His Dark Materials Indeed!

I presume many of you have heard about the movie The Golden Compass. If not, Fox News has an article here. As this article describes, the movie version has removed many of the offensive religious elements that were originally in the book. Fine.

My observation on the ol’ brouhaha, though, is that the book trilogy, entitled His Dark Materials, is not just “atheistic,” but satanic. It reverses the moral order (what is presumed good is not, and what appears evil is good), it establishes a false cosmology and theology of the “daemons”–spirits who guide us, and in the end, the characters reportedly “kill God.” All of this is a lot of repackaged gnosticism; it’s diabolical. It is not enough to say the author doesn’t believe in God. It is not enough to say the books seek to convince young people that there is no God. Science textbooks do it routinely. These books propose another “gospel” altogether.

I suppose if you want to fill your head with this wickedness no one will stop you. But if you care for your faith and the faith of your children, flee this stupid filth.

Being Watchful

And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. (Romans 13:11-12 NKJV)

You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. (1 Thessalonians 5:5-8 NKJV)

“Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is.” (Mark 13:33 NKJV)

Scripture uses the term “watchfulness”often when speaking of our Christian living. In Greek, two terms are used primarily, nepsis and agrupneo. Nepsis is the favored term of the Church Fathers.

What does it mean to be neptic? Certainly not “to not go to sleep at all,” though at times this was done. Keeping vigil was common practice in the early Church (and in Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism to this day). A vigil meant hours of standing in prayer through the night–sometimes all night, sometimes for a few hours.

Being neptic–watchful–is a characteristic of living moment by moment, the opposite of drunkenness and stupor, as Bp. Kallistos Ware defines it. Being watchful means paying close attention to the thoughts that you suffer, in order to “bring… every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). Watchfulness heeds the condition of your heart, where your trust is, where your hope is, how you are responding to the grace of God (or not). It means paying attention to the moment you are in, not worrying about yesterday or tomorrow, for “sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matt. 6:34). A watchful spirit asks, “How may I serve God in this moment,” or rather, “how am I serving God in this moment?” It pays attention to how God is giving out of His loving abundance at this moment, at this juncture.

In many ways watchfulness is the opposite not only of drunkenness, but of multi-tasking. It is the opposite practice of eating while reading a trade journal, of emailing in the middle of writing a report, of washing dishes and helping with homework and breaking up fights. Thus it is counter to modern life, as our enemy has no doubt engineered.

It is tiring work, to be watchful. It is exhausting, and we are quickly distracted.

We also face the objection: “That’s all very spiritual of you, Pastor Hall, but I have a job, I have many things to do. It doesn’t even sound very Lutheran.”

Watchfulness is not optional. Reread those passages at the beginning. These are not “evangelical counsels” as the Roman Catholics define them. Watchfulness is an exhortation of the Lord and His Apostles for all people.

It is possible to be watchful even in the midst of work and obligations. Instead of refuting this, simply try it. In the midst of what you are doing in your vocation, pay attention to what your hands are doing, to what your mind is doing, to what is happening around you. Think on those things that are good, giving thanks to God. Pray without ceasing (1 Thes. 5:17). It will be difficult because we are not used to paying that much attention to what is around us. Our flesh and our enemy so barrage us with distractions to stupefy us, and our souls are not used to being awake.

Finally, if this is “not Lutheran” then my only response is that it ought to be, if we are actually interested in what the Word has to say to us.

A Satanic Reversal of Meaning

On Passion:

To have passion, to have a dream, to have a purpose in life. And there are three components to that purpose, one is to find out who you really are, to discover God, the second is to serve other human beings, because we are here to do that and the third is to express your unique talents and when you are expressing your unique talents you lose track of time –Deepak Chopra

I didn’t want to repeat my parents’ life. I saw in their lives a routine and a lack of dreaming, a lack of the possibilities, a lack of passion. And I didn’t want to live without passion. –Hugh Hefner

And Apathy:

Apathy is a sort of living oblivion. –Horace Greely

Science may have found a cure for most evils; but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all — the apathy of human beings. –Helen Keller

On language:

“The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible.” –George Orwell, 1984

Webster’s defines “passion” as

3: the state or capacity of being acted on by external agents or forces
4 a
(1): emotion passion is greed> (2)plural : the emotions as distinguished from reason b: intense, driving, or overmastering feeling or conviction c: an outbreak of anger
5 a: ardent affection : love b: a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object, or concept c: sexual desire d: an object of desire or deep interest

“Passion” derives from the Latin passio, to suffer, to be acted upon. In the Latin, and the Greek (peithos) a “passion” was primarily a negative aspect, a feeling or emotion from the outside that seizes us, is immoderate, is alien to human life as creatures of God. This is the way it was used in Christian theology through at least the 10th Century.

It’s opposite is apathy (Greek a-peithos). Webster’s defines:

Etymology:Greek apatheia, from apathēs without feeling, from a- + pathos emotion

1:lack of feeling or emotion: impassiveness
2:lack of interest or concern:indifference

In the Christian theology of the Church Fathers, fighting against the passions, which are (usually) sinful by nature, means living a dispassioned life–or in Greek an apathetic life, a life not tossed about by every wave of emotion and argument, not in slavery to fears or lusts, selfishness or inappropriate favoritism.

The meanings of these words have been changed, at least in popular usage and connotation to convey opposite values: passions are good, being passionate is human and the very definition of virility and femininity, whereas apathy and dispassion are negative traits and to be avoided.

The effect of this is that modern American Christians have been severed from the Christian faith of the Fathers, from the faith that was lived out for centuries (and continues to be for many). Thus you can hear modern Christians talking the same way as Hugh Hefner and rarely like any Christian living in the first 1000 years after the Ascension.

We ought to be circumspect, to say the least.

A Pleasant Surprise

My wife insists on bringing down the Christmas decorations and starting the process the day after Thanksgiving. I don’t mind. We did the same thing when I was a kid…but not so insistent about it. This year especially it seems early to me, and I always have this lingering feeling of jumping the gun. As liturgical as I would like to imagine myself being, distinguishing Advent and Christmas, it’s just not reality. So we distinguish it in other ways.

The surprise came after the tree was up and lit and the kiddos were starting to place the ornaments. Jack had tried to grab the globes, yelling, “Ba..!!” (Anything spherical is a ball to him). So I grabbed him and carried him around. We walked around the house and then back into the front room. The tree was lit and centered in the picture window, and snow was drifting down in the fading light of dusk. Snow???!!

I yelled “It’s snowing!” And we all ran outside, the kids barefoot and wearing short sleeves, and we circled the yard a few times, and then back inside to drink more hot chocolate and finish trimming the tree.

We live in a world where we try so hard to make our dreams reality, where advertising and culture raises our expectations for everything beyond reason, where dreams are often sweeter than reality, where we must practice and work to give thanks for what is–amidst all this God gave us a Norman Rockwell moment and we didn’t deserve it. We couldn’t expect it, and shouldn’t expect another (why, even? He painted the platonic ideal of America, not even close to reality…or was it?) but thanks be to God! It was a beautiful evening.

Fr. Stephen’s “What Faith Shall I Defend”

What follows is gold. I resonated with his description of the impossibility of communication with some. I was struggling with this just a few hours ago during hospital visits.

I am reprinting the entire article here because I know sometimes it is hard to find time to follow links. But if you spend time to read these little thoughts and weak gestures, then be more edified by reading Fr. Stephen’s words:

Contemporary challenges to the Christian faith, whether from children’s writers such as Pullman or various scientific voices in the world of mass media, are frequently not challenges to the Christian faith but attacks on the misperceptions of the Christian faith. By the same token, many professions of the Christian faith are not professions of the faith, but professions of misperceptions of the Christian faith. To some degree, one can beget the other.

I occasionally find myself in social situations in which a conversation partner has left the Christian faith for one reason or another – or becomes curious about why I am an Orthodox Christian rather than the Anglican I once was. The conversation frequently reveals the fact that short of a full-blown catechism, including a removal of masses of misinformation, no real progress can be made in communication. What many people understand of Christianity and what I believe the faith to be are simply worlds apart.

It is for such reasons that I struggle to find language to help people re-understand the faith. The language that I have been writing about in recent months – that of a One-Storey Universe versus a Two-Storey Universe – is simply one of those efforts. God is not as many people imagine Him to be and has not revealed Himself to be as His detractors frequently claim. Indeed, God cannot be the subject of discussion in a manner similar to the discussion of some object we may have before us. God is never an object before us.

Indeed the knowledge of God is not analogous to the knowledge of anything else, for God has no true analogy. Thus conversations that are productive of an encounter with God tend to be idiosyncratic. In sharing a story, or explaining an idea, in singing a song, or sitting in silence, God is encountered. The same story, idea, song, or silence will not necessarily yield the same result (indeed it would be rare) with another human being. For God has revealed Himself to us as Person and is thus always Free. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty,” St. Paul says (2 Corinthians 3:17). He will not be at our beck and command or standby as our object. If we know Him, we will know Him in His freedom, just as we must approach Him in our own freedom.

There is a living witness among us that this God who revealed Himself to us in Christ is indeed the True and Living God. That living witness is His Church – itself maligned and misunderstood. To see the Church as merely a human organization or as an association of like-minded individuals is not to see the Church at all. When the Church is described in Scripture as the “Pillar and Ground of Truth” (1 Tim. 3:15) or the “Fullness of Him that filleth all in all” (Eph. 1:23) it should give us pause. If the Church is such as St. Paul described it – what does he mean? How is it that the Church can be this?

Answering such questions is an inherent part of the search for God and I have no other purpose in writing than to share and encourage that search. The knowledge of the true and living God is the only faith that I care to defend. I have no interest in defending someone’s misperceptions of the faith.

My own experience is that those who want to know the truth eventually find their way – sometimes despite overwhelming odds. Even a man bent on murdering Christians can become Christianity’s greatest apostle. The wonderful truth behind all of this is that God is searching for us and always has been and will go to the depths of hell to find us. If I have not found Him, then what have I done so that I missed Him? (by Fr. Stephen Freeman, Glory to God for All Things)

Unpredictable

I apologize for my recent blogging inconsistency. We had two men pass away late last week, one I had been attending to regularly, the other somewhat suddenly, and a few unexpected hospitalizations.

Friday I cleaned the garage (long overdue), snorted around with allergies or another cold or something, but felt good about what I’d accomplished…until our 30 year-old garage door opener got caught on something and the motor burned out. Saturday (and part of Sunday afternoon) I spent a good bit of time attempting to replace it. All went well until I wired up the sensors on either side of the door. Apparently there is a short in the wire. Dad is coming tomorrow for Thanksgiving and bringing his voltmeter.

I also shared Saturday with preparing for Sunday, practicing the sermon, preparing the prayers, finishing handouts for Bible study (Ch. 13 of Revelation). Sunday I preached a sermon which didn’t pull many punches. The funny thing about those sermons is how cathartic they are for both preacher and hearer, but how easy it is to forget them. I suspect that some of the reason is the nature of protestant Christianity. Much of our practice of our faith is sitting and hearing, and we’ve inherited a good bit of “not doing,” lest we boast in our works. More thoughts on this later this week, deo volente.

Yesterday was a committal service and a funeral, and another unexpected hospitalization.

I write this to explain my inactivity here, but not to complain. When I have the dying to comfort, mourners to encourage, the ill to visit, sermons to prepare, I am doing my job and I love it. I’d rather have these than so many other things which could distract me. Glory to God!

Five Years from Now

I had posted a link a few months ago to a Christianity Today article on the high rate of bloggers quitting–more bloggers have quit posting than are currently active. This Side of Glory has a recent post on the same topic, asking if she would be blogging five years from now (Incidentally, her title is like the strange Bizzaro title of my blog).

On this quiet blogging week it raises a good question. Will I be doing this in five years? If you asked an Incan, the answer would be no–we’d all be dead or changed into some higher form of life (see here). Is keeping this up reasonable? A good use of time? Or will blogging be like pet rocks in half a decade?

Some possibilities:

1. Nothing will change.

This is unlikely. I didn’t even know what a blog was five years ago. Five years before that, the internet was wild and wooly and dial-up friendly. Five years before that, few had heard about “web browsers” and MOSAIC, the first “killer ap” of the ‘net was still being developed…for UNIX. Things change, and fast.

2. Blogging will be a fad after all.

More likely. Fads come and go, and five years from now many folks will probably have home entertainment servers piping mp3s to their stereos, movies and tv shows off the net to their home theaters, and more and more emailing and such from PDAs and phones. Sitting at a box in the home office browsing the net my indeed be waning in popularity as the net becomes integrated more and more into other appliances.

3. Cream will rise to the top.

Noteworthy and popular blogs will continue, and the amateur blogger will fade away. Blogs will be web-based extensions of marketing and publishing for professional writers and journalists. More old media sites will make extensive use of their staff and freelance writers’ blogs. Blog readers will serve as the new newspaper, essentially.

4. Something else will happen, of which I cannot conceive.

This is the most likely option.