Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Silent Majority

I seek, like Thoreau, to ‘read not the Times; read the eternities.’ If this sounds snobbish, it shouldn’t; it is the opposite of snobbery. The merely avant-garde thinker is the real snob.

The object of his snobbery is not the living but the dead, the great ‘silent majority’ of pre-contemporary thinkers who are disenfranchised not by accident of birth but by accident of death.

~ Peter Kreeft, Love is Stronger Than Death (Introduction)
Recently my father and I discussed the qualities of postmodernism afflicting our generation and infecting our churches. The more I interact with Christians who have not been exposed to great literature, past philosophers (both Christians and atheists), and an historical context for Scripture, the more I see a gaping disconnect between their beliefs and their lifestyle.

I am shamefully aware of the reason the media labels Christians as uneducated. A whole subset of persons believe that 'Christian fiction' and films like 'Facing the Giants' or 'Fireproof' are real art, and 'safe' to absorb. I am more terrified to hear that a person's most influential book list includes The Purpose Driven Life, The Left Behind series, 'Christian' romance novels, and the like than if it included Nietzsche, Thoreau, Hemingway, or Wilde. At least the latter authors wrote about the great questions of life, death, and existence and did not give pat[hetic] answers.

Many Christians view life, and its ultimate questions, in bits and pieces. This is echoed in the poor writing, mediocre art, and empty answers given under the guise of 'Christian' psychology. Fragmented thinking stems from lack of discipline and the aforementioned postmodern mindset that has driven both the world and the church mad. There is a popular belief that this generation is the first of its kind. Thus, history is not too important, and dead white European males are hardly worth listening to. How would one of those know what this generation faces? Yet 'this generation' does not know what the elementary diagnostic questions are, let alone how to answer them.

Perhaps I should lay out some of these questions: What is a good life? What is the meaning and purpose of life? What is a good death? What good is death? Why do I exist? What is a human being? What is love? What is a good love? Is there a God, and is He good? Are we alone, drifting through a meaningless, void universe? Is matter all there is?

In our world of ceaseless noise and unending images, we rarely even go to sleep or drive in silence. If one takes long walks, they are spent talking on the phone or listening to an iPod, rather than in silent reflection. Without solitude and reflection on what God is saying through His Spirit, Scripture, literature, philosophy, and wise men, one splinters under the pressure of outside confusion and noise. When would one have time to ask the above questions? When would they have the mental silence to think through even one of those questions, or to seek its answer?

There is another set of questions that I have not yet raised. Questions every member of humanity ought to ask, but especially those in the Church. Queries like, "How did our forefathers face such-and-such moral dilemma?" or "What has been previously written on this subject?" What did Erasmus, Cranmer, Luther, Kirkegaard, Kant, and Lewis write on issues of when or if there is ever a time when lying is acceptable, or of love, death, or the meaning of life? The current era is not the first generation of Christians. Thus, it is wise to gain knowledge from (and pursue it further than) our Godly ancestors.

The Church has stepped away from the Silent Majority, those who penned timeless truth in the creeds and confession. The Church no longer repeats daily the Lord's Prayer, nunc dimittis, te deum laudamus, or magnificat. Yet this goes directly against Scripture, where God constantly tells the people to remember the things past, or to do something (a feast or festival) as a memorial. A 'memorial' means partaking in the feast or fast to remember God's work on one's behalf. Why celebrate things like Christmas (the Incarnation) or Easter (the Resurrection) if one is not centred on the event commemorated? In like manner, why set aside the prayer book and the likes of Erasmus and Cranmer, for the pabulum of far too many evangelical sermons?

The Church ought to look like Christ, not every wind of doctrine breathed out by the world. The Church ought not copy slogans, chant cute-but-trite sayings, or make facsimiles of popular culture icons to share the already compelling message of the Incarnation, the good life, a good love, the purpose of death, or the Resurrection.

The Church ought to have the best writers, film-makers, artists, businessmen, congressmen, mail carriers, clerks, rubbish collectors, historians, professors, mothers, fathers, etcetera, that the world has ever seen. Those in the Church ought to be well-educated, reasonable, logical, well-read, teachable, humble, wise, and honest. They ought to be the farmer-statesman - unafraid to till the soil, yet able to speak intelligently upon a host of worthy subjects from philosophy and history, to the arts and politics. Above all, the Church must not forget that many wise voices still speak from the past, and that she must leave a wise and prudent voice (and world) to those who are yet to come.

Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.

All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man's opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man's opinion, even if he is our father.

I, at any rate, cannot separate the two ideas of democracy and tradition; it seems evident to me that they are the same idea. We will have the dead at our councils. The ancient Greeks voted by stones; these shall vote by tombstones. It is all quite regular and official, for most tombstones, like most ballot papers, are marked with a cross.

~ G. K. Chesterton; Orthodoxy, 'The Ethics of Elfland' (pg 48)

~ Johanna

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Light Has Dawned

Great literature is full of contrasting themes: good and evil, truth and lies, light and dark, hope and despair - and the list continues. There is no exception in the story of the Incarnation. It is the moment of turning in The Great Story of Scripture, in all of history no less.

Themes of creation, fall, and redemption weave throughout Scripture. Themes of sin, repentance, a remnant, and renewal pervade the Old Testament and carry on through the New. Look at the first contrast in Genesis, see that God made the light and separated it from the darkness. Light and dark become themes through the rest of Scripture.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend [overcome] it. ~ John 1:1-5

This Light was prophesied hundreds of years prior to John penning these words (words that echo the creation in Genesis 1). Isaiah also spoke of the division of light and dark:

The people who walked in darkness
Have seen a great light;
Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death,
Upon them a light has shined.
(Isaiah 9:2)
Little did Isaiah know that the Messianic prophecy would be met in baby born under Roman rule several hundred years later. However, Zacharias knew the prophet's words. They reverberate in his song in Luke chapter one:

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest;
For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways,
To give knowledge of salvation to His people
By the remission of their sins,
Through the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us;
To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the way of peace.
(Luke 1:76-79)
Who is this Light that Isaiah, John, and Luke cannot cease describing? Why, He is the theme of the Story. He is the Light from on High that enters into a world thrust into darkness by pride, grasping, and sinful desires. He is Emmanuel, God with us.

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgement and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

(Isaiah 9:6-7)

Merry Christmas!

~ Johanna

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Chanukkah: Festival of Lights

When I went to Oxford and studied the Old Testament under Kevin Bywater, I realised that I needed to learn the Hebrew language and Jewish culture in order to understand the Bible better. Another desire to learn Hebrew arose from watching the Maccabeats perform their [much better] rendition/parody of 'Dynamite', called 'Candlelight'.

Seeing the above video piqued my interest in Jewish culture and history. Since my return from England I have taken a very basic crash course in Hebrew, learning the aleph bet. In the Spring I have the opportunity to take a Jewish history/culture class. And since I didn't know much about Chanukkah (aside from the above video), I looked up the history HERE. It is neat to understand other cultures, their holidays, why certain things are sacred or important, and so forth.

Happy Chanukkah!

~ Johanna

Saturday, December 17, 2011

What Child is This?

Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and lamb are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.

Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you,
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

'What Child is This?' is one of my favourite Christmas carols, particularly because of this verse. When I was younger I didn't know or understand the following phrase very well: 'Good Christians, fear, for sinners here the silent Word is pleading.'

The Word, The One who spoke the world into existence, is mute (save for crying and cooing) in the arms of His very own creation. Yet God becomes a speechless baby, pleading for the salvation and redemption of mankind. Truly, the Incarnation is one of two miracles that always astounds and arrests my attention (the other being the resurrection).

'Hail, hail the Word made flesh, the Babe, the Son of Mary.'

A blessed Advent season to you, dear friends and readers!

~ Johanna

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Day of Infamy

"Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan... No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people will through their righteous might win through to absolute victory... With confidence in our armed forces-with the unbounded determination of our people-we will gain the inevitable triumph-so help us God. I, therefore, ask that the Congress declare that since the dastardly and unprovoked attack by Japan on Sunday, December seventh, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire."

~ President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dec. 8, 1941

Thank you to those of you serving in the armed forces, and to those who have come before us and paid the ultimate price for our freedom. And thanks be to God, without His aide we never could have won WWII.

~ Johanna