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

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.