Wes Smith’s column this week for First Things is about the flowers at his church that continued to be fresh, after a parishioner poured out the last of his holy water into one of the vases. The comment of a skeptic at that site clarified for me a point of miscommunication. The skeptic seems to think we are claiming that holy water is magic, and if we tested this in a controlled environment it would have this effect on flowers every time. There would be a pattern, one that kept appearing in any place and time.
Oliver Burkeman, a blogger for The Guardian, says that proponents of the atheist side of the God debate (where, he says, his sympathies lie) are being intellectually lazy. They attack a concept of God which imagines him as a sort of superhero, rather than grappling with the classic monotheistic view of God as the source and ground of reality. This is like anti-evolutionists refuting a distorted and absurd concept of evolution. Burkeman recommends David Bentley Hart’s “The Experience of God” so that they might grasp and then grapple with a more theologically-accurate concept of God.
Priest: O Trinity, transcendent in essence, in goodness and in divinity, O Almighty, invisible and incomprehensible, who watch over all, O Creator of intelligent essences, of natures endowed with speech, O Goodness of utter and unapproachable brilliance, who enlighten every person who comes into the world: enlighten me also, your unworthy servant! Illuminate the eyes of my mind, that I may venture to praise your immeasurable goodness and your might; may the prayer that I offer be acceptable for the people here present. Let not my sins prevent the descent of the Holy Spirit upon this place, but permit me now without condemnation to cry out to You, O all-good Lord, and to say: We glorify You, O Master and Lover of Mankind, Almighty King before eternity! We glorify You, Creator and Maker of all!
There’s much to admire, but not much to enjoy, in Inside Llewyn Davis, the latest film from the Coen brothers. Joel and Ethan Coen, two Minnesota boys, have won great acclaim over 30 years of filmmaking, sharing a dozen Oscar nominations for writing, directing, and best picture. Their films cover an amazing range of genres, from dark and violent, like best-picture winner No Country for Old Men (2007), to quirky-funny, like The Big Lebowski (1998). You could say that, with Raising Arizona (1987), the Coens invented quirky-funny. A longtime favorite in my family is O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), the comic odyssey of a trio of chain-gang escapees in 1937 Mississippi.
For children, Christmas is a time of wonder, if not outright bafflement, because of the archaic vocabulary and syntax of Christmas carols. This produces interpretations that our devout ancestors never had in mind. Here are some of my childhood mishearings of these songs. How about yours? * “For in thy Dock Street shineth…” (“Little Town of Bethlehem”) I knew what “Dock Street” meant, because my home town was a seaport. But if something was shining there, it was a little creepy.
Surprisingly, the Bible treats the heart as the place where we do our thinking—we think in our hearts, not our heads. And, as Matthew 15:19 shows, those thoughts are not always noble. In our culture we regard our ability to reason as one of the highest aspects of human personhood, but forget how often we employ that faculty in less-than-noble pursuits. The biblical Greek word for thinking actively, like when you’re thinking something through, is dianoia, and it includes selfish fantasies, plotting, and scheming: “The imagination [dianoia] of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen 8:21) “He has scattered the proud in the imagination [dianoia] of their hearts” (Lk 1:51)
[Further thoughts on the feminism of yesteryear, following “Enough of Anger,” National Review 9/30/2013] The chapter on sexuality in Our Bodies Ourselves is not so bad; it’s actually refreshing. “We are all so oppressed by sexual images, formulas, goals and rules that it is almost impossible to even think about…
Sorting through some old boxes in the basement, I ran across a manila envelope stuffed with 40-year-old women’s lib literature. It was right under the Earth Shoes. Back then, I was a mother-earth-type hippie, and an enthusiastic “women’s libber” (then the prevailing term of choice). In the envelope I found an assortment of leaflets protesting the nuclear family (inherently oppressive) and warning against “female hygiene deodorant,” “the myth of the vaginal orgasm,” and other threats to womankind. There were some huffy letters I’d written to the campus newspaper, and mimeographed flyers for the campus women’s group. The pride of the collection was a 1971 copy of the classic feminist guide to health and sexuality, Our Bodies Ourselves. This was the pre-mainstream edition, published by the New England Free Press, stapled together and priced at 40 cents.
Yesterday I wrote on “What is Worship For?”, but I forgot to answer the question. I said that it is not the time for evangelism, and shouldn’t be designed with non-believers in mind. But what is it for? Worship is for God; we could expand that and say worship is for believers to offer to God. But even once we’re clear that worship is the work of the believing community, there’s a possible confusion. We might think the purpose of worship is to give believers a good worship experience.
A pastor in the UK wrote me asking, “What is worship for?” He said that his denomination was encouraging pastors to make worship more “user-friendly” in order to attract new members, and that this initially seemed to him a reasonable evangelistic strategy. A scripture cited in support of this approach was Acts 15:19, “We should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God.” But as he read this scripture in context, it looked to him like it was written of people who were already Christian believers, and would not be required to accept Jewish practices. It didn’t address the case of people entirely outside the faith. He wrote to ask, “Who are church services for? Believers or unbelievers?”