Silent Night, Holy Night

This is a rambling reflection which has come together in my mind on the year’s darkest day.

In listening to Volume 104 of Mars Hill Audio, I was fascinated by Ken Myers’ interview with Garret Keizer who has written a book called The Unwanted Sound of Everything We WantIt’s a catchy title, and I’m interested in hearing more. (Is that ironic?) In his interview he talks about the effect of noise in our culture as well as spending time providing a helpful definition of it. He reminded me that Milton places a region in hell called Pandemonium. This time of year can be just that. Mr. Myer’s introduction to the conversation is worthy of a listen in its own right, and he mentions a quote by A.W. Tozer taken from a collection of essays, The Root of the Righteous. Tozer comments,

“The accent in the Church today,” says Leonard Ravenhill, the English evangelist, “is not on devotion, but on commotion.” Religious extroversion has been carried to such an extreme in evangelical circles that hardly anyone has the desire, to say nothing of the courage, to question the soundness of it. Externalism has taken over. God now speaks by the wind and the earthquake only; the still small voice can be heard no more. The whole religious machine has become a noisemaker. The adolescent taste which loves the loud horn and the thundering exhaust has gotten into the activities of modern Christians. The old question, “What is the chief end of man?” is now answered, “To dash about the world and add to the din thereof.” And all this is done in the name of Him who did not strive nor cry nor make His voice to be heard in the streets (Mat. 12:18-21).

Tozer’s comments from the 1950’s are even more true today.

At about the same time I heard Myers and Tozer, I began Adam McHugh‘s book, Introverts in the Church. McHugh takes on our current presupposition that extroversion is next to godliness and cites a study in which 97% of those polled believed Jesus was an extrovert though, statistically at least, just over half of humanity are introverts. He goes on to say,

If human perfection, epitomized in the person of Jesus, includes extroversion then a large number of the population will always and irredeemably fall short. This adds a theological component to the already-prevailing cultural prejudice that extroversion is the superior temperament.

All this in my own mind causes me to reflect on which (extrovert/introvert) I am and how I would better serve the church by being who He made me rather than trying to be something else. And, in this season, is there any room midst the parties and productions, for contemplation and preparation in solitude?

At the beginning of the month, I came across this post (H.T. G Veith) on the season of Advent over at First Things Blog entitled, “Let’s Hold Back the Christmas Cheer”. In it Losana Boyd reminds us the the true spirit of that season which leads up to the feast days of Christmas to Epiphany. Boyd writes,

Advent is the great season of preparation for the greatest of all gifts: Christ Himself. But as our culture makes all too obvious, this is also a season of high commercialism. As Fr. George Rutler from Our Saviour Parish in New York City reminds us:

The season of Advent is lyrically beautiful if one is willing to engage the realities it teaches: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. The alternative is to create a parallel universe partying in a faux Christmas confection of jingle bells, dancing elves, and self-conscious bonhomie, avoiding the Incarnation of God.

Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell—the themes of the four Sundays in Advent don’t exactly seemed filled with Christmas cheer. Instead, they are sobering, encouraging a state of wakefulness from the distractions of frivolity. Advent has become something truly countercultural–at a time when holiday parties and merry making are at a fever pitch, Advent calls us to remember the passing nature of this world and the eternity that awaits.

During an evening commute I heard this report on NPR here about Brittain’s X-Factor music contest in which a number songs have been submitted in protest of Simon Cowell’s influence on the music industry in the U.K.. One of the bands in contention for this year’s prize has submitted John Cage’s protest song 4 minutes and 33 seconds. You can listen anywhere.

Lastly, and this brings me back to noise and worship and Christmas, I was reminded of a conversation in C.S. Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy between Aslan and the three companions, Hwin, Bree, and Aravis. As Aslan speaks with each, he tells them some about who they are and why events have happened to them. After Aslan leaves, Lewis writes,

Strange to say, they felt no inclination to talk to one another about him after he had gone. The all moved slowly away to different parts of the quiet grass and there paced to and fro, each alone, thinking.

It’s interesting to me that sometimes the most appropriate response to the Word is silence (see: Rev 8:1).

Silent Night
And so, here we are in a season, THE season of preparation, and the spiritual benefit we might derive from it is driven back by all the noise of its production. This season which is to have so much meaning is drained of it’s power just as we are drained of the joy of the news we gather to celebrate. Christmas becomes something to endure, ride out, get through, and finally be done with. It seems to me we’ve turned it on its head, and the feast takes place for a month prior to THE FEAST, and THE DAY becomes the heartbreak hill of this festive marathon rather than the dawning of a new age. And so, we gorge ourselves on hors d’oeuvres and have nothing left for the meal. What should be a season of preparation and anticipation in repentance, quietness, and contemplation, leading us into the joyful news that the King is born, instead gives birth to disappointment, depression, and alienation and all because of the noise of the “holiday” production.

Existentialist Firefighter Postpones the Death of Three

(via The Onion).

When asked if he felt something, anything, after briefly extending the lives of three human beings, Farber replied in the negative.

“I was doing what, at that moment, I was doing,” he said. “Tomorrow, if there is another fire, I will do the same. Perhaps in that fire, I will be the one who is killed. Or, on the other hand, perhaps I will not. Either way, there will be anguish and sorrow at some unknown point.”

 Well, that pretty much sums it up for Qohelth, too.

Need Some Growtivation?
“Sunday’s Coming” Movie Trailer from North Point Media on Vimeo.

H.T. Justin Taylor

Of Presidents and Pansies

I’m usually not into political commentary, but Governor Easley’s endorsement of Hillary — “…this Lady right here, makes Rocky Balboa look like a pansy” gave me that heavy sinking feeling. Oi, he’s so culturally “hip” and “in touch!” If only he’d have referred to her as “this little Lady ri -chere.”

Top Ten

From the home office in East Brumsick, NC, it’s the Top Ten Least Popular Church Outreach Programs from the Book of Judges.

10. Pass out bobble head idols with the church name and address with the invite, “Come one, Come Baal!”

9. Delilah billboard campaign in which she asks passing motorists, “Hey strongman, wanna tell me a secret?”

8. Pass out WWED bracelets. (What would Ehud do?)

7. Sponsor the Gideon Leadership Conference: Learn to lap your water like a dog.

6. Group Singing with Jael, “If I Had a Hammer,” “Hammer and Nail,” etc…

5. Sponsor a benefit 10K road race: Wives for the Benjaminite’s Fun Run.

4. Host “Tola’s Parenting Seminar: My Dad’s Dodo.”

3. Put on the musical pageant, “30 Donkeys for 30 Sons”

2. Offer a city walk with Jephthah’s mother.

1. Offer the Samson’s one-night stand -up comedy school’s: “How not to die on stage,” “Kill ’em Laughing,” and “Bringing Down the House.”

Justification by Vomit

I collapsed across the finish line after last year’s Christmas services, and after a day of familial and gastronomic mirth, I prepared for the re-entry into ministry life.
Re-entries are usually violent and ungraceful. The transition from vacation to normal life passes from the lightness of vacation through the atmosphere of responsibility, falling back to the firmness through gravity’s pull, and slamming into the mass and density of life. Ah, the impact crater spreads debris and shockwaves for miles.

For a pastor, the fall back into the desperate pace of church life is marked with the shocking regularity of Sunday morning. Thankfully in my case, God put a stop to that. The day after we returned, I got sick as a dog. Being bedridden led me to an awareness that, though I had apprehended it, I had never been able to articulate it, and now I am (thanks to my good friend, Ping) able to relate it to you: I realized that I am only free when I am sick.

C.S. Lewis has written, that his “ideal happiness…would be to read the [Renaissance] Italian epic — to be always convalescent from some small illness and always seated in a window that overlooked the sea, there to read these poems eight hours of each happy day.”* Lewis speaks of the same principle. Illness provides a justifiable excuse to rest. A “small illness” is too ambiguous a thing for me to mediate. I’m always of the assumption that I can push through some measure of difficulty. What I need (and needed) was something a little more definitive.
The humble desperation of either trying not to vomit or desperately sprinting to the toilet is wonderfully centering. You really don’t care about anything else. You don’t worry whether there are empty nurseries or if there is toilet paper in the church bathroom or the bulletin is typo-free or if the overheads are correct. You don’t care whether or not your sermon is “finished” or the light bulbs have been fixed or doggone it, that that person who has dropped in unannounced is just so disappointed in the church or me, and they’ve just got to let me know — something.
“Sorry,” I say, “I can’t answer your question, hear your concern, listen to you complain– I’ve got to throw up now.” How incredibly freeing! But it’s also brilliant. Because, at this very moment, I am not being insensitive or ungracious, I am actually loving them, by getting away from them as quickly as possible so that they won’t get sick either. And what is the response to this terse, “Not…now!”? It is sympathy and kindness and concern. Is that incredible or what?
I have framed this new principle into one of the classic formations of Reformed theology. You’ve heard of soli Deo gloria or perhaps the three solas: fide, gratia, scriptura? Well let us add to it: sola aegrotus “by illness alone” or its theological cousin and more widely recognizable, soli vomitio, “vomit alone.” I really think this has potential.

There is also the universalist approach which sadly is more definitive, less debatable, and absolute; it is called: sola morte.

*This quote is pulled from Alan Jacobs excellent book on the life and thought of C.S. Lewis entitled, The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis.

All content copyright, unless noted otherwise, Randy Edwards, 2001-2006. All rights reserved.