Some Christmas carols

Here’s a set of articles about the stories behind some Christmas carols. It’s the little things that make it interesting, like that Armenian Charles Wesley wrote “Hark how all the welkin rings” and his rival, Calvinist George Whitefield, changed it to the present version. Each story also has some music to sing along to. No piano? No worries. You’ve got the internet!

 In this same issue is this article about the invention of Christmas as we know it by Charles Dickens.

Raising Children on Sin

We have received from the Enlightenment a rather boring, two-dimensional view of man. We have learned to regard ourselves in binaries such as mind/body, right brain/left brain, scientific/artistic. On a good day someone might speak of the mind and the heart, but usually by heart he means appetites or emotions, and both of those, on closer analysis, turn out to be bodily.

I don’t know if the connection is direct, but it seems to me that the rather feeble way Christians treat sin in the popular forum seems to me to bear a close relation to this simplistic, binary, two-dimensional view of man.

 Let me explore my thoughts and see if I can find the connection that seems likely. Christians do not take sin seriously. I don’t mean that they go out and sin every chance they get. It’s much worse than that. I mean they don’t think seriously about it, especially when it comes to raising their children. For example, Englebert, a four year old of the Haggletooth family, is behaving sullenly today. Lorelei, his affectionate, charming, and sentimental mother, appeals to little “Eggie” to cheer up. He refuses, though not without solicitation. He feels rather bad to see that his precious mother isn’t happy that he isn’t happy, but he simply doesn’t feel like being happy. So he doesn’t cheer up.

Lorelei is not only affectionate, charming, and sentimental, but she also went to Sunday school a lot as a child where she learned that she and everybody else has a sin nature. She never really had the strength of character or inclination to absorb the earth shattering, soul-shaking existential reality of that notion, but it seemed to explain her basic inability to always do what she wanted to do and her general inclination to do things she didn’t really want to do (especially when she read Romans 7 and learned that even Paul felt there was nothing good in him) so she accepted the truth for its explanatory power and found some comfort in the notion that she had been destroyed by sin.

So she applies the same comfort to her reflections on her dear little Egghead. “Ah,” she muses to herself comfortingly, “He’s just got that awful sin nature. Isn’t he precious…”

As little Egbert continues to grow and be a pleasant, nice little boy by inheritence, Lorelei is content to know that he is about as good as most kids and really he’s so sweet most of the time that he’ll do and after all she loves him so very much because he’s her little boy and while he’s been destroyed by sin he is, after all, so sweet and kind and able to make friends easily and his winning smile will get him through quite a lot of the crises that life might just throw his way and in the end he’ll succeed because he’s so charming. Besides, his good-nature obviously proves that God’s grace is active in our family and that God is remembering those who feared Him from among our ancestors – even though it’s a little harder for us to be so holy because life these days is so stressful and we have so many more temptations to deal with than the martyrs who were able to go out in a blaze of glory.

So little Gilbert grows up and becomes a decent man and everybody is more or less happy.

Or else he grows up to become a violent, deranged criminal, in which case dear old Lorelei falls back again on the comforting doctrine that she and little Jailbert were both helpless because they were ruined by sin.

It might prove helpful for Lorelei to think a little more about what she is finding comfort in. The Christian doctrine that we are ruined by sin is not an abstraction to explain things to us. It is a concrete description of the state of our souls. It is a fact with which we must deal if we are going to be healed, if we are going to live, if we are going to matter. God did not make us so that we could be comforted or feel good.

And bang, there’s the connection!

So much of Lorelei’s emotional energy is spent seeking comfort, dwelling on sentiments, trying to get the right feeling in herself and her child, that she can’t act or think wisely. She’s burned up her energy on diversions. Like most parents, Lorelei spends a disproportionate amount of time trying to get her little Engel to feel a certain way. What she hasn’t figured out is that by doing so she has put him in charge.

But why does she do so? Because she has a two-dimensional view of her precious Engelbrat. He has reason and he has feelings. She tries to talk him into cheering up, laying propositions on him that no philosopher would attempt. “Cheer up, the sun will come up tomorrow. I love you. God loves you. You are a wonderful boy with positive self-esteem and many wonderful qualities. You’re alive and healthy. Think about all those poor little Sudanese children in Darfur. If that can’t cheer you up nothing will.” Then  she tries to hug him, to watch Veggie Tales, to manipulate his feelings. It doesn’t work. And the reason it doesn’t work is because for little Gillie to cheer up would be an act of obedience. But he hasn’t learned obedience. Mommy doesn’t understand obedience.

Because obedience takes place in the third dimension, the dimension nobody believes in because it isn’t mind or body, right brain or left brain, reason or feelings. Obedience takes place in the will. So does sin.

That’s why we don’t take sin seriously. Because we dont’ take the will seriously. For some, the adolescent caricature of Calvin and Luther’s teachings on the bondage of the will removes it from the realm of consideration or at least places it in the realm of confusion. For some the fundamentalist separation of grace and nature puts the will in an untouchable and incomprehensible corner where we’d rather not go. For some the endless theological controversies that are rooted in the fine distinctions between the parts of the will and the proper relation between law and gospel are so discouraging that it isn’t worth trying to work them out.

But my concern is mommy, because she’s the one victimized by the theoretical arguments about the nature of man and all those things that grown men presume to address without making a serious effort on their own part to fully realize the achievements of the grace of God in their own lives. “After all,” they comfort themselves, “I’m ruined by sin. No point fighting it.”

May I say it this way? The salvation of mankind was achieved in part through the obedience of a pure mother. It always has been and it always will be, from Moses to Monica. The only theologians I am willing to take seriously are those who realize that their first earthly responsibility is to show mother’s how to raise their children in the grace of God, men like St. Paul, St. John Chrysostom, Bishop Ryle, and many others who have poured out such a continual fountain of wisdom.

This is not a fit of pique that leads me to this conclusion. It’s a very practical matter. If a theologian can’t tell a mother how to raise children to overcome sin, then he doesn’t understand the gospel except in a theoretical way. And the world will go to hell in a maserati following abstract theories.

Sin has broken through to this world through the human will. When God made man to be a steward of the garden, He gave him a high responsibility that would require a strong and healthy will. When the evil one deceived him, it was not his reason but his will that made the decision. His reason simply did its job – it informed the will of what it had heard and seen. There was no sin in that. But the will chose and the will directed the hand and the will was crushed and Adam (man) became a coward (like a cow).

And through Adam’s will everything was crushed – reason, body, soul, garden, earth, the heavens, Eve, and finally the serpent’s head.

Thus if we seek the restoration of all things, and it is this to which we are called, Lorelei must learn to apply the grace of God to Engelbert’s will until it is brought into submission to the grace of God by the grace of God. If she counts on a two-dimensional salvation, in which he agrees with a teaching and feels good about God, her disappointment will be eternal. “For it is God who works in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.”

In a word, that means that God works to form sound habits in those He loves.

On Justice and Judging

You cannot establish justice or be just if you cannot make judgments as to what is right and wrong. God help us if we continue any further down the path of “non-judgmentalism.”

Defenders of the Natural Sciences (they might want better friends)

Analyze this argument attacking Intelligent Design and see if you can find anything logical, based on evidence, or any other way indicative of the scientific method and not harking back to mere authority or ad hominems. Let me know if you find anything.

Choosing Heroes

We Christians have a different way of seeing things, of setting values, and that leads us to honor different heroes than those who see things more conventionally. We value God’s blessed creation, for example, so we honor those who make the great discoveries. But we don’t value it as an arbitrary, pointless thing that simply shows the depth of our brilliance by revealing its secrets to us. We value it as a delightful stewardship, so we honor those who care for it with wisdom and fortitude. We don’t value it merely as a tool by which we can reach our autonomous objectives (the love of money is the root of every sort of evil). We value it as a good in itself, the beauty and integrity of which must be preserved. So we honor those who reveal that beauty to us and call us back to an adoring stewardship not altogether unlike that which a father bears for his daughter.

 Somewhere at the top of our list of values is the long-forgotten human soul, that which we continually request God to save. As a result, we honor those who effectively care for the soul even more than those who care for the body. Apart from our Lord Himself, we honor his virgin mother above all humans. The angel himself declared that all generations would call her blessed, and we are certainly among those generations.

 In Mary we see a model of sexual purity, a virgin, let it never be forgotten. She was chosen precisely (though not only) because she was a virgin. In her virginity she exalts sexual purity to a pinnacle of honor. In her purity she becomes the model for every little girl to imitate and every little boy to honor. She becomes an image, a heroine, who lays the poetic foundation for what is now so crassly called “sex ed.”

Consider, sex cannot be understood apart from its purpose and its purpose cannot be understood apart from its Creator. Sexuality is not shameful; rather, it is good. But it is constrained. It is fulfilled only when it is offered up to God and one’s spouse is a covenental relationship that lifts it from the level of the animal to that of the spirit.

All of us are called to sexual purity. The blessed and sainted virgin, by offering hers up to God, became the mother of God. As we have forgotten her, we have lost ourselves.

And in Mary we see a model of pure motherhood. Our greatest hero is not the acquisitive, the power hungry, or the conqeror. We do not exalt the so-called manly virtues to an unmerited height. Our greatest hero is the one who turned the other cheek and went to His execution as a lamb to the slaughter. Second only to Him in our hearts is the one who was willing to be shamed before men, to risk her marriage and her sacred honor, and to have her heart pierced with a sword for the salvation of sinful men. The highest, most honored human being who is not God is honored by us for being a mother at tremendous cost to herself. She became the mother of sorrows for our sake.

 This is the “slave morality” of Nietszche and his reader, Dewey. This is what the last century has flung into the cesspool and has mocked heartlessly, replacing it with a culture of greed, vindictiveness, and nihilistic education and politics.

My hero was born like a slave. Maybe a little lower. His mother was treated like a slave. Maybe a little lower. They were chased into Egypt. They were dishonored and questioned everywhere they went. But they quietly worked diligently and faithfully. He took on the “lowly” trade of a carpenter, thus sanctifying and blessing the work of our hands. She raised Him, and prayed, and pondered what she heard about Him in her heart, thus sanctifying the most exalted role of motherhood.

As we celebrate the feast of the birth of our Lord over the next few weeks, let us not forget who our heroes are. Let us remember that she who was driven out of the inn and even out of Bethlehem is accustomed to flight. She is not surprised that she has been driven out of our state schools or out of the public places. She is accustomed to flight because of her devotion to her Son. Let us fly with her. Let us worship with her.

 And where she is welcome, let us attend to her. Let us honor her to honor her Son, to whom she continually points. Let us hear her words, when she says, “Do whatever He says.”

Let us present her honorably to our children. Let us not be ashamed to call our daughters to imitate her, which they will be much more likely to do when we honor her. Let us call our sons to honor her, which they will be much more likely to do when we do. And let us remember that, all Hallmark sentimentality aside,  there can be no higher role for a human being than that of mother, the highest qualification for which is a pure heart, soul, and body.

My heroes are a virgin, a mother, a carpenter, and an accused criminal. Those “slaves” who have been exalted above the Cherubim and the Seraphim, the mother in her Son.

On poetry

Poetry exists nowhere but in nature.

The trouble with Education II

More from that same article

The poor college can’t help it. It can only carry on functioning if it sucks up to employers, and charges the same for a five-week course that it used to charge for 10 weeks. What bad luck that my friend Mrs Fielding works there. The course she teaches on Byzantine studies is for the chop, together with classical mythology, Shakespeare, poetry, drama, arts and crafts, and anything else that keeps the brain going or brings us pleasure, because that sort of stuff does not attract a demographic that pays. “They’re turning us into a nation of greedy, acquisitive yobs,” says Mrs Fielding bitterly, as all her dreams wither away

The trouble with education

Even in England.

This is the trouble with education. No sooner have we got the hang of one new idea or method, learned how to do it, immersed ourselves in it and pinned our hopes on it, than it’s swept away and another is shoved in. Now it’s all quick-change again: lifelong learning and flexible or part-time courses suddenly aren’t so important after all. All we really want now are courses that increase “employability, career prospects and earnings”. I read it on a college website.

From the Guardian: Michelle Hanson

Leadership Qualities

Brett Favre has been named the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year. This article makes for a great study in leadership. Coincidentally, the Packers have just hired a new CEO. This article makes for a nice little case study of what to look for in a leader and what’s required for success. The Packers are now thought of as a top quality sports organization, but it was not that way when I was growing up. For the 70’s and 80’s they were the laughing stock of the league and a humiliation to the city that loved them. It’s a story worth learning. Ron Wolf wrote a book called The Packer Way that I found surprisingly insightful for organizational leadership.

Leadership Flaws

If you’re involved in school, you’re involved in leadership. Here’s an excellent entry from a leadership blog I like to visit on the need for humility among leaders. A checklist is provided of things to watch for in a “flawed CEO,” and it’s worth printing and reviewing every now and again for self-analysis or for hiring or development.