Monday, November 23, 2015

N.D. Wilson on fantasy and stuff

Remember, remember, at Park Church in Denver, the theorists and makers of plot
Did gather to talk (without colored chalk). What does chalk have to do with this. Poems are hard.

Something like that.

Night One:

Night Two:


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Labels, stereotypes, and the larger conversation

From They Say, I Say (pp. 83-84):
To be sure, some people dislike such labels and may even resent having labels applied to themselves. Some feel that labels put individuals in boxes, stereotyping them and glossing over what makes each of us unique. And it's true that labels can be used inappropriately, in ways that ignore individuality and promote stereotypes. But since the life of ideas, including many of our most private thoughts, is conducted through groups and types rather than solitary individuals, intellectual exchange requires labels to give definition and serve as a convenient shorthand. If you categorically reject all labels, you give up an important resource and even mislead readers by presenting yourself and others as having no connection to anyone else. You also miss an opportunity to generalize the importance and relevance of your work to some larger conversation. . . .
The way to minimize the problem of stereotyping, then, is not to categorically reject labels but to refine and qualify their use . . . .

Monday, October 19, 2015

Grace and consequences

Like the Ten Commandments, the qualifications for elders and deacons (1 Tim. 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9) are not suggestions. These qualifications do not mean that church leaders are sinless, but they do mean that church leaders must fit the descriptions delineated in Scripture. These qualifications certainly apply to more than those people who are official leaders in the church, but the criteria are requirements for all church leaders, in a way that they are not requirements for all church members or attenders.

What this means is that these criteria mean something. They are not meaningless. These qualifications distinguish between those who are qualified, and those who are not. And this means that there are consequences when when these qualifications are not met.

Are you a church elder who has committed adultery? There is grace for you. But not grace-without-consequences. You may not be an elder anymore, and these consequences are gracious consequences, both towards you, and towards the congregation. They are gracious towards you because if there were no consequences, you could be tempted to think that you may continue in your sin. You may not. Consequences for your sin guard you from hurting yourself by your own sin. The consequences are gracious towards the congregation because they are to be shepherded by shepherds, not by wolves. And an elder who thinks that he can continue in sin without consequences is a wolf in sheep's clothing. "Grace" shown to wolves is harm done to sheep (and it really shouldn't be called "grace"). Consequences for your sin guard other people from being further hurt by your sin.

What is clear here is that there is not a hard line between gracious actions and lawful consequences. If the authorities are godly, then lawful consequences will always be gracious. Both/and, not either/or. Think of the Ten Commandments again. How are they gracious? Why does David refer to God's law as a delight (Ps. 1:2) and soul-reviving (Ps. 19:7) and peace-bringing (Ps. 119:165)? Because God's law is not just a collection of prohibitions against you. The law also protects you. And me. God says this to other people: You may not murder Jeremy. Or steal from him. Or covet his stuff. Et cetera. Thank you, God. Your law is gracious. It brings me unmerited favor. I do not deserve to be protected by the law, and yet You still protect me by Your law. As I have already mentioned, the law can be gracious both to other people (I should not murder them) and to me (other people should not murder me).

And consequences for law-breakers are gracious in that law-breakers are not permitted to continue in their destructive behavior. This means that in the practice of raising children, "giving them grace" does not mean that parents should always withhold punishment, although there may be times when withholding punishment is appropriate. Punishment is gracious, and parents who keep their children from strengthening destructive habits are giving them grace. That is training up children in the way they should go. On the other hand, "giving them grace" by destroying the law is training your children to expect no consequences for their sin. It is a way of destroying them.

Because of the cross, we have escaped eternal consequences. But we have not escaped the temporal consequences of our sin. In this life, if we murder and steal, we will (and should) reap the consequences.

In this life, grace is for all who come in repentance. But grace-without-consequences is not.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The case for paying attention

From Robert Farrar Capon's The Supper of the Lamb (p. 19):
Between the onion and the parsley, therefore, I shall give the summation of my case for paying attention. Man's real work is to look at the things of the world and to love them for what they are. That is, after all, what God does, and man was not made in God's image for nothing. The fruits of his attention can be seen in all the arts, crafts, and sciences. It can cost him time and effort, but it pays handsomely. If an hour can be spent on one onion, think how much regarding it took on the part of that old Russian who looked at onions and church spires long enough to come up with St. Basil's Cathedral. Or how much curious and loving attention was expended by the first man who looked hard enough at the insides of trees, the entrails of cats, the hind ends of horses and the juice of pine trees to realize that he could turn them all into the first fiddle. No doubt his wife used him to get up and do something useful. I am sure that he was a stalwart enough lover of things to pay no attention at all to her nagging; but how wonderful it would have been if he had known what we know now about his dawdling. He could have silenced her with the greatest riposte of all time: Don't bother me; I am creating the possibility of the Bach unaccompanied sonatas.
Read about Capon in Ch. 7 of this book.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Respect via dismissal

The following quote is from I Am Charlotte Simmons (p. 367). Charlotte is a sheltered girl from North Carolina who has been admitted to an Ive League university in Pennsylvania. Her roommate Beverly is a private school graduate who has always treated Charlotte with contempt.
"What's wrong?" said Beverly, seeing Charlotte sitting at her desk in front of her "new" computer and staring into space. "You look like a statue. You haven't moved for the past fifteen minutes. You haven't even blinked. Are you all right?"
So that's the way it works, thought Charlotte. It was precisely because she had stood up to Beverly this morning for the first time, and been abrupt and sarcastic, dismissed her as a prurient schadenfreude-driven gossip, that Beverly was now asking an idle question, one roommate to another, about nothing special. Which is to say, open contempt had jarred the Groton snob who shared her room into treating her as an equal. Charlotte took a rueful satisfaction in this discovery about human nature . . . .

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Diversity vs. Dispersity

A college girl (Laurie) explains to conservative, small-town country folk what "diversity" means at a state university (from Tom Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons, p. 550). The question marks sometimes indicate intonation, not an actual question.
Laurie piped up again. "At State, everybody calls diversity dispersity. What happens is, everybody has their own clubs, their own signs, their own sections where they all sit in the dining hall—all the African Americans are over there? . . . and all the Asians sit over't these other tables?—except for the Koreans?—because they don't get along with the Japanese, so they sit way over there? Everybody's dispersed into their own little groups—and everybody's told to distrust everybody else? Everybody's told that everybody else is trying to screw them over—oops!"—Laurie pulled a face and put her fingertips over her lips—"I'm sorry!" She rolled eyes and smiled. "Anyway, the idea is, every other group is like prejudiced against your group, and no matter what they say, they're only out to take advantage of you, and you should have nothing to do with them—unless you're white, in which case all the others are not prejudiced against you, they're like totally right, because you really are racist and everything, even if you don't know it? Everybody ends up dispersed into their own like turtle shells, suspicious of everybody else and being careful not to fraternize with them. . . ."

Monday, September 28, 2015

U.S. News and college rankings

From Tom Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons (p. 514), imagining the thoughts of a college president amidst a sports scandal:
What about these rumors that four of the team's players had SAT scores of under nine hundred? The President thought about that. For a start, it would knock Dupont from second, behind Princeton, in the U.S. News & World Report rankings down to . . . God knew where. U.S. News & World Report—what a stupid joke! Here is third-rate news weekly, aimed at businessmen who don't like to read, trying desperately to move up in the race but forever swallowing the dust of Time and Newsweek, and some character dreams up a circulation gimmick: Let's rank the colleges. Let's stir up a fuss. Pretty soon all of American higher education is jumping through hoops to meet the standards of the marketing department of a miserable, lowbrow magazine out of Washington, D.C.! Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, Dupont—all jumped through the hoop at the crack of the U.S. News whip! Does U.S. News rate you according to how many of the applicants you offer places to actually enroll in your college and not another? Then let's lock in as many we can through early admissions contracts. Does U.S. News want to know your college's SAT average? We'll give it to them, but we will be "realistic" and not count "special cases" . . . such as athletes. Does U.S. News rate you according to your standing in the eyes of other college presidents? Then a scandal indicating that all our lofty pronouncements about the "student-athlete" at Dupont are not only a joke but a lie—well, anybody could write the rest of that story.
Also from Wolfe's book. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

God as divine poet

From John Donne’s Expostulation 19 (Devotions):
My God, my God, thou art a direct God, may I not say a literal God, a God that wouldst be understood literally, and according to the plain sense of all that thou sayest? But thou art also (Lord, I intend it to thy glory, and let no profane misinterpreter abuse it to thy diminution), thou art a figurative, a metaphorical God too; a God in whose words there is such a height of figures, such voyages, such peregrinations to fetch remote and precious metaphors, such extensions, such spreadings, such curtains of allegories, such third heavens of hyperboles, so harmonious elocutions, so retired and so reserved expressions, so commanding persuasions, so persuading commandments, such sinews even in thy milk, and such things in thy words, as all profane Authors, seem of the seed of the Serpent, that creeps, thou art the Dove, that flies.

Culture denigration vs. animal rights

The following quote is from Tom Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons (p. 391). Mr. Starling is a Nobel Prize-winning professor of neuroscience, and this episode takes place in his class at the fictional Dupont University.
"That's José Delgado," said Mr. Starling, "and that's a two-thousand-pound Andalusian bull . . . and those . . . sticks . . . you see sticking out of his shoulders are the picas the picadors—you know picador?—have stabbed him with to make him angry."
"Oh—my—God!" It was an indignant yelp from a girl somewhere below. Charlotte had no trouble interpreting it. Animal rights was one of the issues some people on campus really got heated over. "That—is—horrible! It's—so—wrong!"
From the lecture Mr. Starling said sharply, "That's your reaction to a culture different from your own? I'm sure I mentioned that José Delgado was Spanish, and in case I didn't mention it, that's a bullring in Madrid. Spanish culture is far older than ours, by a factor of millennia. You are perfectly free to object to it. You are free to object to all cultures different from your own. Would you favor us with a list of alien cultures you find most objectionable?"
Laughter spread slowly through the amphitheater. Clever parry, Mr. Starling. Denigration of another culture, especially one whose people are less well off than your own, and referring to anything as evil, which would indicate you might very well have religious convictions, were more socially unacceptable at Dupont than cruelty to animals.
Oh, the amusement when conflicting religions collide. For more on animal rights hypocrisy, see here.