"What is supposed to happen in a democracy is that each sovereign citizen will always vote
in the public interest for the safety and welfare of all. But what does happen is that he votes
his own self-interest as he sees it... which for the majority translates as 'Bread and Circuses'."
- Robert A. Heinlein

In Roman times, free Bread and Circuses entertained the masses. I hope you find your time
here both entertaining and informative.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Raven

by Edgar Allan Poe

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
" 'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door;
Only this, and nothing more."

Ah, distinctly I remember, it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow, sorrow for the lost Lenore,.
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore,
Nameless here forevermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me---filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating,
" 'Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door,
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door.
This it is, and nothing more."

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
"Sir," said I, "or madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is, I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you." Here I opened wide the door;---
Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into the darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortals ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word,
Lenore?, This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word,
"Lenore!" Merely this, and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping, something louder than before,
"Surely," said I, "surely, that is something at my window lattice.
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore.
Let my heart be still a moment, and this mystery explore.
" 'Tis the wind, and nothing more."

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven, of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door.
Perched upon a bust of Pallas, just above my chamber door,
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
"Though thy crest be shorn and shaven thou," I said, "art sure no craven,
Ghastly, grim, and ancient raven, wandering from the nightly shore.
Tell me what the lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore."
Quoth the raven, "Nevermore."

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning, little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door,
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as "Nevermore."

But the raven, sitting lonely on that placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered; not a feather then he fluttered;
Till I scarcely more than muttered, "Other friends have flown before;
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before."
Then the bird said, "Nevermore."

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
"Doubtless," said I, "what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master, whom unmerciful disaster
Followed fast and followed faster, till his songs one burden bore,---
Till the dirges of his hope that melancholy burden bore
Of "Never---nevermore."

But the raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore --
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking "Nevermore."

Thus I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl, whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamplight gloated o'er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamplight gloating o'er
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by seraphim whose footfalls tinkled on the tufted floor.
"Wretch," I cried, "thy God hath lent thee -- by these angels he hath
Sent thee respite---respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, O quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!"
Quoth the raven, "Nevermore!"

"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil!--prophet still, if bird or devil!
Whether tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate, yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted--
On this home by horror haunted--tell me truly, I implore:
Is there--is there balm in Gilead?--tell me--tell me I implore!"
Quoth the raven, "Nevermore."

"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil--prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that heaven that bends above us--by that God we both adore--
Tell this soul with sorrow laden, if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden, whom the angels name Lenore---
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden, whom the angels name Lenore?
Quoth the raven, "Nevermore."

"Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!" I shrieked, upstarting--
"Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! -- quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!"
Quoth the raven, "Nevermore."

And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming.
And the lamplight o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted---nevermore!

Saturday, April 08, 2006

I hear of Jack everywhere...

I am Jack’s confused sense of being misunderstood.

I am writing today to extol the virtues of one of the most widely praised and universally misunderstood Christian writers. Those who know me well know I refer to C.S. Lewis.

Lewis has been seized upon by many in the protestant branch as the answer to Catholic academia. We can now look smugly at our Catholic brethren and say “see, we protestants have a thinker too.” But when it comes down to it, we tend to shrug him off as “just the guy who wrote Screwtape Letters and the Chronicles of Narnia. And he had some wacky ideas.” You will find this theory postulated by those who are the least familiar with Lewis’ corpus of work. Instead they rely on objections such as these: “I hear Lewis became a Catholic before he died,” “Didn’t he lose his faith after his wife died,” “He had ‘Beer and Beowulf’ evenings with his grad students.” “Wasn’t he good friends with that Catholic Tolkien, (to which I reply, Tolkien led him to faith),” “Lewis was Anglican, which is almost Catholic,” and perhaps the most spiritually damning of all, “Didn’t he smoke?”

This is perhaps the most tragic symptom of the protestant Reformation. We exchanged one “infallible” Pope for hundreds of fallible little popes, il papetto, each demanding we follow him. As Tocqueville reminded us, democracies have a tendency to produce few great men, few great issues. And so it is with the modern democratic church. For a man like Lewis, whose whole life was devoted to the great issues of Faith, he is now a man with no country to call home. His doctrines make Catholicism uncomfortable, while his criticism of the church and stand for doctrinal fidelity frightens protestants. Rejected by so many, a number of his works languish in theological misunderstanding or willful ill will. And thus we miss out on the Lewis who struggled to obtain True Truth and reflect it in his works.

To reduce Lewis to a cozy Oxford don who wrote cute children’s books about a Lion, and occasionally amused himself by writing letters as a devil, would be to grossly underestimate the breadth of his work. These “objections” to his work, if you could charitably call them that, rob the man of his apologetic, philosophical and theological power, and establish the shallow hull of fiction left behind as “Lewis the Man, Lewis Properly Understood, Lewis without all those Dangerous Ideas.” To do this is to, to quote the man himself, “castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.” Those who study him see the diverse Lewis, the Lewis who wrote a confession of what it is to be a Christian, regardless of doctrinal differences, as powerful as Mere Christianity. The Lewis who struggled with questions of doubt and death in A Grief Observed. The Lewis who so strongly and comfortably explained his answer to the age old question “How can a good God allow Evil to be?” The Lewis who sought Truth in all its sources, discussing The Tao and Natural Law. The Lewis who reserved his most biting criticism, not for the sinners, the harlots, the drunkards, but the “cold, self-righteous prigs who go regularly to church.” I believe this is truly the reason we like to denigrate the man. If we can write off his theological points on technicalities, we can ignore his probity into what is seriously wrong with the Church, and how God demands we set it right.

I do not presume to offer a vindication of Lewis to the skeptics. To do so would be to assume a great many things to which I do not have the right. It would imply that I fully understood Lewis in order to make a proper defense. It would assume that I believed that those who wish to marginalize him are truly concerned with Truth. And most of all it would assume that Lewis needs vindication. He does not. I only ask my reader, for your sake, read Lewis. Start with Mere Christianity. Then take a second look at Screwtape. Follow it with A Grief Observed. Then re-read Mere Christianity. Add in The Abolition of Man. Once you’ve done that, if you are truly seeking Truth, then I believe you will want to read more, and you will see the overarching themes which drive Lewis’ work, the first of which is his pursuit of God and Truth.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Four Years in the Face of Eternity

Just a candle in the wind
A spark in the night
Only one grain of sand
in the whirlwind of time

Just a word in the Book
Quiet cry in the wild
One moment in time
Only a glint in His eye

And yet why do we think
That our time is our own
His work a budget line
In the ledger of life

We're just
a candle in the wind
A spark in the night
Only one grain of sand
In the whirlwind of time

Tiny seed in the field
Only a word of Truth
Life lasts a moment then
We whither as a grass

When you owe your all
how can you offer less
When forever's on the table
How can we hedge our bets

Four years is a scene
On the Author's stage
We play our tiny part
and exit in the dark

A life full of love
passes like a breath
In deaths lonely rattle
But Love walks on

So let me place the bet
And play my hand
Just live my part
Played to the heart

What are four years
when the stake is a soul
When so many harvests
Takes ten times more

So I'll give the years
Which look long to one
who can't fully read
the Script He penned

If I budget You a minute
I'll miss it in a blink
Your Unseen Hand's economy
asks more than I can think

Not a rash committment
To speak a word in haste
But a higher calling
to live a life of grace

Here I am resolved
What other could I do
I'll read my bit part
and let the play move on

For I'm just
A spark in the night
Sand in the Sea
A word in the Book
A glint in His Eye

For Rita and Fran

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Not Disqualified: "I cultivate my flowers and burn my weeds."

The following is not prompted by any one incident or by being called to accountability. It is also not an invitation to an open public debate on the merits of arguments against the "vice" in question. It is rather the culmination of a long growing intent to set forth a public defense of something I enjoy. Like Spurgeon, I feel I can no longer quietly participate in something that does not grieve my conscience without either accepting I am committing an unclean act, or that I believe that I am acting outside of God's will. I am a Christian who smokes (and reads "heathen" books, enjoys the occasional drink, listens to "secular" music, watches R rated movies, and fellowships in an Anglican church, but all these are neither here nor there, though the application is similar). Read it in that light.

"Well, dear friends, you know that some men can do to the glory of God what to other men would be sin. And notwithstanding what brother Pentecost has said, I intend to smoke a good cigar to the glory of God before I go to bed to-night.

"If anybody can show me in the Bible the command, 'Thou shalt not smoke,' I am ready to keep it; but I haven't found it yet. I find ten commandments, and it's as much as I can do to keep them; and I've no desire to make them into eleven or twelve.

"The fact is, I have been speaking to you about real sins, not about listening to mere quibbles and scruples. At the same time, I know that what a man believes to be sin becomes a sin to him, and he must give it up. 'Whatsoever is not of faith is sin' [Rom. 14:23], and that is the real point of what my brother Pentecost has been saying.

"Why, a man may think it a sin to have his boots blacked. Well, then, let him give it up, and have them whitewashed. I wish to say that I'm not ashamed of anything whatever that I do, and I don't feel that smoking makes me ashamed, and therefore I mean to smoke to the glory of God."

These were the words preached from the pulpit by Charles Haddon Spurgeon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, responding to a previous speaker who had inveighed against smoking. After reports were published in various newspapers, Spurgeon wrote the Daily Telegraph to set the record straight. He said, in part:

"There is growing up in society a Pharisaic system which adds to the commands of God the precepts of men; to that system I will not yield for an hour. The preservation of my liberty may bring upon me the upbraidings of many good men, and the sneers of the self-righteous; but I shall endure both with serenity so long as I feel clear in my conscience before God.

"The expression 'smoking to the glory of God' standing alone has an ill sound, and I do not justify it; but in the sense in which I employed it I still stand to it. No Christian should do anything in which he cannot glorify God; and this may be done, according to Scripture, in eating and drinking and the common actions of life.

"When I have found intense pain relieved, a weary brain soothed, and calm, refreshing sleep obtained by a cigar, I have felt grateful to God, and have blessed His name; this is what I meant, and by no means did I use sacred words triflingly...

"I am told that my open avowal will lessen my influence, and my reply is that if I have gained any influence through being thought different from what I am, I have no wish to retain it. I will do nothing upon the sly, and nothing about which I have a doubt.

"I am most sorry that prominence has been given to what seems to me so small a matter—and the last thing in my thoughts would have been the mention of it from the pulpit; but I was placed in such a position that I must either by my silence plead guilty to living in sin, or else bring down upon my unfortunate self the fierce rebukes of the anti-tobacco advocates by speaking out honestly. I chose the latter; and although I am now the target for these worthy brethren, I would sooner endure their severest censures than sneakingly do what I could not justify, and earn immunity from their criticism by tamely submitting to be charged with sin in an action which my conscience allows."

In the wings, Johann Sebastian Bach, Christian and composer. "At land, at sea; at home, abroad; I smoke my pipe and worship God."

Count me with Lewis, Spurgeon, Tolkien, Bach, Luther, Barth, and R.C. Sproul. Not because I smoke or drink, but because I am striving, as we all should be, to capture God's purpose for my soul, not worrying about whether I am obeying an aesthetic legalism in regards to eating, drinking, or smoking.

Let No One Disqualify You
Colossians 2, beginning at verse 16: Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (ESV)

This post owes much debt to www.spurgeon.org

Sunday, April 02, 2006

New Armor for a New Church

And they devoted themselves to the pastor's teaching, to fellowship dinners, to the breaking of bread (once a quarter) and to the skits. (Acts 2, Revised Modern Church Version)

The Spiritual Armor of a Christian in the Modern Church

The Backplate of Unity:
We already have a breastplate of righteousness, I want a backplate to protect myself from "loving" sniping from behind. Or maybe I'll just sit in the back row.

The Shin Guards of Accountability:

So that you don't bark your shins when kicking a fellow believer when he's down.

The Bib of Fellowship:
For potlucks, fellowship dinners, ladies missionary brunches, men's prayer breakfasts (where the most substantial prayer is before the breakfast), love banquets, dessert nights, and snack time. When you're breaking bread, you don't want to get any on you.

The Mouth Guard of Love:
Like a TV Guardian for your mouth, keeps your language clean. Also waters down all criticism to an "encouragement opportunity," so you don't hurt other's feelings with truth. Also spiritually whitens teeth with just 20 minutes a day.

The "Cup" of Christ:
Keeps you pure and protects you during those "fellowship" times on the basketball court or hockey rink.

The Earmuffs of Edification:
TV Guardian for your ears. Turns any music, even on "secular" radio stations into the Walmart version. Keeps you from blushing around your coworkers when a foul word is dropped. Because we all know if we heard it, we'd have to confront it. Caution: Not intended for use around that evil group U2.

The Shield of Youthful Indifference:
With which we can extinguish the firey glances of the old people, directed towards our hair or clothes.