Thursday, February 21, 2008

Three Quotes, Three Stages

While I'm posting things that hang in my study carrell, I might as well also mention the three quotes that have made their way up in sticky tack over the course of my studies this year.

As I'm looking at them scrawled up here to my left in pencil, I realize that they actually align quite nicely with three stages in the story of God's grace in humanity. I suppose I need to dig one up for the new creation that the third stage sets the stage for. We'll have to see about that. So far, here they are, not in order of when I fun-tacked them up, but in "stages":

Creation:

Evening

Here dies another day
During which I have had eyes, ears, hands
And the great world around me;
And with tomorrow begins another.
Why am I allowed two?

-G.K. Chesterton

Torah:

"The commandments work not like science but like art---they are
instructions for how to paint a worthy portrait with our lives."

- Roger Ebert (re. Kryztof Kieslowski's Decalogue film
series)

Church:

"The cross is the extreme demonstration that agape [love] seeks neither effectiveness nor justice, and is willing to suffer any loss or seeming defeat for the sake of obedience."

- John Howard Yoder, 1971.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Poem

In Minneapolis last summer I picked up a copy of a Chesterton poem that I'd never seen before and I've had it posted in my work space ever since. It is heavily satirical, and I certainly don't take it as "woman's place is in the kitchen" kind of poem, although in its day it may have been taken that way. Chesterton probably meant it more as a subversive attack on what he often called the "myth of progress", but I have it up in my study carrell for a different reason.

I have it here to remind me of that part of my life that is so easy to neglect but is way more important than whatever keeps me at work. Anyway, here it is. I think Chesterton wrote it in his notebook as a kid, but all accounts are that his parents were around for him so I don't think it is a slam against them.

I remember my mother the day that we met
A thing I shall never entirely forget,
And I toy with the fancy that young as I am,
I should know her again if we met in a tram.
But mother is happy in turning a crank
That increases the balance at somebody's bank,
And I am happy that mother is free
From the sinister task of attending to me.

They have brightened our room that is spacious and cool
With diagrams used in the idiot school
And books for the blind that will teach us to see,
But mother is happy for mother is free
For mother is dancing up forty-eight floors
For love of the Leeds international stores
And the flame of that faith might perhaps have grown cold
With the care of a baby of seven weeks old.

But mother is happy in greasing a wheel
For somebody else who is cornering steel
And though our one meeting was not very long
She took the occasion to sing me this song,

'Oh hush thee my baby the time will soon come
When thy sleep will be broken with hooting and hum.
There are handles want turning and turning all day
And knobs to be pressed in the usual way.
Oh hush thee my baby take rest while I croon
For progress comes early and freedom too soon.'


What put it in my head to post this poem was a powerful scene in the film Paris je t'aime where a mother drops her baby off at day care so she can go work a full day as a nanny for someone else. The sadness was gripping. (By the way, I'm not trying to guilt parents for working, and I think each situation is unique, timing wise and otherwise, but I still think there is a valuable point being made here that isn't said enough and I share the poem for the reminder that it offers to me. The lure of "success" can ironically be the very thing that makes us fail at our highest calling.)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Silver and Gold and Ivory Towers

A few days ago my friend Terry (happy birthday Terry!) handed me page 53 photocopied out of a book called "The Nature of Earnestness" and I knew I was in for either a ludicrous example of bad theology or an interesting take on something we'd talked about before or perhaps never considered. (Those are generally the reasons we pass stuff like this around.) What I got was the latter. His explanation to me later was that he thought it might interest me since I'm a) prone to rambling off about the evils of hoarding weatlth, and b) fairly engrossed in academia right now. Here's the paragraph:

There are a few things more important than the right appreciation of learning. There are some who spend their whole lives in acquiring it, in amassing hoard upon hoard; as if it were the object of life to try how much may be got in a given time; not how much good may be done with it, or to what uses it may be turned as it is acquired. It is get, get, get; all getting and no giving. This is of a piece with the mania by which some are possessed in the mercantile world, the mania of money-making: with whom life's problem is, how they may die rich, how much they can be worth in the world, before the moment comes when they must leave it.

There is one material difference between the two cases; and, strange to say it is in favour of the rich rather than of the learned man. The rich man leaves his amassed treasures behind him; so that, although to himself they have been of little use while he lived, and now are of none, they are not lost; others may use them, and use them well. But he who has been acquiring learning all his days without expending it in its appropriate uses, leaves nothing behind him. He carries all with him. There is no bank for deposits of learning, as there is for lodging silver and gold. So far as his fellow-men are concerned, therefore, the money-hoarding miser does most good.

I don't know who the author is and apparently the book isn't all that good, but it was an interesting thought, so I thought I'd share it.

Of course, I disagree with a great many of its suppositions (which I will post in the comments, if you want to read them), but still, a decent idea in there somewhere, so I'll leave the post at that.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The Absent-Minded Journalist

Ran across some funny anecdotes from GK Chesterton's life the other day in an article by Katherine Whitehorn recalling some of the stories people told about "this strange, shambling bear of a man." She tells it like this:

"They remember him as boisterous and huge: an American coming to London in the 1930s remarked on his vast figure, despairingly draped by his women-folk in a cloak and a wide hat, leaning his pad against a wall to write an article and reading it aloud as he went; 'The delightful thing was,' he said, 'that no one took the slightest notice.'

They recall his cracks: his dislike of jelly ('I can't stand food that's afraid of me') or his reply to the lady who asked why he wasn't out at the Front: 'If you go around to the side, madam, you'll see that I am.'

And there's a stream of stories about absent-mindedness; not just the telegram AM IN MARKET HARBOROUGH WHERE OUGHT I TO BE which might happen to anyone; but the splashing, followed by a thud, heard outside his bathroom door, followed by an even louder splash and the groan 'Da#%it, I've been in here already.'"

I had never heard that last one before. Something about that made me chuckle loudly and uncontrollably to myself in the library the other day.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Forgiveness in Faith Today

In the September/October issue of Faith Today one of my profs wrote an article that questioned the concept of "unilateral forgiveness" and challenged people to think of forgiveness as something given only to people who repent. He made a pretty good case in the allotted page. As he suggested, this idea needs nuancing within a larger understanding of what reconciliation and love entail (because, for example, a person who might not forgive his unrepentant abuser can still do a great many other loving and peace-seeking things toward him), but by and large it was a good and thought-provoking article.

But what gets me is the letters to the editor that have been flooding in ever since. What troubles me is where their arguments lead. Here's a couple samples. One person argued:

"I am overjoyed that at the centre of the gospel is a love that is not triggered by anything I do, including my repentance."

My question: So why are we bothering to do anything? Is this "Faith Today" or "It'll All Work Out in the Wash Tomorrow"? If I hear this person out I think he is confusing love with forgiveness. My question is, if a man is hitting you and won't repent, will you love him by asking him to stop or just forgive him and let the "love" flow on? Its one thing for Stephen to ask God to forgive the people who are murdering him, it would be another thing entirely for him to decide not to let it bother him that someone just stole his car (Yes I realize Stephen did not have a car). The letter went on:

"When I read the parable of the Prodigal Son, I confront a story of an even more prodigal father whose forgiveness of, and his extravagance toward his wayward son came before his son's confession, not after."

My question: Does your version of the parable have the father finding the son before he's repented or after he's taken the road home? Here's more:

"Of course, this forgiveness may not lead to much reconciliation if there is no repentance. However God must sort that out, not me."

My thought: No wonder there are so many Christian jerks (including myself) flying around. We all just forgive each other and leave the mess to God to sort out in the end. In the meantime the guy that hit me isn't even gonna think twice about hitting the next guy. Do we love our freeing feeling of forgiveness so much we'll take it at the expense of a better life, reconciliation, etc. . .?

This escapist Christianity has got to stop. The magazine is called "Faith Today." God asks us to do stuff. I can't very well forgive someone who hasn't asked to make things right. I'm not doing either of us any favours in the kingdom of God. I'm not an ambassador of reconciliation, I'm a preacher of the "Easy Out".

Another letter made the poignant observation that "In this article the word 'love' was not used once." That's a decent observation, but not for the reason the person made it. The article also didn't use the word "ressurection", but that's pretty important as well. Nonetheless, the person is on to something. Love is an important word.

Can I forgive someone who sees nothing wrong with what they are doing to me? No. Apparently God doesn't even do that (1 John 1:9). Can I love someone even while I am unable to forgive them? Yes. In fact, in that case, my task is much harder. It is one thing to "forgive" someone so you can "love" them, but it sounds more like sweeping it under the carpet and surrendering truth for an easier day. It is another thing to love the person who is my enemy, while that person is still my enemy (or at least opposed to me in some way or by some action, large or small), all the while holding a posture of forgiveness that would love to make things right again.

Sometimes (perhaps often) for the sake of ongoing relationship we do let something go in the hope that truth and real love can someday prevail. But, to borrow from some of my prof's nuancing, that's called forbearance, not forgiveness.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Thoughts and a Poem from the Frigid Prairies

I'm not sure why all of us bloggers feel the need to post our random thoughts for the world, but since I'm doing so much other writing these days it seems all I've got in me right now. I do want to put something on here once a week at least, so here's what I've got today:

  • I finally saw Diary of a Country Priest the other night. Watched it with about a half dozen other folds from my seminary. It was absolutely fantastic. Sort of dragged a bit at the end, but at the climax of the film I felt I was watching a peice of cinematic history, it was that good. Of course, you'd have to be mildly interested in church or ministry or theodicy, and at least empathetic to the melancholy thoughts of the main character, to truly enjoy it, but if you have any tolerance for any of that this is definitely a film worth seeing. A masterpiece, really. Along with Winter Light probably the two best films on Church themes that are in existence. So many great lines and symbols in this film that you can hardly begin to talk about them, but I loved the line about the "miracle of the empty hands" (how can you give the peace of God when you don't have it yourself?), and the recurrent barking dog (my prof here pointed it out to me and said it probably symbolized the Hound of Heaven), and even the spilled wine at the crucial crisis point . . . but the list could go on.
  • I heard a rumour that it is illegal to spank in Canada now. Is that true? I'm not a big fan of spanking but as a parent I think there is a place for it and there are places and ways I think it can be appropriate. I think a law against beating or abusing kids suffices as a way for the courts to discern when a line has been crossed (and unfortunately I think this happens more than anyone would like to think), but I really think a blanket law like this (if I've got my facts straight, which I might not), is pretty tragically short-sighted and an all around dumb thing. Whatever happened to the government staying out of the bedrooms of Canadians?
  • It got really cold in Saskatchewan this week. We were very concerned about our pipes freezing. Quite a few furnaces went out in our town. Thankfully ours stayed going. When the wind chill is -50 there are a couple thoughts that run through your mind. 1) Why do I live here again? 2) I sure do take a lot of things for granted, like a running furnace and a roof over my head. 3) Why do I live here again?
  • Anyway, here at seminary my friend Terry and I have been giving out this funny award at our community lunch every Thursday. Its called Seminarian of the Week and it comes with a tin-foil medallion that no one seems to want to wear for some reason. This week I wrote a poem to express our thanks to those who keep us warm in the winter:

  • When the earth tips so slightly away from the sun,
    Of all its inhabitants we north-folk are the ones
    Who lose what so easily for granted is taken
    And sense what it might mean to be God-forsaken.
    But we're not, and we know it, thanks to furnace guys and plumbers.
    So today we salute them and thank God for their wonders.