Saturday, August 31, 2013

"From the grave to the sky" is not correct

There is a somewhat flat "worship song" called "Lord, We Lift Your Name on High." Don't get me wrong, there are much worse worship songs out there. Much, much worse. But I've always found this one a bit dull.

I flipped on Christian radio the other day and heard just a snippet of this one and turned it back off. The snippet I heard was "from the cross to the grave, from the grave to the sky. Lord, we lift your name on high."

It suddenly struck me that in reaching for a rhyme there the lyricist has said something that is just not true. Jesus most certainly did not go from the grave to the sky. He rose again the third day and spent the next forty days on earth with his disciples, offering them what Luke calls "many infallible proofs" of his truly being risen from the dead. Only then did he ascend into heaven. That's why the Feast of the Ascension is forty days after Easter.

I don't think the lyricist was trying to make any heavy point. I'm sure it was just a chance result of the rhyme scheme. But I would say that the statement that Jesus went from the grave to the sky, however one happens to make it, is rather importantly wrong. Whatever some works of art may seem to portray, Jesus didn't float up out of the grave into the sky without being seen. The grave was, of course, not a hole in the ground. It was a tomb with a doorway. The angel moved the gravestone, and presumably Jesus walked out. From subsequent events when Jesus entered the upper room through locked doors, we know that he didn't actually need the stone moved, but the more important point is that he walked at all after the resurrection. He walked on earth. His feet left real footprints. He ate (and cooked) fish. He was real and tangible, not a ghost or a vision.

Some theologians actually do seem to believe that Jesus went directly "from the grave to the sky." They have evolved what is known as the "objective vision theory" which quite clearly conflates the Resurrection and the Ascension and has Jesus going on to "another plane of existence" or something like that with his Father in heaven at the resurrection. All the disciples' experiences after that are put down to some kind of visions connected with heavenly telegrams being sent down to them from the resurrected Christ. But that is not biblical doctrine at all. I discussed the objective vision theory and the conflation it embodies between the Resurrection and the Ascension here at What's Wrong With the World. I also got in a few whacks at the objective vision theory in my article in this volume. (Yes, the volume is disgustingly expensive. I don't get a penny from that fact.)

Anyway, the purveyors of the objective vision theory are a lot more to blame than a lyricist just trying to write a rhyme. The former, after all, are theologians, and people are likely to take their solemn theological pronouncements seriously as (supposedly) the results of special scholarly knowledge. Be not many teachers, knowing that they shall receive the greater judgement.

Still, it doesn't hurt to get our song rhymes right, too.

So--not from the grave to the sky. From the grave to the earth. Back to the earth of dust and water and bread and fish. Back to the earth to show his closest friends, and through them all of mankind, that he is risen. He is risen indeed!

(This Easter message was brought to you in the middle of Trinitytide for no  particular reason.)

Thursday, August 29, 2013

"Tears" by Lizette Woodworth Reese

WHEN I consider Life and its few years— 
A wisp of fog betwixt us and the sun; 
A call to battle, and the battle done 
Ere the last echo dies within our ears; 
A rose choked in the grass; an hour of fears;         5
The gusts that past a darkening shore do beat; 
The burst of music down an unlistening street,— 
I wonder at the idleness of tears. 
Ye old, old dead, and ye of yesternight, 
Chieftains, and bards, and keepers of the sheep,  10
By every cup of sorrow that you had, 
Loose me from tears, and make me see aright 
How each hath back what once he stayed to weep: 
Homer his sight, David his little lad!

I've just come upon this poet and am much impressed. I intend to look for and read more of her work.

Here is another, which I don't fully understand:

In Time of Grief

Dark, thinned, beside the wall of stone,
The box dripped in the air;
Its odor through my house was blown
Into the chamber there.

Remote and yet distinct the scent,
The sole thing of the kind,
As though one spoke a word half meant
That left a sting behind.

I knew not Grief would go from me,
And naught of it be plain,
Except how keen the box can be
After a fall of rain.

Readers, I admit my ignorance: Why does the box have a strong scent? How is the box related to the speaker's grief?

And yet it's a beautiful poem.

A Song for Candlemas

There’s never a rose upon the bush,
And never a bud on any tree;
In wood and field nor hint nor sign
Of one green thing for you or me.
Come in, come in, sweet love of mine,
And let the bitter weather be!
Coated with ice the garden wall;
The river reeds are stark and still;
The wind goes plunging to the sea,
And last week’s flakes the hollows fill.
Come in, come in, sweet love, to me,
And let the year blow as it will!

Monday, August 26, 2013

The dangers of the reactionary Right--a moderate example

As a general rule, I have no particular urge to go linking to posts and comments that illustrate what I wrote about here. That's because most of the best illustrations are so unpleasant and dark that it's better not to read them, much less get involved in trying to answer them.

This example falls into a middle zone. It's a fusty and not terribly well-argued article that tries to defend Christianity from the charge of being the fountainhead of leftism. The defense takes the strange form of, inter alia, pointing out with historical triumph that it was mostly the Unitarians, Socinians, and other heretics who didn't believe in the Fall and such who were the American abolitionists. The orthodox American Christians actually supported slavery! (Or at least some of them did--the ones the author cites, including Samel Morse.) Why, then, that'll show whoever-it-is that accuses Christianity of being the historical fount of liberalism. The real, orthodox Christians were pro-hierarchy and even supported slavery. Ergo they weren't the source of American liberalism. QED.

Well, that's really helpful. Talk about "out of the frying pan into the fire."

The main post gives the distinct impression that Christian orthodoxy really is pro-slavery. The author, one J. M. Smith (his real name), a professor of geography, cannot be bothered to stop and say in so many words whether he thinks that Christian orthodoxy really is naturally pro-slavery, though that is the implication of his article.

As I point out in the comments, Justinian (who was anti-slavery) was hardly a New England Unitarian. And I doubt that all the Presbyterians and Baptists who were abolitionists in America were non-Trinitarian. Does Professor Smith know for a fact that William Wilberforce was a heretic, or does that not matter because Wilberforce was in England in the early 1800's? (Yet the English abolitionist movement was by no means unconnected from the American abolitionist movement.) Then there was Wulstan, who preached against slavery as long ago as the 1000's. Commentator Skeggy Thorston also mentions Gregory of Nyssa. I seem to recall that St. Patrick was no fan of slavery. So even historically, it's highly dubious to say that all the orthodox Christians were pro-slavery and left the anti-slavery cause to the heretics who believed in the "natural goodness of man."

Given the opportunity to clarify as to whether he defends the "peculiar institution" of antebellum slavery or even whether he is saying (as he appears to be) that Christian theological orthodoxy is really, as a matter of logic and the connections of ideas, naturally pro-slavery, Professor Smith has so far taken refuge in the "I wasn't addressing that" response rather than answering either of those questions. He does, however, manage to hint even in the comments that the anti-slavery position really is somehow ideologically connected to all the rest of progressivism and liberalism, including sexual libertinism.

The whole thing is highly distasteful. It's a good example, though linkable, of the accuracy of my warnings about the dangers of the non-mainstream right. In fact, commentator Bonald (who is also a contributor at the Orthosphere where Smith's post appears) even defends Smith on the grounds that "we reactionaries don't cringe" and so forth. Yes, as I've said before, it's that attitude of being so darned tough and willing to shock that creates the potential problem. In any event, Professor Smith seems to be neither fish nor fowl. At least Bonald tells us outright what he thinks. (He's moderately pro-slavery though he thinks slavery should probably be abolished as a matter of prudence.)

It's enough to make one sigh. Really, is there no place where people are sensible reactionaries, reactionaries within limits? (Other than W4, of course.)

Friday, August 16, 2013

"Most Gracious Lord"

This song used to be sung by the large college choir at my alma mater. I still think it incomparably beautiful today and have many fond memories of singing it, especially in a rotunda area that had lovely acoustics. The words are sobering--none shall falter, none shall shrink. I suspect that if it were translated into Latin those "none shall" phrases would end up in the murderously difficult subjunctive. We are asking God to grant us living faith so that as we walk His chosen path none shall falter, none shall shrink. But whether we falter or shrink remains up in the air, as it were. It's our prayer, our aspiration, our fervent hope, but by no means a sure thing.

May God indeed grant us that living faith.

If any readers happen to have access to the sheet music for this piece, I would love to have a copy. Google has not turned it up anywhere. I believe the composer is named Berntsen.