Vampires and Vitality

Rather than the resurrected Lord who willingly offers his own sacrificed body and blood to give humans eternal life, Vampires are resurrected lords who sacrifice unwilling humans to take their blood for eternal life for themselves.

(HT: Gene Veith)

"Jesus Christ himself proposed a still more frightening question…"

“Yet there is a sense in which a focus on today’s obedience makes a long view possible: it does not yield a map, but it does yield a confidence that he who has called us is faithful, and will conduct the whole Church to her journey’s end. About a dozen years ago, Pope John Paul II agreed to answer some questions posed to him by an Italian journalist named Vittorio Messori. (His answers ultimately became the book Crossing the Threshold of Hope.) One of those questions concerned demographic predictions that Muslims would outnumber Catholics by the year 2000: “How do you feel when faced with this reality, after twenty centuries of evangelization?” 

To this inquiry – with its freight of implicit worry – the pope replied placidly. After all, Jesus Christ himself proposed a still more frightening question: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8) – will there be any faithful believers at all?” 

Alan Jacobs. Wayfaring: Essays Pleasant and Unpleasant, “Choose Life.

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.

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)

The sovereign Stick up Artist

A quote sent from a friend…

“The evangelical church, or at least a good slice of it, is nervous, twitchy, and touchy about consumer desire, ready to change in a nanosecond at the slightest hint that tastes and interests have changed. Why? Because consumer appetite reigns. And consumer appetite and consumer rights go hand in hand. These rights and appetites are very much alive in what used to be called the pew. Those who attend churches are now like any other customers you might meet in the mall. Displease them in any way and they will take their business elsewhere. That is the fear that lurks in many a church leader’s soul because they know that is how the marketplace works.
Like customers everywhere, those who show up in these churches are sovereign. Let us make no mistake about that. They rule. Accepting this fact has become the key to becoming cutting-edge in cultural terms. A mailer from a church in Mesa, Arizona, in 2006, for example, read: “Is your life everything you want it to be? You hear all kinds of offers of ways to improve your life, but do they work? God is offering you a way to make your life everything you truly want it to be.” So, there it is! The difference between this offer and the others is that this one works. Here the customer can match self-perceived need with a product. And bingo! Success!
With this kind of thinking in the air, we in the church today are leery of speaking of a Christian faith that is too demanding because of the prospect of offending our market(s). We take care not to cross these lines when speaking from our barstools, or from behind our Plexiglas stands if they have not yet been replaced.
This is a curious thing, is it not? It brings to mind the haplessness of parents in a home where the children have, amidst sullen moods and a creeping sense of the cruel injustice that has been inflicted on them, decided they will take it no longer. It begins with thoughts, the rebellious mists that shroud the mind and hold off the sun’s light and warmth. But soon the thoughts become seeds, and the seeds, finding fertile soil in the internal wounds suffered during the journey to adulthood, begin to germinate. The parents, sensing something is amiss, scour their minds to think of what they have done wrong and, understanding little of the labyrinthine coils of the adolescent psyche, decide to back off and take the path that inflicts the least pain. Poor things. They are only trying to do the best they can, but unfortunately they do not quite understand that they are staring down the gun barrel of a stickup artist. They are about to be robbed. Out of their good intentions, space is enlarged around the child, latitude is allowed, rules are rescinded, rebukes are stifled except in rare cases, and expectations are lifted. However, parents being parents, they are never entirely out of the woods with these children because, try as they might, they are never fully successful in setting their children free.
What is interesting about this painful tango of parent and child is that the more the demands and expectations of the parents are moderated, the more onerous and intolerable do the children find those that remain! In fact, the few that remain become more objectionable than the many, taken together, that once were there. Parental moderation only excites fresh cries of outrage and pain. Even more disaffection follows. Murderous glances, defiant behavior, black moods follow each other like clouds shifting across a stormy front. The parents, baffled at this unreasonable behavior, retreat even more. But the further they retreat, the more intense becomes the resentment! Nothing less than their total, abject surrender is acceptable. And when they do yield and hold aloft their white flag of surrender, they are despised even more deeply!

Am I being unreasonable in thinking that there are some parallels to the contemporary church here? Not, of course, that the pastors are the parents and the congregations are the children. That is a Catholic idea. The parallel, though, does seem to hold at the point of who has the psychological edge.

It would be quite wrong to suggest that pastors and other leaders in a local church have an authority that operates with near certain infallibility, or that what they think should be beyond question, or that their teaching, if they still offer such in church, cannot be questioned. All should be held to account before the same standard that is the Word of God.

By the same token, no congregation can take to itself this authority, and that is what is happening implicitly as consumer impulses take root in the evangelical psyche. All consumers, we need to remember, are sovereign, and the consuming impulse, once it enters a church, makes individual preferences the deciding factor, the driving factor in what that church becomes. These preferences become the standard by which the church is measured.

The moment disaffection with the church’s music, message, style, ethos, amenities, programs, or parking lot(s) begins to take root in a congregation, these new market-savvy pastors fear, they can anticipate dark glances directed toward the front of the church signaling consumer dissatisfaction. The glances will then mature into displeasure, the displeasure will become a seed, the seed will germinate in the internal soil that is ready to receive it, and the decision to walk away will be made. That is the (post)modern version of damnation, at least from a pastor’s point of view!

Market-savvy pastors, sensing this, back off. They lift demands and expectations, making Christianity light and easy. They hire new staff who specialize in knowing how to make worship fun, not to mention funny. Polls and soundings are taken each week, just as they are by the major retailers, to see if things are “on target:’ Poor things. If only they knew that their congregations, too, have become stickup artists! Or, to change the picture, what is happening here is that the individual has invested his or her desires with a kind of sovereign authority that runs roughshod over everything else, including the Word of God.

Never mind. Is it not better to have these people in the church on their own terms than not at all? Is it not possible that they will hear something there that might “click” with them? Why offend them, then, and guarantee that their weekends will be spent away from church? So, make it all as simple as an advertisement, as pleasing as an ice cream in the heat of summer. Make it as easy on the mind as a relaxing show on television. Only give something that works. Do not talk doctrine. Do not hold forth about anything that takes serious effort to follow. Do not sound churchy.”

David F. Wells. The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World (Kindle Locations 528-535). Kindle Edition.