“You Can Never Go Home.” The Moody Blues and C. S. Lewis on why our best memories can actually break our hearts.

With this post I simply submit for the reader’s meditations two selections: One of the best songs by The Moody Blues, a Justin Hayward composition (who else), called “You Can Never Go Home;” and a short excerpt from one of the best sermons of C. S. Lewis called “The Weight of Glory.” So listen, read, and let these thought enzymes do the transformational mind work for which they were intended…

“You Can Never Go Home”

I don’t know what I’m searching for
I never have opened the door,
Tomorrow might find me at last,
Turning my back on the past,
But, time will tell, of stars that fell,
A million years ago.
Memories can never take you back, home, sweet home.
You can never go home anymore.

All my life I never really knew me till today,
Now I know why, I’m just another step along the way,

I lie awake for hours, I’m just waiting for the sun.
When the journey we are making has begun,
Don’t deny the feeling that is stealing through your heart,
Every happy ending needs to have a start.

All my life I never really knew me till today,
Now I know why, I’m just another step along the way,

Weep no more for treasures you’ve been searching for in vain.
‘Cos the truth is gently falling with the rain,
High above the forest lie the pastures of the sun,
Where the two that learned the secret are now one.

I don’t know what I’m searching for
I never have opened the door,
Tomorrow might find me at last,
Turning my back on the past,
But, time will tell, of stars that fell,
A million years ago.
Memories can never take you back, home, sweet home.
You can never go home anymore.

“In speaking of this desire for our own far off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

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C. S. Lewis on Prayer as Monologue

Malcom

 

Prayer is either a sheer illusion or a personal contact between embryonic, incomplete persons (ourselves) and the utterly concrete Person.

(From “The World’s Last Night and Other Essays“, p. 8)

Poem

They tell me, Lord that when I seem
To be in speech with you,
Since you make no replies, it’s all a dream
– One talker aping two.

The are half right, but not as they
Falsely believe. For I
Seek in myself the things I meant to say,
And lo!, the well’s are dry.

Then, seeing me empty, You forsake
The listener’s part, and through
My dumb limps breathe and into utterance wake
The thoughts I never knew.

Therefore You neither need reply
Nor can; for while we seem
Two talking, Thou art one forever; and I
No dreamer, but thy dream.

– C.S. Lewis; 4 April 1934

(From “Yours Jack“, p.44)

Note on the word “limps” above: 

There are apparently different editions of this poem, with an earlier one published in 1964 reading “lips” instead of “limps.” How to resolve this I do not know, but it is interesting that in 1933 Lewis wrote:

Take not, oh Lord, our literal sense. Lord in thy great,

Unbroken speech, our limping metaphor translate.

It is also interesting that Lewis says in his letter from 1934 that he had written the poem “over a year ago.” I also note that at the time Lewis wrote the poem it was only about 2 1/2 years following his “second conversion,” to Christianity. About a year prior he experienced his “first conversion,” to theism.

Thanks for reading…

Bryan @ Manifest Propensity, 2015.

Joni Mitchell’s “River” and the “Christmas movement” of God

Joni Mitchell has long been my favorite female singer-songwriter. Her early song “River” from 1971 is undoubtedly one of her masterpieces. It is also a fitting song for a meditation on the meaning of Christmas.

The song begins and ends with Joni’s solo piano strains almost struggling in a minor rather than major key to play “Jingle Bells,” portending the dissonance between the season with songs of joy and the perennial sorrows of life. The sadness in her voice and the beautifully haunting music and lyrics immediately draw the listener into the melancholy that the advent of Christmas has created for her through its seeming inability to give her “joy and peace.”

It’s coming on Christmas

They’re cutting down trees

They’re putting up reindeer

And singing songs of joy and peace

Oh I wish I had a river

I could skate away on

Joni Mitchell has so beautifully juxtaposed joy and sorrow, peace and pain, that she simply melts the soul of the most hardened of us. The festive joys of the Christmas season have been annulled for her by the frozen winter that would provide hope, if only she could skate away on its cold hard ice. Christmas was lost for her as it was for all Narnia in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” by C. S. Lewis, where it was “always winter, but never Christmas.”

She does not provide any critique though, of the biblical meaning of Christmas, but rather describes the dissonance in her own soul that the “traditional” season of joy brings to her. But is the fact that Christmas is simply, perhaps in the main the uncritically accepted “season of joy” the real problem? In other words, is Christmas actually “meant” to provide an easy solution to the perplexities and problems of life?

So the question, simply put is, what does Christmas mean? Is Christmas meant to remove all our problems and replace them with unending “joy and peace?” I think that to suppose so, is to mistake what Christmas is, at least in its initial interaction with the world.

Christmas is called the advent, the beginning of God’s movement toward the world in a new and unprecedented way. But Christmas did not annul, but rather fully entered the perplexities and sufferings of life. A young couple, the wife very pregnant, having to undergo severe inconvenience to comply with a governmental census for taxes. Sages traveling from distant lands following “signs” in their insatiable search for a viable hope for humanity. A King that so feared the loss of his power that he sent soldiers to slaughter the innocents, the contemporaries of the child who would be king and threaten his reign. The couple also then driven to become refugees in another country to escape Herod’s plan.

The mother herself was caught in difficulties and perplexities she could not begin to understand. For the child conceived in her womb was the beginning of a mysterious movement of God not only toward, but into the deepest parts of the world by “becoming flesh and dwelling among us,” and eventually to be “betrayed (to death) by the kiss” of a dear friend; to be abandoned in the end by all his disciples except the women; to “surrender” to the murderous political machinations of the “religious” authorities; to suffer the pains of torture and horrible execution at the hands of the Romans; and to seemingly have been abandoned and cursed by God himself.

So God become flesh in the infant Jesus was God’s movement toward and into the crucible of all human experience. Certainly there were simple pleasures, and the children came to Jesus because he was joyful, not austere! But there was also much suffering common to humanity just as “the sparks fly upward.”

But this is not to say that it is not perfectly natural for us to want to “skate away” from all the suffering. In Gethsemane with the prospect of the cross before him, Jesus agonized and sweat “great drops of blood,” desiring to escape the cup of suffering placed before him. For in this first Christmas movement of God into the world, the cup of suffering was to be fully drank to the bottom.

The proximate cause of Joni Mitchell’s sorrow in “River” is given in the narration, and can be summarized in a few lines:

I made my baby cry…

I made my baby say goodbye

Much of the sorrow we experience in life is due to our own failures, often inexplicable even to ourselves as we seem to be quite adept as saboteurs of even our own joy and peace. Joni Mitchell laments that

I’m so hard to handle

I’m selfish and I’m sad

Now I’ve gone and lost the best baby

That I ever had

Oh I wish I had a river…

These sorrows too, are part of the suffering that the Christmas movement has taken to the cross of Christ, bearing the guilt and shame of the manifold sins of humankind. There is no “river so long” that we could “skate away on,” that would enable us to escape not only from what we have done but who we are. For wherever we go, there we are. But part of the mystery of the suffering of Christ on the cross is that for those that believe it is the power of God that brings to us the very “righteousness, holiness and redemption” of God.

So Christmas is not annulled because it has not removed our sufferings or because we don’t have a river long or frozen enough to skate away on. Christmas is fulfilled because it is the river of God that flows to us and even within us if we believe. That river is what enables the people of the community it has created to “count it all joy” in trials,  and to have a “peace that passes understanding” because it is a community born into “fellowship with his sufferings.” Yet it is also the Christmas river whose lively water flows with songs of “joy and peace.”

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
6 The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. (from Psalm 46, ESV)

Christmas joy and peace to all!

Bryan @ Manifest Propensity

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2014. Excerpts, links, and reblogging may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

“People… are the main spring” by King Crimson: Peer Pressure and the “Inner Ring” of C. S. Lewis

innerring

♠♣♥♦

In this song by one of the oldest, longest lived prog-rock groups, King Crimson, sings

people are the main spring
turning the world around
people, they’re the main spring
spinning this world upside down

I have used this song as a theme for this post, not only because I wanted to put a great song by them on my blog (check it out! – I wish the video quality was better but the sound is good) but because they point to the simple fact that in an important sense people are the “main spring.” I like the fact that they do not see this as a good thing, since “people” turn the world “around,” meaning, “upside down.” This post will therefore explore two aspects of this proposal, first, how people through a type of desire are the mainspring, and second, that this desire is not a good thing.

C. S. Lewis had a similar proposal, which very specifically states why this proposal is so. In his oration called “The Inner Ring” he sets forth examples of with one drawn from Victorian “society.”

Victorian fiction is full of characters who are hag-ridden by the desire to get inside that particular Ring which is, or was, called Society. But it must be clearly understood that “Society,” in that sense of the word, is merely one of a hundred Rings, and snobbery therefore only one form of the longing to be inside.

As you see, Lewis thought that there were many “inner rings.” For the purpose of this post, I will focus upon what I feel is the largest “inner ring” of humankind, and will apply some of his words to the idea of such a ring. For Lewis, the dynamic of human desire to belong to “inner rings” “may be dangerous,” although the phenomena of “inner rings” was “unavoidable” and “morally neutral.” “King Crimson” is itself an example of an “inner ring” as was “The Inklings” of which C. S. Lewis was himself a member.

So in this post I will concentrate on the “dangerous” desire to “belong” to an inner ring that therefore becomes an evil. But I also note that (I think) Lewis believed the degree of self-consciousness regarding this inordinate desire may vary greatly, from a nearly unconsciousness longing to that of acutely conscious obsession.

The largest ring that I propose to be that of humankind is the inner ring of “worldly acceptance.” In the old terms of Christendom, which Lewis mentions at the beginning of his oration. this was the first of the dangerous trinity called “the world, the flesh, and the devil.” In modern jargon “the world” is probably best known as “peer pressure.”

At this point I would like to raise an observation that we stubbornly individualistic humans are ironically, under peer pressure, nearly perfect conformists. I think this is illustrated by a statement of Lewis on the failure of our “skepticism.”

We are always prevented from accepting total skepticism because it can be formulated only by making a tacit exception in favour of the thought we are thinking at the moment-just as the man who warns the newcomer “Don’t trust anyone in this office” always expects you to trust him at that moment.” (Christian Reflections, “DeFutilitate”, 1967, para. 10)

It seems that the well-nigh universal “skepticism” that we wear to prevent us “being taken in” by other people, such as smooth talking politicians, salesmen, or religious fanatics, is gladly hung outside the door for the sake of our admittance to “the inner ring” of worldly acceptance. This transaction is effected by the unspoken but understood rules for “membership.” Lewis said,

When it is very secure and comparatively stable in membership it calls itself “we.” When it has to be expanded to meet a particular emergency it calls itself “all the sensible people at this place.”

So this largest “inner ring” of humanity, is merely membership with the “sensible” folk that think they have not been “taken in” by those defined by its peer group as “insensible.” But the newly admitted, have actually been “taken in” by the “inner ring.” Lewis shows how this deep desire for membership works, in a strong illustration demonstrating the trumping power of the “inner ring” over other normally powerful human desires.

I wonder whether, in ages of promiscuity, many a virginity has not been lost less in obedience to Venus than in obedience to the lure of the caucus. For of course, when promiscuity is the fashion, the chaste are outsiders. They are ignorant of something that other people know. They are uninitiated. And as for lighter matters, the number of people who first smoked or first got drunk for a similar reason is probably very large.

The “dangerous desire” for the “inner ring” is perhaps the threshold at which the fall of Adam is re-enacted as we mature into the caucus of sensible society. Annie Dillard, in her first book, narrates how this desire is also driven by an inner insecurity of unknowing (bewilderment) that is evaded by adopting through “untaught pride” the stance of the human collective “squatter” status, and thus also “al the sensible people in this place.” For Dillard joining this “inner ring” occurs at a very early age.

I am no scientist. I explore the neighborhood. An infant who has just learned to hold his head up has a frank and forthright way of gazing about him in bewilderment. He hasn’t the faintest clue where he is, and he aims to learn. In a couple of years, what he will have learned instead is how to fake it: he’ll have the cocksure air of a squatter who has come to feel he owns the place. Some unwonted, taught pride diverts us from our original intent, which is to explore the neighborhood, view the landscape, to discover at least where it is that we have been so startlingly been set down, if we can’t learn why. (Annie Dillard, “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek,” Bantam Books Inc: 1974, p. 12)

In this regard Lewis narrates our longing at adolescence that is another such fall by saying,

To a young person, just entering on adult life, the world seems full of “insides,” full of delightful intimacies and confidentialities, and he desires to enter them.

But to enter thus, is a tragedy, as Dillard notes, and as Lewis concludes, saying

But if he follows that desire he will reach no “inside” that is worth reaching. The true road lies in quite another direction.

If the reader is familiar with C. S. Lewis, she will know that “quite another direction” is the way of following Christ. In the Gospel of John we read of a narration of the conflagration that occurred when Jesus confronted the keepers of an “inner ring” called “the synagogue.”

42 Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.

The synagogue, with its gates kept by the Pharisees, had become “the inner ring” to which membership to, through the peer pressure of worldly acceptance of “glory that comes from man” was more loved by many than the “glory that comes from God.” It is uber-ironic that God’s Israel, as a nation, ultimately subverted Jerusalem itself into an “inner ring” by (they thought) permanently excommunicating Jesus “outside” their inner ring. The book of Hebrews shows how God made the shameful public execution of Jesus the means by which he made those excommunicated from the world’s inner ring holy, while also setting forth the example they follow “outside the camp” (or “city” or “inner ring”).

12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. (Hebrews 13:12-14; ESV)

In “The Last Battle,” the last volume of “The Chronicles of Narnia,” Lewis has a scene in which the dwarves have become self imprisoned in their own delusional “inner ring” because they were “so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out” by Aslan himself. Their fearful skepticism fear at “being taken in” resulted in their conformity to a collective “inner ring” of blindness to the only one that could give them true freedom from being taken in by the peer pressure of worldly acceptance. The ancient wisdom in the book of Proverbs summed it up as the perennial way of  Adam the individual and Adam the collective:

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. (14:12)

The King Crimson song proposed that with “People” as the “mainspring” of life the world is turned upside down. C. S. Lewis proposed that this is because the “mainspring” is the “dangerous desire” for membership in “the inner ring.” Can we believe that Jesus of Nazareth showed another way “in” to an inner ring that is not based in the worldly acceptance of peer pressure? An inner ring that at the gate accepts all and excludes none but those that exclude themselves through their trust in the glory of man’s “inner ring?”

Perhaps we can believe if we consider the nature of “the glory” of man’s lesser “inner rings” that Lewis mentioned such as those at which smoking, drinking and promiscuous sex were the initiatory rites, we may see in every case some monotonous conformity as the entrance fee and permanent boundary marker of man’s “inner rings.” Lewis said

That is why the worldlings are so monotonously alike compared with the almost fantastic variety of the saints. Obedience is the road to freedom, humility the road to pleasure, unity the road to personality.

Now I admit that if we look in many places at the church today in America, we may unfortunately find monotonous alikeness rather than fantastical variety. The church is also always in danger of falling, as did Israel of old, into its own “inner ring” rather than Christ’s inner ring in which he alone is the head. This has become a slight digression, but for clarification I’ll mention that Paul told the Church in Rome to be careful in attitude toward “national” Israel that had fallen, lest she fall to the same temptation that as we saw was a type of “unbelief” that was formed by pride in “inner ring” status.

19 Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. 23 And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. (Romans 11:19-23 ESV)

To return from  this digression, I would like to conclude with an excerpt from lewis that demonstrates that the Church, though always falling short of a pure participation in the inner ring of Christ, is meant nonetheless to be thus participating. Lewis says

It was not for societies or states that Christ died, but for men. In that sense Christianity must seem to secular collectivists to involve an almost frantic assertion of individuality. But then it is not the individual as such who will share Christ’s victory over death. We shall share the victory by being in the Victor. A rejection, or in Scripture’s strong language, a crucifixion of the natural self is the passport to everlasting life. Nothing that has not died will be resurrected. That is just how Christianity cuts across the antithesis between individualism and collectivism. There lies the maddening ambiguity of our faith as it must appear to outsiders. It sets our face relentlessly against our natural individualism; on the other hand, it gives back to those who abandon individualism an eternal possession of their own personal being, even of their bodies. As mere biological entities, each with its separate will to live and to expand, we are apparently of no account; we are cross-fodder. But as organs in the body of Christ, as stones and pillars in the temple we are assured of our eternal self-identity and shall live to remember the galaxies as an old tale.

Note once again the book of Hebrews’ exhortation to join Christ “outside” man’s “inner ring,” leaving the “camp” that is not “lasting,” and seeking the city “that is to come.”

12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.

It is a city inhabited by individuals, its gates are open to all to come as they are, being sanctified not by admission to the “peer group,” but by the blood of the one that gave his life to save them.

Thanks for reading, and as always I’d like to know what you think!

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2014. Excerpts, links, and reblogging may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Jack Bruce’s “We’re Going Wrong”: Open-mindedness and the way forward

open_mind

Please open your eyes
Try to realize
I found out today we’re going wrong
We’re going wrong

Please open your mind
See what you can find
I found out today we’re going wrong
We’re going wrong

We’re going wrong
We’re going wrong
We’re going wrong

by Jack Bruce, 1967

“I found out today” that Jack Bruce had passed away. My thoughts naturally turned to my favorite song written by him, a  song that to me displays a surprisingly disproportionate combination of lyrical brevity and emotive power. So this post is in part a tribute to Jack Bruce and his song that i’ve enjoyed on several levels, but mainly an exploration of the possible meaning of the song.

Without knowing any personal context of Jack Bruce that may be behind the song, I’m left to begin with the historical context in which the song appeared: 1967. The sixties was, if anything, a calling being issued from many voices to “open our eyes” individually and collectively. It had become manifestly apparent to many that something had gone wrong in western civilization. Many thought we were on the verge of some type of  imminent conflagration based on factors including but not limited to war (hot or cold), prejudice, poverty, pollution, population, politics, and technology.

The call to open our eyes was a hope that we could be spared the destruction, to void the looming threat that “the gods first blind those whom they wish to destroy.” Perhaps a critical mass of opened eyes could counter the coming apocalypse. (Can it do so today?)

But for the time being, this truth and perhaps this alone, seemed apparent to the counterculture: “We’re Going Wrong.”

Of course, “open eyes” really only means “open minds” which Jack Bruce made explicit. But what does it mean to have an open mind? At that time it seemed to mean to many or most in the counterculture that we must abandon the very concept of universal/dogmatic truth which had merely enslaved humankind through false authority. Thus open-mindedness seemed to morph into broad-mindedness in which there is no ultimate truth, only individualistic “working truths” (whatever works for me/you).

The prince of wit G.K. Chesterton warned that,

The vice of the modern notion of mental progress is that it is always concerned with the breaking of bonds, the effacing of boundaries, the casting away of dogmas. But if there be any such thing as mental growth, it must mean the growth into more and more definite convictions, into more and more dogmas…

…When he drops one doctrine after another in a refined skepticism, when he declines to tie himself to a system, when he says that he has outgrown definitions, when he says that he disbelieves in finality, when, in his own imagination he sits as God, holding no form of creed but contemplating all, then he is by that very process sinking slowly backwards into the vagueness of the vagrant animals and the unconsciousness of the grass. Trees have no dogmas. Turnips are singularly broad-minded. (from Heretics, chapter 20)

It seems probable that this “modern notion” of mental growth resulted in the sixties revolution being more destructive than constructive, in regard to any real progress toward “going right.”

If the counterculture was a failure in this regard, then it is natural to wonder why, unless destruction actually was the goal, and it is true that destruction (or discrediting) of what is false is necessary. But it seems more likely that the problem of failure is to be found deep in humankind itself, namely that we are a species prone to error.

To support this suggestion I’d like to look at a few ancient proverbs from the “New Living Translation” of the Bible. Here is the first:

Proverbs 14:1 A wise woman builds her home,
but a foolish woman tears it down with her own hands.

I do not think that this is meant to say that the difference between the wise and foolish woman is one of intention. I do not think the “foolish woman” intends to tear down her house. She intends to build it, but being “foolish” does not know how to succeed. And she is like all of us, inasmuch as we all intend to succeed. Blaise Pascal said this about the intention of all people:

All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves. (Pensees, #425)

The second proverb says,

Proverbs 14:12 There is a path before each person that seems right,
but it ends in death.

This explains a simple fact, that we are all prone to err, with dire consequences. It is not our intention to die, but it is the consequence of self-direction. The prophet Jeremiah wrote:

Jeremiah 10:23 I know, Lord, that our lives are not our own.
We are not able to plan our own course.

So to return to the first proverb, the wise woman is one that directs her steps according to the direction of God. This all means that the only positive answer to “We’re Going Wrong” is what is called “repentance.” In other words, the way ahead is to turn around. This is not an easy task. We all hate to be lost, to have to backtrack, to cut our losses of lost time and effort often spent with blood, sweat and tears. I think that the wise and foolish women both knew “blood, sweat, and tears” in their quest to build their house, but tragically only one was building while the other was tearing down.

C.S. Lewis knew how difficult it is for us to repent, due to our mistaken view of progress created by our aversion to being wrong.

We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place you where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man…There is nothing progressive about being pigheaded and refusing to admit a mistake. And I think if you look at the present state of the world, it is pretty plain that humanity has been making some big mistake. We are on the wrong road. And if that is so, we must go back. Going back is the quickest way on. (from “Mere Christianity,” chapter 5, 2nd paragraph)

Now a perceptive reader will note that believing that “We’re Going Wrong” may be difficult, but it is the easy part. The truly difficult part is where to go to “go right.” If it is true that the way that “seems right to us ends in death” and that we “are not able to plan our course,” then where shall we go? And it is precisely here that Jack Bruce left us, halfway turned around on our path to who knows where.

But it is here that God, with something called “good news” (gospel) creates a real turnaround by providing the ultimate destination. But I’m not merely talking about the notion that most of us have of “heaven.” I’ll let a few theological excerpts present gospel to us, and perhaps we will find two things. First, that we have not known the way “forward.” Second, that the good news of God’s destination will impel us forward.

The first theologian speaks of the “destination” in broad terms, given in terms applicable to all times and places.

Regeneration  is a state of things universally. It is the new state of things, the new eon, which the Christ brought; the individual “enters it,” and in so doing he himself participates in it and is reborn through participation in it. The message of conversion is, first, the message of a new reality to which one is asked to turn; in the light of it, one is to move away from the old reality, the state of existential estrangement in which one has lived. (Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology Volume 2 “Existence and the Christ” p. 177)

The second theologian speaks of the “destination” in narrow terms, and is provided because God’s announcement of “good news” meets us all in the midst of or own specific life setting. This provides some concrete illustrations of what conversion may entail.

To begin anew meant, to Bonhoeffer to pass through a process of becoming aware of and avowing guilt, of repenting, of doing real penance, and of seeking for new foundations of living together beyond nihilism. But to begin anew also meant to grapple with and clarify the concrete experiences with people under the Hitler regime. And these were, in the majority, experiences of failure, of lack of civil courage, of thoughtless complicity, of lies violating one’s own conscience, of shutting ones eyes to obvious injustice, and of lack of concern about the suffering of others, whether because of fear or because of a narrowed range of perception. He deemed all of this possible only in a situation where people no longer felt urged, by a vital knowledge about the mission and meaning of their lives, to accept responsibility, but would accept, in thoughtless subordination the dictate of their superiors that the meaning of life lies in blind obedience. (Heinz Eduard Todt, “Authentic Faith – Bonhoeffer’s Theological Ethics in Context,” p. 21)

Now that is an example of an opening of the eyes and mind that surely even surpasses that hoped for by the most well meaning “counterculturist.” For the truth is that the good news of the arrival of God’s kingdom to “put the world to rights” also needed to include the provision of forgiveness for we humans that would rather mankind’s Savior be crucified in order to preserve our chosen self-direction, even our “countercultural” self-direction.

Could a “just” God merely “wink” at such murderous treason from his creation as though it was nothing? Bonhoeffer shows that the answer for all, especially for any that would like to follow him anew, is shown in that very place where Christ died:

Jesus died on the cross alone. abandoned by his disciples. It was not two of his faithful followers who hung beside him but two murderers. But they all stood beneath the cross: enemies and the faithful, doubters and the fearful, the scornful and the converted, and all of them and their sin were included in this hour in Jesus’ prayer for forgiveness. God’s merciful love lives in the midst of its foes. It is the same Jesus Christ who by grace calls us to follow him and whose grace saves the thief on the cross in his last hour. (from “Discipleship,” Works Vol. 4, p. 40)

Thoughts, questions, kindly criticisms are welcomed. Thanks for your interest!

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2014. Excerpts, links, and reblogging may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Arcade Fire’s “Month of May” and the Question of Posture

From the first time I heard this song I found the lyric regarding the posture of some young people to be very interesting. Here is the excerpt:

Now the kids are all standing with their arms folded tight
The kids are all standing with their arms folded tight
Now some things are pure and some things are right
But the kids are still standing with their arms folded tight
I said some things are pure and some things are right
But the kids are still standing with their arms folded tight
So young so young
So much pain for someone so young well
I know it’s heavy I know it ain’t light
But how you gonna lift it with your arms folded tight?

The song adds another verse that seems to provide a hope that this adopted posture will not become ultimate fate:

If I died in the month of May
Let the wind take my body away then
Wish I may I wish I might
Don’t leave me down there with my arms folded tight

The adopted posture here has perhaps become that of the corpse in the casket, and seemingly signifies a desire for being saved from such a permanent posture. But the honest irony in the lyric is that it is saying “the kids” adopting such a posture are already dead! They certainly cannot do something only live people do, which is to “lift” the pain that has perhaps provided the impetus (or excuse?) for their posture.

I find these lyrics to be quite interesting in relation to the cynicism and skepticism that seems to be part and parcel of the generation that has grown up in postmodern times. U2 sang of this generation in one of their earlier songs called “Like a Song” on the 1983 album “War.”

A generation without name, ripped and torn
Nothing to lose, nothing to gain
Nothing at all
And if you can’t help yourself
Well take a look around you
When others need your time
You say it’s time to go… it’s your time.
Angry words won’t stop the fight
Two wrongs won’t make it right.
A new heart is what I need.
Oh, God make it bleed.
Is there nothing left?

I included the exhortation of U2 to help others “if you can’t help yourself” to highlight Arcade Fire’s question to those that have adopted the “arms folded tight” posture that prevents helping oneself or others.

Of course postmodernism is not the actual cause of such postures, unless postmodernism has always existed! The truth seems to be that such postures are a common (albeit not necessarily uncomplicated nor a wholly conscious) choice of us human beings. C.S. Lewis provided an interesting story about some dwarves in the perilous times of “The Last Battle” in his Chronicles of Narnia. This brief summary from a commentator should be adequate to show that “the kids” with the “poor postures” in Arcade Fire’s “Month of May” are very much akin to Lewis’s dwarves, and that such postures can become permanent liabilities.

Among other things, I think the chronicles help children (and adults) understand the fundamental battle in life between good and evil. Good is represented by a great lion named Aslan, an archtype of the resurrected Christ. In the land of Narnia, evil shows up in many familiar guises of wicked witches, horrible beasts, and dark dwarfs.

The last of the seven books is appropriately entitled, The Last Battle (Revelation?). In this chronicle, the evil characters are Narnian dwarfs. They are dark and gloomy folk, with sneering grins, who distrust the whole world. The basic issue is that they have chosen to live in darkness, refusing to see the good around them, refusing to believe that Aslan can bring God’s light into their lives and world. So, they live in misery, squalor, and self-imposed darkness.

Near the end of the story, some of the children who follow Aslan go out into a field where the dwarfs live. They want to make friends; they want to help them see the light and the beauty of the world which surrounds them.

When they arrived, they noticed that the dwarfs have a very odd look and were huddled together in a circle facing inward, paying attention to nothing. As the children drew near, they were aware that the dwarfs couldn’t see them. “Where are you ?” asks one of the children. “We’re in here you bone-head,” said Diggle the dwarf, “in this pitch-black, poky, smelly little hole of a stable.”

“Are you blind?” asks another child. “No,” respond the dwarfs, “we’re here in the dark where no one can see.”

“But it isn’t dark, you poor dwarfs,” says Lucy, “look up, look round, can’t you see the sky and flowers – can’t you see me?” Then Lucy bends over, picks some wild violets, and says, “perhaps you can smell these.” But the dwarf jumps back into his darkness and yells, “How dare you shove that filthy stable litter in my face.” He cannot even smell the beauty which surrounds him.

Suddenly the earth trembles. The sweet air of the field grows sweeter and a brightness flashes behind them. The children turn and see that Aslan, the great lion himself, has appeared. They greet him warmly and then Lucy, through her tears, asks, “Aslan, can you do something for these poor dwarfs?”

Aslan approaches the dwarfs who are huddled in their darkness and he growls. They think it is someone in the stables trying to frighten them. Then Aslan shakes his mane and sets before the dwarfs a magnificent feast of food. The dwarfs grab the food in the darkness, greedily consuming it, but they cannot taste its goodness. One thinks he is eating hay, another an old rotten turnip. In a moment, they are fighting and quarreling among themselves as usual. Aslan turns and leaves them in their misery.

They children are dismayed. Even the great Aslan cannot bring them out of their self-imposed darkness. “They will not let us help them,” says Aslan. Their prison is only in their minds and they are so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out. “But come now children,” says Aslan, “we have other work to do,” and they leave the dwarfs alone in their miserable world.

These chronicles of Narnia reflect an ancient way of presenting truth through stories – using allegory. Allegorical stories help us see, through ordinary events, another higher level of truth. In this tale, the earthly lion, Aslan, represents the heavenly resurrected Christ who brings hope and life and light into the world.

What the children of Narnia discover, to their dismay, is that everyone has a choice… to see and respond to that light or to sit in self-imposed darkness unwilling to see the beauty which surrounds them, to smell the violets held under their nose or eat of delights of God’s table set before them.

We all know people like this who live in the dark. It is a lesson Lucy, Edmund, and the other children will carry with them as they return home through the magical door which separates the mystical kingdom of Narnia from their very ordinary earthly home. It’s a lesson we must all eventually learn as we walk through the shadowy valleys of life.

(The excerpt is from the Lewis website: Into the Wardrobe)

dwarves

In conclusion, Arcade Fire’s “Month of May” provides a very good commentary and warning concerning our reactions to the perilous winds that challenge our life, if we wish for our life to ultimately be more than premonitory postures for death.

Neither I, nor Arcade Fire, nor U2, nor C.S. Lewis make light of “the problem of pain” or violent winds in the month of May. But neither should we make light of our reaction and response that consists in a posture that is more dangerous in the long run because it has to do with what kind of person we are becoming.

So young so young
So much pain for someone so young well
I know it’s heavy I know it ain’t light
But how you gonna lift it with your arms folded tight?

Comments are always welcome. Someone must have some thoughts about something here.

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2014. Excerpts, links, and reblogging may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

“No Cars Go” by Arcade Fire and the human desire for some other “place”

In “No Cars Go” Win Butler & Arcade Fire express a desire for a place where “no cars go.” The song doesn’t say why such a place is desired. Maybe it is a self-evident truth for our time. What does seem evident is that the desire touches upon “spiritual” or “summum bonum” issues. In a few previous posts I have presented other thoughts related to the automobile and such issues based on some things the fiction writer Flannery O’Connor has written. Ralph Wood relates how O’Connor explored the issue through her character Hazel Motes:

(Hazel Motes’s) broken-down car serves as the single sacrament of his nihilistic religion, the true viaticum for escaping everything that would lay claim on him. O’Connor was an early discerner, together with Walker Percy, that the automobile, even more than the movies and television, is the great American Dream Machine. It fulfills our fantasies of individualist autonomy, enabling us to strike out for the proverbial territories whenever the limits of social existence press in upon us. As Motes’s only sacred space, the car serves as both pulpit and residence, enabling him to incarnate his message in a life of perpetual isolation and vagabondage. (Comment on the novel “Wise Blood” by Flannery O’Connor in Flannery O’Connor and the Christ-Haunted South by Ralph C. Wood, p. 169 )

essex

Hazel Motes preaching from his pulpit

Flannery O’Connor wrote of the car as the vehicle that seemingly enables self-justification for nihilistic consumerist escape from our modern materialistic world, but which falls short of the desired escape.

Fittingly, Arcade Fire sing of the car, along with other vehicles of transportation, as only capable of movement within this world of seeming nihilism. The world does not seem to contain any place beyond our limited modes of transportation and their nihilistic presence. Their reference to “spaceships” seems to expand the realm of possible nihilism, just as the Soviet cosmonauts in the sixties reported that they did not “find God” in outer space.

So it seems that Arcade Fire sings of a “place” beyond the normal realm. Are they speaking of “heaven?” They sing of knowing about this place.

“…where we know”.

Is this “spiritual” knowledge?

A place we know of in which no cars go! They seem to be bearers of good news! But, they don’t say how they know, or where exactly this place is?

“…don’t know where we’re going”

Interestingly, they don’t know where it is, but they seem to know when it is, or perhaps when it occurs. It occurs in the time

“….between the click of the light and the start of the dream”?

What does their “answer” mean? Is it merely the time of deep sleep, before dreaming, when there seems to be nothing? In the final analysis, are they still subject to nihilism?

Or is this space in time of waking, yet in the dark, when making love can seem to exclude all other reality? Bruce Cockburn sang of this space in time in his song “The Coldest Night of the Year.”

When two lovers really love there’s nothing there
But this suddenly compact universe
Skin and breath and hair

I don’t believe that “making love” or human relationships are a small thing, but are they the answer to nihilism? Many seem to live as such, as expressed in “A Farewell to Arms” by Hemingway:

You’re my religion. You’re all I’ve got.”

So does Arcade Fire believe there is a real place that “No Cars Go?” It is hard to say anything definitive, based on this song alone. But can their longing for such a place mean anything in itself? Theologians like C.S. Lewis thought so, and developed an apologetical “argument from desire” for theism as opposed to nihilism.

Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity; book 3, chapter 10.)

Hemingway also wrote in “A Farewell to Arms” that “all thinking men are atheists.” But Pascal the religious thinker thought otherwise.

I conclude this song merely by noting that this early Arcade Fire song is a good one, and perhaps it is even somewhat Pascalian. Could the “click of the light” indicate the limitation of human reason, while the “start of the dream” indicates openness to the “reasons of the heart” that Pascal discovered? The more I think about the lyrics, with the call in the song to “little babies, women and children, old folks,” I am led to think that the interpretations explored above fall short of the sheer drive of the song toward an exodus type movement to another type of place. The use of “dream” may throw us off as indicating unreality, but even the Biblical prophets spoke of the coming of God’s new kingdom in relation to visions of young men and dreams of old men.

Joel 2:28-29
New International Version (NIV)
The Day of the Lord

28 “And afterward,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
29 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

(See Acts 2:16-18)

Perhaps “between the click of the light and the start of the dream” does not refer to the time in which this other place occurs, but to the revelational method by which one knows about the place, i.e. the Pascalian method of knowledge.

Below is a video someone put together for Bruce Cockburn’s song referenced above. By the way, Bruce Cockburn believes in the reasons of the heart and the movement of the Holy Spirit, and does not make relationships his religion.

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2014. Excerpts, links, and reblogging may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.