Archive for February, 2011

…The truth is that I do not feel much, if anything, when I pray. There are no warm emotions, bodily sensations, or mental visions. None of my five senses is being touched – no special smells, no special sounds, no special sights, no special tastes, and no special movements. Whereas for a long time the Spirit acted so clearly through my flesh, now I feel nothing. I have lived with the expectation that prayer would become easier as I grow older and closer to death. But the opposite seems to be happening. The words darkness and dryness seem to best describe my prayer today… Are the darkness and dryness of my prayer signs of God’s absence, or are they signs of a presence deeper and wider than my senses can contain? Is the death of my prayer the end of my intimacy with God or the beginning of a new communion, beyond words, emotions, and bodily sensations?

-Henri Nouwen, (Not sure where from. Seen on p.186 of Reaching for the Invisible God, by Philip Yancy)

Theology – an enterprise that, despite the oftentimes homicidal urgency Christians attach to it, has yet to save anybody. What saves us is Jesus, and the way we lay hold of that salvation is by faith. And faith is something that throughout this book, I shall resolutely refuse to let mean anything other than trusting Jesus.

-Robert Capon, Kingdom, Grace, Judgment, p.?

This from an old BHT post by Bob Myers. Really good stuff.

The Resurrected Jesus  also calls the Apostles “Brothers” for the first time (John 20:17).  They least deserved it, having earned the title of cowards, deserters, and deniers, but even so, Christ now speaks on the other side of Calvary, and this means that Christ’s death and resurrection does not take Him further away from us but brings Him nearer, despite our worst failures and sins.

This is pretty decent.

When we see ourselves in the light of Jesus’ type of kingdom, and realize the extent to which we have been living by a different code altogether, we realize, perhaps for the first time, how far we have fallen short of what we were made to be. This realization is what we call “repentance,” a serious turning away from patterns of life which deface and distort our genuine humanness. It isn’t just a matter of feeling sorry for particular failings, though that will often be true as well. It is the recognition that the living God has made us humans to reflect his image into his world, and that we haven’t done so. (The technical term for that is “sin,” whose primary meaning is not “breaking the rules” but “missing the mark,” failing to hit the target of complete, genuine, glorious humanness.) Once again, the gospel itself, the very message which announces that Jesus is Lord and calls us to obedience, contains the remedy: forgiveness, unearned and freely given, because of his cross. All we can say is, “Thank you.”

-N.T. Wright, Simply Christian, p.208

I’m cleaning out more old notes from reading a couple years back.

I’m not sure of the context for this one, but I find I can certainly relate to the idea of setting up the foundations for our own temptation through our everyday talking and curiosity. Absolutely. Notice that this does not require any help from the devil.

It is precisely to strengthen the individual person against the one great temptation to surrender, to abdicate is personality, to fall and disappear in the void. “Man”, says Heidegger, “wants to surrender to the world. He tempts himself. He flees from himself and desires to fall into the world. In his everyday talking and curiosity he prepares for himself a permanent temptation to fallenness.” There is in this of course an inescapable element of existentialist jargon, but in substance it recalls the eschatological message of the New Testament.

-Thomas Merton, Mystics and Zen Masters, p.275

God is present, and His thought is alive and awake in the fullness and depth and breadth of all the silences of the world, The Lord is watching in the almond trees, over the fulfillment of His words (Jeremias I:II). Whether the plane pass by tonight or tomorrow, whether there be cars on the winding road or no cars, whether men speak in the field, whether there be a radio in the house or not, the tree brings forth her blossoms in silence. Whether the house be empty or full of children, whether the men go off to town or work with tractors in the fields, whether the liner enters the harbor full of tourists or full of soldiers, the almond tree brings forth her fruit in silence.

-Thomas Merton, No Man is a Island, Ch.16 Sec.6

N.T. Wright’s third volume in his Christian Origin’s series is special too me as it’s the the first truely heavy book of theology (or non-fiction for that matter!) that I was successful in plowing all the way through. Ever. I blogged about lots of passages a few years ago, but while cleaning out some files on my computer, I found a text file with some additional excepts. I don’t think I’ll ever get a moment to address these and a lot of them probably don’t deserve a whole blog post anyway. Therefore, I am going to dump them here just for future reference.

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On the confusion of “literal”, “metaphorical”, “concrete”, and “abstract”, especially with regards to bible interpretation.
Page xviii
One other vital matter must be mentioned at this point, since space has precluded fuller treatment in the body of the text. I constantly run into loose talk about a ‘literal’ resurrection as opposed to a ‘metaphorical’ one. I know what people mean when they say that, but those words are unhelpful ways of saying it. The terms ‘literal’ and ‘metaphorical’ refer, properly, to THE WAYS WORDS REFER TO THINGS, not to the things to which the words refer. For the latter task, the appropriate words might be ‘concrete’ and abstract’. The phrase ‘Plato’s theory of forms’; literally refers to an abstract entity (in fact, a doubly abstract one). The phrase ‘the greasy spoon’ refers metaphorically, and perhaps also metonymically, to a concrete entity, namely the cheap restaurant down the road. The fact that the language is being used literally or metaphorically tells us nothing, in and of itself, about the sort of entities it is referring to.

On how the resurrection has already begun, sort of.
Page 228
…those who learn how to be Jesus’ people in Caesar’s empire will ‘shine like lights in the world’. This is a deliberate echo of Daniel 12.3, indicating that Paul, here as elsewhere, had thought through the present life and vocation of Christians in terms of a resurrection life which had already, in one sense, begun, even though it was to be completed in the bodily resurrection itself.

On Paul’s “boasting” in 2 Corinthians 11
Page 308
His crowning achievement is a wonderful parody of the corona muralis, the highest Roman military honour, gained through being the first besieger to climb over the wall of a city. When he, Paul, was himself under threat in Damascus, he was the first one over the wall – let down in a basket and running away.

On verbatim quotes in the gospel
Page 409
This does not mean, of course, that these predictions are all verbatim reports of things that Jesus said. The shift each time from ‘after three days’ in Mark to ‘on the third day’ in Matthew and Luke (with Luke omitting the whole clause on the second occasion) is a clear sign of editorial tidying-up at an early point in the tradition; assuming that Jesus died on a Friday, three full days had not passed before the Sunday morning, but it was ‘the third day’, and that is what we find in the very early tradition which Paul cites in 1 Corinthians 15:4.

On Herod thinking Jesus was John the Baptist risen from the dead

Page 414
Perhaps the simplest explanation for why Herod said what he did – or why someone said that he said it – is the general idea, current at least since the Maccabees and Daniel, that Israel’s god whoud vindicate a righteous sufferer, and that Herod might well think of John in that way.

On the larger structure of John
Page 440
The large-scale outoworking of this can be seen in John’s deliberate sequence of ‘signs’. Though this is controversial, I believe that John intends his readers to follow a sequence of seven signs, with the water-into-wine story at Cana as the first and the crucifixion as the seventh. The resurrection of Jesus takes place, he is careful to tell us twice, ‘on the first day of the week’, and I believe this is best interpreted as the start of god’s new creation. On the Friday, the sixth day of the week, Jesus stands before Pilate, who declares ‘behold, the man!’, (19:5) echoling the creation of humankind on the sixth day of creation. On the cross Jesus finishes te work the father accomplished’, 19:30, corresponding to the completion of creation itself. There follows as in Genesis, a day of rest, a sabbath day and then, while it is yet dark, Mary Magdalene comes to the  tomb ‘on the first day of the week’

On heaven and its ongoing nature.
Page 476
It [the tree of life] bears fruit every onth, and its leaves are for the healing of the nations. Here and elsewhere we glimpse, not a static picture of bliss, but a new creation bursting with new projects, new goals and new possibilities. The long story of God and the world, of God and Israel, of God and the Messiah, has arrived at its goal. Death always was the ultimate denial of the good creation; no, with its abolition, the creator’s new world can proceed.

On words in the Oxford English Dictionary
Page 477
The word ‘transphysical’ seems not to exist, surprisingly enough (one might have throught some enterprising ontologist would have employed it long since), and I proffer it for inclusion between transphosphorylation and transpicuous in the Oxford English Dictionary. The ‘trans’ is intended as a shortening of ‘transformed’. ‘Transphysical’ is not meant to describe in detail what sort of a body it was that the early Christians supposed Jesus already had, and believed that they themselves woul eventually have. Nor indeed does it claim to explain how such a thing can come to be. It merely, but I hope usefully, puts a label on the demonstrable fact that the early Christians envisaged a body which was still robustly physical but also significantly different from the present one. *Its absense may of course be explained by the curiously Levitical taboo against mixing Latin and Greek roots.

On the rich theology in the Odes of Solomon
Page 531
The Odes take their place along with the great theologians of the first two centuries, a living reminder that the church expresses and learns its faith as much by poetry and song as by theological argument.

On only women telling the early accounts of the resurrection

Page 608
The debate between Origen and Celsus shows that critics of Christianity could seize on the story of the women in order to scoff at the whole tale; where the legend-writers really so ignorant of the likely reaction? If they could have invented stories of fine, upstanding, reliable male witnesses being first at the tomb, they would have done it. That they did NOT tells us either that everyone in the early church knew that the women, led by Mary Magdalene, were in fact the first on the scene, or that the early church was not so inventive as critics have routinely imagined, or both. Would the other evangelists have been so slavishly foolish as to copy the story unless they were convinced that, despite being an apologetic liability, it was historically trustworthy?

Just threw away the old one.
Down steaming out of several holes.
Turned out the pockets and what did I find?
Nothing. Nothing at all.
No unspent change.
No bar tab receipts.
No undelivered valentines.
No pens, no paper.
Everything has moved on
to warmer places.

A man imprisoned will find his condition unpleasant, but he will take delight in planning his escape.

-Dennis B. Quinn, Iris in Exile: A Synoptic History of Wonder

Just a few days ago, I was trying to explain to a co-worker why I enjoyed Tolkien’s writing so much, and other fantasy writers as well. He was skeptical, asking one of the typical questions, “Isn’t that stuff just escapist?”

The answer? Why yes, it is escapist. And that can be a good thing!

I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which “Escape” is now so often used: a tone for which the uses of the word outside literary criticism give no warrant at all. In what the misusers are fond of calling Real Life, Escape is evidently as a rule very practical, and may even be heroic. In real life it is difficult to blame it, unless it fails; in criticism it would seem to be the worse the better it succeeds. Evidently we are faced by a misuse of words, and also by a confusion of thought. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it. In using escape in this way the critics have chosen the wrong word, and, what is more, they are confusing, not always by sincere error, the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter.

-J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy Stories

So why does escapism get such a bad rap? I think we all know people that escape the world, more or less, and then STAY away. Like an autistic child setting up 5000 dominoes, we pour our thoughts and energy into our Magic: The Gathering deck, watching back-to-back seasons of Lost, the Harry Potter reading marathon, and even shooting billiards and tequila with the boys on a Friday night. The catch is if you’ve got to come BACK, and be the better for it. Tolkien calls this “recovery”.

We may indeed be older now, in so far as we are heirs in enjoyment or in practice of many generations of ancestors in the arts.  In this inheritance of wealth there may be a danger of boredom or of anxiety to  be original, and that may lead to a distaste for fine drawing, delicate  pattern, and ‘pretty’ colours, or else to mere manipulation and over  elaboration of old material, clever and heartless.  But the true road of  escape from such weariness is not to be found in the willfully awkward,  clumsy, or misshapen, not in making all things dark or unremittingly  violent; nor in the mixing of colours on through subtlety to drabness,  and the fantastical complication of shapes to the point of silliness and  on towards delirium . . .  . We should look at green again, and be  startled anew (but not blinded) by blue and yellow and red.  We should  meet the centaur and the dragon, and then perhaps suddenly behold, like  ancient shepherds, sheep, dogs, and horses-and wolves.  This recovery fairy-stories help us to make.

-J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy Stories

Chesterton had the same ideas about fantasy as well. Being gone to a secondary place (not necessarily a “fantastic” one even) made you realize how magical the real world actually was. Our world is full of dragons and devils, but fairy stories can remind us that it is also full of heroes and gods. Or even God. When you stay gone, you become a selfish wonk, or a sloth, or a drunkard.

So escape! (and come back).

Photo credit

How come all the best things are so subtle?
Creme Brulee and a gas-station Moon-pie
are both mostly sugar.
Seduction works best when it’s so slow and tender
you don’t know it’s happening –
though perhaps nothing good comes of that.
Better to declare your courtship intentions in court,
using a loud herald.
Run Starbucks through a gas chromatography spectrophotometer
and it lights up the same numbers as Stumptown.
Measure her breasts with a micrometer
and you will come up with no meaningful marks
with regards to beauty.
We think subtle means little and slight and careful,
barely pushing.
But it must be pushing in a thousand places,
tipping the scales with a crushing weight.
When you look to see what made the difference,
all you see is a couple of ants sauntering away.
So small, but they just finished carrying away your entire picnic
while you call the cops to report a robbery.