Fools

Len VanderZee notes the similarity between our President and the biblical fool

 It strikes me that Trump is basically what the Bible calls a fool. I am not seeking to belittle Trump, but simply to find a way to understand and respond to him, and the biblical word for such a man is fool. Fortunately, the book of Proverbs provides an inspired guide for how to deal with fools.

Fools sets in motion the other question, the real question, the counsel of Wisdom. The Wisdom Literature instructs in taking a prudent, long-term view of things, to be emotionally constrained, etc. This is not merely a sort of Nominalism (true because in the Bible), but especially true for its practicality — this is the stuff that enables rulers to endure and wise servants (and people) to prosper.

Wisdom guards our own reaction in a time of enthusiasm or of excess. As with marches, or certainly with appetites.
Wisdom also is grounded. It does not merely stand aside, “strategically” to mark its time. It is wise, because it knows something. Contrast this to line from Hamilton, “If you stand for nothing, Burr, what will you fall for?”
Oh, and about fools. Their way is that of destruction. History teaches that.

What do we take from the past?

Beer boxHank Ottens at the Banner pens an interesting, prophetic story about his dad, one of those immigrant souls who worked the farm but kept an active mind and prized his orthodoxy. Cleaning out his father’s estate, he comes across “the ark:” books by Bavinck and his father’s collection of sermons on the various themes of orthodoxy.

What to do?

He looks, reads, considers, then gets coffee. Church today is not much like that of his father’s post-war era (or his father’s defense of orthodoxy in retirement).

The brief coffee klatch gets us talking about the new “normal” in church life: praise teams, women clergy, seeker-friendly services, interfaith dialogue, acceptance of divorced and gay members. We put down our coffee cups and get down to business. The ark has become a beer box with relics of a bygone era.

Books and tapes are consigned to the curb. And at the end Ottens wonders about all this with more than a little ambivalence:

Are these reflections on the means of grace, the Heidelberg Catechism and pious living, no more important than a broken-down hobby horse or a six-pack of empties? Do those old sermon tapes at least deserve a respectful place in a preacher’s bookcase?

Well, theses certainly are reflections of grace, but appropriate for a preacher’s bookcase? Ah, no. The grace belongs to his family. In very human terms, these belong on his bookcase. The hand that pens the sermon title was the same hand that ran the farm and first took Otten’s small hand as he learned to walk. Our spirituality is not different from the rest of our lives. Some items we keep because of their testimony to a faithfulness then that has made a debtor now. Active remembrance can keep us.

This however, is not the only story available, that of an old immigrant orthodoxy thrown away. There is the story of faithfulness:  what does one do with one’s life? This was a retirement spent in keeping the mind alive, a retirement spent in caring for others, a retirement spent in a pursuit of godliness; it is  the shape of that fidelity as much as its content that is remarkable and worthy of marking.

Me? I would have kept the tapes if only as a reminder that there is more to life than travel and gardening.

Heading South

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Photo Credit: Business Insider

The sudden fall of Paula Deen is, if anything, breath-taking.  And to fall because of a an ancient racial slur — surely injustice is at work?  Bill Vis comments

Paula Deen is older than me and was born and raised in the south.  The furor by younger people shows a profound lack of understanding of the world she and I grew up in.  Was it right?  Something I am proud of?  Of course not!  But to condemn someone in her mid-sixties for being a product of the society in which she was a child is grossly unfair.

Was it unfair what happened to Paula Deen? In a sense, absolutely, the same way it was unfair what happened to Detroit autoworkers. She got caught in an ebbing tide.

Her problem is not that she was brought up a certain way, but that she could not adapt to the present rapidly changing make-up of US society.  David Brooks’ column , A Nation of Mutts captures much of the new dynamic, about the shift from Euro-America to a New America. In this landscape, the older folkways are now peculiar, particular to the individual. And perhaps especially those of the South,with its own complicated history on race. To participate in cultural leadership or take a culturally visible role such as Deen had done requires that one be able to present oneself as culturally open. Her inarticulateness — her real sin —  then doomed her.

But it may not have been just a few ill-chosen words.

Adding to the conflagration may be our own politics. The national political scene is dominated not only by an open hostility to a representative of this new America, President Obama, but also by a retrenchment of conservative ideals.  There’s a dynamic there between the political and cultural concerns of the conservative base so firmly anchored in the white Baby Boom generation and the New American mixed identity of the President. In this mix, Deen’s comments however old, even her southern identity give her the appearance of some one on that conservative side. There’s already enough heat in the politics, her misstep provided the oxygen that consumed her.

On the apocalyptic moment

The other day, John Seel at the Daily Cardus got thinking about the current wave of apocalyptic movies. He sees it as a sign of decay.

These cinematic apocalyptic sagas are secular versions of the anticipation of Christ’s return. Whereas Christ’s return brings hope, these twisted stories only bring a nagging unease that flirts with despair.

He goes on to suggest that this is an “anti-culture, referencing  Philip Rieff who stated

“Every culture that tries to establish its social order without reference to a sacred order must be called an anti-culture.”

I think we miss the elephant in the room: the present society, the one outside my window, is the one with this apocalyptic fantasies. This is the narrative of loss that we are playing for our own lives, and so a better question might be that of determining the source of this loss. What is it about this age,  that prompts this response? Are there concrete conditions?

Pulling up the spiritual gang-plank (“oh, this is what unbelief looks like” or thinking of it only in terms of “anti-culture”) is only another symptom of the problem.

After all  it’s not the first time that apocalyptic themes have taken over pop culture.

Look at the literature and film of the  60s and 70s, and one will note continuing themes of over-the-top of revolutionary violence, eg. Bonnie an Clyde (67), John Updike’s Rabbit Redux (71), Trevanian’s switch-up with Shibumi (77). What, we might ask, was in the water then? Why did we want to see violence like that? Was it the generational pulse? Vietnam?

Perhaps, then, what we see in this age is some other generational narrative. By reducing the cultural moment to cultural war terms (ooh, the anti-Christ) Seel avoids the other task of identifying what drives this vision; it is passing the neighbor on the other side of the road.

That Smokin’ Hot Wife

There’s a meme  floating through the Evangelical church that wants to celebrate marriage, especially the physical and sexual. But the gift of bodily reality is easily seized by culture — in our sexualized culture, how could it not be? Mary De Muth explores some of the problems at Her•meneutics, “I’m Sick of Hearing About Your Smoking Hot Wife.

In another day, this entire business about “Smokin’ Hot Wife”would be labeled worldliness. At its core lies a certain turn of thought, an understanding of  sexuality as integral to personal well-being. As a married Christian I deserve good sex, so to speak; or, we were made for sex, etc.  And it’s not that Calvinists have stood on the sidelines here. We pretty regularly think of sex as a creational good. But at least for Evangelicals, such a stance is a trap: once you start there, you have basically surrendered on young adult sexuality (think of Tim Keller’s warning), especially given the conflict of the times, on homosexuality. If sex is fundamental to human well-being than prohibitions of all sorts start collapsing.

But that shift in stances, of course, is only the start.

DeMuth herself notes in passing the basic male privilege of it all, the sort that only rubs salt into the psychic wounds of women who have been abused.

And finally, there is the problem of time. The understanding of humanity as sexual creates an artificial narrative of constant sexual availability throughout one’s life. But of course, our libido does ebb and flow, Viagra not withstanding.

In a Christian understanding, sexuality is less the content of the relationship than its  context. This Age’s idolatry of the physical limits our freedom to be for others, and it certainly blinds us to the role (and acceptance) of time.

What is Work For?

John Van Sloten penned some thoughts the other day on work, and particularly, the question of working for the common good. He finds that unsatisfactory. In contrast he wants to turn in another discussion

What I’m saying is that all of our good works must be born out of a more gracious starting point, from a place where we intimately know and experience the person of God. This can take place on the job, through those amazing, just-right, this-is-what-I’m-made-for, caught-up-in-the-flow vocational moments.

For want of a better term, this seems to be something of an aesthetic vision, an anchoring our work in worship as it were. However, that seems to be confusing what is meant by “work.” Why should it be restricted to the commercial, pay-for-effort variety? And should it be framed  in terms of co-working with God? Wouldn’t a better biblical metaphor be that of gifts? Some gifts are great and glorious (in worldly eyes), some not; some gifts are used well, some in mediocre fashion, etc.

And as to this business of working for the common good — isn’t that what Paul tells us to do (Gal 6:10)? It’s not a big thing, it’s looking, asking, helping. It’s my words, my hands, my effort that somehow in that, my neighbor sees something of God’s goodness peeking through.

Holy Innocents

Today is the Commemoration of Holy Innocents, an odd sort of event, sandwiched between Christmas and the New Year. Almost sure to be forgotten.

And there’s truth to that. Nominally, the date refers to the massacre of young boys by King Herod recorded in Matt. 2:13-18 — a way to stop the salvation history unfolding outside of his control: the price of this control is to be the suffering of innocents. But then again, do we need another day to tell us what we already know about Power or Force?  Rather Holy Innocents asks us to look in a different direction, toward the themes of childhood and justice. And for Evangelicals those themes come together a little later in January, on Life Sunday(Jan 20) and the Martin Luther King commemoration (Jan 21) — Holy Innocents by another name.

That January juxtaposition like Holy Innocents today asks for a better ethical vision. It is easy to overlook the ways that we rob children of their innocence. It’s not just the massacres (or abortion), though there are more than enough, but it is also the acts of continuing of injustice, from the child soldier to the exploitation of children in the workplace. All over. Holy Innocents can seem sentimental or perhaps narrow, but it is finally about our obligations to each other and our opportunity to be a shelter, to give justice room in our poor manger.