A nonnegotiable part of biblical change is to acknowledge that all your instruments for calibrating your own life are fundamentally broken.
Archive for August 2012
Historicism, with its incapacity to distinguish natural from historical teleology, will always tend to confuse the goodness of natural structures with sin and disorder. For if all teleology is historical teleology, and the natural structures have no integrity as totalities within themselves, then actual good and evil alike stand together under the judgment of historical fulfilment, as ‘imperfect’. With creation cut loose from its beginnings and treated merely as another name for history, the beginnings are left without positive characterization; they are merely the unfinishedness from which the end calls us forward. And with sin no longer defined against the criterion of a good natural order, and with only the future as its judge, evil has no definite characterization either. It, too, is merely the historical imperfection from which we are to advance. But one type of imperfection is very much like another. Thus historicism betrays resemblances, both to the old gnostic dualism which called creation evil, and to the idealism which denied the reality of evil altogether. The characterization of history as process replaces the categories of good and evil with those of past and future. Instead of the Christian threefold metaphysic of a good creation, an evil fall and an end of history which negates the evil and transcends the created good, we have in historicism a dualist opposition between a historical ‘from’ and ‘towards’, in accordance with which all the traditional language of good and evil is reinterpreted. (Oliver O’Donovan, Resurrection and Moral Order, p. 63)
Ken Myers tells this story about an acquaintance of his (the rest of his lecture may be found here):
I know a young man who used to live here in Charlottesville who, in his mid-20s, spent a year or two learning about and coming to like jazz. He had an uncle who was very knowledgeable and passionate about jazz, but for my friend, it was a foreign country. He believed, however, that there was something objectively present in jazz to merit his time and energy, so he started a regimen of deliberate, thoughtful, attentive listening.
And in time, as he came to understand what was going on, as he became familiar with the vernacular, he came to really like jazz.
Now he was telling a friend of his, a young woman about his age, about this journey in artistic discovery, and she was at first shocked by his account, and then apparently rather disturbed. She had nothing against jazz, but she thought that learning to like a new form of music was a sort of unnatural act, not the sort of thing respectable people did. He was flabbergasted by her response, and as she explained it, he realized that she believed music and musical tastes were so subjective, and so arbitrary, that an effort to change one’s tastes was almost immoral; it was to violate yourself in some way. One’s subjective tastes were the most intimate, almost sacred part of one’s being, so to try to transcend or alter them would be akin to self-mutilation.
This young woman, like most of our contemporaries, could not imagine that musical forms presented an opportunity to know something about the nature of things, making the cultivation of new layers of musical literacy a worthwhile project.
Music critic Julian Johnson has observed that in our day, “in matters of musical judgment, the individual can be the only authority.”
“We have already concluded that, for purposes of preaching, the fruit of interpretation (of text, of listeners, and negotiating the distances between) is the statement of the message in a simple, affirmative sentence. . . . It has already been said that the message is best stated in the affirmative rather than the imperative lest the sermon be too hortatory and scolding, and in the positive rather than the negative lest the sermon be too much an indictment without the announcement of good news. What now needs to be emphasized is that the message statement be a simple rather than a compound or complex sentence in order to maintain unity and singularity of direction. Permit a few conjunctions into that sentence, a semicolon or two, perhaps an et cetera, and what happens? Fuzziness replaces focus and through the cracks between the poorly joined and disparate units of that overextended statement will creep every cause crying out for a little pulpit publicity and every announcement with its hand in the air insisting on a few lines in the sermon. We have all heard such sermons: they touch upon many topics, make some good comments, promote God and all worthy causes, intend for everyone the benefits of heaven, honor the Scriptures, and revere the saints, but they have an uncertain Alpha and no Omega at all.” (Craddock, p. 155)
“One of the ironies in the history of the church is the fact that the person who is expected to speak every week on issues of ultimate importance – God’s will and human freedom, evil and suffering, grace and judgment, peace and covenant – has been in many quarters begrudged the study time necessary to prepare. Not everywhere, of course, but in many parishes there is strong resistance to granting a pastor any study leave. ‘If the minister wants to go study somewhere, why not use a week of vacation time?’ ‘What do you mean, study? I thought you had already graduated.’ It would be comforting if such comments were rare, and exaggerated, but the one room in the house of God which, judging by its size, furnishings, and location, is an afterthought, is not the parlor but the pastor’s study.” (Craddock, p. 71)
It’s been a long time since I finished a novel and felt as satisfied as I recently did after reading John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. Among the things I liked about it are the one-liners that stop you in your tracks. For example:
“An unbelieved truth can hurt a man much more than a lie. It takes great courage to back truth unacceptable to our times. There’s a punishment for it, and it’s usually crucifixion.” (p. 262)
“No story has power, nor will it last, unless we feel in ourselves that it is true and true of us.” (p. 266)
“The greatest terror a child can have is that he is not loved, and rejection is the hell he fears. I think everyone in the world to a large or small extent has felt rejection. And with rejection comes anger, and with anger some kind of crime in revenge for the rejection, and with the crime guilt – and there is the story of mankind. I think that if rejection could be amputated, the human would not be what he is. Maybe there would be fewer crazy people. I am sure in myself there would not be many jails.” (p. 268)