Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Freedoms of Orthodoxy

G. K. Chesterton claims liberalizers of theology reduce liberties that orthodoxy promotes.

Are any of the following five theological arguments familiar to you? Do you believe they are liberating or constricting?

If you are interested in seeing how Chesterton responds to each these claims, read Chapter 8 of his book, Orthodoxy. A link to this chapter can be found below.


1. Those who are enlightened should interpret the miraculous stories of the Bible symbolically. To believe that they truly happened is primitive.

2. There are sociological benefits to the liberalizing of religion. To soften orthodoxy will somehow assist in liberating the world, for all religions are essentially one.

3. The matter of the Trinity. What difference does it make if three are one?

4. It is ignorant, cruel, and harsh to believe in an eternal damnation.

5. “Christ” might have been a good man, or a mythical figure, or perhaps a projection of the subconscious. Any of these is enough to believe, for there is good to be had in treating Christ as a literary figure.



Western Kentucky is riddled with underground coal mines. When I was five or six, somebody told me there was a big one dug right under the Dorris’s farm place, and I never could  let that go. When I was sprawled out on the rug of the main room, I thought I probably shouldn’t move around too hard, or I might shake us all loose into the underworld where men like my grandfather would ride by iron gear into tunnels that made their lungs and fingernails black.

It took us eight hours to drive from Ohio. This was 1978, back when you could throw a foam mattress in the bed of a Ford pickup and let your kids bang around with boxes of puzzles and a stack of books. After the sun would go down, I’d lean my head up against the the back of the cab and let the road vibrations jiggle my brain, staring out the green, concave windows of the LEER topper, watching the earth come wild.

The yellow fields turned silver at night, and the natural gas pumps cranked like old men digging holes. Those pumps smelled sour from the interstate, and if I fell asleep somewhere along the way, I knew I was close because of them, even before I opened my eyes.

The old people in Western Kentucky kept coal buckets on their front porches. Coal buckets were shaped like a lady pulling out one side of her skirt to curtsey. They had a thin wire handle that folded down when it wasn’t being used.

Coal is blacker than black and oily. If you touch it, it will get dust all over your fingers. My great grandmother on my mother’s side kept her long fingernails painted slick orange, so she kept a pair of white, cotton work gloves thrown over the bucket so she could grab a couple of pieces out to throw on the fire.

A coal fire smells thicker than wood smoke, and I always thought it burned hotter. But it feels wet burning instead of dry, so you find yourself wanting to get close to it.

If you'll sit there and watch, it will fold down into red and blue villages that hiss and whine. And you will see a hundred little yellow windows and the orange streets sighing between them. A coal town is a living thing.

I never couldn’t resist those fires. I’d inch nearer and nearer and end up burning my pants from the heat. I knew that coal had come from living material, some spiny prehistoric beast perhaps, and somehow that made the burning sacred. I felt like if I could get close enough to those dinosaur eyes compressed into rock, I could see through them into a lost world of four-foot dragonflies, and giant ferns, and mammoths.

My great grandparents on the other side were the Dorrises. They were quiet, clean people who lived a little way out in the country. My great grandfather kept a detailed journal of the seasons, penciling in when the birds and the wildflowers would arrive and how the moon affected the garden. He knew the world around him by proper names, the hickory nut tree, the titmouse, the tiger melon. He kept his long sleeved shirts tucked in, and he wore a belt, because belts were neat and he was thin.

Mammaw did the crossword every day to keep her mind sharp. She wore shirtwaist dresses, and she kept her white hair modest. Her food was always perfect, cooked with patience and precision, set in pretty glass bowls on a lace tablecloth. It wasn’t fancy lace, just regular, but she used it to make sure her company knew that they were important to her. You always felt safe sitting there eating, like a bite wasn’t going to go wrong as it does at some old people’s houses.

She embroidered, and she made tiny, even stitches on her quilts. All the great grandkids wanted something she’d made after she died. I wanted the crocheted Lord’s Prayer, and Mom has it now. She hung it in the upstairs hallway.

During the Great Depression, Mammaw Dorris went out into the woods to gather edible wild greens in a basket. She took them to the families with poor children. She felt like there were nutrients in those leaves people needed. She found ways be generous from the earth she was given.

She raised Buff Orpingtons, and lived quietly and faithfully all her days.

Her daughter, my father’s mother, told me that the biggest thing her mother had given her was permission to be curious. If you asked my great grandmother how something worked, even something like your body or somebody else’s, she would tell you. She didn't make a joke of it or tell anybody you'd asked. She didn't make it dirty that you wanted to know. She respected you and told you the answer humble and straight.

She thought it wasn’t a shameful thing for a child to be curious, and that saved a lot of grief, because having questions is natural for children. When my grandmother told me this, I got the feeling that being raised without shame back in those days was something to have. And I knew she was telling me that my questions weren't dirty, either.

The Dorrises had a television, but they kept it off so people could talk. Instead we played with wooden blocks and crayons. I’d get sleepy listening to the grownups switching stories about people I didn’t know, and I'd crawl up near the window to watch the big tree outside, the one with the glimmery leaves, catch the gold evening light.

Then we’d hug everybody, and kiss them, and pile up in the car. Before we would drive away, Pappaw would cut me the prettiest Abraham Lincoln rose out of his garden and let me pull a stick of Wrigley’s gum out of his pack to chew on the ride home.

Little girls know what it means to be given a flower as much as anybody does, and so I would sit in the back of the pickup, thinking about how good it was to be royalty, somebody worth falling in love with. I'd smell of the gum wrapper, then of the rose, back and forth for an hour, grateful to have so much in the world as a legacy.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Orthodoxy - Chapter 3 (Study Questions)

Questions Chapter 3 -Orthodoxy

1. Explain Chesterton's imagery about the vices and virtues of an idea let loose. Which does he believe is more dangerous? Why? (2)

2. How does Chesterton suggest that the grand creations of humanity fit into humility? (3)

3. Does Chesterton suggest that it is better to be doubtful about yourself or the truth?

4. Explain this statement: "Of course his view must be the right one, or it is not his view." What does Chesterton mean by this? (5)

5. According to Chesterton, what war is currently being fought in the modern world? (6)

6. Chesterton states that "the modern critics of religious authority are like men who should attack the police without ever having heard of burglars." In light of what he has already argued in this chapter (see paragraph 2) what does he mean? (7)

7. Explore paragraph 8. Explain Chesterton's connection between reason and faith. Do you agree that reason requires faith?

8. What is the thought that stops thought? Explain. (9)

9. What does GKC state that he is going to do next in paragraph 10?

10. Argument 1: What is GKC's primary argument against evolution? (11)

11. Argument 2: How does the argument presented in paragraph 12 differ from paragraph 11?

12. Explain the "false theory of progress." Explain the error Chesterton finds in it.

13. What if change is ideal? What would that mean? (14)

14. What are the weaknesses in a theory of change?

15. What problems does Chesterton find with the pragmatic worldview? (16)

16. How does Chesterton argue that many current philosophies are suicidal? (17)

17. What imagery does GKC use in paragraph 17 to describe the state of free thought? What does that imagery mean?

18. What is all the excitement about in paragraph 18? Explain the flurry.

19. What is Chesterton's argument against the worship of the will? How is the will limited? (20-22)

20. What must satire have to function properly? How has that need affected the satire of Chesterton's time? (23)

21. Explain the meat of Chesterton's final argument. Why is it significant that Joan of Arc "did not praise fighting, but fought"?

Sunday, March 2, 2014


Synchronicity seems to be my hymnal of late.
If you are dead set on finding a cause for that
blame going against these times of angry flurry 
where men determine God and not-god by proofs 
that blow to dust like paper burned in a fire.

I have come to ashes myself,
grown fragile in coals grown cold,
folded over the bones of a log that grew 
in a distracted wood 
beside a road running with diesel engines.

I am not inclined to commerce, 
to economics based upon the principles of supply
and demand, on the cutting of losses,
or collateral damage that would name boy-faced soldiers,
“heroes,” when I would tuck them in their beds 
and not join them. 

There is a way to make that all make sense,
but I will not accept it.

Instead, let me walk in the lesser graces of causality,
where men are still small and curious,
knowing only three things or four,
waiting in their rolled up shirtsleeves
for sacred, hushed intersections 
of divinity and flesh knocking at the window like a scarab beetle,
or virgin-born like the holy Jesus child.

For the voice of God is often
strange at first. 
Strange as a shrub afire,

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A beautiful post by David Bruno on The Rabbit Room.

A wise appeal for compassion:

"Those expositors of the Christian faith have been on my mind and heart recently. They are the Christians who get beat up by antagonists, and even by their own hearts and minds. Too often, they also get thrashed about by in-between Christians like me. They choose to wrestle with mysteries and doubts in an effort to give me comfort and assurance. I would not understand the smallest imprint of the depths they explore. And, if I followed them all the way down to those depths, my faith would be rattled to its core. Why am I so quick to accuse these expositors? They begin to dig in search of diamonds deep, but as soon as they hit clay, I chide, “Ah ha! I knew you were going to smear the faith.”

In reality, defending the faith requires getting messy. Often confidence comes only after washing off the caked-on grime accumulated from burrowing for jewels of truth. Are there ways, I wonder, for in-between Christians like me to help expositors clean up after a particularly hard dig? I cannot say I know the best way to help, though I suspect it might involve getting a little dirty, too."

Click HERE to read the rest of the post on The Rabbit Room.

This is incredible. One of my favorite RR pieces ever.

Monday, February 24, 2014

On Psalm 88

I will call you by a name that I remember,
O Lord, God of my salvation.

You taught me that name in happier times,
when I ran to you like a daughter leaping off a wall, laughing.
"Papa! Catch me!"
Now it comes to my lips like a gasp.

Still, I remember you.
I form the shape of your name with my mouth,
like a child reciting a prayer in the dark,
"You save, you save,"
"You save, you save,"
this I breathe by short, shallow breaths.

Come morning and come night,
I use your name like a bellows
pulling new air into these sore lungs,
"You save, you save,"
"You save, you save,"
I knock like a beggar kneeling at a door
knees in the mud,
rain on my back.

For my soul is heavy with sorrow,
and despair paces round about me
yellow-eyed like a grey wolf.

I have seen the films of war,
I have seen how come times of hate
the frail bodies of men are used up, starved, slain,
tossed bone-by-bone into pits dug by iron machine,
and I have seen how flesh-weight at last releases the soul,
falls down, down in the end.
The disposed are planted en masse.

Still, I remember your name,
do you remember mine?
Have I been forgotten by the all-knowing?
Am I unseen by the all-seeing?

What have I done that you would cast me off
into this choking darkness?
I am paralyzed by fears that you are angry.
Your waves, your waves, your waves,
they drown me.

There were faces I trusted, and now they flutter before me
stained by rejection. They have shunned me.
You have made me a horror to them.

I am shut in,
I am trapped so that I cannot escape;
my eyes grow dull from sorrow overmuch.

What is your name? What is your name?
O Lord, God of my salvation.
"You save, you save,"
"You save, you save."

Every day I call upon you, O Lord;
I spread out my hands to you.
See how small my fingers reach!
See how small they are?

I resign. I resign.
I resign to loss that will shut my mouth,
I relinquish, I relinquish.

Though if you would leave me to the darkness,
in that groggy land where all is forgotten,
as this one lost heart gives way,
how will two cold, grey lips declare,
"You save, you save."
"You save, you save?"

The morning is still.
Cars drone on, drone on in distant waves,
the heater shudders, exhales,
and my heart pounds out your name like iron crashing on iron
"You save, you save!"
"You save, you save!"

O Lord, why do you cast my soul away?
Why do you hide your face from me?
Too long! Too long!
Hour after hour,
year after year.

It is good, it is good,
It is not good
for man to be alone.

- - - -

NOTE: This morning I was reading through the Psalms and was struck by the raw fervor of #88. What a strange and beautiful thing that God would invite an unresolved struggle so full of doubt, fear, appeal into His word.

In particular, the ending moves me. No attempt is made to force resolution. It ends like a cry stretching across a canyon. It is so much more powerful than religious artificiality that I have seen.

Perhaps this means that an essential element of salvation is God's invitation to be completely, deeply honest with him. Perhaps a first step of faith is refusing to hold up faith with our own two arms.

Perhaps it is not only permissible, but also essential to come to God with the truth of our devastation, and then simply wait for a response.

What I have written above is not what the text says, it is what the text does in my heart as I let Psalm 88 run through. If you want to do the same, the text can be found here:


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Nude Descending the Staircase

It doesn’t seem to me that the Bible can be smoothed out fully like a sheet on a bed. It is riddled with paradox, run through with mystery:
Do not murder. Kill them all.
Treat your slaves well. All are free.
Show no mercy. Blessed are the merciful.
Do not let your left hand know what your right is giving. Let your good works shine before men.

It doesn’t seem to me that a woman can be smoothed out fully like a sheet on a bed. She is riddled with paradox, run through with mystery.
I need to be alone. I need to hear your voice.
Do not touch me. Come close.
To engage with a living thing is to engage with moving waters. 

Although the essential nature of water remains constant, as it moves it bends, wraps around, reacts with different surfaces differently. There are times when the force of water tears down walls, there are times when it kills, there are times when it washes a wound, there are times when it quenches and restores. There are times when it falls softly like the kisses of a mother, times when it rages like a war.

As a student, I was trained as a Christian and as a humanist, and so when I come to the Bible, my first inclination is to stand over it. I am comfortable applying techniques that will allow me to master what exists. In places I can do this. I can divide the skin of the Bible like the belly of a frog, pin the sides back, dig around for the heart and liver, and make diagrams of functionality. 

I can understand how it works like I understand you. 

But in coming to know a person, and in coming to know the Bible, there are times when I open a door to a room and stand perplexed. A living thing is, by definition autonomous.

Those who stand before Duchamp's "Nude Descending a Staircase" often scoff because they do not understand how it works. “Fool. He could not draw a simple thing. This is not art.”

They do not see that he was drawing the motion of three dimensions in two. He was admitting what lesser artists have not.

Lesser artists have cheated somewhat, they have simply flattened the three dimensions of motion into a single snapshot. A flash. An illusion that suffices. They have made complexity over-simple, as have certain theologians, as have certain atheists.

Duchamp was honest. He was humble enough to show the limits of the two-dimensional surface. Three cannot contain two fully. Though what emerges is sincere, though it is truthful, it will seem primitive. It will seem a lesser thing, though it is greater in the end.

Education did not prepare me well for mystery. I was thought to think very small, for society will be contained most easily if students are taught to think in reductions, believing that two-dimensionality is wisdom. 

I look into a painting by Picasso and see a nose turned to the side while both eyes stare forward. The discord angers me as most puzzles do. 

"You fool! Paint her frozen, not turning. You have shown me too much all at once. I demand the illusion, for it comforts me."

Yet I come to the Bible, and I open a certain door, I find a nude descending the stairs.