Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Some Reflections on Preaching

In my experience there are two ways to preach. The first way is to preach to the individual. Such sermons, to me, take on a feeling of the Pastor, from the pulpit, trying to deal with my personal sin or psychological problem. The second way is to preach to the community, telling the community how it is to live in relationship to one another and what the community is to be. This type of preaching often receives the criticism that it does not provide me practical application to apply in MY life. After thinking about this for some time, I have to say I prefer the second type of preaching despite the criticism. Notwithstanding the criticism, the first type of preaching is like the little boy who put his finger in the dike. If the sermon scratches the particular sins and hurts of the individual members, it is addressing the symptom of the problem. If the sermon has its desired effect, the walking wounded are bandaged up for a time. If the sermon addresses how the community lives with one another, however, it is rebuilding the superstructure of the dike. Let us build a beautiful superstructure of the church and allow the beauty of the superstructure to minister to the needs of the individuals.

So much for the seperation of church and state . . . .

"The belief in a God All Powerful wise and good, is so essential to the moral order of the world and to the happiness of man, that arguments which enforce it cannot be drawn from too many sources nor adapted with too much solicitude to the different characters and capacities impressed with it."

-- James Madison (letter to Frederick Beasley, 20 November 1825)

Friday, September 19, 2008

How Many Ways Does Our Government Violate This Principle?

"The ordaining of laws in favor of one part of the nation, to the prejudice and oppression of another, is certainly the most erroneous and mistaken policy. An equal dispensation of protection, rights, privileges, and advantages, is what every part is entitled to, and ought to enjoy."

-- Benjamin Franklin (Emblematical Representations, Circa 1774)

Reference: The Works of Benjamin Franklin, Sparks, ed. (457)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Lessons from A Fairy Tale

This was recently published in the Circe Institute's e-newsletter, which can be subscribed to at http://www.circeinstitute.org/. See also http://triviumacademy.blogspot.com/2008/09/lessons-from-fairy-tales.html.

by Erin Linton (Guest Writer)

Fairy tales are an invaluable resource for our children - even beyond the enjoyment, heritage, cultural literacy and examples of superb writing and story telling they provide. Without posing the difficulties of analyzing Tolstoy or Augustine, fairy tales like those written by the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson and Margery Williams deal with literary technique and questions of life in a simple and instructive way. Margery Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit is such a fairy tale.

Fairy tales are able to create categories that enable children to make moral judgments about people and situations, and then to assess where they themselves fit into the story. Margery Williams divides those who can become real and those who cannot. The arrogant, modern, plastic toys in The Velveteen Rabbit cannot become real even though they try their hardest to imitate reality with their gears, cranks, and beeps. The soft, forgiving toys, however, such as the rabbit and the Skin horse, can become real. The child is presented with the question, “Who are you more like?”

These fairy stories also raise and answer some of our deepest existential and theological questions. What does it mean to be real? The velveteen rabbit desperately wants to be real, but he does not know exactly what "real" is or how to “become real.” Williams resolves this by saying that it is a long and physically wearing process through the continuing love of and service to the master. The rabbit is loved by the little boy and is eventually called “real” after playing in the garden. He then later serves the boy amidst scarlet fever, bringing about a second “reality.” All of a sudden, the doctrines of justification and sanctification are not so difficult for a ten year old to understand.

While learning to judge the world around them, children also learn how to correctly judge and understand good literature by reading fairy tales. Literary techniques like symbolism, metaphor, allusion, the pathetic fallacy, etc., are vital to fairy tales. A reader of fairy tales must broaden his mind beyond the merely literal to grasp the depths of these stories, which prepares him to read every type of literature. The symbolism of names, for example, is evident in The Velveteen Rabbit; the only two creatures who understand reality are the rabbit, filled with “dust,” and the “Skin” horse, symbolizing that it is mankind who is meant to be real. There is also important symbolism wrapped in times and seasons. In this story, new life comes at Christmas, in the Spring, or in the morning; sickness and death come in autumn or at night.

Even more striking are the literary symbols of water, garden, and darkness. Water is almost always a literary metaphor for cleansing or baptism. It is no surprise then that the velveteen rabbit is left outside to be drenched with dew right before he is “christened” by the boy with the name “real.” It is also fitting that this baptism scene takes place in the garden, a common picture of the church, the new Eden. After the rabbit has received this first reality in his baptism, he lives by faith that he is real, but knows that he is not complete. There are bunnies still more real than he is. After faithfully serving his master, the rabbit symbolically dies. On an autumn night, the unclean rabbit is placed outside the camp/house among the rubbish. There the rabbit dies and is eventually raised and given his second reality by the magic of the nursery fairy. An understanding of these symbols is vital to the understanding of the deeper meaning in Margery Williams’ story, just as it is in all literature.

A last noted benefit of fairy tales is that, unlike “realistic” stories that strip all unnecessary fantasy from the mundane aspects of life, fairy tales strip away the mundane to show us the fantastical, which is usually the most simple and realistic view of the world. From man’s perspective, what else is history but the fantastical transformation of the harlot of Israel into a virgin church bride? What, other than magic, could raise the dead? It’s the same sort of magic that turns a puppet into a real boy, and turns a stuffed bunny with no hind legs into a real bunny that can jump with joy. Our children need to know this magic, need to look for it and realize that this life is not as mundane as the culture would have them believe. This world was created gloriously by the Master and it makes a good deal more sense when viewed through the lenses of fairy tales.

Erin Linton is a graduate of New St. Andrews College and teaches at New Covenant Schools in Lynchburg, VA.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Hosea - A Covenantal Lawsuit

I recently had an opportunity to translate Hosea 4 from the Hebrew. I completely missed the “covenantal lawsuit” in the English translation, but it hit me like a ton of bricks in the Hebrew. Since this is a covenantal lawsuit, the primary focus of this passage and the entire book is how the Church, whether Old Testament or New, should live. It is not a message to the sinful unbeliever but to the unfaithful believer. It is not so much a message of sin as it is a message of commitment. Look, we all know that we are sinners. In the final analysis, that is not going to change until we leave this world and start our journey to the next. While we strive to put sin to death we will be sinners until death.

What is interesting about this passage is the interplay between the 2nd, 5th and 7th commandments and the 4th to some extent. The people are unfaithful to their covenant God. They commit idolatry. There is a concurrent spirit of adultery. Adultery, as a consequence and as a punishment, also follows. But it doesn’t stop there. The spirit is transferred from one generation to the next and from prophet and priest to the people. Judgment and punishment flow in the same direction until the land mourns. Is the flow of the sin an honoring of the father and the mother? Certainly, the fifth commandment was not being kept in the sense that it was meant to be by the covenant law, but the principle of the fifth commandment is fulfilled in that the younger generation follows after or “honors” the older generation in its faithfulness or unfaithfulness. The faithfulness of the prior generation in keeping the fourth commandment, the cult of the faith, was transmitted to the next generation one way or the other.In the rest of the book, Yahweh continues to pile up accusations and judgments on the people. But they refuse to turn. Yet there are repeated and beautiful expressions of the faithfulness of Yahweh that if they will but turn to Him, He will restore them.

We can learn from these precepts today. The Church is called to be covenantally faithful. We are called to remember the Sabbath, to remember Christ’s body and blood before our children. We are called to baptize our children into the name of Christ. We are called to be holy as He is holy. We are called to make disciples of all nations. And Yahweh, i.e. Jesus, is there expressing his faithfulness, if we will but turn to him, he will give us what we need.