The Grateful Christian

Essays, opinions, and works-in-progress by a conservative Lutheran pastor.

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Location: West Michigan, United States

In order of importance, I am a: Husband, father, pastor, hobby programmer, writer. Thoughts are but coins. Let me not trust instead
Of Thee, their thin-worn image of Thy head.

--C.S.Lewis, The Apologist's Evening Prayer

Friday, April 15, 2011

Eliot's Ash-Wednesday, part III

At the first turning of the second stair
I turned and saw below
The same shape twisted on the banister
Under the vapour in the fetid air
Struggling with the devil of the stairs who wears
The deceitul face of hope and of despair.

(You can see the rest of T. S. Eliot's poem here.) A moment of reflection--literally. Looking back on oneself. At least, that's what I make of "the same shape" who is hindered by the one masked in hope-and-despair. Read more...
Sometimes despair is appropriate, other times hope. (I refer to the emotional state, not the external, objective future-hoped-for that is usually what is meant in the Bible where the word "hope" is used.) But when hope and despair are in combination, to me, that is a warning flag that says: POTENTIAL IDOLATRY TRAP.

God alone should have that kind of emotional attention from us. As the Christmas carol says of Bethlehem, "The hopes and fears of all the years / Are met in thee tonight."

Despair may seem a funny emotion to connect to God. Let me put it this way: when faced with something so momentous, so important, so ultimate, and learning that it is good, it seems to be natural for humans to react with a combination of hope ("Oh, would that it could be true!") and doubt ("No way. It's just a futile dream.") Part of the conversion process, of bringing new life into the dead human soul, is to conquer the despair or doubt, the reluctance to be "drawn in." Remember Griffle, the Black Dwarf in C.S. Lewis' The Last Battle (at the end of the Narnia stories)? He was the one who refused to believe in Aslan. "No thanks. We've been fooled once, and we're not going to be fooled again." In fact, the title of the thirteenth chapter is How The Dwarfs Refused To Be Taken In.

Perhaps the "devil of the stairs" for Eliot--I think it is significant that it is all the stairs, not just the first stair--is this hurdle, this resistance that the dead human spirit puts up to the Good News of a living hope.

Despair is perhaps disarmed by the recognition that it doesn't matter what I think at all. My incredulity says nothing about the offer, just about my biography, the poverty of my experiences, the rip-offs I've suffered, the dashed hopes stirred by merely human saviors. Eliot's mood here reminds me of Judee Sill in "Crayon Angels":
Phony prophets stole the only light I knew
And the darkness softly screams
Holy visions disappear from my view
But the angels come back and laugh in my dreams
I wonder what it means?

Eliot ends this poem with a few words that I really like from the mass (which are based on Matthew 8:8--
Lord, I am not worthy
Lord, I am not worthy
but speak the word only.

My unworthiness, and the persistence of God's offer, finally put me past the torturous tenterhooks of hope-and-despair. Hope is handfast with grace. "Strength beyond hope and despair, / Climbing the third stair."

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Eliot's Ash-Wednesday, part II

Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper-tree
In the cool of the day, having fed to satiety
On my legs my heart my liver and that which had been contained
In the hollow round of my skull. And God said
Shall these bones live? shall these
Bones live? And that which had been contained
In the bones (which were already dry) said chirping:
Because of the goodness of this Lady
And because of her loveliness, and because
She honors the Virgin in meditation,
We shine with brightness. And I who am here dissembled
Proffer my deeds to oblivion, and my love
To the posterity of the desert and the fruit of the gourd.
It is this which recovers
My guts the strings of my eyes and the indigestible portions
Which the leopards reject. The Lady is withdrawn
In a white gown, in contemplation, in a white gown.
Let the whiteness of bones atone to forgetfulness.
(The rest of the poem can be found here.) I’m having trouble with this second part. One of my troubles is I want to identify the symbol of the Lady in white (the Church?). Another is that I want to check and see if “I who am here dissembled” shouldn’t read “disassembled.” But the biggest trouble is that I am bothered by a bit of cognitive dissonance.
I.e.: part II reminds me of Charles Williams’ “Palomides Before His Christening,” which appeared in Taliessin Through Logres (1938). I’ve spent far more time with Williams’ Arthuriad poetry (and C. S. Lewis’ instruction thereon) than with anything by T. S. Eliot. And Lewis himself acknowledges the similarity and remarks in chapter five of Williams And The Arthuriad:

"Here, and here alone, Williams approaches the temper of Mr. Eliot’s later poetry. The dry rock scenery, the artfully prosaic sentences, the sense of a vast pause, a vacuity, which may be the prelude either to conversion or despair, all remind us of the other poet. There is even an echo of Mr. Eliot’s manner in the lines
The Chi-Rho is only a scratching like other scratchings,
But in the turn of the sky the only scratching.
The borrowing seems to me to be ill-judged. No two great poetic styles are less likely to mix fruitfully than those of Williams and Mr. Eliot."

So there. But I'll take a stab at some thoughts anyway.

Whiteness, like an empty page. White-gowned Lady, white leopards, whiteness of bones. The blank of forgetfulness. Perhaps a naking of oneself, in order to prepare to be clothed. Perhaps it's the sitting still, forced upon one by the feeding leopards. Later Eliot has the bones say
The single Rose
Is now the Garden
Where all loves end
Terminate torment
Of love unsatisfied
The greater torment
Of love satisfied
Our lesser loves must, in a sense, die in order for God Who Is Love to take His rightful place in our lives. Perhaps, Eliot would have prayed like Lewis, said in the prayer I quote in the bannerhead above, "From all my thoughts, even from my thoughts of Thee, / O thou fair Silence, fall, and set me free."

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Eliot's Ash-Wednesday, part I



Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man's gift and that man's scope
I no longer strive to strive toward such things
(Why should the agèd eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

T. S. Eliot's big poem is my poetry meditation this Lent. (Something about this season makes me want to access my inner poet.) I know pretty much nothing about Mr. Eliot, except that I like this poem. And it just happens that it has six parts, so for an exercise I am going to comment on one part a week.
Read more...A caveat: this isn't going to be some deep, high-powered commentary or critique. I'm just going to offer some personal reactions. Hey, I'm on dialup here.

"Desiring this man's gift and that man's scope"--this is a quote, of course, from Shakespeare's Sonnet 29, the only Shakespeare I have almost memorized. The Bard finds relief from his self-despite by thinking of some Beloved (human, not divine, it would seem): "Haply, I think on thee..." "thy sweet love remembered brings such wealth brings"--but for Eliot, it's not going to be that easy.

This first installment of his long poem seems to be about negation. The only "positive" thing is perhaps ironic: "I rejoice that things are as they are / And I renounce the blessèd face / And renounce the voice" from which he goes on to say:
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain

The construction of something upon which to rejoice--his poverty forces him to rejoice in his negations, but stops short of falling into the power of Nothing as Screwtape wrote to Wormwood in Screwtape Letter #12. He does so by prayer, or at least, by words about prayer.

The prayers described are well known to me. It's the only antidote to the condition I sometimes find myself in, "too much in my own head." God have mercy on me, help me forget: forget myself, and my obsession with my own reflections masquerading as "ideas." Later Eliot goes on to say, "Teach us to care and not to care / Teach us to sit still." That's a great prayer. It says, "God, my passions, thoughts, feelings, need to be brought under Your dominion, lest they run riot with my life. I do not know how to forget, nor how to sit still, unless You teach me."

Jane Siberry had a great line in one of her songs from long ago, "You Don't Need":
and a bird I don't recall
called, 'don't recall,'
called, 'don't recall.'
Forgiving and forgetting come from God, or else they are just tricks we play on ourselves.

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Thursday, September 02, 2010

On Headship and Submission, pt. 2

When Paul wrote to the Christians in Ephesus, he talked about submitting to one another in the fear of Christ. That leads us to the first modern difficulty. Most of us don’t understand what it means “to submit” to someone else. Unless we’ve had a job with a clear chain-of-command, we’ve never had to be under the authority of another. We Americans are an egalitarian lot, and we bristle at any situation where we don’t get a vote in making the decisions.

The first myth is that “submit” means “obey.” That simply isn’t true, and I will demonstrate that with two examples, which I am putting at the end of this post, so they don’t bog down my basic thesis. But first let’s be clear about one thing. The Christian’s ultimate authority in all things is God, and the only expression of God’s will that you can rely on 100% is the Bible. That is the Christian position. It’s not what this post is about, so please don’t flame me or challenge me to debate this, not here anyway.

Read more...God’s inerrant Word says that the first believers in Jesus were commanded not to continue promoting this troubling message that the Jewish religious authorities had executed the Jewish Messiah, but He was resurrected. They replied, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree” (Acts 5:29-30 ESV). God’s Word commands us to subject ourselves to government officials: Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment… one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience (Romans 13:1-2,5 ESV). Read the whole section, it’s worth your while! Anyway, the thing I’d like to point out here is that the “be subject” verb is exactly the same one that is used in Ephesians 5. In today’s world of gender role confusion, drenched in feminist rhetoric, you commonly hear that it’s only women who have to be subject. That’s just not true. I have to be subject to the rule of law, and so do you; but if the governing authority commands me to do something that goes contrary to the expressly revealed will of God, I have to respectfully refuse to obey. But I can disobey while remaining in a subordinate position. (See examples at the end.)

So in my work with a couple preparing to marry, when it comes time for us to read Ephesians 5 together, I tell them what this passage is about: mutual submission to each other under the authority of Christ.

When we read the part written to wives, I tell the bride-to-be something like this:
This doesn’t mean you act like a doormat and let him walk on you!
You don’t meekly accept his judgments on everything: “Oh I don’t care, honey, whatever you decide is fine with me, I don’t have an opinion.” That isn’t submission, that’s subtraction!: withdrawal from the relationship.
This doesn’t mean you have to go against your conscience.

What it does mean is this: In a situation where you’ve talked it through and can’t come to an agreement--where a compromise is impossible--you willingly grant him the right to cast the tie-breaking vote.

Compromise is always best. But sometimes no compromise is possible. In some situations, one will win, and one will lose. How do you decide? If you mean to stay together, you can’t just each go your separate ways. Most couples have one person with a stronger personality, more forceful, more decisive. That’s nature. It’s not a good idea to let nature take its course in human relationships, since we are fallen creatures. God, in effect, says, “I don’t care who is smarter, who is stronger, or which one of you can present a case more convincingly. Girl—if you two can’t agree, let the guy win.”

That brings me to the second myth. Submission, in the Bible view, is not about power. The power view is that submission is the weak yielding to the strong, having been forced into surrendering. When a strong person, for some unfathomable (to the world) reason, submits to a weaker person, that is a weak thing to do, and makes the strong weak. When the Bible says, “Subject yourself to…” it is clear that God is commanding us to offer our subjection freely, as a voluntary accommodation to another, not because we were forced into it. Paul wrote to Philemon, asking him—well, almost commanding him—to accept Philemon’s escaped slave, Onesimus, back as a forgiven fellow-Christian. to resume his service to Philemon with a clean slate. He says in verse 13 and 14 that he would have kept Onesimus with him, to help Paul during his imprisonment, but “I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own free will.” This is how God wants us to submit to Him, and to the authorities, and to each other: as a voluntary love offering, a grace freely offered. Those who cry out against this teaching about Biblical headship and submission are stuck in a worldly construct of winners and losers, weak and strong—and they haven’t yet learned some of the lessons that God has to teach on the subject of weakness and strength.

Next time: How the husband subjects himself to his wife.

-------------- Examples ---------------

Example #1 (military): a soldier is commanded by someone over him in the chain of command, to do something illegal or immoral. The conversation might go like this:
“These locals are out of control—look at that guy carrying that TV. We have to get their attention! Soldier, take your sidearm and shoot that looter!”
“Sir, I can’t do that, Sir!”
“Soldier, I gave you an order!”
“Yes Sir, copy that Sir, but no can do, Sir.”
“Soldier, you are being insubordinate! Don’t you know I can court-martial your ass?”
“Yes Sir, you definitely have that right, Sir; I look forward to the opportunity to defend my non-compliance in court, with all due respect, Sir!”
He is still subject to his commanding officer, even in his refusal to carry out an order, because he is still in the hierarchy, and will accept whatever consequences the hierarchy may give him as a result of his disobedience. In that regard, his commanding officer is wrong: this soldier is not guilty of insubordination. If he disobeyed and then went AWOL, that would be disobedience that is also insubordination.

Example #2 (legal): I, a pastor, get a subpoena to appear in a court of law to testify in a case where someone is accused of dealing in child pornography. The man had been seen coming to my office, and the prosecuting attorney hopes that I can add some evidence to help prosecute him. So I show up at court, because I am subject to the law. The prosecutor asks me, “Did the defendant make an appointment with you on April 10th to talk about his sexual addictions?”
“To answer that question would violate the sanctity of the confessional. I took an oath that I would never reveal what is said to me in my role as a pastor.”
“Did the defendant visit your office on April 10th?”
“Yes sir, he did.”
“So what did you talk about?”
“To answer that question would violate the sanctity of the confessional.”
The judge intervenes at this point and says, “Mr. Fremer—Reverend Fremer—I must insist that you answer the question.”
“Your Honor, with respect, I took an oath.”
“I don’t care what you did! If you do not answer the prosecutor’s question, I will find you in contempt of court!”
“Yes, sir, I guess you will. But if I answer that question, I must answer to a higher Court than yours.”
You get the picture. I will not tell what someone told me in my pastoral confessor-role. The authorities may have the right to punish me. I may wish, personally, to do whatever I can to help this creep go to jail. Because of my oath to God and my congregation, I am forbidden to do so. But while I am resisting this pressure to cave in to the intimidation, I must remain respectful. My problem isn’t with rule-of-law in general, just this particular situation.

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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

On Headship and Submission, pt. 1

Your feet are going to be on the ground;
Your head is there to move you around…
--R.E.M., “Stand”

Somebody asked me about what it means in the Bible when it says that “the husband is the head of the wife.”

Here’s the passage in bad English, the Joe Fremer translation of Ephesians 5:21-33—
21 Submitting to one another in the fear of Christ--
22 The women: to their husbands as to the Lord, 23 because the husband is the head of the wife as also Christ is the head of the Church, Himself Savior of the body; 24 but as the Church subjects herself to Christ, so too the women to their husbands in all things.

25 The men: love your wives, exactly as Christ loved the Church and handed Himself over [to trial and execution] for her sake. 26 He did this so that He could set her apart as holy, by cleaning her in the washing of water-in-word. 27 His goal was to present her to Himself as a shiny Church, free of spot or stain or anything like that. On the contrary, she would be holy and blameless. 28 Thus also husbands have the obligation to love their own wives as they love their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no man hates his own flesh, but he nourishes it and takes care of it, and that’s just what the Christ does for the Church, 30 because we are members of His body. 31 For this reason a man will leave father and mother and join to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. 32 This mystery is big; for now, I am speaking in connection with Christ and His Church. 33 Anyway, back to you: each one [submitting to one another]: let each husband love his wife just like he loves himself; and let the wife fear her husband.


I’m not going to debate the finer points of my translation choices; the coarser points are these:
1. Subject oneself: middle, not passive, taking my cue from the first word in the header. Yes, one could use the passive voice (I think I’ve seen render verse 24 “is subject to” or “is subjected to”). But the tenor of the whole section is we are talking about voluntary self-subjection to the will of another. This is not a static hierarchy, the stronger subjugating the weaker. Mao said power is what flows from the end of a gun; but Jesus said that power in His kingdom is a matter of service. Ambition in His Kingdom is a climb to the bottom, to be the servant of all.

2. Verse 21 is the header for this entire section. (And the section continues into chapter 6.) Two major English versions that I have fail to reflect this in their section headings, putting a heading at verse 22. Headings are put in by human editors to be helpful, but this time, it is not helpful, because the topic “husbands and wives” is a subtopic of the main topic: Our New Walk as the Body of Christ is One of Mutual Self-Subjection Under Him.

3. PHOBOS is fear. “Reverence,” “respect,” OK, sure, but let’s not Nerf this one down. What’s missed in attempts to soften this is the fact that the same word is used in verse 21 and in verse 33. The whole undertaking is begun and ended in fear: Church fears Christ, woman fears husband: a big mystery. Later he will (still on topic!) be talking about slaves and masters, and there he will use the Pauline phrase “fear and trembling,” clearly a different grade of fear than the Church has for her Master.

4. The item in square brackets in verse 33 supplies something that is implied by the kind of conjunction that begins that verse. He started to steer off topic a little bit, but now he’s returning, not just to instruction for husbands, but the broader topic of mutual submission in the Body of Christ. I get this from the progression of the pronouns: you-plural the-(collectively), considered on a case-by-case basis, each of you do this… Combining the collective focus (the forest) and the individual focus (the trees) in this way suggests to me that he has, so to speak, returned to the broader topic, and is about to sum it up for everybody.

You could outline it like this:
Eph. 5:21-6:9 Our New Walk as the Body of Christ is One
of Mutual Self-Subjection Under Him
5:22-24 Wives
5:25-32 Husbands
5:33 All Spouses
6:1-3 Children
6:4 Fathers
6:5-8 Slaves
6:9 Masters
Yes, mutual! This doesn’t mean we have to take turns. (“I was the slave yesterday, so today I’m the boss and you’re the slave!”). It means that our assigned roles: assigned by society, by circumstances of hap, or by circumstances of birth, have within them ways that we, under Christ, can conduct ourselves so to give preference to another, to yield the right-of-way. It’s a dance: one must lead, one must follow; but the leader must lead with an accommodation to the needs of his partner, and so submit to her in the way that he leads.

Next time: Why I Don’t Use “Obey” in Wedding Vows.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

zhubert is gone

For some time there was a daily dose of Greek in the left hand column of this page, thanks to Zack Hubert's They've had to shut down for valid reasons. See the comments at his web page. There is a push on to make an open-source original languages edition that I may get involved with. The history of ReGreek's rise and fall looks like it would be instructive, after I've had some time to give it a good reading.

Since I had to fix that on the template for this page, I ought to sit down some lunch hour and check the other links and things, and get this current.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Back, Sort Of

Hello, I'm back. Sort of. Where have I been? About a year ago, my wife and I moved. I know, it's incredibly banal. It's also been an incredible amount of work, not just moving, but learning to be a HOMEOWNER for the first time in my life. Plus getting ready for my son Noah's wedding, which took place June 1st.

This process, and the months leading up to it, almost made me abandon this blog. I have no right to call myself a Grateful Christian. I am grateful, but my gratitude is such a weak, watered down thing, and is so frequently kept shining brightly under a bushel...

The other thing that has restrained me is that I have moved away from a lot of the literary and philosophical explorations that this blog was for. Mostly because the books were all packed (most still are). We'll see what happens, I guess.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

"Life, by this death abled"

Moyst with one drop of thy blood, my dry soule,
Shall (though she now be in extreme degree
Too stony hard, and yet too fleshly,) bee
Freed by that drop, from being starv'd, hard, or foule,
And life, by this death abled, shall controule
Death, whom thy death slue; nor shall to mee
Feare of first or last death, bring miserie,
If in thy little booke my name thou enroule,
Flesh in that long sleep is not putrified,
But made that there, of which, and for which 'twas;
Nor can by other meanes be glorified.
May then sinnes sleep, and deaths soone from me passe,
That wak't from both, I againe risen may
Salute the last, and everlasting day.
John Donne, La Corona, 400 years ago

"Such liberall dole"

By miracles exceeding power of man,
Hee faith in some, envie in some begat,
For, what weake spirits admire, ambitious, hate;
In both affections many to him ran,
But Oh! the worst are most, they will and can,
Alas, and do, unto the immaculate,
Whose creature Fate is, now prescribe a Fate,
Measuring selfe-lifes infinity to'a span,
Nay to an inch. Loe, where condemned hee
Beares his owne crosse, with paine, yet by and by
When it beares him, he must beare more and die,
Now thou art lifted up, draw mee to thee,
And at thy death giving such liberall dole,
Moyst, with one drop of thy blood, my dry soule.
John Donne, La Corona, 400 years ago

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

An Ash-Wednesday Tribute

In Memoriam: Arthur Sekki, who was my Biblical Hebrew professor in my last two years of college, 1976-78, Concordia College, Ann Arbor, MI. He died in July of 2003. He had been out of academia for many, many years, and had returned to his earlier vocation of commercial driver. Here is a photo I found from 2001 from the newsletter of Laketran, an outfit he worked for upward of a dozen years, I think.

Art was deeply interested in philosophy, and often liked to talk about the roots of modern liberalism in Schleiermacher. He had an idea that I am trying to pursue: why not learn Biblical Hebrew according to the frequency of the actual forms, the forms that you find in the text? Once you've learned the basic verb paradigms and constructions, for reading skill it is much more important to be able to recognize wayyomer (top item below) as "and he said" than to learn another form of the verb root amar (lower right), since "and he said" occurs hundreds of times more frequently than, e.g., "they will say" in the text.

"Whence comes it...?"

This is late, since it really is an Epiphany theme. Sorry.
Withe his kind mother who partakes thy woe,

Joseph turn backe; see where your child doth sit,
Blowing, yea blowing out those sparks of wit,
Which himselfe on those Doctors did bestow;
The Word but lately could not speake, and loe
It sodenly speakes wonders, whence comes it,
That all which was, and all which would be writ,
A shallow seeming child, should deeply know?
His Godhead was not soule to his manhood,
Nor had time mellowed him to this ripenesse,
But as for one which hath a long taske, 'tis good,
With the Sunne to beginne his businesse,
He in his ages morning thus began
By miracles exceeding power of man.

John Donne, La Corona, 400 years ago

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Not Disappeared

Been gone, I know. Just really, really busy. Baptisms, funerals; I feel like a conductor helping people on and off a train.

Plus, I have set aside my literary pretensions to indulge in my software pretensions. I have a number of church applications that I have developed over the years, and the onset of Epiphany seemed a good time to go bug-hunting. God has blessed; I've put down a number of the critters lately. In fact, I have cleaned up Worship Secretary to such a point that I am about to release it commercially. Watch for the launch of my software site, Winkel Software. Coming soon!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

"Was not his pity towards thee wondrous high?"

Immensitie cloysterd in thy deare wombe,
Now leaves his wellbelov'd imprisonment,
There he hath made himselfe to his intent
Weake enough, now into our world to come;
But Oh, for thee, for him, hath th'Inne no roome?
Yet lay him in this stall, and from the Orient,
Starres, and wisemen will travell to prevent
Th'effect of Herods jealous generall doome,
Seest thou, my Soule, with thy faiths eyes, how he
Which fils all place, yet none holds him, doth lye?
Was not his pity towards thee wondrous high,
That would have need to be pittied by thee?
Kisse him, and with him into Egypt goe,
With his kinde mother, who partakes thy woe.
John Donne, La Corona, 400 years ago.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

"shutst in little roome"

Note how the last line of each verse becomes the first line of the next. In programming, we would call this a doubly linked list. I suppose Donne would have called it a chain.

Salvation to all that will is nigh.
That All, which alwayes is All every where,
Which cannot sinne, and yet all sinnes must beare,
Which cannot die, yet cannot chuse but die,
Loe, faithfull Virgin, yeelds himselfe to lye
In prison, in thy wombe; and though he there
Can take no sinne, nor thou give, yet he'will weare
Taken from thence, flesh, which deaths force may trie.
Ere by the spheares time was created, thou
Wast in his minde, who is thy Sonne, and Brother,
Whom thou conceiv'st, conceiv'd; yea thou art now
Thy Makers maker, and thy Fathers mother,
Thou'hast light in darke; and shutst in little roome
Immensity cloysterd in thy deare wombe.

Friday, December 22, 2006

"'Tis time that heart and voice be lifted high"

John Donne, La Corona, ca. 1607; offered to you in serial form for your meditation this blessed Adventtide. With two funerals to conduct this week (sandwiched in among the seven other services), I am appreciating Donne's expression of the Christian hope . From DONNE, The Laurel Poetry Series, Richard Wilbur, General Editor. New York: Dell Publishing, 1962.

Deigne at my hands this crown of prayer and praise,
Weav'd in my low devout melancholie,
Thou which of good, hast, yea art treasury,
All changing unchang'd Antient of dayes,
But doe not, with a vile crowne of fraile bayes,
Reward my muses white sincerity,
But what thy thorny crowne gain'd, that give mee,
A crowne of Glory, which doth flower alwayes;
The ends crowne our workes, but thou crown'st our ends,
For, at our end begins our endlesse rest,
This first last end, now zealously possest,
With a strong sober thirst, my soule attends.
'Tis time that heart and voice be lifted high,
Salvation to all that will is nigh.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Atheist Delusion

Hat tip to Dr. Veith for pointing us to this article by Shannon Love, who identifies self as an atheist who is disenchanted with Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion. Here's a teaser: Love laments that there is
a form of confirmation bias on the part of atheists. They look into the distant past, see some actions we disapprove of in the modern world, notice that the people who chose the actions had a religious world view, and conclude that the religious world view caused the problem. However, since everybody in the distant past had a religious world view, and no significant decision makers until the very recent past had an atheistic world view, the fact that decision makers in the past were religious tells us about as much about them as the fact that they all breathed oxygen.

Atheists like to single out both the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition as examples of inhumanity that occurred because of religion. (The very fact that we atheists feel compelled to reach back 400-800 years for our kneejerk examples of bad religious behavior should set off warning bells.) Yet both events had significant materialistic or practical drivers that would have created much the same events without any religion being involved.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Strange Bedfellows

Taking a break from the heavy stuff. Here are a couple of fun photos I took while on a visit to the Twin Cities this summer. The one above is not as strange a combination, I think, as the one below. In case it's too hard to read in the photo, the business on the right in the lower photograph is the "Center For Inner Awakening." They offer (according to their window) Meditation, Chanting, Hatha Yoga, Yogic Philosophy...

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Doubting Symbols: Williams on Vocation, Part III

[In Progress]
Fourth in a series of articles on the Charles Williams poem "Bors To Elayne: on the King's Coins" found in Taliessin Through Logres.
Click here to open a new window with the whole poem (requires javascript to be enabled in your browser.)
Taliessin's look darkened; his hand shook
while he touched the dragons; he said 'We had a good thought.
Sir, if you made verse you would doubt symbols.
I am afraid of the little loosed dragons.
When the means are autonomous, they are deadly; when words
escape from verse they hurry to rape souls;
when sensation slips from intellect, expect the tyrant;
the brood of carriers levels the good they carry.
We have taught our images to be free; are we glad?
are we glad to have brought convenient heresy to Logres?'
This is the heart of the poem. In council at London, King Arthur's new coinage troubles Taliessin, the king's poet. His hands shake, his look darkens (his name means "bright brow"), and he utters some amazing things.
(Remember, we are hearing this speech as reported by Bors to his wife Elayne.) C.S.Lewis' comment on Taliessin's speech in Williams and the Arthuriad says it better than I could:
Coins are symbols: and being a poet he knows much more about symbols than Kay. A symbol has a life of its own. An escaped metaphor--escaped from the control of the total poem or philosophy in which it belongs--may be a poisonous thing. Has Kay considered whether these metal symbols, these metaphors in gold and silver, may not also have a life of their own? Will money be man's servant--or has it, perhaps, its own views?

Williams himself is a poet, so he knows what Taliessin knows. It would be worthwhile to examine this in his prose works too... [later--maybe]

Ryan Tinetti over at Backward Kingdom gets at this too, with his post "The Word Made Fresh"--check it out.... here's a teaser:
A poet doesn’t shoot off verbal broadsides; a poet doesn’t pen indiscriminant treatises. Realizing that language is fundamentally rooted in relationality, the poet writes in such a way which respects the mystery that is communication.

There is a lot we could do with this subject, but this essay is not really about poet-power, but about word-power, symbol-power, especially its dangers. Taliessin's vocation as the royal poet of Logres makes him skeptical, even fearful: "Sir, if you made verse you would doubt symbols." Yes, but "words escaped from verse rape souls"? Isn't that a bit extreme?

As I attempt to deal with that question, I think I will be forced to quote at length from a chapter Williams wrote in an essay "Reason And Beauty In The Poetic Mind" (1933) which you can read at the Internet Archive. This part of my answer will take a while.

And what is the "convenient heresy" that coinage brings to Logres?

Provisional answer: I don't know yet, but I suspect it will be something to do with the Incarnation. For Williams, all theology was ultimately Christology. Another poem in the cycle ("Prelude" from The Region of the Summer Stars) refers to the resistance of some to the concreteness, the physicality, of Christianity--and not just at the Areopagus in Athens:

...the ancient intellect
heard, delaying and playing with its archives, and demurred
that pain was easy, and completeness of belief costly,
and flesh too queasy to bear the main of spirit.
The converted doctors turned to the their former confessions,
the limitary heresiarchs feared the indiscretions of matter,
and the careful Nestorius, coming to befriend peace,
preached at Byzantium. Before the sermon was at end
the metaphysicians, sitting to note him, heard
from the City the roar of burning and bundled torches
rise through the fixed stars: Theotokos, Anthropotokos;
his disciples shrank from the blood-stream where the full torches
ruddily poured round the eikon of Mary-in-blessing.
Professing only a moral union, they fled
from the new-spread bounty...

Nestorianism, all forms of docetism, and pretty much everything that is other than orthodox Christology all hamstring the law of exchange. That is not why they are wrong, but that is the burden of the Prelude as it documents the growth of the Empire as the growth of the doctrine of the Twy-Natured Christ.

In Bors to Elayne: On The King's Coins, Kay tries to interpret the coinage in the terms of the Empire, as a means of exchange, although he makes the fatal and telling slip in his choice of articles ("the" means of exchange). Taliessin does not contradict him (you're wrong, it's not a means of exchange) but points out the dangers of such means, when they are no longer structurally tied to ends. "When the means become autonomous, they become deadly." I suspect there is some connection here to Williams' peculiar and fascinating concept of the Fall into sin which I am struggling to grok as I read He Came Down From Heaven. More later. Maybe.

Anyway. This tells me that the "convenient heresy" ought to be some theological analogue to escaped metaphors--and it's almost on the tip of my tongue--but I'm getting stuck.

What is the tyrant we are to expect when "sensation slips from intellect": the heart no longer restrained by the head, or the head no longer gentled by the heart,--or some third, less blatant danger, that goes beyond the trite categorization of head-vs.-heart?

First approximation: the divorce of the two, either way, leads to tyranny. Reference Williams' concept of mens sensitiva, the "feeling intellect."

What is the lesson for the theologian, the preacher, the writer, the teacher, the blogger? And how do Marshall McLuhan and Frank Herbert fit into all this?

Frank Herbert, in Children of Dune, has Leto Atreides II muse this (p. 241):
We can still remember the golden days before Heisenberg, who showed humans the walls enclosing our predestined arguments. The lives within me find this amusing. Knowledge, you see, has no uses without purpose; but purpose is what builds enclosing walls.
Elsewhere he described someone as a "mindslaver." p. 198
Palimbasha taught in the sietch school. Mathematics. The man was a mathematical boor. He had attempted to explain Muad'Dib through mathematics until censured by the Priesthood. He was a mind-slaver and his enslaving process could be understood with extreme simplicity: he transferred technical knowledge without a transfer of values.
and there is a snippet from one of Palimbasha's lectures at the top of the chapter that begins on p. 234.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Kay The Boor: Williams on Vocation, Part II

[In Progress]
Third in a series of articles of articles on the Charles Williams poem "Bors To Elayne: on the King's Coins" found in Taliessin Through Logres.
Click here to open a new window with the whole poem (requires javascript to be enabled in your browser.)

They had the coins before the council.
Kay, the king's steward, wise in economics, said:
'Good; these cover the years and the miles
and talk one style's dialects to London and Omsk.
Traffic can hold now and treasure be held,
streams are bridged and mountains of ridged space
tunnelled; gold dances deftly across frontiers.
The poor have choice of purchase, the rich of rents,
and events move now in a smoother control
than the swords of lords or the orisons of nuns.
Money is the medium of exchange.'

Kay's comments sound plausible, but before we examine them, let's take a look at Sir Kay himself, and why Charles Williams might have selected him as the foil for Taliessin's speech. Please accept an assertion that time does not permit me to elaborate on just now: There was considerable cross-pollination of ideas between Williams and Lewis on the Arthurian myth.

(When I say myth, I don't mean that Arthur and the Table Round didn't exist, but that their story grew to take on a life of its own as subsequent generations retold it and amplified it. For my money, King Arthur was a historical figure.) In particular, Lewis' That Hideous Strength owes much to Williams and unabashedly honors it. It is too bad the First Macmillan Paperbacks edition misspelled the title of the poem; Camilla tells Jane she is quoting from Taliessin "Throught" Logres. Williams himself is not named in the novel, so I wonder how many other readers were frustrated trying to find the poem in the real world.

In the first chapter of That Hideous Strength, Lewis makes Dr. Dimble speculate eloquently and enthusiastically on what British society might have been like in Arthur's day: an uneasy interface between elements of Roman aristocracy, and pre-Roman Briton warlords. Of Arthur himself, he says
One can imagine a man of the old British line, but also a Christian and a fully-trained general with Roman technique, trying to pull this whole society together and almost succeeding. There'd be jealousy from his own British family, and the Romanised section--the Launcelots and Lionels--would look down on the Britons. That'd be why Kay is always represented as a boor: he is part of the native strain.

That was Lewis sometime prior to 1943; Taliessin Through Logres had been published in 1937 (parts of it as early as 1930). Is the Dr. Dimble character really Charles Williams, as Ransom is J.R.R.Tolkien? Even if the answer is No, Dimble's comment certainly reflects Williams' mythology of Logres as being where Byzantium meets Broceliande. Thus I may be forgiven for suggesting that by casting Sir Kay as the first commenter in the London council meeting, Williams is choosing someone that represents "the native strain." A new regime has come in, and Kay has found a place in it, but he's a wannabe, not a real convert. He doesn't "get it" except in a very simplistic manner, filtered through his conceptual worldview, which is all about earthly power (formerly arms, lately economics). Not that there is anything wrong with earthly power. As we Lutherans say, it too is part of God's administrative rule, His "kingdom of the left hand." Sir Kay, "wise in economics," approves the coinage and even tries to validate their "spiritual" meaning using the jargon of the new regime. He means well when he proclaims, "Money is the medium of exchange."

Lewis comments on Kay's little speech in his Williams and the Arthuriad:
There is, in fact, danger in money. Kay, the boor, 'wise in economics' does not see the danger. He is unreservedly delighted with the idea of a common 'medium of exchange'. . . But the danger which is hidden from the economist Kay is very clear to the poet Taliessin, Coins are symbols: and being a poet he knows much more about symbols than Kay.

By the way, here's a very interesting article "Charles Williams (1886-1945) And Current Economic Thought" by John Hibbs--presented on a libertarian web site, no less! I haven't digested the whole thing yet, so I don't know how exactly it's going to fit into this essay. But here's a teaser:
Bors finds it difficult to reconcile his instinctive distrust of the coinage with Kay’s cogent argument for the benefits it will bring — and is not Kay “the king’s steward, wise in economics”? But Taliessin, too, is afraid, and CW makes no attempt in the poem to reconcile the ambiguities, beyond leaving two statements resonating in the mind. And in this he takes us, with great skill, to the very heart of the essential ambiguity of money, just as every economist has to.

Anyway, Kay is trying, in his ham-fisted way. Choices are good, right? Amazing how contemporary those sentiments sound seventy years later: The poor have choice of purchase, the rich of rents, and here we are in the 'My' Decade (are you listening, Tom Wolfe?), where customization is king. Choices are empowering.
Speaking of power, since money can be regulated, it is theoretically possible to achieve "smoother control" than you get by relying on the two great powers, what would come to be known centuries later as the First Estate (religious power, the orisons of nuns) and the Second Estate (the aristocracy, the swords of lords). If 'wild' exchange, the loose, slapdash compacts of barters, is good, then it can be improved through domestication by the introduction of order, of means.

I'm a techie by disposition. Having been bitten by the engineering bug, I occasionally break out in gee-whiz fever. When you can envision a process, it not only looks like it might work, but it starts to look self-evident, almost inevitable --Progress--The Wave Of The Future! (You hear a lot of gee-whiz fever in the way some people talk about stem cell research.) Maybe that's why I want to forgive Kay for asserting, just a little too optimistically, Money is the medium of exchange.

But I know this as a form of idolatry. I can envision a process, a solution. As Niklaus Wirth, the inventor of Pascal (the language I write programs in) put it in the title of his landmark work: Algorithms + Data Structures = Programs. That's just a techie description of every "creative" human endeavor, whether the project is "how do I track hymn usage on my computer?" or "how do I feed the sixteen people who are coming for Thanksgiving?". The problem with the "creative" process is that we forget that humans don't create, they just rearrange the things that the Creator has left us with. There is a godlike feeling when you envision of a solution, and the power to "realize" that vision. (This is why I get a chill down my spine when I think of how much energy is being spent on coaching pastors to be "vision casters.")

I'm having a little trouble here. Man was designed to have dominion, to shape creation, to impose order. It was part of our original wiring, before the Fall. It doesn't have to be a rape of the environment; picture an elderly Japanese gardener who spends years coaxing plants and rocks into an esthetically pleasing dance. And as I said in the introduction to this essay, order and organization do not dim the glory of Christian vocation. The people who flooded into southern Louisiana last year with RVs and chainsaws, and little else, were not doing a "greater" service of love than the people who, instead of putting shovel to rubble, labored to organize the relief efforts. I believe in intentionality, and that "work smarter" is better than "work harder." But sometimes--maybe it's just me--sometimes, in the process of engineering a solution, the process becomes more important than the problem it's supposed to solve. I find myself falling in love with the challenge, or more specifically, with the answer I am "creating." There's an old Rush song that eloquently describes the addictive nature of creative activity:

Spirits fly on dangerous missions
Imaginations on fire
Focused high on soaring ambitions
Consumed in a single desire

In the grip of
A nameless possession --
A slave to the drive of obsession --
A spirit with a vision
Is a dream with a mission...

("Mission" from Hold Your Fire)

Kay has a vision, and perhaps he is just the jackdaw parroting the King's vision, but there is a danger here. His final pronouncement falls artlessly, thud! into the midst of the council. It will be Taliessin, the king's poet, who will describe the downside.

Mint Nightmares: Williams on Vocation, Part I

The next installment from "Bors to Elayne: on the King's Coins" from Charles Williams' Taliessin Through Logres.
The king has set up his mint by Thames.
He has struck coins; his dragon's loins
germinate a crowded creaturely brood
to scuttle and scurry between towns and towns,
to furnish dishes and flagons with change of food;
small crowns, small dragons, hurry to the markets
under the king's smile, or flat in houses squat.
The long file of their snout crosses the empire,
and the other themes acknowledge our king's head.
They carry on their backs little packs of value,
caravans; but I dreamed the head of a dead king
was carried on all, that they teemed on house-roofs
where men stared and studied them as I your thumbs' epigrams,
hearing the City say Feed my lambs
to you and the king; the king can tame dragons to carriers,
but I came through the night, and saw the dragonlets' eyes
leer and peer, and the house-roofs under their weight
creak and break; shadows of great forms
halloed them on, and followed over falling towns.
I saw that this was the true end of our making;
mother of children, redeem the new law.


The meeting in London, from which Bors has just returned, was about King Arthur's new mint. "We are to suppose," writes C.S.Lewis, "that since the collapse of the Roman rule Britain has been without coinage, has lived by barter."

The new coins being minted have Arthur's head on one side, and dragons on the other. They will make the work of empire easier; "the themes" [provinces] "acknowledge our king's head." Bors is uneasy about this "crowded creaturely brood" that has sprung from the king's loins. In his nightmare, they teemed--picture yeast multiplying out of control, as you watch through a microscope. Lewis writes, "Money has bred money. He has seen house roofs creaking and breaking under the weight." Despite the obvious practical value of money, something is being lost with the passing of barter as the normal mode of doing business. Something has died, and in it there is a foreshadowing of the death of the King himself.

Recall that in the first part of the poem, Bors saw Elayne's hands as extensions of "the altars of Christ the City." An altar is a physical place that receives worship, not for itself, but for redirection to something invisible.
His Beatrician vision, mediated through his wife's thumbs, redirected his devotion to Christ the City with its doctrine of exchange, and its Servant Messiah stooping to serve. Bors has, in a sense, heard the Savior call Elayne to "Feed My lambs," by seeing her answering actions.

In his dream of money multiplying on house-roofs, Bors has seen men looking at money the same way he has looked at his wife's thumbs. But these men in his dream--to whom is their worship redirected, when their altar is a pile of coins?

A note on "Christ the City"--although this topic could really use an essay by itself, the short answer is that in Charles Williams' world, this is shorthand for "Christ at work on earth through His people." It is roughly equivalent to Paul's (Holy-Spirit inspired) picture of the Church as the "Body of Christ." In Paul, the organic connection and unity is in the foreground, whereas in Williams, the main thing is results, the accomplishing of the mission, with that being the occasion for the celebrating of relationships. There is a taste of this in Paul too, in his picture of gardeners connected by a common goal : I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building (1 Corinthians 3:6-9 NIV) . It is a City because it is patterned on Byzantium. Williams knew that this was anachronistic, but he seems to have wanted Logres (Arthur's kingdom) to be taking shape on the frontier between Byzantium (representing the orderly glory of Christian faith) and Broceliande (the wild wood representing chaos and untamed spiritual landscapes). Logres grows in the interstices, and that is why Taliessin, the king's poet, is the ideal person to narrate the growth of mere Britannia into Logres, because he himself comes out of Broceliande (he was raised by druids), but a visit to Byzantium harnessed his spirituality with the yoke of Christ. The City of God, Augustine's great concept, is no doubt a strong influence here too. The drama of the whole cycle of poems contained in Taliessin Through Logres and The Region of the Summer Stars can be summed up in this: will Logres grow to become
Camelot, an outpost of the City of God, or will it fail to achieve this dream?

In a sense, this is where the Lutheran concept of vocation comes through. All must work--it is so universal, it even predates the Fall--but those who have been called by the Gospel and enlightened with the Holy Spirit's gifts do their work, in the memorable words of Uwe Siemon-Netto, as "priests in aprons and overalls." Christ the City is the Risen and Ascended Jesus, working through His people on earth as they organize to proclaim His truth and live out His love. The service we render to our neighbor is offered to Christ as a living sacrifice. The Risen Jesus reinstated weak, shamefaced Peter with the words "Feed My lambs." And every Christian, in our regular need for repentance and reinstatement, hears Jesus issue the same call. Our lives are tinged by the same drama: will this forgiven sinner continue to live for self, just doing his job, or will he intentionally offer his time-talents-treasure as the living sacrifice of a grateful heart? Will his work be just a job, or will it become a living demonstration of Christian joy? The apostle Paul warns us to exercise care in the way we build a life on the foundation of the Gospel. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames (1 Corinthians 3:12-15 NIV).

Christ the City calls also to, and through, King Arthur, and his response has been to mint coins, to "tame dragons to carriers." Ok, he can do that. It is a testament to his majesty and power. But where Elayne's heeding of the new law ("love one another," John 13:34) is a matter of direct action, or the directly supervised action of another, Arthur's way of heeding the call is leveraged to gain spread and scope, but at the cost of direct and personal contact. Money can become not only a means, but an object, of business. (How much of the current price of gasoline is related not to actual supply and demand, but to speculation in oil futures? Yet one has difficulty imagining such speculation under a barter system.) The dragons, once tamed, might carry just as well for another master; perhaps even a master with treasonous intent; how ironic if an assassin's knife was hired with Arthur's own coin. What shadowy forms might be calling to the coins, urging them on what dire business? And so Bors urges Elayne to "redeem the new law," addressing her as "mother of children," for he fears that Arthur (father of little coin dragons) has sold out the new law somehow. I wonder if this is the significance of the eye-rhymes in this section of the poem: words that look like they ought to rhyme, but don't when pronounced:
"flat in houses squat"
"creak and break"
as sort of a structural representation of the dissonance between the King's intention and the results he gets.

Why is this idolatry seen on roof-tops? My guess is that we are to think of King David, walking on the roof top of his palace, whence he spotted Bathsheba bathing. From this small trickle of lust grew an avalanche of adultery, murder, and the ensuing cover-up.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Vocation In Williams' Arthuriad: Introduction

C.S. Lewis wrote an introduction to the Arthurian poetry of his Inklings friend Charles Williams, titled Williams and the Arthuriad. It appears in one volume with Williams' two poetry collections; although out of print, you can find it on It was published by Wm B. Eerdmans in 1974.

I've been meaning for months to write a Lutheran/Vocation commentary on one of the poems in Taliessin Through Logres for months now, but it took this post at Backward Kingdom to get me off the dime. Iron sharpens iron, again.

What follows is the first of several installments on "Bors to Elayne: on the King's Coins," which starts on page 60 in the above mentioned volume.


Bors To Elayne: On The King's Coins
I came in; I saw you stand,
in your hand the bread of love, in your head lightness of law.
The uprightness of the multitude stood in your figure;
my fieldsmen ate and your women served,
while you watched them from the high seat.
When you saw me a southern burst of love
tossed a new smile from your eyes to your mouth,
shaping for that wind's while the corn of your face.
It was said once that your hair was the colour of corn;
he who said so was capable only to adorn
the margin of parchments drawn in schools of Gaul;
their doctrine is your hands' main. I am come again
to live from the founts and fields of your hands;
colour is art, but my heart counts the doctrine.

Bors is a knight of the Table Round, and Elayne is no small person herself (being the daughter of King Pelles); yet this love-poem is not written as knight to lady, but simply as husband to wife. There is something on his mind, something about a meeting he attended in London, having to do with the business end of the kingdom; but as he arrives home again, he sees in the simple order of his household the true business of a truer Kingdom.

Sure, he loves her, and he's happy to be home again after a long night's ride, but where Love is concerned, nothing is ever that simple in Williams. I cannot say it better than Mary McDermott Shideler in her fine introduction to the Eerdmans one-volume edition:
The supreme examples of imagery for Williams were the human body as it images the human spirit, and human love as it images divine love. . . As patience is always patience, whatever the circumstances in which it is exercised, so--Williams declares--love is love whether it occurs between God and man, or between men and women. Human love is not "suggestively similar" to divine love; the two have real identity. That is not to say that they are identical, but to maintain that the single reality can be expressed in two--or many--styles, as an idea can be expressed in poetry or prose, spoken or written words, or gestures or demonstrations. The central question for every man is what his real identity shall be: love, or hate or fear or detachment or any of the other possibilities. His second question is what style he shall use to express his identity: marriage or celibacy, politics or poetry, romanticism, classicism, or realism, and so on.

Further, to understand Williams' thought and poetry, you need to understand one of the foundational principles in his universe: the concept of Exchange. Love is a special case, a refined form, of this most common and workaday principle. None of us exists in isolation. We give and receive. As C.J.Keyser said, To be is to be related. Williams called this "co-inherence," deliberately drawing from the Athanasian Creed, for to Williams, the earthly interrelatedness of humans in labor, in business, or in love, is a parable of relations between the Persons of the Trinity.

So when Bors sees his household functioning in this "web of exchange"--his field hands sitting down to eat the bread served by Elayne's serving-women, so that they can be strengthened for the continuation of their labors, which will produce more wheat, resulting in future bread--he sees more than a welcome homely sight: he sees the pattern of what the kingdom ought to be. And his wife, supervising from her high seat, is an archetype of ruler-conceived-as-exchange-organizer/facilitator.

The poem continues:
On the forms of ancient saints, my heroes, your thumbs,
as on a winch the power of man is wound
to the last inch; there ground is prepared
for the cared and seeded harvest of propinquant goodwill,
drained the reeded marches, cleared the branched jungles
where the unthumbed shapes of apes swung and hung.
Now when the thumbs are muscled with the power of goodwill
corn comes to the mill and the flour to the house,
bread of love for your women and my men;
at the turn of the day, and none only to earn;
in the day of the turn, and none only to pay;
for the hall is raised to the power of exchange of all
by the small spread organisms of your hands; O Fair,
there are the altars of Christ the City extended.
I have ridden all night from organization in London,
ration and rule, and the fault in ration and rule,
law and the flaw in law, to reach to you,
the sole figure of the organic salvation of our good.

In her hand--the temple, as it were, at which he has worshiped before, in an earlier poem ("Bors to Elayne: the Fish of Broceliande")--he sees a microcosm of the engine which powers exchange. Her thumbs are his heroes. They are a means of exercising dominion over creation, but that in itself is not remarkable. All of Adam's children, fallen though they be, continue that part of the image of God. But in Elayne there is more than mere technology, mere power to cultivate: there is goodwill in the musculature, kindness that drives the process of taming nature. In her hand is bread, as there is in the hand of many a human, no small humanistic triumph in itself; but in her head there is "lightness of law" (lightness = quickness to action) so that it becomes the "bread of love" by her ordering activity.

Bors does see what is on the surface, his wife's obvious beauty, which even a hack artist can see. The artist is dealing only with the superficial, the margins of parchments. (I suppose there may have even been manuscript illuminators who could draw, but not read.) Bors moves past the golden scrollwork, to the doctrine, the content communicated in the parchment, the burden of its message: "their doctrine is your hands' main" and so his "heart counts the doctrine," because it is from the truths that Elayne embodies that he draws life. This is not some kind of Gnostic or Platonic idealism at work; the essence of Elayne is not buried under her hands and thumbs, but is realized and revealed there.

Elayne is, of course, lovable and adorable (in the original sense of the term) in herself. But Bors' moment of adoration here is Elayne-in-action, as she directs the distribution of "bread of love for your women and my men." The result of her work, the dance of giving and receiving, where none only earns and none only pays, means that "the hall is raised to the power of exchange of all/ by the small spread organisms of your hands" and thus these hands become altars of "Christ the City." For Williams, the City of God is Christ in us, but never in us only as individuals--the true glory of God is seen in the fellowship of Christian love and mutual service to one another. Order and organization do not dim that glory. (Recall that the election of the deacons in Acts chapter six, was at root an administrative organizing of the Church's work of mercy.) They give it sharpness and definition, as Elayne's hands give physical expression to her loving service lightly given, despite the fact that she is a princess.

It is an especially wholesome sight for Bors, because he has just come from a meeting where, as C.S.Lewis puts it in his commentary, "a different code of Exchange has just come into existence." This meeting was an exercise in law and "ration and rule," but there is a "flaw in the law" and a "fault in the ration and rule." Organization, in itself, is not toxic to Christian love and service. But something is amiss.

to be continued

Thursday, November 16, 2006

More Baconisms

More wit I've found in reading Francis Bacon's Essays:
Seek not proud riches, but such as thou mayest get justly, use soberly, distribute cheerfully, and leave contentedly. Yet have no abstract or friarly contempt of them.

To spend too much time in studies is sloth; to use them too much for ornament, is affectation; to make judgment wholly by their rules, is the humor of a scholar.
Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man. And therefore, if a man write little, he had need have of a great memory; if he confer little, he had need have a present wit: and if he read little, he had need have much cunning, to seem to know that he doth not.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Contrapositively Cool

Grateful guy that I am--correction, that I aspire to be--I want to publicly acknowledge my gratitude to Jeff Duntemann, a well-published tech guru of wizard class. He also happens to be, as he puts it in his online diary, an "unapologetic religionist," describing himself as an adherent of "non-Papal Western Catholicism." He has been writing an online journal titled "ContraPositive Diary" for eight years, but I just found it: it's linked in the blogroll at left.

I like that he is a techie with an interest in spiritual things. I like that he, too, is another fan of Pentangle's cover of the Lyke Wake Dirge. But okay, let's get to my reason for being grateful. Jeff is a generous guy. Back around the turn of the century, Jeff Duntemann helped me find Delphi (the Pascal computer programming language implementation, not the Greek oracle).

He is, in his own words, "writer, editor, technologist, contrarian." 'Writer' is modest. He's written several books as sole author, and co-authored another bunch. He was Senior Technical Editor at PC Tech Journal and wrote a column for years in the venerable Dr. Dobb's Journal. Like I said, a guru of wizard class.

I had been an old-school Turbo Pascal hobby programmer, in the days when the Digital Research's operating system CP/M ruled. I wanted to get back into the game in the PC world, but was having a hard time with Object Pascal. I read something he had written about the future of Pascal, and sent him an email thanking him for his good thoughts. I said something like "I'd like to get into visual programming. I wish there was something like Visual Basic, but for Pascal." He wrote back, amazingly enough, and said, "Did you miss Delphi??? That's what you want." He was a huge help. He gave me an introductory version of Delphi to get my feet wet. I did, and then went out and bought Delphi version 2--and one of Jeff's books--and I was able to re-do my old Turbo Pascal CP/M church applications in Delphi.

I am once again in his debt, for his excellent introduction to the latest incarnation of the spirit of Delphi, Turbo Delphi, titled "Jeff Duntemann's Turbo Delphi Explorer From Square One" without which, I would have found the installation process exceedingly frustrating; and I never would have found out about Nick Hodges' cool tutorial Camtasia videos.
Thank you, Jeff! Long may you run!

Monday, November 06, 2006

"Toward a Visual Rhetoric of the Gospel"

This article referenced above appears in the Fall 2006 Issues In Christian Education vol. 40 #2, published by Concordia University, Seward Nebraska. The authors, Paul Berkbigler and Bruce Creed, are professors there, of art and communication, respectively. You can read the article as a PDF by clicking on the title above.

The authors ask some good questions, and offer some stimulating ideas.

I have often wrestled with the pull between wanting to add more visual vocabulary to my teaching and preaching, and wanting to preserve the art of oral/aural preaching. Sometimes I manage, in an oral sermon, to dip into the visual stream.

For example, in talking about 1 Peter 5:6-9, I might say,
"What does it mean, in a movie, when the characters are suddenly shown inside of two circles, like this?" (put two O hands together) "It's the view through binoculars, right? What is the filmmaker saying with that visual cliche? What does it mean?" (It means someone is watching them, is the response I hope to hear.)

"What if it's one circle--and it has crosshairs? Does filming that way give a different message?" (A sniper is watching them, maybe going to shoot one of them.)

Then I go on to contrast "He [God] cares for you" and "the devil is prowling... looking for someone to devour." I say that God is watching us (binocular hands) but the Devil is hunting us (rifle posture, peering through scope).

Dopey little example. Maybe I'll do it one of these days.

Here's my favorite quote from the article (but the emphasis is mine, not the authors'):
The development and introduction of technology has not only made us aware of the different ways in which we process words, but it also has pointed out the myriad ways in which we now process images. Film and television celebrate disunion between idea and image often purely to shock us and to get our attention. This break in relation is rarely repaired for the sake of the information still to come; it is often either sidestepped or completely disregarded as the contents of the message are delivered. This technique is gradually being applied to all generations. For example, advertising that uses songs of the 1960s to sell any product regardless of its relation to songs of the Baby Boomers.

Even so, Boomers and other generations may not always be challenged by the notion that the contents of the Gospel and the contents of their lives are directly correlated. For Christ to have incorporated into His parables the simple image of drinking from a well shows us the relationship between our lives and His Gospel message. For many young people, however, even these parables sometimes do not resonate in their lives. There seems to be disunion between image and meaning because of the
proliferation of uncorrelated images in advertising, film and other texts that they see daily. These young readers then interact with technology and media in which images have been used intentionally often without the expectation or realization that the images have been manipulated with purpose. Worship can bridge this gap between the careful and careless use of images by providing what we have earlier referred to as graphic resonance. The caution for users of technology in worship is to always remember that there is a need for resonance between images and words.

Christians need to be so careful about this. Resist the fad. The image appeals, but if it doesn't contribute to the message, it worsens the signal-to-noise ratio. I've blogged before about McLuhan; his ideas continue to fascinate me. I'm glad other Christian thinkers are thinking about these things too.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Francis Bacon on Self-love and Doing Good

Bacon is considered one of the fathers of the scientific method. From his essay "On Goodness and Goodness of Nature" ca. 1597:
Beware how in making the portraiture thou breakest the pattern. For divinity maketh the love of ourselves the pattern; the love of our neighbors but the portraiture. Sell all thou hast, and give it to the poor, and follow me: but sell not all thou hast, except thou come and follow me; that is, except thou have a vocation wherein thou mayest do as much good with little means as with great; for otherwise in feeding the streams thou driest the fountain.

The pattern/portrait refers to what is sometimes called The Golden Rule, "Love your neighbor as yourself," Matthew 22:39. The italics is where he alludes to Jesus' saying to the "rich young man" in Mark 10:21. What follows is not contradiction, although it sounds like it.

He seems to be making Jesus to say, "But don't try this unless you are going to follow Me." I wonder if his word "vocation" does not seem to relate so much as to "paid employment" as to the call of Christ. If you are called by Christ and follow him, you are never in danger of drying up the fountain, because He is a boundless fountain. On the other hand, by vocation he may mean one's station in life, in the spirit of 1 Corinthians 7:17-24:
Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk. And so I direct in all the churches. Was any man called when he was already circumcised? He is not to become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? He is not to be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God. Each man must remain in that condition in which he was called.
 Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that. For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord's freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ's slave. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. Brethren, each one is to remain with God in that condition in which he was called.

Friday, November 03, 2006

"Priests In Aprons And Overalls"

Click on the title to read a great essay on the need and opportunity for our Lutheran doctrine of vocation, by a man I am growing to respect more and more, journalist Uwe Siemon-Netto, of the Concordia Seminary Institute of Lay Vocation. At one of the places where he spoke on this topic, there followed a Q&A session where he said something that I have felt for many years, about this:

Let’s make one thing clear here: what I am promoting is not “Christian lawyers,” “Christian journalists,” “Christian this,” “Christian politicians.” ... This is not Lutheran. What I want is--you have to be very precise, very nitpicking--I want Christians in the legal profession, Christians in journalism, and not to push, not to evangelize in their offices, or on the workbench; but to be so Lutheran that they understand that when they work as lawyers or journalists or whatever it is--or you as a mother--you do so serving your neighbor...

Right now, the work of each and every one of us as Lutherans is not (unless you are a pastor) to, from your workbench, evangelize. You will find, though, that if you have this Lutheran ethos that I have been talking about, people will ask you what it is that drives you as a Christian in motherhood, as a Christian in running a corporation. Then of course, feel free to evangelize!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

See And Say

The child's wisdom is in saying
They say what they see when they see it
I am beginning to remember how
When I don't say it when I see it
I remember it differently
Hy Sobiloff, "The Child's Sight"

Have you ever noticed how something internal, like a belief system, or a fear, becomes at once more real, and less vital, when you describe it? When you express it? When you name it?


It becomes defined--its boundaries are set--so it gains definition (as we use the word in the visual sense) and becomes realized, therefore more real.

The recognition and confirmation of the image, what General Semantics calls an "object," supplies the mind with a simulation that is only as detailed as it needs to be. Low resolution. But the processes of abstracting, this naming/categorizing with its hasty, forced decisions of where to set the boundaries, robs the object of some of its raw, elemental vitality, its power. In therapy, where fears and memories are named and thus cut down to manageable size, this is often a good thing!

We might expect that the higher up the ladder of abstraction we go--the thinner the air of description and analysis and meta-description--the more "tame" the object becomes. Perhaps this is why scholarly theologians are accused of preaching dry sermons, compared to the preacher who is less reflective and more gutsy, shoot-from-the-hip slapdash.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

"Dear Frankie" Video Recommendation

Saw this last night. I can't recommend it highly enough. A beautiful film with heart.
Be sure to watch the Special Features "The Story Of Dear Frankie" and note the rationale behind some of the casting decisions; I think you'll agree that they were brilliant.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Reformation Day

Yes, it's All Hallows Even, better known to us Lutherans as Reformation Day. I wrote what I consider to be a pretty decent summary of what the "Lutheran" moniker means for the "pastor's page" of the newsletter of the church I pastor, October 2006 edition, which is now history. It is posted as the end of this entry.

Before you go there, or skip this post entirely, allow me to offer a more concise, and quite elegant, quote from the eminent Dr. Gene "Ed" Veith, who wrote this on his Cranach blog a few days ago:

...being Lutheran has to do with being a Christian whose sole hope is the Gospel, who has a theology of the Cross rather than Glory (that is, grows closer to Christ in the experience of weakness, suffering, and defeat rather than strength, power, and victory), who has a sense of vocation (that God is in the ordinary tasks of life that He calls us to), who recognizes the depths of human sin and also the depths of God's grace, who rejects all gnosticism in a recognition that God comes to us in the material world of flesh, creation, incarnation, a book printed on paper, and sacraments of water, bread, and wine.
Thus far Dr. Veith. For my 520 words of wisdom, click here to

from the October 2006 Good Shepherd's Clippings:

We weren’t supposed to be “Lutherans.”

As you may have heard, Martin Luther really didn’t like that term. He preferred the term “Evangelical” (“Gospel-oriented”). But the sixteenth century Gospel Reformation came to be known as the Lutheran Reformation, so the name stuck, much to his dismay.

A “Lutheran” Christian is not a follower of Martin Luther. (He was a fallible human being, who made mistakes like all of us.) Here’s what it means to be a Lutheran Christian:

Bible-based: We hold the Bible to be the Word of God, totally true, no mistakes or lies. We use it as the sole source and norm for Christian teaching. Other expressions of Christian teaching--the documents collected in the Book of Concord, the Creeds, the Large and Small Catechisms, a pastor’s sermon, a hymn, a Bible study, even the Pastor’s Page of a church newsletter--are under the authority of the Bible, which is the standard by which they are to be judged. To be Lutheran is to say that the Bible corrects and informs our teachings; but no one corrects the Bible. To correct the Bible, you’d have to be smarter than God Himself.

Christ-centered: To a Lutheran, the central figure in the Bible is Jesus (yes, even in the Old Testament!). Jesus Himself said that: You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me... (John 5:39 ESV) When He said this, nothing in the New Testament had been written yet! His coming is promised, His mission is described, in Isaiah, and the Psalms, and Genesis, and the other 36 books of the Old Testament, and of course He is the star of the 27 books of the New Testament. There are many ways to read and interpret the Holy Scriptures. We deliberately interpret them in terms of the coming of the Jewish Messiah, the Christ, and we see Him on every page.

Grace-obsessed: The Christ we see in both Old and New Testaments is not a new Moses, bringing an updated list of do’s and don’t’s. Gospel means “Good News,” and the Good News is that God has had grace and mercy on us undeserving, wretched sinners. We don’t do anything to deserve it. We can’t do anything to contribute to it. It’s all Him, generously offering complete pardon, at absolutely no charge to us. We harp endlessly on this point. It’s a mania with us.

In short, we believe God’s Word, even the things we don’t understand, because that’s where we get the Gospel, and it is that Gospel that made us believers.

Oh, one more thing. To be Lutheran is to be confessing. I don’t mean the negative use of that word, like confessing to a crime. The positive meaning of “confess” is to tell the truth, boldly, no matter what the consequences. We tell the truth revealed in God’s Word. We don’t hide our light under a bushel basket. We don’t “go along to get along.” We don’t bow to the spirit of the age. There’s no such thing as a wishy-washy Lutheran!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Additions To My Tiny Blogroll

My blogroll at left is not some sort of exclusive club. It's just my short list of the blogs I drop in at regularly. I have added two today:
Daylight - the blog of Old Solar Online magazine. Rick Ritchie is a regular, and edifying, contributor to Cranach; but when I read his most recent post, I resolved to start hanging out at Daylight more. This guy, too, has mojo.

Here's a teaser:
Overstatement is part of the Lutheran grammar. You speak a different language and you describe a different faith. It the very fabric of Lutheranism. Trying to iron out the wrinkle is like trying to iron out a felt hat. You may succeed, but you will no longer have a hat.

The other new addition is Fire and Knowledge, the blog of Joshua Sowin. Not really a blog, actually... oh, never mind, I'll let him explain it:
This is not a “blog” in the normal sense, as it tries not to be narcissistic or contemporary, but rather encourage others to think deeply about important issues through quotes, essays, and occasional links.

I find that looking over his shoulder as he does this is very stimulating. Besides, I wanted his advice for my own wrestling with the proper use of quotes, and instead of blowing me off, he posted a very helpful comment. A good goober.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Style And Content

Notes on an ongoing project. And an excuse to post a photo that begs to be shown.
In the effort to communicate, what lines get crossed when undue emphasis is placed on the target language? (Translation: when you're trying to talk in plain, simple English, when does simple become "too simple"?)

Factors to consider:
1. correspondence of ideas: what gets lost in translation?
2. associational pollution: what kinds of crosstalk do you get--what cognitive dissonance do you create--by the popular-culture associations that attend popular language? Can you really say, "It's the theology, stupid!" without making the hearer flash on Bill Clinton?
3. style as content: what (meta-)"information" is transmitted by style? Does use of a popular verbal style create a message that "college-educated readers may as well tune out now"?
4. media as content: what (meta-)"information" is transmitted by the choice of media? Does a visual presentation "say" "We are not bookish snobs! We speak TV just like you!" Does the "look and feel" of a presentation, with its power to create first impressions, prime the audience with some sort of predisposition?

Consider the photograph at the right. This is not some Photoshop creation. You can go to Manitou Springs, CO and see this sign downtown. The shape of the sign, its location, the shape and spacing of its letters, all say OFFICIAL CITY SIGN. I was ignoring it until I was startled to see the word "DUDE" appear in a place I wouldn't expect it. I did a double-take, and had to read it three times. Droll, huh?

Read more (and see another photo, too!)...

Yep, it's cute. We can see what the words say. But what does the existence of the sign itself "say"? Pick your favorite:
  • "We are a hip community, capable of mocking ourselves, but we would really prefer that you humor us: please don't skateboard here."

  • "Skateboarders can't read."

  • "Skateboarders can read but they are a bunch of scofflaws who routinely ignore posted rules. We wish to appease them with drollery. If we ask them nice, in a fun, hip way, maybe they'll give us a break and do what we ask for once."

  • "Nobody pays any attention to official signs anyway, so whatthehell, may as well have a little fun with taxpayer money."

I also found this sign. Is the joke getting old? Did you chuckle, groan, or bristle? Does it lower your opinion of the Manitou Springs city government? Does it make you more, or less, inclined to obey posted signs of any sort when you visit this town?

What happens to our Christian message when we abandon traditional Christian vocabulary, in a quest for relevance? What are the tipping points from "You are correct, if somewhat obscure" to "You have dumbed down" to "You are getting ridiculous"?

What happens to a content-rich message, traditionally delivered through words ("Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ," Romans 10:17) is delivered in a PowerPoint presentation, or a video, with pictures of smiling people (a suitably diverse mix of races and generations, of course) talking on cellphones? Do the smiling faces, the emotional cachet of the "show," eclipse or modify the message? Do they move the focus from faith (hard to depict visually!) to people, or networking?