Catechized: Confessions & Reflections (5)

Q. 5. Are there more Gods than one?
A. There is but one only, the living and true God.

Many good conversations can begin with contemplation or questions about God and His nature.  What does nature reveal about Him? What do men reveal about Him?  Ecclesiastes wrestles with these questions, as do many of the Psalms.  Our tendency is to rely upon our senses to engage reality – to live our the argument of our philosophy (whether we realize we are a living argument or not) from inward to outward.

Considering this question in a meaningful way helps us to begin in the right place in all our musings: with the One God, and His character, His words.

I understand the popularity of the current so-called atheism like I understand the drive for quicker, faster technology in our handheld devices: while requiring no real effort, we at once feel stronger, more powerful, in control.  We aren’t, of course, and in our more honest moments we know we aren’t.  The iPhone [insert current model number] does not make you more powerful, or more smarter, or more anything.  Except stressed, probably.  And in the same way, the cry “there is no God!” does nothing to solve the problems of either society or the individual.  If anything, it makes real answers impossible to find.  The absence of a source of absolute, foundational Truth within the universe would logically eliminate any meaningful conversation about the validity of one worldview over another.  And yet look at the anger of the typical atheist, particularly as it is aimed toward religion, and you will discover truth:

Their words say “there is no God.”  Their vehemence says “I am mad at him.”  And we must embrace the atheist around us, living with them in grace and truth, for such were we, in every meaningful way, prior to the Spirit’s quickening us to Life.  But understand the real conversation is never about whether or not God exists.  It’s about the devastating consequences of sin, where the blame lies, and what the solution is.  That’s the real issue.

Romans 1 gives us a good understanding of even the most irreligious culture.  All men know there is a God.  Both from within, and from the constant witness of the reality in which they live.  Denying and suppressing this truth, they seek out something else to worship, for worship they must.  They were made for it.  We call this worship of anything else, idolatry.

There is One God.  He is Living, and He is true.  Amen.

The Doom of Men

What dreams escape their ivory bonds
Through ivory bound to bind in lie;
What sounds escape men’s ivory gates
Oft boundless cut to bind in time.

Though sword we fear, and bullet swift,
Though bombs hold sway to terrify:
Yet still the greatest doom of men
Sparks from no forge ere deadly flight.

It lurks in darkness, warm and wet
Awaiting form from thought and heart
At lights first glimpse it strikes its blow
To rend the soul, to tear apart
The form within that forms the man
A pain against he cannot stand.

Beware this blade unformed by hands
For none can tame it: none can stand.

-Charles Baldon, May 2014

of iron men and seeds in stone hearts

To know a culture, look to the stories it loves, the art it produces, the music that moves it. The wealthier the culture, the more difficult this becomes, because wealth brings with it options: culture becomes more variable as we have a greater ability to choose which forces press upon us and shape our lives.

More difficult, I said, but not impossible. As an observer, I’ve been intrigued with our reaction to the current story arc of the various Avengers movies. We are hell-bent (in a very real sense) on being Tony Stark, bad boy. We want the money, we want the power, we want options. We seek to cast off all restraint… and in so doing, have chosen leaders for ourselves who restrain us in ways our forefathers would never have dreamed of, but the inevitable tyranny of excess is a post for another time.

the_avengers-wideNo, the interesting thing I’ve noticed is while we strive – with our dollars, our votes, our time – for less and less restraint, for more of what we want in the very instant that we want it, we still recognize that the heroic moment of the film franchise is the moment when Tony Stark, as Ironman, is willing to sacrifice himself for the good of the world. He understands that taking the nuclear warhead into space will likely lead to his death…

but it’s the right thing to do, and he does it.

So many questions! This moment resonates with us. We recognize his maturity. We recognize his character has grown: dare we say we recognize that he is a better man than he was? All of the sudden we find ourselves using moral language, with all its implications. Maybe we don’t really think it through, and we merely treat it as entertainment. So then, what makes it popular? What makes it resonate in the way that it does?

Let me suggest something for your consideration. Though we strive with every fiber of our well-financed American beings to define our own lives, to write our own stories… we can’t.

The Great Story has been written, is being written and will be written, all at the same time, all within the glorious paradox that is the Gospel. I suggest that we know, deep in the core of our hearts, what a good story is. We are in one, with all of its shadows and light.

We recognize sacrifice.
We recognize honor.
We recognize selflessness.

In this late stage in the long defeat of the West, we seem to have given up on deep cultural consideration of virtue and its Source. But we cannot help but recognize it in our stories. We cannot help but to respond.

I’ll be thinking out loud further of how Christians can use this truth, buried as it is within our culture, to the glory of God and the advancement of his Kingdom in some future posts. It is long past the time when Christians should reassert the sovereignty of God over every form of art: cinema, photography, painting, sculpture, poetry, literature. They are His. They have never stopped being His. I would further posit that far from settling for a small sub-set of art we label “Christian” (I’m not sure who, exactly, grants this title, but it seems to happen and be very important to some of us), our goal should be to reclaim all of it.

The chief end of man truly is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. I will not suggest for a moment that Tony Stark was seeking to glorify God in the climactic scene of the Avengers film. But I would ask you to consider the idea that Mr. Stark was emulating those qualities which spring forth from the very heart of God, those qualities that we who have been called into His service seek to emulate in our own lives in grateful obedience to His commands. And the culture – our culture – saw this, and called it good.

And that, my friends, is a wonderful place to start.

Sublime

I drown in tears that do not fall
Each smile a lie I do not tell
Each breath a page I do not write
My life a book I do not read

In shadows vain we seek for light
Blind guides who call our stumbles dance
Our wretched shrieks a symphony
Our groping hands a deep romance

How long, O man, how long until
With eyes to beauty drawn we see
The truth that lies beneath the sun
Sublime divine simplicity

-Charles Baldon, April 2014

The Second Coming (Yeats)

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

-William Butler Yeats, 1919

of virtue and law

Law should not protect people, law should protect virtue; by virtue of this, the virtuous are then protected by law.

This our Founders showed an understanding of, as they attempted (imperfectly, but earnestly) to tie man’s law to Divine virtue.  And it is this principle that guides true progress: we do not yet perfectly reflect the Divine virtue in our earthly laws, and so we continue to examine and refine that which we believe should be law.  We do not change for the sake of the people’s ever-changing desires, but for the sake of virtue, which assures the people’s highest good.

The Progressive is correct: things need to change.

The Conservative is correct: things need to change in a specific direction.

The Shield Wall

The darkness recedes on waves of agony, and reality slams back into focus. Searing pain rips through your midsection, and your hands involuntarily close on the broken spear shaft sunk deep into your belly. The body of an enemy lies nearby, his hand clutching the other part of the shaft, your own sundered blade through his neck. A fire burns in your abdomen. Breath comes in short gasps.

Glancing left and right, you see that no one lives on this hill. Bodies of friends and foe lay strewn about. For a while, the line had held, but the attacks had been relentless. Hours ago the line had splintered into smaller groups, each making its last, desperate stand. A few minutes before a hard blow turned your shield to kindling. That had been the beginning of the end. With your shield gone, it was only a matter of time.

Another wave of pain forces a grimace; this was not the end you’d imagined. The shrieking of the enemy horde reaches your ears – they are massing for another attack, and this time there’s no one left to stop them. Such a waste. So many dead, and the enemy just rolls on, relentless. The shrieking is getting louder, but already the world is growing dim. The pain is getting further away; you’re getting colder. Try as you might, you can’t move your hands from the weapon that has killed you, not even to die with your sword in your hand. My god, nothing ever hurt like this!

Screaming hate hits you like a physical force as the next wave of enemies closes. The first of them run right past. Then a pair notice you still draw breath, and they pause to savor their kill. Determined to give them no satisfaction, you stare as defiantly as you can directly into their eyes, and they raise their cruelly barbed spears for the killing blow. The blows descend –

and a shield slams down into place, both spears deflecting wide and leaving the enemy open to your savior’s counterthrusts. In the second it takes you to register that you still live, they fall, dead.

Down on the ground you can’t get a good look at this soldier, but he seems as fresh as when the battle began. Others of the enemy horde have realized his presence, and you catch a glimpse of a strong jaw line, of a terrible fire in the eyes. Shield and sword ready, he stands over you as if made of stone. A sea of enemies converges on your spot, far too many for this one man to stand against.

Yet stand he does! And more than that, the enemy is falling like wheat at the harvest. Every blow is dispatching more of the foe to eternity, but he has to tire at some point. Doesn’t he? Now the screams of the enemy shift to a cry of recognition; they know this champion, and they come at him in a snarling rage.

For a moment it seemed as if you might live, but your vision is dimming again, and you’re shivering with cold even though the sun blazes overhead. You’ve been around long enough to know a mortal wound when you see it. Whispering thanks to this fellow soldier for his efforts, you close your eyes.

-This-

booms a voice above you. You have never heard a more beautiful sound, an entire song sung in a single word.

-one-

The champion is speaking! Each word trembles with barely restrained power. Opening your eyes again, the world has come back into sharper focus.

-is-

Growing slightly warmer as the words flow over you, you watch as his sword flashes and another enemy spins away. The very air around you bristles with electricity, a storm about to break.

-MINE!-

The word itself bursts forth as a mighty shout, cutting through the enemy like a scythe. The ground beneath you shakes, and one last thought drifts across your mind as you finally lose consciousness:

Who is this man?

Awakening this time is peaceful; the pain remains, but something is different. The world around you is silent – the battle must be over! But how can it be? Looking up, you see your deliverer looking down on you, face covered in grime and sweat. He smiles and leans forward, and it strikes you that this might be the most genuine, honest face you’ve ever laid eyes on. Overcome with gratitude, you move to speak. With a gesture he silences you.

“Listen, friend. The wound need not be mortal, but we have to remove that spearhead.” He continues, answering the fear in your eyes and the slight shaking of your head. A voice inside screams at you: the spearhead is all that’s keeping you alive! It’s plugging a huge hole, if it’s removed…! Your shaking hands grip the spear even tighter.

“There is little time left. You have to trust me. Let me help you… let go of the spear. It’s killing you.” His hand on your shoulder is strong and comforting at the same time, but the voice inside cries out again. There’s no hope! If that spear comes out, what little life remains to you is gone!

Looking into his eyes, you try to move your hands off the rough hewn wood, but the muscles have been tight now for too long. It will take more strength than you have. In a voice barely more than a gasp, you ask him to help. “I-I can’t-I can’t do it. Can you help me let it go?”

“You had but to ask. I won’t lie to you; this is going to hurt.” In a single motion he effortlessly moves aside your hands, and pushes the spear the rest of the way through the wound. A ragged cry rips from your lips. Before, you were in pain, but this! You didn’t know there was agony like this in all the world –

And then it’s gone, so quickly you wonder if you imagined it. Looking down, expecting to see the ruin of your stomach, you stare for a moment in shock.

Not only is there no blood, there’s no wound. Your armor is whole again, and shining like new from the smith. In amazement, you look up again, eyes wide. And then you recognize your deliverer, your champion… your Savior.

“My Lord!” As fast as you had started to sit up, you throw yourself face down on the ground before him. How did you not see it before? Shaking –this time with reverence and awe – your breath is once again coming in short bursts.

“Rise, faithful servant.” He reaches down and helps you up to stand before Him, a wry smile on His face. “I think you’ve spent enough time on the ground for one day,” he continues. Was that the faintest hint of laughter in His voice? You can only match His gaze for the briefest moment, and then you lower your eyes in respect. He speaks again, and His voice is a melody that moves your soul to tears.

“You have stood for me this day, and I will remember it. One day all struggles will cease, forever… but until that time, go forth in my Name. And hold fast to this promise: no one who stands in my Name will ever stand alone.”

A moment passes. Daring to look up again, you realize everything has changed! Where your Lord stood, a bubbling stream now flows up from the ground. Its banks run thick with green grass, lush and inviting. Kneeling to drink, you hadn’t realized until this moment how terribly thirsty you were. The water is pure and sweet. Having drunk your fill, you stand up and see the gifts He has left for you: leaning against a nearby tree rest your sword and your shield, restored to gleaming perfection once more. Taking them up, you set your foot on the path before you, in search of your sword brothers.

Ephesians 6:10-20 tells us to take up the full armor of God, that we may stand against the Evil One.

We are never instructed to remove it.