March 2, 2011

There is More to Christ's Life than His Death

It seems to me that many Christians today place too much of an emphasis on substitutionary atonement, while at the same time not allowing other scriptural metaphors inform their theology of the significance of Christ’s incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Furthermore, there seems to be good scholarship that would point to the fact that even our common notions of substitutionary atonement are misconceived. Daniel Bell connects this common misconception as a misreading of Anselm theology of atonement.

“According to the standard reading [of Anselm],… in the face of human sin, which is an offense against God’s honor, God, as one who must uphold justice, cannot simply forgive sin but must enforce a strict rendering of what is due. Because sinful humanity cannot fulfill its debt, the God-man, Christ, steps forward and fulfills justice, renders what is due, through his substitutionary death on the cross. In this way, redemption is a result of the payment of a debt incurred through sin by means of a compensatory death that satisfies divine justice.”

However, Bell goes on to argue that this is a misreading on two accounts. Not only is it a misreading of Anselm’s articulation of atonement, but it is also (by virtue of that fact) inconstant with the theology present in scripture. As he states,

“[This undertanding] errs by reading Anselm, and thus Christ’s atonement, through the juridical lens of late medieval and early modern theology. As a result, Christ’s atoning work is displaced from its proper setting, which is the ecclesial penitential order understood as a means of grace, an order that transformed or redeemed justice as suum cuique by subsuming it in the divine order of charity. Instead, the atonement is interpreted in an alien legal context governed by a logic of debt, equity, and retribution that leaves the classical conception unredeemed, instead separating justice and mercy, thereby preventing justice from being formed by charity. Hence, making proper sense of Jesus as the justice of God entails recovering the atonement in its correct setting, the divine order of charity…

“When read in its proper context, Anselm’s account of the atonement reveals that Jesus’ death on the cross was not a matter of juridical reckoning and the strict exacting of what was due sin but rather was first and foremost a matter of ontological union, of the taking up of humanity into the communion of love that is the life of the blessed Trinity (theosis, deification)” (“Discerning: Justice and Liberation,” by Daniel M. Bell, in The Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics, edited by Stanley Hauerwas and Samuel Wells.)

This is also consistent with how Old Testament scholars are saying the significance of sacrifice is in the Old Testament. The function of sacrifice for the Israelites was not for life to be taken in order for sin to be forgiven, as explained in Walter Brueggemann’s, A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament:

“The gracious role of God throughout makes the phrase means of grace applicable to what happens in the sacrifices. These are tangible means through which God acts in a saving way on behalf of the faithful worshiper; sacrifices are sacramentally conceived. We are stuck with the word sacrifice, however, because it literally describes aspects of the ritual.

“The expiatory aspect of the sacrifices needs further attention. The object of the verb kipper (“expiate, make atonement”) is sin; it is never God. The action effects forgiveness of sin, not divine appeasement. Leviticus 17:11 states: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement.” The blood as blood is not expiatory, but the fact that it bears life, and God himself provides this element in the sacrifice. Again, the God-centeredness of the rite becomes apparent. The offers are the bearers of a gift from God. Yet, what the offerers bring is not inconsequential.

“While it is apparently preferred, it is not necessary for life to be taken for expiation to occur (see Lev 5:11-12), nor is any import given to the act of killing. Hence, by definition, expiation does not involve a penalty. The focus is on the rite as a saving event. Moreover, the language of substitution is not explicitly used in these texts; the animal is not a substitute for the bringer of the offering. (The goat in the Day of Atonement ritual in Lev 16 is not understood in substitutionary terms; it is a symbolic vehicle for dispatching Israel’s sins into the depths of the wilderness.)

“…Thus, in the offering the worshipers submit themselves to God. The sacrifice is thus a tangible sign of faith, a concrete way in which one offers the self to God; no theory of how the worshiper is related to the animal is involved.”

“Thus it should come as no surprise that, elsewhere in the OT, sacrifices are not considered necessary for forgiveness (as with the Lord’s Supper). Repentance and trust in God are sufficient. This is sharply stated in Psalm 51:17; a “broken and contrite heart” is the crucial human element. In II Samuel 12:13, Nathan pronounces absolution upon David following repentance of his sin with Uriah and Bathsheba, wit no accompanying sacrifice.” (Brueggemann 160).

Furthermore, out of all of the articulations of the significance of Christ’s life in the New Testament, the metaphor of atonement is used only four times. Never is Christ’s life or death associated with atonement in any of the Gospels. In fact, the only sacrifices that are associated with Christ’s death in the Gospels are the Passover sacrifice, and the covenantal sacrifice – neither of which is the death of the animal understood as the salvific element. The Passover sacrifice is particularly important because it had been celebrated for nearly two thousand years before Christ was associated with it. Every time the Israelites celebrated Passover, the sacrifice was no longer associated with the death angel “passing over” but rather an act of remembrance and celebration. What was at stake in the celebration of Passover was not that they would loose their lives if they did not kill the lamb, but rather they would loose their memory of God's deliverance. Not only was Passover a way to nurture the memory and awareness of God's deliverance, but also a way to rededicate their lives to God. Attempting to read Christ's death solely in terms of atonement sacrifice is to overlook considerably all of the other nuances that other NT texts bring.

The significance of all of this is not merely to have a better understanding of Christ’s incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension, but that with a better awareness of God’s grace and love we might more faithfully live and proclaim the inbreaking kingdom of God. As Scot McKnight articulates in his book, A Community Called Atonement, “atonemtent is only understood when it is understood as the restoration of humans – in all directions – so that they form a society (the ecclesia, the church) wherein God’s will is lived out and given freedom to transform all of life. Any theory of atonement that is not an ecclesial theory of atonement is inadequate” (p. 9).

January 18, 2011

Finding God in Pop Culture is Like…

I’m reading a book that is subtitled, “Finding God in Pop Culture.” This comes in a long line of books geared towards “finding God in Pop Culture” such as: The Gospel According to Lost; Finding God in the Movies; The Gospel According to Oprah; Finding God at Harvard; The Gospel According to Starbucks; Finding God's Truth in TV's Reality; The Gospel According to Bruce Springsteen; Finding God in a Galaxy Far, Far Away: A Spiritual Exploration of the Star Wars Saga. I often wonder to whom are such books addressed? When I hear the conversations of many American Christians I’ve met (who range from Catholic and Orthodox to Protestant Evangelical) I realize that they are all well immersed in pop culture. Most have, at the very least, three television shows that they watch on a regular basis. There is also no shortage of pop culture references in most sermons and Sunday school curriculum, not to mention the fact that most youth curriculum have far more references to pop culture than to the inheritance of the saints.

This leads me to my first question: who exactly is it that needs to be convinced that they can use pop culture to inform their notion of who God is? As I see it, most people are already operating from this premise, and what they are actually looking for is confirmation that the way in which they are bringing meaning to life is right and good.

My second question is, does the fact that something good can be found in a particular place justify the virtue of that particular place? For instance, does the fact that a fast food establishment offers vegetables justify the worthiness of eating at such an establishment for health purposes? Finding God in pop culture is like finding health food at a Bob Evans Buffet – sure you can find it but let’s not kid ourselves. Are you really looking for health food at Bob Evans, or are you trying to justify an activity that is too precious for you to let go?

To say that one can find Christian virtues and theological truths in pop culture and that the presence of these things confirm that God is at work in such places, is not saying much. If people are truly concerned about “finding God,” then pop culture is about the last place you should look. Just because certain kernels of theological truths and virtues have passed through the digestive track of pop culture, and that it looks similar coming out as it did going in, doesn’t mean that I should eat it.

December 19, 2010

Thoughts on [not] Writing

Public writing is frightening. There is an inherent honesty that underlies each sentence that conveys not only a thought, but also the thinker behind those thoughts. Often through writing we draw a window with words through which the world can look in, or out, in the hopes of catching a glimpse of humanity. But that is a frighteningly troublesome endeavor, for once the window is drawn people are able to see you not only for who you are, but for who you are not. You might find out that your thoughts might not be worth sharing. There is the possibility your carefully crafted thought might be misunderstood. There is also the possibility that it may be perfectly understood but is quite simply... wrong. In short, writing takes courage.

Thomas Merton writes,

If a writer is so cautions that he never writes anything that cannot be criticized, he will never write anything that can be read. If you want to help other people you have got to make up your mind to write things that some people condemn.

October 1, 2010

Things in Their identity

By Thomas Merton

A tree gives glory to God by being a tree. For in being what God means it to be it is obeying God. It ‘consents,’ so to speak, to God's creative love. It is expressing an idea which is in God and which is not distinct from the essence of God, and therefore a tree imitates God by being a tree.

The more a tree is like itself, the more it is like God. If it tried to be like something else which it was never intended to be, it would be less like God and therefore it would give God less glory….

This particular tree will give glory to God by spreading out its roots in the earth and raising its branches into the air and the light in a way that no other tree before or after it ever did or will do….

The special clumsy beauty of this particular colt on this April day in this field under these clouds is a holiness consecrated to God by God's own creative wisdom and it declares the glory of God.

The pale flowers of the dogwood outside this window are saints. The little yellow flowers that nobody notices on the edge of that road are saints looking up into the face of God. This leaf has it own texture and its own pattern of veins and its own holy shape, and the bass and trout hiding in the deep pools of the river are canonized by their beauty and their strength. The lakes hidden among the hills are saints, and the sea too is a saint who praises God without interruption in her majestic dance.

The great, gashed, half-naked mountain is another of God’s saints. There is no other like him. He is alone in his own character; nothing else in the world ever did or ever will imitate God in quite the same way. That is his sanctity.

But what about you? What about me? Unlike the animals and the trees, it is not enough for us to be what our nature intends. It is not enough for us to be individual humans. For us, holiness is more than humanity. If we are never anything but people, we will not be saints and we will not be able to offer to God the worship of our imitation, which is sanctity.

It is true to say that for me sanctity consists in being myself and for you sanctity consists in being your self and that, in the last analysis, your sanctity will never be mine and mine will never be yours, except in the communism of charity and grace.

For me to be a saint means to be myself. Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self.

Trees and animals have no problem. God makes them what they are without consulting them, and they are perfectly satisfied. With us it is different. God leaves us free to be whatever we like. We can be ourselves or not, as we please. We are at liberty to be real, or to be unreal. We may be true or false, the choice is ours. We may wear now one mask and now another, and never, if we so desire, appear with our own true face. But we cannot make these choices with impunity. Causes have effects, and if we lie to ourselves and to others, then we cannot expect to find truth and reality whenever we happen to want them. If we have chosen the way of falsity we must not be surprised that truth eludes us when we finally come to need it!

Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny. We are free beings and sons and daughters of God. This means to say that we should not passively exist, but actively participate in God's creative freedom, in our own lives, and in the lives of others, by choosing the truth. To put it better, we are even called to share with God the work of creating the truth of our identity. We can evade this responsibility by playing with masks, and this pleases us because it can appear at times to be a free and creative way of living. It is quite easy, it seems, to please everyone. But in the long run the cost and the sorrow come very high….

We do not know clearly beforehand what the result of this work will be. The secret of my full identity is hidden in God. God alone can make me who I am, or rather who I will be when at last I fully begin to be. But unless I desire this identity and work to find it with God and in God, the work will never be done. The way of doing it is a secret I can learn from no one else but God. There is no way of attaining to the secret without faith...

The seeds that are planted in my liberty at every moment, by God’s will, are the seeds of my own identity, my own reality, my own happiness, my own sanctity. To refuse them is to refuse everything; it is the refusal of my own existence and being: of my identity, my very self. Not to accept and love and do God’s will is to refuse the fullness of my existence.

If I never become what I am meant to be, but always remain what I am not, I shall spend eternity contradicting myself by being at once something and nothing, a life that wants to live and is dead, a death that wants to be dead and cannot quite achieve its own death because it still has to exist...

September 3, 2010

The Call of the Leader (whoever they should be)

As I contemplated the relevance of Aristotle's observation that one of the worst forms of government is a democracy, I came to appreciate the significance of good leaders. As I contemplated Gustave Doré's etching of Merlin advising King Arthur, I came to appreciate the significance of good advisers and friends.

Then I contemplated the leaders of Israel, particularly during the time of the judges, and I wondered why "Israel once again did evil in the eyes of the Lord." It seems that God would have raised up a judge to prevent the people from falling away as opposed to waiting until the damage had been done and then attempting to fix it. Then it occurred to me that there might have been another reason for "Israel once again doing evil in the sight of the Lord." Maybe it was because there were God-blessed, God-ordained leaders who did choose to lead. Maybe an entire group of people suffered the consequences of their own pathetic choices because there was no one to proclaim and renew the vision of God's kingdom.

We now live in a society where the masses are ruled by the tyranny of their own desires, and they choose leaders who will protect their "God-given right" to follow those desires. Are the people of God on the verge of "once again doing evil in the sight of the Lord"? Are there leaders whose eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord, but remain silent because of the overwhelming tide of public opinion? Would we recognize a 21st century Aurthur and Merlin. Would we respond to a 21st century judge, or prophet, or king? Will a 21st century judge, prophet or king arise?

July 26, 2010

The Crumbling Economy of Signs and Symbols: Part I

Ever since the book Simulacra and Simulation, by the French cultural theorist Jean Baudrillard, made a cameo in the movie The Matrix, I have had a mysterious draw to read what was between its covers. Why is that, I suppose? Well, as I read this philosophical treatise, as well as several other works by this author, I came to realize that Baudrillard himself has an explanation for this mysterious attraction. He would argue that I desired to read the book, in part, because it was participating in a system that gives value to simulated images. I must admit, I had previously seen the book while perusing through the philosophy shelf at a local bookstore. But why was the book not valuable to me when it appeared before my eyes in a form tangible to all of my senses? It was not until Hollywood presented it as a simulacrum (that is, an image or representation of someone or something) that I then thought it was worth reading.

The more I thought about this, the more I saw Baudrillards theories play out right before my eyes.

The first was at a large youth convention that had multiple big screens set up front so that the people in the back could get a better view of the happenings up front. However, I noticed something that was both intriguing as well as comical. Most of the youth who were up front near the stage were not looking at the speaker who stood ten feet in front of them in the flesh, but they nearly all of them had their heads cranked to one side or the other so that they could catch a view of the speaker on the big projection screen. Why was the projection screen more worthy of their gaze than the actual person in the flesh? It obviously had nothing to do with being able to see him. If anything, it was easier for them to simply look forward rather than craning their necks to one of the screens on either side.

I later observed a conference that set up two large projection screens in a significantly smaller arena. Youth in the back of this auditorium would have had no difficulty in seeing all of the things going on up front on the stage. This compels me to ask, with Baudrillards help, are the screens serving a practical purpose, or are they being used so as to enable the leaders of the service to participate the value system of the dominant culture? In other words, in order to give their appearance more credibility, then it must take the form of something that is simulated and one step closer to being mass-produced.

One other observation is the way people, especially youth, value their “image.” What gives their “image” value is the way in which it can participate in the images that get mass-produced and consumed. Given the fact that the images that are “worth” something are the images that are being consumed (consumed either by buying movies and magazines, or simply consumed by the eye of another human being). This is why people try to simulate the style and image of models and celebrities, either in looks or in style, because in the very act of simulating the image, they are participating in the larger value system that is based on the currency of simulacra and simulation. I am valuable because I am the generic version of Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie. Most generic versions obtain their value by scamming off of the more valuable thing, and so do many of us in when we attempt bum a particular style. Even our language of “name brand” and “generic” corresponds to our language of “real” and “fake.”

These are but bits and pieces of how Baudrillards observations and commentary play out in our every day lives. He writes at great length trying to locate all of this in what he would call an economy of images, signs, and symbols. Images, signs, and symbols ain’t what they used to be – both how they are used as well as how they are understood. If there is only a thread of truth running through Baudrillard’s observations and commentary on this aspect of our culture, then there are some major concerns that the church must deal with, particularly in the realm of Christian worship where there is a very particular kind of economy of images, signs, and symbols.

Just a few things to throw into the hopper.

May 12, 2010

Translating Youth to Hear the Gospel

Youth are flooded with a wide array of information that flows through the pipeline of television, internet, telephone, school, billboards, cell phones, iPods and Podcasts, to name only a few. Not only does the information flow through seemingly countless media, it also seems to come in equally numerous forms and at an alarming rate. Youth now have instant access in virtually any location to world news, local news, what color socks their friends are wearing, television shows, movies, advertisements, historical facts, literature, magazines, research papers, and even streaming videos of what people are doing in Kazakhstan. Because businesses make a great deal of money from the media channels our youth tap and consequently guzzle, businesses also devote a great deal of effort to woo to their media.

In light of all this, the church often wonders how she can compete in this fast-paced media frenzy, as well as how she can send the gospel down the same pipelines that all of the other information seems to be flowing. But are these the right questions the church should be asking? There is no doubt that in we need to be able to communicate the gospel to youth in a way that they can understand, but this process does not necessarily mean that we are supposed to transform the gospel so that it fits into a Podcast, or make it light enough to float over the airwaves so that it can reach as many people as possible. I find it a bit disturbing that this often constitutes "cutting edge youth ministry."

While there is a definite need to translate the gospel into the mother tongue of all the peoples of the earth, the work is only half done. In fact, the main act of translation has yet to take place. To assume that the gospel is the only thing that has to change in order to bring reconciliation is erroneous. We too must be translated. We too must be changed in order that we may express and be communicated to God. And the media through which we are translated and communicated is Christ – not a virtual Christ, with a virtual body, but a physical Christ, with a tangible body.

One of the definitions of ‘translate’ is to move from one place or condition to another. This is part of what the gospel is – to move people from one place or condition to another. Sometimes it seems as though Christians hand their youth over to be formed by the dominant culture, and then they wonder why their children are not responsive to the gospel. One reason is because the gospel is not information to be enjoyed or mentally known, as if it were a television series or a documentary. For too long have we believed that as long as we are careful about the type of information that flowed into our youth through these various media that they would be alright. But while we questioned the information, we neglected to question the activity of consuming this kind of information in this sort of way.

To address the problem is not a matter of being “educated consumers.” The problem goes much deeper. We don’t save the lives of people playing Russian roulette by teaching them better techniques. The issue is not about the technique but the activity. Likewise, the church needs to reconsider the ways in which youth’s lives are shaped by the activity of consuming information in all of these ways. We as parents and mentors need to live in such a way that we are able to demonstrate the gospel of Christ is worth changing your life for. We translate the gospel to our youth by showing to them that the gospel is worth the radical transformation of our lives.

April 29, 2009

Random Observations #1

I recently visited Christ’s Church United Methodist in New York whose beautiful construction and elaborate decoration was funded almost entirely by poor immigrants families during the Great Depression. I find it odd that these people would spare the expense of living in a more polished abode, so as to spare no expense for the shared space of the worshiping community. (The doors were unlocked)

Shortly after that, I visited a megachruch whose construction was funded almost entirely by middle to upper class white people during one of the wealthiest economic periods in American history. I found it odd that these affluent people spared the expense of having a beautifully cultivated shared worship space in the name of “practicality,” but spared no expense on their 500,000-dollar homes in the name of “individuality.” (The doors were locked)

Read further thoughts concerning Houses Built with Human Hands...

April 15, 2009

Conjectures of a Guilty Youth Minister

If I Were To Be Perfectly Honest

“Why was Junior not at church last night?”

“To be quite honest, Junior had a lot to do.”

To be quite honest? Really? That’s about as ridiculous as you answering, “to be quite honest, he had a pulse, and that's why he couldn't come to church.” Thanks for being honest, but what does that have to do with anything? Last I checked, youth are never without a lot to do. To be quite honest? Is that supposed to make me feel as though you are really being honest?

No. Honesty would be to say I was too lazy to bring my child to worship; I do not care as much about him worshiping God as I do about him tidying his room; I do not care as much about him directing his thoughts towards God as I do about him directing his thoughts towards facebook (which, by the way, I noticed that several of his comments were timestamped at the same time as our worship gathering); I am more concerned with him following his own desires than the desires of God; I want him to please himself more than I want him to please God; I think the body of Christ is expendable and not expandable; I think that a child going through adolescence is in the prime condition of their life to make the most formative decisions of their life; I will allow the ideology of American Idol, The Apprentice, and Jersey Shore to cultivate and inform his imagination; I will encourage him to take my apathy towards the body of Christ and to make it his own.

But I can’t say that to you. Not because I’m scared – believe me, it’s on the tip of my tongue and it is taking everything within me not to unleash a world of verbal hurt on your tinpot religious façade you call your faith. No, I can’t say that to you because I need to help you get to where you need to go, and not grind you further into the ground of where you currently are. Again, I must play the fool. I must pretend that your excuse actually holds water. I must pretend that I’m an idiot and did not notice that you were trying to pass off a non sequitur for sound reason.

But that’s only if I were to be perfectly honest.

* Unfortunately this post is not based on one particular person

April 2, 2009

Rush Limbaugh to Speak at Sojourners’ Mobilization to End Poverty

This is an inspiring display of how even the most hard-hearted schlep can see the error of his ways in order to walk the path of compassion, mercy and love. So as the saying of Jesus goes, "I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." Let us all take time to celebrate this beautiful conversion.

March 13, 2009

What's Your Story?

“…liberalism can be characterized as the presumption that you should have no story other than the story you chose when you had no story. A society constituted to produce people who get to choose their stories[, however,] cannot help but be caught in perpetual double-think. For what it cannot acknowledge is that we did not choose the story that we should have no story except the story we choose when we had no story.” (bold and italics mine)

⎯ Stanley Hauerwas quoted in
Virtue Ethics and Moral Knowledge By R. Scott Smith (p. 69)

Once this noodle-baking concept is comprehended, it is actually quite refreshing. Quite often we are in the habit of thinking that accepting Christ is to assume subservience, while saying no to Christ we maintain an autonomy of freedom. Hauerwas reminds us that no such autonomy exists, and that we are always in a “metanarrative” that gives meaning to our choices and actions. The question then becomes whether or not we are satisfied with the story that engulfs us. Do we want to become characters in a story where we are manipulated into being slaves to systems of power, or do we want to become characters in a story where we are invited to serve the one who serves us? But one thing is sure, we cannot be presume to have no story other than the story we chose when we had no story.

February 28, 2009

Reading Lord of the Rings Makes Me a Better Christian

Something resonates deep within my soul every time a crack open the majestic book by J.R.R. Tolkien. It calls to me like the mysterious music of the Ainur that still lingers on the waves of the sea. I feel that it summons me to a higher life - a life of quality, excellence and grandeur, where friends share lives using the High Speech of Tolkien, or sacred scriptures, and within every twig or fallen leaf is the pulsing power of the Holy Spirit that transfigures dross and quickens the dead.

I’m convinced that if any of us were to live in Middle Earth, we would walk around wide-eyed and flabbergasted for a couple of years, and then we would become inoculated towards its mystery and grandeur. I say that because I believe our sojourn through this world is charged with the same kind of majesty and mystique as the Fellowship’s journey and epic confrontations with the powers that threaten it.

I have found Tolkien’s story to be so moving because of its ability to open my eyes to this sort of reality in our own world. I've started from the beginning of this story I’ve read several times, but have jumped forward and read "The Passing of the Grey Company" twice already. I long to be Halbarad, who carries with him a humility and simplicity of the Ranger, but the regal presence of one who holds the weight and splendor of the Númenóreans. What kind of character walks with this grand heritage on his shoulders and yet looks at one of the Hobbits and says, "A little people but of Great worth are the Shire-folk. Little do they know of our long labour for the safe-keeping of their borders. Yet, I grudge it not." There's a lot behind that statement.

February 26, 2009

Ash Wednesday 2009

Lent: the last Christian season to be colonized by Hallmark and other trinket-making industries. It hasn’t happened yet, but I’m sure it will. It’s only a matter of time. First, they took Christmas from us. Then they took Easter with that ridiculous bunny and those disgusting Cadbury eggs. Then they moved on to snag All Hallows Eve. Next they started chipping away out our saints, like St. Patrick and St. Valentine.

But the season of Lent is difficult terrain for our capitalistic society to colonize into a profit-making season. After all, “tis the season to be… fasting” is hardly a motto that could stir the masses into a buying frenzy.

But it is for these very reasons that Lent just might be all the more significant for Christians to practice in our modern culture. There is something about it that cuts across some of the most powerful currents in our society. If for nothing else, it reminds us that we as a church are shaped by disciplines and practices that are utterly foreign to our dominant culture. Read full article

February 17, 2009

On Writing

Dylan Thomas on Poetry
These poems, with all their crudities, doubts, and confusions, are written for the love of Man and in praise of God, and I'd be a damn' fool if they weren't.

Thomas Merton on Dylan Thomas
Dylan Thomas' integrity as a poet makes me very ashamed of the verse I have been writing. We who say we love God: why are we not as anxious to be perfect in our art as we pretend we want to be in our service of God? If we do ot try to be perfect in what we write, perhaps it is because we are not writing for God after all. In any case it is depressing that those who serve God and love Him sometimes write so badly, when those who do not believe in Him take pains to write so well. I am not talking about grammar and syntax, but about having something to say and saying it in sentences that are not half dead. Saint Paul and Saint Ignatius Martyr did not bother about grammar but they certainly knew how to write.

The fact that your subject may be very important in itself does not necessarily mean that what you have written about is important. A bad book about the love of God remains a bad book, even though it may be about the love of God. There are many who think that because they have written about God, they have written good books. Then men pick up these books and say: if the ones who say they believe in God cannot find anything than this to say about it, their religion cannot be worth much.

February 13, 2009

A Proclamation about the Proclamation

By Frederick Buechner

When the preacher climbs up into the pulpit, switches on the lectern light and spreads out his note cards like a poker hand, maybe even the vacationing sophomore who is there only because somebody has dragged him there pricks up his ears for a second or two along with the rest of them because they believe that the man who is standing up there… has something that they do not have or at least not the same way he has it because he is a professional. He professes and stand for in public what they with varying degrees of conviction or the lack of it subscribe to mainly in private…All of this deepens the silence with which they sit there waiting for him to work a miracle, and the miracle they are waiting for is that he will not just say that God is present, because they have heard it said before and it has made no great and lasting difference to them, will not just speak the word of joy, hope, comedy, because they have heard it spoken before too and have spoken it among themselves, but that he will somehow make it real to them. They wait for him to make God real to them through the sacrament of words as God is supposed to become real in the sacrament of bread and wine, and there is no place where the preacher is more aware of his own nakedness and helplessness than here in the pulpit as he listens to the silence of their waiting. Poor, bare, forked animal in his [suit] with his heart in his mouth if not yet his foot. What can he say? What word can he speak with power enough to empower them, waiting there?

Excerpt from Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale, (p. 39-40).

Blog Archive