Archive for December, 2010

Humans cannot bear much reality . . .

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

The church lies bereft,


Desecrated, desolated.

And the heathen shall build

On the ruins

Becket will die, but not for any nostalgic reason. Not for any sentimental purpose. He will die in obedience to our Lord God. He defies hyperbole.

As we struggle to make sense of all the hard times we face, of all the good things we can do. Let us choose the obedient thing to do, not the thing that may seem right in our own eyses.

There is a crisis of ethics in our time. Only the fool, fixed in his folly, may think he can turn the wheel on which he turns.

To do the right deed for the wrong reason . . . in this age of compromises, of good intentions, it is critical that we follow Becket’s example. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Human kind cannot bear very much reality.

The church shall be open, even to our enemies.

We are not here to triumph by fighting , by stratagem, or by resistance,

Not to fight with beasts as men. We have fought the beast

And have conquered. We have only to conquer

Now, by suffering. This is the easier victory.

For every life and every act

Consequence of good and evil can be shown.

And as in time results of many deeds are blended

So good and evil in the end become confounded.

In life there is not time to grieve long.

O father, father

Gone from us, lost to us,

The church lies bereft,


Desecrated, desolated.

And the heathen shall build

On the ruins

Their world without God.

I see it.

I see it.

To do the right deed for the wrong reason.

Monday, December 27th, 2010

THE MURDER IN THE CATHEDRAL by T. S. Eliot is my personal favorite 20th century play and full of encouraging truth for the growing Christian believer.

Eliot’s play concerns the assassination of Archbishop Samuel Becket by Henry II. The play begins with a Chorus singing, foreshadowing the coming violence. The rest of the play concerns 4 temptations (roughly paralleling the temptation of Christ).

Every tempter offers Becket something that he desires–but he will have to disobey the Lord and his own conscience.

The first tempter offers long life..He makes an existential appeal that is quite persuasive.

Take a friend’s advice. Leave well alone,

Or your goose may be cooked and eaten to the bone.

The second offers power, riches and fame.

To set down the great, protect the poor,

Beneath the throne of God can man do more?

The third tempter suggests a coalition with the barons and a chance to resist the King. This “compromise” temptaiton is very appealing. He even uses biblical language!

For us, Church favour would be an advantage,

Blessing of Pope powerful protection

In the fight for liberty. You, my Lord,

In being with us, would fight a good stroke

Finally, he is urged to seek martyrdom! The very thing he may do is thrown in his face as a selfish act!

You hold the keys of heaven and hell.

Power to bind and loose : bind, Thomas, bind,

King and bishop under your heel.

King, emperor, bishop, baron, king:

Becket responds to all of the tempters and specifically addresses the immoral suggestions of the fourth tempter at the end of the first act:

Now is my way clear, now is the meaning plain:

Temptation shall not come in this kind again.

The last temptation is the greatest treason:

To do the right deed for the wrong reason.

A martyrdom is never the design of man; for the true martyr is he who has become the instrument of God, who has lost his will in the will of God, not lost it but found it, for he has found freedom in submission to God.

What is reality?

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

“Self In 1958,” was written by lonely, unhappy, unfulfilled Anne Sexton but it could be written in 2010.

What is reality?

I am a plaster doll; I pose

With eyes that cut open without landfall or nightfall

Upon some shellacked and grinning person,

Eyes that open, blue, steel, and close.

Am I approximately an I. Magnum transplant?

I have hair, black angel,

Black-angel-stuffing to comb,

Nylon legs, luminous arms

And some advertised clothes.

I live in a doll’’s house

With four chairs,

A counterfeit table, a flat roof

And a big front door.

Many have come to such a small crossroad.

There is an iron bed,

(Life enlarges, life takes aim)

A cardboard floor,

Windows that flash open on someone’’s city,

And little more.

Someone plays with me,

Plants me in the all-electric kitchen,

Is this what Mrs. Rombauer said?

Someone pretends with me——

I am walled in solid by their noise——

Or puts me upon their straight bed.

They think I am me!

Their warmth? Their warmth is not a friend!

They pry my mouth for their cups of gin

And their stale bread.

What is reality

To this synthetic doll

Who should smile, who should shift gears,

Should spring the doors open in a wholesome disorder,

And have no evidence of ruin or fears?

But I would cry,

Rooted into the wall that

Was once my mother,

If I could remember how

And if I had the tears.

What is reality?

To many in this generation that remains an unanswered question.

What is reality?

I pose as a plaster doll,

With eyes and nothing to look at,

Seeing shellacked and grinning person,

Eyes that open and close, colors blue and steel

I am the size of an I?

I have black angel hair,

Nylon legs, luminous arms

And some advertised clothes.

I live in a doll’’s house

With four chairs,

A counterfeit table, a flat roof

And a big front door.

Some come to a small crossroad.

There is an iron bed,

(Life enlarges, life takes aim)

A cardboard floor,

Windows that flash open at the neighbors

And little more.

Someone plays with me,

Plants me in the all-electric kitchen,

It this what Mrs. Rombauer said?

Someone pretends with me——

I am use to there noises——

Or lays me on there bed.

I think I am a doll.

Warmth is not a friend to me!

They open my mouth for their cups to fit

And their stale bread.

What is reality

To this synthetic doll

The Associated Press calls this new generation “The Entitlement Generation,” and they are storming into schools, colleges, and businesses all over the country. They are today’s young people, a new generation with sky-high expectations and a need for constant praise and fulfillment. This new generation may be tolerant, confident, open-minded, and ambitious but it is also cynical, depressed, lonely, and anxious.

Generation Me disregards rules. 88% of public high school students regularly cheat. We are all equals of course. No one is in charge. They are an army of one: me. We will all be famous. We are entitled to it. 80% of Generation Me have sex before they leave high school.

The sad thing is, though, that Dr. Twenge found that Generation Me is more unhappy than any other generation.

Should I smile, should I shift gears,

Should I open the doors in a wholesome disorder,

And show no evidence of fears?

But I would cry,

Put into the wall that

My mother lies

If I could remember how

And if I had the tears.

We know who we are, don’t we? We serve a living, loving, awesome God. Who loved us enough to send His only Begotten Son. It is time.

My life closed twice before its close

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

My life closed twice before its close; It yet remains to see If Immortality unveil A third event to me, So huge, so hopeless to conceive, As these that twice befell. Parting is all we know of heaven, And all we need of hell.Emily Dickinson (Stobaugh, AMERICAN LIT) uses the metaphor of death to describe the catastrophe that two terrible events caused. Were these the death of two friends? Two unrequited loves? We really don’t know.

What matters is that the pain of these events was so sharp that Dickinson feels as if her life ended. Loss exacerbates Dickinson’s already fragile metaphysics.

What happens after death, in immortality? Well we know, don’t we?

The last two lines of this poem present a powerful paradox; parting is heaven to some and hell to others. We part with those who die and–hopefully–go to heaven, which is, ironically, an eternal happiness for them; however, we who are left behind suffer the pain (hell) of their deaths (parting).

Is there any comfort in this poem? Not if one is the realist Emily Dickinson whose cold New England intellectualism offers scant protection against the frigid exigencies of death! It is fun to talk about birds walking on sidewalks as long as one does not have to think about ultimate things.

But we all have to think about ultimate things once in a while. In “a while” for most of us is death. Where will you spend eternity? If the Lord Jesus is your Savior you know where you will spend eternity.

Contrast this tentativeness with Dickinson’s New England predecessor Edward Taylor (From “I Prepare a Place”):

But thats not all: Now from Deaths realm, erect, Thou gloriously gost to thy Fathers Hall: And pleadst their Case preparst them place well dect All with thy Merits hung. Blesst Mansions all. Dost ope the Doore locks fast ‘gainst Sins that so These Holy Rooms admit them may thereto.

I like to read Emily Dickinson’s poems. I like to drink vanilla milk shakes too. But not too many and never for nourishment and life. How about you?

Life like a dream is lived alone . . . (Marlow in HEART OF DARKNESS) I know someone who believes that to be true. In my second period class is a student who rarely speaks. Indeed, he seems virtually unable to do anything. He is frozen in time. Last year he tried to commit suicide. Thankfully he failed. When he was driving home from the hospital with his obviously irritated mom, this young man sate sullen and broken. His mom, furious, stopped the car, looked at her son, opened the car pocket and said, “Here is a loaded gun, finish the job.” My poor student could not blow his brains out; but the loss of trust he experienced more or less ended his life as he knew it. Over the last year, slowly, steadily he has made progress. Finally, thanks to the love of a young lady the young man has blossomed! Life like a dream is lived alone . . . But in those magical moments when a friend, a spouse, a kindred spirit joins us–we experience hope and life. Blog CHOOSING THE LOOSING SIDE No one likes to be on the loosing side–unless one is breaking up a fight in public high school. We teachers are taught, when breaking up a fight, to hold the loosing student–why? Because the loosing student wants an excuse to quit. You give him the excuse. Well, I chose the winning side last week and it nearly killed me! I rushed from in front of my door to break up a fight. I go to the doctor tomorrow to see how much damage the winner did to my artificial hip. Life is like that, isnt’ it? We find sometimes that grabbing the losing cause can bring us winning. Think about it.

Blog Life like a dream is lived alone . . . I recently read again Joseph Conrad’s HEART OF DARKNESS (British Literature). It is a story of a histrionic English official who visits the most uncivilized parts of late 19th century Africa to discover what happened to an erudite, arcane English station chief named Kurtz. The journey is nothing less than a naturalistic journey into the human soul. We penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness. It was very quiet there. At night sometimes the roll of drums behind the curtain of trees would run up the river and remain sustained faintly, as if hovering in the air high over our heads, till the first break of day. Whether it meant war, peace, or prayer we could not tell. The dawns were heralded by the descent of a chill stillness; the wood-cutters slept, their fires burned low; the snapping of a twig would make you start. We were wanderers on a prehistoric earth, on an earth that wore the aspect of an unknown planet. We could have fancied ourselves the first of men taking possession of an accursed inheritance, to be subdued at the cost of profound anguish and of excessive toil. But suddenly, as we struggled round a bend, there would be a glimpse of rush walls, of peaked grass-roofs, a burst of yells, a whirl of black limbs, a mass of hands clapping, of feet stamping, of bodies swaying, of eyes rolling, under the droop of heavy and motionless foliage. The steamer toiled along slowly on the edge of a black and incomprehensible frenzy. The pre-historic man was cursing us, praying to us, welcoming us — who could tell? We were cut off from the comprehension of our surroundings; we glided past like phantoms, wondering and secretly appalled, as sane men would be before an enthusiastic outbreak in a madhouse. We could not understand because we were too far and could not remember because we were travelling in the night of first ages, of those ages that are gone, leaving hardly a sign — and no memories. Kurtz, apparently has gone off the deep end–he has, in effect, given into his “darker side” and become a savage. The irony in this turn of events is obvious: Kurtz the civilized man seeking to civilize the savage, becomes, instead, a savage himself. Poor Kurtz, full of hope and faith, has lost it all. “One evening coming in with a candle I was startled to hear him say a little tremulously, ‘I am lying here in the dark waiting for death.’ The light was within a foot of his eyes. I forced myself to murmur, ‘Oh, nonsense!’ and stood over him as if transfixed.

“Anything approaching the change that came over his features I have never seen before, and hope never to see again. Oh, I wasn’t touched. I was fascinated. It was as though a veil had been rent. I saw on that ivory face the expression of sombre pride, of ruthless power, of craven terror — of an intense and hopeless despair. Did he live his life again in every detail of desire, temptation, and surrender during that supreme moment of complete knowledge? He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision — he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath:

“‘The horror! The horror!’ The horror! The horror! Poor Kurtz. Poor 2009 America. They(we) have looked into the abyss, and we see no loving God. What is the horror to Kurtz? He has lost his faith in a loving God. His world is a naturalistic, impersonal, cruel jungle. “I thought his memory was like the other memories of the dead that accumulate in every man’s life — a vague impress on the brain of shadows that had fallen on it in their swift and final passage; but before the high and ponderous door, between the tall houses of a street as still and decorous as a well-kept alley in a cemetery, I had a vision of him on the stretcher, opening his mouth voraciously, as if to devour all the earth with all its mankind. He lived then before me; he lived as much as he had ever lived — a shadow insatiable of splendid appearances, of frightful realities; a shadow darker than the shadow of the night, and draped nobly in the folds of a gorgeous eloquence. The vision seemed to enter the house with me — the stretcher, the phantom-bearers, the wild crowd of obedient worshippers, the gloom of the forests, the glitter of the reach between the murky bends, the beat of the drum, regular and muffled like the beating of a heart — the heart of a conquering darkness. It was a moment of triumph for the wilderness, an invading and vengeful rush which, it seemed to me, I would have to keep back alone for the salvation of another soul. And the memory of what I had heard him say afar there, with the horned shapes stirring at my back, in the glow of fires, within the patient woods, those broken phrases came back to me, were heard again in their ominous and terrifying simplicity. I remembered his abject pleading, his abject threats, the colossal scale of his vile desires, the meanness, the torment, the tempestuous anguish of his soul. And later on I seemed to see his collected languid manner, when he said one day, ‘This lot of ivory now is really mine. The Company did not pay for it. I collected it myself at a very great personal risk. I am afraid they will try to claim it as theirs though. H’m. It is a difficult case. What do you think I ought to do — resist? Eh? I want no more than justice.’ . . . He wanted no more than justice — no more than justice. I rang the bell before a mahogany door on the first floor, and while I waited he seemed to stare at me out of the glassy panel — stare with that wide and immense stare embracing, condemning, loathing all the universe. I seemed to hear the whispered cry, “The horror! The horror!” My friends, brothers and sisters, I have looked into the abyss and I see a God. A real, loving God. A God who loved the world so much that he sent His only Begotten Son. Do you? To the naturalist, as Marlow muttered, Life like a dream is lived alone . .

Come So Far!

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

In Eudora Welty’s short story “Worn Path,” the elderly African-American grandmother protagonist, Phoenix, has come to the doctor to obtain medicine for her grandson. But, because of senility, she cannot remember why she came!

The nurse tries to tease out of Phoenix her reason for coming.

“You mustn’t take up our time this way, Aunt Phoenix,” the nurse said. “Tell us quickly about your grandson, and get it over. He isn’t dead, is he?’

At last there came a flicker and then a flame of comprehension across her face, and she spoke.

“My grandson. It was my memory had left me. There I sat and forgot why I made my long trip.”

“Forgot?” The nurse frowned. “After you came so far?”

After coming so far, after working so hard, have we home schoolers forgotten why we came? Are we at the place where we can get the solution to our problems, but have we forgotten why we came?

My wife Karen and I, while we were home schooling our four children, rarely thought of “grand” things. We wanted to teach math and English and maybe science (every other day?) and still get to soccer practice on time! We often forgot why we started doing this thing called home schooling: we wanted to raise a generation of offspring that would advance the Kigndom of God in this time and in this place. Like Granny Phoenix we just about arrived at our destination but we forgot why we were there!

Then Phoenix was like an old woman begging a dignified forgiveness for waking up frightened in the night. “I never did go to school, I was too old at the Surrender,” she said in a soft voice. “I’m an old woman without an education. It was my memory fail me. My little grandson, he is just the same, and I forgot it in the coming.”

” . . . I forgot it in the coming.” How many of us forget our purpose of this great calling “in the coming?”

Today, in 2010, we need to remind ourselves about why we are doing what we are doing. It is a noble and grand vocation, this home schooling of our kids. Too sacred to trust to anyone else. Let’s do it! Let’s gather around our kitchen tables, in our dingy basements, and let us pause to remember where we are going and why we are

“This is what come to me to do,” she said. “I going to the store and buy my child a little windmill they sells, made out of paper. He going to find it hard to believe there such a thing in the world. I’ll march myself back where he waiting, holding it straight up in this hand.”

And while you are remembering why you are doing what you are doing, don’t forget to build a few windmills with the kids. Because it is time. Because it is time.

You Can Relive The Past

Monday, December 20th, 2010

Gatsby, on Nick’s assertion that he can’t repeat the past: “Can’t repeat the past?” he cried incredulously. “Why of course you can. ”

Nick, the sardonic narrator of THE GREAT GATSBY is telling the romantic Gatsby that he cannot relive the past.

And, in a sense Nick is right. We cannot change the past. Or is Gatsby right . . .

After everything is said and done, the historian only is studying the past. He cannot really change the past. Theories about the past come and go, and change with each generation. However, the past is past. It is over. Historians will debate about history, but they can never change history.

God alone can change history. When a person is reborn, his present, future, and, yes, even his past is changed. History is literarily rewritten. He is a new creation. That bad choice, that sin, that catastrophe is placed under the blood of the Lamb and everything starts fresh and new. A new history for a new person.

Let me illustrate. 150 years ago my great-great-great grandfather was a slave owner in Eastern Tennessee whose passion was to kill Yankees. From that inheritance, like most white southerners who grew up in the 1960s, I grew up to mistrust, even to hate African-Americans. Like so many people captured by their history and culture, my present and future became my past. However, when I was a senior in high school, Jesus Christ became my Lord and Savior. My attitudes changed. It took time but prejudices disappeared. Ultimately, I married my New Jersey wife and we have three African-American adopted children–whose ancestors, by the way, may have been owned by my great-great-great uncle! My children’s children–African-American children–are my grandchildren. Imagine! Quite literally, my history has been rewritten. It has been changed irrevocably by my decision to invite Jesus Christ to be Savior of my life. In a real sense, family prejudice and death existing for generations ended in this generation. The destructive, historical cycle that was part of my history has ended. No one, nothing can do that but the Lord. History has been rewritten! My prayer is that if you do not know this God who can change history–even your history–that these history units may encourage you to invite Jesus Christ into your heart as Savior.

I feel sorry for a people who are trapped in time, like Nick, and cannot believe that change is possible.

Boats Against The Current

Friday, December 17th, 2010

“You don’t live forever, you know!” Myrtle Wilson says.

“I wish you could live forever!”

These poignant words capture the hopeless essence of modern America. Myrtle is having an affair with Tom Buchannan, husband of Daisy Buchannan in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s THE GREAT GATSBY.

In this new world, in the new time, our contemporaries have lost the hope that is the precious gift to all Christian believers: eternal life. All that exists is in the present. There is no past, no future.

The world is full of “Buchannons.” As the narrator, Nick, describes them: “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past,” Nick laments.

Friends, in Christ, we have hope. We have meaning. We do not have to dance to the tune of this age.

God, for all my life I thank you.

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

In the middle of the 20th century, Christian, southern writer Katherine Anne Porter’s short story masterpiece “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall,” develops a memorable protagonist. Granny Weatherall, at the point of imminent death, recalls her life and all the hard times in that life. “Never, never, never more, God, for all my life I thank Thee. Without Thee, my God, I could never have done it.”

Granny has had a hard life. Besides raising her family as a single mom, she experienced many personal tragedies. For one thing, one of her children died. But the greatest tragedy, to her, was the fact that her first wedding day resulted in tragedy.

Her fiancé, George, stood her up at the alter, or jilted her. She was devastated. Now, at the end of her life, moving in and out of consciousness, Granny remembers this painful event.

I had my husband just the same and my children and my house like any other woman. A good house too and a good busband that I loved and fine children out of him. Better than I hoped for even. . . I was given back everything he [George] took away and more.

In the midst of tragedy and grief, Granny affirms life and hope. God took what was meant for bad and made it good . . .

In the movie ROB ROY the Scottish patriot Rob Roy’s wife is assaulted by a sadistic British officer. At the end of the movie, the protagonist, Rob Roy, catches up with this evil officer and exacts his revenge on him. Rob Roy’s wife was with him.

As the British officer is dying, he scornfully speaks to the wife. “I am dying but you will carry the memory of my outrage for your entire life.”

“Really?” Rob Roy’s wife responds. “I have forgotten it already.”

Rob Roy’s wife, Granny Weatherall–they were able to forgive unforgivable outrages. They refused to live their lives in unforgivingness and in unhealthy bitterness. How about you? Is there something you need to forgive? To forget?

Ask God to help you.

“Granny felt easy about her soul . . . and blew out the light. . . Never, never, never more, God, for all my life I thank Thee. Without Thee, my God, I could never have done it.”

Post-Modernism (Part 3)

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Allan Bloom in The Closing of the American Mind argues that as it now stands, post-moderrns have a powerful image of what a perfect body is and pursue it incessantly.  But deprived of guidance they no longer have any image of a perfect soul and hence do not long to have decide before chaos ensues. The eternal conflict between good and evil has been replaced with “I’m okay, you’re okay.” Men and women once paid for difficult choices with their reputations, their sanity, and even their lives.  But no more.  Post-modern America has no-fault automobile accidents, no fault insurance no consequence choices.

But the dance is almost over.

Before long, post-modern man will lose his being.  Postmodern sensibility does not lament the loss of narrative coherence any more than the loss of being. But the loss will be acutely felt when the post-modern faces crises, say, death.

This crisis is one that drove many old romantics back to the faith too.  The romanticism of Ralph Waldo Emerson is fine and good on a warm, spring day.  But is a paltry offering to a crying, dying soul.

Paul Johnson,  in Modern Times–p. 48 writes “Among the advanced races, the decline and ultimately the collapse of the religious impulse would leave a huge vacuum.  The history of modern times is in great part the history of how that vacuum is filled.  Nietzsche [whom Davis calls post-modern] rightly perceived that the most likely candidate would be what he called the ‘Will to Power,’ which offered a far more comprehensive and in the end more plausible explanation of human behavior than either Marx or Freud.  In place of religious belief, there would be secular ideology. Those who once filled the ranks of the totalitarian clergy would become totalitarian politicians.  And, above all, the Will to Power would produce a new kind of messiah, uninhibited by any religious sanctions whatever, and with an unappeasable appetite for controlling mankind.  The end of the old order, with an unguided world adrift in a relativistic universe, was a summons to such gangster-statesmen to emerge.  They were not slow to make their appearance.”

So, perhaps all we Christians have to do is to wait and to pray and to keep our theology and metaphysics dry.  Sooner or later life will drive subjective post-moderns to look for something else.  Let’s pray that we will be there to share the Gospel!

Post-Modernism (Part 2)

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

This disconnect is at the heart of post-modernism.

The computer has transformed knowledge into information, that is, coded messages within a system of transmission and communication. Analysis of this knowledge calls for a pragmatics of communication insofar as the phrasing of messages, their transmission and reception, must follow rules in order to be accepted by those who judge them. Reality, then, originates and ends in the recipient of the IM or e-mail.

Thus, the individual, and by implications, society compartimentalizes knowledge.  The compartmentalization of knowledge and the dissolution of epistemic coherence is a concern for Christians.  If knowledge is subjective then Truth will be the next victim. There will no longer be a redemptive narrative for millions of post-modern Americans whose subjectivity has stampeded any semblance of metaphysical objectivity from the barn.

The loss of a continuous, historically true, biblical narrative in American society was/is disastrous.  Post-modernism breaks the subject into heterogeneous moments of subjectivity that do not cohere into an identity. Quite literally separating the parts into parts means that there is no whole.

What does this mean?  It means that millions of Americans will not know who they are.  Really.  Their subjective interpretations of who they think they are—roughly based on perceived needs and desires—will not suffice to create a coherent whole.  Like Oedipus in Sophocles Oedipus Rex Americans will rail against the fates while standing squarely in the path of inevitable destruction—and not knowing what is happening.

Post-modern Americans, sooner or later, will fall and not know what knocked them down.