On being a soldier

I’m not a soldier. I’m glad I’m not in Afghanistan right now, away from my family and being shot at every day. I see it unlikely that I will encourage either of my sons to enlist. Nevertheless, if I were a young man in 1940, I would have signed up – no doubt about it. There is something very very deep in a man’s being that enables him to fight. True, soldiers are often the pawns of jealous and foolish leaders, spilling blood like a young child who knocks over his glass of milk at the dinner table during a fit. Still, I don’t think this makes all battle witless. It still takes more wits than anything a man can put his hands to.

Philosophy cannot omit from its tenets the phenomenon that man must be ready to die in the war against an enemy. Any philosophy which glosses over your duty or mine to die for a cause is eyewash.

-Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, The Soul of William James, p.30

I feel this way whenever I read theologians that advocate radical non-violence. There are quite a few of them amongst Girard scholars. It doesn’t ring true to me. It seems unnaturally dismissive to relegate all violence to something apart from God. At the very least, he let himself be described as a warrior at times, riding on a white horse. A theology that has no place for ass-kicking is not biblical, orthodox, and probably not Trinitarian (though I’m not the best one to explain how that might fit in.)

There must be some good in the life of battle, for so many good men have enjoyed being soldiers.

-G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

I have yet to closely read Schwager or many of the people on the other side of the fence on this. I just know that when I do, I will need to wrestle with some way to resolve this tension. When Solomon said there is a time to kill and a time to heal (Ecclesiastes 3), I don’t think he was advocating dualism, as if all killing must come from Satan – notwithstanding the fact that a heck of a lot of it does.

The problem with higher ed research funding

Here, Rosenstock-Huessy points out the chief problem with most of the research that goes on in higher education. Berry and Zizek have bought this up regularly as well.

I have my doubts on account of the excess of money available for “research.” Money corrupts. If I have to solicit great foundations for money for my research, then I have to propose something which is already obsolete for me. I know no researcher who in the first moment of a new inspiration could have found the sympathy and approval of the establishment.

-Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, Immigration of the Spirit, p.174

Later, he continues:

I’ve seen terrible instances where young people have asked themselves, “What do I have to propose to get money?” A man who does that once in his life has ceased to be of any possible significance for science. He is corrupt. This great danger for the future of science in America distresses and oppresses me. It doesn’t rest on anyone’s evil will, but on the opposite; it is caused by too much good will, by the belief that spirit can be aroused by cash. Of course that’s impossible.

What is the result of only following the lead of the establishment? You can only work on something that is politically correct or commercially viable.

“Climate change” study is hot right now. There is lots of money there for people who will dig up new data in this field – both high numbers and low ones. There are some really smart people that could be doing something better. I’m sure of it.

Another example: You want to write a symphony but are relegated to arranging the latest Green Day record for piano/vocal/guitar for the next Mel Bay publication.

You want to follow up on an innovative idea you have to make biodiesel from sage brush, but you can only get funding to boost corn oil production.

You are a Christian and want to create grand new art, but the National Endowment for the Arts is hostile. However, your mocking proposal for a sculpture of the Virgin Mary being eaten by raptors seems to have some real traction.

How can this be fixed? Get bureaucrats out of the R&D loop. That would require an incredible earthquake in our public university system – one that would leave it transformed into something wildly different – if there were anything left. There seems to be more promise in the private sector. Here, political correctness is not near as much of a factor, but money is, even more so. For some things, this is good, for others, disastrous. It seems that we need more wealthy angel investors willing to put their neck out for something innovative or for something they love. (I believe that love has always driven space exploration more than people are willing to admit!)

Fortunately, this is easier to do than ever with the easy availability of information (on the internet, Google books, etc.) and relatively inexpensive high-tech equipment. Enthusiastic scientists really CAN make a clean room in their garage to study cancer. People in the humanities have easier access to books and people all over the world than ever before. There is a lot of potential for discovering and developing really good stuff, despite all the stagnation.


A grand statement

This statement is so marvelous, I just had to post it.

My generation has survived social death in all its variations, and I have survived decades of study and teaching in scholastic and academic sciences. Every one of their venerable scholars mistook me for the intellectual type which he most despised. The atheist wanted me to disappear into divinity, the theologians into sociology, the sociologists into history, the historians into journalism, the journalists into metaphysics, the philosophers into law, and—need I say it?—the lawyers into hell, which as a member of our present world, I never had left.

For nobody leaves hell all by himself without going mad. Society is a hell as long as man or woman is alone. And the human soul dies from consumption in the hell of social catastrophe unless it makes common cause with others. In the community that common sense rebuilds, after the earthquake, upon the ashes on the slope of Vesuvius, the red wine of life tastes better than anywhere else. And a man writes a book, even as he stretches out his hand, so that he may find that he is not alone in the survival of humankind.

-Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, Farewell to Descartes, p.19

We are born into faith, not maturity

But among men, in society, the vigorous identity asked of us by the “cogito ergo sum” [“I think therefore I am”] tends to destroy the guiding imperatives of the good life. We do not exist because we think. Man is the son of God and not brought into being by thinking. We are called into society by a mighty entreaty, “Who art thou, man, that I should care for thee?” And long before our intelligence can help us, the new-born individual survives this tremendous question by his naive faith in the love of his elders.

-Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, Farewell to Descartes, p.9

Concerning John the Baptist

I had the opportunity to preach today at the morning church service. The assigned passage was John 1:19-28, so the topic was John the Baptist. I started with a note from N.T. Wright on the subject (see below) and then built the rest of it around that.


Now, remember the retelling of creation that John the apostle does at the beginning of his gospel? “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, etc.” Well later in the chapter, Jesus shows up in person and the story follows him. In between those two things though, we have this passage on John the Baptist, so we’ll be talking a bit more about him today and his significance. This is to help us understand Jesus and how he fits into God’s larger story of redemption, which is still going on and which we are a part of. First, let’s read the passage:

The Passage (John 1:19-28): The Testimony of John the Baptist

Now this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”
He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.”
And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?”
He said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
And he answered, “No.”
Then they said to him, “Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?”
He said: “I am
‘ The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
“ Make straight the way of the LORD,”’
as the prophet Isaiah said.”
Now those who were sent were from the Pharisees. And they asked him, saying, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”
John answered them, saying, “I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.”
These things were done in Bethabara beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

Here we find John the Baptist down by the river Jordan, preaching to people and baptizing them with water in the river. Now, there is a strong consensus amongst Bible scholars what John the Baptist looked like and this is a careful artist’s rendition here:

Actually, this is from the Jesus Storybook Bible, which is a really great children’s bible. It’s so good because it brings Jesus into every single story. Even ones where you think he might not be there – he’s there. It constantly ties everything back into the big picture. We’re going to do that today as well.

We know that John is a Prophet, the last of the Old Testament Prophets, as Jesus tells us in Matthew 11.

Matthew 11:13-15
For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John [the Baptist]. And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come.

Yet, he is doing something completely different then what Jeremiah, Elijah, or Isaiah ever did.

Listen to how they are the same:

Prophet 1: Repent! Or bad things will happen.

Zephaniah 2:2-3 (NLT)
Gather while there is still time, before judgment begins and your opportunity is blown away like chaff. Act now, before the fierce fury of the Lord falls and the terrible day of the Lord’s anger begins. Beg the Lord to save you –all you who are humble, all you who uphold justice. Walk humbly and do what is right. Perhaps even yet the Lord will protect you from his anger on that day of destruction.

John: Repent! Or bad things will happen.

Luke 3:7,9
Here is a sample of John’s preaching to the crowds that came for baptism: “You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee God’s coming judgment? Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever your roots. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.”

Prophet 2: Bad stuff is coming real soon! Better repent.

Malachi 4:1
For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble.

And right before that, what was one of the reasons given for the coming destruction? Failing to bring offerings to the temple.

Malachi 3:8-9
“In what way have we robbed you?” In tithes and offerings. You are curses with a curse, for you have robbed me.

John: Bad stuff is coming real soon! Better repent.

Matthew 3:2
Turn from your sins and turn to God, because the Kingdom of Heaven is near.

What were the old prophets calling people to do though? To stop worshiping Baal, that is, get rid of the pagan altars in their homes and up on the hillside. Stop worshiping Ashera, cut down her silly poles and abandon that cult. Return to proper worship in the Temple, carefully offering sacrifices as detailed in the Law of Moses, which came straight from God himself.

And sometimes, the people did repent and listen to the prophet!

2 Chronicles 34
(How King Josiah found the book of the law, he gathered all the people together and read it. He collected a bunch of money and had the temple fixed up. He made sure to celebrate Passover that year and do all the sacrifices right. And God blessed him and nothing bad happened to Israel during his reign.)

So that is the pattern. God is a jealous God. He wants his people, his “bride”, to use the marriage analogy used more often in the New Testament, to be faithful to her husband. He doesn’t want her sleeping with other men. He loves her and wants her for himself. So when the prophets are sent to warn her, Israel, the proper response is to turn back to God. This isn’t just something they do in their hearts. It starts there, but it must proceed to real outside action, with your own hands. That action is to faithfully participate in the temple cult. Bring sacrifices to the Lord. The blood of animals will atone for your sin. The burnt offerings on the altar are a pleasing aroma to God. Prayers offered to him in the temple are heard in heaven.

When I say the “temple cult”, I’m using the word in its more broad sense, which is “a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object”. The temple cult was a system of praise, sacrifices and offerings that were directed toward the one true God, who lived, in one sense, in the holy of holies in the temple, between the cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant. I don’t mean “cult” as in a small unorthodox religious sect.

So when the Prophet came and said, “Repent!” what were you supposed to do? Get your rear in gear and get to Jerusalem to worship the one true God on the temple mount. But wait, what was John telling everyone to do? DON’T go to the temple! You’re wasting your time! Come down here to the Jordan River and be covered with water. Turn your hearts to the Lord.

The priests, that is, the people of the tribe of Levi, the Levites, are naturally not going to be very excited about John’s message. It’s their day job, after all, to take care of the temple and facilitate all the worship ceremonies that go on there. Their job is really important and they know it. Moses said so. All the old prophets said so too. What on earth is this crazy wilderness man John thinking?

Here is what the New Testament scholar Tom Wright has to say about this.

For Jesus, repentance, whether personal or national, did not involve going to the Temple and offering sacrifice. John’s baptism already carried this scandalous notion: one could ‘repent’, in the divinely appointed way, down by the Jordan instead of up in Jerusalem! In just the same way, Jesus offered membership in the renewed people of the covenant god on his own authority and by his own process.
– N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, p.257

The temple was for the sons of Abraham. But John lets the priests know that “God can raise up Children of Abraham from these stones lying around on the ground.”

Luke 3:8
Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and no not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” For I say to you that God is able to raise up children of Abraham from these stones.

What he is saying to them is that their special hereditary status will not save them. Offering up sacrifices at the temple isn’t going to save them any more. It did, for a while, but that chapter of history is coming to a close.

To those that study scripture, and surely to some of the Pharisees as well (as we’ll see later) this would not have been a complete surprise. God had been hinting all along that the temple rituals were not what he was really interested in.

Psalm 51:15-17
O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth your praise. For you do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart – these, O God, you will not despise.

In addition, the old way of repenting corporately had passed away. In the example given earlier, like King Josiah reading the law to the people, there was one guy, an important powerful guy, the King, who spoke for the entire nation. He had the authority to go around destroying people’s idols, which was their valuable private property. The Tea Party wouldn’t have liked that! He was the government, he had the resources, piles of money, to restore the temple and enable the priests to do their job properly again.

But now, Israel had for years been under Roman occupation. They were a small province, subdued by an empire. They didn’t have a king to act as proxy for them anymore. Nor, if you remember, was this ever God’s plan in the first place, to have a proxy:

Exodus 19:9
And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I come to you in the thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you and believe you forever.”

Exodus 20:18-21
(Right after God gives the 10 commandments)
Now all the people witness the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off. Then they said to Moses, “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” And Moses said to the people, “Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin.” So the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was.

See how God had originally called ALL the people to the mountain to hear him? But they said, “No, no, God’s too scary. Moses, YOU go listen to God and then just come back and tell us what he said.”

The same thing happens later when the people ask to change the nation into a monarchy.

1 Samuel 8:4-8
Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.”
But the thing displeases Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” So Samuel prayed to the Lord. And they Lord said to Samuel, “Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them.”

And then it goes on for a while and Samuel warns them of all the downsides of having a King.

Verses 19-22: Nevertheless the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel; and they said, “No, but we will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles”. So the Lord said to Samuel, “Heed their voice, and make them a king.”

So John the Baptist was bringing things back to the way God had originally wanted to relate to his people. He was saying, “Hey, you, personally, come down here to the river and be baptized. Turn your hearts, your own individual hearts, toward the Lord. Repent of your sin. He is full of kindness and will forgive you. How is he going to do that exactly? I’m not sure, but I’m pointing the way. The guy who is going to take away the sin of the world is coming soon! Watch out for him. Any day now.“

To the Sadducees, the aristocracy whose day job it was to work in the temple, this was scandalous! To the Pharisees, who were sticklers of the law, this couldn’t possibly be a message from God. It wasn’t like anything he had said before! Oh, except it was. This is why some of the Pharisees, like Nicodemus and others were very interested in Jesus later and some even became his disciples. For starters though, they had John to point the way into the future. Times were changing. God was going to do away with the old rituals and even the old exclusive “chosen people”. He was bringing salvation to the gentiles, to the whole world.

This is really good since not any of us in this room are Jews are we? We’re not members of his special covenant family by birth, but rather by adoption.

In just a little over a week, my wife and I are traveling to Ethiopia, Africa, to formally adopt our little daughter there. There has been a lot of preparation and paperwork over the past year. In the same way, God sent John to be a special prophet to do some of the prep work before Jesus was revealed. He get’s the ball rolling on the people’s own adoption into the covenant family of God.