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Sunday, January 9, 2011, 6:32 PM
Certain news items strike me as so ridiculous that they seem like hoaxes worthy of The Onion or Lark News. I thought this when I read recently that new applications for passports will now have two slots for guardians: “parent one” and “parent two.”
I immediately thought of Dr. Seuss’s “The Cat in the Hat,” where “Thing One” and “Thing Two” help to bring utter chaos to a household while a mother is away from a young boy and girl.
The bouncy twin troublemakers are very popular with children, even as they inspire anxiety due to their disregard for order and good conduct. All I could picture for the passport applications was an entire nation of red jump-suited parental units (to use the old “Coneheads” slang) having their names scribbled onto forms for government recording purposes.
The change to the forms, however, is significantly more serious that something out of Dr. Seuss. According to the report, the terms “mother” and “father” are outmoded relative to today’s culture. The shift is not, according to one source, “an act of political correctness,” but rather is a response to changing views about how to define “family.”
Remember in high school when you were assigned George Orwell’s 1984? (more…)
Tuesday, January 4, 2011, 11:28 AM
This past week I finally was able to take my family to see “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” which is a marvelous film. Though it streamlines some of the book’s plots (it’s a favorite of my children), we found the film to be quite satisfying.
As the movie reached its climax, I was dazzled by the levels of allegory that were present. Mind you, my doctorate is in Medieval / Renaissance literature, so this kind of literature and film is a playground for my imagination. I love finding the story within the story, where, as Milton would say, there is more than meets the eye. I adore typology, symbolism, and subtext. I am gobsmacked by how well Lewis creates symbolic depictions of confession, redemption, and rebirth. Literature is one of the best ways to communicate elements of the Gospel to non-believers because I believe that God designed us to resonate with narrative in very specific ways (my book “God as Author: A Biblical Approach to Narrative” outlines this in detail). “Creation-Fall-Redemption” resonates incredibly with “Rising Action-Climax-Falling Action,” somehow inverting the pattern, looking-glass style. We can find at least a shadow of the Gospel in virtually every human narrative through its very structure.
As I have pondered the Narnia series for the past few days, however, I have been fairly crest-fallen at how ill-equipped viewers and readers are to understand what Lewis (or Tolkien or Milton or . . . , well, you get the point) is doing with allegory. Most literary theorists view allegory as quaint and out of date. It certainly isn’t worth teaching to our students.
This is ironic, of course, because almost all literary theory is based on allegory. (more…)
Tuesday, December 21, 2010, 12:36 PM
In once heard Anne Lamott say that the day your first book is released is a real heartbreaker of an experience: your hair still won’t lie correctly, your skin hasn’t improved, and the world just seems to continue on as it always has. When you go to the store, no one stops you for an autograph. Little has changed except that you are now an author.
What she meant was that if an author merely defines herself through her works and their relative popularity, she will find life to be pretty daunting. Any honest writer will affirm this sense of emptiness (vanity?) that comes from publishing. I have a feeling that it is one of the reasons so many authors (especially in the realm of fiction writing) succumb to chemical dependencies. The more one writes, the more vacuous the enterprise may seem. The first time you see that precious book selling for $.99 somewhere is the ultimate needle in any sort of ego-balloon. Sometimes it all seems like sand castle-building at low tide.
I am grateful for my dear friendship with George Guthrie, the eminent New Testament scholar. George just posed these thoughts, “The Spiritual Disciplines of a Book Release,” on the necessity of remaining Gospel-focused as a writer, no matter the project:
“Remember that the only reason for the book is to advance the Kingdom in the lives of individuals and churches. Glory in the gospel and not in your own ‘good news’ about your project.”
Brothers and sisters, for those of us who are blessed with the opportunity to write (or who have such a desire), in reality we have only one audience, God, and one goal, His ultimate glorification and exaltation. Everything else echoes out from this reality, but those are the only factors that truly last.
Friday, December 17, 2010, 4:58 PM
During a recent sermon, I found myself meditating on the mysteries of the virgin birth. As I did so, I remembered a story I hadn’t thought about in years (this is a fairly accurate retelling, I hope, of a real-life incident).
Once there was a seminary professor who liked to be cheeky. One day out of the blue he started talking about how there were no miraculous births in the Bible. He went on a mini-rant about how he hated the idea of miraculous births and found the entire concept to be pagan in its entirety.
“Like Zeus birthing Athena from his very mind, puh-leeze. Miraculous births indeed.”
His students were horrified and one of the more assertive students finally spoke up and said, “Are you saying that Christ’s birth was not a miracle?”
He responded, “Christ, Samuel, Isaac, you name it, there’s not a single birth in the Bible that didn’t happen the way that every other birth in history ever has occurred. And I dare any of you to prove it.” (more…)
Saturday, November 6, 2010, 10:56 PM
I have the joy and privilege of serving as the chief academic officer at Union University, which is a Baptist institution. Some time ago I was at a gathering of academic leaders from at least nominally Christian colleges and we had an interesting conversation about statements of faith for faculty and other leaders.
One very seasoned leader said that the problem with requiring signed statements of faith is two-fold: the people who will sign them and the people who will sign them. All of us looked confused until he explained.
The first group will sign the statement and really believe every bit of its contents, but then they use it as a means to club their colleagues to death, undermining any sense of community that exists. They proof-text every jot and tittle of campus life against their own interpretations of the statement and constantly hound anyone who crosses their viewpoints.
The second group will sign the statement not because they agree with it but rather because they will sign anything in order to get a job. (more…)
Tuesday, November 2, 2010, 10:41 AM
This past Sunday, on the way to church, I was singing “Amazing Grace” to the tune of the theme song from “Gilligan’s Island.” When I was in fifth grade, my best friend Steve Gonzales and I sang this as a duet at an evening service, proving that the contemporary worship wars had their roots in my dad’s tiny church in Fredonia, New York, in 1973.
My kids started complaining that I was ruining the song (whether they meant “Amazing Grace” or “Gilligan’s Island” I’m not sure) and I pointed out that you can sing “Amazing Grace” to almost any classic sit-com theme song: “My Three Sons,” “Andy Griffith,” “The Brady Bunch,” and so forth and proceeded to demonstrate. It also works to “House of the Rising Sun” and many other popular songs.
The theological value of “Gilligan’s Island” is manifold (the seven castaways, after all, represent the seven deadly sins and the island is hell itself), but the value of the adaptability of “Amazing Grace” is really quite a lesson for us. We can sing those words to a plethora of tunes, sometimes slightly altering the melody or adjusting the phrasing of the words a tad, but in the end, the tunes and the lyrics are both recognizable in strange and wonderful ways. (more…)
Thursday, October 7, 2010, 11:31 PM
The fall months are when most churches are putting their budgets together for presentation to their congregants. I had a really amazing conversation with a pastor recently about how many people now not only don’t know the definition of tithing but have interesting ideas about what constitutes a tithe. Most pastors are pretty good at citing Malachi 3:9-10: “You are suffering under a curse, yet you—the whole nation—are [still] robbing Me. Bring the full ten percent into the storehouse so that there may be food in My house. Test Me in this way,” says the LORD of Hosts. ”See if I will not open the floodgates of heaven and pour out a blessing for you without measure.”
Obviously there is more to understanding that passage than merely equating the local church with the storehouse, but in our area, there is a habit that I think is more prevalent than most folks think: considering some items “tithe-deductible.” Kids in a private Christian school? That’s kingdom work, so we can take that off the tithe. Supporting a Christian candidate for office? That’s kingdom work, so we can count that toward our 10% as well. Ate at Chick-fil-A? Yes, another tithe-deductible expense. Buying a copy of “Fireproof” on DVD? That counts too since a church made the film. Bought some Ethos bottled water at Starbucks, part of that goes to poverty relief, so it counts too.
I doubt that most of these folks would do these substitutions on their taxes, but in the case of the local congregation, it means the difference between supporting ministry and not supporting ministry.
For all of our talk about politicians and debt and spending, I have a feeling that most of us have our own housecleaning we need to do in the area of God’s money.
Wednesday, September 8, 2010, 5:22 PM
I try to read several books on management each year (I’m an academic administrator), usually picking up a few things from the bargain bins of the bookstores I enjoy haunting. This summer I read “Inside Drucker’s Brain,” a collection of Peter Drucker’s principles by Jeffrey A. Krames, who also wrote a similar book on Jack Welch (of GE fame). The book was a helpful reminder of the scope of Drucker’s thinking and his place in the history of strategic thinking about management. I know that Drucker has fallen out of favor in many circles, but having cut my teeth within a family business, where I learned a great deal about the benefits of both practicality and the ascription of dignity to one’s fellow workers, I find much of Drucker to be useful. “The Effective Leader” had a great influence on me in terms of serving in administrative roles. “Inside” was a very good distillation that may be read on a flight or on breaks between meetings.
Having said that, I picked up “Inside” again after letting it sit for a month or so to shelve it and started flipping through it again when something struck me: there was virtually no mention of Drucker’s faith as a foundational principle of his thoughts. (more…)
Thursday, September 2, 2010, 10:19 PM
When Ralph Waldo Emerson spoke at the Harvard School of Divinity in 1838,
he delivered an address that should be required reading for evangelicals. Basically, Emerson exhorted these young clergymen to turn their backs on doctrine to explore unfettered the limits of the human soul. The phrase that is commonly attributed to Emerson is that doctrine is a set of bandages that blinds our vision. Anyone who knows what happened to the Harvard School of Divinity (and Unitarianism) in the subsequent decades knows that they did just that: placed doctrine on the sidelines, calling it quaint and narrow.
Unfortunately, I hear the same thing from too many young evangelicals, who say that they are tired of doctrine and would rather “be” the church. History, in their view, wastes our time and doctrine distracts our attention from the more substantial issue of changing our culture. (more…)
Saturday, August 21, 2010, 4:49 PM
Michael Been, the bassist and frontman for the band “The Call,” passed away this Thursday from a heart attack. He was 60 and had been working sound for his son’s band “Black Rebel Motorcycle Club” at a pop festival in Belgium.
The Call never quite got over the hump on the way to topping the music charts, but they came out of the same impulse that yielded U2, early Violent Femmes, and other pop groups that were deeply influenced by their faith commitments. Certainly most of them have ended up being prone to the kinds of excesses that plague the entertainment industry (Been aggravated me on a number of occasions), but The Call took their name seriously, introducing explicitly Christian principles to their lyrics as part of their mission. “Everywhere I Go” spoke to Providence. “The Walls Came Tumbling Down” to the power of faith. “I Still Believe” to the enduring optimism that God produces in our lives, no matter the circumstances. Videos for the songs still reside at places like youtube.
For those of us who came of age in the early 80s, these groups gave us an important release for the songs of our hearts. I remember that our local Christian station programmers thought they were edgy because they played Sandi Patty; Amy Grant was too much of a rocker for them. I was one of those who kept wondering, as the late Larry Norman so aptly put it, why should the devil have all the good music? In the energy and authenticity of groups like The Call, I found succor for my spirit and balm for my youthful angst. Like all things that are founded on God’s truth, Been’s music will live on well beyond his own life in this world. Praises for the glory of God always do.
Monday, August 16, 2010, 7:15 PM
Back in 2005, Kazuo Ishiguro released his delicate novel “Never Let Me Go.”
You may remember Ishiguro as the author of “Remains of the Day,” which was adapted into a motion picture of the same name starring Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, and Christopher Reeve. That novel explored the idea that the British Empire had seen the end of its day and that the Second World War would bring this reality to a shattering epiphany.
“Never Let Me Go,” cited by Time as the best novel of 2005, is first rate science fiction (and was a finalist for the 2006 Arthur C. Clarke Award), but it is not what one thinks of as traditional science fiction. There are no spaceships or whirling inventions, (more…)
Friday, July 30, 2010, 2:22 PM
I stumbled across John D. Steinrucken’s interesting essay “Secularism’s Debt to Christianity” in today’s American Thinker. Steinrucken’s opening paragraph includes this provocative line:
Western civilization’s survival, including the survival of open secular thought, depends on the continuance within our society of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
This observation reminds me a great deal of Camille Paglia’s excellent essay from a few years ago in Arion, “Religion and the Arts in America,” which basically says that the loss of Christianity as a dominant force in the West is why art has declined over the past few years. Paglia claims
I would argue that the route to a renaissance of the American fine arts lies through religion.
I do not wish to make too much of these kinds of essays, but they are balm indeed for the current level of heat regarding religion, particularly evangelicalism and Catholicism, in academe. These essays are particularly poignant as backdrops to an essay by Wheaton University’s Timothy Larsen in today’s issue of Inside Higher Ed, “No Christianity Please, We’re Academics.” My favorite line of that essay comes in the form of a professor’s comment on a student paper that C. S. Lewis quotations were inappropriate because he was a pastor. Yeah, C. S. Lewis and T. S. Eliot were co-pastors outside of Nashville for a brief time, right? I’d forgotten about that. ;-) The comments that follow the essay are simply amazing in terms of candor and, well, insight as to the view towards Christian faith (or any faith) by some in academe.
Perhaps some of those commentators should read Steinrucken and Paglia.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010, 12:06 PM
The tech world has been buzzing with yesterday’s ruling about the legality of “jailbreaking” one’s iPhone (removing certain barriers to non-Apple approved applications for iPhones). This means that phone owners have the right to alter their phones to download non-approved content or even to switch carriers.
The Bloomberg.com story linked above indicates that Apple routinely “withholds approval of applications because they have technical bugs or contain material such as pornography that the company considers inappropriate.” This resolves, to some extent, the firestorm (heads-up on some of the graphics on this site) over Apple’s Steve Jobs ban of sexual content on these apps. The last line in the Gizmodo.com essay (linked above) notes, “Steve Jobs knows his legacy and it isn’t sex apps. It’s great hardware and software. But why the hell can’t gadget porn and real porn coexist?”
It will be interesting to see if this will now create a portal for viruses and other safety concerns to enter into the Iphone world, which appears to be part of the fear that Apple has with the ruling (jailbreaking apparently will continue to void all warranties and support).
It’s more interesting, though, to ponder these developments after reading Mary Eberstadt’s essay “The Weight of Smut” in the June / July issue of First Things. I once heard a technology expert say that one of the primary driving forces behind most of the technological advancements of the past thirty years has been the hunger for easier access to pornography: cable, VCRs, camcorders, the Internet, cell phone cameras, and so forth. I suspect that Eberstadt would agree with that observation.
Thursday, July 22, 2010, 10:17 AM
I can’t remember the guy’s name, but I once saw an interview with one of the lead writers on the old “Batman” show with Adam West, which was a staple of my childhood. Evidently the guy had a master’s in historical linguistics or something and he told a hysterical story about how the character King Tut (that corpulent villain in the faux Egyptian gear, played by the inimitable Victor Buono).
(from http://www.tvsinopse.kinghost.net/art/3/tut.htm )
Tut’s henchmen’s original names were actually obscure curse words and vulgarities in Coptic and they received loads of complaints from the few folks who knew that relatively rare language. The network made them change the names on the ubiquitous black t-shirts that all of these guys wore. At least that’s the story I remember.
Those names on the black t-shirts extended, of course, to the famous cave where Batman kept all of his wonderful computers and gadgets. Each item was labeled clearly in block letters. Nothing was, apparently, left to chance in the man of justice’s lair. Even the phone was labeled with “telephone,” or at least it seemed that way to me.
This morning I looked for some still photos of the show and ran across one of Batman and Robin standing in front of a computer labeled “Electronic Translator” at http://www.batmangiftideas.com/batmanbio.htm (you’ll have to scroll down near the bottom). I couldn’t upload the still to this post, but it connects with my actual reason for this post: I thought of “Batman” when I read the incredible news that a computer has decoded Ugaritic script in only a few hours. A few hours! This breakthrough means that we will finally be able to crack, hopefully, important languages like Etruscan which, unbelievably, have so far eluded us. (more…)
Friday, June 18, 2010, 4:02 PM
As a former resident of Louisiana, I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the oil disaster. The scope is difficult to contemplate. In my travels around the Internet, I ran across this website, where you can put in your hometown or any other location and see just how large the oil slick is in our own local terms. (h-tip: one of the coolest sites around, “strangemaps”).
It’s a little disconcerting to see my own town in the darkest bull’s eye of the cloud and think, “What if this were happening where I live?”
Something I like about the site is the way that helps us to think about this event as one of shared humanity: one way to love one’s neighbor as oneself is to put ourselves in that person’s shoes through love (Lev. 19:18 / Matt. 19:19, etc.). What if I were hungry? What if I had need? What if I were situated in the midst of a disaster? What if it were my family that no longer could fish those waters or work those rigs or sell sandwiches at our restaurant?
Material empathy in these kinds of circumstances reminds us of just how interlinked we really are as fellow persons. Indeed, this kind of empathy should lead us to be reminded of our shared spiritual state as well. The fallen nature of our world and our souls longs for solutions, even as they long for a Savior.
Monday, June 7, 2010, 10:24 AM
Peter Singer, the rather notorious Princeton ethicist, published a provocative essay in the New York Times blog “Opinionator” proposing that we should consider making this generation the last of the human species. He pondered what would be wrong with universal sterilization throughout the planet, a planned extinction of the entire race. Here’s a sample of his musings for the standard of choice for intentional reproduction:
“How good does life have to be, to make it reasonable to bring a child into the world? Is the standard of life experienced by most people in developed nations today good enough to make this decision unproblematic, in the absence of specific knowledge that the child will have a severe genetic disease or other problem?”
In all fairness, the essay does conclude with a tepid off-shrugging of the notion, even as it unfolds with great seriousness.
Perhaps I’m too much of an armchair psychologist, but I have a sense that many public intellectuals think that they are looking through a window when they see the world but are mistaken and are instead looking into a mirror. What I mean is that when they think that they see something in the world at-large, what they really are seeing is their own life magnified and projected in a way that overshadows reality.
Singer’s essay is really a commentary on or extension of the thoughts of David Benatar, a South African philosopher whose book “Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence,” is, I suppose , the reductio ad absurdum of solipsism (the idea that the self is the only thing knowable or real in the universe). Check out Singer’s summary of Benatar: (more…)
Saturday, May 22, 2010, 5:11 PM
I was sitting at my son’s baseball game last night catching up on some reading when I picked up the latest issue of PMLA, the journal of the Modern Language Association (March 2010). The first essay was by Timothy Morton: “Queer Ecology.” Prof. Morton calls for a merger of Queer Theory and Ecological Criticism, two staples in literary studies. The essay is fairly wide-ranging, but I thought I would provide two provocative bits for a reaction from our readers:
“Ecological critique has argued that speciesism underlies sexism and racism ([Carey] Wolfe [Animal Rites: American Culture, the Discourse of Species, and Posthumanist Theory. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1991])—why not homophobia too? How do we think about life-forms and their diverse sexualities and pleasures? Any attempt at queer ecology must imagine ways of doing justice to life-forms while respecting the lessons of evolutionary biology—that the boundary between life and non-life is thick and full of paradoxical entities” (276).
“Queer ecology will worry away at the human-nonhuman boundary, too. How can we ever distinguish properly between humans and nonhumans? Doesn’t the fact that identity is in the eye of the beholder put serious constraints on such distinctions? It’s not just that rabbits are rabbits in name only; it’s that whether or not we have words for them, rabbits are deconstrictive all the way down—signifying and display happen at every level. Nothing is self-identical. We are embodied yet without essence. Organicism is holistic and substantialist, visualizing carbon-based life-forms (organic in another sense) as the essence of livingness. Queer ecology must go wider, embracing silicon as well as carbon, for instance. . . . Queer ecology would go to the end and show how beings exist precisely because they are nothing but relationality, deep down—for the love of matter” (277).
As Mike Myers used to say via his Linda Richman character on SNL, “Now, talk amongst yourselves!”
Friday, May 7, 2010, 9:06 AM
This list caught my eye: the “Most Brilliant Christian Professors.” Their institutional affiliations and specialties are all over the map, which is interesting in its own way, and it reminded me of a conversation I once had in graduate school.
One of my professors took me to the side after class and asked, “Is it true you are a Christian?” “Yes,” I replied, uncertain of where the question was leading. “I’m surprised,” the professor continued, “since your work is very strong. That’s really interesting.”
The question bothered me, not as a point of offense (“anti-Christian bias in the academy”), but rather that the reputation many Christian students have is that they are intellectually lazy or perform shoddy work. Certainly a bias may be in play, as well as the reality of the general ennui of being an 18-22 year old, but when I taught at secular institutions, I found this to be true way too often. I see it too often at Christian colleges as well.
Part of the great Christian Intellectual Tradition is the playing out of the intellectually apt principles that derive from biblical revelation: the existence and knowability of truth, the ultimate meaningfulness and purpose of the universe, and so on. Another part, though, is the belief that how we apply ourselves to tasks matters as well. We are to do things with all of our might (Eccl. 9:10) as unto the Lord. The luminaries cited in the list have certainly fulfilled this principle.
There are, however, countless other Christian intellectuals laboring in relative obscurity who lift up students’ eyes and minds to see transcendence and discovery throughout the academic universe. I thought I would prompt our readers to give “props” to some of these professors, especially those at Christian colleges where the teaching loads, mentorship responsibilities, and paucity of resources limit their ability to run with the “big dogs,” but who are stellar thinkers and disciplers.
Any names come to mind?
Monday, May 3, 2010, 1:26 PM
In a few weeks I will start reading through the student evaluations of the faculty members I supervise. My favorite part of this task is scanning the written comments for the kinds of nuggets that only students can produce. Perhaps my all-time favorite came to my attention several years ago. It was for a course taught by one of the most popular male professors on campus, a married man who was both fit and funny.
The handwriting was obviously feminine and the stark complaint both floored me and made me laugh out loud: “Each day in class I stare at Dr. “Y”s wedding band and I wish his wife were dead.”
I’m sure that the student didn’t mean it as a death threat but rather as a compliment on the professor’s handsome face and quick wit, but it was more than a little frightening.
Sometime later I thought about that observation as I read Matthew 5:21-30, particularly the connection between murder and adultery as companion sins of the heart. I was struck by just how often our sins would be enabled if we could just get someone out of our ways.
This is the basic urge that would enable the lust after the hot neighbor’s spouse, the ambition that seeks after the job that is held by another, or the appetite for that real estate or vehicle that outshines our otherwise perfectly fine possessions. No wonder the first post-Edenic sin we read about was that of Cain, which distilled how many other sinful thoughts (jealousy, pride, anger, etc.) into one single vulgar act of murder. Perhaps all of our sins are merely incremental slouches toward murder. (more…)
Tuesday, April 13, 2010, 9:59 AM
A few years ago, on my 40th birthday, I spent the day walking silently with my family through the gates of the Nazi work camp at Flossenburg, Germany, wandering among the monuments to the dead.
The camp is almost empty of structures, though a few chapels dot the grounds; its gravel quarry has been transformed into a lush garden spiraling into the earth. The oven building, where corpses were reduced to ash, stands in the lowest level of the pit, with a wooden ramp slanting from the oven to the huge mound of human cinders.
Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who wrote “The Cost of Discipleship,” was the camp’s most famous casualty. I wondered if any of the molecules of his body still resided in the mound. Standing there, I swatted away large black flies that bit at my arms and legs.
As we walked past the oven, my wife Lisa whispered, “What a contrast from Neuschwanstein, eh?”
Two days previously, we had toured the fairy palace that inspired Walt Disney’s Cinderella castle. It was packed with tourists who paid dearly for the price of admission. Words cannot convey the beauty of the structure, so packed with artwork, nor its setting, so high in the Alps on a ridge of rock overlooking a gorgeous lake.
Visitors from around the world gasped with every turn of a corner on our tour, each of us having the same thought in our native languages: “What if I ruled this castle?”
Flossenburg, by contrast, sits on a dead-end road. It has no gift shop. It was not crowded. There were no thoughts of, “What if I were a prisoner in this camp?”
This, then, is the basic impulse of the human experience: we self-identify with kings and queens rather than the downtrodden and the oppressed. We amble through a concentration camp and imagine that those “poor people” were not quite as human as we are, even as we walk through a palace and imagine ourselves to be royalty. We forget that the prisoners were husbands, sons, brothers, and fathers like me, or wives, daughters, sisters, and mothers like Lisa.
History’s pages are written in red letters of a kind, with the death tolls of an expansive roster of peoples providing an endless source of ink. The 20th century’s marriage of prejudice and technology merely stepped up the efficiency of the millennia-old waves of genocide that have washed over the face of our planet, interlacing the stories of our ancestors with those of everyone else’s. At one time, all have been oppressors; all have been victims. As a species, we are blood-bound together.
In Mark 12:31, Jesus reminded his followers of the great commandment found in Leviticus 19:18: “Love your neighbor, as yourself.” This ethical imperative means, “Conduct yourselves as though you and those around you are one and the same.” More often than not, though, we turn blind eyes to the suffering of fellow persons and ask, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Such words, however, reprise those of Cain, history’s first perpetrator of a murderous atrocity.
Indeed, however, we should remember another saying of Christ, “Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Luke 6:37), for resentfulness is a cancer that leads too often to foolish reprisals and devastating revenge.
At Flossenburg, the only other visitors on the grounds were an elderly couple. As we passed them, the woman pointed to our children and said to me in broken English, “You teach them. This never happen again.”
This is Holocaust Remembrance Week, so I am taking her words to heart; for all of our vows that these events will never occur again, history proves us stubbornly forgetful. We should commemorate not only the loss of our Jewish brothers and sisters but also the joy of our shared humanity. The moment that we forget that we share our nature with the foreign woman on the news or the homeless man we pass at intersection is the moment we begin to enable those would deny our fellow persons their rights or even their lives.
Such tragedies should never happen again; they are inexcusable.
(published at The Jackson Sun )
Tuesday, March 23, 2010, 6:28 PM
I heard this song recently: “Why” by Nichole Nordeman. I love much of Nordeman’s music (the tone of her voice is just so fragile and honest) and the song certainly is moving. As I once heard songwriter Babyface Edmonds term it, it’s “waterfall music”: it turns on the tears like a waterfall. Indeed, the final words of the song are among the truest of all history: Christ came to suffer, die, and be resurrected because of my sins; the song personalizes this reality.
I am hesitant to be overly critical of the theology of artists because they are not professional theologians (neither am I; I’m a writer and literary critic), but these lyrics are being sung in churches across America for the next two Sundays and pastors and worship leaders need to understand what the lyrics actually state.
In the second part of the song, the point of view shifts from the perspective of a little girl to that of a supposed dialogue between Christ and God the Father. The lyrics are on the slides in the link above.
I was sad when I heard them because these lyrics state that Christ had no idea what He had gotten into on the Cross, which is a direct contradiction of the Gospels. At every turn, Christ revealed to the disciples in particular why He must come, that He was the fulfillment of the plan that had been effected from the foundations of the earth. The entire arc of the Son of Man self-revelations that run through the Gospels show that Christ was fully aware that He had to suffer and die for the sin debt of humankind. The cross was not a divine mugging by a secretive Father on a naïve Son; such a view is completely alien to the Scriptures. Indeed, the statement of Christ in Mark 15:34 (“My God, My God . . .”) is not an appeal to a lack of knowledge on His part about what was happening but rather was a direct statement that He knew exactly what was happening: the prophecies about the death of the Messiah in Psalm 22 were being fulfilled!
The song is an emotional powerhouse, but it is built on theological falsehoods. The Son knew exactly what He had gotten into on the Cross.
The love that John wrote about in 1 John 4:19, “We love because He first loved us,” did not begin on Golgotha. That love began before He had even created Adam.
Tuesday, March 2, 2010, 3:13 PM
My home state of Mississippi breeds storytellers like Washington DC breeds scoundrels. We lost a giant yesterday, Barry Hannah (1942 – 2010). I met him a few times, once when I lived next door to his son and Barry rang my door bell by mistake (our apartments were indistinguishable).
Hannah’s writing was cynically dark, a breathless, frenetic prose that acerbically depicted the hypocrisy of many parts of Southern culture, which he believed to be a microcosm on American society as a whole. In this way, he was one of Faulkner’s greatest heirs, an unblinking eye of scrutiny that scanned the horizon.
For those of us in Christian higher education, Hannah’s Geronimo Rex should be required reading, especially the second part.
It is a thinly disguised depiction of his days at Mississippi College, where I once had the great pleasure of serving as the chair of the English department and teaching creative writing myself to a new generation of Barry Hannah’s. Geronimo Rex is not for the faint of heart; it is distinctly profane in parts and immensely brutal toward many people whom I call dear friends. It possesses a worldview bereft of any hope of optimism. Someone has noted rather famously that to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail; Hannah’s early work in particular makes the point that to young man with angst, everything looks like an offense. It is proof that ennui and irony are luxurious bedmates. My hunch is that what he thought was a window to the world was really just a mirror to his own heart at that time. Misery, as we know, loves company and finds it almost everywhere. (more…)
Tuesday, February 23, 2010, 10:14 PM
By now you may have heard about the Russian figure skater Evgeni Plushenko who has been sulking because he lost the gold medal to American Evan Lysacek. Plushenko has taken a fairly audacious strategy to elevating his claim to superiority: his website apparently announced that he has won the “Platinum Medal” at the Vancouver Games.
I am not the guy to analyze the judges’ scores in the event, but when I heard about Plushenko’s self-designed award, I couldn’t help but remember something that I heard Alistair McGrath say at a lecture:
“Reality is what faces you when you are wrong.”
You may believe earnestly that the moon is made of Cheetos, but that doesn’t mean that it “really” is. You may believe that the check you have deposited in the bank was worth a million dollars, but if the check writer’s account does not hold such funds, your check is worthless, no matter how genuinely you may believe otherwise.
I don’t want to be too hard on Plushenko (particularly since I’m not sure how seriously he has proposed this medal), but the story has provided us with a really nice example of the problem with the kind of relativism and solipcism that permeates contemporary culture. As good as our Jedi mind tricks may sound in our heads (“I won the medal!”), we delude ourselves if we think that they will work in the real world. These kinds of self-serving lies are rooted in the original Jedi mind trick offered in Eden: “Did God really say . . . ?” (Gen. 3:1).
Friday, February 19, 2010, 1:34 PM
The final chapter of James W. Sire’s delightful Naming the Elephant (IVP 2004) surveys the overlapping of worldview analysis and academic disciplines. When he arrives at literature, which is, in many ways, his own first love, Sire observes: “In the past several decades, Christian literary scholarship has begun to become more self-consciously Christian, and while I have not noticed much use of worldview analysis in this scholarship, I am delighted to see it begin to proliferate” (156).
I thought of that when I received a recent copy of Laura Barge’s Exploring Worldviews in Literature: from William Wordsworth to Edward Albee (Abilene Christian University Press 2009).
Barge is one of the great “balcony figures” of Christian literary scholarship, someone who is not a well-known name outside of the discipline, but who has quietly mentored, encouraged, and supported young scholars for many years, including significant service in the Conference of Christianity and Literature. I personally have benefitted from many conversations with her over the years, especially when we taught at different institutions in the same town.
To some extent, Exploring Worldviews is the culmination of this lifetime of work, exhibiting a teacher’s tender heart at every turn, even as she is not averse to unleashing a salvo on the secularists’ intellectual inconsistencies (the first chapter in particular is a nifty overview of the place of Christian thought in literary studies). Each chapter traces the ways that Christian thinking has influenced literary studies on a variety of topics, ranging from Christ-figures to scapegoats to metaphysical understandings of the world to even atheism as an oddly profound place to find the immanent presence of God.
For those of you who still think that words mean things, or know someone whose graduate program is beating such belief out of him / her, Exploring Worldviews is a great tonic, and a welcome addition to the Christian intellectual tradition of applying the faith’s philosophical / epistemological framework to a variety of traditional academic disciplines.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010, 5:24 PM
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Since my family is filled with NASA wogs, I keep half an eye peeled for news from the space program. This week the big news was the installation of an observation window on the International Space Station. This seven-paned, chunky bubble will allow astronauts an amazing view of the cosmos when it is unshuttered (a shutter system will be employed most of the time for safety reasons).
The stated purpose for the window system is direct observation of the robotics area external to the station, but commentators all note that the “beauty” that may be seen through station’s portholes. The headline for the above link is “Nice View! Space Station Gets a Bay Window.”
Some recent postings about aesthetics had put me in a mind to comment on how the aesthetic impulse of beholding beauty was overshadowing the scientific reason for the window’s installation, but when I read the story to the end, I was astounded by something that the reporter included:
“Looking out on the Earth is just inspiring,” said space station resident Timothy “TJ” Creamer. In fact, it’s the crew’s No. 1 pastime in the off hours — at least it was before the Internet came aboard [my emphasis]. Now “we can actually surf the Internet and find diversions,” Creamer told schoolchildren in a TV hookup this week. . . . “First thing I did on internet? Order my wife some flowers,” commander Jeffrey Williams wrote in his online Twitter account.
I can’t help but find a parable in this: you’re in outer space, achieving the dream of a lifetime, with the opportunity to spend time gazing on a view that only a handful of people have ever beheld, and you end up spending your time on Twitter? (more…)
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