Click to enlarge. This painting is by the early Renaissance painter, Fra Giovanni da Fiesole, or Fra Angelico. The traditional date for the feast of Epiphany, celebrating the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child is January 6th.
The late Paul Harvey had a feature on the radio called “The Rest of the Story” in which he would tell familiar stories of well-known people and events or commonplace tales of ordinary people–and then tell “the rest of the story”, the part that not many people know or the part that gives the true story an ironic twist. I’ve been reading a lot of unusual stories myself lately, and I decided to share a few of them with you here at Semicolon.
Olympic gold medalist Eric Liddell is featured in the movie Chariots of Fire. If you’ve never seen the movie, I highly recommend it. In this video of his medal-winning race, Eric Liddell is in the outside lane:
In the movie and real life, Eric Liddell refused to run in a qualifying heat scheduled on Sunday because he believed in keeping the Sabbath holy. He had to withdraw from the 100 meter race, his best event. Liddell began to train for the 400 meter race instead, and he ran the race in the Olympics and won. Eric Liddell broke the existing Olympic and world records in the 400 meter race with a time of 47.6 seconds. After the Olympics and his graduation from Edinburgh University, Liddell continued to run in track and field events, but he always refused to compete on Sunday, citing his desire to please God above all else.
In 1925, Eric Liddell returned to China where he had been born and where his parents were missionaries. He served as a missionary there until 1941 when he was captured and interned by the Japanese who were invading China during World War II. It was there in the internment camp that “the rest of the story” of Eric Liddell’s allegiance to God’s principles above all else took place.
It’s National Poetry Month, and I haven’t done much poetry. It’s been one of those months so far, fast and furious and full of sounds, signifying I’m-not-sure-what-yet.
At any rate, here’s a poem by one of my favorite people, G.K. Chesterton. Does anybody know of a good, well written, popular biography of Chesterton? I’ve read his autobiographical Orthodoxy and others of his writings, but a really cracking good bio would be of interest.
by G. K. Chesterton
After one moment when I bowed my head
And the whole world turned over and came upright,
And I came out where the old road shone white.
I walked the ways and heard what all men said,
Forests of tongues, like autumn leaves unshed,
Being not unlovable but strange and light;
Old riddles and new creeds, not in despite
But softly, as men smile about the dead
The sages have a hundred maps to give
That trace their crawling cosmos like a tree,
They rattle reason out through many a sieve
That stores the sand and lets the gold go free:
And all these things are less than dust to me
Because my name is Lazarus and I live.
I was thinking about the resurrection of Jesus on the way home from church this morning, this being Easter Sunday and all. I’m going to try to reconstruct my thoughts here in this post, but we’ll see how successful I am.
You know when you’re reading a story, especially a thriller or a mystery and there’s a lovely little (or big) twist at the end that is completely unexpected? It’s not where you thought the story was headed, not how you thought it would end, but it works. The ending or surprising climactic scene is something you never would have predicted, and at the same time it’s just what the story needed to tie or untie all the plot knots and make everything feel right. The story, factually and in mood and quality, succeeds.
Well, Jesus’s resurrection is sort of like that unforeseen but perfect ending. If I were the Author (thank God I’m not) of the story of creation, sin and redemption, I wouldn’t have been able to dream up the resurrection, not in a million years. My story, if I had been creative enough to write one at all, would have ended with the crucifixion. Jesus, a good man, lived and taught and died—an innocent sacrifice to the cruelty and blindness of both the Romans and the Jews. It’s a sad story, a tragedy, but perhaps one with a moral to it: we humans are hopelessly lost, and we have a tendency to kill those who tell the truth and demonstrate radical love and self-sacrifice.
Jesus is dead at the end of my story. He’s really, truly dead, by the way; this isn’t the sort of story where the hero was only mostly dead but turns out to be revivable. A Roman spear was thrust into his side. His body is sealed in a tomb with a big rock across the entrance, a seal of some kind over the rock, and Roman guards posted outside so that no one can steal the body and pretend to resuscitate it. Jesus’s followers are scattered, demoralized, and discouraged.
And then—the surprise hits me in the face, if I haven’t become inured to the shock from having heard the story so many times. On Sunday some women go to visit Jesus’s tomb, and they meet an angel who tells them that Jesus is not dead. He’s alive!
Whoa, whoa, whoa—wait! You mean the story is that he didn’t really die; he just got badly injured, but he was able to recover and make his way out of the tomb. Or he was a magician with a magic protection coat that made spears and nails seem to pierce him but not really hurt him at all. You mean he became a ghost and appeared to people in a spirit form. Or he was just asleep and looked dead.
Nope, Jesus was dead, and now he’s alive again. Resurrected, as Christians term it.
Could you have predicted that the Author of the human story would have inserted himself into history, allowed himself to suffer and to be killed at the hands of his own creatures, and then . . . come alive again? JRR Tolkien invented the term “eucastrophe”, meaning “a dire situation which is nevertheless salvaged through some unforeseeable turn of events.” (Wikipedia, Eucatastrophe) A resurrection is a really unforeseeable turn of events.
But, and here’s the kicker, the resurrection makes the story work. Without the resurrection, we have a weak, powerless, probably dead god who maybe had good intentions? Without the resurrection of Jesus there is no resurrection, no life after death, for any of us either. Paul said in I Corinthians 5:17, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” If Jesus is not alive, we have no hope of knowing God or having friendship with Him or making any kind of connection. He’s either dead or so distant that we can never get there from here. Without the resurrection, the whole story of human history, including the story of that “good man” Jesus, is essentially meaningless.
When I say story, I mean a True Story. If we are real, actual entities living in a real, fallen world full of real evil, we need a Real, Resurrected Savior who physically not only died but rose from the dead to reign over all things eternally.
And lo and behold, eucatastrophe!(I like that word), in a three-day turn of events I could never have scripted or invented or predicted, Jesus not only died and was buried, but he also rose from the dead and lives eternally. “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” (Hebrews 7:25)
We serve a living, creative God of eucatastrophic artistry and imagination. And we have a Risen Savior because of the story-making ability and sacrifice of that same God.
Hallelujah! Eucatastrophe! (Thanks, Tolkien, and with some intellectual indebtedness to my pastor’s sermon this morning.)
Edith Schaeffer, wife of theologian and Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer, and an author and teacher in her own right, died today and went to be with the Lord.
I knew her through her books, some of which were and are my favorites. I’ve read and enjoyed the ones in boldface.
1971. The Hidden Art of Homemaking: Creative Ideas for Enriching Everyday Life.
1973. Everybody Can Know.
1975. Christianity is Jewish.
1975. What is a Family?
1977. A Way of Seeing.
1981. The Tapestry: the life and times of Francis and Edith Schaeffer.
1983. Common Sense Christian Living.
1983. Lifelines: God’s Framework for Christian Living.
1986. Forever Music.
1988. With Love, Edith: the L’Abri family letters 1948-1960.
1989. Dear Family: the L’Abri family letters 1961-1986.
1992. The Life of Prayer.
1994. A Celebration of Marriage: Hopes and Realities.
1994. 10 Things Parents Must Teach Their Children (And Learn for Themselves)
1998. Mei Fuh: Memories from China.
2000. A Celebration of Children.
I need to look for the rest of these books.
“God does not promise to treat each of his children the same in this life. God does not say that each one of his children will have the same pattern of living or follow the same plan. God is a God of diversity. God can make trees—but among the trees are hundreds of kinds of trees. God can make apples trees, but among the apples on that tree no two look identically alike. God is able to make snowflakes, and make each snowflake differently. God has a different plan for each of his children—but it all fits together.” Everybody Can Know: Family Devotions from the Gospel of Luke by Francis and Edith Schaeffer
“Don’t be fearful about the journey ahead; don’t worry where you are going or how you are going to get there. If you believe in the first person of the Trinity, God the Father, also believe in the Second Person of the Trinity, the One who came as the Light of the World, not only to die for people, but to light the way… This one, Jesus Christ, is Himself the Light and will guide your footsteps along the way.” ~Edith Schaeffer
I thought I’d post a few times today and tomorrow about the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ and what it means to me and to some of the authors and fictional and actual characters that I have on my bookshelves. I’m going to take turns blogging and house-cleaning and see how that goes.
Don Richardson and his wife Carol were missionaries to the Sawi people of Irian Jaya. In 1962 they went to live among the Sawi, a cannabalistic and pagan people, and to translate the Bible into the Sawi language.
However, there was a big problem. The Sawi idealized violence so much that when they heard the story of Jesus’ betrayal by Judas and subsequent death, they admired Judas as the hero of the story, the man who was so clever that he could befriend Jesus and gain his trust and then betray him to his death.
Mr. Richardson was at a loss as to how to communicate to the Sawi people their need for a Savior and reshaping of their violent culture. Then, as Don and Carol were about to leave the Sawi in despair over their inability to communicate the truth of Christ’s sacrifice,something happened. The Sawi decided to make peace:
“Among the Sawi,every demonstration of friendship was suspect except one. If a man would actually give his own son to his enemies, that man could be trusted! That, and that alone, was a proof of goodwill no shadow of cynicism could discredit!
And everyone who laid his hand on the given son was bound not to work violence against those who gave him, nor to employ the waness bind for their destruction.”
After witnessing for himself the peace child ceremony in which the Sawi gave their own sons to each other as a peace bond, Mr. Richardson was able to give the Sawi good news:
“Because Myao Kodon (God) wants men to find peace with Him and with each other, He decided to choose a once-for-all tarop child good enough, and strong enough to establish peace, not just for a while, but forever! The problem was, whom should he choose? For among all human children, there was no son good enough or strong enough to be an eternal tarop.”
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16
God made peace, eternal peace, between us and Him, between human beings, between the Sawi and the other tribes that they viewed as strangers and prey. And in our so sophisticated culture in which we view each other as rivals and strangers and either victors or victims, we need the peace of Jesus Christ just as much as the Sawi need it.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility. Ephesians 2:13-14
Peace Child: An Unforgettable Story of Primitive Jungle Treachery in the 20th Century by Don Richardson is a wonderful demonstration of the efficacy of the gospel of Jesus Christ in all cultures and for all people.
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat has written a useful, compact history of the progression of Christian thought and heresy from the rise of modernism in the 1920’s (and again in the 1960’s)to the post-WW II revival of Christian neo-orthodoxy to the dissolution of church-going, especially in the mainline Protestant churches, in the 1960’s and 70’s, to the rise of evangelicalism to the present day lapse into mostly-heresy. Of course, these are trends not absolute descriptions of every Christian or every denomination.
I say it’s useful even though Douthat paints with a broad brush, and he admits that “a different set of emphases and shadings could yield a very different portrait of American Christianity at midcentury.” This caveat extends to the entire book. Douthat makes statements such as “the message of Christianity itself seemed to have suddenly lost its credibility” (in the 1970’s) or we are a nation “where gurus and therapists have filled the roles once occupied by spouses and friends.” I read these sorts of categorical statements, and at first I agree, but then I think of all sorts of exceptions and conditions and stipulations.
Maybe this book is the sort of nonfiction polemic which is best reviewed by my giving you a chapter-by-chapter summary of the major theses of Douthat’s argument, and then you can judge for yourself whether or not the book would be useful for you to read.
Part 1 of the book is history, a brief overview of the fluctuations in faith and practice of orthodox Christianity in the twentieth century and the twenty-first.
Chapter One: The Lost World. This chapter begins with the conversion to Catholicism of poet W.H. Auden and continues with Reinhold Niebuhr, Billy Graham, Archbishop Fulton Sheen, and Martin Luther King, Jr. as emblematic of the post-war return to Christianity and neoorthodoxy. Christian churches had the potential to become “the salt of the earth, a light to the nations, and a place where even modern man could find a home.”
Chapter Two: The Locust Years. The 1960’s and 70’s brought continued growth for conservative churches but but a crisis for mainline Protestant chuches and for Catholic parishes in the United States. “The culture of mainline Protestantism simply disintegrated,” and Catholics lost in terms of mass attendance, priestly and other vocations, and participation in almost every aspect of parish life. Douthat argues that political polarization, the sexual revolution, globalization and resulting religious universalism, and America’s ever-growing wealth combined to cause the decline in the credibility and eventually practice of the traditional, orthodox Christian message.
Chapter Three: Accomodation. Many churches and denominations responded to the challenges of the 60’s and 70 with an accomodationist message: “seek to forge a new Christianity more consonant with the spirit of the age, one better adapted to the trends that were undercutting orthodoxy.” The accomodationists, Catholic and Protestant, lost members, but didn’t simply disappear.
Chapter Four: Resistance. Other churches chose a different path: resistance to forces of modernism, sexual and materialistic hedonism, and moral relativism. Eventually, Catholics and Evangelicals found themselves as co-belligerents in resisting the “spirit of the age” and defending traditional Christian beliefs. As Evangelicalism grew, evangelicals re-engaged in politics and public life; Catholics moved away from adapting to the secular culture to the “tireless proselytization” and “moral arguments” of Pope John Paul II. However, the resistance wasn’t enough to stem the tide of heresy.
So, Part 2 of the book is entitled The Age of Heresy.
Chapter Five: Lost in the Gospels. Liberal, Dan Brown/Bart Ehrman/Eileen Pagels pseudo-Christian pseudo-scholarship encourages Americans to invent their own religion in which “no account of Christian origins is more authoritative than any other, ‘cafeteria’ Christianity is more intellectually serious than the orthodox attempt to grapple with the entire New Testament buffet, and the only Jesus who really matters is the one you invent for yourself.”
Chapter Six: Pray and Grow Rich. Joel Osteen, Kenneth Hagin, and others preach a Jesus who may not say crudely “name it and claim it” but who still “seems less like a savior than like a college buddy with really good stock tips, which are more or less guaranteed to pay off for any Christian bold enough to act on them.” I think Mr. Douthat goes a little off-course when he associates financial counselors like Larry Burkett and pastors such as Rick Warren, who Douthat admits have criticized the prosperity teaching of the Word-Faith movement, with that same heretical theology. It’s always tempting to tie everything into your thesis and make the chapter balance.
Chapter Seven: The God Within. “The message of Eat, Pray, Love (by Elizabeth Gilbert) is the same gospel preached by a cavalcade of contemporary gurus, teachers, and would-be holy men and women: Deepak Chopra and Eckhart Tolle, Paulo Coelho and James Redfield, Neale Donald Walsch and Marianne Williamson. It’s the insight offered by just about every spiritual authority ever given a platform in Oprah Winfrey’s media empire.” God exists, if He exists, inside our own hearts and minds and souls, a subset of Me.
Chapter Eight: The City on a Hill. Of course, it’s not just the New-Age liberals who have succumbed to heresy or to heretical tendencies. “A version of (American) exceptionalism is entirely compatible with Christian orthodoxy. . . Christianity makes room for particular loves and loyalties, but not for myths of national innocence or fantasies about building the kingdom of heaven on earth.” When Christians begin to go along with the slogan “my country, right or wrong” or worse, believe that America can do no wrong, they are in danger of placing a kingdom of this world before the kingdom of our Lord.
The final, brief section of Mr. Douthat’s book is a conclusion called The Recovery of Christianity. He suggests some possible sources and models for renewal: the emerging church movement, the neo-monastic movement, church growth in the countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and societal and financial catastrophe that may vindicate and make relevant again the Christian message.
I have serious doubts that any of those four events and movements will be the catalyst that God uses for revival. However, as Mr Douthat writes, “the kind of faith that should animate such a (Christian) renaissance can be lived out Christian by Christian, congregation by congregation, day by day, without regard to whether it succeeds in changing the American way of religion as a whole.” God is responsible for revival; I am responsible to live an obedient life before Him daily.
I’ve given a broad overview of a book that has much specific food for thought, challenging, even convicting, words of warning, and a few practical ideas about “how we then should live.” Recommended for all Christians, especially those who are involved in and thinking about political and cultural engagement.
These are the twelve themes or ideas or motifs that God has placed in my heart, and consequently the 12 Big Ideas that appear most often here on Semicolon.
1. Books. I have a houseful of books I read lots and lots of books, probably over 100 per year. I love books; I live inside books. I write about books here at Semicolon a lot. Some of my favorite booklists (may be helpful for last minute Christmas gifts?):
Reading Out Loud: 55 Favorite Read Aloud Books from the Semicolon Homeschool.
History and Heroes: 55 Recommended Books of Biography, Autobiography, Memoir,and History
Giving Books: Dystopian and Post-Apocalyptic Fiction.
Giving Books: FOr the nieces and other girls in your life.
Nine Series for Nine Year Old Boys.
Narnia Aslant: A Narnia-Inspired Reading List.
Books for Giving (to kids who want to grow up to be . . .)
2. Family, particularly large families. I have eight children. Five are grown-ups, and three are still growing. Actually, we’re all still growing. I don’t write as much about my children as I do about my books, privacy and all that jazz. But having a large family and seeing God through the joys and difficulties of large family life is one of the major themes of my life.
3. Community. Through family, yes, but also through the church, the neighborhood in which I live, and even through the blog-world, the experience of community is very important to me. I’m interested in community as an ideal, and I’m also interested in little communities that form around hobbies, intellectual pursuits, ethnic identities, and other kinds of people-glue. I want to know how a subculture develops around a shared interest like bicycling or collecting butterflies or playing Scrabble (Word Freak by Stefan Fatsis) or any other random interest, how those communities work and how they coalesce, what the rules are and how they resolve conflict.
4. The Bible. God’s Word has been a part of my life since I was a preschooler, and my mother read to me from the book of Genesis. I still remember how exciting and suspenseful the story of Joseph was, and how I wanted to know what would happen next. I have read the Bible numerous times, studied it alone and in groups, and still I find treasure, hope, reassurance, and life in the words of history, prophecy, poetry, gospel, and letters in the Bible. The Bible is the central book in my life, by which standard all the many, many other stories that I read stand and fall.
5. Prayer. God is still working out this theme in my life. I’m 55 years old, and I still long to know what it means to really, really pray. If God knows and has preordained everything that happens, why pray? I think part of what it means is to communicate the desires and depths of my heart in language, that God-given means of communication and organization. If I can put my inchoate feelings and thoughts into words and tell them to a God who really, really cares, then I participate in the creation of meaning somehow. I participate in God’s work on earth through prayer.
6. Language. We create community through language. God communicates with us and we with Him, mediated by language. The Word became flesh. What does that mean? We are creatures who speak a language, and that means something. One of my life’s quests is find out what it means to be a language-using creation and how to use those words to communicate truth.
7. Story-telling. One theme leads to another: from books to the Bible, to prayer, to language, to storytelling. Maybe they are all one grand motif that defines how God is working in my life.
8. History. I love family history, especially my family history, but others, too, if they have stories to tell. History is the story of how God created, how He creates in the events of our lives, and what it all means.
9. Singing and Poetry. Music, in general is nice, but singing, alone or with other people, is what I most love, what makes me feel alive. That’s why I did the 100 Hymns series: I love songs with words and poetry put to music. This theme ties into my fascination with language and words, but the melody adds another dimension.
10. Homeschooling. Education in general is a theme in my family and in my life. I pray that I will be always learning, always educating myself and others about the wonderful world where God has placed us. I believe that as a family we were called to homeschool, not because homeschooling ensures God’s blessing or favor nor because homeschooling is always better than any other way of educating young people into adulthood, but rather because it fits with the other themes and concerns of my life: the community in family, the immersion in language and story-telling, the transmission of God’s truth to another generation.
11. Evangelism and missions. I grew up in a Southern Baptist church, in GA’s and Acteens, two SBC missions organizations for girls. I am still immersed in the idea of how the gospel is spread to other people and cultures and active in supporting missions and missionaries.
12. Jesus. Last, not because he is the least of my life themes, but rather because He is the foundation. If I wrote a book, Jesus would be the underlying theme, perhaps unnamed as in the Book of Esther, but always present, always at work, always the Rock upon which everything else rests. In Him, we live and move and have our being.
You can see these themes embodied in this list of 52 things that fascinate me. Now it’s your turn. What are the themes of your life? Where has God led you to focus your energies and talents? What is it that wakes you up in the morning, draws you into study and/or action, makes you who you are?
A battle was fought at a place called Tolbiac, not far from the present city of Cologne. In this battle the Franks were nearly beaten, for the Alemanni were fierce and brave men and skillful fighters. When Clovis saw his soldiers driven back several times he began to lose hope, but at that moment he thought of his pious wife and of the powerful God of whom she had so often spoken. Then he raised his hands to heaven and earnestly prayed to that God.
“O God of Clotilde,” he cried, “help me in this my hour of need. If thou wilt give me victory now I will believe in thee.”
Almost immediately the course of the battle began to change in favor of the Franks. Clovis led his warriors forward once more, and this time the Alemanni fled before them in terror. The Franks gained a great victory, and they believed it was in answer to the prayer of their king.
When Clovis returned home he did not forget his promise. He told Clotilde how he had prayed to her God for help and how his prayer had been heard, and he said he was now ready to become a Christian. Clotilde was very happy on hearing this, and she arranged that her husband should be baptized in the church of Rheims on the following Christmas day.
Meanwhile Clovis issued a proclamation to his people declaring that he was a believer in Christ, and giving orders that all the images and temples of the heathen gods should be destroyed. This was immediately done, and many of the people followed his example and became Christians.
Clovis was a very earnest and fervent convert. One day the bishop of Rheims, while instructing him in the doctrines of Christianity, described the death of Christ. As the bishop proceeded Clovis became much excited, and at last jumped up from his seat and exclaimed:
“Had I been there with my brave Franks I would have avenged His wrongs.”
On Christmas day a great multitude assembled in the church at Rheims to witness the baptism of the king. A large number of his fierce warriors were baptized at the same time. The service was performed with great ceremony by the bishop of Rheims, and the title of “Most Christian King” was conferred on Clovis by the Pope. This title was ever afterwards borne by the kings of France.
~Famous Men of the Middle Ages by John H. Haaren.
From A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God by Jonathan Edwards.
And then it was, in the latter part of December, that the spirit of God began extraordinarily to set in, and wonderfully to work amongst us; and there were, very suddenly, one after another, five or six persons, who were to all appearances savingly converted, and some of them wrought upon in a very remarkable manner.
Particularly, I was surprised with the relation of a young woman, who had been one of the greatest company-keepers in the whole town. When she came to me, I had never heard that she was become in any wise serious, but by the conversation I then had with her, it appeared to me, that what she gave an account of, was a glorious work of God’s infinite power and sovereign grace; and that God had given her a new heart, truly broken and sanctified. I could not then doubt of it, and have seen much in my acquaintance with her since to confirm it.
What a wonderful Christmas celebration, even if the Puritans didn’t celebrate Christmas!