“Tiny Vessels” – adrift in the nihilism of the sexual revolution (Death Cab for Cutie)

This is the only album by Death Cab for Cutie that I have, but it is a great one. This is also not one of the saddest, but one of the most depressing songs I’ve ever heard. The mass of meaninglessness depicted: in the song; in the breakdown; in the “revolution.” I can’t believe intelligent people choose to live like this. Then again I can – knowing my own solidarity with the human species. But it’s time for the counter-revolution of the new man.

Lyrics:
This is the moment that you know
That you told her that you loved her but you don’t.
You touch her skin and then you think
That she is beautiful but she don’t mean a thing to me.
Yeah, she is beautiful but she don’t mean a thing to me.

I spent two weeks in Silver lake
The California sun cascading down my face
There was a girl with light brown streaks,
And she was beautiful but she didn’t mean a thing to me.
Yeah, she was beautiful but she didn’t mean a thing to me.

I wanted to believe in all the words that I was speaking,
As we moved together in the dark
And all the friends that I was telling
All the playful misspellings
and every bite I gave you left a mark

Tiny vessels oozed into your neck
And formed the bruises
That you said you didn’t want to fade
But they did, and so did I that day

All I see are dark Grey clouds
In the distance moving closer with every hour
So when you ask “Is something wrong?”
I think “You’re damn right there is but we can’t talk about it now.
No, we can’t talk about it now.”

So one last touch and then you’ll go
And we’ll pretend that it meant something so much more
But it was vile, and it was cheap
and you are beautiful but you don’t mean a thing to me
yeah you are beautiful but you don’t mean a thing to me (x2)
Music
“Tiny Vessels” by Death Cab for Cutie (Google Play • iTunes • AmazonMP3 • eMusic)
Artist
Death Cab for Cutie
Category
Music
License
Standard YouTube License

U2’s “Sleep Like a Baby Tonight” and the Deep Crisis in the Church

Hope is where the door is
When the church is where the war is
Where no one can feel no one else’s pain

When I first heard this song I was humbled inasmuch as I have been an uncaring and unsympathetic Christian. Of course that lack is also a basic human shortcoming, but it is especially tragic when the Church is meant to shine hope before all the world as it lives within the greatest things of “faith, hope, and love.”

There has been much decline in the churches of all stripes, for many different reasons, but what U2 has said about hope being “where the door is” explains perhaps the most important reason. Certainly the churches have portrayed hope, but when we also know that there is much truth and many lives effected by failures to portray hope, we are called not to re-assuring ourselves or congratulating on ourselves wherein we have been faithful. Instead we are always called to look at our communities, our neighbors, and yes, our enemies and consider whether they see hope.

I think that the difficulty the churches face today, namely to be witnesses to the particular hope that is specifically Christian, is because of past instances where we have acted in specifically unchristian ways. So there is some “payback” going on, some of which may be motivated by similar uncharitableness, but some of which is also the reaction of those that have been hurt. So we actually ought to assume that even in this, Christ is trying to tell something to the churches that show him to the world.

It should be obvious, when we look at Jesus in the Gospel accounts, that he always “felt someone else’s pain” and in the end went to the cross to die for the sake of their pain.

Would you care to discuss this? I am hoping to do so here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/rhegma/permalink/446259668864995/

Thanks, BMC @ 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.

Martin Luther’s “Theology of the Cross” and God’s “little, near face”

484px-Albrecht_Dürer_-_Christ_on_the_Cross_(NGA_1943.3.3681)

Albrecht Durer – Christ on the Cross

 

Heinrich Bornkamm was another theologian who has helped to explain Luther’s “theology of the cross.” The following rather lengthy excerpt provides a more thorough look at his theology in order to “flesh out” the message of the cross that was the subject of the previous two posts.

            The theology of the cross is not a theology which is contrived by the process of thinking. If we followed our ideas of the nature of the divine, we would probably imagine a quite different God: a great, mighty, victorious, indubitably loving, ingenious cosmic architect. . But certainly not a God who allows his messenger, whom he sends for the salvation of the world, to go down to ignominious defeat, to suffer and die innocently. It is a theology that one can derive only from an actual event, or better, that one can believe only on the basis of the passion and the cross of Christ. This was why Luther portrayed the suffering of Christ with such tremendous force. This suffering was not only a horrible physical suffering, as it was chiefly represented in medieval devotional literature in order to arouse our pity. Rather Luther took far more earnestly and consistently than did all previous theology the humanity of Jesus Christ, who suffered on the cross, not only physical pain, but also utter forsakenness and desolation. Augustine and medieval theology and mysticism fought shy of accepting the cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” as a real cry of the dying Christ; they construed it merely as the intercession of Christ for his suffering body, the church. For Luther, however, it was the simple bitter truth that Christ had to endure on the cross the consciousness of being forsaken by God. He was spared none of the trial and temptation, none of the remoteness and absence of God that may be imposed upon men. Indeed, for him who came from the heart of the Gather and brought nothing but love to men, it was a more dreadful thing to bear this abandonment than for any other man. For Luther this fact that Christ had to fall into the abyss of God forsakenness and loneliness, was expressed in the Creed: “He descended into hell.” He interpreted this to mean, not an event in space, but rather this experience of utter dereliction of the soul. Nor is this experience confined to the cross; the passion is rather only the awful aggravation and consistent conclusion of the loneliness and desolation that Jesus suffered in his whole life through the deafness and opposition of men and often the misunderstanding of his own disciples. Only occasionally do the gospels mention this, and Luther commented that “if everything about Christ had been written down, we would read of many a severe affliction. He was a man who from his youth was tormented by many afflictions.” Actually he had already died in the garden of Gethsemane before he was crucified, for there he had already suffered death and desolation to the depths. On the cross all of the cross of his life was summarized.

But therefore the meaning of his life for us is also summed up in the cross. Christ’s dereliction means something deeper than the desolation of any human being could ever mean. In that dereliction he became the brother of the loneliest and most derelict of men. This is the seal upon the love of God. No starry heaven, no marvel of creation, can make us so sure of it as the fact that Christ by the will of the Father took upon himself this uttermost affliction of soul. But while he was obliged to plunge into forsakenness, he was not forsaken, but rather led by God’s strong, irresistible hand to the only place where he could become the Savior of the world, right next to all who are desolate in the bottomless hell where man left alone inevitably falls into despair.

Christ’s cross and dereliction can help us to overcome our cross and dereliction. If God’s love is hidden in the cross, then it is also our cross. There is where God seeks us most intensely, there he desires to speak to us and assure us that his power is revealed at its mightiest in our weakness. The person who has found God’s love here, on the cross, will also find it elsewhere , in the cosmos, in human love. But he who looks first for it somewhere else and not in this hidden center of divine help for the world will founder and come to grief upon the suffering and meaninglessness of life. We cannot see the face of God, but in Christ, said Luther, God gave himself a “little, near face” which we can look upon. It is a human suffering face, the face of the Crucified. But in it dwells the majesty of the love of God. (The Heart of Reformation Faith, Henirich Bornkamm, 1963, pp. 49-51)

Heinrich Bornkamm

Heinrich Bornkamm

For further study on Luther’s “Theology of the Cross” here is a link to a good 2005 article by Carl R. Trueman.

As always comments and questions are welcomed! Thanks,

Bryan @ Manifest Propensity

 

U2’s “California (There is no End to Love)” and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s thoughts on loss

loss480-blogSpan

“California (There is no End to Love)” contains the following lyric:

There’s no end to grief
That’s how I know

That’s how I know
And why I need to know that there is no end to love
All I know and all I need to know is there is no end to love

U2

On Christmas Eve, 1943, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a letter from Tegel prison to Renate and Eberhard Bethge. In the letter he wrote some things that seem to provide a good “theological” basis for what U2 sang in “California (There is no End to Love).” Bonhoeffer wrote:

“…there is nothing that can replace the absence of someone dear to us, and one should not even attempt to do so; one must simply persevere and endure it. At first this sounds very hard, but at the same time it is a great comfort, for one remains connected to the other person through the emptiness to the extent that it remains unfilled. It is wrong to say that God fills the emptiness; God in no way fills it but rather keeps it empty and thus helps us persevere – even in pain – our authentic communion. Further, the more beautiful and full the memories, the more difficult the separation. But gratitude transforms the torment of memory into peaceful joy. One bears what was beautiful in the past not as a thorn but as a precious gift deep within. One must guard against wallowing in these memories, giving oneself entirely over to them, just as one does not gaze endlessly at a precious gift but only at particular times, and otherwise possesses it only as a hidden treasure of which one is certain.” (Letters and Papers from Prison, p. 238)

1 Corinthians 13:7 English Standard Version of the Bible (ESV)

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

BMC @ Manifest Propensity, 2014

Comments or questions are always welcomed!

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.

 

 

 

Some thoughts on our “natural” human reaction to God’s grace (from Flannery O’Connor, Dean Koontz, Mary Doria Russell, and Jesus of Nazareth)

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“All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful.”

– Flannery O’Connor

An excerpt from “A Catholic Thinker” blog article “The Mean Grace of Flannery O’Connor“:

“I think there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened. A faith that just accepts is a child’s faith and all right for children, but eventually you have to grow religiously as every other way, though some never do. What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe. If you feel you can’t believe, you must at least do this: keep an open mind. Keep it open toward faith, keep wanting it, keep asking for it, and leave the rest to God.”

“This notion that grace is healing omits the fact that before it heals, it cuts with the sword Christ said He came to bring.”

“[The trendy “beat” writers] call themselves holy but holiness costs and so far as I can see they pay nothing. It’s true that grace is the free gift of God but in order to put yourself in the way of being receptive to it you have to practice self-denial.”

And when explaining (what I considered incomprehensible) “A Good Man is Hard to Find” to a friend,

“There is a moment of grace in most of the stories, or a moment where it is offered, and usually rejected. Like when the Grandmother recognizes the Misfit as one of her children (a child of God) and reaches out to touch him. It’s the moment of grace for her anyway – a silly old woman – but it leads him to shoot her. This moment of grace excites the devil to frenzy.”

Excerpt from “Odd Thomas” by Dean Koontz:

Most people desperately desire to believe that they are part of a great mystery, that Creation is a work of grace and glory, not merely the result of random forces colliding. Yet each time that they are given but one reason to doubt, a worm in the apple of the heart makes them turn away from a thousand proofs of the miraculous, whereupon they have a drunkard’s thirst for cynicism, and they feed upon despair as a starving man upon a loaf of bread. (page 142)

Excerpt from “The Sparrow” by Mary Doria Russell:

God was at Sinai and within weeks, people were dancing in front of a golden calf. God walked in jerusalem and days later, folks nailed Him up and then went back to work. Faced with the Divine, people took refuge in the banal, as though answering a cosmic multiple-choice question: If you saw a burning bush, would you (a) call 911, (b) get the hot dogs, or (c) recognize God (Quoted in “Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places” by Eugene Peterson; page 177)

Excerpt from Mark 6:6 King James Version:

“And he marvelled because of their unbelief.” Jesus of Nazareth

(Whereas we marvel at belief.)

BMC @ Manifest Propensity, 2014