Thomas Wolfe, Creativity and Depression

Thomas Wolfe often bounced between periods of energetic creativity and boundless enthusiasm to periods of morbid self-pity, un-productivity, and depression.  At one point while working prodigiously on his writings, he experienced morbid melancholia. At that time he was traveling in Europe, separated from his wife, when he wrote:

Today has been a horrible one. I was able to sleep only the most diseased and distressed sleep, the worst sort of American in Europe sleep and I got sick with the shakes, the day was the most horrible European sort, something that passes understanding. The wet, heavy air that deadens the soul, puts a lump of indigestible lead in the solar plexus, depresses and fatigues the flesh until one seems to lift himself leadenly through the thick, wet, steaming air. With this terrible kind of fear, an excitement that is without hope, that awaits only the news of some further grief, failure or humiliation and torture. A lassitude that enters the soul and makes one hope for better things and better work tomorrow but hope without belief and conviction.


 

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Field of Dreams Model of Youth Ministry

While I generally dislike economic models of ministry, I increasing feel like we’re trapped in what I call a Field of Dreams model. Thinking that if we “build it they will come,” we focus on supplying programs when it seems more and more like there’s an abundant supply and less and less demand.

Knowing it is both our “duty and delight that we should everywhere and at all times offer our thanks and praise”, and understanding that only the Spirit can truly bestow “demand,” how can we cooperate with the Spirit to instill delight in the absence of a sense of duty? God’s first call is to “come.” I don’t recall ever seeing “If you feel like it and have nothing better to do, come, follow me.” ?If we come, He will build, not the other way around.

Not trying to let myself off the hook. ?We need to discover and meet people’s needs, but we’re all ministers. ?God didn’t call any of us to just sit at home. ?It’s hard to discover and meet needs if people aren’t coming and getting involved.

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The Forgotten Holiday

Dear Gigantic, Multinational, Trans-Global, Mega Conglomerate,

Would you please figure out a way to monetize and commodify Thanksgiving so people don’t forget about it? McDonald’s is already selling candy cane McFlurries and egg nog milkshakes, and Hallmark had a Christmas movie on today.

You’ve done it with Halloween, that little nothing of a holiday for primary schoolers you turned into a vast trans-generational 2-month long sugar-infested, Zombie bash. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, and I have fond memories of many good ones, but now it’s just the day before Black Friday. How can you let that happen?

Please help me preserve this rich, rustic and robust tradition. I will ignore you, just like I do at Halloween and Easter (and try mightily to do at Christmas, but fail), but at least it won’t just disappear like Candlemass or Royal Oak Day. Or be merged into Thanksmas like Presidents’ Day.

Remember: It’s all gravy.

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Time, Politics and Devotion

For a couple of decades I have felt we were stuck between Statism and Corporatism, both undermine community, family, social connections, and faith activities.

Recently I was listening to a talk given by one of my favorite authors, Peter Kreeft (C.S. Lewis expert among many other things). If you listen to the whole thing, it’s quite obvious it’s pre-9/11, and I would love to here him talk about what’s changed. (BTW, the Veritas Forum is the best place on-line for free lectures by Christian thinkers.

So, the talk focuses on two principles: 1) The foundation of society is morality, and 2) the foundation of morality is religion. He talks about the primacy of moral relativism in the three primary “mind-molding” institutions in America: education, entertainment and journalism. He says the abolition of God from society will necessarily lead to the abolition of man (the title of a Lewis book). If a man stands in front of a mirror and then leaves the room, his image goes with him. Man is made in the image of God, so if we abolish Him we commit social suicide, in effect.

Agreed. But what Kreeft does not focus on is that the family is the foundation of society, and is supposed to be the primary mind-molding institution in that society for value formation and transmission.

Deutronomy 6: 4-9: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.  Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.  Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”

What I don’t hear from conservative Christians–who feel they have to side with the GOP to stop Statism, socialism, moral relativism, secular humanism, etc., is the stand against an economy that forces long hours, frequent relocations, two incomes, continual education, and constant communication (blackberries, e-mail, video conferencing, etc.)

Adults have little time for their own Bible reading and prayer, let alone family devotions, and even less for church and community building activities. A retired pastor at our church who services on Council for the Stewardship position has been doing a series this year on stewardship of time. “The Biblical model for time spending,” he writes, “is that the first hour belongs to God.” Jesus practiced this, and it is in keeping with the concept of “first fruits” when giving a tithe.

Yet, the typical work day for many now begins at 7:30 and ends at 5:30 or later, often with at least a 30 minute commute, one way. I have to get up before 6 to get my 1/2 hour, not hour in, and if I take an Ambian, this becomes impossible. I try to do family devotions, but they quickly become inconsistent with the various schedules, often things that have to be done for just a little exercise (tennis), career development (Explorers), or community service (for college applications) or health (orthodontist, doctors.).

I recently had an exchange with a youth advisor and parent of two of our senior high. I had to keep asking her over and over in emails she never replied to if they would be here to help for Roadside Cleanup (our youth sponsor our road with the Adopt-A-Highway program), so I could let the Lutheran Men, who fix us breakfast, know how many. Finally, she replied no. One son had to be up early Friday and the other was going to prom Sat. night, so “image the reaction I got when I told them we needed to be at church at 8 am Saturday morning.”

I replied that I understood; that we are busy, too, but that we have a contract, and I scheduled it 6 weeks in advance. What can we do to get youth here in the future? (My kids often make up 35-60% on any youth activity). Her reply:

These are hard times to be involved . Everyone is so busy, parents and kids a like…Hate to say it but I’d be hard pressed to find someone not stressed out. Hate that, really do cause nothing is much fun anymore. I admit, I’m tired as well as frustrated too. Doesn’t help when parents don’t commit to bringing the kids [huh?!] but the amount of young people in the church says that. That’s extremely sad. Mine don’t go to Sunday school cause it’s the only day of the week we don’t have to rush out the door . We are too scheduled of a society. It will be our down fall I believe. I think that’s why we have such low participation . Everyone is tired of being so busy. I know what you are thinking now….we don’t have our priority in the right place and I whole heartedly agree. Shame…but you know what Bo….Thank God for for you and your family. You guys are such a huge part…with out you guys I’m not sure if we would be as involved.

If they admit their priorities are in the wrong place, and their only reaction to that is a apathetic shrug and a “Shame,” what can you do as a youth leader? This is a member of our Council and a youth advisor.

But the larger issue is how do we as a Church stand both against a society that would tell us there is no higher value than self-fulfillment, no greater truth than our feelings and no authority higher than autonomous Man, and against a system that says one’s employer should get the best of your time, talent, commitment and loyalty and that depends upon cradle to grave formal education (half of Wayne Community is adults trying to get better jobs, secure their jobs or get promotions in their jobs) and non-stop consumption to function?

I actually wrote this months ago and never got around to posting it.  Interesting enough one of today’s featured talks at Veritas is: Can Capital Markets be Moral? The Global Financial System in the Dock

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Something More

A quick thought: The cross has to be about more than forgiveness. I’m not sure ‘evangelical’ Christianity gets that. Confession, repentance and forgiveness are excellent things, but redemption is more than forgiveness. All stand under condemnation because of sin, and no sin is a small thing and Sin is not a trivial condition, but examining sin focuses us upon ourselves and/or others, the sinners.

Telling someone he’s unlovable but God loves him anyway is a contradiction at its very core (if God loves me I am able to be loved; that is, love-able), that she is so horrible she deserves eternal damnation but God can forgive her or that one is despicably, unspeakably ugly but God can make him lovely doesn’t seem, to me, to be much of a witness to the world or a source or edification for the Body.

A true understanding of what Sin and its affects are only comes imperfectly after spending time in the presence of God. Until then, and even as one’s understanding deepens, it’s hard not to think of what we consider judicious and just punishment. I think it’s nearly impossible for most people to think of sins of omission or commission as deserving a death sentence unless they are pardoned. Even a deeper understanding of Sin as a condition full of Pride, Avarice, Lust, etc. probably doesn’t elicit a sense of warrant for one’s death, let alone the death of someone else as substitution.

Imagine you’re in a tent on a base during war and one of your corporal rolls a live grenade into the tent in a fit of rage because he hates the sergeant. ?A friend dives on the grenade, substituting himself for everyone else, dying because of the evil of another.Not so hard to understand, and though it’s tragic and grieves you, you feel deep gratitude and love for your friend.

Now imagine you’re in that same tent with just your friend, but this time you’re goofing around like the immature right-out-of-high-school private you are, and you accidentally drop a live grenade which your friend dives on even though he was near the door and could have dove the other way and saved himself. ?You feel deep shame, unbearable horror, and unrelenting guilt, but you still know you’re friend died for you, and maybe someday, hopefully, you realize your friend would not want you to hate yourself and you owe it to him to live the life he spared to the fullest.

Many would agree that the person in the first case who threw the grenade should be executed, but no one would probably argue the second person should be executed, both because of lack of intention and because it would negate the sacrifice of the friend.

People are not Good, but they are mostly decent, at least by any norms ever defined by humanity. We all can see ourselves as the foolish, ignorant private, but we are unable to understand how it merits death. Sometimes we are aware that we are the evil ‘friendly’, but we think of it as a momentary act of emotion, not as a character-defining attribute, and we have trouble understanding how executing someone who had nothing to do with it would ‘fix’ anything, especially since most of the time we authentically are a ‘friendly’ and on the same side.

You lied? Accept God’s forgiveness. He butchered His Son so you could be forgiven. Oops…you did it again? Christ accepted torture, humiliation and crucifixion for a wretch like you because you were too ugly, disfigured and vile for Him to even look at until He did, but now you can be happy. You fudged your expense report? He’s got ya covered with the blood of His boy! Get this! He could have stopped it and He could have killed you for it and sent you to hell, but Alleluia! Instead He stood by and let his Son be slaughtered just so you could be forgiven. Now sing praises!

The sad hard truth is we’re neither the evil corporal nor the foolish private; we’re enemies with God. ?I’m not sure one obtains that understanding without forgiveness, an aspect of redemption and reconciliation, not prior to it. Imagine sin were a fruit and you were told what would happen if you took a bite of it and yet you did, but having taken the bite the poisonous juice traps you in a matrix of self-deception, you leave the garden and get lost, the poison makes you sick, lame, blind, distorts your hearing, disfigures you, put sores all over your body and yet convinces you you’re well.

Someone comes to you and says: You’re vile, repugnant and evil, but you did it to yourself, now say you’re sorry and turn around and go back because God killed His Son instead of you.

There’s got to be more. Isn’t it instead The Father sent His Son out looking for you, and the only way to heal your body, mind, heart and soul was to completely drain the poisonous blood and replace it with pure, and the only pure blood was in the Son, but in order for Him to have blood at all He had to first become like you, and putting His blood into you killed Him? And now the curse is lifted and you know you’re forgiven, all if well, and you back; in fact, with His blood came His Spirit to show you the way home.

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N T Wright and Ecclesiology

Enjoyed this quote from N. T. Wright’s Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision and thought I’d pass it on.  Ecclesiology has been becoming my driving interest for many years now.

Yes, say the scoffers, ethnic divisions are broken down, we know that, but why make such a fuss about it? The answer is that the church, thus united through the grace of God in the death of Jesus, is the sign to the principalities and powers that their time is up. Ephesians is not about the ordering of the church by the gospel for its own sake. “Ecclesiology” may sound secondary and irrelevant to some ardent enthusiasts for the old perspective, but that could just be because they are unwilling to face the consequences of Paul’s ecclesiology. For him, the church is constituted, and lives its life in public, in such a way as to confront the rulers of the world with the news that there is “another king named Jesus” (Acts 17:7). Paul says it again: this was the grace given to me, this was the mystery revealed which I became a servant, the mystery lodged since all eternity in the creator’s single plan: “that now the many-splendored wisdom of God might be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places, through the church, according to the eternal purpose which he has accomplished int he Messiah, Jesus our Lord” (Ephesians 3:10-11).

How can “ecclesiology” be a secondary topic, unworthy to be associated with the great doctrine of justification, when Scripture itself gives it this high a place? Why should not the point of justification itself be precisely this, that, in constituting the church as the single family who are a sign to the powers that Jesus is Lord and the they are not, it serves directly the mission of the kingdom of God in the world? It cannot be, can it, that part of the old perspective’s reaction to the new is the tacit sense that once we associate ecclesiology with the very center of the gospel we will have to go all the way and rethink the political role and task of the church? Surely the wonderful “objective” scholarship of so many old perspective exponents would not allow such a motive to affect exegesis! And yet: Luther’s “two kingdoms” theology may have more bearing on this than we might like to think. Not to mention the deep resistance, in some of the same circles where the old perspective still flourishes, to any attempt to articulate a gospel-based “kingdom” theology to complement and illuminate Paul’s soteriology.” (173-174)

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Misleading or Incompetent?

Last night during the debate, at 10:15, when the President was doing his indignant act saying it was “offensive” to suggest he or anyone in his administration would deliberately mislead the American people about the attack in Benghazi, I tweeted:  ”If you didn’t mislead you were ignorant #debate.”

Alana Goodman asks the right questions:

>Obama and the “T” Word « Commentary Magazine

Why, if the president immediately knew Benghazi was a terrorist attack, did he fly to Las Vegas for a fundraiser the very next day? Why didn’t he inform UN Ambassador Susan Rice before she went on the Sunday shows and blamed the attack on the anti-Islam film? Why didn’t he tell his own spokesperson, who insisted days later that “We have no information to suggest that it was a preplanned attack…And while the violence is reprehensible and unjustified, it is not a reaction to the 9/11 anniversary that we know of, or to U.S. policy”? Why did the president himself go on “The View” nearly two weeks later, and — when asked point-blank whether Benghazi was a terrorist attack — say that “well, we’re still doing an investigation” and “it wasn’t just a mob action”?

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Impassibility and the Buffet Rule

I was just walking and listening to a lecture on my mp3 player on the influence of Greek philosophy on early Church Fathers, one of which was the concept of impassibility.  This teaching has annoyed me from the very first time I remember hearing about it, and from time to time I try to articulate why.

Greeks believed that passions (same root as passivity) moved us, so we were not completely acting (same root as activity) freely, which was not good. For God to be good he had to be impassible, or unmoved by passion (or emotion), or he wouldn’t be either good or perfect.

Even if we accept the absurd dissection of God into reason, emotion and will–called the mind of God, the heart of God and the will of God–which can no more be separated than water can from a wave, then why must the conclusion be that God be passionless, or impassible, in order to be unchanging?

In our current state of class warfare, the Left has decided that if a millionaire pays less in taxes (as a rate) than his secretary because he pays capital gains and she pays federal tax then the only solution is for the millionaire to pay more so there is fairness.  Why can’t it be that the secretary pays less?  Would this not also achieve a more fair result?  Why do people so readily accept the conclusions others want them to.

Likewise, rather than God being impassible because He is unchanging why can’t it be that He has perfect, incorruptible, eternal passion rather than none?  An unchanging God moved by love?

Love, joy and peace are not purely emotional, as we understand emotion, but surely they have emotional aspects.  To argue God is impassible is to argue that though He experiences, say, peace that He is not moved by it.  Why can’t He be perfectly moved by it?  Why couldn’t such movement have occurred before the creation, and why couldn’t creation and redemption itself be a result of God being perfectly moved by pure, incorruptible, unchanging love before the creation of the world?

How do we reconcile Jesus Christ of Nazareth as Lord with the Garden of Gethsemane, with the Son of the Most High God weeping when His friend died?  How is the Incarnation itself not a change?

I guess what bugs me the most, and I had three other examples of this I was going to write you about the other day, is the way Christians who accept the philosophical notion of the impassibility of God build the whole edifice upon Platonic thought, which is the iceberg, and cap it off (the tip of the iceberg) with a proof text like God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow and then cry Sola Scriptura.

Is there any reason a God moved by love wouldn’t still be the same yesterday today and tomorrow; that is, unchangingly a God moved by love?

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In Essentials

For decades I have heard people use the expression: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” I think a common reply to this is that we can never agree as to what is essential and what is non-essential. In fact, most of the time it appears that disagreement about what is essential is the most common source of disunity within the Body, so we debate and debate the particular question at hand.

However, it seems to me as I have been reflecting on this dictum that it channels the discussion into a false framework; well, not so much a false framework as disguising what the problem really is. It would be hard to disagree with this centuries-old formulation, so why so much disunity? I don’t believe it’s because we can’t decide what is essential and what is non-essential; I think it’s precisely because we all agree to an unstated single, core essential I would state as: The only real essential is understanding and obeying the teachings of Jesus Christ in all things.

So, Protestants believe we are saved by faith alone. We believe that is the correct understanding of the teaching of Jesus Christ in both proclamation and action regarding salvation. Catholics believe that when James wrote “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” he was expressing a different “correct” understanding of the teaching of Jesus Christ regarding the nature of salvation.

Every issue we disagree about from baptism to the ordination of women, from the number of the sacraments to the proper care of the environment, from the exact nature of the inspiration of Scripture to church polity hinges on the desire to correctly understand the teaching of Christ so that we can be obedient to that teaching. Those who believe homosexuals should be allowed to marry believe they are obeying a correct understanding of Jesus’s teachings about love. Those who don’t believe they should be allowed to marry believe they are obeying a correct understanding of Jesus’s teaching about holiness. Those who think communion should be open to non-believers, those who don’t, and on and on.

Because we are united in our unstated agreement that the only real essential is to be obedient to the teaching of the Living Word we can allow no liberty towards one another because how can one be at liberty to disobey the Lord’s teaching? So the fragmentation of the Church continues apace. “Even so, come Lord Jesus.”

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Citizens or Fans

The political climate is such that no one who wants broad-based national appeal can possibly be forthright and specific.  As soon as one does, he or she looses too much appeal from too many. This is not a criticism of one side or the other, except to the extent that, as Yeats wrote: “The best lack all conviction and the worst are full of passionate intensity.” 

We currently have a serious structural problem, the cracks of which are illuminated by the reality that both conservatives and progressives have basically reached an ideological impasse. Both sides believe they are right, and it has become an either/or situation.  This is not a situation the Founders foresaw.  It’s been getting worse for decades, but useful coalitions used to be built within the two-party framework.  I do not believe that is possible any more.  The only real hope is a multi-party system in which coalitions have to be built between multiple parties.

National politics is not about the base.  Neither party’s base is going anywhere, though they may just stay home.  National politics is about independents who want issue by issue policy solutions. So, if you have 4-5 viable parties actually in office, and parties A, B, and C agree about policy on issue X then they can put together something even if parties A, B and C disagree about issues Y and Z.

If just A & B agree on issue X and don’t have the numbers, then they work out deals with C, D and E about issue Y, giving parts of Y support in order to gain support for X.  Competition works better than monopolies in politics as well as business. It’s ugly business, but you can not govern a democracy without compromise between factions.

In Federalist 10, Madison makes the argument that liberty can not exist without giving rise to factions: ”Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires. But it could not be a less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction than it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency.”

The only way to prevent this is to remove liberty by stamping out dissenting opinions; that is, until everyone shares the same opinion. Madison rightly knew this to be totalitarianism, well before the term was coined, and he considered it contrary to human nature.  ”As long as the reason of man continues to be fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed.”

Faction is healthy!  What isn’t healthy to democracy, according to Madison, is the “violence of faction.”  We don’t have a lot of that anymore, despite the inflammatory rhetoric.  What has happened, instead, is that factions have condensed into two basic Factions: Us and Them.  For all practical intents and purposes, factions have been co-opted into Faction on pragmatic grounds.  “There are more people in Faction A,” we reason, “who support my opinion about policy X than in Faction B, so, if I want policy X I will have to join them.”

So then Faction A and Faction B become like two armies justifying their constant fight for power on the basis of broad ideological Good v. Evil worldviews in which pandering, demonizing and demagoguery are merely the weapons of warfare.  And, what’s worse, the battles are usually between skirmishers fighting over peanuts in the media Colosseum.

Witness the Republican debate the other night. There was not one single question on the European debt crisis, Medicare reform, how to fix Social Security so each of my kids isn’t working to pay for 50 retirees each, or restoring our triple-A rating.  There were questions on “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” HPV Vaccinations, Border Fences, which department of the government would you eliminate, and who would you pick a VP.  I do not diminish any of these issues, but they are motes, not logs.  Just as in the 2008 Democratic Presidential primaries, all the questions boil down to just one: “Prove that you have the bona fides to be quarterback for Us.”

Madison wrote that “So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities that where no substantial occasion presents itself the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their infriendly passions and excite their most violent conflicts.”

Like with football, it doesn’t matter that the “issue” is a pigskin; what matters is that the audience cheers for your side to move that pigskin as far as possible to an extreme end. In American politics today there are only 2 teams and the arena of the 24 hour news cycle has turned us all into fanboys watching “Last Man Standing/Running Man/Rollerball” as they seek to demolish one another over pigskin issues.

Who loses?  The fans of course, but then we made ourselves fans instead of citizens and we let them commodify our dissent.

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