N.T. Wright on the appeal of Celtic Christianity

…In particular, and related especially to the part of the world where I now live – Great Britain – the last generation has seen a sudden upsurge of interest in all things Celtic. Indeed, the very word “Celtic” is enough, when attached to music, prayers, buildings, jewelry, T-shirts, and anything else that comes to hand, to win the attention, and often enough the money, of people in today’s Western culture. It seems to speak of a haunting possibility of another world, a world in which God (whoever he may be) is more directly present, a world in which humans get along better with their natural environment, a world with roots far deeper, and a hidden music far richer, than the shrill and shallow world of modern technology, soap operas, and football managers. The world of the ancient Celts – Northumbria, Wales, Cornwall, Brittany, Ireland, and Scotland – seems a million miles from modern-day Christianity. That is, no doubt, why it is so attractive to people bored or even angry with official religion in Western churches.

But the real center of Celtic Christianity – the monastic life, with great stress on extreme bodily asceticism and energetic evangelism – is hardly what people are looking for today.

-N.T. Wright, Simply Christian, p. 23

Wrights hits the nail on the head here. I find it attractive for these very same reasons. It’s still Jesus, but it’s a thousand light-years away from suburbia. I’ve been praying the office of the Northumbria community for a while (on and off). It’s simple daily liturgy and scripture reading schedule. From the comfort of your chair and laptop. No need for a cell at Skellig.

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Lewis on literary ghosts

“I mean the damned have holidays-excursions, ye understand.”
“Excursions to this country?”
“For those that will take them. Of course most of the silly creatures don’t. They prefer taking trips back to Earth. They go and play tricks on the poor daft women ye call mediums. They go and try to assert their ownership of some house that once belonged to them: and then yo get what’s called a Haunting. Or they go to spy on their children. Or literary Ghosts hang about public libraries to see if anyone’s still reading their books.

-C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, p.66

And the ghosts of internet writers hang out on their stats and analytics page to see if anyone is still reading their blog.

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Merton on the timing of grace

On wondering why God did not reveal his grace to him earlier in life:

It is easy to say, after it all, that God had probably foreseen my infidelities and had never given me the grace in those days because He saw how I would waste and despise it: and perhaps that rejection would have been my ruin. For there is no doubt that one of the reasons why grace is not given to souls is because they have so hardened their wills in greed and cruelty and selfishness that their refusal of it would only harden them more…But now I had been beaten into the semblance of some kind of humility by misery and confusion and perplexity and secret, interior fear, and my plowed soul was better ground for the reception of good seed.

-The Seven Story Mountain, p. 210

Just like God allowed Satan to tempt Job, he allows our pride to be broken and our hard hearts broken by “evil” circumstances. Jesus told Peter that Satan had asked to sift him like wheat. Jesus didn’t tell Peter that he had said “no” to the devil, just that he would pray for him. Peter was sifted I think. So are we. Some would complain that this makes the Lord the author of evil. In an indirect sense maybe, but he is most loving toward his creation (us), and gives us grace when it can flower.

Dreams (the sleepy kind) are so odd

Last night I dreamed one of our neighborhood cats snunk into our house and night and tipped over several of my heavy bookshelves. Our new kitten was there too, watching. I threw the cat back out into the alley because I didn’t want him to be a bad influence on our own cat. I’m not sure how he tipped the shelves over. They are pretty well anchored.

My Billy Collin’s kick is not over yet! Here is part of an homage to old Siggy that struck me as funny.


I think I know what he would say
about the dream I had last night
in which my nose was lopped off in a sword fight,
leaving me to wander the streets of 18th-century Paris
with a kind of hideous blowhole in the middle of my face.

But what would be his thoughts about the small brown leather cone
attached to my face with goose grease
which I purchased from a gnome-like sales clerk
at a little shop called House of a Thousand Noses

Beating your music with a hose

For the first ten years life, my parents were largely successful and shielding me from the wiles of pop culture. I was only familiar with classical music up until then. I had heard a little bit of country (Garth Brooks I think it was) and was not at all interested. I was unbelievably naive about all but a very narrow world of art. Then, ironically enough, on the bus to a church youth event, the driver had the radio tuned to a local pop station. I was 11 years old and starting 5th grade.

I’ll never forget it. They played “The Sign” by the Swedish group Ace of Base several times on the way to and from the hockey game or whatever it was we were going to see. The tune seems a bit cheesy looking back on it, but it had me captivated. I began listening to the radio in my bedroom in the evenings just to hear it again. And would you believe it, amidst the noise, I found other music I enjoyed too. This is all years before internet and file sharing, so the next logical step for me was to go buy an album. I remember running off in Walmart, fingering that CD with the $13.99 price tag, wondering on earth I was going to convince my mother to let me purchase it. Somehow, I must have gotten a hold of it, because I remember what came next.

Oh the horror. My parents listening to the CD. Reading through the lyrics on the liner notes. Trying to figure out what the songs where about. Seeing if they were about drugs, or sex, or gang-bangin’. Remember, this is Ace of Base we’re talkin’ about here. The high drama of “my boyfriend left me” was about as seedy as it got. I remember having to explain how the line “All that she want’s is another baby” on another one of the tracks was about how the girl is anxious to find another lover, NOT declaring some kind of serial pregnancy obsession. Really. I don’t mean to put my parents in a bad light. That’s not what this post is about and they were doing the best they could. But I’m not making that part up. It was ruled that I must get rid of the album. Actually, I can’t criticize them too much anyway – a few months later, someone had to explain to ME that Tom Petty’s “Last Dance with Mary Jane” really WAS about smoking marijuana.

Anyway, what bought this all to mind was another wonderful bit of verse by Billy Collins titled Introduction to Poetry:

Introduction to Poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

The failure of eschatology

Here in Moscow, we live in a hotbed of postmillenialist Christians. The reformed congregations here (Christ Church and Trinity Presbyterian) both have prolific author/pastors who promote this particular flavour of future thinking. (That would be Doug Wilson and Peter Leithart).

Having grown up Baptist, I was spoon fed the exact opposite (premillenial dispensationalism) for many years. This included things like “The Late Great Planet Earth“, Left Behind, and the ilk.

It turns out there are lots of positions in the middle between these two as well. The primary ones being historic premillenialism (like pre-mil but without all the complicated prophecy charts and theories), and amillenialism (like post-mil but more vague).

Anyway, Josh S (a Lutheran) at the Boar’s Head Tavern had a spot on comment the other day about all this:

I wonder if any differences between dispensationalists and postmillennialists is more cultural than specifically theological.  The latter tend to be more educated, more historically aware, and more interested in premodern art and literature, and thus have more positive attitudes toward top-down political structures and the syntheses of church and state we find in the Byzantine and Holy Roman empires, which tend then to be a subtext under the “kingdom” speak.  Dispensationalists tend to be right-leaning Americans with the attendant strong suspicion of exaggerated political power, especially the state imposing its will on religion, and a tendency to speak of the Bill of Rights in the same way that they speak of Scripture.

IMO, they’re both a little loony.  On one hand, you have the people who want to create the imperishable and ideal Christian society where Jesus reigns supreme.  On the other, you have the people who are predicting Jesus will come back some time in the next two weeks based on some sign or another.  Both projects have parallel, uninterrupted, 2000-year old histories of failure.

This observation reinforces my theory that the theology of a particular group of Christians is more determined by their own subculture than it is actual systematic arguments. So along these lines you have Leithart writing an essay titled For Constantine (which is still quite brilliant in many ways) and on the other hand back-woods preachers shunning all forms of environmental conservation and foreign-conflict resolution because “it’s all going to hell any day now” when Jesus comes back. Fascinating.