Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Ultimate Materialist

There is a habit that plagues many so-called spiritual minds: they imagine that matter and spirit are somehow at odds with each other and that the right course for human life is to escape from the world of matter into some finer and purer (and undoubtedly duller) realm. To me, that is a crashing mistake -- and it is, above all, a theological mistake. Because, in fact, it was God who invented dirt, onions, and turnip greens; God who invented human beings, and their strange compulsion to cook their food; God who, at the end of each day of creation, pronounced a resounding "Good!" over his own concoctions. And it is God's unrelenting love of all the stuff of this world that keeps it in being at every moment. So, if we are fascinated, even intoxicated, by matter, it is no surprise: we are made in the image of the Ultimate Materialist

From the "Preface to the Second and Third Edition" of The Supper of the Lamb by Robert Farrar Capon.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Demanding and Rigorous

From a New York Times column by Nicholas D. Kristof.

Centuries ago, serious religious study was extraordinarily demanding and rigorous; in contrast, anyone could declare himself a scientist and go in the business of, say, alchemy. These days, it’s the reverse. A Ph.D. in chemistry is a rigorous degree, while a preacher can explain the Bible on television without mastering Hebrew or Greek — or even showing interest in the nuances of the original texts. 


Sunday, July 31, 2011

We'll See

Parents are deep wells of wisdom.

That fact seems to usually go unrecognized until the children themselves are in the parent stage. I have found that even though I certainly gave lip service to my mother's wisdom, as I move down the slippery slope -- getting within spitting distance now of the AARP -- I see it more clearly.

As a child I would ask my Mom if we could do something in the future. "Can we go to Benson's Animal Farm this summer?"  "Can we go to the beach next week?"

Her inevitable answer would be "We'll see."

It was a source of great frustration for me. Yes or no. "We'll see" just did not cut it.

Now I watch the check and balance action going back and forth between Congress, Senate and the Executive Branch of the federal government. Competing theories of what needs doing and how to do it -- mow it all down or just a little pruning here and there. Competing theories of what will happen -- total apocalypse or a slight bump in the road.

And no news outlet seems to be able to actually explain the issues. They are great on the play by play, (Boehner jabs, he weaves, Obama with a right cross, and OH! Boehner lands a solid blow to the kidneys. Obama shakes it off...) but no one seem to be able to clarify the issues at hand.

So...I find myself, like my Mom, just watching it all and saying..."Well -- we'll see."

Wisdom. I see it now.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Xristos Anesti

Jesus lives, and so shall I.
Death! thy sting is gone forever,
He who deigned for me to die,
Lives, the bands of death to sever.
He shall raise me with the just:
Jesus is my Hope and Trust.

Jesus lives and reigns supreme;
And, His kingdom still remaining;
I shall also be with Him,
Ever living, ever reigning.
God has promised: be it must;
Jesus is my Hope and Trust.

Jesus lives, I know full well,
Naught from Him my heart can sever,
Life nor death nor powers of hell,
Joy nor grief, henceforth forever.
None of all His saints is lost;
Jesus is my Hope and Trust.

Jesus lives, and death is now
But my entrance into glory.
Courage, then, my soul, for thou
Hast a crown of life before thee;
Thou shalt find thy hopes were just;
Jesus Christ, our hope and trust..

Friday, April 22, 2011


Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?

Thy body slain, sweet Jesus, Thine—
And bathed in its own blood—
While the firm mark of wrath divine,
His Soul in anguish stood.

Was it for crimes that I had done
He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!

Well might the sun in darkness hide
And shut his glories in,
When Christ, the mighty Maker died,
For man the creature’s sin.

Thus might I hide my blushing face
While His dear cross appears,
Dissolve my heart in thankfulness,
And melt my eyes to tears.

But drops of grief can ne’er repay
The debt of love I owe:
Here, Lord, I give my self away
’Tis all that I can do.

-- Isaac Watts

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Not Like the Movies...

My wife knows.

When we are watching a movie, she knows that the minute they show someone paddling a canoe, I will tense up. Clearly I want to say something, but I am holding back. She knows that I want to complain about how Natalie Portman can study ballet for a year to play the lead in Black Swan, but the producer of this film apparently can't spare $30 to hire some summer camp recreation director for 1/2 hour to teach his lead actors how to properly paddle a canoe. She knows that my barely suppressed rage at this travesty is only surpassed by my knowledge that she has forbidden me to speak on the subject ever again. Ever.

That's what happens when you rant one too many times, I guess.

It's just that it jars me out of my willing suspension of disbelief when the supposedly woodscrafty hero, a man wise and skilled in the ways of making his way through the wilderness can't even paddle a gosh darn canoe straight without switching sides every 3 strokes and getting water in the boat to boot. Drives me up a wall.

The movies just can't seem to get the details right.

In the same way, it seems that neither script writers, nor directors nor any actor seems to be able to get the portrayal of religious belief right on the screen. It seems lately that almost every time some religious thread is introduced into a story, something about the way it plays just seems off. It seems off in almost the same way as when you are trying to speak to someone with eyes that point two different directions. All the pieces of the face are there, but it's all just far enough off the mark to make the result disconcerting.

I can understand how this can happen. If you have never had an authentic religious experience, if you have not had extensive firsthand familiar with the religious subculture and the real people that live it, or even more importantly if you do not respect religious folk enough to look past the surface, it is almost a given that the result will tend more to caricature than to characterization. To authentically portray such people, you may not need to be one of them, but you must have a certain sympathy and certainly a real familiarity with them as people. Otherwise your dialogue will never rise above a ragtag collection of religious cliches. I watch these plays and the words jar me in the same way as a poorly paddled canoe.

I recently viewed a video on youtube that comes from a completely opposite pole. In our film, television, books and stories, missionaries are mostly vilified. They are presented variously as cultural imperialists, deluded naifs, or corrupt powermongers, just to name a few options. Quick. Do an inventory of all the films and stories you have viewed which include missionaries. How many actually treat the missionary with any type of real respect or seriousness? Include pastors and priests in that mix.

I know missionaries. I grew up with missionaries. The fact is that they are real people who are seeking to live out their real faith in direct confrontation with a real world. The most important thing, beyond all else, is that they help the people to whom they go. As people, they are just as susceptible to all human stumblings. Nevertheless, in so many cases the work they do is highly valued by the people with whom they choose to live and love and help.

This youtube video struck me because it takes the viewpoint of the people helped by christian missionaries. And not just in terms of medical care, agricultural training or food relief. No, these people are joyful from the deepest place and grateful to the missionaries for the MESSAGE that has been brought to them. There is no acting, no mediating by writers or directors to dilute the genuine joy with which these people greet the coming of God's Word in their language to their people.

It seems to me that the testimony of these people is worth far more than that of most filmmakers and TV producers.

In fairness, I have to point out that the people aren't rejoicing over the missionaries. But they are certainly rejoicing over the gift the missionaries have brought to them. I suspect that this type of occurrence is more common than we know. It should be shown on Nightline, 60 Minutes, and 20/20 more often, but it doesn't really align with the popular understanding of how the work of missionaries are received by the people to whom they minister.

It's just not like in the movies.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Plowmen by Robert Frost

A plow, they say, to plow the snow.
They cannot mean to plant it, no--
Unless in bitterness to mock
At having cultivated rock.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

To All Those Plow Guys...You Know Who You Are...

Well, it's been a hard winter here in NH.

I have fence posts out front that I still can barely see the tops of, even though the snow has settled some. Much more, and the snow on the lawn will be higher than my deck. I have formed a technique of inching the nose of my car just barely out into the road on the theory that the car that I can't see for the 6 foot snowbanks will just glance off my left fender to let me know that the coast is not clear.

Of course, it's a little tricky when the driveway is requires a bit of a running start to make it up the slight slope. It's gung ho and pray it's a Ford Fiesta and not an F250 with a new butterfly plow blade.

Every snowstorm takes me about 4 hours to clear out. No snow blower here and no cash to hire a plow. Then there's ice dams on the roof. And digging out the mailbox so the mail carrier can make his appointed rounds. While sleet and snow may not prevent him, apparently 4 feet of solidly impacted ice crystals will.

Then there's the weeks of temps around the zero mark, and lower. Makes the woodpile go down fast. Nothing better than hopping into a hot shower after getting all sweaty hauling wood up to the house when it's 10 below. That is, if you have enough heating oil in the tank to run the furnace. Having to run down to the gas station to pick up some off-road diesel every 5 days or so gives one a real appreciation for hot water.

Like I said, it's been a tough winter.

Last year (or was it two years ago) some local folks went all viral with a video spoofing a pop/rap song thing but all about NH. They just came out with a new one, a tribute to those intrepid and unsung (until now) heroes of the NH economy. They are working hard, and many are having a mighty good year.

Let's give it up for the plow guys.