Poem 5/26

God is righteous, judge of all;
God is shepherd, seeks the lost;
God who set the sun shines forth
from beauty– at peace with his people.
God is he who speaks to call,
and weary, evil, repent, all.
His silence, his relent, would doom;
yet he comes nigh to save.
Now those who hear and see fall, joyful;
offer thankful lives.
Their chaos broken, now nearby;
salvation fills their eyes.

Poem 5/25

Does the bronzing of leaves or
the brief bloom of spring
reek of sin or keep pace in resistance?
Would the unchanging God
make a shadow of truth
in a form not his own and yet lovely?
Does all change need death; or
is all death of evil?
Would we know of the sun
that our God is eternal?

De Ordine, Part 1

“Some cauterize the wound of disordered opinion inflicted on them in day-to-day life by retreating into solitude. Others do the same by cultivating the liberal arts.”
-St. Augustine, De Ordine

In one of his earliest works, Augustine debates the accident of order with a few students and his mother. The questions which fuel their pursuit of understanding are that of unity. How can we reconcile that “on the one hand, God takes care of human affairs, on the other these same affairs are shot through with so much evil,” that God is good, that he is omnipotent, that nothing occurs outside God’s order, and yet that evil occurs? If evil contradicts the nature of God’s order, we cannot then hold that it occurs within it, but neither can we say evil is powerful to overcome God’s order and thus act outside of it, for then God is not omnipotent. If God causes evil, he is its author, and thus cannot be called good. So mankind observes in his world orderliness: that it does occur, that it seems good, and that it appeals to the wise as worthy of imitation and perpetuation, and he is haunted by the persistence of disunity. If this “clashing of contraries gives body to the overall beauty of the universe,” then is evil necessary for beauty? Is it necessary for the occurrence of order? If all was good, would all be order, or would order not exist? Then, what of God’s justice?

The work of Christian philosophy is discerning the eternal from the midst of a broken yet hope-filled world.

Work of the Holy Spirit

In the conversational argument around liturgy, I often hear the more charismatic/evangelical side stress a concern to be more “open to the movement of the Holy Spirit” throughout the church service. A more scripted service is constraining to those who anticipate new movements, new words, new inklings from God to arise in the midst of worship. The liturgical camp seeks to lean upon and learn from that which God has revealed and worked out with our brothers and sisters before us, and that to which the Holy Spirit guides us in careful and prayerful planning.

One group trusts that their whims during worship are inspired, the other goes to great efforts to subdue their whims to that which is practiced and studied. One group longs to be lost to the movement of God, outside of themselves in the moment, while the other seeks to be consciously reshaped in practicing habits of worship. Both deeply trust the work of the Holy Spirit in guiding the church to worship God in spirit and truth. Both long to worship in a manner shaped by scripture. Both long to be shaped by their worship, more so into the image of Christ their lord. Yet, hermeneutic leads them to such differing practices, the one often does not recognize the other as worship.

Poem 3/6

Silences fill full with
sweet words spoke softly;

Time breaths in sighs, and
the door holds back winter;

The warmth of their room
heats the days of their lives;

Where they meet, moons and myst’ries
meld one to the other.

The Fullness of God and the End of an Era

I was recently asked by a middle schooler, “Why did the Bible stop being written?”

Simply put, because Jesus was enough. All scripture leading up to the Jesus’ incarnation looked forward to that day. God’s people lived in hope for the coming messiah, being guided and prepared by God’s Word and acts to receive Jesus, who, “being by nature bodiless and existing as the Word, by the love for humankind and the goodness of his own Father he appeared to us in a human body for our salvation.”1

The Gospels give us witness of his incarnation, of the fullness of God in Jesus enfleshed, culminating in the ultimate act for salvation: death of the righteous one for the lost, and resurrection– proof of death, of sin, being conquered. The risen Christ revealed at last the fullness of God’s name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father, that the Spirit might come to comfort, guide, and grow to maturity the people of God who await the final coming of Christ in the Day of the Lord.

So the Gospels bear this witness, and the rest of the New Testament applies what Christ did and said to the life of the church. The NT writers take what Christ said and did, test it by the text of the Old Testament, find that it is good, learn more of what had been revealed in ages past as it pointed to Jesus, and teach the church how then we might live as those whose hope has come in Christ. These writings are labeled scripture due to the author’s status as Apostle, their faithfulness to and consistency with the rest of scripture, their faithfulness to Jesus, and by their works “hav[ing] considerable value for church life and ministry.”2 To a large extent, we trust the brothers and sisters before us who were nearer to the writings themselves, to have been guided by the Holy Spirit to discern the Word from twaddle.

The mark of the age of the church is evangelism and growth. The scriptures are sufficient for God’s people to know and worship him in spirit and in truth, because it is centered on Jesus Christ. With a well-founded, deep-rooted faith, we gather as the body for the preaching of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, to confess our faith, to pray, to sing, to encourage one another in the Lord. Scripture ceased to be written because God is revealed truthfully and sufficiently (though never comprehensively) in Jesus, and his Word we have is powerful to prepare the world for his return.

 

  1. Saint Athanasius, On the Incarnation.
  2. McDonald, Lee Martin, The Biblical Canon, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 401.

On Gilead and Me

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson has become one of my favorite books. I first read it late one night in my last year of seminary. Over the course of a few days, five different people recommended the book to me, so I decided to read it sooner than later. That Friday evening I made myself dinner, poured a drink, snuggled into my green velvet armchair beneath an affordable but lovely Tiffany lamp knock-off, and didn’t move until I’d read the entire book. This is the first book I’ve read in one sitting since I was a little girl. It captivated me. I laughed, I cried, I dreamed, I wondered, and I was comforted. I’ve reread the book twice since, and have a unique but consistently positive experience each time.

I recently began leading a book club at church, and chose to begin with Gilead. On the first week we met and got to know each other a little bit and I gave a brief introduction to the book. Due to the nature of this book, I structured the events so we would meet once for introduction and a reading of the first few pages, then regroup after a few weeks once we had all finished reading.

The diversity of reactions to the book was striking. For some, it was comfortable, warm, inviting, and even restful. For some, it was boring. For others, it is invasive and disquieting (some people even backed out because they hated the book so much).

Those who were bored, wondered when the plot would pick up. Those who were uncomfortable felt invasive being in Ames’ head the whole time. Those of us who loved the book, felt it was a similar experience to getting to know someone. Reading Gilead felt like sitting across the coffee table from a dear friend, late at night, for many nights, opening up each others’ worlds. It is intimate. So, just as in making a friend, you either hit it off, or you don’t. I found in John Ames a kindred spirit who shared my love of James Montgomery hymns, John Donne poetry, and a general concern for theological studies and how we are to engage them in relationships with actual people seeking or struggling to seek God. I found in him an elder who lived that life well, effectively, thoughtfully, and did benefit those around him. It’s amazing what art can teach us about ourselves.

of John Donne

Batter my heart, three person’d God; for, you
As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow mee,’ and bend
Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new.
I, like an usurpt towne, to’another due,
Labor to’admit you, but Oh, to no end,
Reason your viceroy in mee, mee should defend,
But is captiv’d and proves weake or untrue,
Yet dearely’I love you,’and would be lov’d faine,
But am betroth’d unto your enemie,
Divorce mee,’untie, or breake that knot againe,
Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I
Except you’enthrall mee, never shall be free,
Nor ever chast, except you ravish me.

The Reach of Hermeneutic

I’ve lately pondered why too many Christians seem to settle for sappy, simplistic, shallow arts. Works of literature, music, and film labeled “Christian” and mass-marketed in such circles have tended away from any objective qualifications of good art. They’ve turned toward something more akin to self-help positivism promoting Christian faith as a quick solution to struggle or listlessness in life. While discussing the recent film Silence with a group of colleagues and friends, I wondered if the true culprit of this disconnect (between the church and objectively good contemporary art) was a watered-down hermeneutic.

If Christians have sat in church and been fed three-point topical sermons in which multiple chapters of scripture are reduced to a single grand take-away; if they’ve been taught that the life of Abraham is there in the Bible that they might learn to be a leader like him, then they have been taught in their most frequent and formative interactions with great literature a poor, simple, shallow, and often sappy hermeneutic. From such a hermeneutic, many in the church have been conditioned to expect from art that the main character ought to be who I, the reader, ought to be like, that any helpful art can be reduced to a one-liner that makes me sleep better at night, and that it is better, and even more “Christian” for something to be nice than challenging. So, even when approaching a film with an explicitly Christian subject matter, such as Silence, many Christians get uncomfortable. Because they’ve not learned to deal with scripture in any complex or nuanced manner, but have acquired a flat hermeneutic, they’ve gained eyes that are blinded when confronted with other arts.

This shallow hermeneutic demands little from the art it discerns. It, thus, works best on little art. Complex art must be contorted or stripped to fit in such small places, to flow through small holes in a strainer where there ought to be a window. Those who have learned from poor preaching or self-help books masquerading as theology struggle to read scripture on their own in any meaningful way. They are limited to a single reading of the Psalms as a flat set of prayers intended for the church to one day pray about Jesus (many of which become very confused in this light). They are limited to reading the historical books as a novel, truly about how to be a friend like Jonathan is to David, or lessons on why you shouldn’t sleep with your wife’s friends even if she tells you to. This manner of reading scripture changes these Christians’ manner of approaching all other art.

These Christians are not able to appreciate good art in literature or in film or in music, because any sensitivity to nuance, any strength to confront the darkness and depravity of the world in an honest way (one of art’s best and most necessary qualities), and any patience for complexity have been purged from their minds by preachers who have flattened the Bible, and so their congregants’ worlds. This skill they ought to have learned well through a robust hermeneutic of scripture that is able to wade through the nuance and complexities of the inspired, multi-genre, intricately-woven spiritual relaying of redemptive history that it is. But a person who believes they ought to receive from the book of Isaiah one solid application point will have little patience for Silence.

Do not hear me say we should approach any and all art with the same hermeneutic we approach scripture. Rather, hear me acknowledge that it is right and good that a Christian’s hermeneutic of scripture would affect their readings of any and all other art, not in a 1:1 manner, but in a real way. No matter how much I like the film Paterson or Goethe’s Faust, they are not inspired. Yet I see goodness, beauty, and truth; struggle, evil, and redemption in both works. And because scripture has taught me what those realities are, what they mean, and what their effects are on the world, I can appreciate art that deals with these in a meaningful manner.

Poem 7/15

I noticed the light sound of that tree in the wind.

I noticed the wrens and the bluebirds fighting robins.

I noticed the so many colors of weeds.

I noticed the man mowing grass, and his pleasure in the work.

I noticed that each of the seven ducklings following two ducks across the path waddled more dramatically every third step.

Then I noticed you looking at me for an answer.