teaching is all about hiding anything overtly feminine- a curve, a bit of skin, or anything else that screams "woman" as opposed to "man" or "child." If I had a nickel for every time I heard "oh, she can wear that- she's so skinny, her curves will never show" I'd be.... well, a little richer. (I'm not decrying my more athletically built sisters here- as long as you do it healthily, and love the body you have, there's nothing wrong with being skinny, or flat-chested, etc. Genuineness and good health should be the goal, and beyond that enjoyment of our diversity) It is extremely difficult, though, to hide a curvy figure and to find stylish clothes which fit well and mask curves- well, impossible really, because "fitting well" and "masking curves" should probably be seen as mutually exclusive. :) It's as though anything overtly feminine, or suggestive of feminine power or feminine sexuality, is inherently negative. When young women are told that they need to "find shirts that don't accentuate the bust" or "make sure everything is loose" or "only wear pants (if you must wear pants) which billow loosely down from your waist so as to not outline your derriere", they hear "don't accentuate your body- hide it!" and it sends the message that our bodies are something to be ashamed of, something to hide, something to be afraid of. This, of course, is untrue. I think it would be difficult to raise a daughter to wear loose clothing and "dress modestly" for fear of inciting lust or whatever without also raising her to have a very unhealthy body image.

The female form, or the male form for that matter, :) is nothing to be ashamed of. It is a gift from God for us to enjoy. Yes, there are ways in which we reserve enjoyment for ourselves and our spouse, but there are also ways in which it is completely appropriate to share our physical form with others. To see beauty and appreciate it is not, in my mind, synonymous with lust. If I'm dressed in nice jeans and a cute shirt and I'm happy and my eyes are sparkling and my face is animated and my hair is soft and shiny and yes, maybe I'm showing a socially acceptable amount of decolletage, it is perfectly appropriate for someone to see me and see in me a happy and beautiful woman and enjoy the sight of my beauty as the artwork of my Creator. I am a female, both biologically and culturally, and there is no innate holiness in obscuring that fact. My female personhood should not bar me from worship, from leadership, from respect, from admiration, or from anything that I am gifted and skilled to do. When women are arbitrarily banned from certain roles in the church or from authority or power because of our female personhood, it sends the same message- "to get ahead, be holy, whatever, obscure your femaleness."

When women are told that their bodies are something which must be hidden to avoid inciting lust in men, a part of them can begin to believe that there is something bad, dangerous, or wicked about not only their bodies, but about themselves. They can try to purposely obscure their beauty by unhealthy behaviors to either end of the weight spectrum, or they can become overly focused on trying to please others with the way they present themselves or their bodies. I truly believe that modesty, taught from a perspective of "do this so men won't see you and lust for you or objectify you" destroys healthy confidence and body image. That's a sad, sad thing.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Modesty, Part 1.- revealing our dignity?

"Modesty is about revealing our dignity."
~ Jessica Rey

The above video is of a talk given by Jessica Rey, a swimsuit designer (who does a fabulous job of promoting her business, by the way- I just wish she didn't use such poor logic to do it!) and modern proponent of "modest" swimwear for women. She basically argues that men objectify women who wear bikinis, as opposed to more "modest" (that term is never defined) swimwear, and that women showing skin is an invention of the modern fashion world. She says that "modesty" is about revealing dignity and being seen as people, rather than attractive bodies.

Normally, I think it is a mistake to judge an argument by its source. This time, I think the correlations between and origins of this argument and a very, very similar one are significant, simply because of the implications for the status of women in a society which adopts them.

"In the ’80′s, most of the religious rhetoric about hijab that I was exposed to stressed religious obligation, as well as women’s dignity. Supposedly, hijab would protect our dignity, by focusing (male) attention on us as believing women, rather than on us as female bodies."

Substitute modesty for the word hijab, and you have Ms. Rey's argument. The only difference is the definition of modesty. The only difference between requiring women to wear full-coverage, one piece swimsuits to "avoid objectification by males"  and requiring them to wear full hijab or even a burqa is one of degrees. The same logic that holds women accountable for rape, even in some cases punishing them as adulteresses if they file rape charges, the same logic that excuses honor crimes and forced marriages and domestic violence, is the same logic that the evangelical Christian world is using to regulate the dress and behavior of women. This should be a sobering thought to those Christians who in all other respects decry the mistreatment of and sidelining of women by Muslims.

Now, to unpack the other ideas here- Ms Rey cites a study, done at Princeton, as evidence for males' inherent tendency to objectify women who are wearing bikinis. For a more in-depth look at the study, try this post. Suffice it to say that this study was of a limited number of male college students. Also, the pictures they were shown were not only women in bikinis, but headless women in bikinis. The only thing the participants could see, unlike real life, was the woman's body. Even if the data from these students led to Ms. Rey's conclusions, (and I do not believe it does) this proves nothing about other demographics, other times, other cultures, or any person who has not been socialized into thinking that an attractive woman in a bikini is an object and fair game. She assumes that the reaction to the bikini is an inherent one in all males, rather than a socially conditioned one, and one which reflects ideas about women and their bodies which may not, in fact be universal. Not all men see a woman in a bikini and immediately turn her into an object. Some men see a woman who is beautiful and exposed in her beauty as the sacred living art of the Creator and as an actual person, with needs, goals, talents, and a mind.

Another thing- women can be, and are, ogled by pervs no matter what we wear. Even if all reasoning for modesty rules was legitimate- folks, it doesn't workWhether or not I get leered at depends, not on what I wear, but on who I'm around. That's a fact. Those guys in the grocery store who were making catcalls? They would have done so no matter what I was wearing. (A loose tshirt and jeans at the time) The guys who treated me with respect and conversed with my face, not my boobs, or else ignored me altogether, when I was in a two piece swimsuit at my college gym, treated me as they did because they were decent humans, not because I was covered up. When I am objectified, it;s not my form that's at fault- it's the pervs who are viewing me as an object created for their pleasure.

What exactly is modesty, and who gets to define it? Modesty, being completely a function of cultural expectations and norms, is relative. What would be "modest" in Papua New Guinea and what would be "modest" in Norway and what would be "modest" in Lancaster county, PA are all totally different. Modesty varies from occasion to occasion, place to place, and time to time. Women showing skin is nothing new. Belly dancing costumes are little more than bikinis, and they have been around for longer than this country. In Japan, it's weird to wear anything when you go to the hot tub, no matter the company. I could name quite a few societies in which clothes were/are limited or optional for some or all normal occasions. Making the history of modern, western culture perennially normative when it comes to this or any other issue is a mistake- at best, we end up with a very limited perspective, and at worst, incorrect conclusions. I would contend that "appropriate modesty" is synonymous with practicality, a total lack of misplaced shame, and general social acceptability. The most stereotypically "modest" (covered) swimsuit won't be appropriate for a funeral, and long pants and a shirt will be horribly impractical at the beach. In a historical context, I think it's a mistake to glorify the fashion of days gone by- yes, in modern history, women were (a couple of hundred years ago) more covered in general. But- why is that automatically a good thing? Were women more respected, did we have more rights and freedoms, and was our equality more a given then? Did men objectify less, respect more, and treat us as holy sisters, or as valuable persons equal to themselves? Not exactly! I cannot think of another age since perhaps the Minoan or Natchez societies in which women have been as close (we're still not 100% there yet) to equality as in our own.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Good Post on Rational Belief

"Christians need to go against the grain and explore fully all of the reasons for beliefs – our own and those of others, the good reasons and the bad reasons (and the important differences between the two). To float with the postmodern current and make “belief” an intransitive verb – something without an object – is a mistake. Reason is a basic kind of revealed knowledge, maybe the most basic of all. No beliefs can be sensible or of any value without it. John Wesley said that it is “a fundamental principle … that to renounce reason is to renounce religion,” and asserted further that “all irrational religion is false religion.”...........

Belief is not just a posture or disposition. Despite the popular media usage of the word, “faith” is not just a generic description (e.g., “I’m a person of faith,” which is just a colloquial way of saying, “I’m religious in some way.”). The noun “faith” and the verb “believe” are the same word in the language of the New Testament, and it is a word with a connotation we’ve lost in our common usage today.  The public, and especially that part that claims to be Christian, has to wise up to the political emasculation of language (as well as of thought itself).  “Believe” is primarily a transitive verb. Without an object, what meaning does the word really convey? Belief has content. Faith does not hang in the open air, but is directed toward and rests upon something or someone. It is the same with the word “trust.” In fact faith is a kind of trust.

So whatever you believe, you should consider the reason(s) for it. There are only a few exceptions, in the rare category of those most basic beliefs (i.e., basic axioms or principles that can’t be derived from any previous ones but must be presupposed at the outset). Any and every other belief you hold, about anything whatsoever, if it is to be taken seriously, if it is to be of any value or worth anyone’s consideration, it must have in its favor more than your emotions, personal history or external circumstantial factors. It must have reasons."

Good stuff...... I don't agree with every stance of this blog, (Reclaiming the Mind; they are hard-core complementarians, for one thing) but some of their stuff I really enjoy. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Conversations with my Best Friend

Some of my posts, quite a few of them actually, come from conversations I have with my husband. I love long, deep discussions with him- he challenges me, confronts my prejudices, and makes me think, and there's really nothing sexier than that. Besides being just good fun, our interactions help us grow, show us our blind spots, and enable us to put our heads together and practice problem solving together. My marriage is the safest and most honest place I have, and I am so very thankful for it. Just this morning a few minutes of listening to a sermon on the radio on the way to church yielded an excellent conversation about personal prejudices. (I tend to have an instinctive reaction to older gentlemen preachers with a certain accent, as in my experience nearly all  who've fit into that demographic have been sexist, blindly dogmatic, and patronizing) I strongly recommend marrying someone you love to just sit and talk with- it is a fabulous foundation for a lifelong friendship. Also, Nathan should, by virtue of his thought-spurring conversation, get some credit for some of the thoughts I post here. :) Even though he doesn't always agree with what I write, he's a big part of my thought processes now, as I am to his. As Shakespeare said:

"Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediment....

Giving Corporations Too Much Credit

Husband and I were watching a youtube video the other day which was critiquing various advertising/commercials as being sexist or racist, and our thought was- "wait. Yes, that ad was sexist/racist/classless. But- why do ads like that work?" I think ads like that work because they are a reflection of a society that  still has sexism, racism, classless, demeaning crudities, etc embedded very deeply. I truly think that corporations' advertising strategies have one goal, and one only- money. They want to sell something. Yes, they can be very unscrupulous and irresponsible in the way they go about selling, and it would benefit society if they tried to counteract social ills instead of reflecting them. However, ad campaigns are reflective of what successfully sells a product, and what appeals to certain demographics within society, so I see one really sure way to combat them- change society. That, and boycott the campaigns, companies, and/or products being marketed inappropriately. We as consumers are not helpless pawns in some corporate game; they do what they do because they believe we want it/it appeals to us. If we can demonstrate that that is not the case, we can effectively eliminate objectionable advertising, whether it's sexist girls' lego ads, beer commercials that objectify and stereotype, or ads that set up straw men to denigrate races, religions, socioeconomic classes, or geographical regions. We should be critically analyzing and both our own actions and prejudices, and those in the media we expose ourselves to.

When it come to children and advertising, it is very important that we as parents realize that we, not the corporations that shower our children with a barrage of media, are the most important element in shaping their worldviews. My children don't really watch tv, so we haven't had to deal with this much yet, but when they do watch we watch with them, discussing what we see and what assumptions and representations are being made in the media in question. It's also important to realize how much our choices in the toys we purchase for our children affect the toys that will be produced and marketed to them. If parents did not purchase or steer their children toward toys, movies, etc that represented inappropriate assumptions about gender or race, for example, I sincerely doubt whether those products would last long. Yes, I find many commercials very offensive. But rather than censor the messages advertisers are allowed to send, I'd rather advise society to 1. Critically evaluate the media to which we are exposed, 2. Critically evaluate our worldview, assumptions, and how our consumer choices reflect those things, and 3. Limit our children's and our own interactions with the constant barrage of advertising most Americans deal with. I think this is one instance in which "ignore them and they'll go away" is actually appropriate- I think that's exactly the way to deal with annoying, sexist or racist advertising.

Gender Representatives

My husband and I were talking yesterday, and I expressed chagrin at feeling like I had "something to prove" every time I ventured outside the stereotypical behavior for my gender, and at feeling sometimes like any misstep I made was going to be attributed to my gender as a whole, not to my bad day, or flawed humanness, or specific ineptitude. More specifically, in my observation women, particularly those who either call themselves feminists or egalitarians or who want to be socially and professionally on an equal footing with men, are under a good deal of pressure. If a man does something illogical, people say "wow, he did something illogical." If a woman does something illogical, people say "wow, women are illogical." As a woman, I am very uncomfortable expressing certain emotions or opinions in public because to do so would earn me a pat on the head and a "well, women are just like that. What do you do?" I really, really hate being patronized or having my gender as a whole dismissed because I, only one of millions of different incarnations of my gender, said a certain thing or behaved a certain way. Then, of course, if I appear too cold and calculating, people are turned off and repulsed by me because I am flouting an order of gender roles people find familiar and comforting, and in some cases a prerequisite for True Christian Womanhood. So, I feel that I must always be perfectly logical, correct in my opinions, in complete control of my emotions, sensible, rational, and measured in everything I do or say- (Which is really what I tend to be anyway, being as INTJ as I am; I don't like being put in a box, though!) and also nice, charming, and non-confrontational. What's a girl to do? :)

My husband, I learned as we chatted, often feels the same way, though in different areas. People expect him to dump a lot of the childcare on me, to need an excuse when he wants to hang out with his friends, (he doesn't- if he wants to play poker with the guys, he'll say "Hey, babe, I'd like to hang with the guys. Do you have to work that night/do we have any prior plans I'm forgetting? No? Ok, cool. I'll be back later." You know, like two grownups who love each other and want each other to pursue friends and interests outside our marriage would normally talk to each other.) want time away from me, be terrible at housework, and generally incapable domestically. Well...... that's just not my husband, and I love that about him. I love that I can take a flying trip or a weekend gig out of town, leaving him to parent solo, and not worry about the kids being neglected or the house getting totally trashed. Also, my husband feels the same sort of pressure I mentioned above when he steps out of his traditional role- when he is the one to cook a dessert for an extended family potluck, or bake a wedding cake, or when he's the one who has more culinary skill than I do and I defer to him, in public, in kitchen-related things. When he cooks or bakes, it has to be just right- if a woman bakes a cake and messes something up, it's because she had an off day or whatever, but if he messes up a dish, well..... "men are just not as good at/geared towards that."

I really, really wish our society could find it in our collective hearts to end this "divinely created gender role" nonsense, once and for all. It doesn't help those who fit the stereotypes, and it hurts those who do not. God did not use two cookie cutters, one blue and one pink, to create humanity. God made us like snowflakes- no two exactly alike. Can we generalize, based on physiology or hormones or statistical tendencies? Sure..... but 1. I question the accuracy of much non-physiological data, because it is so hard to define, report, and accurately quantify, and 2. A statistical probability does not equal a moral certainty or even a scientifically provable norm. I, at 5'2" and not terribly athletic, absolutely fit the "physically weaker than men" stereotype. But.... guess what? I am not pursuing a career in the military, security, or as an athlete. This does not mean that my gender is incapable of those things- it means that I am incapable of those things, or at least not geared towards them. I am generally a rational, logistically proficient, practical person. That does not mean that all women are that way, or that all men are and I'm a factory reject as a woman and less of a woman because of those traits, or that all cats are pink or that testosterone makes you turn orange or any other inaccurate statement of causality. Really, when we as Christians or as American society in general check our critical thinking and data evaluation skills, unpleasant things happen. Simple, predictable causal relationships and easy lists to check off simply aren't reality, and that's a fantasy we should really collectively retire.

Great Series on Breadwinning WIves

Recently, Mary Kassian posted a rather disturbing article on working women who make more than their husbands, which you can read here. It's sad, really.

Anyway, in trolling the internets, I came upon a really fantastic response by From Two To One- it's a four post series, actually.

Here's an excerpt from the response:

A husband is not less of a man if his wife earns more than he does, just as a wife is not more of a woman if her husband earns more than she does. Kassian’s view turns marriage into a power struggle between men and women, which is deemed God-honoring only when the husband wins.

As much as complementarians like Kassian want to label their vision for the world as “biblical” or “true,” what she does in this post is one of the least biblical, least true approaches to marriage: Kassian treats marriage as a transaction rather than a sacred union of two people becoming one. Taken to its logical end, Kassian’s argument that it’s the “man’s responsibility to be the provider for his family” because they are “wired to bear the primary weight of that responsibility” and “women aren’t,” a marriage in which the male is the primary breadwinner and the female the primary keeper of the home (even if she works or contributes in some way), is essentially transactional more than relational. He provides; she receives.

Kassian’s dichotomization of man/provider and woman/recipient essentially reduces the marital relationship between husband and wife to prostitution: the man provides money to the woman in exchange for sexual and domestic services. 

The logic end of this grossly oversimplified dichotomization is a sexual economics and ethics based on power differentials rooted in money. Since money is a proxy and conduit of power in most, if not all, societies, whoever controls the money has the ability to have more power in the relationship. Of course, this is absolutely not a necessity, and there are many, many relationships that fit a traditional male provider/female caregiver role that do not fall into this transactional trap. But this sexual economics essentially is a religiously and legally condoned framework in which husbands are granted access to their wives' bodies and labor in return for economic provision.

This is not what God intended when proclaiming that the two will become one. 

Marriage is not meant to be a transaction, a hierarchy of he provides and she receives. It is meant to be a relationship of mutual love, affection, and commitment. Marriage is a sacred union if you’re a Christian, a sacrament if you’re Catholic. From this Christian perspective, who brings home the bacon is less of an issue since both husband and wife are providing for each other and the family.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

My Kids' Dad

Tomorrow is Father's Day, and this post is in honor of my favorite father, the father of my children- my husband, Nathan.

I'm really glad my kids have Nathan as their dad. I'm glad they have a dad who adores them, who loves to spend time with them, who plays games and builds and flies kites and runs errands with them, and who wants to partner fully with me in raising our little guys. Nathan snuggles, prays sings, reads, and does science with them- he involves them in his projects at home, and never complains when he has to parent solo for a few hours. He really enjoys being a dad, and this comes across loud and clear to the littles. He makes our little guys feel loved and special, and they return his affection with little dimpled grins, emulation ad infinitum, hugs, and crawling or running to meet him when he comes home. (If you've never seen a ten month old hear his daddy's voice and make a giggling run for him, I'd recommend it- it's cuter than kittens in teacups.) I'm so thankful that I can be perfectly comfortable leaving my kids with their dad for a day or two when I have a flying trip to take, knowing that he'll kiss boo boos, feed, bathe, and discipline just as well as I would. Nathan can apologize to his kids when he's wrong, and discipline them without anger. I knew before we married that one of his life's goals was to be a great dad, but my dear man has exceeded my expectations of his parenting in almost every regard. I hope my boys will be as capable and happy in fatherhood as is their dad. Happy Father's Day, my love.

Chivalry and Honor Codes

I grew up reading stories of brave, martial men and steadfast women. I was fascinated with Ivanhoe and G.A.Henty, with stories of knights and honor and the best and bravest of men. My parents tried to teach my brothers to be men of honor, and I try to instill a sense of honor in my children. However- not all chivalry is equal, and not all stereotypical expressions of the honorable man or woman are compatible with the realities of our culture and the dictates of scripture as I read it. (And for the record, I am well aware that the version of "chivalry" that is taught in the whitewashed and idealized books we read as children was not generally an accurate depiction of the societies represented by the stories. "Courtly love?" "Knightly chivalry" a la the Eroll Flynn Robin Hood? Yes..... I'm not sure that ever existed outside Hollywood. But that's another story for another time.) There is much good in having a code of honor, and in maintaining personal standards and convictions and taking responsibility for our actions. There is also danger in blindly accepting a code of honor from generations or cultures past, with all its accompanying ideological assumptions, without some careful scrutiny. 

What is a code of honor? As I understand it, it is a set of ideals and philosophies, and the rules and assumptions one chooses to live by. By implication, transgression of one's honor code will result in some form of consequence, be it a personal feeling of shame or failure or some sort of social stigma or in some cases even legal/criminal consequences. Honor codes, real or fictitious, vary immensely with location, time and culture- from the honor codes of fictional pirates or cowboys to the honor codes of historic American pioneers to the honor code of a traditional muslim family in Saudi Arabia. One dictionary defines "Honor Code" as " A code of integrity, dignity, and pride, chiefly among men, that was maintained in some societies, as in feudal Europe, by force of arms" According to Wiki, "An honor code or honor system is a set of rules or ethical principles governing a community based on ideals that define what constitutes honorable behavior within that community. The use of an honor code depends on the notion that people (at least within the community) can be trusted to act honorably. Those who are in violation of the honor code can be subject to various sanctions, including expulsion from the institution." There is a code of honorable behavior here in America as well, though it is not legally enforced or universally adhered to by any means; it is what was taught to my spouse, my siblings, my self, and many of our young friends as children to help us understand how to be a person of reliable, excellent character.

The first thing that comes to mind when I think about a code of honor in a positive (and very general) sense is a passion for truth and justice, even at the expense of personal comfort or inclination. This is one I'll keep, and teach to my children; it is completely and repeatedly compatible with the teachings of Scripture. That, and it builds an unselfish and responsible character and its widespread existence would lead to a free and safe society. When I think about honor, I also think of the "golden rule"- treating others as we would like to be treated, regardless of their status or ours, and considering the effects of an action, not only on ourselves, but also on others, before we undertake it. The "honor code" I'll teach my children, in a nutshell, is justice, mercy, kindness, unselfishness, a love for truth and goodness, and both a sense of our personal responsibility for our actions and the effects of our actions on others and our responsibility to consider those effects. Too often, in our American society, children are raised with an inflated idea of their own importance and a feeling that they are entitled to various things. My goal, with my own children, is to fight the sense of entitlement and imbue them in its place with a careful consideration for others and a passion for justice and truth.

More specifically, we were taught that honorable men and women would not break a verbal contract, would not lie, and/or would be committed to being truthful and keeping agreements even at personal cost. This is a very positive thing, in my estimation- imagine how pleasant society would be if you could depend on people's truthfulness and reliability in general.... this idea of truthfulness/clarity/reliability, too, is a part of the teachings of scripture, the following of which is synonymous with my Christian faith.

Other specifics I think of when I think of honorable behavior include things like deferring to/assisting those weaker than yourself, E.G. holding a door for an elderly person, (some would say for women) a person with a heavy load, or giving your seat to a such a person in a crowded place, etc. Honesty in romantic relationships is another example- for instance, an honorable person will not lead a suitor on, implying more investment or feeling than is accurate for the sake of any personal benefits they might gain, and an honorable person will be decisive about whether they do or do not want a relationship, and will be willing to define both their feelings to the degree that they can and to share their goals and intentions for the relationship in an honest and forthright way.

Now, the negative- because the teachings on honor and chivalry I've heard generally originated in a culture and generation in which gender equality was not a widely accepted concept and gender roles were more rigid and static, some of the "honorable behavior" code promotes inaccurate and harmful assumptions and behavior. For example, take some of the rules on men relating to women in public: not sitting when there are women standing, holding the door for women, men paying for their female companions, etc. These rules assume that men are stronger, and women weaker, and thus men deferring to women in these conventions is conflated with the idea of the strong protecting the weak. The ideal of the strong protecting the weak is very, very good, but in our society it does not make sense to apply it strictly along gender lines. Any person should be willing to  hold the door, give up their seat, or physically assist a person who is weaker than they or who is dealing with heavy loads, cumbersome strollers, or vivacious young children. Sometimes, this ethic will lead to men holding doors for women; sometimes it will not. When I am out with my elderly grandfather, I hold the door for him. When my husband is carrying our youngest, who at 11 months is, together with his carseat, quite heavy, I hold the door for him. (my husband, at 6'8", is far stronger than I am in my 5'2", un-athletic self; in this case it makes perfect sense for him to do the heavy lifting. Thanks, babe! :) )When I see a man pushing a stroller or carrying bags, I hold the door for him. To be clear, I don't mind guys holding doors or giving their seats for me; no, not at all. I do think, however, that while those actions are nice and well-intentioned we should make every effort to separate a convention that a person may enjoy retaining from the flawed ideological assumption that may have originated it.

When it comes to the man paying for the lady, I think it is logical to assume that this came from a time when women were far less likely to have self-supporting careers, or even to be employed and earning wages, than their male counterparts, and so males were naturally left with a degree of fiscal responsibility that is thankfully unnecessary today.

Which brings me to my next point- male responsibility. One of the most negative aspects of the code of honorable male behavior I've observed in my culture is the idea that the husband/father bears ultimate responsibility, not only for children he may father, but for his wife/girlfriend as well. For example, the unequal alimony laws in some states still reflect this idea, as well as the assumption that the male will be more able to fiscally provide for the support of a family. (I'm not denigrating fatherhood or a male's reproductive or familial responsibility here- I'm simply saying that a man/husband/father does not have more responsibility than a woman/wife/mother. They are equally responsible.) This inflated idea of responsibility can be an unnecessary weight when a man's wife or adult children are not being great people and he must deal with feeling responsible, even though he cannot, and as per their adulthood should not, change them or manage their behavior. It can lead to a man, who is married to a woman who is mired in learned helplessness, feeling responsible for her welfare to a degree that he should not and putting up with more in his marriage than he should because he fears that to stand up to abusive, manipulative, etc behavior is somehow failing in a sacred manly duty. By holding males to a different standard, this hurts men and women both- men, because it binds them to situations to which they should not be bound, and women, because their voices are not valued to the same degree because of their reduced perceived responsibility. For example- if a man marries an adult woman with little to no education or job skills, and finds that he has also married a poor mother and a manipulative, emotionally abusive wife, he may hesitate to take steps to protect himself or his children because he feels responsible for his wife and her future welfare, even though she is a mentally capable adult. Then, too, a man may feel pressure to control his wife since he considers himself responsible for her; this can lead to very, very unhealthy relational power dynamics. Additionally, if a woman is raised to believe that she has/needs a man to be responsible for her, she may well not be as motivated to acquire the education or job skills that make such responsibility fiscally unnecessary, or she may remain in an almost childlike state, incapable of independence, lacking the mental independence and informed mind that make dependence on the responsibility of males unnecessary or even untenable.

Personal responsibility is a great thing, and teaching our kids to take responsibility for themselves, their choices, and their children is critical. But that responsibility should not be gender based, and when we decide to take responsibility for someone else, whether it's because they are mentally incapable, or our beloved parents or grandparents who can no longer be independent, or adorable little humans that we made, that responsibility should be thoughtful, intentional, and- again- not gender based. While many people fail to take enough responsibility for themselves, some people tend to feel responsible for others when they shouldn't, especially males, older siblings, and people with "care taking" personalities, from my observation. (older sibs and caretakers generally for very different reasons.)

Basically, I think that some of the ideas of honorable behavior, particularly for males, would be great if they were not based on gender and were regulated with common sense. The concept of honor, responsibility, altruism, etc is great, but it should be gender neutral. Every time.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Piano Audition Warm-ups

This video was shared by a friend on facebook, and it really made me laugh- especially the frustrated fist bangs. :) the excerpt from the G minor Ballade, particularly, brings back some wonderful and terrifying memories of practice rooms, auditions, juries, and playing really familiar pieces for the heck of it.

Google Search Terms

Apparently the top google search keywords this week which led people here were "ecclesiocracy concepts" and "piano jokes." I laughed. I do sometimes wonder if I should be trying to fit the musical/technical and theological/philosophical/political sides of me into the one blog, but they're both such a huge part of me that I think I'd lose something if I ditched one.

Thursday, June 6, 2013


Cross-posted from my studio blog: (

This was written by a violinist, but is very applicable to pianists. Deliberate, intentional, reasonable practice is so, so important to musical improvement! When I was in college, I practiced 8-10 hours a day during some periods, and I paid for it in unpleasant physical symptoms. Practicing too much is an issue, especially for more advanced students; as I tell my students, practice smart!

 This article is well worth the read.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A Libertarian Conversation On Same Sex Marriage, Part 6: Determining Legality and Expediency

Since I've established that I don't think making Same Sex Marriage illegal is a logical or appropriate consequence of its being held as immoral or unbiblical by many Christians, I'd like to demonstrate how I would go about determining if it's something that we should legalize.

For me, this is about two things- a definition of marriage, and legal equality.
This probably isn't news to anyone, but people in our society define marriage in a number of different ways. Some define it as a sacred covenant between a man and a woman, or between a man and several different women. Some define it as a means for two people who are in love to get tax benefits. Some define it as a partnership and a means to co-parenting.  I fundamentally view marriage as a partnership toward a common goal and a means to stability, physical, emotional, and spiritual support and companionship, fiscal security, safe sex, and co-parenting. Yes,  for me, marriage is also a holy covenant. It is not, however, one that is unbreakable for any reason, (though I would absolutely acknowledge the role of commitment and fidelity in a decent marriage) and I do not think that a marriage must be a religious covenant to meet most of the goals above. To meet my definition of marriage, gender is irrelevant except for the whole co-parenting bit. To naturally conceive a child requires two genders. However, raising a child does not, and fertility does not define a marriage anyway. While having two parents together to parent children puts those children at an advantage, having children in the first place is by no means required for a good marriage. If marriage is not currently defined as I believe it should be, then yes, I would support its redefinition.

Personally, I would like to see civil marriage replaced by civil unions between any two people and separated from religious marriage. I see no reason why two siblings who have determined to spend their golden years together in lieu of attempting to marry/remarry should not have the same legal benefits as a married couple, for example.

Our legal foundation is based on the principle of liberty as long as it does not infringe on someone else's, so I think we'd need to have hard evidence to restrict the personal rights/privileges of LGBT individuals. I would think, too, that being able to marry another consenting adult who one loves is fairly basic to the pursuit of happiness. On the policy side, Same Sex Marriage benefits society by making it easier for LGBT spouses to care for one another when they age, make medical decisions, be co-custodians of their children, et c.

Here are the questions I would like to see asked and answered:

Does it provide benefits, or harms, to society in general and to specific people outside the marriage?
Does it promote healthy, stable relationships and communities, or does it intrinsically damage communities?

Unless the answers to the above questions can be proven to be "yes, it harms" and "yes, it intrinsically damages" I see no reason to restrict the abilities of homosexual couples to establish stable families. My beliefs in equality mean that I advocate for fair play, justice, and liberty, and this both for those who share my beliefs/orientation and those that do not. I believe that we should be operating from the assumption that we all have the same marriage rights until we can show that harm results from certain scenarios- I would say that polygamy generally qualifies here, as would incest, underage marriage, patriarchy, matriarchy, forced marriage, et c. In the case of Same Sex Marriage, I am not aware of any way in which allowing it would harm anyone outside the marriage.

If I were a legislator, I would look at all relevant data, perhaps commission another study or two, and try to determine what, if any, quantifiable and causal negative results spring from allowing homosexual people to get married. If I did not find any that justified continuing the prohibition, I'd support allowing it.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A Libertarian Conversation on Same Sex Marriage, Part 5: Religion in Politics and Legislating Morality

There are three preliminary conclusions which influence everything else I believe on this subject, (the role of religious law and belief in civil government) and  without agreement on which I couldn't really debate it. They are:

 1. Involuntary acts mean nothing in terms of morality.

While actions may be good for us and good for society and generally a good idea, no action pleases God unless it is done with the right motive and is voluntary. If you treat people kindly because someone's going to hurt you if you don't, it's still treating people kindly,  which is an inherently positive thing, but it is very different than treating people kindly because you love God and you view that as part of your faith in action. In both cases you have done something good, but doing it because you choose to is different from doing it because you're forced to. God wants love and unbounded choice to do good, not just lip service and exterior forms of godliness.

2. We cannot, and we should not, try to coerce conversion or religious belief.

To do so would be morally wrong. We are to witness with service, example, and sharing/teaching, but we are not to bully or shame. Ever.

3. It is not the government's job to legislate morality or to shepherd the faith of its people


It is the government's job to protect the freedoms and general of its people, to enforce the rule of law, and to facilitate infrastructure in as local as way as is feasible.

That said, I absolutely think Christians have a responsibility to be involved in our government at all levels, in the arts, and/or in whatever ways we have been gifted and enabled to charge our world for the better. Part of our mandate as Christians is to release the captives, comfort the mourning, and bring justice to the oppressed. We can do this through politics, and as it is my belief that a free society is most conducive to this, working for a just and free community can be a big part of fulfilling that mandate. We may also have opportunities to share our faith with those who ask and who we would not have met otherwise, and to witness by our example of service to our communities. Working in politics to make our home free, prosperous, and friendly to the free exercise of our religion is a great and noble work. However, this does not mean that our laws should conform to any specific set of religious dictums. As I mentioned in a previous post, there are many problems inherent in an ecclesiocracy/theocracy, such as lack of agreement within faiths, a substitution of rule books for divine relationship, etc. As a Christian, I believe I have a responsibility to foster a political environment that is friendly to my faith and does not prohibit it, but also does not mandate it or interfere with it unless it harms others or endangers their basic freedoms. I view separation of the state from any one church as an inherently good thing. Of course, the state will be influenced by the faiths and churches of the people who comprise it; after all, what is government but the people to we elect to do the jobs we cannot or do not wish to do? But- to call ourselves a "Christian Nation" can be a bit problematic. What does that mean, exactly? With which flavor of Christianity would we be identifying? Southern Baptist, Anglican, Methodist, Mennonite? If by Christian Nation we mean a place where Christians and other can freely practice their religions with a few caveats, or a place where the basic values taught by Christ in the beatitudes are a fundamental part of the legal foundation, then I think we can proudly own the term. But if that means that being an American is synonymous with being a member of the Christian faith then I think I'd rather call it (and I can't at this time, not completely) a nation of Religious Freedom, and a nation whose people take responsibility for it. 

 All that said- what should be our foundation for law? Our constitution is based on a value for liberty and human life, and on justice and general ontological equality. I cannot think of a better starting point. Those things are also part of the Christian faith, but are not necessarily unique to it; many atheists would hold them as a positive foundation for a legal system as well. To hold up such a standard does not interfere with religious freedom, as our constitution is not part of any religion. It contains theistic statements, but I think it is generally understood that theism is not required for citizenship or to uphold the values set out in our founding documents. There are some things required of certain religions which violate our basic legal framework, and that is where religious freedom should end- take honor killings, forced marriages, or state punishment of consensual adult sexual behaviors such as adultery, premarital sex, or homosexuality, for example. We could always privilege the Christian faith, but that would be almost impossible due to the diversity within it. I firmly believe that the basic values of our constitution are thus a better framework for our government, and will more likely create a state of religious freedom, than any strictly religious law (Levitical, or Sharia, et c) or religiously mandated form of government.

The fact that our faith requires a position or behavior from us is not sufficient to legislate it for those who do not share that faith. Most of the dictates of the Christian faith are within the "value for liberty and human life, and on justice and general ontological equality" category, and thus are law not because they are in the bible, but because they reflect our basic legal ideas. Everything from insurance fraud to murder to the abortion debate can be traced back to those basic things. There are, of course, some things that many Christians believe to be morally wrong that do not fall within the confines of proper governmental jurisdiction. Adultery and Homosexuality come to mind- we do not throw people in jail for either one, nor should we. The state is not our parent, and we are not its child; consensual behavior between adults does not negatively affect the general population in a way that merits government interference, and all moral and religious implications are the purview of the parties involved, their church, and their God. There may be consequences- in the name of justice, a spouse may seek a divorce when adultery comes to light, and because marriage involves a contract which in such a case was broken, the offended party may be entitled to a distribution of assets that reflects this. This is very different from jailing the offending parties for their moral sin, however.

There is no reason for the state to discriminate based upon a religious rule that is not necessary under the ideals of the constitution. For example- many Christians believe homosexuality is morally wrong. Still, the state recognizes heterosexual spouses and parents regardless of qualification, and does not (and should not) require that homosexual couples should have to prove their fitness to acquire children any more than should heterosexual couples.

(Also, as a matter of consistency- it makes no sense, biblically, to limit homosexual marriage any more than we limit adulterous marriage. Let's be consistent- if LGBT folk can't really be married, then neither can people in polyamorous relationships or people who cheat on each other. Not the government's business, you say? Mmmm..... exactly.)

If we wish to make a law prohibiting marriage between gay couples, it is then inconsistent to use religious or biblical grounds to do so. If we desire such a law, we should first determine whether same sex marriage violates the principles of liberty, respect for life, justice, and equality. If same sex marriage is not counterintuitive to those things, then we ought to ask whether or not it does quantifiable harm to people outside the relationship and infringes on the rights of others. If it does not, then, irrespective and regardless of its morality, I question the legal justification for such a law.

Because involuntary morality does not count towards true holiness, we are doing our society and the people in it no favors when we legislate religious observance. Making laws which render our home freer and safer is wonderful, but legislating religious morality or observance of biblical law which falls outside of our constitutional purview simply puts our people in a place of observing law from fear of punishment, rather than because they are attempting to love God more fully. (I am in no way saying that I believe Christians are bound by the Levitical law, by the way. I'm just using it here as an example of an extra-constitutional morality code that we could, but should not, adopt.) I can see no end to such a course but useless bondage.

Some may argue that allowing same sex marriage necessitates a fundamental redefinition of marriage. To that, I'd say- 1, that depends upon your definition of marriage, and 2, the definition of marriage is not specified and hallowed in our constitution as are other issues.   Marriage, while it has historically been heterosexual, has not historically been a Christ-honoring, mutual, monogamous relationship, even within the church. There are exceptions, of course, but unless we're going back to the garden of Eden before misogyny reared its ugly head, then we're dealing with a mixed bag that includes a healthy dose of polygamy and a heaping cup of gender inequality. I really see no problem with clarifying its legal definition to include committed monogamous relationships between any two humans.

Then, of course, there is the issue of civil vs. religious marriage- I would support a state-recognized civil union between any two people, and the idea of leaving the religious end of marriage the purview of individuals and churches. That's a rabbit trail for another time, though.