Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Gareth's Good Word



How does one recognize when one has fallen into idolatry? Though it isn't perhaps the only way, one good way is to examine one's liberty--am I free from guilt, anxiety, covetousness, discontent, wrath, vainglory, and so forth--in other words, am I living like a slave, or am living like a free individual?
Who should be King save him who makes us free?

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. “The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

In the second story in Tennyson's Idylls of the King, Gareth wants to join Arthur's knights, but his mother Bellicent wants him to remain home and hunt until he has grown older and stronger. At the end of one of his pleas, Gareth says, "Man am I grown, a man's work must I do. / Follow the deer? follow the Christ, the King, / Live pure, speak true, right wrong, follow the King - / Else, wherefore born?" Bellicent ignores the noble element of his plea and focuses on the tenuous nature of Arthur's kingship, since his claim to the throne remains disputed. The opening quote is Gareth's final word before his mother relents (with a condition).

Gareth's simple words strike at the heart of man's plight, reflected in the words of Jesus to the Pharisees in John 8, also quoted above. Those given over to sin remain slaves to sin, and have no sonship, no inheritance, in the Kingdom of God. But those whom the Son has set free, are free indeed--that is, they are no longer slaves to sin, but heirs of the household; sons of the Father. Elsewhere in John's Gospel, Jesus defines His sonship to the Father and the authority such sonship implies by His submission to the Father's will and commands: "I can do nothing on my own authority; I judge only as God tells me, so my judgement is right, because I am not trying to do what I want, but only what he who sent me wants;" "For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak." 

A Master and a Father both command and promise. A slave obeys his master out of fear, or because of some promised reward. However, the freedom of sonship is the freedom to obey the Father's commands willingly, in the knowledge that the Father's pleasure and future inheritance remain upon, and are entrusted to the son. Everything a master has belongs to the master alone, not the slave. Everything the Father has belongs to the Son, and will be his to command in the fullness time. The slave has no hope of inheritance, because he is a slave and not a son. The son has no fear of retribution or renunciation, for his mistakes are part of becoming able to command his inheritance.

Idols are like masters, but worse, for they make promises illegitimately, since only the Father possesses by rights all that He has made. An idol will make demands and offer rewards, but consumptively; not as the Father who commands His son to obey so that he might become greater and be glorified. An idol's promises are illicit--the idol has no power to glorify, no power to save, but only the power to consume and destroy. An idol "would be King," but cannot make his "slave" free. Only the King who can free is a King worthy of honor, fidelity, and worship. So what does it look like to be a son in the Father's Kingdom?

As expected, the Only Son of God shows us. The freedom of the Son is the freedom to speak as the Father would have us speak and do as the Father would have us do. Idolatry is characterized by the inability to live in this freedom. To cling to patterns of sin, to cling to identities that are abominable in God's sight, to wield worldly powers to coerce others (sex, wealth, fame, intelligence, physical strength, etc.), to live in despair of obedience--these are the rewards of idolatry.

In John 12, Jesus says this:

TrulytrulyI say to youunless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and diesit remains alonebut if it diesit bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses itand whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves mehe must follow meand where I am, there will my servant be alsoIf anyone serves methe Father will honor him.

Shall we follow the deer? Shall we seek those earthly rewards that bring pleasure; those patterns of selfish desire? No! Let us follow the Christ, the King! Let us live pure, speak true, right wrong, follow the King -  else, wherefore born?

Saturday, June 19, 2021

On the Use of Fairy Stories in Communal Education

Education in a diverse community introduces difficulties that don't exist (or exist less characteristically) within an individual family. Parents have particular convictions and affections, which they pass on to their children directly and indirectly. When parents collaborate with one another to educate their children, whether in a co-op or in a school, they bring not only the convictions and affections they share, but also those that differ. An important conversation involves discovering what differences are irresolvable, but that's a conversation for another time. Assuming that differences do not pose irresolvable difficulties:

What can families do to help one another stay united in the education of their children?

Sharing common stories offers a means for navigating differences, because shared stories can help people identify wise, virtuous principles and choices in the midst of their differences. In lived reality wise, virtuous principles and choices become confused by the naturally limited perspective of humans and by selfish desires that oppose wisdom and virtue. Fairy stories provide the kind of story well-suited to discover wisdom and virtue since they involve normal characters in abnormal adventures that put vices and virtues on display clearly and distinctly. Fairy stories do not involve ambiguity about what is right or wrong, virtuous or vicious, good or evil; and so the reader or listener knows which characters, motives, and behaviors are worthy of emulation, and why; and which characters, motives, and behaviors are worthy of renunciation, and why. Fairy stories inhabit an imaginative moral reality that provides a clear lens through which one may look at his own moral reality, which is harder to evaluate, but made easier with a "fabulous lens".

The Lord of the Rings may not be the greatest story ever told, but because it is a fairy tale accessible to people of all levels of maturity it serves as a clear lens through which to evaluate lived reality. For the sake of the following imaginative experiment, suppose the co-op or school requires all members of every family to read (or be read to) The Lord of the Rings each year as part of their enrollment and re-enrollment. Now suppose two parents differ on the amount of rigor a teacher requires of the students. Suppose as well that the rigor-loving parent and teacher have a wiser perspective than the rigor-doubtful parent. Further suppose the differences between the parents include expectations from within their families and churches, but the educational standards of the co-op or school favors the rigorous position. One could (and should) appeal to theological principles, and to hoped-for family outcomes, but since these are not closely shared, the appeal to a commonly shared story might serve better for understanding and agreement.

How might The Lord of the Rings provide a clear lens in this hypothetical situation?

The rigor-loving parent (or teacher) could remind the rigor-doubtful parent of the Scouring of the Shire. Gandalf, the wise and powerful wizard, leaves the younger, less experienced, and less powerful hobbits (Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin) alone to defeat the numerous enemies who have taken over their homeland. The parent could recall that the hobbits make short work of their enemies--an impossible victory but for the fruit produced in them by the year-long journey to destroy the Ring of Power. One could ask, "What made the hobbits brave enough, temperate enough, wise enough, strong enough, and just enough to defeat their enemies without becoming evil themselves?" Of course it was the much greater trials they suffered together on the quest under the tutelage of more mature souls. If the purpose of education is to grow wise,  virtuous, and strong, then teachers should strive to provide to children with opportunities to do things that are beyond their powers to perform easily, perfectly, without the possibility for failure, or without the need to rely upon more mature souls to guide them.

It is not certain that such appeals would be successful, but where shared stories persist, and especially where they are loved and admired, fodder for such encouragement remains available in ways that transcend the differences within the community.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Sabbath Song #1

I will arise and ascend to meet,

Jerusalem of Heaven coming down.

Saints in glory shall I greet,

Led by Christ, robed and crowned.

Ye saints on earth join in the song,

Shed your sorrows from the valley,

Thy prayers lift up a tower strong,

Entwining an unnumbered tally.

Shout! Let the gates of Hell tremble,

Shout! The King of Glory descends!

Shout! Let all His saints assemble,

Shout! Every power before Him bends!

Let us arise and ascent to meet,

Jerusalem of Heaven coming down.

Saints in glory let us greet,

Led by Jesus, robed and crowned.

When we depart, armed for battle,

Let not vice nor evil arrow land,

Let foes hear our roar and rattle,

Let them fear our joyous band!

Take our lives! Our souls remain,

Take our goods! We have our King,

Take our might! God shall sustain,

Take all away! We still shall sing:

Shout! Let the gates of Hell tremble,

Shout! The King of Glory descends!

Shout! Let all His saints assemble,

Shout! Every power before Him bends!

Monday, June 7, 2021

Contrasting Figures of Glory

Glory, as God, is revealed,

Yet remains shrouded:

Mysterious even for all its familiarity.

What does the word mean, anyway?

And can it once, twice, figured out, glimpséd be?


Is it like what happens when you first arrive at a beach?

You step onto the scalding, bleached sand; feet bare,

("Is this holy ground?" your feet squeak)

You cannot stare--the orb of heaven's beams break

Upon the waters and dash into your eyes from the dunes

Dazzling them with impenetrable light.

Yet there is sight,

(and zounds! sounds, too)

Ocean waves, emerald and azure dejure, speak to you,

They whisper in harmonic tones, tomes;

Whishing their wishes for someone to hear,

Some one, like you, with ears and eyes and pores open.

The sky lengthens itself across the horizon,

Kissing the sea along its entire body,

As its clouds, pluming with loving pride, ascend,

Stretching their precipitous bulk toward the firmament.


Or maybe glory is like a thunderstorm in the wild,

Where no man wishes to witness its violence unsheltered.

Spewing liquid bullets at the earth from high turrets,

(A million gatling guns going off--RA-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT!)

Zeus-flung fire bolts from the bow of heaven fall,

(Drums of thunder shock the air with their sound--BA-BOOM-BOOM-boom-boom)

Blasting the grasses and trees into oblivion,

Bringing forth fires to blow their foul breath,

Popping and hissing across the plains in the rain,

Leaving behind their black carnage, and scattered bones,

To be bleached in the sun's bright coroner light,

Testifying to the storm's death-dealing power,

From which, in time, new life shall, verdant, 

Spring (copses from corpses).


Twice figured glory, are you thus espied, touched, and sounded?

And in a story, sweetly fabled, moralized and founded?

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Wherein Nietzsche Compliments Classical Students

Nobody will very readily regard a doctrine as true merely because it makes people happy or virtuous—excepting, perhaps, the amiable "Idealists," who are enthusiastic about the good, true, and beautiful, and let all kinds of motley, coarse, and good-natured desirabilities swim about promiscuously in their pond. ~Beyond Good & Evil, "The Free Spirit," 39.

Nietzsche further says happiness and virtue are no arguments (but he also says consequences are the only test of value--go figure), but that's less interesting to me than just what he says in this quotation. I think he is articulating that by letting "swim promiscuously in their pond," "all kinds of motley, coarse, and good-natured desirabilities," the "amiable 'Idealists' who are enthusiastic about the good, true, and beautiful" don't discriminate about the material sources of these values. They take in all kinds.

Classical students promote the search for the transcendentals (goodness, truth, beauty) wherever they might be strewn about. We are some of those "amiable idealists" (I'm going to keep that one). Our collection is often eclectic. We're happy to let ol' toadie Voltaire sit on his lily pad while electric eel Luther lurks in the depths below; provided that whatever hangs about possesses something true, good, or beautiful in some way, shape, or form.

Perhaps Nietzsche would consider such a pond too polluted for swimming in himself. The hoi polloi koi swimming in the murky waters might offend his arboreal kookaburra spirit. But then again, a pond full of various life forms tends to be the healthiest and most lively. There's even room for a loud-mouthed, territorial bird, when the right alarums need to be sounded.