Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Post: He looked through the lattice of our flesh and He spoke us fair

I don't suppose I really screamed. What had happened was that I had fallen asleep at last and drifted into nightmare. I was imprisoned in stone. I knew then what men suffered who are walled up alive....And when I had been still for a little while I found myself slowly edging forward. There was a crack in the stone....I went on scraping through and at last there was a glimmer of light. It came to my feet like a sword and I knew it had made the crack, a sword of fire splitting the stone. And then the walls drew back slightly on each side of me, as though the light pushed them. I had a sense of conflict, as though the darkness reeled and staggered, resisting the light in an anguish of evil strength....But the light, that seemed such a small beam in comparison with that infinity of blackness, kept the channel open and I fled down it. There was room now to run. I ran and ran and came out into the light.

I had escaped. I was so overwhelmed with thankfulness that I nearly fell. I sank down on the ground and sat back on my heels, as children do sometimes when they are saying their prayers and are tired. It was ground, not stone, it was a floor of trodden earth. The stone walls were still there but the light had hollowed them out into a cave and they no longer frightened me. There was a lantern in the cave and people were moving about, a man and woman caring for a girl who lay on a pile of hay. And for a newborn child. As I watched, the woman stooped and put Him into His mother's arms....It was like one of the nativity scenes that the old masters painted, only not tidy and pretty like those. The girl was exhausted, her clothes were crumpled, and the sweat on her face gleamed in the lantern light. The man was dusty and tired and not yet free of the anxiety that had been racking him for hours past. The woman was one of those kindly bodies who turn up from somewhere to lend a hand in times of human crises. She made soft clucking noises as she gave the baby to His mother, and the two women gave each other a long look of triumph before the girl bent over her baby. He was like all newborn babies. He looked old and wizened, and so frail that my heart nearly stopped in fear, as it always does when I see a newborn child. How could anything so weak survive? His thin wail echoed in the stony place and then was stifled as He sought His mother.

...I remembered the rocks of the wilderness and the multitude of sinners surging in, selfish and clamorous, sick and sweaty, clawing with their hot hands, giving Him no time so much as to eat. I remembered the mocking crowd about the cross and the thick darkness. I remembered the second cave, the dark and stifling tomb....And I remembered Saint Augustine saying, “He looked us through the lattice of our flesh and He spake us fair.”...He was not the weakness that He seemed, for He had a sword in His hand and all evil at last would go reeling back before it. He had entered the prison house of His own will. And so He was not trapped, nor was I. There was always the way of escape so long as it was to the heart of it, whatever it was, that one went to find Him.

Elizabeth Goudge, from The Scent of Water

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not. Thanks be to God.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

He is here

"Not for me the Hound of Heaven, but the never-ceasing silent appeal of Tabernacle, and the sense of starving hunger."

J.R.R. Tolkien, from a letter to his son Michael, November 1, 1963

The Hound of Heaven, I would add, may have many ways of catching His quarry, not least with hunger.

I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world....Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him....This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever. (John 6:51ff)

I don't talk theology nearly as often on this blog as I think about theology. And the doctrine of Holy Communion is such a fraught one, over which many a literal war has been fought.

I believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Not being Roman Catholic, I am not required to believe in the doctrine of transubstantiation, and not being an Aristotelian, I'm rather glad of that, because I don't. But the pure memorialist view does not, in my opinion, do justice either to Christ's words of institution or to Christ's teaching in John 6 or to the Apostle Paul's solemn warnings to the Corinthians about Eucharistic abuses and the grave consequences thereof. At a minimum, it seems to me that these Scriptures imply that Holy Communion is a source of real spiritual life and strength--and that not only from the act of meditation on Christ's passion and atonement, but objectively: spiritual food. Beyond that I cannot and do not go--I simply know no farther to go. But, as the Ark of the Covenant was a place where the Lord God met His people and was, in that sense, present, so in the Sacrament. Here God acts. Here God meets man, objectively, on holy ground, in a physical object.

And for that I am thankful. As creatures of flesh and blood, we crave the ability to give and receive tangibly and physically. The Book of Common Prayer says of the Sacrament that Christ has "ordained holy mysteries as pledges of his love." A side note, or maybe not such a side note: Edmund Spenser, when he portrays the lady Charity as married and surrounded by her babies, calls them "pledges" of her husband's love.

Here is the prayer of thanksgiving after receiving the Sacrament. It was, to add to the head-shaking, convoluted uniqueness of Anglican history, apparently written (rather than translated) by Thomas Cranmer, who died because he was unwilling to return to Rome and accept the doctrine of transubstantiation.

Almighty and everliving God, we most heartily thank thee for that thou dost vouchsafe to feed us, who have duly received these holy mysteries, with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ; and dost assure us thereby of thy favor and goodness towards us; and that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, which is the blessed company of all faithful people; and are also heirs, through hope, of thy everlasting kingdom, by the merits of his most precious death and passion. And we humbly beseech thee, O heavenly Father, so to assist us with thy grace, that we may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honor and glory, world without end. Amen.

He "assures us thereby of his favor and goodness towards us." By giving us these gifts and coming to us in them, by deigning thus to condescend to us, He continually assures us, week by week, of His favor and goodness towards us.

I am a Protestant and will never be anything else. I will never even be a high Anglican; indeed, I will no doubt always be so low as to be in danger of falling right out at the bottom. There are many times when I feel a distinct reaction against high churchmanship. What's a nice Baptist girl like me doing in a place like this? But the holy mysteries are not the sort of thing one can whip up in one's kitchen, and if (per improbable) they are to be found in the Welch's grape juice and the broken matzos passed in plates from hand to hand in the churches that teach that they are not there, this is more a matter for trembling and fear than a reason to return.

It is impossible to be insouciant about the use I am about to make of a Gospel music song. I would like to make the usual flippant remark about my on-going and ungrateful project of uniting low Protestantism, Southern Gospel, and liturgical Christianity, but it's not just so simple as that.

The following song is one I cannot listen to without thinking of the Holy Sacrament. Yet that is not what it is about, where "about" is taken accurately to refer to the intention of the author and, for that matter, the performers. Quite obviously, it is a work of evangelical, perhaps even Pentecostal, Christianity. The teaching intended is that Jesus is present wherever "two or three are gathered" and that we become especially aware of His presence when reminded of it in the gathering of believers. That is a good teaching, one worth hearing and remembering. But how can anyone who believes in the Real Presence (in any sense whatsoever) hear "Holy, holy," "holy manna," and "You can touch him" and not think of that other Presence?

"He is here, listen closely. Hear Him calling out your name. He is here, you can touch him. You will never be the same."

So, with apologies to Wes Hampton, to the Gaither Vocal band, and especially to Kirk Talley (the composer), I put my own entirely unjustified personal significance on this song and present it for what it is worth, if there should happen to be anyone among my readers who finds it useful, as a meditation before receiving Communion. "He is Here."

Gaither Vocal Band - He Is Here [Live] from emimusic on GodTube.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

God closes the book--Sunday quotation

"Men choose one side or the other, making the best choice that they can with the knowledge that they have. Yet they know little and the turns and twists of war are incalculable. They may fight for a righteous cause and yet at the end of it all have become as evil as their enemies, or they may in error espouse an evil cause and in defense of it grow better men than they were before. And so the one war becomes each man's private war, fought out within his own nature. In the last resort that's what matters to him, Froniga. In the testing of the times did he win or lose his soul? That's his judgment."

His voice trailed away into a silence heavy with dread and sorrow...

"One life knows many judgments," she said. "They are like the chapters in a book. What if every chapter but the last is one of defeat? The last can redeem it all. And God knows the heart that in its weakness longs for Him. Patient still, He adds another chapter, and then another, and then in the hour of victory closes the book."

From Elizabeth Goudge, The White Witch

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

A couple quotables from LA

I've been neglecting this blog recently and realize it. Call it laziness. Call it Christmas rush. Call it busyness home schooling. Probably more the first and the third. In any event, I'm now shamelessly going to borrow from another blogger, because he's made a couple of zinger statements recently that I think deserve to be repeated.

First, Lawrence Auster on Afghanistan:

From last Friday’s New York Times, a horrifying story about a young Afghan woman named Gulnaz who was raped, bore a child by the rapist, and was imprisoned for “adultery,” i.e., for having been raped. Then, in response to a documentary movie that featured Gulnaz’s plight, the Afghan government of our ally Karzai pardoned her, but there was a catch. To be pardoned, she had to marry the man who raped her. Gulnaz doesn’t want to marry the man and she fears him, but she feels she has no choice, since there is no place for her in Afghan society unless she is married and part of a family. But she also feels that her prospective husband is likely to kill her because of the shame she has brought on him by publicizing her case. So she is putting down a condition too: in order for her to marry him, one of his sisters must marry one of her brothers. That way, the rapist will hesitate to harm her, because if he harms her, his sister would stand to be harmed by her husband.

Afghanistan is a sub-human hell on earth. We should have nothing to do with that goddamned country unless it is directly threatening us and our allies, in which case we go in, topple the regime that is threatening us, kill its leaders, and leave, promising to come back and wreak much worse havoc if they threaten us again.

My one quibble would be with the term "sub-human." The people who perpetuate such a culture are not sub-human, they are human, and there is nothing so good nor so bad that it cannot be done by man. Gives a whole new meaning to the "what a work is man" concept. As in, sometimes man is a piece of work. But as a foreign policy prescription, let's go over there, beat the unholy hell out of governments that are threatening us, get done, and come back has a lot to be said for it. I've thought it sensible for a long time. War is not the problem per se, when a country is a threat to us or to allies. Nation-building is the problem.

Second, Lawrence Auster on a judge's wrist-slap for a wilding in London:

So: Somali Muslims carry out a typical black wilding on a white woman pedestrian, an extremely aggravated attack in which they knocked the victim to the ground then repeatedly kicked her in the head and tore her hair from her scalp, while also repeatedly shouting anti-white statements, and they don’t go to jail (1) because they’re Muslim and therefore not responsible for their behavior under the influence of alcohol, no matter how aggravated, violent, and racially motivated the behavior may be, and (2) because the victim’s boyfriend used force (ineffectively) to defend her.

This is not an event in the life of Britain. This is the rotting of the stinking corpse that once was Britain. And there’s much rot in the corpse of a great nation, many, many victims yet to come, incalculable human misery, yet to come.

Brits have always been a bit soft on regrettable acts committed under the influence of alcohol, but this takes it to a whole new level. My perception from old British novels is that the softness took the form of avuncular chuckles over Oxford undergraduates committing pranks and minor vandalism or old men making fools of themselves at the club, not aggravated assault and battery.

Friday, December 02, 2011


A couple of years ago I put up a post about this hymn and its new incarnation by blind singer Ken Medema. At that time it was not available on-line; now it is, on Grooveshark.

Someday the Silver Cord Will Break by Ken Medema on Grooveshark

Ken has written a beautiful new tune for Fanny Crosby's words, which are partly taken from St. Paul in I Corinthians 13: "Now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known."

Sunday, November 20, 2011

You cannot stop lovers from making vows

It is not the fact that young lovers have no desire to swear on the Book. They are always at it. It is not the fact that every young love is born free of traditions about binding and promising, about bonds and signatures and seals. On the contrary, lovers wallow in the wildest pedantry and precision about these matters. They do the craziest things to make their love legal and irrevocable....[T]hey cut into rocks and oaks with their names and vows; they bury ridiculous things in ridiculous places to be a witness against them; they bond each other with rings, and inscribe each other in Bibles; if they are raving lunatics (which is not untenable), they are mad solely on this idea of binding and on nothing else. It is quite true that the tradition of their fathers and mothers is in favour of fidelity; but it is emphatically not true that the lovers merely follow it; they invent it anew.

From G.K. Chesterton, "The Superstition of Divorce"

In these days of confusion and great evil, in which marriage is under perhaps the severest attack it has yet sustained (an attack made possible by all the other attacks that have gone before and have weakened the foundations), we must hope and pray that Chesterton is right. For if he is right, then, though society be distorted and the minds of men darkened, the fundamental, life-affirming tradition in which a man and a woman take one another for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, will not die. It will be invented again by new generations of men and women, in whom the image of God has not been lost and upon whom the natural light yet shines.

May it be so.

Steven Curtis Chapman, "I Will Be Here"

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Autumn's here

While the east coast is having snow, we're having cold, crisp autumn. Here was my post two years ago on autumn, travel, and coming home.

Here's what I noticed the other morning:

I had forgotten how new-fallen maple leaves look on frosted grass when the sun is just rising. The frost has taken all the color out of the grass. Covered by that furred rime, it is plain silver-grey, like a huge plush carpet. Against that background, the yellow leaves stand out--vivid, precise, and faintly unreal, as though they have not fallen naturally but have been displayed there, spread in a circle round the base of the tree, by a generous giant hand.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Unprincipled. And stupid.

I don't have time to write much about this, because I'm at work on a technical paper. But since I do occasionally write about Israeli issues at this blog I thought I couldn't let pass the shocking news that Israel has agreed to release over 1,000 terrorists in a deal with Hamas for the release of Gilad Shalit. Let's hope that he's at least "released" alive rather than dead.

This trade of terrorists for an imprisoned soldier is wrong. Carl in Jerusalem has some great things to say about it, and especially about the silly "what else could we do" line, here and here. He also links to a post by the father of one of the terrorists' victims, here.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

On offering worldly inducements to Christianity

I'm blatantly using W4 as a jumping-off place for a post here, since I have been neglecting this personal blog lately. I hope that my esteemed blog colleague Jeff Culbreath, whose post and discussion prompted this, will not mind.

Jeff and I have been having a very interesting discussion of varying methods of evangelism and the ways these might divide along, on the one hand, Protestant-Catholic lines and, on the other hand, "individualist" vs. "group conversion" lines.

In the course of the discussion, Jeff said,
The indomitable warrior-monks who Christianized Europe, South America, the
Philippines and elsewhere were aiming to bring entire societies into the Christian fold. That meant converting pagan kings, who exercised real authority, and securing their favor and protection. It sometimes meant promising worldly advantages to prospective converts, such as the temporal benefits of Roman civilization.
Later, in responding to someone else, Jeff said a bit more about "worldly advantages."
I suspect that Steve, a libertarian, is prone to equating social incentives and disincentives with "force". For many of Steve's persuasion the individual human will must act totally without outside influence in order to be considered "free". For instance, if the old pagan religion is no longer sanctioned, if Christians are favored for certain positions in the kingdom, etc., then all conversions are deemed "forced", or at least "coerced" and unfree. Such a view is profoundly mistaken.
I addressed the question of worldly incentives to Christianity at some length in a comment.

[T]he question of social incentives is an interesting and delicate one. I should say here that Protestant as well as Catholic missionaries have had to deal with this question. Indeed, the anti-conversion laws in India are (this may interest you) premised on the assumption that most conversions from Hinduism to any form of Christianity are not "truly free" for exactly the reasons you give. Ironically, this results in the bullying of new converts by the authorities with repeated insinuations that they have not converted freely, that they were offered incentives, and that they therefore should return to Hinduism. So actually, of course, the force is on the other side--from the state against the convert. Apparently one of the incentives is that they get out of the caste system if they are Christians, which is naturally attractive to those of low caste.

It seems to me that there are going to be incentives that arise fairly naturally. Right at the beginning in the Book of Acts we find that the Apostles had money distributed to the widows who were part of the early church. I can just imagine people's asserting (though the Bible doesn't say that they actually did) that some widow converted to Christianity just to get on the Christian dole!

The very fact that Christians (rightly) give special consideration to fellow Christians in the distribution of charity (the Bible expressly enjoins this) is going to be seen as a form of incentive.

In the old days (this is probably not true anymore), including those allegedly individualist 19th century days, Protestant missionaries sometimes had an entire enclave of "mission natives" who built up a Christian community around the missionaries and formed a compound. This could sometimes be defended against, say, marauding Masai. Nowadays I suspect all missionaries, Protestant and Catholic alike, would consider that highly inappropriate, not culturally sensitive, offering the wrong kind of incentives, causing insincere conversions, etc. But I've always thought that I could see exactly how it could happen naturally. For example, the Christian natives naturally want to associate with other Christians. The missionary understandably wants Christian employees. If they are in a region surrounded by dangerous people they want to band together for mutual assistance. So even though that sort of arrangement is now "politically incorrect," I could never get het up about it.

All that being said, it seems to me that from a strictly theological point of view it is ultimately very important that we seek God for the sake of God and that those who are accepted as converts genuinely do want to follow the Lord Jesus Christ. Of course the full realization of that longing after God is a state that many of us struggle after for years and years and do not achieve. But since, in the final analysis, the sincere desire for God and love for God is central to what Christianity is about, I do balk at *deliberately* offering *direct* worldly incentives to people to convert. If the incentives are just there "in the situation," having arisen in some natural way, then so be it. But I do think that in that case one should proceed with special caution in admitting new converts to try to make sure they are sincere and not just cynically "out for what they can get."

And the following Catholic argument could be made: If these people convert, they are going to be taking the Sacrament, so the last thing one wants is for them to be doing so after an insincere conversion, made for reasons of worldly gain. One should avoid that for their own sake!

We have it directly from the mouth of the Apostle: The gifts of God are not to be sold for money.

It's a bit difficult to tell whether the "worldly advantages" Jeff envisages are the kinds of things that would, in the categories I was using, "arise naturally." For example, I'm not entirely clear on what it means to "offer" someone the advantages of Roman civilization. And what would it mean to offer this on condition that the ruler convert to Christianity? I would have thought it might mean offering Roman citizenship, but perhaps that isn't what's in view.

I'm also not completely certain that Jeff was expressing approval of offering worldly advantages, though from the follow-up comment it seems that he was. I apologize if I have misunderstood on this point, though.

As for preferring Christians in government positions, that gets us into the whole question in political philosophy as to whether that is ever a good idea. But if it is ever okay to do, presumably it is so for reasons entirely separate from the consideration that this will induce people to convert to Christianity. That might even be an argument against such preferential treatment. Moreover, if one sets up such a formally Christian country for some independent reasons, one needn't be directly offering a position in government to prospective converts as an inducement.

If there are, naturally, worldly advantages to being a Christian in a particular cultural context, advantages that have been put in place for other good and sufficient reasons, then all this does (as I said in the above comment) is to place an added burden on the pastor, priest, or missionary to make sure that the would-be convert is sincere in his Christian intent and commitment.

The bulk of my negative opinion here rests on the phrase "promising worldly advantages to prospective converts." That definitely conveys to me something like a direct bribe or worldly argument, made to the prospective convert: "Become a Christian, because you will gain social status, a better job, prestige, or money."

And I'm sorry, but that's bad news.

In addition to what I've already said, there is the sheer fact that any such approach as a deliberate missionary tactic would be unbiblical. Consider the following:

The Lord Jesus Christ said,

If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. (Luke 9:23)

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. (Matt. 6:24)
For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? (Mark 8:35-36)

Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. (Matt. 5:11-12)
The Apostle Paul wrote,
I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Gal. 2:20)
It is a faithful saying; For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him. If we suffer, we shall also reign with him. If we deny him, he also will deny us. If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful. He cannot deny himself. (II Tim. 2:11-13) (This passage in the epistle to Timothy appears to have been a hymn or a bit of liturgy in the very early church. )
James tells us,
My brethren, count it all joy when he fall into diverse temptations, knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience, but let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. (James 1:2-4)
The Apostle Peter:
That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ. (I Peter 1:7)
And these are only some of the examples that could be given. The entire message of the New Testament is inextricably bound up with the notion of being willing to sacrifice all for the sake of Jesus Christ. Bonhoeffer wasn't exaggerating when he said, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die."

It is entirely at odds with this Gospel message deliberately to offer a man worldly gain or advantage as an inducement to become a Christian. Indeed, on reflection on the above Scriptures and others like them I am inclined to say that the Apostles and even Our Lord himself would have been shocked and angered at any such recommended method of evangelism.

It may be replied that people's motives for acting are complex and that we should not demand more purity of motive than a would-be convert can be expected to attain. Well and good. But to use that as an argument for anything that could plausibly be described as "promising worldly advantages to prospective converts" is rather like saying, "Legislators are going to have complex motives for voting for a particular law, so it is legitimate to bribe them outright."

Note that my argument here isn't at all about freedom. I suppose that a legislator who takes a bribe is free. But he is still doing something wrong. He should vote for a law because he thinks it is, all things considered, a good law or a law worth supporting, not because he will personally receive money from someone for supporting it. A legislator who accepts bribes is free. He's free and corrupt. Corruption in government is bad enough. Corruption in religion is an even more serious matter. Let's avoid it like the plague.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A living sacrifice

It's been a long time since I heard this song. It seems to have gotten left behind in the seventies. But it's a good 'un, even if slightly repetitive.

Found at: FilesTube

St. Paul:
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12:1-2)

The Book of Common Prayer:
And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves,
our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living
sacrifice unto thee; humbly beseeching thee that we, and all
others who shall be partakers of this Holy Communion, may
worthily receive the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son
Jesus Christ, be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction,
and made one body with him, that he may dwell in us, and
we in him.

And although we are unworthy, through our manifold sins,
to offer unto thee any sacrifice, yet we beseech thee to accept
this our bounden duty and service, not weighing our merits,
but pardoning our offences, through Jesus Christ our Lord;

Monday, September 19, 2011

The writing process

Doctor Jenkins turned from the window and there was an almost imperceptible tautening of his whole frame. The Dean, with a slight smile, pushed aside the papers that littered his counterpane, for they were now coming to business. It always amused him to watch Tom Jenkins turning from man to doctor. A little chat about the weather was the correct thing when he entered the room, and he was hesitant, even a little in awe of his distinguished patient. Then it seemed that something clicked and he moved smoothly into action, concentrated and wholly happy. Something of the same sort of process was familiar to the Dean when he settled down to the writing of a book. A wave of self-loathing, of self-distrust, would go over him at first. Who was he that he should dare to take a pen into his hand? And how puerile was the result when he had done it. He would struggle wearily through a page or two and then forget himself, coming to the surface an hour later knowing that his book was his artifact, and whatever the result he could no more not make it than fail to breathe.
Elizabeth Goudge, The Dean's Watch, pp. 272-273

Saturday, September 10, 2011

My 9/11 Anniversary Post

...will be stolen. See below.

Meanwhile, my gift to Extra Thoughts readers is that I will not give a spiel on where I was and what I was doing when I heard that Muslim terrorists were flying planes into the Twin Towers. It would be boring (let's just say it was a perfectly ordinary morning), and the fact that so many people do it is starting to make it sound like a series of essays from fourth graders on "What I Did On My Summer Vacation." 9/11 was not about me nor about what I was doing that morning.

Please go and read Bill Luse's 9/11 post at W4. Unlike so many other 9/11 posts, perhaps including this one, it doesn't just exist for the sake of the pixels. It has meaning.

For myself, I have nothing particularly original to say this year at the anniversary of 9/11, even though it is the tenth anniversary. My one (somewhat unoriginal) thought is that most people have no idea of how to continue to speak the truth about Muslim terrorism and about what it means to oppose and fight it. Indeed, we have less clarity of speech and thought now than we had ten years ago. Those old enough to have clear memories of the atmosphere before 9/11 will know how much easier it was before that to hear someone on the radio say "Muslim terrorists." It would sound almost naive now--an unthinking ability on the part of someone in the mainstream to speak the truth without hedging it about. We live in a different world now. Even many self-styled conservatives feel that they must speak only of "Muslim extremists," not just of "Muslim terrorists." Somehow the '93 attack on the WTC did not have the muzzling effect that the actual success of Muslim terrorists (in bringing down the WTC) has had. (Apropos of speaking out, perhaps here I should link to a series of posts on Islam and the West that I co-wrote with Jeff Culbreath at W4.)

The ever-controversial Lawrence Auster has said something about 9/11 commemorations so spot-on that I am simply going to quote it for the remainder of my 9/11 anniversary post:

The September 11th attack on America, in which devout Muslim believers carried out the greatest single jihad raid in history, and Muslims around the world cheered and danced in joy over this great blow to the infidel, should have awakened America and the West to the nature of the 1,400 year old warrior religion of Islam. Instead, while triggering a “war against terrorism,” the 9/11 attack inspired liberal America to embrace and approve of Islam much more than it had done before, even as Americans allowed themselves to be placed under permanent and humiliating security measures out of the liberal imperative to avoid the slightest hint of discrimination against Muslims.

These unexpected and devastating outcomes of 9/11 are perhaps the greatest single illustration of Auster’s First Law, which says that the more alien or dangerous a nonwhite or non-Western group reveals itself to be, the more our liberal society approves of it, accommodates itself to it, and forbids any criticism of it. To speak the truth about the unchangeable Islamic command to wage eternal war by violence and stealth against non-Muslims and about Muslims’ 1,400 year long obedience to that command, is to place oneself outside the respectable mainstream. In America you don’t get put in jail for speaking the forbidden truth, you just lose your job and career. This is the reign of fear under which we live.

In sum, the result of 9/11 has not been Western self-defense against Islam, but the prohibition of Western self-defense against Islam. And all the official 9/11 commemorations, notwithstanding their patriotic appearance, will carry that message of American and Western surrender. And that is why they should be avoided.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Only Connect the Prose and the Passion II

A few months ago I wrote this post on the connection between prose and passion in Christianity.

Today I'm thinking about something a bit different--the way that Christianity connects the prose and the passion in the sense of connecting doctrine and emotion.

Last evening I enjoyed myself watching several Youtube videos of the late, immortal Gospel singer Vestal Goodman. Here was one that lifted me up. Vestal's joy is contagious:

If you are, like me, a somewhat cerebral person, it's easy to miss that passion. That's where people like Vestal remind me of what my parents and teachers all taught me when I was little: You have to have a relationship with Jesus Christ. It's not enough just to have head knowledge. You have to love Jesus; you have to follow Him. You have to be committed to Him.

I sit and watch Vestal sing or talk (and there are many more videos of her out there, as you can see at Youtube) and feel a kind of wonder. What must it to be like to be that filled with joy and love? What is it like to have that kind of confidence and peace, a confidence and peace that obviously come not from mere innocence but rather from suffering and pain?

That wonder of mine is a fruitful wonder. It conveys some of her peace to me just to know that there are people who have that peace, that confidence and joy, that trust that God "doeth all things well," that "all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well."

Then this morning, I went to church, and we said the Nicene Creed, and for some reason, when we got to "Who for us men and for our salvation came down from Heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary and was made man..." I thought of Vestal.

What an amazing thing: There is a deep connection between that solemn, even in some sense "dry," theological truth that the Eternal Son was incarnate as a man, incarnate as a baby in the womb, and the excitement, wonder, and love of the Lord Jesus that one sees in a Gospel singer. The two are not at odds. They may seem to be at odds from the perspective of one Christian tradition or the other: To one person, the joy of Vestal Goodman may seem over-the-top, overly emotional, alien. To another, the solemnity of the Anglican liturgy, including the Creed, is dead and has no heart.

It's my opinion that Christianity desperately needs both. We need joy unspeakable and full of glory, and sometimes we need that joy to take the form of hand-clapping and foot-stomping. Not in all times and places, to be sure, but in some times and places. We need Vestal Goodman, with the Light that lightens all men, the Light that shone in darkness, shining in her face, so that we know that the darkness will never overcome it. We need the opportunity to sing with her, cry with her, and lift up our hands.

We also need doctrine. We need the structure, the discipline, the architectonic, the heart-ravishing beauty of the liturgy. We need to say, slowly and deliberately, the things we believe. We need to do it with some frequency and in words that we did not get to make up ourselves. We need to join hands with the men of all ages who have believed these things, in words that, like fine coins, have pased through many hands and have been polished thereby to a high lustre. We need quiet. We need sacred places.

We need all of these things, because there is a sense in which Christianity contains all of these things. And Christianity contains all of these things because Christianity, alone of the religions of the world, connects the prose and the passion.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A little Gospel

Okay, time for another outbreak of Gospel music.

I know we've had this one before, but hey...Ernie Haase with the Cathedrals, long ago (comparatively speaking): "I Want to See Jesus"

And for more clapping and toe-tapping, Ernie Haase and Signature Sound, not quite so long ago, "Climbin' Up the Mountain." Wait for the piano riff by Gordon Mote. Gordon is amazing. He really can play with one hand tied behind his back, just to make it fair. And for those of you who are a little put off by the Gospel music smile, notice that Gordon has that bluegrass/country impassivity. But you can tell he's having fun.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Matthew 18 does not apply to criticizing public articles

This should not need to be said, but I've become aware (most recently through some reactions to a post at W4) that some in the evangelical community are developing the oddest notions about public writings and public refutations. Apparently Jesus' injunctions about how to handle it if "your brother trespasses against you" in Matthew 18 are being applied to criticism of the public writings of people who claim to be Christians or even who simply may be Christians based on some affiliation of theirs. (I even saw it lately applied to a group of homosexual activists who, as far as I know, make no claim to be Christians at all!)

Now, this is a wild misapplication of the verses. Obviously, if someone unknown to me has written something in public, this isn't a matter "between me and him alone." The whole point of Jesus' instruction is that if something is, initially, a private dispute between two Christians, it should be escalated to a public matter involving the opinion of the whole church only by degrees and only if it cannot be resolved at a lower level. But this has no point to it at all if we are talking about the public writings of one Christian (much less a merely possible Christian or putative Christian, still less a non-Christian). There is no dispute between two individuals. The matter is public ab initio. There is no specific person who has been "trespassed against" who might try to "gain his brother" by getting a private apology and resolution. The entire set of instructions is obviously inapplicable.

I have been told that this misuse of Matthew 18 has even been applied to authors like Rob Bell who write arguably heretical books. When pastors and theologians try to criticize them, they are in turn criticized if they did not first go to Bell privately concerning his published books! This, even if they have no independent private acquaintance with Bell. What absurdity.

Moreover, of course, if the principle applies, it should also apply to public criticism of public critics, which would mean that no Christian could be publically criticized for anything at all before "the steps of Matthew 18" were followed. So the critics of public critics, if they have not first "followed the steps of Matthew 18," are subject to their own criticism of acting unbiblically. This is a reductio of the entire application of the passage, though I suppose it's asking too much for those who misuse it in this way to see that.

So, what does this come to? Well, to quote an old Internet friend of mine, the inimitable Zippy: No, we won't shut up.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Suppressing the truth

This is an amazing video clip at Gates of Vienna:

A reporter interviews a man who was an eyewitness to the raiding of his store. She's supposedly trying to get an eyewitness account. When the man says that 100 or 200 "black dudes in hoodies" raided his store, she immediately interrupts him. She rides over his words again and again trying to pressure him to say that the crowd of raiders was not all black. She believes that she knows that it could not have been all black, and she won't let him say it. Eventually he says something like, "Okay, then...Let me just say they weren't all black." She says, "Yes!" apparently expecting that now he will say what she wants him to say. He continues, "I was the white guy there." She interrupts again, "There probably were other white guys there..."

It's that bad. She literally will not let the eyewitness tell what he saw.

I know that there are conservatives who say that we should never refer to things like "black flash mobs" or "blacks" as the constituency that might oppose certain law-and-order crackdowns. Their idea seems to be to ask, "What's the point? Why say that? It does no good."

But truth is important. That flash mob attacks in America are a black phenomenon is not a trivial truth. That the riots in Britain were vastly disproportionately minority (I've seen one estimate of 70-80% and another of 60-70%) is not a trivial truth.

And the danger is that if we tell ourselves that we must not speak these truths, eventually we get a society full of people like that reporter who refuse to know the truth even when told it by a credible witness. This is not good.

HT for the link to GoV--VFR

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Me on everything

For anyone who is wondering, "What does Lydia McGrew think about the fact that London has burned for several nights in a row?" I'll give you a couple of things I've said on Facebook recently. I give them here because this is my personal blog, where I reign as Personal Potentate, so I don't have to deal so much with difficult liberal commentators. One of my comments was that the police in England seem more likely to crack down on a school child accused of "racism" than on violent mobs who loot and burn London. I don't have time to google the stories, but some of you have doubtless read them: Some ten-year-old kid uses some word, or is accused of doing so, in school in Britain, and the police visit his house and put him under investigation.

Another of my comments was that perhaps T.S. Eliot was wrong and the world does end with a bang instead of a whimper, though Britain's leaders seem to be the ones doing the whimpering.

If indeed things have quieted down there (this is me now, not anything I've written elsewhere), as the news stories are telling us this morning, I'm rather surprised. Is it just that there's nothing more to loot? Or did the thousands of thugs actually believe the government's bluff that it would use (gasp!) water cannons and plastic bullets against them? I think if they'd called the bluff they would have found they could go on with their wave of pillage and destruction, their paean of horrible joy to the gods of hate against all that is productive and orderly. The so-called forces of law and order in England are clearly non-functional. It is absolutely appalling.

Still more appalling was the beginning of an AP story I saw last night. It has since disappeared from the news feed when I call up Yahoo, and I consider this good riddance, so instead of trying to find it, I'll just give the gist from memory. It said something to the effect that Cameron's government would now be called on to improve policing (um, yeah) and also to "help struggling communities in economic hard times." I feel ill. That's positively angering. Talk about appeasement. Talk about Danegeld. What does this mean? More government goodies and handouts for the very people who have just been tearing down England brick by brick and burning the rest? Yep, that has worked really well so far. Sickening. What it should have said was something like, "Making sure communities know that the law will be enforced" or "Cracking down on the lawless communities who have come to believe that they can do anything they like." (And, yes, by the way, all this talk about "communities" does point, in the eerily coded fashion of the liberal news media, to the racial nature of this anarchy, especially in its inception.)

No one who has loved English literature and taught English history can fail to be saddened to the point of near-speechlessness by this undeniable further evidence that England is dying. England the fair. England the Sceptred Isle. England of the Book of Common Prayer, of Churchill, of the brave fighters of the Battle of Britain. England the plucky, the quirky. England of the glorious literature and the lovable variety of accents. England of the peaceful countryside, of the orchards and the bees. England of the tough Yorkshire farmers. England now dying of the cancer of liberalism and anarcho-totalitarianism.

Requiescat in pacem, my beloved ancestor. What you once were will not be forgotten.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

John Who Saw

From Adrian Green-Armytage, John Who Saw (1952)

There is a world -- I do not say a world in which all scholars live but one at any rate into which all of them sometimes stray, and which some of them seem permanently to inhabit -- which is not the world in which I live.

In my world, if The Times and The Telegraph both tell one story in somewhat different terms, nobody concludes that one of them must have copied the other, nor that the variations in the story have some esoteric significance. But in that world of which I am speaking this would be taken for granted. There, no story is ever derived from the facts but always from somebody else's version of the same story.

In my world, almost every book, except some of those produced by Government departments, is written by one author. In that world almost every book is produced by a committee, and some of them by a whole series of committees.

In my world, if I read that Mr. Churchill, in 1935, said that Europe was heading for a disastrous war, I applaud his foresight. In that world no prophecy, however vaguely worded, is ever made except after the fact.

In my world we say, "The first world-war took place in 1914–1918." In that world they say, "The world-war narrative took shape in the third decade of the twentieth century."

In my world men and women live for a considerable time -- seventy, eighty, even a hundred years -- and they are equipped with a thing called memory. In that world (it would appear) they come into being, write a book, and forthwith perish, all in a flash, and it is noted of them with astonishment that they "preserve traces of primitive tradition" about things which happened well within their own adult lifetime.

HT: Esteemed Husband

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Reality, magic, and temptation

The issue of magic has been on my mind a bit lately, partly because of this post by Jeff Culbreath at W4.

There are, I'm sure, many reasons why contemporary people are attracted to magic. But one attraction of magic has got to be the thrill of making the supernatural real, of having real things happen via something other than the rather boring agency of natural means. To be sure, in an age when we can speak with some truth of the miracles of science, it hardly seems that one needs to turn to magic for that. When I was a child the Internet would have seemed akin to magic. Still, one knows in one's heart that there is some natural explanation for all of this, and one even has some idea of what it is, and that takes the magic out of it. Which is all to the good, in the end.

I imagine that Jesus' followers must have been awestruck when He healed a blind man or made the lame to walk: He really did it, just like that! He has the power to do that. It's real! It's a miracle.

Magic promises that thrill, and promises to give that thrill to the magician: Now you can be the one who can "really do it." That's why, in Acts, Simon Magus (that is, Simon the Magician) offered to pay the apostles for the power to confer the Holy Spirit on people (Acts 18:17-24)! He believed that this "Holy Spirit" thing was a new form of magic power and wanted to be able to do what the apostles did. Peter responded angrily, "Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money."

The difference between miracle and magic is that miracles are the gift of God. Even the extraordinary abilities (e.g., the ability to do some miracles) which God gave to his apostles when founding the church were recognized by Peter as gifts that came immediately from God in each individual case, not as "powers" which the apostles possessed in themselves. There is no techne, no magical art, to receiving or bestowing the gifts of God.

Moreover, God does not always do miracles. Many people are not healed. Most people (to put it mildly) are not raised from the dead.

God bestows His miraculous gifts sparingly to remind us that they are gifts. We seek after signs and wonders, after the excitement of personally seeing the real supernatural in action. (Wow! He really did it! It really happened! She was healed just like that!) But for most of us, the sign that is given is the sign, as Jesus said, of Jonah the Prophet (Matthew 12:38-40). For as Jonah was three days in the belly of the fish, so Our Lord rose after three days in the tomb. Powerful evidence? Indeed. But it happened a long time ago, and the study of it does not, for most of us, bring that special magic thrill. And that's all right.

Meanwhile, we walk by faith, hope, and charity. What we have instead of signs and wonders before our eyes or within our power are prayer, obedience, love, and Holy Communion, which, whatever else it is, looks just like bread and wine.

All these, too, are gifts.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

"Before the Throne of God Above"

It has been a long time since I've learned of a new (to me) hymn that is actually old, historically--that I like, that is. It turns out that the evangelical community of the 1980's was ahead of me on this one, and more power to 'em. As I've recently learned from Eldest Daughter, this hymn text written around the time of the U.S. Civil War by an Irish lady named Charitie Bancroft was revived and given a brand-new tune in the late 20th century. Here it is as sung by the Haven of Rest quartet:

Some brief but intense googling has failed to turn up reliable information on the tune the hymn text was originally sung to. This new (that is, 20th century) tune is by Vikki Cook.

Here are the lyrics:

Before the throne of God above
I have a strong, a perfect plea,
A great high Priest whose Name is Love
Who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on His hands,
My name is written on His heart.
I know that while in Heaven He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart.

When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end to all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.

Behold Him there the risen Lamb,
My perfect spotless righteousness,
The great unchangeable I AM,
The King of glory and of grace.
One with Himself I cannot die.
My soul is purchased with His blood,
My life is hid with Christ on high,
With Christ my Savior and my God!

Here is a post that has a pretty comprehensive list of the Scripture allusions and possible Scripture allusions in the lyrics. I haven't checked them out systematically, but they look accurate.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Moral equivalence about homosexuality is a serious confusion

Below, I made a comment about Thomas Cranmer. In his response, commentator Alex mentioned in passing that he began to read a biography of Cranmer but was put off and lost interest in reading more when he found that the author of the biography dedicated the book to his homosexual "partner."

Subsequently, someone who occasionally reads this blog (but does not comment) came to me and said, apropos of that exchange, "Well, if you're going to refuse to read any book written by a sinner..."

The implication was pretty clear: Alex shouldn't have been put off from reading the book, because all books are written by sinners, after all.

Now, this is a completely misguided way of looking at it, as I tried to tell the reader. But I lacked time and clarity, being, among other things, taken very much by surprise at the remark. So here is further detail.

First, the author of that book about Cranmer (I haven't tried to look it up, so I don't know the author's name) is not simply "a sinner." The remark about "not reading any book written by a sinner" reflects a failure, or a refusal, to acknowledge that homosexual activities are not just generic sins. They are sins against nature. They are perversions. Hence, the author is not just "a sinner," he is a person with a seriously warped sexuality, a person with a serious problem. Moreover, he glories in and is proud of this perversion. He is openly living in a sexual relationship with another man and is so proud of this that he dedicates his book to him. One wonders: Suppose the author had dedicated the book to a minor child with whom he was having an affair. Would my reader then have made the remark about "refusing to read any book written by a sinner"? It is completely understandable that someone would feel less inclined to read a book, and especially a book about Cranmer, upon seeing the dedication to the homosexual "partner."

Second, the author of the book is attempting to normalize his perversion in society by publically dedicating the book to his sexual partner. He is being "in your face" with the reader in an attempt to promote acceptance of his sin. This attempt to corrupt the morals of society, and in particular, of Christians in society (likely a large part of the audience) is an additional wrong.

Third, and relatedly, by spitting in the face of the Christian morality of two thousand years, the author of the book is insulting his likely audience by making this reference. So on top of everything else, the author of the book is rude to his readers.

Fourth, self-identified "gay scholars" often have an agenda. In literature, this takes the form of bizarre reading of texts in order to talk about sexual matters frequently, to turn all literature into pornography. In history this can take the form of weird psychologizing of historical figures and baseless implications that these characters were homosexual. "Queer studies" has been a horrible blight on the humanities for quite a while, but I suspect my reader has never heard of it and hence was unaware of the fact that the dedication calls into question the quality of the book's scholarship.

Having (unfortunately) paid good money for the book, Alex might have decided to see how good or bad it was by further reading. But I fully support his decision to stop reading and would also support him if he simply dropped it into the slot for the local library book sale. Or into the garbage can. Life is short, and of the making of books there is no end.

I write this, because it is important that someone be willing to come out and say such things. Increasingly it is considered simply "not done" to call homosexuality a perversion in public or even to be annoyed or put off by proud displays of it, as in the dedication of the book about Cranmer. So upside-down has our society become that the author's action in dedicating his book to his homosexual lover is not considered bad manners but saying frankly why there is a problem with his doing so is considered bad manners. Unfortunately, such acceptance of proud, active, and blatant homosexuality as, at most, "just another sin," is becoming prevalent among Christians, even among Christians one would have thought to be conservative. But such moral equivalence is part of what has gotten our country into the mess we are presently in. It should therefore be answered clearly.

Under God

A happy 4th of July to all my readers. Here is "Under God" by the Booth Brothers:

I used it in this post back in the winter at W4.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Comment testing

This will sound like a shameless ploy to get more comments, but I've decided to post it anyway: I've recently learned of a person who tried to comment on one of my posts but whose comment was mysteriously eaten twice by Blogger. I couldn't find it either time, even in Blogger's spam filter, and am baffled as to why this problem arose. During approximately this same period of time no one else has happened to comment here either. Not that things are usually hopping, but that's exactly what makes it difficult to know if Blogger suddenly has some general problem with accepting comments to the blog.

I've been able to sign out and post test comments anonymously, but as this is still from my own IP I'm not sure that it is a good test.

So if you are not a member of my household and should feel the Spirit (or spirit) moving you to comment on a post, especially a recent post, this would be a good time, as it would let me see that Blogger isn't just eating all my readers' comments.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The cross and Mr. Hiles

In doing research for my Messiah post, below, I learned about the case, now several years old, of chaplain Michael Hiles. The basic facts from 2008 don't appear to be in question: The U.S. military has a very limited number of insignias for its chaplains to wear. After examining the tenets of Messianic Judaism, the Navy decided that Hiles, as a Messianic Jewish chaplain, should wear the cross instead of the tablets of the law. Hiles refused and chose to leave the military rather than wearing the cross.

This bothers me. For the record, I do not believe that Hiles wanted to deceive anyone by wearing the rabbinic insignia. That is not where my concern lies. But there really is a problem with a person who claims to be a committed and loving follower of Our Lord Jesus Christ but who is unwilling to be identified with the cross. For these purposes I'm simply uninterested in hearing about, e.g., the evils of the Crusades.

The Apostle Paul said, "God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of Christ." (Galatians 6:14) Significantly, in the context Paul is specifically contrasting his glorying in the cross with his glorying in the legal observance of circumcision. Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself told us that if we will be His disciples we must take up our cross and follow Him (Matt. 16:24).

Paul called the crucifixion of Christ a "stumbling block" to the Jews (I Cor. 1:23). But he meant the unbelieving Jews. If one has accepted the claims of Jesus and believes in His resurrection, one is supposed to see the stumbling block as the chief cornerstone (Mark 12:10-11, I Peter 2:6-8).

I see part of the problem here as coming from the idea that we can define everything for ourselves. The idea appears to be that, if the cross meant something offensive or historically bothersome "to" Mr. Hiles, or if he preferred to define his own identity more closely in terms of the tablets of the law, he should be free to choose the Jewish symbol instead of the Christian one.

But reality doesn't work that way. Sometimes symbols are chosen for us. We are not simply self-created beings who get to make all our own meanings for all our own symbols. This is particularly true when we are talking about God-made and God-chosen symbols. There, if nowhere else, it behooves us to shut up and row (as my old blogging friend Zippy says in a different context). And in this case, "shut up and row" means, "Wear the cross, Chaplain Hiles. Be not ashamed."

There are not any mere symbols. If ever it were true that a symbol is not a mere symbol, it is true of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, that sign of ultimate shame which God chose to make the glorious means of victory--that he who by a tree was once the vanquisher might also by a Tree be vanquished.

Therefore, my beloved brethren, let us glory in the cross.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

At the Name of Jesus

For Palm Sunday a few weeks back the epistle reading in the BCP was the famous kenosis passage from Philippians 2:

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

When we read that in church on Palm Sunday and come to "that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow," everybody is supposed to genuflect. It's a glorious passage, one which Christian children all should memorize.

Understandably the glorification of the name of Jesus has had a prominent place in Christian music, and when I heard this wonderful Cathedrals gospel song recently I had an urge to genuflect once or twice at the title phrase:

In a comment at W4 recently, Jeff Singer mentioned a new significance put on the phrase "Hallowed be thy name" by a priest he was listening to on the radio. The priest connected the phrase with the idea of martyrdom, based on the Jewish use of "sanctify the Name [of God]" to refer to martyrdom.

I do find that it's a bit difficult for the contemporary Western mind to grasp the notion of the Name of God as holy and thence to see that, when the Apostle Paul said that God has given Jesus "a name above every name" and that everyone will bow at the name of Jesus, Paul was associating Our Lord with a distinctly Jewish concept, a concept specially applied to God Himself.

While on earth, Jesus was constantly asking people who they thought He was. And He Himself said, "I and my Father are one," at which His audience, understanding Him quite well, tried to stone Him.

So when we praise and magnify the name of Jesus, we are, precisely, worshiping Him. We are worshiping Him as God, whose Name is holy.

Here is the wonderful tune King's Weston, by Vaughan Williams, to the Anglican hymn "At the Name of Jesus":

At the Name of Jesus
every knee shall bow,
every tongue confess him
King of glory now;
'tis the Father's pleasure
we should call him Lord,
who from the beginning
was the mighty Word.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

High and Lifted Up

In keeping with the digression in my Messiah post below (on Jesus' words, "If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto me"), here are the Cathedrals singing "High and Lifted Up." The Grooveshark copy has best sound quality.

But it's impossible to beat actually watching Glen Payne sing:

Blessed Trinitytide

A blessed Trinity Sunday to my readers. Instead of giving you the collect for Trinity Sunday this week, I'm going to give you one of the exhortations, which we heard in church today. Ain't Cranmer great?

Dearly beloved in the Lord, ye who mind to come to the holy Communion of the Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ, must consider how Saint Paul exhorteth all persons diligently to try and examine themselves, before they presume to eat of that Bread, and drink of that Cup. For as the benefit is great; if with a true penitent heart and lively faith we receive that holy Sacrament; (for then we spiritually eat the flesh of Christ, and drink his blood) so is the danger great, if we receive the fame unworthily. For then we are guilty of the body and blood of Christ our Saviour. Judge therefore yourselves, brethren, that ye be not judged of the Lord; repent ye truly for your sins past; have a lively and stedfast faith in Christ our Saviour; amend your lives, and be in perfect charity with all men; so shall ye be meet partakers of those holy Mysteries. And above all things ye must give most humble and hearty thanks to God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, for the redemption of the world by the death and passion of our Saviour Christ, both God and man; who did humble himself, even to the death upon the cross, for us, miserable sinners, who lay in darkness and the shadow of death; that he might make us the children of God, and exalt us to everlasting life. And to the end that we would alway remember the exceeding great love of our Master and only Saviour Jesus Christ, thus dying for us, and the innumerable benefits which by his precious bloodshedding he hath obtained to us; he hath instituted and ordained holy Mysteries, as pledges of his love, and for a continual remembrance of his death to our great and endless comfort. To him therefore, with the Father, and the Holy Ghost, let us give (as we are most bounden) continual thanks submitting ourselves wholly to his holy will and pleasure, and studying to serve him in true holiness and righteousness all the days of our life. Amen.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The annunciation, the two Messiahs, and Divine Justice

There is a certain type of sermon one hears from time to time that has always bothered me. It goes roughly like this: "The reason the Jewish leaders of Jesus' own time rejected him was that their thoughts of the Messiah were earthly. They wanted a military Messiah who would set up a kingdom on earth. Therefore their minds were closed to recognizing and accepting Jesus for who he was."

The problem with this is that it gives the entirely false impression that an "earthly" concept of the Messiah was something manmade, that it arose simply out of the inexplicably "earthly" minds of the Jews of Jesus' time, and that it was their attempt to impose their selfish human desires onto God's plans.

But this is simply untrue. Consider the following passages, among many others.

Psalm 72 (passim):

He shall judge thy people with righteousness, and thy poor with judgment, the mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness. He shall judge the poor of the people, he shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor. They shall fear thee as long as the sun and moon endure...He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth. They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him; and his enemies shall lick the dust. The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents: the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts. Yea, all kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him.

Jeremiah 23:3ff:

And I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all countries whither I have driven them, and will bring them again to their folds...Behold the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely, and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.

Micah 4:1ff:

But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow into it. And many nations shall come, and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord...And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off, and they shall beat their swords into plowshares...

Micah 5:2

But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel...

Is this enough to make the point? There was nothing at all presumptuous about an expectation that Messiah would set up an earthly kingdom, would rule Israel as a nation, and would bring them peace and safety by means of defeating their earthly enemies.

But when my slight irritation at confused sermons prompted me to think this way, I had a small problem of my own: Why, then, was it a problem for Jesus to be rejected as the Messiah? Was God playing some sort of trick on His people--giving them all these prophecies of one kind of Messiah and then saying, "Aha! But I'm going to send you something completely different"? Were Jesus' miracles during his lifetime supposed to overcome a prima facie case that he was not the Messiah, based on the whole corpus of the Messianic prophecies, because he showed no signs of ruling from the sea to the uttermost parts of the earth or of making Israel safe from her enemies? And isn't this asking rather a lot, especially of people who were not personally present to witness Jesus' miracles?

In fact, just to make things still tougher, listen to what the angel Gabriel says to the Virgin Mary, in Luke 1:31-33:

And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest, and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David. And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

Well, goodness! What was Mary going to think after receiving that prophecy? She would quite naturally expect an earthly Messiah.

A similar point comes up in the Song of Zechariah (which has become part of the liturgy of Morning Prayer in the BCP). There is definitely a prophetic aura about that passage. Zechariah was struck dumb because of his unbelief when he spoke to the Angel Gabriel. He shows that he's "come around" by writing that his son should be named John, and his tongue is loosed then, miraculously. So there's something rather authoritative about his words:

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he hath visited and redeemed his people, and hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began, that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us....That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life. (Luke 1:68-75)

Sounds a lot like the Jeremiah 23 passage, doesn't it? The people of the time would have been steeped in such passages. But here we are, two thousand years later, and Israel still hasn't been saved from her enemies or from the hands of those that hate her! Nothing like. Nor did Jesus make any apparent move to do anything visibly like that during his earthly ministry.

It just shows the complete reasonableness of the disciples' question, just before Jesus' Ascension, "Wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6) And it's hard not to feel a bit impatient with Jesus' brusque dismissal of the disciples as not having the right to know the times or seasons kept in the power of the Father (Acts 1:7).

It's all very well for us Christians to say with 20/20 hindsight that these prophecies are eschatological. How were Jesus' disciples to know that? And if we're honest, we'll admit quite frankly that we have no very good idea what their fulfillment will look like even in eschatological terms. How can the end of the world come but separate nations remain for Jesus to rule over as in the Old Testament prophecies? How can there be no more giving in marriage (as Jesus said in Matthew 22:30) while history appears to continue with an earthly kingdom? And what in the world does the Apostle Paul mean when he prophesies that "all Israel shall be saved" (Romans 11:26)? I have no idea.

So here we have the challenge, the accusation: Did God play mind games with His people Israel by giving them confusing prophecies and then sending a Messiah who did not fulfill them, at least not at that time?

No doubt by this time many of my readers will have been fidgeting in their seats and wanting to blurt out the answer. Yes: It's true. There is another entirely separate, and rather surprisingly different, set of Messianic prophecies, of a Messiah who does not rule (at least not when he's fulfilling this set of prophecies), who instead suffers.

Psalm 22:

My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?...They pierced my hands and my feet...They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.

Zechariah 12:10

And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications, and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son...

Daniel 9:25-26 (NIV)

Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens,’ and sixty-two ‘sevens.’...26 After the sixty-two ‘sevens,’ the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing [or, "but not for himself"].

And probably the most important and striking suffering Messiah passage of all, Isaiah 52:13-53:12:

Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high. As many were astonied at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men:...He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.

The contrasts between these two views of the Messiah could hardly have escaped the notice of the people of Israel. It is therefore not surprising that a tradition developed that there would actually be two Messiahs. One, the descendent of David, would be the ruling Messiah, while the other, the son of Joseph (why Joseph I have not yet entirely figured out) would be the suffering Messiah.

Dating the origins of traditions found in the Talmud is about as difficult as herding cats, and I make no claim to be a Talmudist. It seems safe, however, to say that, while the Talmudic traditions were written down well into the AD period, they represent lines of thought that could plausibly go back to the BC period and the time of Jesus.

Here is a mention of the Messiah son of Joseph, who was to be killed, in a commentary on Zechariah 12:10. From Succah 52a, in the Babylonian Talmud:

What was the mourning for? R. Dosa and the rabbis differ: One holds that it was for the Messiah the son of Joseph, who was killed; and one holds that it was for the evil angel, who was killed. It would be right according to one who holds that it was for the Messiah the son of Joseph, because he explains as supporting him the passage [Zech. xii. 10]: "And they will look up toward me (for every one) whom they have thrust through, and they will lament for him, as one lamenteth for an only son, and weep bitterly for him, as one weepeth bitterly for the firstborn"


The rabbis taught: The Messiah b. David, who (as we hope) will appear in the near future, the Holy One, blessed be He, will say to him: Ask something of me and I will give it to thee, as it is written [Ps. ii. 7-8]: "I will announce the decree . . . Ask it of me, and I will give," etc. But as the Messiah b. David will have seen that the Messiah b. Joseph who preceded him was killed, he will say before the Lord: Lord of the Universe, I will ask nothing of Thee but life. And the Lord will answer: This was prophesied already for thee by thy father David [Ps. xxi. 5]: "Life hath he asked of thee, thou gavest it to him."

An editorial footnote to this edition of the Talmud, to the phrase "Messiah the son of Joseph, who was killed" says,

There was a tradition among the ancient Hebrews that two Messiahs would appear before the redemption of Israel[,] one of the tribe of Joseph and one of the tribe of Jehudah, a descendant of David[,] and the expression "who was killed" means who will have been killed.

In further support of a tradition of a suffering Messiah, here is Sanhedrin 98b:

The Rabbis said: His name is 'the leper scholar,' as it is written, Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God, and afflicted.

Here is a suggestive passage from the Dead Sea Scrolls, which of course date a good deal earlier than the written compilation of the Talmud:

...his Wisdom [will be great.] He will make atonement for all the children of his generation. He will be sent to all the sons of his [generation]. His word shall be as the word of Heaven and his teaching shall be according to the will of God. His eternal sun shall burn brilliantly. The fire shall be kindled in all the corners of the earth. Upon the Darkness it will shine. Then the Darkness will pass away [from] the earth and the deep Darkness from the dry land. They will speak many words against him. There will be many [lie]s. They will invent stories about him. They will say shameful things about him. He will overthrow his evil generation and there will be [great wrath]. When he arises there will be lying and violence, and the people will wander astray [in] his days and be confounded.

- Dead Sea Scrolls, 4Q541, Column 4

And here is a fascinating quotation from a document that appears to be originally Jewish but interpolated with Christian commentary. Nonetheless it is quite ancient; fragments from the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs have been found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Notice the reference to Joseph in the Testament of Benjamin:

And thus Jacob cried out, My child Joseph, thou hast prevailed over the bowels of thy father Jacob. And he embraced him, and kissed him for two hours, saying, In thee shall be fulfilled the prophecy of heaven concerning the Lamb of God, even the Saviour of the world, that spotless shall He be delivered up for transgressors, and sinless shall He be put to death for ungodly men in the blood of the covenant, for the salvation of the Gentiles and of Israel, and shall destroy Beliar, and them that serve him.

Even if we assume that the reference to the "saviour of the world," etc., was a Christian addition, any Christian interpolator that existed seems to have been picking up on the Messiah son of Joseph tradition, for otherwise one would have expected him to relate this reference to the Messiah to Judah.

Further arguments for some degree of Jewish realization at the time of Christ that Messiah (or a Messiah) must suffer are these:

--The apostles began immediately to apply Isaiah 53 (at least, but also presumably other suffering Messiah passages) to Jesus, as we can see most explicitly in Philip's conversation with the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8). Such applications are early implied when Peter preaches, "[T]hose things, which God before had showed by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, he hath so fulfilled" (Acts 3:18). While some of this can of course be attributed to their newly confirmed zeal to proclaim that Jesus was the Messiah (which we Christians of course attribute to their knowledge of the resurrection), it is not a far-fetched conjecture that in their preaching they were taking it as a given that there were acknowledged "suffering Messiah" prophecies.

--It seems implausible that the Messiah son of Joseph tradition would have first arisen de novo in the Christian era. If it were already firmly established that there was only a single, reigning Messiah tradition, this would have been the tradition to stick with in order not to cede any ground to the Christians.

--Circa AD 150, Justin Martyr records a stylized dialogue with Trypho the Jew which plausibly reflects the real state of Jewish-Christian debate at the time. Justin presses Isaiah 53 hard, and Trypho's response is not (at all) to deny its messianic nature nor that Messiah must suffer. Trypho says, "[W]e know that He should suffer and be led as a sheep" (Chapter XC) Rather, the sticking point for Trypho is the fact that the suffering took the form of crucifixion, and anyone who hangs on a tree is cursed in the law (Deuteronomy 21:23). It seems that even at this time the idea of denying a suffering Messiah altogether was not the preferred Jewish response, presumably because the prophetic texts make such a total denial very difficult. (Trypho also, I must note, does not try to divide the Messiah into two persons. Evidently that was only one possible way to resolve the apparent tension between the suffering and reigning Messianic passages. The more important point, however, is that he does not deny a suffering Messiah.)

If Jesus' lowly manner of life and lack of military ambition were puzzling in connection with the "ruling Messiah" prophesies, it would have been possible for the Jews during Jesus' ministry to advert to the suffering Messiah passages instead. The view that one Messiah would suffer and another Messiah would reign would make this even easier.

[Digression prompted by the coolness of this connection: In John 12:32, Jesus says, "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me." John glosses this as a reference to the literal "lifting up" in the crucifixion. The audience seems to have understood it that way too (perhaps it was an idiom), and they say in vs. 34, "We have heard out of the law that Christ [i.e. Messiah] abideth for ever, and how sayest thou, The Son of man must be lifted up?" So the people are clearly bothered by the notion of a crucified Messiah. Jesus responds by telling them (vss. 35-36) to walk in the light while they have it--apparently, to believe in him on the basis of the miracles he has performed while there is still time. John immediately afterwards says that they did not believe on him despite all his miracles and that this fulfilled Isaiah 53:1, "Who hath believed our report?" Now, here's the extra-cool thing, which I would not have known myself. It's discussed in Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the God of Israel, pp. 47ff. The word Jesus uses for "lifted up" is the same as the Greek word used in the Septuagint in Isaiah 52:13, when it says that the Servant of the Lord will be "exalted." It seems entirely plausible, and it would be quite in keeping with the Jewish love of plays on words, that Jesus was making a pun on the term "lifted up" or "exalted" to refer both to his final exaltation after his death and resurrection (see Philippians 2:9) and to the crucifixion itself. This would be in keeping with Jesus' reference, also in John, to his passion itself as his "glorification" (John 13:31-32). Here we see evidence both that Jesus' audience was fairly insistent on a successful and reigning Messiah who would not die (and especially would not be crucified) and also of Jesus' alluding to Isaiah 53--a passage that definitely indicates a suffering Messiah when taken as a whole. Jesus also did something that Christian liturgy and thought has done throughout the ages--he spoke of his death as a form of exaltation and triumph. End of digression.]

Prophecy in the nature of the case is often somewhat dark and understood only in hindsight. (Think even in fiction of the prophecy of the death of the Lord of the Nazgul in LOTR.) Two apparently quite different sets of prophecies about a person who might reasonably be expected to be a single person make matters more complicated still. But that very fact gives ample space for answering the charge of Divine injustice--at least on the assumption that Jesus gave some positive evidence that he was indeed the Messiah.

The contrast between the ruling and suffering traditions has yet another extremely nice evidential consequence: Let's go back to the account of the Annunciation in Luke. This passage is from a section of Luke in a Hebrew-influenced Greek style, quite different from Luke's usual style. (Luke's usual Greek style begins with the ministry of John the Baptist, in Luke 3:1. Something of the abrupt shift even comes across in the English, with the move from the narratives concerning Jesus' family to the historian's introduction: "Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee..." etc.)

We've already noted the fact that the angel's prophecy to Mary and the Song of Zechariah are permeated with messianic prophecy and specifically with prophecies naturally understood to refer to an earthly messianic reign.

Now consider what this means concerning the origins of the passages. This material is found only in Luke, and it would be pretty tempting for a skeptic to claim that it was a later "mythical accretion" (after all, we have two miraculous conceptions in the space of a single chapter!) added to fill in a perceived gap in our knowledge of Jesus' birth and childhood. But if the passages were later fictional addenda, it would be much more natural for the prophecies in them to reflect what by that time was well-known concerning Jesus' actual life: He did not set up an earthly kingdom. He died on the cross. He was not a conqueror or a visible king. He was crucified by the Romans for claiming to be the king of the Jews. Even though the early Christians believed firmly in Jesus' resurrection, the reigning and conquering Messiah passages from the Old Testament remained unfulfilled and had to be presumed to be eschatological. A story that was a later accretion would have been much more likely to give the angel a prophecy relating Jesus' future to that of the "suffering Messiah"--something about suffering for the sins of his people. We would not expect all of this material about his unending kingdom and, in the Song of Zechariah, about his bringing safety to Israel.

The very oddity of the focus on the reigning Messiah in these passages is evidence for their authenticity. Independently, based on language alone, we might plausibly conjecture that Luke was working with a source document written in Hebrew, possibly from Jesus' relatives. The un-retouched reigning Messiah prophecies are further evidence for this conjecture and even for the truth of the narratives.

Sherlock Holmes used to say that the very fact that seems recalcitrant is often a clue to the whole mystery. Something a bit like that has happened here. The somewhat obscure and frustrating reigning Messiah prophecies seem to generate a problem for Divine justice in God's dealings with His people. That challenge can be answered, and, as a bonus, the insistence of the early chapters of Luke on applying reigning Messiah prophecies to Jesus is evidence for the accuracy of the narrative.

(My humble thanks both to Esteemed Husband and to Eric Chabot for help on this post. Eric provided numerous e-mails, books, links, and references, including the Bauckham reference among many others, with unstinting generosity. Interested readers may like to read a related post by Eric here. Eric is less inclined than I to think that a Jewish tradition of a Suffering Messiah in addition to the OT passages referring to a Suffering Messiah was in place by the time of Jesus, and I would not want to associate him with my conjectured conclusions on that point, but the difference between us is not large.)