Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Cynicism vs. Joy

"For me it is amazing to experience daily the radical difference between cynicism and joy. Cynics seek darkness wherever they go. They point always to approaching dangers, impure motives, and hidden schemes. They call trust naive, care romantic, and forgiveness sentimental. They sneer at enthusiasm, ridicule spiritual fervor, and despise charismatic behavior. They consider themselves realists who see reality for what it truly is and who are not deceived by "escapist emotions." But in belittling God's joy, their darkness only calls forth more darkness.

People who have come to know the joy of God do not deny the darkness, but they choose not to live in it. They claim that the light that shines in the darkness can be trusted more than the darkness itself and that a little bit of light can dispel a lot of darkness. They point each other to flashes of light here and there, and remind each other that they reveal the hidden but real presence of God. They discover that there are people who heal each other's wounds, forgive each other's offenses, share their possessions, foster the spirit of community, celebrate the gifts they have received, and live in constant anticipation of the full manifestation of God's glory."

- Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son

Thursday, March 14, 2013

So I Don't Forget This...

"Ways and means are going to occur to you, be suggested to you, be recommended to you by some of the other prophets in town, that are going to be convincing and tempting, ways and means that set aside The Holy for something much more understandable and accessible. The fact is that men and women have no love or taste for The Holy - they want a God who serves them on their terms, not a God they can serve on his terms. Don't be misled: the task of preaching the truth of salvation is not helped by clear communication - clear communication requires using the words and syntax that people are familiar with, that is part of their dailiness. But The Holy is not part of what they are used to. It is obscured by sin, it is a faded memory of the image in which they were created. The preaching of The Holy is not furthered by techniques or strategies. The Holy is not a problem to be solved. And if you compromise in the slightest you will betray me. You will also betray these people. No matter how much they might respond to you, no matter how much they might applaud your preaching, you will end up cheating them of a holy life, a life from Above, a life healed, restored, ransomed, forgiven - by The Holy."

- Eugene Peterson, The Jesus Way

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

What Art Is

"I had never paid attention to a sanctuary as a piece of art, doing what art does - using the sensory (material, sound, texture) to give access to mystery, to get "behind the scenes" of our ordinary lives - to see, hear, touch, taste, and smell the vast world of beauty that inhabits, underlies, and permeates space and time, place and each person. The Holy."

- Eugene Peterson, The Pastor.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Thoughts on Trees

I really like trees. Growing up in rural New England, nothing is more ordinary than trees, but I'm still not tired of them. It might sound sappy to say this, but trees just look more beautiful to me with each passing year. I look up at their twisted branches and feel a quiet joy. The sky and the ocean have the same effect.

Richard Dawkins said in The God Delusion, "Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?"

I don't believe in fairies myself, but I do believe in angels, demons, and a God who is unseen, and of course those are the beliefs Dawkins is really going at here. He's saying we shouldn't need to resort to belief in anything supernatural (or "extra-natural") in order to fully appreciate the world around is. To an extent, I think he's right. Clearly, people are capable of appreciating nature without considering it the product of a Divine mind. However, I would say those who do so are appreciating the signifier while missing out on what the signifier signifies. It's like opening a book and saying, "Can't we just appreciate the shape and arrangement of these squiggles without insisting that they mean anything?" We could, but we'd lose a lot.

Do trees signify something beyond what they are, or are they simply trees? Do they mean something, or are they just aesthetically-pleasing squiggles?

The naturalist analyzes the squiggles with discipline and thoroughness. He knows precisely what they are comprised of, how old they are, and how frequently certain patterns tend to occur. But he doesn't think the squiggles are actually words.

It is interesting to me that the Bible describes God as speaking the world into existence. If the universe is what the words of God look like, then perhaps naturalism is the philosophy of analyzing the squiggles while refusing to accept the possibility that they are actually words. Like missing the forest for the trees, it's missing the words for the letters. And when you miss the words, you lose the plot.

The skeptic retorts: Prove it! Show me that there are more than just the squiggles! Those of us who claim to see more than squiggles struggle a bit here. We point to the beauty and order of the arrangement as evidence that the squiggles are actually words, but the skeptic protests that we know so much about the composition and arrangement of the squiggles that the assumption that they are actually words is unfounded. Those of us who believe reply: we know the squiggles are words because we know the language! But how do we know it? Maybe its innate. Or maybe it was taught to us. For the naturalist, either possibility is proof that we are deceived (in the first case we're deceived by our genetics, in the second by misleading socialization). For the rest of us, though, we hear the words when we see the squiggles, and their arrangement persuades us that a story is being told. Most of the time, that is good enough.

Thought For the Day

Seminary: it makes you certain of which things you have to be uncertain about.