Archive for February, 2012

February 29, 2012

what lies beyond the five senses

It takes little training to doubt what lies beyond the five senses and no effort at all to drop the stern demands of noblesse oblige. (49)

…Only Odysseus’ knowledge of the past–his longing for Ithaka, Penelope, and Telemakhos–keeps him alive; and only the responsibility he takes for that knowledge rescues him from Kalypso’s pointless life of pleasure. (51)

From David Hicks’ Norms and Nobility.

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February 28, 2012

leaves him weaker as well as stronger

Each new power won by man is a power over man as well…. Each advance leaves him weaker as well as stronger…. The final stage is come when Man by eugenics, by pre-natal conditioning, and by an education and propaganda based on a perfect applied psychology, has obtained full control over himself. Human nature will be the last part of Nature to surrender to Man.

From The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis (69). Quoted in C. S. Lewis as Philosopher: Truth, Goodness and Beauty by Baggett, Habermas and Walls (92).

This next passage makes a related point about the essential quality of human limitations (which we seek the power to eliminate through technology):

As tools are necessary for art—brushes, pigments, canvas—so technology is simply a tool for the art of living. Technology is in its essence incomplete, waiting to be fulfilled by its use as part of art. Today the technology of living, which focuses on youth, longevity, and pleasure subverts the art of living which focuses on maturity, sustainability, and truth. The art of living has been replaced with the technology of living. I do not know how we can return to the art of living.

From “The Art of Living” by Stewart K. Lundy at Front Porch Republic.

February 27, 2012

so named for Peter

Names never cease to amaze me. In the hands of this poet, two familiar stories flow out of one simple name, each informing the other.

Petrel

So named for Peter, the one who tried
to walk on water. The Storm

Petrel, small as a sparrow with a frantic,
pulsing flight, stays silent at sea,
pattering the water with its feet to feed.

Peter, venturing onto that first
unfurled swell, saw the black gyre
below and knew the darkness.

He flailed his arms for rescue
as thunder cracked
a seam of doubt down his center.

He was lifted unto the shore like a bird
thick with oil. And after each wing
was delivered and each feather realigned,

the black stench still lingered:
a line beneath each nail
an itch inside his throat.

By Kristin George. Published in The Cresset (Lent 2012), page 31. Naming and walking silently are kingly things.

February 25, 2012

sabbath was to time what temple was to space

The sabbath was the day when human time and God’s time met, when the day-to-day succession of tasks and sorrows was set aside and one entered a different sort of time, celebrating the original sabbath and looking forward to the ultimate one. This was the natural moment to celebrate, to worship, to pray, to study God’s law. The sabbath was the moment during which one sensed the onward movement of history from its first foundations to its ultimate resolution. If the Temple was the space in which God’s sphere and the human sphere met, the sabbath was the time when God’s time and human time coincided. Sabbath was to time what Temple was to space.

…This sense of looking forward was heightened by the larger sabbatical scheme in which the seventh year was a year of agricultural rest and the seven-times-seventh year the year of jubilee, the time for slaves to be freed, for debts to be cancelled, for life to get back on track.

…The jubilee was, as it were, the once-in-a-lifetime “exodus” that everyone could experience. We don’t know whether or to what extent the jubilee as set forth in Leviticus 25 was actually practiced in Jesus’s day. But it remained in the scriptures as a reminder that God’s time was being marked out week by week, seven years by seven years, half century by half century. Matthew hints at all this in his own way, right at the start of his gospel, by arranging Jesus’s genealogy in three groups of fourteen generations (that is, six sevens), so that Jesus appears at the start of the sabbath-of-sabbaths moment. And, as we have seen, people in Jesus’s day were pondering, calculating, and longing for the greatest superjubilee of them all, the “seventy weeks” (that is, seventy times seven years) of Daniel 9:24.

…Now, and only now, do we see what Jesus meant when he said the time is fulfilled. That was part of his announcement right at the start of his public career (Mark 1:15). Only this, I believe, will enable us to understand his extraordinary behavior immediately afterwards. He seems to have gone out of his way to flout the normal sabbath regulations. Most people in the modern church have imagined that this was because the sabbath had become “legalistic,” a kind of observance designed to boost one’s sense of moral achievement, and that Jesus had come to sweep all that away in a burst of libertarian, antilegalistic enthusiasm. That, though commonplace, is a trivial misunderstanding. It is too “modern” by half.

…In particular, Jesus came to Nazareth and announced the jubilee. This was the time—the time!—when all the sevens, all the sabbaths, would rush together. This was the moment Israel and the world had been waiting for. When you reach your destination, you don’t expect to see signposts anymore. …It was completely consistent with Jesus’s vision of his own vocation that he would do things that said, again and again from one angle after another, that the time had arrived, that the future, the new creation, was already here, and that one no longer needed the sabbath. The sabbath law was not, then, a stupid rule that could now be abolished (though some of the detailed sabbath regulations, as Jesus pointed out, had led to absurd extremes, so that you were allowed to pull a donkey out of a well on the sabbath, but not to heal the sick). It was a signpost whose purpose had now been accomplished

…If Jesus is a walking, living, breathing Temple, he is also the walking, celebrating, victorious sabbath. But this means that the time of Jesus’s public career, taken as a whole, also acquires a special significance. He spoke about this special significance when he insisted that the wedding guests can’t fast while the bridegroom is still at the party. Something new is happening; a new time has been launched; different things are now appropriate. Jesus has a sense of a rhythm to his work, a short rhythm in which he will launch God’s kingdom, the God’s-in-charge project, and complete it in the most shocking and dramatic symbolic act of all.

….In a solemn warning that resonates with many similar ones, Jesus warns his hearers that they may one day see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets—and people from east and west, from north and south!—sitting down to eat in the kingdom of God, while they themselves will be thrown out (Luke 13:18–30). The time of Jesus’s public career is the time of fulfillment, the time through which God’s new creation, his earth-as-in-heaven new reality, is being launched, up close and personal. But this means it is possible to miss the boat, to lose the one chance. That is the warning that goes with the note of fulfillment.

Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters by N. T. Wright

February 25, 2012

way more satisfying

Dramatically slamming a book shut upon finishing it was way more satisfying than switching my Kindle off and gently placing it on the table.

from Aaron Karo in Reader’s Digest (March 2012, page 101).

February 24, 2012

they are but one appetite

All sensuality is one, though it takes many forms; all purity is one. It is the same whether a man eat, or drink, or cohabit, or sleep sensually. They are but one appetite, and we only need to see a person do any one of these things to know how great a sensuallist he is. The impure can neither stand nor sit with purity. When the reptile is attacked at the mouth of his burrow, he shows himself at another. If you would be chaste, you must be temperate. What is chastity? How shall a man know if he is chaste? He shall not know it. We have heard of this virtue, but we know not what it is. We speak conformably to the rumor which we have heard. From exertion come wisdom and purity; from sloth, ignorance and sensuality. In the student, sensuality is a sluggish habit of mind. An unclean person is universally a slothful one, one who sits by a stove, whom the sun shines on prostrate, who reposes without being fatigued. If you would avoid uncleanness and all the sins, work earnestly, though it be cleaning a stable.

From “Higher Laws,” Walden, 1854. (Quoted in Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student by Corbett and Connors, 106.)

February 23, 2012

both hands are stopped at noon

How have we invaded the moon? Is the moon’s light not as potent now that we have stepped upon its face? I love space exploration, but this poem is still profoundly true. Our imaginations wax dangerously rootless, shiny, sterilized and inhumane. Thanks to the student who taught me this poem today.

The End of Science Fiction
by Lisel Mueller

This is not fantasy, this is our life.
We are the characters
who have invaded the moon,
who cannot stop their computers.
We are the gods who can unmake
the world in seven days.

Both hands are stopped at noon.
We are beginning to live forever,
in lightweight, aluminum bodies
with numbers stamped on our backs.
We dial our words like Muzak.
We hear each other through water.

The genre is dead. Invent something new.
Invent a man and a woman
naked in a garden,
invent a child that will save the world,
a man who carries his father
out of a burning city.
Invent a spool of thread
that leads a hero to safety,
invent an island on which he abandons
the woman who saved his life
with no loss of sleep over his betrayal.

Invent us as we were
before our bodies glittered
and we stopped bleeding:
invent a shepherd who kills a giant,
a girl who grows into a tree,
a woman who refuses to turn
her back on the past and is changed to salt,
a boy who steals his brother’s birthright
and becomes the head of a nation.
Invent real tears, hard love,
slow-spoken, ancient words,
difficult as a child’s
first steps across a room.

February 22, 2012

fills the young person’s head with the sound of voices

The poet, Plato writes in Phaedra, “clothes all the great deeds accomplished by the men of old with glory, and thus educates those who come after.” The poet’s myth teaches the Ideal Type by example, not by precept, and allows the student through his imagination to participate in the past, partaking of the Ideal. Often the student is asked—paraphrasing Shelly—to go out of his own nature: to imagine himself in the sandals of some mythical or historical figure. How would you have advised the Senate, his teacher might ask him, had you been Regulus returned from Carthage with the ultimatum? (45)

Likewise in classical schools, students are often asked to play the “devil’s advocate”…. This … negates certain parts of the Ideal in such a way that the negation demonstrates the nonessential nature of these parts. …In any case, classical education eventually fills the young person’s head with the sound of voices: the impassioned debate of many great figures of myth and history concerning what is good, beautiful, and excellent in man. Through his imagination, the student participates in this dialectical confabulation, and his thoughts and actions become literally involved with the Ideal Type. The Ideal is refined, and action and thought join inextricably in the life of virtue. (47)

From Norms and Nobility by David Hicks.

February 22, 2012

a day of unusual classes

My wife found a delightful illustrator, Emily Winfield Martin, who has written a children’s book called Oddfellow’s Orphanage that we have been enjoying with our children. Chapter three, “A Day of Unusual Classes,” describes the following curriculum: F.T. Studies by Professor Flockheart (which stands for fairy tales OR folktales), M.O.N.S.T.E.R.S. by Professor Silas (which written out fully is “Mysterious Or Nonexistent Subjects Thoroughly Examined Really Scientifically”), lunch break, and Astronomy with Professor Stella (the last class of the day). Here are sample pages, featuring an illustration of the Astronomy classroom (click on image for higher resolution).

Image of Professor Stella in her classroom

February 22, 2012

redefining sacred space around himself

This collection of passages captures several key theological ideas about the temple as well as the human offices of king and priest. Christ comes to replace the temple with Himself: becoming the perfect temple, king and priest. This is all clearly connected to the idea that Adam was also a king given the task of tending and protecting the temple-garden (including the jobs of protecting it from evil as well as conducting further planning and planting). We also encounter the overarching idea that “creation was itself a temple, the Temple, the heaven-and-earth structure built for God to live in.” Many basic and overlapping truths:

The same is true when we consider the other great “royal” aspiration: to cleanse or rebuild the Temple. We regularly refer to the striking action Jesus performed in the Temple as his “cleansing of the Temple.” We don’t, perhaps, always realize that any such action was staking an implicitly royal claim: it was kings, real or aspiring, who had authority over the Temple. It was Israel’s kings or would-be kings who planned it (David), built it (Solomon), cleansed it (Hezekiah, Josiah, Judah the Hammer), rebuilt it (Zerubbabel, Herod the Great), and hoped to defend it (Simon bar-Giora) or to rebuild it once more (Simon the Star).

…So when Jesus came into the Temple and performed another dramatic action, driving out the money changers and the dealers selling animals for sacrifice, this too would have been seen within a web of prophetic allusion and symbolism. Jeremiah, after all, had famously smashed a pot at the same place (Jer. 19), symbolizing the coming judgment. But what was Jesus intending to communicate? What did he mean by his action? Like many others, I have become convinced that Jesus’s dramatic action was a way of declaring that the Temple was under God’s judgment and would, before too long, be destroyed forever.

…The joining place was visible where the healings were taking place, where the party was going on (remember the angels celebrating in heaven and people joining in on earth?), where forgiveness was happening. In other words, the joining place, the overlapping circle, was taking place where Jesus was and in what he was doing. Jesus was, as it were, a walking Temple. A living, breathing place-where-Israel’s-God-was-living. As many people will see at once, this is the very heart of what later theologians would call the doctrine of the incarnation. But it looks quite different from how many people imagine that doctrine to work. Judaism already had a massive “incarnational” symbol, the Temple. Jesus was behaving as if he were the Temple, in person. He was talking about Israel’s God taking charge. And he was doing things that put that God-in-chargeness into practice. It all starts to make sense. In particular, it answers the old criticism that “Jesus talked about God, but the church talked about Jesus”—as though Jesus would have been shocked to have his pure, God-centered message corrupted in that way. This sneer fails to take account of the fact that, yes, Jesus talked about God, but he talked about God precisely in order to explain the things that he himself was doing.

…If Jesus is acting out a vision—astonishing, risky, and one might say crazy—in which he is behaving as if he is the Temple, redefining sacred space around himself, something equally strange and risky is taking place in the realm of time.

…Creation was itself a temple, the Temple, the heaven-and-earth structure built for God to live in. And the seventh-day “rest” was therefore a sign pointing forward into successive ages of time, a forward-looking signpost that said that one day, when God’s purposes for creation were accomplished, there would be a moment of ultimate completion, a moment when the work would finally be done, and God, with his people, would take his rest, would enjoy what he had accomplished.

From Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters by N.T. Wright.

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