Why I Can’t Find Good Friends

“Therapeutic theology raises expectations, and it raises self-regard. It isn’t surprising that people taught to be constantly enamored with their own godlike qualities would have difficulty forging relationships with ordinary human beings.”

Ross Douthat
Here’s Mr. Douthat’s talk regarding his book, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics. The talk begins at about the 8:20 mark.

More Love to Thee

I discovered Elizabeth Prentiss a couple of years ago. I acquired a copy of Stepping Heavenward after my grandmother died. Grandma Maude said it was her favorite book.

Reading a fictional, girl’s diary was not something I was initially drawn to, but after picking up the book and reading it, I was struck by the sweetness of the story and the reality and honesty of the main character. I ended up reading it the day I started it. I’ve often thought of juxtaposing Stepping Heavenward with Bridget Jones’s Diary.

I was taken with Mrs. Prentiss’ and later discovered that she had wrote hymns. A couple of years ago, I retuned this one for the congregation I pastor. Here is a recording I did for some friends.

https://player.soundcloud.com/player.swf?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F30920296%3Fsecret_token%3Ds-0ZBI9&secret_url=true  More Love To Thee by Randamir

The Coming of the King

Lewis’ good friend, J.R.R. Tokein as well understood the jovial king.

“And then wonder took him, and a great joy; and he cast his sword up in the sunlight and sang as he caught it. And all eyes followed his gaze, and behold! upon the foremost ship a great standard broke, and the wind displayed it as she turned towards the Harlond. There flowered a White Tree, and that was for Gondor; but Seven Stars were about it, and a high crown above it, the signs of Elendil that no lord had borne for years beyond count. And the stars flamed in the sunlight, for they were wrought of gems by Arwen daughter of Elrond; and the crown was bright in the morning, for it was wrought of mithril and gold. Thus came Aragorn son of Arathorn, Elessar, Isildur’s heir, out of the Paths of the Dead, borne upon a wind from the Sea to the kingdom of Gondor; and the mirth of the Rohirrim was a torrent of laughter and a flashing of swords, and the joy and wonder of the City was a music of trumpets and a ringing of bells…”
J.R.R. Tolkein, The Return of the King

A Dickens of an Evening

My wife wrote the following poem after our family visited the NC Shakespeare Festival’s A Christmas Carol. She also drew the sketch to the right. She blogs and posts here work on her own blog drawn2life. You can see more of her work here.

A Dickens Eve

A gentle waterfall
spilled up and o’er the rim
finding age old crevices
to follow towards my chin.

‘Twere just a play!
a staged apparition…
Well, actually there were three
nay four! after intermission.

What magic did befall me
as costumed sorcerers did brew
with lilting incantations
and music lovely too.

Had I not sat here
a couple times before?
Yet a fortnight of years
since last I heard this score.

A fortnight of years
is enough to deepen
the heart crevices
touched here by Dickens.

As Past waves her hand
for Scrooge to view his childhood,
My own leaps up before me
memories dancing, ill and good.

Then Present laughs hearty
as I sit here with my Three-
I know the richness I’ve been given
I can scarce contain it merrily.

For that dearest family Cratchit
‘tis my own sweet family too!
The crevices are deeper now
‘tis why I see this anew.

My senior girl beside me
is poised to leave the nest
Four years at college
and then who knows the rest?

My middle boy full of life
and a heart that breaks for all
His character becomes a man
How did he get so tall?

My youngest also sweetest thing
a deadly disease has hold…
Were it not for money and medicine,
her future could not be told.

All three have known less at table
though nothing like the meager here.
Fewer clothes are in their closets
Yet the Cratchits are wearing theirs.

Though my life is abundance
in comparison with these…
Do I still hoard and miser
all I have, to live in ease?

The jocund, piercing work of actors
has undone my heart this night.
The waterfall I cannot stop
melts what I’ve held tight.

Live freely with hands held open
Give money, joy and love!
And ring throughout each blessed moment:
God Bless Us Everyone!!
-jpe

Are We in a Grave Story?

A series of events conspired which led me to reflect on how we view the meaning of our circumstances. Firstly, my eldest had to do a report on Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing. In turn we watched the Kenneth Branagh screen adaptation. As she and I discussed the play and movie, I began to wax on Alan Jacob’s discussion of the play in the Epilogue of his book, Original Sin, and in particular, W.H. Auden’s category of Christian comedy. (To my daughter’s credit, she recognized Much Ado as a “garden story” — that is a story in which the innocents in the garden fall and become alienated. What is remarkable about Shakespeare’s garden story is the manner in which the restoration and reconciliation is effected.)
At the same time I was preparing to preach on the account of Jacob’s reconciliation with Esau from Genesis 33. What struck me in the passage was not so much the didactic messages in the passage, but rather the beauty of the story. What sorts of qualities are present for such a warm and sweet reconciliation? One of those qualities which is necessary is a “lightness” with respect to one’s own rights and privileges. And so Dr. Jacobs helped me again in that same discussion in commenting about the trap of taking ourselves too seriously. Indeed, it was for the “joy set before him” that Jesus endured the cross and scorned its shame. In talking about the danger of taking ourselves too seriously, Jacob’s writes,

“Well, these are sobering thoughts, indeed, and we should take them seriously—as seriously as we can take any thoughts. The immensely difficult trick is to do so without taking ourselves seriously, because one could argue that at or near the very heart of our bent wills is a determination to uphold our own dignity. Milton tells us that Satan decided to rebel against the Almighty because of his sense of ‘injured merit’: he was the one who deserved to be named Messiah, not God’s Son who surely was chosen not because of his ‘merit’ but on account of some divine nepotism. Looked at in the proper way, this idea of Satan’s is simply laughable, which is what G.K. Chesterton was indicating in one of his wisest aphorisms: ‘Satan fell by force of gravity.’”

Alan Jacobs, Original Sin 
The patriarch, Jacob, it seemed to me, could have only received the promise and appropriately humbled himself before Esau, if he did not take himself too seriously. Therein’s a beauty.
Serendipitously, just a few days later, Dr. Jacob’s posted the Auden quote on his online common place book, more than 95 theses. Reflection upon Auden’s categories and Jacob’s commentary has proved to be fruitful soil to contemplate the meaning of the stories which make up my life and of course those things about which I am so serious.

“Comedy … is not only possible within a Christian society, but capable of a much greater breadth and depth than classical comedy. Greater in breadth because classical comedy is based upon a division of mankind into two classes, those who have arete and those who do not, and only the second class, fools, shameless rascals, slaves, are fit subjects for comedy. But Christian comedy is based upon the belief that all men are sinners; no one, therefore, whatever his rank or talents, can claim immunity from the comic exposure and, indeed, the more virtuous, in the Greek sense, a man is, the more he realizes that he deserves to be exposed. Greater in depth because, while classical comedy believes that rascals should get the drubbing they deserve, Christian comedy believes that we are forbidden to judge others and that it is our duty to forgive each other. In classical comedy the characters are exposed and punished: when the curtain falls, the audience is laughing and those on stage are in tears. In Christian comedy the characters are exposed and forgiven: when the curtain falls, the audience and the characters are laughing together.”

W. H. Auden

And, after Christmas, I will celebrate Twelfth Night by watching a play entitled the same. In Twelfth Night one finds one of the gravest of Shakespeare’s characters, Malvolio who is the virtuous rascal classified by Auden.

(HT: Alan Jacobs)

To Lady Kenmure on the Occasion of the death of her infant daughter

“You have lost a child: nay she is lost to you who is found in Christ. She is not sent away, but only sent before, like unto a star, which going out of our sight doth not die and vanish, but shineth in another hemisphere. We see her not, yet she doth shine in another country. If her glass was but a short hour, what she wanteth of time that she hath gotten of eternity; and ye have to rejoice that ye have now some plenishing up in heaven. Build your nest upon no tree here; for ye see God hath sold the forest to death; and every tree whereupon we would rest is ready to be cut down, to the end we may fly and mount up, and build upon the Rock, and dwell in the holes of the Rock.”

Samuel Rutherford

What Kind of Peace?

“I have, therefore, chosen this time and place to discuss a topic on which ignorance too often abounds and the truth too rarely perceived. And that is the most important topic on earth: peace. What kind of peace do I mean and what kind of a peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, and the kind that enables men and nations to grow, and to hope, and build a better life for their children — not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women, not merely peace in our time but peace in all time.”

John F. Kennedy

American Rhetoric