Thursday, December 27, 2007

Understanding and Delight Part 1

un·der·stand·ing n.

insight into or knowledge of a particular thing; enlightened intelligence.

de·light n.

a high degree of pleasure or enjoyment; joy; rapture

One thing that has intrigued me for some time is the connection between understanding and delight. What I mean is that our potential for enjoying something is increased or decreased depending on our understanding of the thing. This has far-reaching implications, but I want to zero in on the realms of the arts and theology.

Understanding and Delight in the Arts

This principle of the relationship between understanding and delight has been brought home to me in many ways over the years, but it shows up most often when it comes to the arts. Let me give a few examples. As a Christian Hip-hop artist, I work closely with musicians for recording projects as well as live concerts. I don't consider myself a musician in the sense of being skilled with an instrument. My area of gifting is primarily in lyricism and writing. The band members that I've worked with over the years are fine musicians, but have little exposure to Hip-hop, so at times it's like two worlds colliding. I recall numerous occasions when we all would be listening to the same piece of jazz or gospel music. The band members would be going crazy during different parts of the song. They expressed their appreciation by rewinding it over and over, praising the skill of the instrumentalist, nodding their heads in approval, etc. To me, it sounded nice, but the fuss they were making about it seemed over the top. I just couldn't get into it like they did. This is because we were listening to the same thing, but with different ears. They were listening with the ears of professionally trained musicians. They heard nuances and subtleties that I could not appreciate. Unorthodox chord progressions, interplay between the drums and bass, skillful employment of technique and improvisation, etc. were lost on my untrained ears, but they picked those things up. And it was a source of enjoyment for them.

The same thing has happened when the emcees and the musicians have listened to the same Hip-hop song together. Many times, the emcees would be going crazy over what the lyricist is doing as the musicians sat with bored looks on their faces. Again, we were listening with different ears. The musicians hadn't been trained to hear and appreciate the complex multisyllabic rhyme patterns, interior rhyme schemes, vocal cadences and thematic continuity of the lyricist on the recording. All their ears could hear was what was or wasn't happening musically. This lack of understanding hindered their delight.

This principle can be demonstrated across the board. I'm reminded of a story that CJ Mahaney told in a message of his that I heard recently. He spoke of an experiment conducted by the Washington Post in which a world class violinist went into a subway in Washington D.C. during rush hour, pulled his violin (valued at over 3 million dollars!!!) out of the case and began playing classical songs. The night before, he had played the same exact songs at a sold-out Carnegie Hall in New York City with tickets starting at $100 each. The next day in the subway? Most people walked by, oblivious to the expert level of craftsmanship on display before them. A few of the violinist's fans were stopped in their tracks and received a delightful treat- once they got over their confusion. Again, the subway commuters did not have ears to hear the brilliance that was on display before them, and therefore could not appreciate or fully enjoy what they were hearing.

Earlier, I said that our potential for enjoying something is increased or decreased depending on our understanding of the thing. I qualified it by using the word "potential" for a reason. I don't believe that understanding equals delight in every case. One can have understanding of something without necessarily delighting in that thing at all. For instance, if I'm upset that my favorite sports team is losing the game, it's not my lack of understanding that is keeping me from enjoying it. (In fact, it could be that my understanding of the game is actually contributing to my lack of enjoyment at that point) Also, one could have an enjoyment level that doesn't measure up to their level of understanding, such as when someone becomes bored with something that they've heard (and understood) over and over. It's not a lack of understanding that's preventing enjoyment in that case, but over familiarity. However, our delight will never go beyond our level of understanding. Obviously, I can't enjoy what I don't know or understand.

With those qualifications out of the way, I'll close here. In part 2, I'll look at how this idea relates to God and our relationship with Him.

grace and peace,


Anonymous said...

Please let me be the first to say that I am eagerly anticipating part II. Recently, I commented to a brother on some "artistic work" he had recently finished, and now privileged me to sample and review. As I sampled the material, it became quite apparent to me that his work (or rather the work he was drawing from) was simply . . . understood, in its totality by me. The gentleman had composed several pieces of music based upon the GODman. As I pondered the pieces, my heart was (and remains) deeply saddened, for I know of the significance of ALL THINGS DONE WELL by the Risen CHRIST, yet for reasons unknown (likely sin), I am unable to immerse myself in the richness of the LORD . . .

It is my hope part II will not only make the connection between understanding and delight, but will further come with intimate application when the concepts posed are shown in the context of the LORD JESUS, the CHRIST. In advance brother, thank you for your labors.

Anonymous said...

I'm eagerly anticipating part II.

Andrew Travis Pantazi said...

shai, this article has helped to explain to me something that I have talked extensively about to a few friends of mine. My best friend lives in a family of all music majors with full scholarships because of their ability on violin, clarinet, and piano. It has always been an intriguing discussion for his family and I and I cannot wait to see you connect it to being delighted in God and worshipping God. I eagerly await part II.

soli Deo gloria,
andrew travis pantazi

Anonymous said...

i'm looking forward to part 2. i'm also looking forward to seeing you at Bethlehem Baptist in February. Would you mind if i taped it?

Anonymous said...

hey shai, I am feeling where this blog is going and I am looking forward to part 2. My parents were born and raised in Haiti, and migrated to the US before they were married. Our family has been going to this immigrant church for as long as I can remember. We find that we are losing the American born generation once they come of age. From what I have been able to gather, the tension between the Haitian Culture and American culture is being driving by our inability to understand each other. So the elders don't support praise dancers, or christian hip hop. The youth do not appreciate the hymns sung to Haitian rythms.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post and so true. My understanding and delight in Christ increased dramatically when I began to really study the truths of scripture and read some of the puritan authors and books you've mentioned on your blog.

Joel Hamernick said...


I have a friend who used to play the piano in the lobby of the 4 seasons here in Chicago. He was a self-trained but highly gifted pianist who would memorize extensive amounts of music. Most of the stuff he would play in the lobby people would appreciate but not really understand. One day he was playing and Robert Plant came in and sat down nearby. My friend slowly started introducing riffs from various popular and obscure Led Zepplin music into the freeform jazz he was playing. Evidently RP got a real kick out of it as well. Familiarity with things brings a much deeper enjoyment -- especially when we are able to apply them in new and unfamiliar contexts.

Mark Knoll (a renowned church historian) once said that if you consider the greatest artists of church history -- they almost always have a deep appreciation and understanding of the sacraments. This understanding and appreciation on the part of the artist not only creates greater delight on the part of the artist, but obviously we as God's people benefit tremendously from them passing this on.

My kids have benefited greatly from your time spent understanding and delighting in the doctrines of grace.

SDG. Joel.

Anonymous said...

Well Shai its May where it part 2 at...

Can't leave your blog readers hanging like that. I hope to see Understanding & Delight Pt. 2 up shortly.

Pray all is well.

Grace & Peace...9