Step Dancing Around the World

Yesterday, my mother showed me this clip, which pitched two tap-dancers and three Irish dancers against each other.

As I was watching it, I started thinking about step dancing. Now, I’m no brilliant step dancer. In fact, I know a grand total of three steps, which I can do much, much too slow to sound rhythmic at all. But I *am* familiar with Cape Breton step dancing, because there’s a session of it most years at Spring Fiddle camp. In fact, what the three Irish dancers do in the clip, once the tap dancers get them to loosen up and use their arms a bit, is basically step dancing. I’m sure an actual step dancer would tell me I’m wrong.

Tap dancing and Irish dancing are related arts. The whole genre of dance form seems to have started somewhere in the British Isles and just spread from there. Here’s a quick overview of some of the different forms of step dancing around today.

First, I’m going to mention soft-shoe step dancing, and then ignore it for the rest of the post. Competitive Irish dancing includes both soft-shoe and hard-shoe; in the more Scotland-based traditions, soft-shoe became Highland dance, and hard-shoe became step dancing. Soft-shoe Irish dancing and Highland dancing is slower and more ornamental, as opposed to step-dancing, which is very much about the rhythms.

So, I’m talking about Irish hard-shoe dance at the moment, because I think that’s probably the sort of step dance people are most familiar with. Maybe not. Maybe it’s tap-dancing. Either way, here are a few clips of Irish hard-shoe dancing.

That’s not as exciting as when they go a capella, though.

Modern Irish dance came out of an older tradition called damhsa sean-nós. I should mention that saying “sean-nós” by itself usually means the old style of singing. Here’s a video of someone dancing sean-nós in the 70s.

As far as I can tell, from watching probably far too many Irish documentaries, sean-nós dancing is fading in popularity in the face of both modern Irish dance and popular culture. Nevertheless, here’s a modern clip of a girl from the Conamara.

Step-dancing mostly died out in Scotland, aside from Highland dance which I’ve mentioned earlier, but has recently been re-introduced mostly by Canadians, because the style lives on in Cape Breton.

Just out of interest, that’s where Catherine Fraser learnt it, more or less, before she started teaching it at Spring Fiddle. I’m not quite sure how they stopped step-dancing in Scotland (aside from them all being exported to Canada), because it’s very much a part of the music. Just check out Natalie McMaster’s feet going as she fiddles away in the background of this clip.

Although Wikipedia tells me that step-dancing was also practiced in East Anglia and Dartmoor, I can’t find much to back that up. I was interested, however, to read about clogging, a southern US variant.

It seems to be mostly practiced in Kentucky, North Carolina, and Appalachia, which is no real surprise since the local style of folk music there, bluegrass, still shares a lot of similarities with Irish and Scottish fiddle styles (a lot of the common tunes are the same, too). Here are some kids going freestyle in North Caroline.

Clogging, apparently, is the predecessor of tap dance. I don’t know any more about tap dancing than the next person, but here’s a clip that seems to be pretty typical. Their arms and upper bodies are a lot more choreographed than the other step-dancing styles.

I’m not sure what happened to Australia in all of that. As I’ve mentioned before, our local folk music style is still pretty close to the Scottish/Irish styles, so it seems odd that we didn’t inherit the step-dancing as well. If anyone knows about any sort of Australian step-dancing, do let me know.

 

 

 

 

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Easter and Evangelism

Since I’m down with the dreaded lurgey such that I couldn’t go to church this morning, I instead pressed YouTube into service as a substitute.

Unfortunately, yoogling “easter sermon” results in many thumbnails of what appear to be American “evangelical” preachers (and I use the word “evangelical” quite wrongly but in the popular definition to mean that particular branch of Christianity which relishes in yelling from pulpits and singing overly repetitious “praise choruses” glorifying how great everything is now for the individual).

Since I felt, in my infirmity, that I couldn’t handle an American yelling at me from the computer, I kept scrolling until I found the first thing that looked as though it definitely wouldn’t be:

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Easter 2015 sermon.

Dare I say my parish priests could take preaching lessons from him? It’s quite good. You can tell that one of the Archbishop’s top priorities is evangelism.

YouTube then directed me to this hour-long lecture by the same man entirely on the topic of evangelism and witness.

This one is exactly what is trying to be conveyed to me in a subject this term called “Missional Church”.

I suppose, now, next time one of my classmates asks me which preacher I like listening to online, rather than saying that I don’t listen to sermons online (which has previously been the case, bucking the trend again), I’ll have to answer “the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.”

Take that, American megachurch spielmongers!

Belief of Origin – A Choice of Two Narratives

When discussing the origin of what we observe about ourselves and what is around us, it is necessary to begin with just that – what we observe about ourselves and what is around us. We can make many observations about these things – what they look like, what they’re made of, the present state of them, and perhaps their tendencies over time according to our observations.

These observations, however, are finite. We cannot know for certain something which we have no ourselves observed or experienced. At times, we can make judgements, and come to conclusions, based on information passed on to us by trustworthy sources. I, for example, have never visited Uluru, and yet there is no question to my mind as to whether it exists, whether it’s in the centre of Australia, whether it’s orangey-red or whether it’s very, very large. I have spoken to people who have visited it and I have seen pictures of it. Of course, it might all be an elaborate hoax to fool me, but that seems unlikely.

However, while it is possible for me to believe in the existence of Uluru without having personally confirmed its existence, the same cannot be extended to many other things. While I trust that Queen Elizabeth II is real and has been coronated, because I have seen video footage of it, there is no video footage of Henry VIII’s coronation. I must simply trust written records by people who were there – people who are long since dead and whom I will never meet or be able to form an opinion of their trustworthiness – that it took place. Likewise, I must trust a written record which says that David was once a King or that Julius was once a Caesar.

These things all happened relatively recently, as compared to the origin of the earth, however that might have occurred. There were no cameras to record how the earth came into being. In fact, no-one believes there were even any humans around at the time it happened who might have recorded it for us. All we have on which to base our understanding of the origin of what is around us is simply what is around us.

No-one can disagree on these things. One would have to be determined to ignorance to disagree that the rocks in the Adelaide Hills are sedimentary and misaligned. Anyone driving up the Freeway can see it. However, the question naturally arises of how they got that way – or, in fact, how there came to be humans living, breathing, and developing the skills to build cars and a Freeway on which to drive them.

The most popular story in our culture of how things came to be this way involves vastly long periods of time, too long to imagine. It involves ancient seas which deposited the sediments, and at some point in which atoms became cells and became creatures from which we are ultimately derived. This theory is based on various observations of what is around us. We see how river mouths deposit sediments which, over the course of several years, can build up into sand-banks and need to be dredged. We have dug up fossils of various creatures, some of which no longer exist. We see the time it takes something to change – environmentally or biologically – and extrapolate that back to calculate what things might have been like in the distant past.

Another story, which has fallen into disfavour in our culture, involves much shorter periods of time. It involves a catastrophic flood, a sudden event, and the quick arrival and development of everything we see today. This theory, also, can be based on observations of what is around us. We see how flash-floods can change the shape of a river in minutes, even seconds, and deposit layers of mud on houses and roads. We have dug up fossils of various creatures, many of which we recognise as creatures still living today. We see the world around us and cannot conceive of how it came to be by sheer chance, and we turn to a written record from a time ages before us for answers. This written record tells us that these events, although they might seem unusual to us because they have not happened in our own observation, were carried out through the supernatural intervention of a divine being.

There’s a third option, of course, and that is to somehow combine the popular theory – based on observation and extrapolation – with the traditional theory – based on observation and records. This can happen in various ways. Perhaps this divine being – God – oversaw the slow process which we can extrapolate from our observations, starting with an ancient sea and a single cell. Perhaps He hurried things along a bit, and created a few different forms of life from which the things which we see developed. There are many different ways of combining the two stories of how things came to be, some of which do less justice to either than others.

On page 135 of “Introducing Christian Doctrine”, Erickson states that the story of God creating in a series of acts which involved long periods of time and which took place an indefinite time ago “does full justice to both the scientific and Biblical data”. I disagree.

Of course, it depends entirely on what one means by “scientific data”. In our current culture, many would have us believe that evolution is scientific data. It, however, is not. What is, on the other hand, is what can be readily and repeatedly observed. Old-earth evolution cannot be readily and repeatedly observed by sheer virtue of the fact that it happens over long periods of time, and we do not. Old-earth evolution is a story compiled from the data – that which has been observed – and which attempts to do justice to the data. Similarly, young-earth creation is a story compiled from the data which attempts to do justice to it.

It seems to me that what Erickson is doing is assuming that old-earth evolution is a scientific fact when, in actuality, it is simply a working theory based on evidence. This evidence, however, can just as easily contribute to young-earth creation views of the origin of the world and of life. Of course, there are some areas which have more trouble integrating to a young-earth creation view (for example, the age of rocks and fossils, or the distance which light has travelled), just as there are some areas which have more trouble integrating to an old-earth evolution view (for example, the absence of linking fossils, or the inability of new DNA to simply appear). To assume, however, that one is a better explanation of what we observe that the other would be simply prejudice.

What it really comes down to – if we’re dealing with what we see around us – is which story to believe. Young-earth creation seems implausible to many people because it involves supernatural intervention. However, for Christians, the existence of the supernatural is a fact. One cannot be a Christian without acknowledging the existence of God and His ability to interact with people and the world in a very real manner. Why, then, should there be a problem for Christians in believing that God has interacted with the world in the past?

Of course, there are many other arguments which could stand to be covered, such as the reliability of the Biblical record of events or various methods of placing an age on things around us by virtue of their chemical composition. There are also implications of the view one might choose to take, such as responsibility for the environment and for other creatures. Both Christians and atheists might have questions about the future of the earth and what that means for our interactions with it and with its resources. Which view we take also has implications for what we might expect of the rest of the universe.

But, for me, what the question of the origin of things really comes down to is a question of which story to believe. There is no question about the facts of what is around us. However, when asking how they came to be how they are, should I believe the recent musings of other fallible humans (regardless of how learned or how wise they might be), or should I believe a written historical document which is confirmed to date back unchanged at least two thousand years and which has been proven in many points by corroborating outside evidence to be correct?

Who should I believe about how the world came to be? People or God?

We covered Creation today in Theological Survey. This is my required response to it and to the assigned reading text. I assumed nothing in my answer to the question “Does Creation Make Sense?”, which has probably been my downfall in the review of the response by my peers, since there are a number of arguments I could have used earlier on but didn’t, and a number of implications of my own belief I made which aren’t clear. I’m still in the very elementary stages of Introductory Logic, so you’ll have to forgive me for being very basic and obvious in my logical method arguments.

 

!פורים שמח

Happy Purim!

Hamantaschen.jpg

The Jews […] celebrated the fourteenth day of the month of Adar with gladness and feasting, as a holiday, and for sending presents to one another.

And Mordecai wrote these things and sent letters to all the Jews […] that they should celebrate yearly the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar, as the days on which the Jews had rest from their enemies, as the month which was turned from sorrow to joy for them, from mourning to a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and joy, of sending presents to one another and gifts to the poor.

So the Jews accepted the custom which they had begun, as Mordecai had written to them, because Haman […] had plotted against the Jews to annihilate them, and had cast Pur (that is, the lot) to consume them and destroy them; but when Esther came before the king, he commanded by letter that this wicked plot which Haman had devised against the Jews should return on his own head.

So they called these days Purim, after the name Pur.

Esther 9:19-26 NKJV (paraphrased)

 

 

 

Thought of the Day #9

A little less than 1600 years ago, a little Welsh PK was captured to be a slave by Irish pirates. He went on to found a missionary movement that would reach not just all of Ireland, but also Scotland and the Nordic countries.

Thursday

I can’t help but think he’d be appalled if he saw what people did in his name today.

A Few Thoughts on Baptism

As I was reading one of my texts this week, my mind wandered to a conversation I had over the weekend. I was at the baptism of the four-month-old son of a classmate. The father, like me, had studied at ACM, and admitted to me that he had considered not baptising his son after some of the things he had heard there.

This classmate and I are in the unique position of being familiar with both views on baptism and not coming down firmly on one side or another. He grew up in a Lutheran church, while I grew up in a Baptist one; I grew up hearing the vitriol a lot of Baptists spout regarding infant baptism, including from my own father. As a child, I accepted that as the truth, and infant baptism as something errant and wrong. I now know it’s not so simple.

Yes, there are strong and compelling and Biblical arguments for both sides. I myself wasn’t baptised as a baby, and in some ways, I’m glad I was allowed to make that choice for myself. But on the other hand, I don’t think I’d have lost anything in having been baptised as a baby. When I was about six or seven, I approached the pastor at our church to say I wanted to be baptised. “You’ll have to wait,” I was told, “You’re not old enough to make that decision yet.”

I wasn’t baptised until I was about eleven or twelve – old enough, apparently, to know what I was doing. Yet, at the age of six, maybe I didn’t understand the nuances of it, or the full significance of baptism, as I do now, but I knew what it was. I knew being baptised was about being a Christian, about identifying with Jesus, and I knew that I wanted to be part of it. I was ready to be baptised at six, but the “believer’s baptism” church I belonged to wouldn’t allow it because I wasn’t old enough.

My sister still hasn’t been baptised. It’s not because she’s not a Christian, because she is, and she knows vaguely that she should be baptised at some point. She’s getting to an age where everyone’s going to just assume she’s been baptised already. But for us, the journey to being a Christian doesn’t have some clearly-defined life-changing salvation story. If anything, the journey to being a Christian started when we were born into a Christian family. People who convert to Christianity when they’re older are first baptised when they’re saved, and then go on a journey to discover what it means to be Christians. Why shouldn’t children born to Christian families likewise be baptised at the beginning of their journey, rather than halfway through?

The classmate I was speaking to told me that he had been baptised as a baby, but his wife hadn’t been baptised until she was ten or eleven. “Sometimes I think something’s been taken away from me,” he said, “That I wasn’t given the opportunity to make the decision myself. If you’re baptised as a baby, then being baptised and making the choice to follow through with that are years apart. But that’s very individualistic.”

I hadn’t thought of it like that. Is adult baptism just a reflection on the individualism of our culture? In the text I read today, it described a difference between today’s Western culture and the Bible world. It spoke of how today’s world is made up of individuals, while the world of the Bible was made up of households. In the Bible, children were baptised when their parents converted; the household was baptised, not the individual.

I grew up practicing a very individualistic faith in a very individualistic world. I’m still trying to work out what it means to practice one’s faith in a community, but I am sure that’s the way it’s meant to be done. Community – family, clan, nation – was more important to the people of the Bible than themselves as individuals. Many traditional churches have retained this, while modern churches have lost it somewhere, taking community as fun events and not faith. In many modern churches, our faith is individual, while traditional ones values cohortative prayer and communal song. The idea of the group being more important than the individual, or of everything have consequences for others, is at loggerheads with today’s culture.

We like the idea of adult “believer’s” baptism because it places the emphasis on the individual and the individual’s decision, while we eschew infant baptism because it takes the choice away from the individual and places responsibility on the parents, on the wider community, and on the church community as a whole. The vows made by each of these groups at an infant baptism are something special and touching, a promise to welcome the child, to teach the child, to help the child to grow.

And yes, there are so many people who get their children baptised just because they think it’s the thing to do. We touched on that in our discussion; we’ve both seen so many people come through our churches, having their children baptised and just standing there, sometimes not even making the promises. We both see this as a problem; I wish there were some out for priests and ministers who are approached in this way to say, “I’m sorry, but I can see you’re not going to uphold these promises, so I can’t, in good conscience, baptise your child.”

I was so thrilled to be invited to be part of this classmate’s child’s baptism, because I knew that his parents would take it seriously. This, to me, is the beauty of infant baptism; a sincere statement by the parents that this child is loved and welcomed by the community and by God, this child is one of us, we’re going to teach this child about God with every waking moment and one day, we pray, this child will stand beside us, mature and strong in his faith in God. This child is beginning his journey today, as with hundreds of thousands of millions before him, in trusting God and living as part of the wider Christian community.

I’m not saying there’s something wrong with adult baptism. I don’t know where I stand on re-baptism; I can see that there is early church precedent for a baptism for re-commitment after having strayed for a bit. Adult baptism is what some people need. There are so many thousands of people in the world who haven’t come to faith, or who, believing as teenagers or adults, are baptised then. I can see all the arguments for how babies can’t honestly make this decision for themselves; how does a baby know what he believes? I concede all these arguments and understand them.

But who ever makes a decision for himself? Who ever makes a decision which doesn’t affect someone else? Is there such a thing as being truly individual? Should Christians who have been baptised as babies resent their Christian parents for robbing them of an individual choice? Or should they rejoice in being part of the Christian community from birth, in being part of something so much larger than themselves?

Which is better – to be an individual, or to be part of a group?

Should one’s statement of faith be made as an individual, or as part of the group?