Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Games of Chance, by Cassandra Linton

The Sound of the Bells, by Erin Linton

I have recently come to understand that the act of communication is a covenantal act. It requires relationship to understand the communication. True communication occurs with cooperation and a common understanding of the culture of the words used. This short piece is an excellent effort to engage not only the meaning of the words but the feeling as well:

Beautifully crafted and painstakingly constructed, poetry is one of the grandest forms of art and communication available to the human race. Delving deep into the intricacies of both form and content, we often speak of the meter of the poem, the figurative language held within it, the structure and the meaning of the poem. Except for rhyme, however, we rarely speak of the “sound” of the poem. What words, what letters does the author use and how does the sound of those words communicate his point? The syllables of Tennyson’s “Ulysses” were not haphazardly slapped together, nor were the rumble bumble of words merely a side effect in Dr. Seuss’ work. To illustrate the point, let us walk through Edgar Allen Poe’s well-loved poem, “The Bells.” In each stanza of this poem, Poe highlights and describes a different type of bell and, to fully communicate the sound and use of these bells, Poe uses and repeats specific vowel sounds.

In the first stanza of “The Bells,” Poe depicts the chiming of Christmas bells. To describe the sound of a Christmas bell, Poe continually uses the letter, and the sound of the letter, “i”. If you pronounce the short sound of this letter to yourself, what you will notice is that it produces a small, light sound that doesn’t travel far. Even the duration of the sound is short-lived. Thus words like “silver”, “merriment”, and “tintinnabulation”, actually reflect the bells themselves and the sound they make: small, light and short lived. Employing the long sound of the letter “i” gives Poe the ability to reflect the sound of the bells as well as the cold and icy environment in which these Christmas bells are used. Words like “icy”, “crystalline”, “delight”, and “rhyme” pierce the ear as would both the high pitch of the bells and the winter weather. Then, coupled with an “ng” or “nk”, the “i” can produce a rather joyous tone. Thus, words like “tinkle”, “twinkle”, “jingle” and “sprinkle” audibly create a mood of carefree innocence and delight.

As Poe moves on to the second stanza, he moves from the light sound of Christmas bells to a deeper more solemn sound of wedding bells. Compared to Christmas bells, a wedding bell will create a larger, deeper, rounder and more lasting sound; and to achieve this in poetry, Poe uses the sound of the letter “o” throughout this stanza. The “note” of the “molten-golden” “mellow” bells that “floats” through the air is indeed a more mellow and golden sound. The “o” sound has a deep pitch as your voice gives it more resonance, as would the larger wedding bells. Furthermore, this sound is heavier and thicker than the light sound of the “i”s in the first stanza, communicating well the more solemn occasion of a wedding.

The sounds brought to the fore in the third stanza are the long “a” and “e” sounds. After the light and mellow sounds of the “i” and “o” in stanzas one and two, enunciating these two long vowels is quite literally more pronounced. The sounds these vowels induce are sharper than the soft melodic sounds of “o” and “i.” What more perfect sounds could Poe use to communicate alarm bells in this next stanza? He describes the “clangor” of the “brazen” bell with its “scream” and “shriek” as it “twangs” and “clangs”, with its “jangling” and its “wrangling” through the “palpitating” air. Some of the words used here would qualify as “onomatopoeia”, but Poe can communicate alarming terrors simply by repeating noises that sound alarming to our ears.

From silver bells to golden bells to shrieking bells, Poe brings us finally to the haunting bells of the night. For these bells, we hear the sounds “oo”, “oa” and a few more “o”s. Interestingly enough, these are the sounds that we naturally use to describe many haunting things. The groaning of the wind through the trees, the hooting of an owl, the howling of dogs and jackals, the spooking of the ghosts; we continually use these hollowing sounds to describe our nocturnal dread. Poe also uses them to describe the bells that toll and knell through the dark reaches of the night. The “moaning” and the “groaning” from these rusty “throats” keep a “Runic” rhyme declaring the presence of “ghouls.” A still darker sound than any that Poe has used yet, a sound that must literally rise from the hidden recesses of your mouth, is one of the perfect tools he uses to depict the hollow and unnerving sound of these bells that knell in the night.

Every word we use is more than just an identification for a person, place or thing; it is a description with multi-layered and subtle connotations. Beyond their basic meanings, the sounds of words are their poetic intimations, evoking selected shades of objective reality. Good poetry always uses these shades to paint a picture that may sometimes exceed the beauty of visual perception. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but one well-chosen word can paint a masterpiece.

Thanks, Erin.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Velveteen Rabbit - Erin Linton is an instructor in literature and Latin in New Covenant's Upper School. This lecture was presented at a recent Faculty Forum and explores what it means to be real, as Margery Williams investigates the question in this classic fairy tale. Miss Linton is a graduate of New Saint Andrews College. Permission is granted to download to your IPod or other playback device.Introduction to Faculty Forum - John Heaton - (3:29)Part 1 - Three Reasons to Teach Fairy Tales - (5:32)Part 2 - The Velveteen Rabbit - First Reality - (8:14)Part 3 - The Velveteen Rabbit - Death and Resurrection - (5:12)Part 4 - The Velveteen Rabbit - Second Reality - (4:16)Part 5 - The Velveteen Rabbit- Comments on Literary Structure - (1:41)Part 6 - How to Teach Fairy Tales to Different Ages - (6:04)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

OK, so one of the things that this blog is teaching me, which I had hoped it would teach me, is to write even though my thoughts are not completely developed. If I wait until my thoughts are completely developed, I will never write.

One thing we Reformed believe is that the covenants in Scripture build on one another. God makes each one more glorious than its predecessor. We have the Abrahamic Covenant, the Mosaic Covenant, the Davidic Covenant and the New Covenant. There are typically at least three elements of a covenantal ritual:

1. A remembrance,
2. A sign, and
3. Repetition.

While the Noahic Covenant follows this pattern, I have not been able to find this pattern in the Davidic Covenant. It also appears that the institution of circumcision does not use the word zkr (“remember”) as do the others. However, as Jack Collins observes in his commentary on Genesis 1-4, it is not necessary to use the precise word for covenant as long as the concept is there. For a parent circumcising his or her child, the event would most certainly raise the question why am I doing this. Not only that, but throughout the remainder of Scripture, the nation of Israel repeatedly refers to the covenant made with Abraham as the hope and blessed cause for His actions on their behalf.

The fourth commandment, as described in Exodus 20, follows the pattern of a remembrance of the day on a weekly repetition. In this respect it is very similar to circumcision in that circumcision is the sign of remembrance on a sequence not of a weekly schedule but on the sequence of the birth of offspring, a male child.

There is an additional parallel between circumcision and the Sabbath. In Genesis 17, God commands Abraham to circumcise every male offspring. At verse 14, God commands that every uncircumcised male shall be “cut off” from the people. In most English translations of the Old Testament this Hebrew word krt (“cut”) is translated “made” when it is referring to God making a covenant. The way the Old Testament people of God would have understood the making of a covenant would have been a cutting of a covenant. The key concept in Genesis 17 is that if the foreskin is not “cut off” the man himself should be “cut off” from the covenant.

Then in Exodus 31, Yahweh elaborates to Moses on the fourth commandment previously given in Exodus 20. At verse 14, Yahweh commands that whoever does work on the Sabbath, that soul shall be “cut off” from among the people. Both verses 14 and 15 make it clear that this “cutting off” means putting the man to death. Indeed, verses 13 through 17 appear to follow a chiastic structure with the command to “cut off” the violator positioned in the middle. Therefore, this “cutting off” should be given special note.

How should we take this? Is it possible to conclude that, rather than holding a subordinate position in the commandments, one that can be ignored in the New Covenant, the Sabbath has a heightened position in the commandments, one that should be given special consideration in the New Covenant? Clearly, the fourth and fifth commandments are different than the other eight. They are positive rather than negative in resolution, commanding conduct rather than prohibiting conduct. They inculcate a way of acting and thereby thinking.

The concept of cutting does not end here. The concept of cutting figures in prominently in the Prophesy of the Messiah. Typically, a “cutting off” is used to describe a divine judgment on the wicked. However, there are a few significant passages that are counter.

Isaiah 53:7-9 sings of the lamb:

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth;like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who consideredthat he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death,although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.

Jeremiah 11:19 likewise sings of the lamb:

But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter.I did not know it was against me they devised schemes, saying,"Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more."

Daniel 9:26 declares:

And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one [Messiah] shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed.

While the first two passages portray the lamb as being cut off by “oppression,” the third is a simple declaration that a Messiah will be cut off in conjunction with the destruction of the city and the sanctuary. However, as Isaiah 53:10 and following goes on to explain, it was Yahweh’s purpose to use this “oppression” for His purpose that, “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.”

This background makes N. T. Wright’s observation that Jesus sought to take unto himself the Jewish cultic elements of Sabbath and Temple all the more ironic. Jesus declared himself to be the new temple. He also declared himself to be the Lord of the Sabbath. In the death sentence of Messiah there was a declaration by sinful man of Messiah’s violation of the covenant, not only of the covenant made with Abraham, but also of the Sabbath. He who was Lord of the Sabbath, the one who kept the Sabbath perfectly, was declared a Sabbath breaker by the true covenant breakers. In his death and resurrection, He triumphed over that death sentence and defines the new Sabbath. He did not leave it there. He instituted a new ordinance, commanding us to do the Eucharist in remembrance of him as His new Sabbath memorial.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Sabbath as Sacrament

The Westminster Shorter Catechism states in its answer to question 92 that, “A sacrament is a holy ordinance instituted by Christ; wherein, by sensible signs, Christ, and the benefits of the new covenant, are represented, sealed, and applied to believers.” This is certainly a short, succinct and systematic answer to the question “What is a sacrament?” The catechism goes on to identify two sacraments: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. By the catechism, we also know that, “The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament, wherein, by giving and receiving bread and wine, according to Christ’s appointment, his death is showed forth; and the worthy receivers are, not after a corporal and carnal manner, but by faith, made partakers of his body and blood, with all his benefits, to their spiritual nourishment, and growth in grace.”

The Gospel of Luke recounts that, “[Jesus] took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”” Luke 22:19-20. Christians often make the connection between the Lord’s Supper and the Passover meal because the connection is made explicitly in Luke and the other gospel accounts. However, there is another, less obvious connection here that is more sublime, and that is the connection between the Lord’s Supper and the Sabbath.

What is the starting point for a discussion of Sabbath as Sacrament? The starting point is recognized but not often highlighted in the answer to Question 92 in the Shorter Catechism. It is a sign of the covenant. As Jesus said, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” This is likely an allusion to the “blood of the covenant” in Exodus 24. But He also said, “Do this in “remembrance” of me.” I believe this also calls forth the past covenantal “remembrances,” including the Noahic covenant, the Abrahamic covenant, but more specifically the fourth commandment in Exodus 20, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.”

Obviously, the Sabbath day was central to the life of the nation of Israel. Deuteronomy 5 repeats the Ten Commandments and shifts the focus ever so slightly. In Exodus 20, the basis for the Sabbath observance was creation. In Deuteronomy 5 the basis for the Sabbath observance was redemption from bondage in Egypt. In addition, Deuteronomy 5 recasts the commandment as “Observe the Sabbath day to keep it holy.”

Why is it that all of the commandments are cast as negatives commands except for the fourth and the fifth? Could it be that by fulfilling these two they would set a pattern in their lives that would facilitate their obedience to the others? Deuteronomy 15:1-16:17 elaborates on the fourth commandment and gives instruction on the Passover, the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Booths. It thereby sets forth a rhythm of life for the nation of Israel. The rhythm was anchored in the Sabbath rest the nation was to live out.

If Jesus was intentionally alluding to the Sabbath in his establishment of His supper, what does that tell us about our eating bread and drinking wine (or not?) in our weekly worship?

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

All the towering materialism which dominates the modern mind rests ultimately upon one assumption; a false assumption. It is supposed that if a thing goes on repeating itself it is probably dead; a piece of clockwork. People feel that if the universe was personal it would vary; if the sun were alive it would dance. This is a fallacy even in relation to known fact. For the variation in human affairs is generally brought into them, not by life, but by death; by the dying down or breaking off of their strength or desire. A man varies his movements because of some slight element of failure or fatigue. He gets into an omnibus because he is tired of walking; or he walks because he is tired of sitting still. But if his life and joy were so gigantic that he never tired of going to Islington, he might go to Islington as regularly as the Thames goes to Sheerness. The very speed and ecstacy of his life would have the stillness of death. The sun rises every morning. I do not rise every morning; but the variation is due not to my activity, but to my inaction. Now, to put the matter in a popular phrase, it might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life. The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore. Heaven may encore the bird who laid an egg. If the human being conceives and brings forth a human child instead of bringing forth a fish, or a bat, or a griffin, the reason may not be that we are fixed in an animal fate without life or purpose. It may be that our little tragedy has touched the gods, that they admire it from their starry galleries, and that at the end of every human drama man is called again and again before the curtain. Repetition may go on for millions of years, by mere choice, and at any instant it may stop. Man may stand on the earth generation after generation, and yet each birth be his positively last appearance.

G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Covenantal Government

As the season of the quadrennial festival of pandering to the American public, commonly known as the American Presidential Elections, begins, it seems fitting to reassess the theory on which we cast our votes. The common theory we Americans unthinkingly adopt as we enter the voting booth is that we are expressing our preference for who should be our next leader. The candidate who each of us prefers more than the other is the one we vote for. Almost eight years ago this was the media hype for recasting our presidential elections into a popular vote rather than the historic Electoral College that has been used for more than 200 years. That debate, fortunately or unfortunately, was lost in an overwhelming cloud of political issues.

But how should a Christian think about his vote? What is he doing when he walks into the voting booth? The answer to this question has several far reaching ramifications. Is he expressing his personal preference or is he doing something else? In this essay I propose that he is doing something different. I propose that the Christian, when he casts his vote for a candidate, is giving his personal endorsement to that candidate. At first blush, this distinction may seem rather trivial, but it is not. He is doing more that expressing a preference. He is committing himself to an endorsement that he finds this candidate worthy to stand in his stead and represent him before God in governing his nation.

In order to present this thesis, it is important to start with the foundational concept of covenant. All of creation, by God’s design, is covenantal and works in a covenantal fashion. Covenant is not simply a concept that relates to religious institutions. God makes covenant with all nations. This is a fact that not even individualistic Americans can deny. It can be attested to by seven thousand years of history, including American history, as well as present political realities.

God made a covenant with Noah, but not only Noah but all living creatures on earth.

8Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9"Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, 10and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. 11I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth." 12And God said, "This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth." 17God said to Noah, "This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth." Genesis 9:8-17.

In this covenantal expression God declares that he will place his rain ”bow” in the sky and look upon it and “remember” his covenant not to destroy all life on earth again. God ordained this covenant to protect man from himself. For previously, man’s wickedness had become so great that it caused God to destroy all life with the sole exception of Noah and his family (even here, Noah’s family was saved due to the covenantal righteousness of Noah).

Thousand of years later, the Apostle Paul applied covenant to governmental leaders, “the king.”

1Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 3For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 4for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 6For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. Romans 13:1-7.

The king is God’s “servant.” This word servant is the same Greek word from which we get “deacon.” The king is God’s deacon. Paul makes it clear hear that the king is established by God. This was true of king Nebuchadnezzar; it is true of our U.S. President. See Daniel 4

This covenantal view of government has been the foundational view of government for western civilization since the time of Constantine. The “divine right of kings” is a phrase we should all recognize from western history. To be sure, the “divine right of kings” was abused in history, and to the extent the king corrupted his god given authority, it was right that that authority should be taken away. However, it is equally clear that Western civilization understood where governmental authority came from; it came from God.

This covenantal view of all creation and of government in particular was maintained by the first founders of the U.S. colonies. The Pilgrims did not write the Mayflower Compact in a vacuum. They wrote it in the context of centuries of the “divine right of kings.”
"In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord, King James, by the Grace of God, of England, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, e&. Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia; do by these presents, solemnly and mutually in the Presence of God and one of another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid; And by Virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the General good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In Witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the eleventh of November, in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord, King James of England, France and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Domini, 1620."
In this oath, those signing did “covenant and combine” themselves in the name and in the presence of God as a civil body corporate and politic. It is also useful to note that they based their authority to undertake such a commitment as the “Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord, King James, by the Grace of God.”

Therefore, it is no accident that when each colony was established, it was established by a “constitution.” These covenantal documents set forth the parameters under which the state was to exercise its authority under God. Likewise, our U.S. Constitution is a covenantal document. Unfortunately, by the mid-1700s, due primarily to the enlightenment, constitutional theory made a subtle shift from a compact made before God to a compact expressing the consent of the governed from whom the authority to govern came. Most of the state constitutions make declarations similar to the U.S. Constitution. “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

The covenantal concept of government has continued to be eroded over the past two centuries. However, it has not been lost completely. Justice Joseph Story said in 1829: “I verily believe Christianity necessary to the support of civil society. One of the beautiful boasts of our municipal jurisprudence is that Christianity is a part of the Common Law. . . There never has been a period in which the Common Law did not recognize Christianity as lying its foundations.”

For the Christian, the erosion caused by the enlightenment should not hinder us from recovering a covenantal view of government. A Christian must return to Romans 13 and to the statement of Justice Joseph Story. We must return to a covenantal view of government.

So returning to my first point, when we go to the voting booth, if we go to the voting booth, let us think covenantally. When we cast our vote, we are making a statement to God that we recognize the candidate we vote for as meeting God’s standard.. The subtle shift this introduces in our thinking is that we now no longer hold our candidate up against the standard of the other candidate and determine who is better in our view. We hold all candidates up to the standard of Scripture. This may mean we don’t vote at all.