Marilynne Robinson on ‘the felt life of the mind’ and beauty and strangeness


“Assuming that there is indeed a modern malaise, one contributing factor might be the exclusion of the felt like of the mind from the accounts of reality proposed by the oddly authoritative and deeply influential parascientific literature that has long associated itself with intellectual progress, and the exclusion of felt life from the varieties of thought and art that reflect the influence of these accounts. To some extent even theology has embraced impoverishment, often under the name of secularism, in order to blend more thoroughly into a disheartened cultural landscape. To the great degree that theology has accommodated the parascientific world view, it too has tended to forget the beauty and strangeness of the individual soul, that is, of the world as perceived in the course of a human life, of the mind as it exists in time. But the beauty and strangeness persist just the same. And theology persists, even when it has absorbed as truth theories and interpretations that could reasonably be expected to kill it off. This suggests that its real life is elsewhere, in a place not reached by these doubts and assaults. Subjectivity is the ancient haunt of piety and reverence and long, long thoughts. And the literatures that would dispel such things refuse to acknowledge subjectivity, perhaps because inability has evolved into principle and method.” — Pulitzer Prize winner Marilynne Robinson, in Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self (The Terry Lectures Series)

Please also see “The objectives of metaphysics, the objectives of science.”

‘For God’s sake, be a storyteller’


Acclaimed author Walter Isaacson on the late, great writer Walker Percy:

“I had a friend of the family, an uncle of a friend, Walker Percy…

“He was a kindly gentleman. From his face you could tell he had known despair, but his eyes still smiled. And he had a lightly worn grace to him….

“He would say that two types of people came out of Louisiana, preachers and storytellers. He said, ‘For God’s sake, be a storyteller. The world’s got too many preachers.’

“He thought that too many journalists, and writers in general, feel they have to preach. He said it was best to do it the way the best parts of the Bible do, by telling a wonderful tale, and people will get the message on their own.”

I realize I’ve been guilty of preaching, too.

Looking Back to Colonial Times from December 1895: Puritans versus Christmas


American attitudes toward Christmas haven’t always been so positive. But what could possibly be wrong with Christmas? Well, for the Puritans, the problem was their enemies celebrated Christmas.

Wait — let me back up and be a bit more modest with my claim. Here’s just a snapshot of a perspective from a time that was not better or purer, but certainly earlier, before the television age, before the middle class was allegedly indoctrinated by left-wing professors in colleges. On Dec. 19, 1895, The Sequachee News of Sequachee, Tenn., published the following italicized section under the headline “Colonial Christmas:”

The Puritans were sorely tried by the way in which Christmas was observed in the colony in 1658, and at the first General Court subsequently held the following law was passed:

“For preventing disorders arising in several places within this jurisdiction by reason of some still observing such festivals as were superstitiously kept in other countries, to the great dishonor of God and offence of others, it is therefore ordered by this court and the authority thereof that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like either by forbearing of labor, feasting or any other way, upon any such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for every such offence five shillings as a fine to the country.”

The following from a letter from Amos Lawrence to his son, William K. Lawrence, then at school in France shows the beginning of the change of sentiment. Its date is December 27, 1830:

“I suppose Christmas is observed with great pomp in France. It is a day which our Puritan forefathers, in their separation from the Church of England, endeavored to blot out from these days of religious festivals; and this because it was observed with so much pomp by the Romish Church. In this, as well as in many other things, they were unreasonable as though they had said they would not eat bread as the Roman Catholics do. I trust and hope the time is not far distant when Christmas will be observed by the descendants of the Puritans with all suitable respect as the first and highest holiday of Christians, combining all the feelings and views of New England Thanksgiving with all the other feelings appropriate to it.”

I really like this line: “In this, as well as in many other things, they were unreasonable as though they had said they would not eat bread as the Roman Catholics do.”

I’m glad Amos Lawrence’s hopes turned out to be prophetic.

Unfortunately, Puritans were even worse in other areas. Other U.S. newspapers, before the television age, before the alleged indoctrination of the middle class by left-wing professors in colleges, published troubling articles about the American Puritans. Stunningly, they killed much, much more than the Christmas spirit.

Ruth Graham of The Atlantic perfectly explains church music in an article on The Gathering cult


Money earned from worship music (those five words should form a red flag) has been funding a religious cult with an allegedly controlling, authoritarian, and possibly criminal leader by the name of Wayne Jolley.

The Chris Tomlin hit “How Great Is Our God,” co-written with Ed Cash, has helped to underwrite The Gathering International, a cult-like organization, as reports in Christianity Today and The Atlantic have noted.

But shouting against cults doesn’t seem to bring about change. The failings of evangelicalism renew the seedbeds for high-control groups and authoritarianism and cults all the time, as it was in the beginning, is now, and forevermore shall be.

So to draw something good from this all-too-familiar mess, let’s focus on Ruth Graham’s explanation (in The Atlantic) of today’s worship music in “contemporary services” at churches darn near everywhere, and let’s notice the contrast she strikes with old hymns.

“Worship songs are songs to be sung in church. Though they perform a similar role as hymns do in a church service, there are significant differences between hymns and worship songs. Many hymns are theologically complex and somewhat formal in tone, while worship songs rely on repetition, informality, emotion, and simplicity. Hymns tend to be sung from books, while the lyrics to worship songs are projected onto big screens. Many hymns date to the 19th century or before, while worship music as a genre arose in the 1960s and took off in the 1990s. Hymns are usually accompanied by an organ or a piano, while worship songs are played by a full band, including guitars and drums. Hymn-singing is a collective endeavor, while worship bands play so loudly that the congregation is doing something more like singing along at a concert. (Naturally, there are exceptions to all these generalizations.) Classics of the young genre include ‘Lord, I Lift Your Name on High’ and ‘Shout to the Lord.’

“These days worship songs are not just sung in church, but bundled onto albums for inspirational home listening….”

Instant replay:

“Many hymns are theologically complex and somewhat formal in tone, while worship songs rely on repetition, informality, emotion, and simplicity. Hymns tend to be sung from books, while the lyrics to worship songs are projected onto big screens….worship bands play so loudly that the congregation is doing something more like singing along at a concert.”

Let us pray.

Dear Lord, let our entertainment and our worship become one.

Amen.
 
 
Updated Dec. 23 to add a clause to the “instant replay” quotation.

St John the Evangelist, Waterloo, Diocese of Southwark


1-2015-11-20_10-35-055It was a perfect moment near sunset on a November 2015 afternoon. Hardly a stone’s throw from Waterloo Station in London, St John the Evangelist Church stands with its steeple in the lowering sun as traffic carries on below. The church is part of the Diocese of Southwark in the Church of England.

Church of the Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon, at Night


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During our stay in London last month, we made a day trip to Stratford-upon-Avon for two plays. Shakespeare is buried in Church of the Holy Trinity. Of course, in November, in England, the sun sets around 4:20 p.m. After the first play and an early dinner, the church was closed, and the sun had long set. But I walked with one of my daughters from the theater to the church, where I remembered, in a very dark churchyard full of tombstones, that Shakespeare’s grave is inside the church. I had been there, and made it inside, about two decades before. This time, locked out and sentimental, I was sure to put a hand on the church’s stone exterior. It was a good walk with my daughter from the theatre to the church and back—a good memory for us.

C.S. Lewis Was a Secret Government Agent | Christianity Today


During World War II, “The [British] Joint Broadcasting Committee recruited C. S. Lewis to record a message to the people of Iceland to be broadcast by radio within Iceland. Lewis made no record of his assignment, nor does he appear to have mentioned it to anyone.”

Read more of this fascinating article by Harry Lee Poe: C.S. Lewis Was a Secret Government Agent | Christianity Today