Saturday, February 20, 2010

Modern Sacred Families

As our society becomes more secular and the church often more shaped by society than helping shape society, it can be difficult to help develop a depth of spiritual life in our children. A wonderful way of doing this is to intentionally follow the church calendar as a family.

Over at the Jesus Creed blog, Scot McKnight shared a link to a wonderful website called Modern Sacred Family. It has many ideas and resources for just this purpose. I hope it will be a blessing to you.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday

Today, Ash Wednesday, is the beginning of Lent in the church calendar, the season for repentance and reflection. The older I get, the more I am grateful for this day. What if there were no opportunity to repent and no chance of grace? Much of the world seems happy enough to live without it, but I can't, wretched sinner that I am.

I was thinking of what I could write about this day and remembered a quote from Bono that really captures the goodness of repentance and the blessedness of grace. He was interviewed by Michka Assayas for a book after the Madrid train bombings. Here is part of that interview.
Assayas: I think I am beginning to understand religion because I have started acting and thinking like a father. What do you make of that?

Bono: Yes, I think that's normal. It's a mind-blowing concept that the God who created the universe might be looking for company, a real relationship with people, but the thing that keeps me on my knees is the difference between Grace and Karma.

Assayas: I haven't heard you talk about that.

Bono I really believe we've moved out of the realm of Karma into one of Grace.

Assayas: Well, that doesn't make it clearer for me.

Bono: You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics—in physical laws—every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It's clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I'm absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that "as you reap, so you will sow" stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I've done a lot of stupid stuff.

Assayas: I'd be interested to hear that.

Bono: That's between me and God. But I'd be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I'd be in deep s---. It doesn't excuse my mistakes, but I'm holding out for Grace. I'm holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don't have to depend on my own religiosity.

Assayas: The Son of God who takes away the sins of the world. I wish I could believe in that.

Bono: But I love the idea of the Sacrificial Lamb. I love the idea that God says: Look, you cretins, there are certain results to the way we are, to selfishness, and there's a mortality as part of your very sinful nature, and, let's face it, you're not living a very good life, are you? There are consequences to actions. The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world, so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death. That's the point. It should keep us humbled… . It's not our own good works that get us through the gates of heaven.
Kyrie eleison

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Saint Valentine's Day And Romance

Today is Saint Valentine's Day as you must know from all the advertisements that have been coming at you for at least a month. You can read a bit of the history of Saint Valentine through a link from last year's blog post here.

Much is said about romance during this time, but it's not usually the kind of romance of history and literature, (and no, I don't count Harlequin's as literature). The romance I look to is in the heroic tales of adventure and sacrifice like Beowulf, the King Arthur legends, The Faerie Queen, ancient myths, fairy tales and more modern works such as The Lord of the Rings. It is an easy thing to seduce, but an altogether other thing to woo, to have love and honour expressed through bravery and sacrifice. This is not reserved for men either, it is universal. Though often portrayed differently, females in romantic stories must also be brave and sacrifice. Can anyone doubt Penelope's courage in the midst of the hoards of suitors

or Eowyn's courage and righteous anger in doing battle with the Witch-King of Angmar?
Once again these all point to the One who woos and gives and sacrifices. Saint Valentine, who was martyred for his faith, for his love for Christ, is a perfect person to hold up in celebration of true romance.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


Not for the first time in my life, I find myself in the minority. We've had abundant snowfall this winter here in the Roanoke Valley, and while others are busy grousing and wishing spring were here, I am reveling in my good fortune to experience such a winter wonderland.

There is great romance in winter, or as Lewis might put it, a Northernness which brings forth severe beauty and requires a hardiness to survive such a season or climate, both mystery and danger. Lewis put it thus as he described the longing or sehnsucht which such Northernness brought about:
I knew nothing about Balder; but instantly I was uplifted into huge regions of northern sky. I desired with almost sickening intensity something never to be described (except that it is cold, spacious, severe, pale and remote) and then . . . found myself at the very same moment already falling out of that desire and wishing I were back in it.
There is a wildness and a demand from winter and snow. It must be paid attention even as it blankets the ground, absorbing noise and lighting up the night. One must either stop and wait or exert great effort to proceed. Is it any wonder most of nature stops or slows down, and aren't we silly creatures to demand that life should go on just as if there were no winter?

Friday, February 5, 2010

True Myth

In Letters of C.S. Lewis, Lewis writing to Arthur Greeves recounts his discussion of Christianity with Tolkien and Hugo Dyson as they strolled along Addison's Walk.
Now what Tolkien and Dyson showed me was this: that if I met the idea of sacrifice in a Pagan story I didn't mind it at all: again, if I met the idea of a god sacrificing himself to himself...I liked it very much and was strangely moved by it: again, that the idea of a dying and reviving god (Balder, Adonis, Bacchus)similarly moved me provided I met it anywhere except in the Gospels. The reason was that in Pagan stories I was prepared to feel the myth as profound and suggestive of meanings beyond my grasp even tho' I could not say in cold prose "what it meant".

Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened: and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God’s myth where the others are men’s myths: i.e., the Pagan stories are God expressing Himself through the minds of poets, using such images as He found there, while Christianity is God expressing Himself through what we call "real things".
One of the difficulties or stumbling blocks in modern day Christianity is that we have failed to see God's story as true myth. We have been so "enlightened" that we look only for facts or laws and lose the sense of awe and deeper meaning. What seems to be left is either a shallow belief now being coined as 'Moralistic Therapeutic Deism", or else a system of rules to be followed in order to obtain God's approval. With MTD, God becomes our buddy and sidekick and with a rules system God ironically becomes someone we can manipulate with our behaviour.

In the following video, N.T. Wright gives the example of how this plays out in the first three chapters of Genesis. The arguments between strict six day creationists and evolutionary atheists are in many ways the different sides of the same coin. They are missing the forest for the trees, or in other words, the truth for the possible facts.

To get the story, to see the truth, including the facts but also taking in their meaning will bring us closer to God, because he is of course the author. We yearn for the story. Why else fairy tales, or Valhalla, or even Harry Potter? They are pointers to what really is and what shall be.

Here's another Lewis quote from his sermon, The Weight of Glory.
We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words — to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it. That is why we have peopled air and earth and water with gods and goddesses and nymphs and elves — that, though we cannot, yet these projections can, enjoy in themselves that beauty, grace, and power of which Nature is the image. That is why the poets tell us such lovely falsehoods. They talk as if the west wind could really sweep into a human soul; but it can't. They tell us that "beauty born of murmuring sound" will pass into human face; but it won't. Or not yet.

For if we take the imagery of Scripture seriously, if we believe that God will one day give us the Morning Star and cause us to put on the splendour of the sun, then we may surmise that both the ancient myths and the modern poetry, so false as history, may be very near the truth as prophecy. At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.
If we do not have this sense, maybe we should go back to the scriptures and read them afresh, anticipating and looking for the God who surprises, who creates and who has written us into the greatest story.

H/T to Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed for the N.T. Wright video.