Archive for December, 2007

Being a slave to sin in some area of life has always been a frustrating and somewhat confusing situation to me. I can certainly say, with the apostle Paul:

For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.  – Romans 7:15

Merton possibly sheds some light on this situation.

The mere ability to choose between good and evil is the lowest limit of freedom, and the only thing that is free about it is the fact that we can still choose good.

To the extent that you are free to choose evil, you are not free. An evil choice destroys freedom.

We can never choose evil as evil: only as an apparent good. But when we decide to do something that seems to us to be good when it is not really so, we are doing something that we do not really want to do, and therefore we are not really free. (New Seeds of Contemplation, p. 199)

Don’t think about this too hard, but DO give it some thought. Don’t be like an invertabrate reporter earlier this week commenting on a related statement made by actor Will Smith:

A Scottish newspaper recently quoted Mr. Smith as saying: “Even Hitler didn’t wake up going, ‘let me do the most evil thing I can do today.’ I think he woke up in the morning and using a twisted, backwards logic, he set out to do what he thought was ‘good.’ ” The quote was preceded by the writer’s observation: “Remarkably, Will believes everyone is basically good.” After Web sites posted articles alleging that Mr. Smith believed Hitler was a good person, the actor issued a statement Monday saying that was an “awful and disgusting lie” and calling Hitler “a vile, heinous vicious killer.”

In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Have you ever read about a new invention and thought, “Doh! I should have thought of that.” How about hear a beautiful piece of music and thought, “I could have written that!” When it comes to a lot of pop, you could even add a “I could have even sung that and played guitar on that album.” Do you ever get this feeling while reading a novel? In between thoughts of “That’s brilliant!” there are notes of “Hey, I could have written that…”

Have you ever thought quietly inside, “I DID think of that”, and feel a nagging frustration that you never did anything about it? Maybe you couldn’t have anyway. You were too busy with work and family. You didn’t have the money or contacts to make it reality. That book that never got out of the drafts inside your head. That symphony sitting just under the surface that never made it to ink. That brilliant startup idea that Google just paid 100 million for. Whatever. That is what I believe Emerson is speaking of.

I’ve had Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation on my reading list for some time now. Cheers to this disclaimer on the first page:

There are very many religious people who have no need for a book like this, because theirs is a different kind of spirituality. If to them this book is without meaning, they should not feel concerned. On the other hand, there are perhaps people without formal religious affiliations who will find in these pages something that appeals to them. If they do, I am glad, as I feel myself a debtor to them more than to others.

Now, contrast this with the the latest offering from someone like John MacArthur:

Thank you for buying this book. It’s a good thing you did! The dispensational eschatology I will proceed to defend in the following 300 pages is so freakin’ important, that if you don’t like it, you probably aren’t really a Christian. God bless you.

Sigh… We love you John. We really do. This book probably isn’t for you though. I guess I’ll see if it’s for me.

In describing current events in the church as global politics, the main character in Ian Morgan Cron’s book Chasing Francis makes a pretty convincing case that things now aren’t so different from the way they used to be:

Another similarity between the Middle Ages and today has to do with the state of Christendom. In Francis’s day, the church was hemorrhaging credibility; it was seen as hypocritical, untrustworthy, and irrelevant. Some people even wondered if it would survive. Clergy were at the center of all kinds of sexual scandals. It had commercialized Jesus, selling pardons, ecclesiastical offices, and relics. Sermons were either so academic that people couldn’t understand them or they were canned. Popular songs ridiculing the church and clergy could be heard all over Europe. The laity felt used by the professional clergy, as if they were there to serve the institution, not the other way around. The church had also become dangerously entangled in the world of power politics and war…The demise of feudalism and the return of a money economy brought the rise of the merchant class and a ferocious spirit of aggressive capitalism. Greed ran riot in the culture. To top it all off, Christians were at war with the Muslims.

Sound at all familiar?

I’ve never read Walt Whitman’s masterpiece Leaves of Grass, but I came across this excerpt from it in Chasing Francis, by Ian Morgan Cron.

After the seas are all cross’d, (as they seem already cross’d)
After the great captains and engineers have accomplish’d their work,
After the noble inventors – after the scientists, the chemists, the geologist, ethnologist,
Finally shall come the poet, worthy that name,
The true son of God shall come, singing his songs.

This is really quite wonderful! God is at once all these things, and we, in his image are reflections of those facets. He is a great captain and warrior. A meticulous engineer and designer, crafting the very fabric and physics of our universe. He created all the foundations of biochemistry and how protein in our cells interact in our bodies to keep us alive. He tossed all the stars and heavenly bodies into space in just such a way and even fashioned our own earth our of many different materials. Finally, he is very concerned about ethics, obedience, but also grace and gifts. He has hard rules of justice written on our conscience from birth, yet in his kindness finds all sorts of ways to break them.

And yet, God is NOT finally about ethics (and I’ll include the rest of philosophy and theology in there too). He is an artist. A painter, a musician, a sculptor, and creative designer. A writer of poetry and not just prose. The arts end up getting closer to explaining/describing God than do any of the other disciplines.

Cron goes on to quote some great commentary by Pope John Paul II on this subject:

In order to communicate the message entrusted to her by Christ, the church needs art. Art must make perceptible, and as far as possible attractive, the world of the spirit, of the invisible, of God. It must therefore translate into meaningful terms that which is in itself ineffable. Art has a unique capacity to take one or other facet of the message and translate it into colours, shapes and sounds which nourish the intuition of those who look or listen. It does so without emptying the message itself of its transcendent value and its aura of mystery.

The last part is the best. Even when the message is “converted” into art, it doesn’t lose it’s contents. The Bach B minor Mass surely points to God, even if you don’t understand the German being sung. The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel isn’t just illustrations off passages from the Bible. The skill that went into the choice of colors, the lines of the figures – all of it points to the Lord. Good fiction points to God. Must smarter people have explained this all better than I can right now.

One of the character’s in Chasing Francis adds his commentary to this:

The church is realizing that there is an awareness of God sleeping in the basement of the postmodern imagination and they have to awaken it. The arts can do this. All beauty is subversive; it flies under the radar of people’s critical filters and points them to God. As a friend of mine says, “When the front door of the intellect is shut, the back door of the imagination is open.”

The emphasis above is mine.

Thomas a Kempis on why you don’t need to surf YouTube all evening:

If thou wilt withdraw thyself from speaking vainly, and from gadding idly, as also from listening to novelties and rumors, thou shalt find leisure enough and suitable for meditation on good things. (The Imitation of Christ, Ch. 20)

Found this quote:

God’s omnipotence means [His] power to do all that is not intrinsically impossible. You may attribute miracles to Him, but not nonsense. This is no limit to His power. If you choose to say, “God can give a creature free will and at the same time withhold free will from it”, you have not succeeded in saying anything about God: meaningless combinations of words do not suddenly acquire meaning simply because we prefix to them the two other words “God can.” It remains true that all things are possible with God: the intrinsic impossibilities are not things but nonentities. It is no more possible for God than for the weakest of His creatures to carry out both of two mutually exclusive alternatives — not because His power meets an obstacle, but because nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God. -C.S. Lewis

I like this quote, it’s a piece of very sound rationalism. Remembering this can keep us from holding on to some of the silly ideas we come with about God. However, that’s all it is: rationalism. It can only be applied correctly to the degree that you really understand what you are talking about. Watch out, for the free will of God’s creatures is a deep and rather mysterious thing; a confusing thing when viewed from the perspective of the creatures (us). It would be wise to reckon there is more to it than you may grasp.

Someone with a straight-forward view of predestination would look at this quote and say, “Well of course. Duh! Is God in control? Well, yes, of course he is. So your not. They’re mutually exclusive. End of discussion.” That’s pretty sound now, isn’t it? Except wait. God’s sovereignty versus our free will is a false dichotomy. It’s possible to have both (in some way), because they are apples and oranges. Now what way is that? It’s a mystery.

Has there ever been a piece of music that just won’t let go of you? Of course, if you really love music you’ll know what I’m talking about. There are so many works and recordings I could say that about. Many of them I play over and over again. A few I hide away and almost never take out. I don’t want them to lose their magic. Over the years, the one that seems most special to me has been a melancholy gem on one of Maire Brennan’s earlier solo albums. I stumbled upon it and at first thought the album was pretty weak. However, “Misty Eyed Adventures” conveys a beautiful sadness with an underlying undying faithfulness. The opening marimba chords are sublime. The way the words “call” and “fall” are subtly swapped in the last chorus just works so darn well when you hear it. It’s the simple things done just right that can matter the most. I don’t expect anyone to understand what I hear in it, but here it is nonetheless:

Moya BrennanMisty Eyed Adventures

Misty Eyed Adventures

Gently reach the blossom
Part the leaves and journey on
Don’t be afraid, seas are deep
Stay close to me
Picture ships full of treasures
Stormy weather, warning clouds
Don’t be afraid, oceans are wide
Feel our time is precious

Fol la low ro fol la low
Promising that you turn to me
Side by side, arm in arm
My love is true

Misty eyed adventures
Frame of thought, be brave and bold
Don’t be afraid, birds will sing
Always for you
Springtime days will grow longer
Building castles happy and sad
Don’t be afraid, years will pass
Feel our love is endless

Fol la low ro fol la low
Promising that you turn to me
Side by side, arm in arm
My love is true

Echo sound of raindrops call (Echo sound of raindrops fall)
Never fear, I’m there when you fall
Echo sound of raindrops fall
Side by side, hand in hand
Never fear, I’m there when you call
My love is true
Side by side, hand in hand
My love is true

We put up our little Christmas tree yesterday and my wife helped our 3-year-old daughter hang up the ornaments. When we were finished, a picture was snapped to email to some of the family far away, along with pictures of the kids playing in the snow. Looking back through the pictures though, I couldn’t help but notice what was swimming around in the bottom corner. It pretty much sums up what our house is centered around. So Christmas is from 4 feet and up. Below swims the year-old and three-year-old sharks. Swim away, swim away!