When is preaching from the bible not?

Overheard recently (can’t find the link):

I spent 13 years working in and going to churches where you didn’t have to bring your Bible. They put the 28 prooftexted verses up on the screens for us. (4 verses for each of the speaker’s 7 points, each containing a word found in his points, even if he had to use several different translations to find one.)
It was “awesome.”

Have you experienced something like this before? Uh huh.

Our Father

This is a stunning rendition of the Lord’s prayer, sung in the original Aramaic by none other than the fascinating Lisa Gerrard.

Abbun d’bishmayya
yitqadesh shmakh
titey malkhutakh
tihey re`utakh
heykhma debishmayya
keyn af be’ar`a

lachman deme’ar`a
hab lan yoma deyn umachra
ushbaq lan chobayn
heykhma de’af shebaqnan lechayyabayn
we’al ta`eylan lenisayuna
ela atseylan min bisha

Our Father, who is in heaven
Sanctified be your Name!
May your kingdom come;
May your will be done,
Just as it is in heaven,
So also upon the earth.

Our Bread, which is from the earth,
Give us day by day.
And forgive us our sins,
Just as we should forgive our debtors.
And do not bring us to trial,
Rather deliver us from evil.

Childhood regrets

In a rare analysis (including lots of Aristotle) of the humor of Beavis and Butthead and it’s creator Mike Judge, the Mockingbird Blog writes:

While many of us may have wished we spent our summer days learning Latin or playing the cello, the reality is that MTV and bathroom humor consumed a lot of attention and energy.

While I was strictly forbidden from ever watching Beavis and Butthead and actually DID spend the summer 1996 doing things like working on the Haydn trumpet concerto and getting the DirectX 3.0 .dlls to link and compile in Borland C++ (what a mess), I must admit I also sang along with “Damn Feels Good to Be A Gangster” from one of Judge’s other creations.

Poetic knowledge and “unschooling”

Poetic Knowledge is a book about how books aren’t particularly helpful for teaching poetic knowledge. Ironic?

Good ideas, just a bit hard to follow at times and with very little suggestions about how to practically implement it. It contains several long philosophical discourses that essentially boil down to the fact that EXPERIENCE is really important in education.

“One does not know the content of a desire unless one knows what ultimately satisfies it. By its satisfaction [pleasure] we learn what the desire is desire for.” – Jonathan Lear on Aristotle

I’m certainly cheering when he proclaims:

[without] the judgment of the senses, all higher learning tends to become dehumanized and increasingly destructive.

That’s right! Increasingly abstract knowledge becomes ever more not-human. Then, when we swing that knowledge around like a sword, it cuts up and disfigures our own brothers and sisters. One only has to look at much modern economic theory or even systematic theology to see this at work. Some disciplines, such as pure math can occasionally escape the orbit of earth without falling back to cause a crater, but nearly all the sciences, and especially the humanities, cannot.

What does this have to do with education? In the last chapter James Taylor recounts a personal anecdote I could relate to. He remembers teaching a high school literature course in years past:

When I saw three of [my old students] about twelve years after their graduation, they were eager to tell me how much they had enjoyed my class. When I asked them why and what they remembered, they all said they only remembered that we read the Iliad and The Count of Monte Cristo together, and that they were the best books they ever read. The remembered very little of what I had said. I realized, seeing their sincerely happy faces at recalling this class, that it was fine, and good for my vaity as well, that the recalled little of what I had said but that their memory of the experience of the class was one of overall great fondness. I think this was possible because those books were read in an atomosphere of pure enjoyment – no notes were to be taken, no pop quizzes. We read a great deal aloud and would talk whole hours about one scene, recreating it in our minds, savoring some moment or event that seemed true to us.

What do you remember from your school days? Probably something similar to this and not a heck of a lot else.

“Everything teaches”

Everything teaches. This idea comes up a lot. I was struck at how much of his educational philosophy overlaps with the “Unschooling” method of homeschooling. Though anathema in many traditional circles, I think it has a bunch to offer, at least when tempered with a bit of parenting common sense and when not carrying too much hippie baggage. My wife has written some good thoughts on that.

My friend who lent me this book went through it with a study group of teachers from the local classical Christian school. He scribbled down some possibly helpful notes in the margins.

What might the school that Poetic Knowledge advocates look like?

  • Great books
  • no notes
  • no lectures
  • memorized orally
  • literary approach
  • calligraphy
  • stargazing outings
  • traditional songs
  • waltz
  • classics taught ‘poetically’
  • Latin taught orally
  • rhetoric taught from literature
  • travel to Europe

Nice work if you can find it. Or if your kids can handle it.

Christ the crutch (or not)

I spoke with an acquaintance not long ago who told me they weren’t a Christian because “it’s just an emotional crutch” they didn’t need.

This is a very myopic view of religion (what can I get out of it?). It’s the same type of myopia that Joel Osteen preaches though too, just in the other direction.

This argument has other problems too, as Fr. Ernesto is quick to point out:

When I was young, one of the favorite arguments against Christians was to argue that Christianity was simply a psychological crutch to help one deal with life. Of course, there was an obvious counter-answer. One simply responds to the critic that he/she rejects Jesus because they have psychological hang-ups that prevent them from being able to trust an authority figure. Can you see the circular nature of the argument? When one begins ascribing psychological (or cultural) motives to someone else, there is no guarantee that you yourself are not the one who is having either psychological (or cultural) motives for using that charge on someone else.

This is where the post-modern social deconstruction jabber is a two-edged sword. It can just as easily be used to trash your own non-faith. Better start somewhere else instead.

Wonder as rational fear

Here, in his book Poetic Knowledge, author James Taylor quotes an interesting passage on the nature of wonder. Here, wonder is “consciousness of ignorance”. For anyone of you particularly curious folk out there, you know there is a dimension of this that is NOT a pleasant experience!

Wonder, always considered a passion, was classified by Aquinas and many before him as a species of fear. This is bound to strike the modern reader as out of tune with his experience of the emotions of both fear and wonder…Fear, we must remember, is one of the emergency emotions: it arises when we perceive some evil that seems to be insuperable…There are, of course, many kinds of fear…[and] it is helpful to distinguish wonder from some passions in its immediate family. When we do so, we see that wonder is the most rational form of fear.

Wonder intensifies…pleasure…because wonder increases desire and therefore the joy of discovery. It seems at first that the pleasurable character of wonder is at odds with its being a form of fear, which is usually unpleasant. It is true that wonder arises from something that is unpleasant, consciousness of ignorance, and that until one knows, one remains in this condition. But the only way that one can profitably flee from ignorance is by desiring and attempting to know, and these are pleasant activities. A man imprisoned will find his condition unpleasant, but he wll take delight in planning his escape.

-Dennis B. Quinn, Iris in Exile: A Synoptic History of Wonder (via Poetic Knowledge, p.25

You see that? Wonder intensifies pleasure because it increases desire and therefore the joy of discovery. This is why the person who visits Europe after reading about it expectantly for 30 years of there life is probably going to have a much more exciting time than a business man travelling there to make a sale, his mind on other things, or even a vacationer who has only become excited about the sights to see while reading up on them in the past month.

Escaping fatherhood

In a worthwhile article by Andrew Peach at First Things, Wendell Berry is paraphrased:

Marriage—like friendships, families, and neighborhoods—“is a form of bondage, and involved in our humanity is always the wish to escape. . . . But involved in our humanity also is the warning that we can escape only into loneliness and meaninglessness.”

Merton on the wrong way to isolate yourself

False recollection occurs when we try by our own efforts to block out all material things, to isolate ourselves from people and nature by main force, hoping that there will be nothing left in our soul but God. When we attempt this, we usually divide our being against itself, call one half (the one we like) God, and call the other our “nature” or our “self.” What madness, what a waste of effort, to try to rest in one half of our being, calling it “God,” and lock the other out of doors! Our being resists this division, and engages in what we think is a war between light and darkness. But this struggle is only the battle of an illusion against an illusion. Such battles are too often waged in monasteries, where God calls men not to embrace illusion but to abandon it, that they may discover what is real.

-Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island, Ch.12 Sec.14

An Education

Over the past weekend my wife and I saw the film An Education. I really enjoyed it, though in hindsight I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe it’s just because the acting was so good! (The lead is up for a Oscar, and rightfully so.)

It’s about a young British girl in the early 1960’s, in her last year of high school, who has an affair with a rich, older con-man. It turns out it’s based almost entirely on a true story (very few details changed) and makes for an interesting read. Here.

As a parent (and soon to be parent of young adults), I think the thing that struck me the most was her parent’s attitude about the whole thing.

Was Simon a con-man? Well, he was a liar and a thief who used charm as his jemmy to break into my parents’ house and steal their most treasured possession, which was me. Of course Oxford, and time, would have stolen me away eventually, but Simon made it happen almost overnight. Until our “engagement”, I’d thought my parents were ignorant about many things (fashion, for instance, and existentialism, and why Jane Austen was better than Georgette Heyer) but I accepted their moral authority unquestioningly. So when they casually dropped the educational evangelism they’d sold me for 18 years and told me I should skip Oxford to marry Simon, I thought, “I’m never going to take your advice about anything ever again.” And when he turned out to be married, it was as if, tacitly, they concurred.

God help me not drop the ball on teaching my children what’s truly important. Too easy to do though.

Smells like gnosticism

I’m reposting this here because it’s a nice concise handy reference on gnosticism, which is alive and well all over the place.

John Z posted originally posted this at the BHT regarding a new book by Tom Hall.


The key elements of gnostic thought Hall identifies are:

  • Christian tradition is viewed as basically untrustworthy.
  • Traditional Christianity fails the theodicy test. [Why does evil exist?]
  • Christian eschatology is implausible.
  • The core of the faith is worth saving.
  • Christianity needs a top-down revision not small corrections.
  • There is a hunger for more spiritual interpretation of Scripture.
  • Conviction that there is a profound difference between ordinary church people and those who deeply understand the spiritual truth of Christianity.

Apparently Hall spends a lot of time examining the theology of Marcus Borg. [Scott] McKnight summarizes thus:

1. For Borg, humanity is saved by knowledge.
2. For Borg, there is a focus on the spiritual inner self, the divine spark within.
3. For Borg, there is an antipathy toward incarnation and embodiment. [Extensive discussion.]
4. For Borg, there is an emphasis on present spiritual reality rather than eschatological hope, on the God of timeless truth rather than the God who will bring history to consummation.

However, I think the post ends well with this:

Thus, he sees Borg as a combination of three features:

The piety of orthodoxy
The honest intellectual inquiry of liberalism
The spirituality of gnosticism.

Tom Long says Borg’s Jesus is too much like Marcus Borg himself.


A LOT of books on Jesus reimagine Jesus to look a lot like the author, whether he’s a hippy, a UFC fighter, a pastor, an eastern self-help guru, or what have you.