After 12/7/2011, this blog will no longer be updated, although content will remain. Please visit my new blog at Hidden Latitudes.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Language as music

"In his entirely personal experience of them, English was jazz music, German was classical music, French was ecclesiastical music, and Spanish was the music of the streets. Which is to say, stab his heart and it would bleed French, slice his brain open and its convolutions would be lined with English and German, and touch his hands and they would feel Spanish."
—Yann Martel in Beatrice and Virgil

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Google Sky Map, Copernicus, Galileo and Grace

   While recently foraging about for apps for my new Android phone, I came across Google's Sky Map. This fascinating application allows you to point your phone at a star in the sky and, using GPS data and an internal compass, it will label the star or constellation. Fascinating.
   But it got me thinking. What Sky Map does is create a virtual "dome" above you, and like a planetarium projector, it will produce a representation of the sky on that "dome." This is a very pre-Copernican way of looking at the sky.
   Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), as many of us know, was the Renaissance astronomer who first posited that the earth was not the center of the cosmos. He held off publishing this finding until months before his death, fearing both scientific and religious criticism. But the religious criticism was six decades in coming (reason: no Kindle), and it arrived with a vengeance due to the efforts of another smart fellow, Galileo Galilei, and his new and improved telescope, which allowed him to verify many of Copernicus's findings. It was Galileo who suffered for his integrity, found a heretic and confined to house arrest from 1634 until 1642, when he died at age 77.
   What does all of this interesting history have to do with grace? Perhaps this: it is very, very difficult for non-believers (and more than a few believers) to understand grace. And much of it has to do with pre-Copernican thinking. It seems more logical, more personal, and more comforting to understand our relationship with God as revolving around us. The main reason this is so is this is where we are. We see the world from our perspective, not any other. The night sky will look different when viewed from Jupiter, but we will never see it.
   Many people (maybe most) believe that what you do and what you are will make all the difference in how God accepts you. Blessings, heaven, health, all the good things, are the result of a zero-sum game: if you are more good than bad, you will get more good things than bad things. This is the spiritual equivalent of thinking the heavens revolve around the earth. It is old thinking. But again, it is easy to think this way, because this is our default viewpoint, and we are often too lazy or thoughtless to consider another.
   Grace teaches us that the spiritual universe revolves around God, that it is His pleasure and plan to allow us to play, plan and work (and even mess up) in his infinite creation. He has chosen us to be a part of it all. And it has nothing to do with our worthiness or goodness. It has everything to do with His goodness.
   Really, which would you rather have? A static spiritual world where everything revolves around you, yet is always tantalizingly just out of reach, and where your ability to move is severely limited? Or a dynamic world that is spinning at 1040 miles an hour on its own axis, while spinning around the sun at 18.5 miles a second, in a solar system whirling through space at 185 miles a second? A world where you're a valued, loved and needed part of it all. It's enough to make you dizzy.
   That's what grace is like.
   And those of us who have made this discovery should tell about it. We may be skittish, like Copernicus. We may be roughed up a bit (even by the church!), like Galileo.
   But we will be right, like them both.
Wayne S.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Bonhoeffer on a true leader

The following is an excerpt from twenty-six year old theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer's radio address, delivered on February 1, 1933, two days after Adolph Hitler had been elected Chancellor of Germany:
If he understands his function in any other way than as it is rooted in fact, if he does not continually tell his followers quite clearly of the nature of his task and of their own responsibility, if he allows himself to surrender to the wishes of his followers, who would always make him their idol--then the image of the Leader will pass over into the image of the mis-leader, and he will be acting in a criminal way not only towards those he leads, but also towards himself. The true Leader must always be able to disillusion. It is just this that is his responsibility and his real object. He must lead his following away from the authority of his person to the recognition of the real authority of orders and offices.... He must radically refuse to become the appeal, the idol, i.e. the ultimate authority of those whom he leads.... He serves the order of the state, of the community, and his service can be of incomparable value. But only so long as he keeps strictly in his place.... [H]e has to lead the individual into his own maturity.... Now a feature of man's maturity is responsibility towards other people, towards existing orders. He must let himself be controlled, ordered, restricted.
Of course, Adolph Hitler had no intention of allowing himself to be "controlled, ordered, restricted." Yet in reading this, I am reminded of a current leader, one who had allowed himself to become "the idol," and who seems to have little fascination with leading people away from his authority back to the authority of the Constitution [Bonhoeffer's orders] and the people. Thankfully, I do not fear for one second this current leader will kill millions. But his bald attempts to build a "thousand year reign" of entitlements and debt may end up with the nation impoverished and defeated. Again, from the same address:
Only when a man sees that office is a penultimate authority in the face of an ultimate, indescribable authority, in the face of the authority of God, has the real situation been reached.... And this solitude of man's position before God, this subjection to an ultimate authority, is destroyed when the the authority of the Leader or of the office is seen as ultimate authority.... Alone before God, man becomes what he is, free and committed to responsibility at the same time.
The current leader professes to be a follower of Christ, yet not in an orthodox, Biblical way. It is interesting that, the same day as Bonhoeffer's address, Chancellor Hitler also took to the airwaves, offering this appeal "to the God he did not believe in":
May God Almighty take our work into his grace, give true form to our will, bless our insight, and endow us with the trust of our Volk!
--Wayne S.
(All quotations are from the book Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas.)

Friday, July 02, 2010

Fiction, Nonfiction and Truth

Fiction and nonfiction are not so easily divided, Fiction may not be real, but it's true; it goes beyond the garland of facts to get to emotional and psychological truths. As for nonfiction, for history, it may be real, but its truth is slippery, hard to access, with no fixed meaning bolted to it. If history doesn't become story, it dies to everyone except the historian. Art is the suitcase of history, carrying the essentials. Art is the life buoy of history. Art is seed, art is memory, art is vaccine.
Yann Martel, in Beatrice and Virgil