The Datapoint of Faith

Science of Religion

“Liberal theologians typically give up the historical claims of Christianity for what they say is some deeper spiritual or ethical core.  But if you strip away the history, there is no core left.  If God has not acted in history to accomplish salvation, then there is no ‘good news’ to tell ( the literal meaning of the word gospel).  As Paul told first century audiences, if Jesus was not ressurrected from the dead, if the tomb was not empty, then the Christian faith is based on a lie and is worthless (I Corinthians 15:17).  He even urged his listeners to confirm the claim by seeking out the five hundred eyewitnesses who had seen the risen Christ.  Paul was using a legal term, which means he was treating the resurrection like any other event that could be tested for its veracity.  The central claim of Christianity is a stubborn historical fact, which was open to empirical investigation and knowable by ordinary means of historical verification.

The apostles were treating the ressurrection in a way akin to what scientists today call a crucial experiment – an event that confirms or disconfirms an entire theory (or an entire theology).  in their minds, historical facts and spiritual truths must cohere.  Facts and faith must agree.  Truth is a unity.”

Nancy Pearcey, “Saving Leonardo” p.35

“The Third Man” – Book and Movie

 

Although he insists that the book was mere scrap from which to build the movie, Grahme Green gave us a unique version of the story when he published The Third Man.  How can a reader help but compare, contrast and wonder what might have been?

 

For the most part the movie follows it’s predecessor but it varies in a couple striking ways the chief being the narrative style.  The book is in third person, a tale told and interpreted by the policeman.  Dexter, the protagonist, seems distant and a bit quirky under the steady eye of the officer.  In the movie we are given the separate characters of the policeman and Dexter, further separated by their distinct nationalities.

 

These change the mood of the very same story.  Less distance between the audience and the main character and more distance between the main character and the law in the movie results in a much more haunting tale.  Imagine the tale of Oedipus manipulated in this way.  What if, as in the book The Third Man, we had an aloof narrator?  What if Athena were telling us of the tragic tale of the semi-divine Oedipus?  Her warmth and wit may cause us to care a bit less about the fated man and more about her.  We may begin to trust that she truly understands him and for her part will be kind.

 

Such trust in our narrator sets us at ease and the evil loses some of its sting.  Consider also the friend who tells you about his camping misadventures.  You may laugh at the story about how he was trailed by a bear because he sits safely in front of you.  In order to be truly frightened you must be in absolute suspense, and your friend ironically proves the outcome.  If on the other hand your friend tells you about a man he met while camping and his adventure with a bear, you don’t know the outcome.  You will be gripped no doubt, but on the other hand you don’t necessarily have any emotional attachment to the character in his tale.  If then you seem to remove the narrator by watching the story as a movie all of your affections identify with the man of the story himself.  Your fear will increase because you have more fully entered the story.  This fear will increase in as much as you are able to identify with the man.

 

The movie The Third Man is gripping and dark, an unsettling tale about a normal man who finds himself sucked unwittingly into a heartless crew of criminals.  The book The Third Man is well written, and although gripping, is full of enough clever turns of phrase and events to keep you from feeling the noir quite so sharply.

“Keeping House” by Margaret Kim Peterson

Although a quick read, this insightful book will keep you thinking.  There are three concepts that especially stuck with me: first, the idea of sanctuary, second, the goodness of being finite, and finally the necessity of the normal.

The book is divided roughly into three sections after a helpful introduction to the subject of housework in general: the house, clothes and food.  Beginning each of these sections Peterson lays out a bit of a biblical and a historical context for her subject.  The biblical context was simple, nothing deep.  She is a theologian so I suspect that she could have delved deeper but chose not to.  The historical overviews were interesting and helpful in revealing that progress hasn’t always made our lives easier.

Each section seemed to hinge upon an idea Peterson introduces in her second chapter.  As she lists all the things that a house is she suggests, “a home is a sanctuary.  A sanctuary is a place set apart for encounter, whose separateness exists for the sake of relationship.”  That definition floored me.  I definitely could rattle off, thanks to Sunday school, that to be sanctified means to be “set apart,” but for whatever reason it hadn’t stuck that this separateness is for the very purpose of an encounter.  I have been imagining “sanctuary” as a bit of lonely untouched space, a fond image in the mind of a mother of small children.  No.  Susannah Wesley didn’t throw her apron over her head just to get some peace and quiet, she wanted to alert her children she was meeting with God.  Our homes aren’t just places to retreat into and find a comfy chair where we can watch t.v., they are purposeful settings to foster the growth of relationships.

Peterson seems to hit upon this idea again although she never refers to it as sanctuary.  In a chapter on clothing she mentions that the lost arts of handwork, no longer necessary or frugal, “can actually open up time, creating space for thoughts and words and relationships that might not otherwise find room to blossom.”

Later Peterson suggests that setting a table, “can serve to set the meal itself apart from the other activities that fill the day and to create space in which time and attention can be devoted to receiving together the gifts of food and of fellowship.”  The knives, forks and spoons all in their proper places are the cue that this is a time and a place we all submit to in order to meet with and enjoy each other.

The second idea that has stuck is the goodness of being finite.  As Peterson offers some suggestions on keeping an orderly home her biggest bit of advice is to get rid of stuff and simply to not buy it in the first place.  She reminds us that even those who have larger homes than ours aren’t satisfied and knock out their back walls for additions.  I often have caught myself daydreaming about adding on an office or an extra bedroom, but her reminder hit me as a challenge.  Sure, there is nothing wrong with free verse, but there is a delicious artistry to bending and dancing within the confines of a sonnet or a haiku.  To think of the finite poetic structure of housekeeping as a creative challenge is much more inspiring than my unquenchable longing for the infinity of space, time and money.

Lastly, in the section on food she refers to The Supper of the Lamb, which everyone says is marvelous and I haven’t yet read.  Apparently Robert Farrar Capon lays out the idea of “ferial cuisine,” as opposed to holiday or celebratory cooking.  Peterson suggests that in order to make our feasts true feasts and our fasts true fasts our everyday cooking should be about moderation of materials and effort.

This idea of the necessity of normal life is an extension I suppose of the idea of delighting in finitude.   Take for example being “in shape” physically.  When you know your own body and are taking care of it you are then able to both rest well and to exert yourself well.  It does take work to be in shape, but that work can become pleasurable when expected and not demanded.

What does it look like for a house to be in daily shape?  Nothing extravagant, daily needs planned for and met.  Not every day is a holiday, not every day deserves dessert and a movie.  Laundry and sweeping are part of the “normal” bits of life to be incorporated into the pattern of everyday life rather than held of until an emergency state when they are resented.

The goal of housework then is to create an intentional space bound by certain rules to facilitate (and delight in) everyday life.  Put that way it sounds to me like the rules of an art contest, a new board game or the submission guidelines of an article.  It is a challenge and a joy when met.  I therefore also appreciate Peterson’s several references to the fact that living with small children is a constant state of household emergency in the same way as a severe illness or caring for someone in their old age.  Some of the rules may have to slide just to get by.  She says this can be especially true if you didn’t practice the art of housekeeping before you had kids.  If you didn’t get normal down and now you’re in a state of emergency you may just need to do your best and accept the situation.  With a host of supermoms out there giving the illusion of infinite time and energy this was one message I most needed to hear.  I am not a super mom.  Many things don’t get done around here and although that’s not great, well, it’s realistic for now.

Books: To Change the World

 

This is a re-post from my former blog:

The continual theme of this blog is that there is and can be a purpose to life – not a “meaning” per se all neat and tidy, but a direction of hope that begins here and now.  In every season of life there is a longing for the next, a faith that somewhere else something else will be better.  This could be true of course, but unless we are faithful in the littleness of now it is unlikely that we will see the greatness of tomorrow.  Perhaps even if we are faithful we will miss out on greatness, but we will not have missed out on faithfulness.

I just finished James Davison Hunter’s “To Change the World,” in which he argues that we really can’t change the world but that we ought to be faithfully present in our particular time and space.  “Faithful presence commits us to do what we can to create conditions in the structures of social life we inhabit that are conducive to the flourishing of all.”

In the end of the book he lays out what Christians involved in the arts ought to be doing to foster “shalom” – that is peace.

“To demonstrate in ways that are imaginative and compelling that materiality is not enough for a proper understanding of human experience; that there is durability and permanence as well as eternal qualities that exist beyond what we see on the surface of life.  In this, they must show a depth and complexity to people and the world that defy the one- or two-dimensional existence of modern life.  In the process, it is possible to symbolically portray possibilities of beauty and fulness we have not yet imagined.  In architecture and urban planning, the challenge is to create spaces that go beyond mere efficient functioning to places that respond to our deepest needs for safety, sociality, and human scale-living; places that retain or encourage the development of the distinctive imprint of individual design and craft.” p.265

This made my heart sing!  This inspired me to see myself, as a mother, as artist and architect of my home.  In the movie “Inception” Ariadne wants to be the architect of dreams because she sees how limitless – how all encompassing the medium is.  How much more for an at-home-mom!  First to hold them within my womb and then to see them first thing every morning and tuck them in at night.  To either care for myself or delegate each aspect of clothing, food -excrement even.  No wonder I feel drained and exhausted -each day I am crafting a world.  No wonder I feel guilty – I could never craft a good enough one that would sufficiently equip and free my children to establish their own worlds.  That insufficiency is why I must cling to the grace of God that I am forgiven for my insufficiency in Christ.  I must cling to the sovereignty of God and trust that outside of my world-crafting and my next door neighbor’s and the president’s that beyond it all and through it all the Artist’s hand is ultimately at work to bring good out of evil.