Posts Tagged ‘emily dickinson’

To fight aloud, is very brave—
But gallanter, I know
Who charge within the bosom
The Cavalry of Woe—

Who win, and nations do not see—
Who fall—and none observe—
Whose dying eyes, no Country
Regards with patriot love—

We trust, in plumed procession
For such, the Angels go—
Rank after Rank, with even feet—
And Uniforms of Snow.

— Emily Dickinson

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“Abraham cannot be mediated, and the same thing can be expressed also by saying that he cannot talk. So soon as I talk I express the universal, and if I do not do so, no one can understand me.” — Kierkegaard, Fear and trembling

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Recently when I was reading Galatians I was struck with the unintelligibility of Paul’s call. Check out the words from the man himself:

But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! […] Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

(1:8, 10¹)

A running theme throughout Galatians is God’s plan and initiative above human tradition. Thus Paul can say right from the get-go in verse one that he is “sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father”. He can say later that in light of his divine call the leaders in Jerusalem “contributed nothing to [him]” (2:6). And this also gives meaning to the later distinction between Spirit and flesh (eg. 3:3, 4:23, 5:16…).

You’ll understand when you’re older, mum.

Paul’s statement on who he’s trying to please needs to be held up to closer scrutiny. How can he make his essentially unintelligible call intelligible to others? Or why is his call unintelligible in the first place? This is Kierkegaard’s existential insight in Fear and Trembling: Abraham is called by the Lord to sacrifice his son, Isaac. In his very old age his wife, Sarah, (who, too, is a fossil) manages to bear a son, no doubt a blessing from God. How can Abraham make it intelligible to others that the Lord is asking him to give up his only descendent² and forfeit his name? Mary is visited by an angel and told she will bear the Messiah. “Hey guys, I’m pregnant, but don’t worry I haven’t been sleeping around, it’s just that God in human form is in my womb”³. Kierkegaard says of Mary that the “one whom God blesses he curses in the same breath”. I came across another example in church last Sunday when the speaker spoke of Joseph’s story in Genesis: Joseph was shown in a dream that he would rule over his brothers, so he thought it would be a good idea to tell them, partly contributing to his almost being killed and sent into slavery by them (Genesis 37). Calling, whether or not it can be made intelligible to the called, is immediately unintelligible to those around him or her.

Paul’s call is after his conversion, in Kierkegaardian terms, no longer a duty to God through the universal, which would entail all the practices he was obligated to under Judaism, but a duty to God through the particular, that which God calls the individual to. As soon as Paul attempts to justify his call to other people, it loses its particularity between God and himself and enters the universal. No doubt Paul does attempt to justify something to his readers, because he is involved in matters that concern a whole lot more people than merely God and himself. Paul needs to justify to the Galatians that they need not be concerned with circumcision and abiding by the law.

Yet Paul also attempts to justify his calling, but on what terms? He must make his appeal through the universal not to the particular, because that exists only in itself, between God and Paul. Any attempt to even describe it undermines it by electing a universal criteria with which to describe it, like language, or by saying there is some commonality between God’s call to Paul and God’s call to another (though that we can even say there is particularity shows that there is a universality to particularity). Paul must then make his appeal through the universality of language to, in this case, the universality of divine retribution4. He can therefore bind himself to an oath (1:8) and speak not just before his human audience, but before God (1:20) to assert his honesty regarding his call. Other than the possibility that Paul is speaking truthfully on pain of damnation, three other possibilities arrive. (a) Paul is blissfully deceived; (b) he is speaking deceitfully before both man and God; or (c) he  is appealing not to a commonality that he shares with his readers but to one only they share among themselves, in the same way that someone can walk under a ladder or open an umbrella inside as an act of self-sacrifice for their unwilling, superstitious friends.

This is a witch. If I’m lying then the witch is going to kill me in my sleep. You’ll just have to take my word and the cat’s face for it.

These possibilities show the ultimately inaccessible particularity of Paul’s call to the Gospel. On one level it is universal and can be made known to other people, but on another level, that of the possibilities above, Paul cannot make himself intelligible to his audience when speaking of matters between himself and God, namely that he is telling the truth. Why then is the Epistle to the Galatians still available to use today? Why didn’t it get burnt by Gentiles zealous for the law? How is it possible that Paul is seen as speaking truth albeit being ultimately impenetrable? It is not only that Paul takes his theology from scripture, appealing to the universal throughout the letter, but that the early church depended on the universality of particularity: The Holy Spirit.

This is an absurdity not just of Christianity, not just of religion, but of all belief systems: Everything rational is ultimately taken in faith. All objectivity is subjectivity in disguise. All truth is untruth. Christianity takes as its chosen untruth, the Holy Spirit. This is the absurdity of Paul’s call: “The gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:11-12). The writer of Acts renders Paul’s conversion experience in a certain way (Acts 9), but, as a rule, primary literature should first be taken into consideration. Paul claims that he has seen Jesus and later compares this to other post-resurrection appearances of Jesus (1Corinthians 9:1, 15:3-8), and his description of being caught up into Paradise possibly adds to this account (2Corinthians 12:1-4). What is absurd about Paul’s experience on which he bases his life purposes? What is absurd is that he privileges a particular finite means for access to the call of God. Some people may continually read the collected wisdom of thinkers ancient and modern to ascertain the meaning of life, some may view life as statistics and numbers and embrace the idiosyncratic nooks and crannies of nihilism, another may find their complete meaning in being in the presence of certain person. For Paul it is the experience of revelation which sits at the base of his call5.

It’s interesting to note that Paul’s call compels him to three years serving the Lord in Arabia, Damascus, and possibly other unmentioned places, before spending some time with Peter in Jerusalem and after another eleven or fourteen years on the mission field (the text is unclear) Paul returns to Jerusalem, surprise surprise, in response to another revelation (Galatians 1:15-2:2). Paul leaves it this long after his conversion to consult the leadership in Jerusalem, “in order to make sure that I was not running, or had not run, in vain” (v.2). There’s a little bit of classic irony there, and I wonder if Paul himself saw the humour in his actions. Yet that Paul did this in response to a revelation will not be easily dismissed: revelation was still primary, though now it required supplement to be fully justified. His approval from leaders in Jerusalem was not something that revelation could be swayed by; his approval was commissioned through revelation. Notably, the individual nature of Paul’s call has not changed. What is the outcome of Paul’s Christian individualism? It is responded to and approved (2:7-9) by those who also, to some extent, work in the same medium of call as Paul does, and then supplemented by an appeal to a universal ethic, remembering the poor (v.10).

This is the universality of particularity. When both parties are responding to the call of the Holy Spirit then this call is common to both parties; it is universal. Thus Paul can say of those in Jerusalem “they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised” (2:7) because the leaders recognised that where God had been at work in their own lives and the lives of those around them, he had also been at work in the hearts of those who formerly actively opposed the Gospel (1:23-24). The only way that the conversion of their enemy was intelligible to them was through the work of God in their own lives. And this is the subjectivity, whether it be revelation in whichever of its infinite forms, which ensures Galatians in our modern biblical canon: The Holy Spirit was not just at work in Paul but in the hearts of his readers.

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¹All bible quotations, unless otherwise stated, are from the NRSV and the Book of Galatians

²Ishmael, born to Hagar, Sarah’s handmaid, realistically doesn’t hold as much value in this position, considering ancient Near East perceptions of family, etc.

³Noting, however, that an angel appears to Joseph to clear things up (Matthew 1:20) and John the Baptist’s mother was aware of it according to Luke too (1:43). In light of the other examples, allow a little room for Mary’s story to be read as Kierkegaard reads it, for the sake of the argument. Even so, he may have understood Mary’s original call to bear the Messiah, before elucidation to others, as strictly between her and God, and this is what he is focussing on in the example.

4 I use universality quite loosely here to refer to any commonality among a group of individuals, and I realise that this is the proper use, as true Kantian/Hegelian (?) universality which Kierkegaard uses as a reference point is undermined by Kierkegaard himself and Nietzsche onwards: There is no universal morality, code, ethics, etc. This universality that people refer to is a fantasy and only exists to some extent (though in absolute terms to none at all) within different groups of people. Thus language expresses the universal as much as ideas are universally accessible through it, but it is an approximation of the universal as much as the individual’s subjective perceptions of language allow for infinite nuances in interpretation.

5 The other sources of call given may disregard revelation by, for example, openly rebelling against God in light of the revelation, attempting to the revelation, dismissing revelation as human fantasy, etc.

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When I was younger I used to share a room with my also younger brother. (If you are quite possibly a straight, single, Spirit-filled female between the ages of 20 and 28, now would be a good time to stop reading). Sometimes we had cabbage with our dinner. Sometimes various legumes. The body often responds to such stimuli in a unique way, a way that my brother the next day often bemoaningly reported wrested him from his sleep in the early hours of the morning. Sometimes the activities of my own volatile gases were enough even to wake me myself up. This then is an attempt not only to wake myself up through processing a healthy philosophio-theological diet, but to fart loud enough that Rollins himself will hear it.

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Pete's new title

On recently reading Peter Rollins’ new book, Insurrection and following his blog for the last year and a half (?) or so, some particular ideas at the centre of his message have stuck out to me. I hope I’m not too late to the party…

In many senses the title of this post is erroneous. The ideas contribute to some of Rollins’ theology, but they are yet just a small part of it. Moreover, it appears that Rollins probably makes use of them through his reading of Zizek, who in turn is probably borrowing from Lacan, although my skinny selection of past reads cannot confirm that. I’m still giving philosophy a go at the entry-level so I probably won’t be able to throw around any of those nice words such as ‘ontology’, ‘telos’ or ‘Heidegger’. Anyway, this is my summary of the two ideas as they appear in the chapter ‘Story Crime’ (Insurrection pp.81-108, all page references refer to the UK edition), with some support throughout this post from various posts on Rollins’ blog:

(a) We construct an image of ourselves as a mask or story we tell ourselves, which in turn shields us from confronting who we really are.

(b) Our true self and our actual beliefs are not those which are reflected in this image, mask, story, etc, but those that are seen externally through operative beliefs, ie. our actions.

In regard to these ideas, I ask the following questions:

(i) To what extent is it possible to construct a sincere image of ourselves, one that authentically communicates who we are?

(ii) What are the problems in defining our beliefs as our actions?

(iii) To what extent is it possible to ‘believe’ (ie. operatively) in God as love?

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Far safer through an Abbey gallop,
The stones achase,
Than, moonless, one’s own self encounter
In lonesome place.

–Emily Dickinson

(i) To what extent is it possible to construct a sincere image of ourselves, one that authentically communicates who we are?

Rollins use examples of a New York mobster who robbed and killed people writing a children’s book from prison, a pre-WWII write up about Hitler’s residence in Home and Garden magazine, and everyday use of social networking as examples of images we construct of ourselves to avoid the guilt of who we really are:

We all have a story that we tell ourselves about ourselves, a story which we begin identifying with from infancy, and as long as we don’t think too much about it, we are able to maintain this story. But the personal narrative often has little direct connection to the reality of who we are.


Now what if Gotti (the mobster) was to, instead of writing a children’s book that communicates his humanity, compose a memoir concerning the various events he participated in, ones that would later justify to the public his imprisonment, and with that reflect upon his own depravity (to make use of orthodoxy here) and let his readers know what led him to commit such acts? What if Hitler, when the writers for the magazine article showed up, talked instead of his hate for Jews and his desires to work towards a master race? “I’m treating you as honoured guests because my image to the English-speaking world depends on you guys, but know that in my heart of hearts I desire nothing but power and revenge and will strip millions of their humanity to move towards my goal.” In the same sense, Pete outlines our duplicit approach to social networking: “On our profiles we list all the films that we want people to think we like while failing to mention some of the more embarrassing ones[…]” (p.93). Porn immediately came to mind, although I think Pete is more so exposing yours and my secret covering up of our watching chick flicks, or worse, movies with Hulk Hogan in them.

The 'What I really do' recent meme is a good example of the divide between fact and faux

The problem arises that as soon as you decide to communicate to someone about the reality of who you are, your communication is conditioned by what others will think, no matter which angle you approach it from. Pete gives a good example of this in his post, How to hide a lie in a truth (via the Marx Brothers):

[…]take the example of a religious leader who is part of a community that actively holds repressive/naive views regarding such things as gender roles, gay and lesbian rights, biblical interpretation and scientific reflection. If the religious leader actually holds such views themselves they will quickly attempt to justify the churches position in a variety of (often contradictory) ways. However there is a more interesting phenomenon whereby the leader fully and freely acknowledges the repressive positions held by their community.

What is interesting about this position is how their willingness to admit that they materially participate in a repressive community operates. For when one speaks to such a person one is generally led to think that they are not what they fully claim to be. The honesty causes one to think that they are other than what they are. We are led to think that their intelligence and ability to admit the dark underbelly of their community means that they are better than the community they are part of, that they should not to be overly identified with that community and perhaps even that they must be trying to influence it for the better.

If I take Pete’s idea into another context, I find it impossible to speak to others regarding my darker self as my very speaking to them is inextricably bound to the desires of my darker self: “I speak maliciously about people I love behind their back”, communicated in humility to someone I love cannot be removed from my desire for them to see me in a positive light apart from my actions. In a way it justifies my behaviour because they see me as someone with enough humility to admit to my faults and therefore have the desire to overcome them. Even going one step further and letting them know that you’re telling them in part because you desire them to see you as humble cannot defeat your possible motivations. To tell someone your confessions are a result of a desire to be seen as humble and honest just bumps the desire up a step with the step you take: You tell someone you desire to be seen as humble so you may very well be seen as humble, and if you take a further step and acknowledge this hypocrisy then you again bring the desire into play, and so on into infinity.

But sincerity is not just difficult in literal verbal communication — we are defined in the eyes of others by everything we do. If this is the case then can any action be performed with sincerity? If I have a heartfelt, Spirit-inspired message to relay to the congregation, is it possible to deliver it sincerely, without desiring to be seen as an insightful young prophet, or rebellious intellectual iconoclast, depending on the nature of the message? If a Red Cross collector is standing at the entrance to a mall, is not my giving to her complicated by the fact that she’s standing right in front of me and asking for money?

But what if even what we do in secret cannot be done with sincerity? I cannot find where Pete acknowledges this (there are a few similar passages but the example I was looking for I can no longer find) so I’ll just have to use my own example, based on what I’ve read of Pete so far. In the Red Cross example above, even if the woman, the mall and everybody around me is absent — I approach a donation box in a society-free vacuum, whatever — I still cannot donate in sincerity. My ‘good deed’, my giving of money to charity is conditioned by what I think of myself: “I am a good person who usually gives when there’s a need so I don’t feel required to right now” or “I usually spend my money on myself so I really need to change the way I act”, etc — thoughts such as these influence our actions because we construct an image of ourselves, not just for others but one that we ourselves see, to communicate to ourselves who we are.

To go even further, even considering actions in negative relation to the image we construct for others and ourselves is still a consideration: “I will speak in church because I don’t care what others think” or “I will give to charity regardless of what I think of myself”. Once these factors have been introduced it is impossible to act sincerely because they will always be considered consciously or unconsciously. Our motivations are legion, and we never engage in action for just one reason.

The material upto this point I feel has largely been in agreement with Pete, but just appealed to me in light of Jesus’ words such as “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8 NIV) and “These people honour me with their lips but their hearts are far from me” (Matthew 15:8 NIV). Now let’s go a little deeper…

* * *

“I saw that, of the two natures that contended in the field of my consciousness, even if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both.” — Jekyll in Robert Louis Stevenson’s The strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

(ii) What are the problems in defining our beliefs as our actions?

After giving examples of how we cover up who we really are, Pete expounds a true measure for who we are:

Our material commitments will show us which master we love and which we hate; not what we confess in our poetry and prose. In this way, it is often the people around us who will be better at judging what we really are love than we ourselves, for we are very adept at hiding from ourselves the truth of our desires.


A later sub-heading reads “Our practices do not fall short of our beliefs; they are our beliefs” (p.102). If you’re not sold on this idea, take the example from Pete’s cleverly named post, I believe in child labour, sweatshops and torture:

Take the example of buying chocolate from a corner shop. If I know, or suspect, that the chocolate is made from coco beans picked by children under the conditions of slavery then, regardless of what I say, I believe in child slavery. For the belief operates at a material level (the level of what I do) rather than at the level of the mind (what I tell myself I believe). And I can’t hide in supposed ignorance either for if I don’t know about how most chocolate is made it is likely that my lack of knowledge is a form of refusal to care. For the very fact that there is Fair Trade chocolate, for example, should be enough for me to ask questions about whether other chocolate is made in an unfair way[…]

In the West we are very prone to think that beliefs operate at the level of the mind, however what goes on in the mind has no necessary relation to the material realty of our operative beliefs (those that we enact). For example a person may “believe” that they are utterly safe in a roller coaster and yet be too terrified to ever step onto one. The point is that the conscious claim (I am rational and know that this is safe) is a mere story that covers over the operative belief (I will not be safe).

You can also watch this video, I deny the resurrectionwhich goes along a similar vein if you don’t quite yet understand, and the Irish passion of the short video makes it all the more worthwhile to watch.

Apart from the brilliantly challenging nature of these words, and their biblical resonance (eg. 1John 3:18; James 2:18; Luke 11:28), I think Pete makes some assumptions which need to be addressed. If we go back to the examples of Gotti and Hitler, this kind of reasoning leads here:

The truth of Hitler is not found in the story he tells about himself but in what drove him to such monstrous evils. The [Home and Garden article] is exactly the type of story Hitler would have told himself about himself in order to avoid facing up to the disgusting truth of who he was. And, of course, the same is true of Gotti […], whose truth is found in the desires and drives that are manifest in [his] actions rather than in the fact that [he writes] touching stories for kids[…]


Now I don’t want to discredit Pete because I think he’s just making use of Hitler as an example, rather than holding only to what he writes here. However, the immediate danger is that our worst actions, our greatest failings are the benchmark by which we ourselves and others define us. We are our lowest common denominator. It is easier to draw this conclusion with Hitler, as he spent a larger proportion of his life engaged in explicitly evil acts, and continues to stand as a point of reference to evil for many. I think Pete makes the mistake of defining Hitler completely by his evil though, dismissing his personal life as a front or cover up for who Hitler really is: “Here we must avoid the temptation to be fooled by the subjective story of the other” (p.92).

Hitler at home... from the untimely show 'Heil Honey'

An example can be taken from Robert Louis Stevenson’s book, The strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the quote from which introduces this section in the post. In the novel, Dr Jekyll, a learned, well-respected, philanthropic member of society devises a way to live out his secret and evil desires behind the guise of his well-loved self. He concocts a formula that allows him to become a completely different person, Mr Hyde, and explore his evil self. Stevenson hints at Jekyll-Hyde’s homosexuality, masturbation, and the use of prostitutes throughout, things that were widely condemned in the era he was writing. It is in one of Jekyll’s reflections before his death not too long after that he says of himself and Jekyll, “Even if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both”. Jekyll was the sexually unbridled and murderous, hateful, Hyde as much as he was his loved and respected self. And even though he acknowledges the possibility of being both, his ending reflections center on Hyde being someone completely different to himself, a separate self whose actions he was unaccountable for. Jekyll then moves in the opposite direction to Pete — instead of embracing his darker side as that which truly defines him, he takes refuge in his subjective self. But what if his possibility, that he is both depraved and a loving person, rather than either, a better representation of the truth?

Faith in the Kierkegaardian sense is a passion. This is one side of the tagline under heading on my blog. Kierkegaard railed against the idea that as people we were becoming more perfect through every generation, with advances in science in and other forms of knowledge. To have perfect faith, all you needed to do was read a summary of the people who had gone before you and all the philosophers who had asked the right questions (namely Plato and Descartes). But for Kierkegaard, true faith was in the experience of finding, rather than building on what those before you had done. You needed to start from the start. This can be read as a metaphor for our daily lives. Everyday we cannot build on who we already are but must experience faith anew as a passion. To put Pete’s example to use, some days I have bought fair-trade chocolate as I feel the importance of buying ethically and teaching others to do the same whereas other days I have bought evil chocolate usually because it tastes good, is accessible or it’s cheaper. By the way, just while we’re on the subject, if you buy fair-trade Cadbury or Whittaker’s, it’s still evil. This sounds like an awkward defence of my actions to the greater internet. But it’s really just an example to show that “Our practices do not fall short of our beliefs; they are our beliefs” only means that sometimes we believe certain things and other times we don’t. Human caprice means our beliefs can change weekly, daily, hourly even, and revert back to what they were previously. I can simultaneously hold the desires to wear nice clothes and live simply. What if the possibility to intellectually assent to a particular belief and act otherwise is not so much an indication of my own unbelief, but my human weakness, a failure to live up to my beliefs?

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“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” Ephesians 2:8 NIV.

(iii) To what extent is it possible to ‘believe’ (ie. operatively) in God as love?

Towards the end of the chapter, Pete touches on grace as a way of transforming who we are:

In grace we are able to accept that we are accepted and, in this very act of knowing we do not have to change, we discover the ability to change. It is in experiencing the license of grace rather than the legalism of prohibition that real transformation becomes possible.


His definition of grace is part and parcel with Paul’s in Romans:

[…] the law does not stand in opposition to sin but rather is interwoven with it. In other words, the law and sin do not exist at opposite ends of a spectrum but rather occupy the same space and stand opposed to a fundamentally different mode of being (that of love).

(p.103; cf Romans 7:7-8:17)

Pete’s use of grace as a factor in Resurrection life to address our sinfulness, way of life, etc, does not seem to me like he has gone far enough. In the first part of the book, Pete examines how structures in modern churches shield us from facing doubt, the fear of death and the meaninglessness of existence by providing certainty and meaning. He then examines how we also avoid our own guilt (p. 87ff), which the rest of the chapter addresses (ie. a lot of the material I have just worked through). One place that Pete alludes to but doesn’t directly address, however, is apathy.

A bit of a classic there

Yes the books we read on apologetics tell us that we actually believe in God against our hidden doubts, yes our worship songs help us to overcome our true fears of death (I particularly like this one, like I actually enjoy and value it, but I realise what role it plays), yes we listen to sermons to get a sense for meaning when we fail to find it in life, yes we avoid facing up to our guilt through the use of mask we create for ourselves and others… and yes we avoid our own apathy by speaking concernedly of horrible events in the world as they appear in newspapers, shedding a tear among friends for the neighbour’s family who is struggling financially, and posting videos on Facebook of KONY 2012. As much as there are structures in place to avoid all these things, we engage in structures to help us push under the surface the fact that deeply down we care mostly for ourselves.

What then does grace have to do with apathy? Grace is apathy’s corrective, the great elixir. Rather than acknowledging my own responsibility to care for the poor, grace allows me to actually care for the poor because I am cared for. In grace I am loved and so I will love others. Our responses to our apathy have hitherto been legalistic: I must pray for Christians being persecuted in the Middle East; it is the right thing to do. Grace allows us to desire to pray for the persecuted, out of God’s love and compassion for them.

But what if grace is a part of the structure that allows us to avoid facing up to our own apathy? I’m surprised at Pete’s orthodoxy here. He leaves a very large stone unturned. The problem with grace as an answer is in its very definition: A gift from God. To receive a gift, the giver must first give it. Nobody can choose to experience grace because the choice is completely God’s. Some people receive grace and lives are changed dramatically from that point onwards. Some come intermittently throughout their lives to a timely point of grace that allows them to move on. Some continue to strive to do good but what their experience of grace is scant throughout their lifetime.

In a response to Richard Beck’s critique of Insurrection, (It’s not the size of the wand that matters, it’s the magic that’s in it: A response to Richard Beck), Pete writes of the necessity of community in facing up to the death of God (the Crucifixion experience, entailing the embrace of doubt, meaninglessness, death and guilt): “My point is that we need Christian community both in order to help us undergo this event [the death of God] and to help us bear the weight of it”. Community, like grace is not something that can be achieved on the individual’s part. In an Arminian sense, community is something both which I seek and that seeks me. If there is no community for me to be a part of then I must give this whole ‘love’ thing a go for myself.

So, in conclusion, to love with God at the center requires grace, which can act both as a structure to avoid my apathy and is not something that I can choose for myself.

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“I now go away alone, my disciples! You too now go away and be alone! So I will have it.
Truly, I advisee you: go away from me and guard yourselves against Zarathustra! And better still: be ashamed of him! Perhaps he has deceived you.
The man of knowledge must be able not only to love his enemies but also to hate his friends.
One repays a teacher badly if one remains only a pupil. And why, then, should you not pluck at my laurels?
You respect me; but how if one day your respect should tumble? Take care that a falling statue does not strike you dead!
You say you believe in Zarathustra? But of what importance is Zarathustra? You are my believers: but of what importance are all believers?
You had not yet sought yourselves when you found me. Thus do all believers; therefore all belief is of so little account.
Now I bid you lose me and find yourselves; and only when you have all denied me will I return to you.”

Zarathustra to his disciples in Nietzsche’s Thus spoke Zarathustra (‘Of the bestowing virtue’, part one).

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Favourite picture of Nietzsche. Who needs philosophy when you’ve got a mo’ like that?

A couple of years ago, Nietzsche’s name for me was a symbol of intellectual insecurity. He was the kind of guy for the spiritual giants who fasted twice a week, prayed four hours a day and always ended up with the right amount of money (down to the cent!) from God at the last minute for whatever obscure purpose¹. They would love God too much to be swindled by some philosophical naysayer. Or Nietzsche was for those thinkers who had spent forty years doing so (ie. thinking), that when it came to the time to think about Nietzsche’s thoughts the words passed by devoid of all their original passion and challenge. But the attraction to Nietzsche came when I expanded my still-intellectually-secure reading list and began reading Christians who took Nietzsche’s criticism on board and agreed with him, mostly in the sense of saying that Christian theology (maybe not practice, but definitely a lot of theology) historically focusses on the beyond, the eternal, the unseen, the ideal, etc, to the detriment of the here and now, the temporal, the seen and the real². On reading these friendly faces, Nietzsche has become for me no longer a symbol of fear but one of creativity, and hope for a new voice in any stiff and outdated theologies, rather than a challenge that needs to be countered.
But, to be honest, I was quite disappointed. After potentially finding some ideas to contribute to more thoughtful theological practice, I just didn’t gel with the guy. The opening excerpt is one exception (there are a few more). As this post mentions the relative undangerousness of Nietzsche, I might also do a post in the future about why he’s not as cool as I thought he’d be.
* * *

What’s Zarathustra actually saying? First of all, here’s the background. Zarathustra/Zoroaster was a Persian prophet/philosopher and the founder of Zoroastrianism, an ancient and today dying religion from the same primordial ooze as Judaism, Christianity, Islaam, etc — the Near East. Nietzsche wrested him from his historical context and characterised him in said book. Thus spoke Zarathustra was viewed by Nietzsche as his most important work and a lot of his vital organs are contained in it. The text throughout mocks the bible, portraying Zarathustra at once as the new Messiah and Anti-Christ. One of my favourites was, “If we do not alter and become as cows, we shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (‘The voluntary beggar’, part four). The existentialist heart of the opening excerpt is important to the other key ideas in the work, albeit not Nietzsche’s most important idea, in comparison to the emphasis with which he puts on others.

And after all that, here’s in short what the puppetted prophet Zarathustra is actually  saying: “My philosophy does not ask you to believe in me and follow my ways, but to abandon me and find your own way. Those who abandon me and follow their own reality faithfully are most loyal to me and the ones I thus return to”. Zarathustra, in contrast to Jesus, asks not that we follow him and conform to his image, but that we abandon him and become like ourselves³. At this point you may want to re-read the quote at the start and realise its genius.

* * *

A good (dead) friend of mine

But to what extent is Nietzsche’s critique of Jesus based on a caricature of him? Does Jesus actually want us to all be like sheep4? Or is Jesus more like Nietzsche’s Zarathustra than we think? Perhaps Nietzsche was not so much attacking Jesus as he really is but what the church had constructed of him. I’ll use an example from another name you may find difficult to pronounce. Kierkegaard, probably the best ever philosopher (who was not really a philosopher but more of a man of faith in my elevated, saint-canonising conception of him), also criticised Jesus for the same reason Nietzsche did, but with a different focus5: Kierkegaard recognised that it was the church and contemporary philosophy (rather than the saviour himself) that advocated conformity to a universal code of ethics, something that Kierkegaard criticised throughout his life as deeply non-Christian.

A biblical example of Zarathustra’s ‘abandon me and find yourself’ existentialism was used by Kierkegaard as the title to his landmark work on the subject, Fear and trembling:

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13 NIV).

Paul, one of the most defining figures in early Christianity with lasting significance, is writing to the Philippian church while in jail. “Hey guys, I’m not always going to be there to hold your hand and look both ways for you before you cross the road. You’re big kids now and it’s not me you should be looking to for direction. And it’s not conformity with the ethical law that makes you a good person. Now that you’ve received the Spirit, God will work in each of you according to his purposes”. Kierkegaard takes the sentiment and writes a lifetime’s supply of philosophy on it: We discover that the will of God is different for every person.

But before I move on, I’ve got to call Nietzsche back over here for some input. While Kierkegaard would say that good determined by society or the Church should not deter the individual from doing the good to which God has called them, Nietzsche would say he has not gone far enough: good determined by society, the Church and God should not deter the individual from being faithful to their individual reality. Nietzsche would say that Kierkegaard’s theological weaknesses are trapping him from fully facing and embracing his reality. But I’m just the guy that drives the van.

* * *

This is seriously the coolest picture of Moltres I’ve ever seen and a Moltres tattoo might be the place to start. Check out the rest of this guy’s work here: http://cockrocket.deviantart.com/ You can buy his prints.

Working in hospitality with a lot of travellers and passing-through-ers, and knowing a lot of people my own age, has generally brought me into contact with a lot of tattoos. And every now and then a stray thought (stray in the sense of a stray dog) tells me how cool it would be to get a tattoo. And then I’m totally pouring different glasses of wine for customers, and that beautiful aroma! But I don’t drink alcohol. I don’t see anything wrong with getting tattoos or having a drink; I just don’t do it. Herein lies the tension between the universal and the particular6.

The particular is what I’ve hitherto spent this whole essay explaining to you, whether Kierkegaardian, the call to follow the Holy Spirit7, or Nietzshean, the challenge to live faithful to your individual reality. But the particular can only be understood against the background of the universal. Universalism in this sense asserts things such as universal truth, and therefore universal ethics, the idea that the most virtuous person in society is he or she who conforms most closely to this code of ethics. For me, this idea stinks of mathematical simplicity and is in keeping with reducing people to numbers, statistics, and stick figures. But, necessarily, a dual embrace of the universal and the particular is required for living as a Christian. Most clearly, I think, and this example would be a common one, if in the universal I know that God is love and that the ideal person is loving, then in the particular I cannot say that God is asking me to kill someone. Note also, that in the same chapter to the Philippians, Paul first describes aspects of a unified community, the universal which he encourages his readers to conform to before he reminds them that God will work in them according to his purposes:

“Make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:2-4 NIV).

Further, a mature understanding of the universal and particular requires the rejection of the two as a dichotomy. The rejection is based on who has claims to the universal. In some states in the USA, capital punishment is an accepted punishment for certain crimes. In other states, it’s no longer an option. Understand that there are particular claims to the universal. According to some, it is universally acceptable that those who commit certain crimes should be punishable by death; according to others it’s universally unacceptable. The individual therefore has the duty of constructing their own universal but living according to their particular. In my understanding of the universal, it is alright to drink and get tattoos, but it’s not alright to get drunk. In my particular, I have not been called to either drink or get tattoos at this point in my life. Not that I’m so righteous because I’m doing what the Lord asked me to do. I could tell you that he’s asked me to do a lot of things that by my actions I’ve laughed at. Tattoos and drinking are just two things I’ve yet been almost successful in.

* * *

I leave you with this poem from the very existential and forever readable Emily Dickinson:

How happy is the little Stone
That rambles in the Road alone,
And doesn’t care about Careers
And Exigencies never fears—
Whose Coat of elemental Brown
A passing Universe put on,
And independent as the Sun
Associates or glows alone,
Fulfilling absolute Decree
In casual simplicity.

* * *

¹It’s amazing how manifold these stories of divine providence are and they never cease to shock me and capture my imagination. I had a quick lazy look for some but I couldn’t find any so if you’d like to know what I mean then just ask.

²N T Wright, for example would be one of the writers that helps me identify with Nietzsche’s critique; however it’d be my guess that Wright’s not in direct dialogue with the man himself but rather listening to what the world around him and onto-it theologians are saying about the Christian heads-in-clouds-syndrome, which no doubt this critique has been inherited by secular academia and onto-it theologians from reading Nietzsche. Peter Rollins, another guy whose writings influenced me, on the other hand, seems to be in more direct dialogue with him.

³Paradoxically, Zarathustra’s disciples can either heed his words and abandon him (thus following him by taking his counsel) or, in weakness, continue to follow him (thus abandoning him by not understanding or being strong enough to take his counsel).

4A pun.

5It’s possible that Nietzsche, coming onto the scene a few years later, south of a couple of borders, read the holy philosopher as he seems to be denouncing him in some parts of Thus spoke Zarathustra. If so, Nietzsche took on board Kierkegaard’s existential ideas but pushed them beyond the realm of faith. However, I haven’t yet heard of any direct and verifiable evidence of Nietzsche’s speculated reading habits.

6I first came into contact with these terms through Kierkegaard, but they may be Hegelian. I really don’t know.

7A deliberately charismatic reading of Kierkegaard. Note that Kierkegaard acknowledges two possibilities in the particular, (a) the aesthetic, which means living according to your own desires and (b) faith, living according to your best understanding of God. Pentecostalism goes horribly wrong when faith is confused with the aesthetic, resulting in an heavily individualist approach to Christianity, a practice that fulfills all your spiritual and fleshly desires under the guise of faith.

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If the foolish, call them “flowers” –
Need the wiser, tell?
If the Savants “Classify” them
It is just as well!

Those who read the “Revelations”
Must not criticize
Those who read the same Edition –
With beclouded Eyes!

Could we stand with that Old “Moses” –
“Canaan” denied –
Scan like him, the stately landscape
On the other side –

Doubtless, we should deem superfluous
Many Sciences,
Not pursued by learned Angels
In scholastic skies!

Low amid that glad Belles lettres
Grant that we may stand,
Stars, amid profound Galaxies –
At that grand “Right hand”!

If the foolish call them flowers by Emily Dickinson
* * *

A mural of Emily in her hometown of Amherst

    This is one of my favourite Emily Dickinson poems. When at first I read it a couple of years ago I didn’t quite see what was going on but I wanted to stick at it because something about the poem kept me coming bamck to it. At the time I could find no decent analysis wherever I looked, possibly because I didn’t look hard enough, but also because this isn’t one of Emily’s more well known poems. This quality blogger’s post on the same poem popped up not too long ago and the rest of her posts are worth a read for Dickinson fans. This particular version of the poem was all I could find across the internet, with it’s intrusive capitals and mocking quotation marks. I thought I’d leave it as is, because I don’t really have the authority to mess with it.
    I was first introduced to Emily by way of watching the Simpsons (the same medium by which I discovered Walt Whitman). Lisa follows Bart to military camp and, being the only girl, finds herself in her only lonely quarters: “Solitude never hurt anyone. Emily Dickinson lived alone, and she wrote some of the most beautiful poetry the world has ever known… then went crazy as a loon.”
    I’m not sure how accurate Lisa’s conclusion is, but Emily certainly did spend a lot more time alone as she grew older. Wikipedia informs me (although I already knew (because I read the read the article ages ago (so Wikipedia is informing me on something it has previously informed me))) that “fewer than a dozen of her nearly eighteen hundred poems were published during her lifetime”.
    Emily asked that her poems be burnt after she died. A bit of wishful thinking there. But this is what makes her poetry so perfect. Emily Dickinson, for me, is the exemplary existentialist. Her poetry is a look from the inside into her life. She wrote most of them with no intention of being published. She wrote a few in some written exchanges with friends. But the better part of her poetry was an assertion of herself against existence, a questioning of God and science, life and death, sexuality, rationality, beauty and everything in between. Because there is no intended audience we have access to the unadulterated leanings of Emily’s introspective heart and mind. Regarding literary movements, she managed to get in before getting tied up in the lameness of realism.
* * *

Emily grew lily of the valley in her garden

    The overall message of the poem is exceedingly simple. And beautiful. If you think you’ve got it sorted upstairs, don’t be overbearing towards other people. Life is so much more than knowing this and that.
    Emily opens the poem with two types of people, the foolish know flowers by their general name, as ‘flowers’, and the wise, or savantswho can tell you the scientific name of each flower, ‘classify them’. Note that she doesn’t say, ‘If the foolish call them begonias and forget-me-nots’, and then compare this to more scientific terms, but that the foolish really only can, like me, say that this is a flower and that is a tree. Interestingly enough, I’d say Emily fell into the latter category, herself an enthusiastic gardener (a constant gardener maybe) who also pressed and collected flowers for a hobby. The poem, although essentially an apology for the underdog, doesn’t seem to have her shying away from defending academics from their naysayers too: ‘just as well’ should not be read in the idiomatic modern sense, ‘Just as well I brought my wallet with me!’ but in a more literal, word-by-word, sense, ‘If the Savants “Classify” them /It is [valid] as well!’ However, we cannot ignore that there may be a sense of self-deprecation throughout the poem, or a criticism of Emily’s own failure to live up to her humble ideals of the simple life and calling flowers flowers.
    Although there is no ‘but’ or ‘yet’ to introduce the next verse, which seems to be a more decisive dig at smug intelligentsia, the contrast is evident and sets up the next point that the poem makes: The learned who can detail the theological idiosyncrasies of Revelations (the last, controversial book of the bible, dealing with the end times, a hot topic considering Emily’s time and geography) need not belittle those who find it a bit more perplexing.
    ‘Could we stand with that Old “Moses”‘… is quite grammatically enigmatic. This verse threw me for a while until I’d read quite a bit more of Emily’s work to understand her style better. If you notice the dashes, you’ll see the sentence doesn’t finish until the end of the next verse. It almost makes sense when you realise this and read the two together, but just a little more imagination is required. It basically reads, ‘[If we could] stand with that Old “Moses”… /Doubtless we should deem superfluous…’ The Old Testament story which Emily is referring to is God allowing Moses to look upon Canaan, the Promised Land (a metaphor for heaven in Christianity and Judaism), but without entering it: ‘”Canaan” denied’. If we, like Moses, could stand before Canaan and look upon it, our vision and purposes in life would be drastically altered; our attention would turn to the sciences which angels engage in, rather than our more earthly pursuits. But remember that Emily’s denouncement encompasses the theological too: ‘Those who read the “Revelations” /Must not criticise…’ Her criticism is not aimed at just one quarter of academia.

I still don't understand Revelations...

    If Emily is calling to attention the relative purposelessness of higher learning then what is she advocating instead? Her conclusion looks forward to the Resurrection (a common theme in Emily’s poems), where the righteous and unrighteous rise to be judged at the end of times. ‘Belles lettres‘, literally, ‘fine letters’ is a French term to refer to literature as an art form. Considering ‘Revelations’ is the only piece of literature Emily mentions in the piece, along with the colourful nature of the book, she’s probably making reference to it. Being ‘Low amid’ the Revelations basically compares the standing of the foolish next to a piece of literature better approached by the scholarly. Emily asks that this be put aside and everyone, regardless of their level of erudition, may stand at the right hand of God.

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This is at once a necessary break from overly serious posts and a tribute to The Inky Fool, a fascinating blog on the roots of words and phrases in the English language. What follows is a list of words and their definitions as I have come across them in my reading. Some are still used legitimately today, whereas others are usually only used for poetic reference to a time past:

1. wont: accustomed: “My lord, the roynish clown, at whom so oft /Your Grace was wont to laugh, is also missing” — Shakespeare

2. wanton: frolicsome/sexually unrestrained: “Wanton as youthful goats, wild as young bulls” — Shakespeare

3. thee/thou/thy/thine: you/you/your/yours: thee is objective whereas thou is subjective: he ate me; I ate him; thou ate me; I ate thee: there is no differentiation between you (objective) and you (subjective) in modern English: thine can function as your when preceding a vowel, like the difference between a and an: thy son; thine own son.

4. whither/whence: where (destination)/where (origin): “Whence they came? Whither they went?” — John Bunyan: see also hither/hence, thither/thence

5. suffer: permit: “But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven” — Matthew 19:14, KJV

6. wherefore: why/for what reason: “The Brooks laugh louder when I come— /The Breezes madder play; /Wherefore mine eye thy silver mists, /Wherefore, Oh Summer’s Day?” — Emily Dickinson

7. yclept: named: pronounced ee-KLEPT: “But come, thou goddess fair and free. /In heaven ycleped Euphrosyne” — John Milton

8. Phoebus/Diana: Greek or Roman names for the gods, used in reference to the sun and moon, respectively: “Phoebus, arise! /And paint the sable skies /With azure, white and red” — William Drummond

9. divers: various : pronounced DAHY-vers: as opposed to diverse, which means varied: “To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues” — 1Corinthians 12:10, KJV

10. gird: surround/bind with a belt: “Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning” — Luke 12:35, KJV

11. weregild: compensation money for someone murdered: were, meaning man, can be seen also in werewolf: “”This I will have as weregild for my father, and my brother” — Isildur in Lord of the Rings, taking the ring as payment for the loss of family members

12. lovingkindness: kindness motivated by love: “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions” — Psalm 51:1, KJV

13. myrtle: a type of plant: this word is the same here as it is used in modern times: however, as someone up-grown  in New Zealand and experiencing English literature as something largely foreign, these factors have necessitated my inclusion of the word: I would also include something like rhododendron to further indicate my ignorance of botany, if only it was frequently found in the poetry I have read

14. alack: crap? mild curse/expression of sorrow: “Thou bring’st me happiness and peace, son John; /But health, alack, with youthful wings is flown /From this bare wither’d trunk” — Shakespeare

15. Muse: one of nine Greek mythological goddesses from whom are sourced all artistic inspiration: I hope the Holy Spirit will lead me as a Muse: Shakespeare assigns the young man of his sonnets as his own Muse: read about it here

16. swain: country boy/male lover: “Haply some hoary-headed swain may say, /Oft have we seen him at the peep of dawn /Brushing with hasty steps the dews away, /To meet the sun upon the upland lawn” — Thomas Gray

17. twain: two: although the usage is slightly different: if anyone can enlighten me, please do: “For both, for both my love is so immense, /I feel my heart is cut in twain for them” — Keats

18. methinks: I think: “Wherein your father flourished, yet by you,
Madam, methinks I see him living yet” — Milton

19. o’er: over: apostrophes were widely used to reduce syllables and therefore meet the metrical requirements of poetry: so you also find e’er (ever), ne’er (never), and awkward deletions such as ev’n (even) and heav’n (heaven): I still don’t know how to pronounce a v and an n so close to each other with no vowel to mediate: also, you will find that since the e in the ed ending was pronounced, poets often omitted this to make words shorter: eg. walk’d: a few words in English still have this pronunciation: learned (adjective form), blessed (adjective form, possibly only in ecclesiastical contexts?), and crooked (I have never heard anyone say ‘crookd’)

20. behest: command: “Michael, this my behest have thou in charge, /Take to thee from among the Cherubim /Thy choice of flaming Warriors” — Milton

21. dun: grey, dull: “My mistress’s eyes are nothing like the sun; /Coral is far more red than her lip’s red; /If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun” — Shakespeare’s unflattering account of his mistress is a landmark reaction against the deification of women by their male poet lovers: this not only paves the way for modern realism, but in some obscure, and possibly offensive, way you can use this sonnet to say, “I love you just the way you are”

22. connexion: connection: the alternative British spelling is actually not that archaic, still being in modern usage: it’s awesome, actually, how as a New Zealander I can interchangeably use words such as burnt and burned, spelt and spelled, learnt and learned: kist and blest, among others, have sadly fallen out of use

23. quoth: said (used before the speaker): “Quoth Peter, leaping from his seat,
‘There is some plot against me laid;'”– Wordsworth

24. ere: before: “O thou sword of the Lord, how long will it be ere thou be quiet? put up thyself into thy scabbard, rest, and be still” — Jeremiah 47:6, KJV

25. two-and-twenty: twenty-two: my age: the construction can be used for any number (I think): Shakespeare plays on it: “What’s to come is still unsure: /In delay there lies no plenty; /Then come kiss me, sweet-and-twenty! /Youth’s a stuff will not endure”

26. threescore and ten: seventy: a single score is twenty: “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away” Psalm 90:10, KJV

27. fie: expresses annoyance: pronounced FAHY: possibly cognate to fffffffffffffffffffffuuuuuuuuu: “O, fie, fie, fie! /Thy sin’s not accidental, but a trade” — Shakespeare

28. irksome: irritating: “But this swift travel scorns the company /Of irksome change, or threats from saddening power” — Wordsworth

29. hark: listen: “Hark! the herald angels sing /’Glory to the newborn King /Peace on earth and mercy mild, /God and sinners reconciled!'” — famous Christmas carol by Charles Wesley

30. hillock: diminutive of hill: “A graceless hillock rose too near mine town center. No wonder thou wert victorious! I shalt abdicate” — CPU resigning in AOE II: note the use of mine is probably incorrect as it does not precede a vowel

31. hoary: grey or white with age: there is a word with the exact same pronunciation used in New Zealand English to describe something either warn out, low-quality or a bit dirty: whorey? but I’m not sure how to spell it: “What are garlands and crowns to the brow that is wrinkled? ‘Tis but as a dead flower with May-dew besprinkled: Then away with all such from the head that is hoary! What care I for the wreaths that can only give glory?” — Lord Byron

32. sylvan: pertaining to the wood: “Sweet Ruth! and could you go with me /My helpmate in the woods to be, /Our shed at night to rear; /Or run, my own adopted bride, /A sylvan huntress at my side, /And drive the flying deer” — Wordsworth

33. beeves: the plural of ‘beef’. Wordsworth uses it, along with kine, to refer to cows: “Let beeves and home-bred kine partake /The sweets of Burn-mill meadow” — Wordsworth

34. yon: in the distance, yonder: “How exquisite the scents /Snatch’d from yon bean-field!” — Samuel Taylor Coleridge

35. vicissitude: change: pronounced vi-SIS-i-tyood: “There is a Cave /Within the Mount of /God, fast by his Throne, /Where light and darkness in perpetual round /Lodge and dislodge by turns, which makes through Heav’n /Grateful vicissitude, like Day and Night” — Milton

36. bonny: pretty, comely: I think it’s related to the name: “It’s not for fight that I came here, but friendship for to show. /Give me one kiss from your bonny, bonny bride and away from you I go” — The Green Wedding, English folk song

37. livelong: entire: “I’ve been workin’ on the railroad, /All the livelong day. /I’ve been workin’ on the railroad, /Just to pass the time away” — American folk song

38. concupiscence: sexual desire: “And what was it that I delighted in, but to love, and be loved? but I kept not the measure of love, of mind to mind, friendship’s bright boundary: but out of the muddy concupiscence of the flesh, and the bubblings of youth, mists fumed up which beclouded and overcast my heart, that I could not discern the clear brightness of love from the fog of lustfulness” — Augustine’s Confessions, translated by E. B. Pusey

39. perturbation: a disturbance: it may still be in usage but it’s not one I come across often: although Gandhi has made use of it: “Richard, thy wife, that wretched Anne thy wife, /That never slept a quiet hour with thee, /Now fills thy sleep with perturbations ” — Shakespeare

40. betwixt: between: my main source implies this is still in modern usage in parts of America: it is widely used in a lot of poetry I have read: “Of all the days that’s in the week /I dearly love but one day, /And that’s the day that comes betwixt /A Saturday and Monday” — Henry Carey: the context of the poem suggests that but should be read as just, because he is not excluding but speaking highly of Sunday: I dearly love just one day

41. erstwhile/whilom: former: “He conquered al the regne [reign?] of Femenye, /That whilom [fomerly] was ycleped [named] Scithia, /And weddede the queene Ypolita, /And broghte hir hoom [home] with hym in his contree [country], /With muchel glorie and greet solempnytee [solemnity?]” — Chaucer

42. prithee: pray thee, please: “The tidy breezes with their brooms /Sweep vale, and hill, and tree! /Prithee, my pretty housewives! /Who may expected be?” — Emily Dickinson

43. yea: yes: pronounced YAY: “But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil” — Matthew 5:37, KJV: Can also be used to mean indeed: “Now the chief priests, and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death; but found none: yea, though many false witnesses came, yet found they none” — Matthew 26:59-60, KJV

44. tarry: wait: “O let us be married! too long we have tarried: /But what shall we do for a ring?” — The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear

45. chanticleer: rooster: “A flippant fly upon the pane; /A spider at his trade again; /An added strut in chanticleer; /A flower expected everywhere” — Emily Dickinson

46. wight: person, sometimes creature: In the poem Beowulf it is used to refer to the beast Grendel: “That heathen wight was right ready: fierce and reckless, he snatched thirty thanes from their slumber, then sped homeward, carrying his spoils and roaring over his prey as he sought his lair”

47. honey-tongued: sweet-speaking, persuasive:”This is the flower that smiles on every one, /To show his teeth as white as whale’s bone; /And consciences, that will not die in debt, /Pay him the due of honey-tongued Boye” — Shakespeare

48. wax: increase in size: “a full eye will wax hollow” — Shakespeare

49. horned: crescent-shaped: “There’s tempest in yon horned moon, /And lightning in yon cloud” — Allan Cunningham

54: oft/oftentimes: often: depending on metrical requirements, you can now use often for one, two or three syllables: “Oft did the harvest to their sickle yield, /Their furrow oft the stubborn glebe has broke; /How jocund did they drive their team afield! /How bow’d the woods beneath their sturdy stroke!” — Thomas Gray

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Ironically, the only time  I have had to update my blog in the last few weeks has been in transit. And that’s difficult: You have to press the keys really hard. To be honest, the best part of my journey so far has been the feeling of release peeing 8 hours into a 12 hour flight. With all those people waiting outside the door it just wasn’t going to happen earlier =(

Sleeping on the ground in Kuala Lumpur airport for an hour probably comes next. I was so slaughtered that the unyielding piece of floor beneath me was no problem. It was a long night there though and I thought the sun would rise earlier:

What time does the sun rise in Kuala Lumpur?
When will dawn reclaim the horizon?
Her towers may stand dormant, but their auras dilute the night,
while, diligent as termites, workers carry their torches along the shadow trails.
And the twin guides of crescent and star emboss the surface of the water.

What time does the sun rise in Kuala Lumpur?
Does this occur regularly?
Possibly tomorrow can remind us that there is daylight,
or that which illuminates the darkness for us now
is the faithful harbinger to morning in some coming age.

When will the sun rise in Kuala Lumpur?
How will the capital respond to its arrival?
The stillness and silence, the thick and the pitch
deepen, before first light, like blood
through water, dismantles the sable skies and onwards slips.

Thank you Emily Dickinson (cf. Will there really be a morning?).

If you’re in the business of praying, please pray for health, safety and dependence on God. You can also pray for Ty, Rachel and Keren, the others in my team. Pray that the kingdom would come. They’re part of the ‘Refresh’ conference tonight, which, as much as I know is a worship night. Pray for anointing and that people would know God more closely through this =)

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Simply because Puritans are often given a bad rap, here are ten things that you can appreciate that have been either directly or indirectly influenced by Puritans over the centuries. In case you didn’t know, the Puritans were a group of Protestants arising during and just after the Reformation. They are known for their strict moral code and influence on the formation of America as a country.

The word ‘Puritan’. Not to be confused with purist, someone who prefers something to be done without contamination from outside sources, if that makes sense. A puritan in the modern sense can be applied to overly moralistic people. It arose as a derogatory term for this new group of Protestants. Good start? Nice legacy bro.

Memento Mori. Latin for ‘Remember that you will die’, memento mori is a genre of art, literature, etc that stresses the shortness of life. Whereas carpe diem suggests that people make the most of life (this can be quite positive in a modern sense but was seen as surfeiting sensual pleasures back in the day), memento mori directs people’s attention to the condition of their soul in light of the immanence of death. Shakespeare may have even tried his hand at it.

Sexuality. You know that nice Christian apology for sex that tells people sex isn’t bad but is rather meant to be celebrated as a gift from God? After a little Wikipedia-funded research, I have found that Puritans held the same celebratory views of sex, within marriage of course!

Mission. Despite some utterly despicable relations with Native Americans, some Puritans had a positive missionary focus to reach the people around them. Not only Native Americans, but also different people groups in the Pacific.

Thanksgiving. Being a New Zealander, Thanksgiving is something I know little about. How awesome, however, would it be to have one day a year just to focus on giving thanks for that which is good? There’s something in there about affirmative relationships with Native Americans too. Also, the original Thanksgiving was not just celebration but thanks that acknowledged God’s providence!

Virtue Names. I’m a sucker for these. And if procreation is something that comes about in my seventy years then one or six of these will follow (don’t worry; that includes middle names). Some are still popular today: Joy, Hope, Faith (girl AND boy). Consider also Charity (Chastity?), Truth, Justice, Felicity, Freedom, Prudence, Self-control… Actually, Sophie is a virtue name. Let’s stick with that one.

Pilgrim’s Progress. There’s comes a point in your Christian walk when you say to yourself: I can’t actually move further in my faith until I have read John Bunyan’s classic. I myself have been there. It was a bit of a kick up the bum, but not one that was unneeded. Bunyan wrote in a time of persecution, and a lot of it from jail, with all zeal and fervor. My Penguin edition notes that in countries where the Bible was translated as first work of literature, this was usually next. Again, this emphasises the awesomeness (and perhaps death) of virtue names.

Anne Bradstreet. Apparently America’s first published poet was a woman. Feminism win. Anne was a prolific writer who didn’t shy away from putting God at the center of her writings. Not only that, but she is a prime example of the fruit of the education of women, which a lot Puritans endorsed. She probably influenced Emily Dickinson too, who is an existential babe.

Abolition of Slavery. One of the most important, albeit incomplete, happenings in recent history was somewhat sourced in New England, a collection of states that were settled predominantly by Puritans. Quakers probably got it right earlier, but hey, the Puritans caught on in the end and contributed to the greater good.

John Milton. Probably my favourite Puritan, this guy has had an immeasurable effect on the English language and literature. You may have heard of Paradise Lost, the last great epic poem to be written, which centres on the Fall. He also wrote some amazing sonnets, like the mighty On the late massacre in Piedmont and the profound On his blindness. Interestingly, he was politically active and non-Trinitarian.

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