Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Hearth and Home Studies

As you, the astute reader of this blog, may know, my family is working on an adoption.  It has been a long process, longer than we expected, because of several factors which included the birth of our second son last month.  We are in the waiting-on-the-Feds phase of the game, which is boring.  But it means we are past the waiting-on-the-state phase, which is important.  It means we have an approved home study.

What does that mean?  It declares that the State of A# has found us fit and suitable parents for adoptive children(s) conforming to certain age and special-needs guidelines (in our case, up to two children with up to severe special needs, unsure on the age range - the Mrs. would know that).  In sporting terms, we have a license with a bag limit.

The process to obtain the home study was not bad (in our state, at least, and for international adoption - foster placement is much more rigorous).  The Mrs. and I went to several interviews, alone and together, had a home visit, filled out some questionnaires, and got state approval within a few months (of submission - the agency did not have a fire under them).  The total cost of this process is in the low thousands, maybe $3k?  It's written down in the binder at home. 

Think of that.  About $3k to be permitted to adopt a child (within bounds).  The license lasts for 18 months and is renewable. As long as we have an open slot, we are ready to go.

Now, preparation for the unknown can take myriad forms.  I ate my last MRE last week before teaching my night class, so I guess I'll starve when the US food chain collapses.  That's a low-likelihood event.  I sold off my battle rifle some time ago, as it was not really practical and it was deucedly expensive to shoot, so I guess when the Commies come marching up the road I'll be less prepared than I could be.  Also, a low-probability scenario.

But we can adopt a child if we come across one who needs a home.  This is a real situation involving real humans, made in the image of God, who have real, immediate needs.  If you think you won't come across such children, it is likely that you have only avoided them.  They are everywhere.  Ask anyone with exposure to the foster community, to birth-mom adoptions, international adoptions, anyone who knows the name "Reece's Rainbow", they will spill their guts about how many, many children there are who each need a loving family.  This is not contributing to malaria research, where you make incremental donations to an ambiguous goal.  This is not even Gospel Rescue Mission-style, where your $27 buys 57 meals.  These are good things, indeed, but here, with adoption, your love and your family buys back a life.  Not just a physical life, continued existence, but a LIFE.  Breakfasts together.  Taking care of sickness.  Playing outside.  Birthdays becoming joyful (not dreadful - ask sometime what "aging-out" means).  Taking walks.  Seeing the wind ruffle hair and turn cheeks pink.  A LIFE

You, by a small investment of time and money, can equip your family to save A LIFE.  Not remotely.  Not far away.  But very near.  Within your home, you can, by the grace of God and the patience that comes by the Holy Spirit, slowly rebuild a life.  Clean, polish, and repair the extra-broken image of God in a child.  They will be sinners.  You still are, too.  They probably do not know Jesus (ask sometime about one that did - it's a glorious story).  But they need to.  If you do, shouldn't they hear it from you?  In your home?  On your lap at bedtime?  Reading about Jesus is my favorite thing to do with my son.  It will be harder to do it with our daughter (since she won't understand English at first, or perhaps ever very much), but Jesus can understand her.  Can we do less than bring her to Christ, pray for and with her, and (as with any child) trust God to work in her heart in His ways?

If your family loves Jesus, you are qualified to adopt.  If the money seems like an obstacle, remember that adoption is laying down your life for another, so try starting by laying down some pleasures to free up some cash.  If that's been done, and if your church loves Jesus, it's a good bet they will help you with the money. 

Go get a home study.  Be ready to save a life.  If you set your heart to God's service, He will set you to work.  Be prepared.

PS- This post is motivated by a broken heart over kids who are about to become too old to adopt.  This does not mean they go get a job someplace.  It means "adult mental institution" which means "cage of despair and degradation".  God forbid that any go there, especially girls. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

A Premature Critical Judgment

I am reading Mortimer J. Adler's How to Read a Book: The Art of Getting a Liberal Education.  I have not finished it, which is why my judgment is premature.  That said, I do not believe it is inaccurate.


This book was released in 1940, the original preface was written in 1939, and Adler had presumably been at work cogitating and writing for some time before that.  The book must therefore be located in the historical context of the rise of fascism and the decline of free thought that accompanied the moral and intellectual abdications resulting from the War to end all Wars.  These abdications will be taken up below, along with a brief discussion of the historical parallels, and a call to action will be presented, all colored by own (I hope) thoughtfully pro-American yet redemptive-historical Christian perspective.

If you wish for a synopsis of this post: Read this book, and get an early edition (prior to the Adler/Van Doren revisions of the early seventies). 

It is a stroke of good fortune that I had but recently read (aloud to my wife) Lewis' Abolition of Man, lectures delivered in 1943 at King's College, Newcastle.  Lewis explicitly takes up the moral issues that parallel the intellectual issues approached by Adler, and presents a strong case that these issues are inextricably bound together in the life of man and men at large; Adler presents a similar but muted case, and proceeds to limit his argument to the intellectual arena.  Perhaps some of my readers will be uncomfortable with Lewis' argument for natural law, either because of its grounds or its conclusions, so I will pause to present a brief defense of his method and outcome.

Lewis may be attacked by some as an evidentialist in his apologetic - presenting proofs for God as though one could be logically triangulated into the necessity of the admission that there is a God.  The evidentialist apologist can, in fact, tree his quarry, but there will always be two options - God or Nothing.  Besides this, no Christian possessed of an ounce of orthodoxy will argue that anyone may be converted by argument.  The Holy Spirit changes hearts.  Arguments, both moral and intellectual, may serve to highlight inconsistencies in a person's views, and even to demonstrate consistency within the views of the Christian, but I believe my earlier metaphor of a treed quarry is apt.  Lewis (and Adler at last) got caught by the Hound of Heaven.  Nietzsche jumped to his doom.  Lewis' method in Abolition is also carefully bounded to exclude the charge of arguing an unprovable.  He demonstrates an unprovable, the natural law, across culture and history, and concludes that any attempt to "prove" natural law posits an observer outside that law - and the process of "getting outside" must destroy any possibility of a valid conclusion.  Either right and wrong are objectively meaningful, or nothing at all can be. 

The conclusion thus reached - the existence of a natural law which is generally acknowledged to proscribe such things as murder, theft, adultery, arson, etc. - is objectionable to an entirely different group for an entirely different reason.  A subset of Christians make an effort to deny the existence of natural law - law that is written on the hearts of all men, at all times, everywhere - because it seems to them to limit the clear need for God's explicit revelation of Himself.  It seems to me that this group is essentially overreacting to a hyper-Thomist ethic, which attempts what Lewis will not - to prove the unprovable ultimate good.  Just because many thinkers have abused man's reason, seeking to take it farther than it can go, or stifling it in its cradle, does not justify an abdication.  Guarding the bridge of man's natural reason ought not to involve blowing it up.  Thus far for Lewis.  Let us return to Adler, by way of an illustration.

The US Senate recently chose to degrade the power of the filibuster - requiring a simple majority to overrule a filibuster-er instead of a 60-vote supermajority.  Why is this relevant to our discussion? 

Many lamentations have been raised about the partisan polarisation of our nation.  The left gets lefter, the right gets righter, the moderates get sniped from the fringes, and less and less gets done, woe, woe, woe.

May I venture the suggestion that the current generation in politics (the baby-boomers, with a sprinkling of the rising Gen-X) can neither read nor write?  This is the generation that suffered the worst whipsaws and excesses of progressive experimental education in the 1960s and 1970s, the generation that saw (and supported) the abolition of the oppressive WASP-y Eurocentric education received by their forebears, the generation that didn't trust anyone over 30 (much less Cicero and Aristotle). 

It is too great a charge to accuse this generation of destroying reading.  That had been completed by their fathers, the Woodrow Wilson-era progressives, the scions of the Great War, the men who presided over a nation astounded at war, committed to peace at any price, the first American utopians to hold high office (and W.J. Bryan falls squarely in this circle).  These men were demagogues with good motives.  They were benevolent propagandists, and they begat propagandists.  The danger is always that the succeeding generation, unmoored from the anchors that held their fathers' consciences and afloat on the currents of the moment, will act on their own whims and mistake the vicissitudes of their fevered brains for ideas.  This is the final danger Lewis warns about, and it is this monster that Adler is combating.

But how to tame the demons let out of the box?  Adler proposes the same way they have always been tamed: discipline in your own mind and true education.  True education that looks back, mining the books of the great men to bring them alive for us now; true education that seeks to direct the enterprise of discovery in a carefully-hewn channel, lest it spill forth and drown us in old novelties; true education that seeks to cultivate ordinate virtues in the minds of men (and here I borrow from Lewis, but amenably) that they may discern good and evil, gauge the weighty and the ephemeral, and make just judgments wisely worded.

How may we do this?

Ad fontes!  Back to the greats, back to the Greeks, the Romans, the Church Fathers, the Reformers, the great Britons, and so on.  Adler even proposes raising the level of general education without the schools involved so that an enlightened population might be so bold as to explode the defunct pseudo-educational enterprise that passes for schooling (written in 1940, mind you). 

I am not a utopian, nor am I a light-and-glory American-zionist.  I do, however, think that a well-educated, thoughtful, and thus well-ordered and governed nation is the natural fruit of a nation filled substantially with Men with Chests - with men who accept the natural law (and many of whom may accept God's revelation in Jesus Christ as well), and who do not seek to overcome it, depart from it, or subvert it, but accept it as the Tao in which all right-thinking men must walk.  Such a nation seeks to truly educate - to train up the minds of the young to walk well in the Tao, to love the beautiful, seek out the true, honor the good, and the best do.  This nation will have a range of opinion - the Tao is not as narrow as the wicket gate - but these opinions will be argued in the true sense of the word.  They will be publicly disputed based on honest interpretations of natural facts, human nature, and the wisdom of particular actions with particular consequences. 

It might serve as a useful reminder here to note that the American constitutional convention was not a unanimous love-fest, but a long, arduous, painful and powerful debate about what was wisest.  The framers and signers were careful men who had studied men, and had well-formed and well-articulated opinions about the nature and behavior of men.

Only educated men may make educated arguments.  Fools rage and laugh.  Adler, Lewis, and I, would strongly prefer you not to be a fool.  I'm working on it myself.  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but you might also take a look at How to Read a Book.  Free minds - the product of disciplined training, able to act on what is necessary in the manner demanded by the moment - make free men. 

Only Free Men may ably defend the freedoms of themselves and others.  This ability is increasingly demanded by assaults on liberty within and without our nation.  Let us rise to the occasion, lifted on the backs of the giants who wrote before us.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Speech

And God said "Let there be light." And there was light.

First-formed command, demand,
that dark ignite and light must be,
no choice but to obey
that voice which shakes the cedars
and in His temple, all cry

GLORY.

So speech of God must be,
commanding what He will,
and in the diktat granting the command.
So speech of our sweet Savior
likewise did what it would do,
all true,
"I will, be cleansed", and
"Go your way", not least of all, to Lazarus,
"COME OUT",
the words of God prove true, just so
the Word of God,
whose name no less than Faithful and True,
(and from His mouth a sword, the Word as well).
Give ear!  The good news, gospel, all is true,
as true as Him who spoke it!

    For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
        and do not return there but water the earth,
    making it bring forth and sprout,
        giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
    so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
        it shall not return to me empty,
    but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
        and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.


   The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
        because he has anointed me
        to proclaim good news to the poor.
    He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
        and recovering of sight to the blind,
        to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.
    And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them,

“Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Thursday, November 14, 2013

office hours, looking up

I am thankful to work in a really nice building.

On Beauty

God is glorious.  That is to say, He is (among many other things) beautiful.  We give due praise and gratitude when we laud and thank Him for the beauty He is and the beauty He has put around us.  Understanding God through an applied study of Him in His word and works (theology properly-so-called) is an exploration of beauty.  This, I think, is what the Eastern church took and ran (too far) with, towards apotheosis and the beatific vision.  But they had a point - to know God is to delight in Him, in a way of which is difficult to express the requisite depth, breadth, and timelessness.

That is more-or-less why I write.  The bulk of my correspondence to you, the internet, is centered on either the beauty of God found in His Word or in His world.  In a few instances I have posted theological arguments.  These are a necessary part of being a thoughtful and careful Christian, and they are (I hope) derived from God's revelation of Himself in his Word and world, but the attitude in which I have such arguments is perhaps best encapsulated in dialogue:

Friend: X is the only possibly valid position on this issue!
Me: That's not how I read it, look at these texts here, here, and here.  I think I hold to a consistent and valid position, even if it differs from yours.
Friend: But you are wrong!  Can't you see how you are wrong?  I can see how you are wrong.
Me: I think you're missing the point.  Shouldn't a right understanding of this issue (whether yours or mine) lead us to thank God and delight in Him, resting in Christ?
Friend: But you are wrong!  I can't be happy when you are wrong!

The point at which I aim is that theology is a love affair.  We delight in God, we read His letters carefully, poring over them, seeking to learn more about Him, what He has done, what He will do, how He loves us, and how He has always loved us.  We long to know Him better, and He promises us we will. 

It is not about winning arguments.  It is about rightly loving God.  This love to God must manifest in love to our brothers and sisters in Christ, and in love to our neighbor (e.g.- everybody).  1 John leaves us no choice. 

Lest I be accused of liberalism or whatnot, make no mistake that the beauty of God manifests in His holiness as well as His love.  I like woodworking, but am no expert.  My father was a fine craftsman, and could make (mostly within his field of carpentry) beautiful things of wood.  If you have ever experienced the agony of knowing how a thing should be but lacking the ability to make it so, you may have some idea of how perfect holy beauty contains the law. 

We are not beautiful by nature - we have within us, as men, a corrupted image of beauty.  Imagine if the Sistene Chapel ceiling were blotched and mottled by pervasive mildew.  You can tell that it was once beautiful, it was meant to be beautiful, but now it is ruined.  Not obliterated, mind you, but ruined.  Joseph's  coat was not beautiful after it was bloodied and torn, but it was recognizable as his.  Only the God who fashioned in us His image can restore it to beauty through the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ.  We are redeemed to be beautiful, as mirrors of Christ, in whom the fulness of Godhead was pleased to dwell.  We are redeemed to tell of this beauty, though it is terrifying to the sinner who is convicted of his own ugliness.  We are put in the church to adorn Christ, as a bride adorns herself that she may adorn her husband. 

Thus, no matter the arguments or discussions we have in our exploration of revelation, we must never ignore our highest calling - to be God's own people, for glory and for beauty. 

Succulents

We have
out front
a bulging barrel brimful of aloe;
they once were not so bountiful,
but sprinklers, compost, and time
conspired to burst the bonds of the planter,
now dripping, dangling down
aloe all around,
and this without much work.

We have
inside
two boys beautiful and brash,
where once we had but one;
love and long labor
brought about a baby brother,
sleeping, supping, smiling,
lounging on laps,
demanding careful cultivation.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Ars Moriendi

The church in America does not much care for death.  I don't care for death, either, it's an offense to God's image in man, it has no place in the New Heaven and New Earth, and it is the last enemy to be overcome.  But that's not quite what I was getting at.

The American church likes people to be happy, healthy, and feeling good, and death is rather a downer.  It's not what the kids want to hear.  It won't get people in the doors.  It's certainly not in keeping with the style of if-you-want-it-then-God-wants-it-for-you "preaching" that is so very popular nowadays.  It does not lead to high self-esteem.

By contrast, the church used to take death and dying rather seriously (but then, the church used to take a lot of things rather seriously).  The Roman Catholics have a sacrament about death.  Luther (among many others) contributed to the Ars Moriendi, the literature on the art of dying, in his 1519 Sermon on Preparing to Die  (I am indebted to Austra Reinis for her work Reforming the Art of Dying).  Glossing the substantial differences in how the Romanists and Protestants sought to prepare their flocks to face death, we may conclude that this task was not taken lightly, much less avoided, by Christendom for a great deal of her history.  Even into the 19th and 20th centuries, it was popularly understood that "prepare to meet your Maker" was an exhortation with meaning, which could be meaningfully undertaken (viz "The Wreck of the Deutschland" etc.).

This topic recommended itself to me just yesterday, when I got a promotional email about a mother-daughter harp duo who gives concerts interspersed with anecdotes the mother has collected about people on their deathbeds and how they get "glimpses of heaven" or some such.  As a reformed presbyterian, this seemed a little beatific-vision-y for my taste, but it reminded me that some people do still contemplate the ars moriendi

To flip a Schaeferism, how shall we then die?

We are not Stoics.  Death is not the inevitable result of life, to be taken with apatheia, and we do not go gently into that good night (which is not good, anyway). 

We are not mystics.  Death is not the gate to an unknown plane of existence in which the human can explore, reign, oppress, or otherwise carry on being some kind of translated free agent.

We are not pagans.  Death comes to man as to the beast, says the preacher, but by golly we take it a good deal more seriously than they.

On this blog we are not even Roman Catholics.  Death comes once, and then the judgment.  The dead are beyond the reach of the living as king David well expressed the matter.

No, death is the last enemy.  It is bitter.  It is hard.  It is the wages of sin. It severs, sometimes cruelly, the living from those who go down to the pit.

But it is conquered for the Christian in Christ.  He drained it dry, and if we rest in His work, there is confidence.  Not a confidence in ourselves, our life's work, our legacy, no confidence that death is illusory or an existential cessation.  A confidence in Jesus Christ, the living one who has died, a confidence in our God who promises that he will spread a feast on his mountain and will himself swallow up death forever (Isa. 25 - go read it).  The Christian faces death as a soldier confident in victory.  Perhaps I die today, O death, but at the end of days, you will die and I will live.  We cannot break the fangs of death, but Christ has sucked the venom for us, and will at length fully and finally slay Leviathan the fleeing serpent, the murder from the beginning, and death will be no more, neither will there be mourning nor tears, for the former things will have passed away.

So let us face death.  It may be profitably contemplated, a la ars moriendi, insofar as it is also a meditation on the work of Christ.  Sermons about death must be sermons about Christ (just as sermons about sin, marriage, work, or assurance all must be sermons about Christ).  To live in the shadow of the cross is to live in the shadow of death.  But let it not be our own death that preoccupies us, but the death and resurrection of our great savior, Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Lo Ammi

And as for your birth, on the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. No eye pitied you, to do any of these things to you out of compassion for you, but you were cast out on the open field, for you were abhorred, on the day that you were born. And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’

Hear, O Israel,
the Lord our God,
the Lord is one,
the Lord is singular,
he who alone only does wondrous things,
who caused light to shine forth out of darkness,
who spoke dry bones to life,
who saw us,
His people (not by right-
but by His choice
from faraway forever out of time),
He saw us
and spoke
us
to life.
He spoke
us
into
His family,
declared us His own,
and did not leave us
wallowing
in the laying room of the world,
the bottle of our sickening sins
cruelly propped into our mouth
(for who would care if we drown?
no tear would be shed,
perhaps a box ticked -
that is all).
He saw us
and spoke
life
everlasting,
His shout
shaking the pillars
of our Soviet-era-orphanage hell,
His Word
never returning void
(and who are these children?
Behold! I and the children God has given me!).
Lengthen your cords, O Heaven!
strengthen your stakes, New Jerusalem!
He ascends on high,
leading a host of captives,
and giving gifts to men
(and the little children,
whom He has always loved).

Not-my-people
is loved.

Not-loved
is now His people.


See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.

Salvation belongs to our God, and in His name we set up our banners.