Archive for August 2010

Morning prayer

August 29th, 2010 — 5:36am

“We praise thee, we hymn thee, we bless thee, we give thanks unto thee, O God of our fathers, that thou hast brought us in safety through the shades of night, and hast shown unto us once again the light of day. And we entreat of thy goodness: Be gracious unto our sins, and accept our prayer in thy great tenderness of heart. For we flee unto thee, the merciful and almighty God. Shine in our hearts with the true Sun of thy Righteousness; enlighten our mind and guard all our senses; that walking uprightly as in the day, in the way of thy statutes, we may attain unto life eternal (for with thee is the source of life); and graciously be permitted to come unto the fruition of the light unapproachable.

“For thou art our God, and unto thee we ascribe glory, to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.”

(Service Book of the Holy Orthodox-Catholic Apostolic Church, ed. Isabel Florence Hapgood)

Comment » | Grace and Life

Mencken on Puritan suspicion

August 26th, 2010 — 2:51pm

Here Mencken is lamenting the state of a particular strand of American literature:

“What ails it, intrinsically, is a dearth of intellectual audacity and of aesthetic passion. Running through it, and characterizing the work of almost every man and woman producing it, there is an unescapable suggestion of the old Puritan suspicion of the fine arts as such – of the doctrine that they offer fit asylum for good citizens only when some ulterior and superior purpose is carried into them. This purpose, naturally enough, most commonly shows a moral tinge. The aim of poetry, it appears, is to fill the mind with lofty thoughts – not to give it joy, but to give it a grand and somewhat gaudy sense of virtue. The essay is a weapon against the degenerate tendencies of the age. The novel, properly conceived, is a means of uplifting the spirit; its aim is to inspire, not merely to satisfy the low curiosity of man in man. The Puritan, of course, is not entirely devoid of aesthetic feeling. He has a taste for good form; he responds to style; he is even capable of something approaching a purely aesthetic emotion. But he fears this aesthetic emotion as an insinuating distraction from his chief business in life: the sober consideration of the all-important problem of conduct. Art is a temptation, a seduction, a Lorelei, and the Good Man may safely have traffic with it only when it is broken to moral uses – in other words, when its innocence is pumped out of it, and it is purged of gusto.”

Comment » | From the Dead Thinkers

Mencken on depravity

August 26th, 2010 — 2:43pm

I’ve been on an H. L. Mencken kick of late. Sometimes there’s nothing so refreshing as a truly brilliant critic. A taste:

“We all play parts when we face our fellow-men, as even poets have noticed. No man could bring himself to reveal his true character, and, above all, his true limitations as a citizen and a Christian, his true meannesses, his true imbecilities, to his friends, or even to his wife. Honest autobiography is therefore a contradiction in terms: the moment a man considers himself, even in petto, he tries to gild and fresco himself. Thus a man’s wife, however realistic her view of him, always flatters him in the end, for the worst she sees in him is appreciably better, by the time she sees it, than what is actually there. What she sees, even at times of the most appalling domestic revelation and confidence, is not the authentic man at all, but a compound made up in part of the authentic man and in part of his projection of a gaudy ideal. The man who is most respected by his wife is the one who makes this projection most vivid – that is, the one who is the most daring and ingratiating liar. He can never, of course, deceive her utterly, but if he is skillful he may at least deceive her enough to make her happy.”

Boosts the self-esteem, does it not?

Comment » | From the Dead Thinkers

A day that changed the world

August 24th, 2010 — 9:17am

For those who care about such things (and shouldn’t we all?), today marks the 1600th anniversary of the sack of Rome by Alaric and the Visigoths.

Comment » | The Way of All the Earth

Tether and pang

August 24th, 2010 — 8:50am

by C. S. Lewis

Walking to-day by a cottage I shed tears
When I remembered how once I had walked there
With my friends who are mortal and dead. Years
Little had healed the wound that was laid bare.

Out little spear that stabs! I, fool, believed
I had outgrown the local, unique sting,
I had transmuted wholly (I was deceived)
Into Love universal the lov’d thing.

But Thou, Lord, surely knewest thine own plan
When the angelic indifferencies with no bar
Universally loved, but Thou gav’st man
The tether and pang of the particular,

Which, like a chemic drop, infinitesimal,
Plashed into pure water, changing the whole,
Embodies and embitters and turns all
Spirit’s sweet water into astringent soul,

That we, though small, might quiver with Fire’s same
Substantial form as Thou – not reflect merely
Like lunar angels back to Thee cold flame.
Gods are we, Thou hast said; and we pay dearly.

Comment » | Incarnation and Embodiment, Poets, Painters, and Playwrights

Morning prayer

August 22nd, 2010 — 6:26am

“O God, our God, who hast brought into being by thy will all the powers endowed with speech and reason, we beseech thee and supplicate thee: Accept our praises, which together with all thy creatures we offer according to our strength; and reward us with the rich gifts of thy goodness. For unto thee every knee doth bow, whether in heaven or on the earth, or in the regions under the earth, and every breath and created being doth sing thine ineffable glory. For thou only art the true and most merciful God.

“For all the powers of heaven magnify thee, and unto thee we ascribe glory, to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.”

(Service Book of the Holy Orthodox-Catholic Apostolic Church, ed. Isabel Florence Hapgood)

Comment » | Grace and Life

Science . . . and art

August 20th, 2010 — 2:17pm

One of the conversations going on in the church that is very old but currently as lively as ever is the one about the relationship between science and theology. Of particular interest to me here is the question from that conversation: To what extent should Christians let the theology they have learned from “special revelation” (scripture) influence their interpretation of “general revelation” (nature) in the course of doing science? I’ve written about this elsewhere before, but it continues to fascinate me, not least because of how many Christians give what is basically the secularist’s answer – “not at all!” It should be beyond dispute (we hear) that any compromise of objectivity is a compromise of science itself; a scientist must come to the data with an open mind and simply see where his investigations lead him.

I’ve thought a lot about this because, as a former attorney, I’m deeply sensitive to the problem of prejudging evidence. Make up your mind about a case before it is presented, and you will be deaf to anything that doesn’t fit your view. Such an approach inevitably yields miscarriages of justice. So it is with science, we understand: let people start believing in demon possession because they read about it in the Bible, and they may start burning people with “demonic” symptoms without ever bothering to consider what medical causes might be in play.

All right, but here’s a difficulty. Suppose we say theology is one domain of study with its own rules (faith working from scripture), and science is another domain of study with its own rules (reason working from nature), and the former mustn’t disturb the latter. Doesn’t this mean we have already placed the “supernatural” firmly outside the bounds of science? Doesn’t this define science in such a way that the evidence can lead nowhere but to purely “natural” conclusions? Isn’t this, then, a prejudging of the evidence? And doesn’t it completely secularize science?

Consider, for example, the Gadarene demoniac. If we met this man today, we would want to have him examined by a physician, and we would not want the interference of crazy religious ideas about demon possession. But suppose some physician, committed to what we now know as the “scientific method,” had run up to Jesus as He encountered the Gadarene, and told Him He was about to corrupt a brilliant opportunity for science with His wild ideas about exorcism. And suppose Jesus had said to this physician, “Your objectivity has blinded you to what’s actually going on here.” Would that have been a corrupting imposition of theology on science? Would that have been a theological prejudging of the scientific evidence on Jesus’ part? Or would it have been an exposure of the prejudging of the evidence on the physician’s part? Hmmm . . . .

I ask this because I recently read something in Jim Jordan’s Through New Eyes that is kind of obvious, but it’s also kind of radical. He says this (p. 29):

“According to the Greeks – and actually all pagans – the world was not made by God. Rather, the world, or the raw material of the world, has always existed. This always-existing stuff just is, and so it is called ‘Being.’ This ‘Being’ stuff is like a blank slate. It is silent and meaningless ‘raw material.’ It does not bear the impress of any Creator, and it does not joyfully shout His name (Psalm 98:4–9).”

If you let this sink in, it means that to look at anything in the world without seeing how it shows off the glory of God is to look at it wrongly; it is, in short, to misunderstand the thing before you. There isn’t anything that is “just there,” naked under the microscope, open to all interpretations. Whatever is already has meaning, because it is created; and this must govern our interpretation of whatever is. How do we know this? Because the Bible tells us so. We can’t very readily throw out our Bible, or we cease to be Christians; and we can’t very readily shelve our Bible when we walk into the laboratory, because it tells us how we must look at everything we find there. This isn’t to say the Bible is a scientific handbook, which scientists must consult for answers to all sorts of scientific questions. It is to say the scientist never deals with anything for which the Bible hasn’t already provided a supernaturalistic interpretive grid – and this surely rules out the possibility of “Christianized” naturalistic science.

Now here’s a kicker: If the biblical understanding that nothing is “just there” precludes scientific interpreting of the world in just any way we please (notably without reference to the Creator), does it also preclude artistic representing of the world in just any way we please? In other words, if the Bible forbids a certain kind of objectivity in science, does it simultaneously impose a certain kind of objectivity in art?

Comment » | Poets, Painters, and Playwrights, Science, Theology, and Priestcraft

Culture and religion

August 18th, 2010 — 7:22pm

“With all its wealth and power, [culture] only shows that the human heart, in which God has put eternity [Eccles. 3:11], is so huge that all the world is too small to satisfy it. Human beings are in search of another and better redemption than culture can give them. They are looking for lasting happiness, an enduring eternal good. They are thirsting for a redemption that saves them physically as well as spiritually, for time but also for eternity. And this only religion, and nothing else, can give them. God alone can give it to them, not science or art, civilization or culture.” (Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, p. 3.328)

Comment » | Qohelet’s Musings

Morning prayer

August 15th, 2010 — 6:01am

“O Lord our God, who hast granted unto men pardon through repentance, and hast set us, as an example of the acknowledgment of sin and of the confession which is unto forgiveness, the repentance of the Prophet David: Do thou, the same Lord, have mercy upon us according to thy great mercy, notwithstanding the manifold and great iniquities into which we have fallen; and through the multitude of thy bounties, blot out our transgressions. For unto thee have we sinned, O Lord, who knowest the secret and hidden things of the heart of man, and who alone hast power to remit sins; and as thou hast created a clean heart within us, and established us with thy guiding Spirit, and made known unto us the joy of salvation, cast thou us not away from thy presence. But inasmuch as thou art good and lovest man, graciously vouchsafe unto us that even until our uttermost breath, we may offer unto thee the sacrifice of righteousness, and an offering upon thy holy altars.

“Through the mercies and bounties and love toward mankind of thine Only-begotten Son, with whom thou art blessed, together with thine all-holy, and good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.”

(Service Book of the Holy Orthodox-Catholic Apostolic Church, ed. Isabel Florence Hapgood)

Comment » | Grace and Life

The death of reverence

August 14th, 2010 — 6:34pm

There’s an interesting scene in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe that bears on one of my growing pastoral burdens. To sketch the burden first, I believe there are certain “pillar” virtues in a human life (and in a human society) which, when they collapse, bring down with them whole tenements of other virtues. One of these “pillar” virtues is reverence: a heartfelt fear and awe and respect in the presence of sacred things, in the presence of things loftier than oneself. This virtue has pretty well disappeared in North America. We tremble at little or nothing anymore, except the occasional horrific tragedy (before the media reduces it to banality), and perhaps the thought that Washington may take awhile restoring economic comfort. God doesn’t scare us; parents and politicians are a joke; goodness and truth are lost in cynical caricatures; beauty lies beneath airy subjectivism; evil fails to impress after eighteen thousand crime shows; and even death is blunted by agnosticism and rosy myths about a better place. Tradition is funny, marriage is passé, love is sex, and sex is cheap. There’s nothing we can’t blow off, nothing before which we fall on our faces, veil our eyes, lay our hands on our mouths. There is no holy ground. (In fairness, one does occasionally sense something like religious fervor in defense of the notion that everyone should be free – and subsidized – to do exactly as he or she pleases.)

As the death of reverence is particularly epidemic in the rising generation (people my age and younger), I have begun to judge the quality of a young person by what, if anything, awes them. I want to see what it takes to erase the James Dean gleam of insolence in their eyes (or the Jerry Seinfeld glint of mockery) and replace it with something like what one sees in the eyes of young soldiers before the battle of their lives, or the eyes of third world sufferers of famine, or the eyes of eastern mystics in the presence of their master. I want to see what produces fear, what evokes deep sobriety, what stirs something approximating humility.

Sadly, among the Christian youth I know the answer is not, by and large, the Almighty. Even if they display some attentiveness during the rituals of corporate worship (hardly a given!), God is no imposition on their thoughts and lives elsewhere (an occasional flicker of conscience doth not reverence make). What fear of God they possess they would cheerfully lay aside, at least to the extent it impinges on their freedom. This is not universally true, by any means, but it is far too much the norm among those whose defining mark is to be the fear of the Lord. But why is this?

I think the answer, in short, is that we presume on the patience of God. God is slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness and faithfulness; and while He stays His hand, we draw the wrong inference, and stop taking His majesty seriously. This is what happens in Narnia when Aslan lets himself be bound and dragged to the Stone Table. He makes his way toward the assembly of his enemies. “A howl and a gibber of dismay went up from the creatures when they first saw the great Lion pacing toward them, and for a moment even the Witch herself seemed to be struck with fear.” The evil rabble, like Lucy and Susan, hold their breaths, waiting for Aslan’s roar and spring; but it never comes. “Four Hags, grinning and leering, yet also (at first) hanging back and half afraid of what they had to do” approach him. As he patiently submits, the murderous crowd begins its task; soon they are so emboldened as to kick the Lion, hit him, spit on him, and jeer at him with “mean laughter.” And in the end, they seem to succeed.

Of course, we know the rest of the story. Aslan rises and triumphs over his enemies. And so will the Lord Christ over all of His enemies.

Now to be clear: I am not saying that lack of reverence among God’s people necessarily means we have gone over to the side of His enemies and will share their fate. But if it does not mean that, it is perhaps even worse, because we are failing to honor and love and stand in awe of the Lord who has claimed us as His subjects, His friends, His brethren, and His children – and if it is folly not to fear a great king who is one’s enemy, it is inexcusable wickedness not to fear a great and good king who is one’s father and benefactor. And this, sad to say, is where a lot of us in the North American church have arrived. We have no more respect for the Lord our God than for anything else in our shallow lives – and this in the teeth of His patience and kindness!

What might be done? I mention but two things, almost at random. First, it should be obvious that it all begins in parenting. A child who does not reverence his father and mother, who does not rise up before the hoary head, is a poor candidate for the fear of the Lord. Second, I think some attention need be given to details of corporate worship that cultivate reverence, such as kneeling for confession of sin. Our bodies were made for worship, so posture is not a light matter. When we physically bow before the Lord, it forms a habitual way of thinking about who He is and who we are in His Presence. (I ponder, incidentally, whether the more reverent worship in other faiths and communions might not explain why there is such a draw toward Roman Catholicism among evangelicals, and toward Islam in the broader culture. Say what you will about bowing toward Mecca five times a day: it’s a statement about authority, transcendence, history, and awe; and the yearning of the heart for these things will simply not go away.)

Comment » | Pastoral Pondering

Back to top