After being away for several months I’ve decided to resume blogging, just not on WordPress.  My new blog will be focused on some of my more natural interests, instead of efforted interests like theology or philosophy.  Instead of revamping Popery for that purpose, I’ve decided to move to Tumblr and use my Twitter handle, @mintandmakers.  Mint & Makers is the new blog, and will be a disorganized compilation of quotations and musings, pictures and recipes, and the occasional track for your easy listening.  I hope you enjoy it, and I’ll leave Popery up on the off chance you’d like to read something here.

Who am I kidding—it’s staying up because I’m too lazy to delete it.

My sister mailed me a copy of Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within, an instructional book on poetry aimed at bringing poetry back to earth.  Through it Fry hopes to encourage plenty of amateurism in poetry, but not the kind of dilettantism of self-expression.  A hefty glossary sits at the back of the book, stuffed with Greek categories and linguistic terms.  I’m looking forward to working through the book.  In high school, I was most proud not of my papers but of those pair of poetry analyses that I wrote together after agonizing re-readings of assigned poems.  When I think about some of my favorite poems, I think of Eliot’s “Prufrock,” and how fun it was to read and reread those opening few lines in a half-hearted attempt at memorization.  And to have Fry writing about it, well, it seems like more fun times are ahead.

One of Fry’s points that resonates most with me is his insistence to read poems aloud and to savor the physicality of them.  Poetry, Fry insists, is a tactile pleasure and attempts to remove that tactile pleasure (one of the most well-intentioned and horrible pieces of advise is the speed reader’s demand to stop reading aloud, even mentally) ultimately remove the poetry from the poem.

But if we’ve lost, as Fry seems to think, our ability to appreciate poetry as a physical pleasure, we’ve put something else in its place.  Too many people view poetry as textual leftovers from a bout of mysticism; it’s a remainder that needs to be interpreted and figured out.  Popularly, the joy of poetry is the joy of the analyst.  Fry does his best to encourage his reader to avoid focusing first on meaning or interpretation.

Fry also points another problem with popular ideas of poetry.  In the face of the information required to get a grasp on the nuances of poetry (see the 20 page glossary), some teachers have opted to encourage students to express themselves or their feelings, and meter be damned.  Poetry as free verse romanticism is even more confusing than the intellectualist approach to poetry.

Modern folks tend to pursue one direction or the other; an intellectual gnosticism or a willfully ignorant retreat from it.  Poetry is a highly complex form of intellectual communication, or it’s an emotive explosion of words onto a page.  I dislike both these ideas so I’m happy to see Fry does as well.

Stephen Fry is great, and here’s a couple of clips.  Oh, and he’s an Auburn fan.  War Eagle, Mr. Fry!

In the second chapter of De Incarnatione Verbi Dei St. Athanasius, while offering a positive account of the metaphysics of incarnation and redemption, also implicitly develops a grid for examining other religions and their claims to provide an avenue of redemption.

The Incarnation is rooted in two things, which, according to Athanasius, must happen for true redemption to occur.  Because the fall consists in both an offense and a corruption, there must be both propitiation of the transgression and a restoration of nature.  Athanasius asserts that, while any deity could pardon the offense by fiat, only an incarnate divinity could take on the task of restoring nature.  The incarnate divinity must necessarily be the Creator of the race as well; what was created free from corruption must be redeemed from its corruption by the one who established it in the first place.

If we allow that a deity could, by fiat, establish some kind of redemption based on observances and works, there remains the nasty problem of the corruption of nature.  Such a fiat would be an eternal and transcendent decree, and it is hard to imagine, without pointing fingers, how a religion based on this kind of redemption would look.  But it also brings to mind a dilemma: either there is a corrupted human nature which requires some kind of divine action in the immanent realm, or, if there is no corrupt nature that requires such an action, there is a problem of explaining why sin occurs at all, let alone at the scope it does.

I’m interested in knowing whether this little treatise was preserved in the West at all.  According to Jaroslav Pelikan, during the 10th and 11th centuries, theologians realized they could not address the issue of predestination without first understanding the person and work of Christ.  Pelikan notes that a number of theologians not only explored the Incarnation as a requirement of redemption as  Athanasius did in the early fourth century, but asserted that Incarnation was a metaphysical requirement, regardless of the particular religion.  For them, the Incarnation was not merely a peculiar feature of the Christian religion, but a way to judge other religions wanting.

Following the Lord’s critique of Israel’s superficial sacrificial system in Isaiah 1:11-16, we encounter this passage:

Cease to do evil,
Learn to do good;
Seek justice,
Correct oppression;
Bring justice to the fatherless,
Plead the widow’s cause.                                                         Isaiah 1:16b-17

Isaiah is communicating a sequence of moral development that avoids legalism in some important ways.  It connects morality with two kinds of abstract ideas: those that are best understood attributes of God, and those that are the inverse and privation of those attributes in fallen man.  The Israelites became legalists when they started following minute laws while forgetting the sources of those laws.  The way to avoid a similar fate is to focus on the good and the just, and to understand the practice of the law in the context of who God is.  The result is a spiritual morality based on emulation of these attributes of God, not a series of cultural practices in the process of ossification. Read More

My friend Kester wrote a very insightful post here about the new emphasis on cool that most young Christians tend to have.

As Kester notes, in earlier generations Christianity was conflated with power and moral authority.  In reacting to that, younger people have imagined Christianity as a reservoir of hip, where a seeker can find a handful of truths and creeds, which, out of their context, seem dreamily archaic.

These two positions (power and cool) have established an unnerving spectrum in churches.  You already know what the positions are, and you already know the debates.  You could play through them in your head if you wanted.  And because power and cool are the factors that matter, it guarantees that discussions will always miss the point, because the terms we use are not Christ.  In seeking to be hip, the cool generation missed the opportunity to critique the preceding generation’s lust for power in a way that would actually have saved that generation.

Now, opposition to hip Christianity often looks like a return to power Christianity.  Which is why people leave churches because some vote for Obama, the child-killing Muslim, and why others leave because they can’t stand that fellow congregants believe that Obama is a Muslim and feel awkward condemning abortion.  This is disturbing enough as it is, without thinking about all the lost time spent on a bad debate.  And without thinking that we still don’t have (even though we always have) a solution.

The ending of No Country for Old Men re-emphasizes Cormac McCarthy’s view that, despite our hopes to the contrary, God and goodness will never be able to overcome evil.  Ed Tom Bell dreams himself into some sense of solace as he copes with Ellis revelations that the world has always had unstoppable figures like Anton Chigurh, and evil would reign in the future whether Bell manages to stop Chigurh or not.  As in other McCarthy novels, most notably Blood Meridian, the pursuit of virtue and goodness might enable one to see the world for what it is, and even perhaps to come to grips with it, but it can never help one overcome the world.  And in the character of Chigurh, evil seems to have achieved the level of fate, even if the assassin would seem to wish otherwise at times.  Admittedly, this particular theme in the novel and the film is so engrossing that it’s been the center of my interpretive reflections, and it has probably kept me from thinking about other important aspects of the plot.

But today I was thinking on Chigurh’s crash in the final sequences of the film, and I was struck by how it deviates from the gnostic theme of the movie to critique the possibility of chance overcoming fate or evil.  It’s McCarthy’s demonstration of an attempted deus ex machina, in an almost literal interpretation of that device.  Chance can’t stop Chigurh though, who throws $100 at some boys for a shirt while they look on in awe of his compound fracture.  He gets up and hobbles off before the authorities arrive to inspect the scene, escaping justice once again.  It’s McCarthy saying that God isn’t going to help out, and no, the universe isn’t going to right itself either.

I’ve just finished the first major section in James Davidson Hunter’s To Change the World and it bristles with criticism not only for Christian public life in the United States, but also even more for the ways in which that public life has been viewed, discussed, and theorized by Christians.  Hunter not only goes after the founders of the idea of cultural change (Chuck Colson and members of the “Religious Right”), but even dispatches new theorists like Andy Crouch.  In the words of a friend, “it says most of the things we’ve been thinking about for the past few years, but in a cohesive and integrated way.”  The internal coherence of what Hunter puts forth is the real value of the book, or at least Essay 1, “Christianity and World-Changing.”  Before that dampens your desire to read the book, remember that I’m not through with the book yet.  And having read just that section, I find that Hunter’s careful construction and integration of various concerns is as important as some of those concerns individually.  My hope as I continue through the book is that the emerging whole will be beneficial. Read More

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