Friday, December 24, 2010

Child of the Star (a Christmastide poem by an orthodox rebel)

"And ye know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him is no sin." I John 3:5

"Into the depths and the deep degrees.
Into the flesh with its feeble knees.
From Light of lights into darkest stain.
From divine delights to a world of pain.

Into the coal came the burning spark.
Into the night came a thund'ring heart.
From out of the crib and the cattle smell,
Child of the star walked into our hell.

Shining star with it growing light.
Shepherd's hill where they felt the fright.
The angel's song did yet surmise
This night of nights was the dark's demise.

Little cry from the manger hay.
Thirty years is all that He could stay.
The darkest day where the pain was long
Where the cross crescendoed the angel's song.

Into the pits of our despair.
Into the teeth of the demon's lair.
Into the wound only He could heal.
Into the hearts only He could steal.

Out of the depths and the deep degrees.
Still in the flesh without feeble knees.
We are His and He is ours.
Sons of God and children of the Star."

-Jon Vowell (c) 2010

"Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence" (a favorite Christmastide carol of an orthodox rebel)

"Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence" is probably my favorite Christmas carol. The sadness and beauty of the sounds mixed with the depth of its theology affects me deeply every time. Here you can find the lyrics and tune, and here is one of my favorite renditions of it by Fernando Ortega:

A Christmastide Homily (as preached by an orthodox rebel)

The following was original posted on my Jesu Juva blog in Novermber of 2008.

"[Lucifer is] the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms, that made the world as a wilderness, and destroyed the cities thereof, that opened not the house of his prisoners." Isaiah 14:16b, 17

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord hath appointed me to preach good tidings to the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound, [...] to comfort them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.... I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall be joyful in my God...." Isaiah 61:1, 3a, 10a

"For this purpose the Son of God was manifested: that He might destroy the works of the devil." I John 3:8b

To see Jesus as a social revolutionary is an injustice and a crime against the Gospel. To see Him as a mere statement of Divine sentimentality is a blasphemous hatred against the Gospel. To see Him as a cash cow, a cosmic ATM, is to rob the Gospel of all power and glory. To see Him as the liberator from cruel governments of men is to be as confused and disappointed at His coming as the Jews who eventually killed Him were. If you see and preach Christ as anything less or other than the propitiation for the Sin of the world, as the revelation of God's holy wrath and loving kindness, as the only mediator between God and man, as the Destroyer of all evil and corruption caused since the Fall, and as the Kinsman Redeemer of all men who have fallen, then you blaspheme and disgrace the work and name of our Lord, and we have no part in you, for what fellowship has light with darkness? Indeed, if you preach any gospel other than that which proclaims the forgiveness of sins and atonement of men back to God through the shed blood of Christ, then you are merely adding to the darkness that already blinds so many. Every breath you breathe that carries with it your false gospel sends unholy fog across the souls of men, furthering their natural obscurity, so that the true light is even harder to find. In the end, you will be one of the ones mentioned in Matthew 7:21-23; you will have your reward.

The lost and lonely people of this dying world do not need a social revolutionary. They do not need beautiful phrases of sentimentality. They do not need a cosmic ATM. They do not need a usurping liberator. They do not need a guru, an enlightened one, a homeboy, a co-pilot, or a moral mentor; they need a savior. They need the awesome and terrible truth that God is there, He is not silent, and He has come to us, "His arm [has] brought salvation...the Redeemer [has] come to Zion" (Isaiah 59:15, 20). This world needs good news that transcends and outlasts all cultures, kingdoms, fashions, and fads; news that is good no matter what social, cultural, political, or religious environment you live in. This world needs a saving truth that is the same for all at all times no matter what happens, and that truth has always been: God is, God loves, and God can be found. 

-Jon Vowell (c) 2008

Earth Stood Still (a Christmastide carol by Current Orthodox Rebels)

An original Christmas song from the new Advent Christmas EP, Vol. 2 by Future of Forestry:

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Chesterton, Colebatch, and the Glastonbury Thorn (Christmastide news and thoughts by an aussie author)

The following is an article written for The American Spectator by Hal G.P. Colebatch. He is writing in reference to the Glastonbury Thorn tree and the most recent vandalism against it. I found Dr. Colebatch's thoughts (and Chesterton's sayings) to be quite moving and encouraging.

The other week in Britain the Glastonbury Thorn Tree was destroyed by persons unknown. It was a scrubby, undistinguished-looking tree. Few trees have had such links with high religious mystery.

It is said to be in its origins 2,000 years old and to have direct links with Christ. According to legend it is either sprung from the Crown of Thorns or from seeds planted by Joseph of Arimathea, who, according to the Gospel, gave his tomb to hold Christ's body.

In fact it is historically possibly, if not particularly likely, that Joseph of Arimathea visited England. Archeological evidence shows that England had considerable trade with Europe before being absorbed into the Roman Empire after 43 A.D. and travel in the Roman World was relatively easy.

Although the story of Joseph of Arimathea is encrusted with legends, he is described by St. Mark as an "honorable counselor" in Judea and may have been a wealthy merchant.

Whether or not there is any truth in any of the many legends that have grown about the tree is in a sense unimportant. It has been at the very least a place of contemplation.

The important fact is that the Glastonbury Thorn, like Glastonbury itself (Glastonbury Abbey is one reputed burial-place of King Arthur), has been a focus for Christian beliefs in England since ancient times. It had, over the centuries, become a site of pilgrimage, and a cutting from the tree was sent to the Queen to decorate her Christmas dinner table every year.

Glastonbury is also a seat of the legend of the Holy Grail. Many have remarked on a feeling of uncanniness about it.

The thorn tree is said to have flowered on Christmas Day every year for the last two millennia.

G. K. Chesterton, in "The Ballad of the White Horse," telling of Alfred the Great's defense against the marauding and destroying Viking barbarians, referred to:
The Earls of the Great Army
That no men born could tire,

Whose flames anear him or aloof

Took hold of towers and walls of proof,

Fire over Glastonbury roof

And out on Ely, fire …
The fires of the Great Army

That was made of iron men,

Whose lights of sacrilege and scorn

Ran around England red as morn,
Fire over Glastonbury Thorn--

Fire out on Ely Fen.
The destruction of the tree may have been mindless vandalism or a deliberate attack on a symbol of, and aid to, Christian faith -- and there are plenty of anti-Christian fanatics in Britain today (when both convicts and police, as well as members of the remaining armed forces, are, in the name of political correctness, given time off to observe pagan rituals). Or possibly the target was British history and identity, which has been under attack from many quarters, including official ones, in recent times.

Whoever did it went to a good deal of trouble because the tree was protected by a wire fence. Further, the fact that the destruction took place on December 8 suggests those responsible were well aware of the significance of the tree. This has traditionally been the date on which a sprig was cut from it to present to the Queen.

Whatever the motive behind the destruction was, if the tree is lost then something at the core of Western civilization has been diminished. In "The Ballad of the White Horse," Alfred, looking at the senseless destruction and waste caused by the barbarians, tells them:
Therefore your end is on you,
Is on you and your kings,
Not for a fire in Ely fen,
Not that your gods are nine or ten,
But because it is only Christian men
Guard even heathen things.
The branches were sawn off the tree and piled nearby but a six-foot stump remains. There is apparently some hope the tree may be saved. Tree-surgeons have dressed the tree's wounds in pine resin and beeswax and it has been wrapped up to protect it from the frost. Arborist Peter Wood Frearson was quoted as saying: "I am 75 per cent sure the tree will survive."

Religious fanatics have attacked the tree previously, but it has proved very hard to kill. During the English Civil War Oliver Cromwell's Puritan Roundheads felled the tree. However locals salvaged the roots of the original tree, hiding them in secret locations around Glastonbury.

Various shoots of it were raised and tended over several centuries and it was replanted on the hill in 1951.
Many people have been distressed by the destruction of the tree. However in "The Ballad of the White Horse" Chesterton had Alfred give an answer to the barbarians' destruction:
For our God hath blessed creation,
Calling it good. I know
The spirit with whom you blindly band
Hath blessed destruction with his hand;
Yet by God's death the stars still stand
And the small apples grow.
And, after all, he did win the final battle.

The Moonlit Statues on a Winter's Eve (a Christmastide poem by an orthodox rebel)

"The criss-crossed frost can etch its way
Under shadow of the sky that escaped the day.

On the grim-cracked faces of the iron men
It covers o'er their fingers and fills each grin.

Ne'er ever was there an air so nice
As the night death-throes and the burning ice."

-Jon Vowell (c) 2010

Pie Jesu: Lyrics and Renditions (a Christmastide post by an orthodox rebel)

Pie Jesu, Pie Jesu,
Pie Jesu, Pie Jesu,
Qui tollis peccata mundi
Dona eis requiem,
Dona eis requiem.

Agnus Dei, Agnus Dei,
Agnus Dei, Agnus Dei,
Qui tollis peccata mundi
Dona eis requiem,
Dona eis requiem.
Sempiternam, sempiternam requiem.

Faithful Jesus, Faithful Jesus,
Faithful Jesus, Faithful Jesus,
You who take away the sins of the world
Grant them peace,
Grant them peace.

Lamb of God, Lamb of God,
Lamb of God, Lamb of God,
You who take away the sins of the world
Grant them peace,
Grant them peace.

Everlasting, everlasting peace.]

Charlotte Church version (apologies for the random Japanese text):

Sarah Brightman version:

Celtic Woman version:

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Disaster that is Multiculturalism (as explained by a the wit of a Brit)

The following is an article written for The American Spectator by Roger Scruton. Though I am not quite as optimistic as he as about the "end" of multiculturalism, his analysis of it and of Western culture is spot-on.

Throughout my adult life governments around the Western world have been propagating the gospel of multiculturalism, which tells us that immigrants, from whatever part of the world and whatever way of life, are a welcome part of our "multicultural" society. Differences of language, religion, custom, and attachment don't matter, they have reassured us, since all can form part of the colorful tapestry of the modern state. Anybody who publicly disagreed with that claim invited the attentions of the thought police, always ready with the charge of racism, and never so scrupulous as to think it a sin to destroy the career of someone, provided he was white, indigenous, and male. To be quite honest, living through this period of organized mendacity has been one of the least agreeable ordeals that we conservatives have had to undergo. Keeping your head down is bad enough; but filling your head with official lies means sacrificing thought as well as freedom.

But now, quite suddenly, the oppression has ceased. Even Angelika Merkel, chancellor of a country whose reputation for political correctness is more carefully nurtured than any other cultural asset, has just told us that multiculturalism is dead -- quite dead. President Sarkozy has for some time been saying the same, while Prospect, Britain's leading left-wing intellectual monthly, currently carries the caption "re-thinking race: has multiculturalism had its day?" This caption is in many ways the most revealing of the current attempts to put multiculti at a distance. For it manages simultaneously to deny and to affirm the original message, which is that to discriminate among cultures is to discriminate on grounds of race -- in other words, to be a racist. This is perhaps the most pernicious of the lies that we have been required to swallow during these years of oppression, since it is one that compares all defense of the majority culture, and all attempts to integrate minorities, with some of the greatest crimes of recent history.

So let's be clear from the outset: culture and race have nothing to do with each other. There is no contradiction in the idea that Felix Mendelssohn was Jewish by race and German by culture -- or indeed that he was the most public-spirited representative of German culture in his day. Nor is there any contradiction in saying that a single person belongs to two cultures. Felix's grandfather Moses was a great Rabbi, upstanding representative of the Jewish cultural inheritance, and also founding father of the German Enlightenment. Many of the German philologists to which the Enlightenment gave rise were as multicultural as Moses Mendelssohn -- Max Müller, for example, German by race, English by adoption, and more steeped in the culture of India than virtually anyone alive today. Wagner had to twist and turn his thoughts into every kind of absurd contortion in order to discover "Jewishness" in the music of Felix Mendelssohn, from whom he took so much. (How could he have got to the music of Lohengrin without the help of Mendelssohn's music for A Midsummer Night's Dream?) And Wagner's repugnant essay on Judaism in music is one of the first instances of the lie that we have had to live through -- the lie that sees race and culture as the same idea, and which tells us that in demanding a measure of cultural uniformity, we are also affirming the dominance of a single race.

Once we distinguish race and culture, the way is open to acknowledge that not all cultures are equally admirable, and that not all cultures can exist comfortably side-by-side. To deny this is to forgo the very possibility of moral judgment, and therefore to deny the fundamental experience of community. It is precisely this that has caused the multiculturalists to hesitate. Rightly enjoying the polytheistic festivals of the Hindus, the Carnivals of Caribbean blacks, and the celebrations of the Chinese New Year, they have led us to believe that cultural difference is always an addition to social life, and never a threat to it. Anyone who discriminates between cultures, therefore, really must have something more dangerous at the back of his mind -- a desire to exclude on grounds of strangeness, which is the first step towards the racist mindset.

But experience has finally prevailed over wishful thinking. It is culture, not nature, that tells a family that their daughter who has fallen in love outside the permitted circle must be killed, that girls must undergo genital mutilation if they are to be respectable, that the infidel must be destroyed when Allah commands it. You can read about those things and think that they belong to the pre-history of our world. But when suddenly they are happening in your midst, you are apt to wake up to the truth about the culture that advocates them. You are apt to say, that is not our culture, and it has no business here. That is what Europeans are now saying -- not just a few crazies, but everyone. And the multiculturalists are reluctantly compelled to agree with them.

For what is being brought home to us, through painful experiences that we might have avoided had it been permitted before now to say the truth, is that we, like everyone else, depend upon a shared culture for our security, our prosperity and our freedom to be. We don't require everyone to have the same faith, to lead the same kind of family life, or to participate in the same festivals. But we have a shared moral and legal inheritance, a shared language, and a shared public sphere. Our societies are built upon the Judeo-Christian ideal of neighbor-love, according to which strangers and intimates deserve equal concern. They require each of us to respect the freedom and sovereignty of every other, and to acknowledge the threshold of privacy beyond which it is a trespass to go unless invited. Our societies depend upon a culture of law-abidingness and open contracts, and they reinforce these things through the educational traditions that have shaped our common curriculum. It is not an arbitrary cultural imperialism that leads us to value Greek philosophy and literature, the Hebrew Bible, Roman law, and the medieval epics and romances, and to teach these things in our schools. They are ours, in just the way that the legal order and the political institutions are ours: they form part of what made us, and convey the message that it is right to be what we are.

Over time immigrants can come to share these things with us: the experience of America bears ample witness to this. And they the more easily do so when they recognize that, in any meaningful sense of the word, our culture is also a multiculture, incorporating elements absorbed in ancient times from all around the Mediterranean basin and in modern times from the adventures of European traders and explorers across the world. But this kaleidoscopic culture is still one thing, with a set of inviolable principles at its core; and it is the source of social cohesion across Europe and America. Our culture allows for a great range of ways of life; it enables people to privatize their religion and their family customs, while still belonging to the public realm of open dealings and shared allegiance. For it defines that public realm in legal and territorial terms, and not in terms of creed or kinship.

So what happens when people whose identity is fixed by creed or kinship immigrate into places settled by Western culture? The multiculturalists say that we must make room for them, and that we do this by relinquishing the space in which their culture can flourish. Our political class has at last recognized that this is a recipe for disaster, and that we can welcome immigrants only if we welcome them into our culture, and not beside and against it. But that means telling them to accept rules, customs, and procedures that may be alien to their old way of life. Is this an injustice? Surely not. If immigrants come it is because they gain by doing so. It is therefore reasonable to remind them that there is also a cost. Only now, however, is our political class prepared to say so, and to insist that the cost be paid. And it may be that this change of heart comes too late.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

War Cry (a talk on light by an orthodox rebel)

"Ye are the light of the world...." Matthew 5:14

Nowhere does it say that we light the whole world; it simply says that we are lights. Our presence serves as a counter to the darkness, but it does not entirely negate it. Only one Light will cause complete negation, and He will come again someday. For now, until the blazing dawn of the Sun of Righteousness, we who are mere candlesticks offer a foretaste of glory divine.

It is important to understand that the darkness is just as much a reality as the light; if it wasn't, then our light wouldn't mean anything. To be "the light of the world" does not mean shining in a world of sunny days and rainbows. Rather, it means shining in the midst of the hostile dark, a dark that crawls and writhes and wails in cruel hate and spite against the light. It sees us as unacceptable, a foreign body fit for dispatch. It is a lonely business being the light of this world. We become pilgrims in an unholy land, with our one consolation being that our God is with us. Sunshine Christianity doesn't need Immanuel.

We must not despair at the darkness nor deny its reality and potency. That life as light is a battle should not be our sorrow but our song. "Ye are the light of the world" is not a fair-weather anthem for naive optimists. It is the war cry of the armies of the Lord. The dark walks in fear of it, and it always has (John 1:5).

-Jon Vowell (c) 2010

"I jump at desire, at beauty further..." (poetry from an Original Orthodox Rebel)

The following sonnet was written by Michelangelo:

"Since I have straw for flesh and my heart's sulphur,
Since I have bones consisting of dry wood,
Since my soul lacks a rein and lacks a guide,
Since I jump at desire, at beauty further,

Since all my brains are weak and blind, and totter,
And since quicklime and traps fill all the world,
It will be no surprise when I am burned
By a flash of the first fire I encounter.

Since I've the beautiful art, that those who bear it
From Heaven use to conquer Nature with,
Even if she can parry everywhere,

If I, not blind or deaf, was born for it,
A true match for my heart's fire-setting thief,
He is to blame who fated me to fire."

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Salt, the Salty, and the Stale (a lecture by an orthodox rebel)

"Ye are the salt of the earth...." Matthew 5:13

We all know that salt is a preservative: that it fights corruption and enhances flavor. Oft times, however, we forget our place as salt. We are not meant to be stuck in the salt-shaker; we must be in the meat that spoils and the wound that infects. Salt can lose its flavor by being too entangled with what it salts, disappearing into the boiling broth; but it also loses it through disuse, growing stale on the shelf. In Christianity today, we see these two extremes all the time. Some Christians, so terrified of the corruption of the world, make their churches and all affiliate institutions air-tight canisters where a lack of oxygen leaves them dry and brittle. Other Christians, repulsed by the staleness and ineffectiveness of canister Christianity, get so encumbered by the trappings and tastes of the world that they become indistinguishable from it and thus of no consequence to it. Both have forgot their purpose: corruption is to be fought, not coddled or ignored.

The sooner that we stop treating the Christian life like either a siege or a johnny-come-lately spectacle and start treating it like the battle that it is, the better off we will be. There are in equal parts enemies to fight and souls to rescue; there are songs to sing and swords to wield. We are to be in the thick of things, in the very midst of fallen men: fighting, singing, loving, weeping. We must not be like them, but we must not be less than them. We must be more than them, all that they are plus the awesome supernatural presence of God that smacks them across the face like fresh air from the sea. We are neither detractors nor imitators of the world. We are the children of God who carry His burning Spirit right into their very midst.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2010

Homily on the Beatitudes, Part 3: Fools for Christ and the Nature of True Persecution (as preached by an orthodox rebel)

"Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness sake.... Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake...." Matthew 5:10-11

Persecution in a vacuum is always evil. If you are "persecuted" because of yourself, because of your obnoxiousness and blitheness, because you play the fool and call it "ministry," then what ever scorn you get is well deserved. Preaching and living the gospel is not about attacking or insulting people's common sense and sensibilities. Rather, it is about exposing the desperation that their pride wishes to hide. The Church continues to suffer under a parade of clowns, jesters, and village idiots who mistake abrasiveness for evangelism and then call every attempt to put them in their place "persecution". What damage has been done by those who act like Jesus needs help being a stumbling-block? Jesus is the controversy; we are merely distractions.

Persecution that entails divine blessing is always persecution in a context: "for righteousness sake" and "for my sake." When you are persecuted, not for being a pretentious blowhard, but for proclaiming and defending what is good and for preaching the man called Christ, then "blessed are ye." Persecution for the sake of an other's merit and virtues is blessed; "persecution" for the sake of our own lunacies and idiocies is natural justice. Pray that we will tell the difference before we push our petty pet arguments rather than preach Christ, the righteousness of God.

Epitaph: Let God be the fool, and every man a lyre.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2010

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Homily on the Beatitudes, Part 2: The Logical Progression of Desperation (as preached by an orthodox rebel)

"Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness..., the merciful..., the pure in heart..., [and] the peacemakers." Matthew 5:6-9

Divine blessing belongs to the virtuous. The "pure in heart" will "see God." As we saw in the previous verses (vs. 3-5), none of us are virtuous. This is not a mere matter of being "good enough" by our standards; it is about being "good enough" by God's standards. That is the secret to the mystery of Romans 3:12. We look at that verse in shock: "How can Paul say that? I see people do good all the time." You have seen our version of "good," our corrupt, fallen human version of it. It is only a shadow of true Goodness, the Goodness that belongs to God. Next to Him, our "goodness" pales and fails (Rom. 3:23). Next to His righteousness, ours is but filthy rags.

That, of course, is the point: it is not our righteousness that saves us, but His, His embodied in Jesus Christ (I Cor. 1:30 & II Cor. 5:21). That is the secret to the mystery of Matthew 5:6. We must hunger and thirst after righteousness because we have none of our own. It is the logical outcome of the desperation of vs. 3-5: if I have nothing, then I can only receive, and receive from elsewhere.

Epitaph: Those who follow the logic of desperation arrive at one conclusion: if I am to be a person of mercy, purity, and peace, then I must hunger and thirst for a righteousness not my own.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2010

Guess the Fallacy (the picture puzzle of an orthodox rebel)

Q: What logical fallacy is at work in this image?

A: One does not "celebrate Reason" by rejecting the incarnation of Reason (John 1:14).

Merry Christmas!

-Jon Vowell (c) 2010

Friday, December 3, 2010

Homily on the Beatitudes, Part 1: The Call of Desperation (as preached by an orthodox rebel)

"Blessed are the poor in spirit..., they that mourn..., [and] the meek...." Matthew 5:3-5

Divine blessing belongs to those who taste desperation. The proud and the confident can never stand on the rock of God. They will always trust their own two legs in sinking sands. The great insult that Christianity lays at the feet of fallen men is this demand for vulnerability and weakness before God. All self-assurance is to be lost and all confidence excluded. If there's one thing that so-called "self-sufficient" people cannot stand, it is this call to admit their desperation. Such an action is anathema to them; they would much rather feign strength than come under such terms.

Feigning strength is all that they can do, however. The call to desperation is not a command to change into something; rather, it is the charm to break the spell that has been cast over us. The truth is that all human strength is a lie: we are all sinners, cut off from the source of all strength, and thus are necessarily poor, miserable, and blind. Our pride and confidence are mere delusions; we are all of us helpless before the power and consequences of Sin, and to be faced with our helplessness is to wake up to reality. It is only when we wake up that we step onto the road that leads to the grace of God.

Epitaph: Jesus calls us back to reality so that we may partake of this truth: those who have nothing will gain everything.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2010

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Homily 17: Faith, Fear, and Following (as preached by an orthodox rebel)

"Jesus said unto them, 'Follow me, and I will...." Matthew 4:19

Faith is a trial because everything in life seems geared against it. From society and civilization to our own eyes and mind, there is always a penumbra of voices doubting and decrying our step into the dark. Even good and noble things like common-sense can rise up against you, with words sweet like honey and deep like thunder. The persuasion is almost unbearable, but despair, not peace, can only follow such concession; the vision was too sweet and the calling too heart-rending, and parting with it is bitter sorrow. Anything resembling peace in that exchange is merely apathetic surrender to your doubts. It is a difficult and perilous thing to follow by faith.

"Jesus said..., 'I will....'" This is all that we will receive: a promise. A promise from God that this thing, this crazy, hair-brained thing will be accomplished. He does not say how, nor does He explain all that it will entail. He simply says, "The thing will be done, and I will do it." Faith is trusting the promise and nothing else: not plans, people, interpretations, or experiences, but the promises of God in Christ.

Faith is (at the very least) an openness to being credulous about the incredible. God's promises are incredible mainly because they are simple. "You see that ridiculously impossible thing?" He says, "All of the hopes and dreams and burdens that I have laid on your heart? Follow me, and I will accomplish them." There is only one possibility for happiness, only one hope to have the glory and adventure that the human heart thirsts for: follow God--into the wilderness, into the dark, and believe that He will.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2010

Friday, November 26, 2010

Into the Meat-Grinder: Or, On Christ-likeness and Seeing Reality (a lecture by an orthodox rebel)

"Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil." Matthew 4:1

The Christ-like life is never a matter of anemic safety. It is a head-on collision with the darkness, often in dry and desolate places. The red-cross of Christ is not to be borne by the fainthearted or apathetic. No naivete or cynicism is allowed, because no naivete or cynicism would survive. One's mind, heart, and senses must be attuned to the reality of Evil and the presence of God. Lose one of those two truths and you will fall away from Christ-likeness into ignorance or despair.

"...led up by the Spirit into the wilderness...." God is not interested in placating our preference for limited liabilities and safe investments. If we are being conformed into the image of Christ, then we are cast into the meat-grinder daily. This is a fact that the Enemy does not want you to understand or consider. Everyday guided by God is a step across the divine adventure, and every step contains perils of enormous spiritual significance. The Enemy would take advantage, however, of our one true handicap (i.e., our literal blindness to the spiritual) and convince us that life is a mere traipsing and traversing from one doldrum to the next. Read the word of God; it makes no such claim: We who live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake (II Cor. 4:8-11).

-Jon Vowell (c) 2010

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Homily 16: "...we all go into the dark..." (as preached by an orthodox rebel)

"...I fear my lord the king...." Daniel 1:10

We must not abide the doctrines of any false and foolish religion that tries to claim the unreality of either fear or its object. There are many frightful and beastly barricades set across the whole of life, and the fear they inspire is usually well deserved. The difference is in this: it is not about believing that your fears (or fearful things) don't exist; it is about believing that God does exist. The instant that we focus (for whatever reason) on the fears and/or their objects rather than on God, we have gone awry. Even if we are attempting to comfort our fellow man, simply denying the reality of their terrors within or the terrors without is a silly solution. It is the equivalent of telling them that the dark will go away if they simply close their eyes.

We do mankind a great disservice if we deny their fears and/or fearful things for the simple reason that denying the dark does nothing to get rid of it. Only light does that, and the good news of the Christian religion is that the light is shining in the darkness, and the darkness is powerless before it (John 1:5). Obviously, the only proper thing to do for those who are afraid of the very real dark is to point them to the very real light.

The servant of Nebuchadnezzar was genuinely afraid of a very real danger, and what did Daniel say to assuage him? Not, "Doubt your fears," but rather, "Prove thy servants," i.e., test the matter. Come and see the faithfulness of the almighty God (Num. 11:23, 23:19, & Mal. 3:10). This is not, nor is it ever, about blind faith. It is about seeing with your own eyes God work in the real world, about realizing the reality of God in the practical minutia of life. It does us no good to anyone (including ourselves) to deny the reality of fear and fearful things. The only good lies in claiming the reality of God and being strong in the real power of His real might.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2010

Cormac McCarthy's take on Relativism (midwestern common sense vs. muddle-headed pretentiousness)

The following is from the opening of section five from No Country for Old Men.

We come here from Georgia. Our family did. Horse and wagon. I pretty much know that for a fact. I know they's a lost of things in a family history that just plain aint so. Any family. The stories gets passed on and the truth gets passed over. As the sayin goes. Which I reckon some would take as meanin that the truth cant compete. But I dont believe that. I think that when the lies are all told and forgot the truth will be there yet. It dont move about from place to place and it dont change from time to time. You cant corrupt it any more than you can salt salt. You cant corrupt it because that's what it is. It's the thing you're talkin about. I've heard it compared to the rock--maybe in the bible--and I wouldnt disagree with that. But it'll be here even when the rock is gone. I'm sure they's people would disagree with that. Quite a few, in fact. But I never could find out what any of them did believe.

Tragedy as Necessary for Beauty (as explained by an Original Orthodox Rebel)

The following is an excerpt from Oswald Chambers' book Baffled to Fight Better (pp. 11 & 16). Here Chambers talks about the reality of despair in human existence, a truth that G.K. Chesterton called the "pagan sadness". All life outside of God is fundamentally tragic, and the wisest of the lost have known this to be true. It is that truth that makes the truth of the Gospel so powerful, so compelling, and so beautiful. If we lose the truth of tragedy, then the Gospel loses all strength and beauty. This is a fact in sermons, stories, or songs.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2010

Facing facts as they are produces despair; not frenzy, but real downright despair, and God never blames someone for despair. Anyone who thinks must be pessimistic; thinking can never produce optimism. The wisest man who ever lived said that "he who increases knowledge increases sorrow." The basis of things is not reasonable but wild and tragic, and to face things as they are brings one to the ordeal of despair. Ibsen presents this ordeal; there is no defiance in his presentation. He knows that there is no such thing as forgiveness in nature, and that every sin has a Nemesis following it. His summing up of life is that of quiet despair because he knows nothing of the revelation of God by Jesus Christ. [...]

When we get to despair, we know that all our thinking will never get us out; we will only get out by the sheer creative effort of God. Consequently, we are in the right attitude to receive from God that which we cannot gain for ourselves. [...]

Optimism is either a matter of accepted revelation or of temperament. To think unimpeded and remain optimistic is not possible. Let a person face facts as they really are and pessimism is the only possible conclusion. If there is no tragedy at the back of human life, no gap between God and man, then the redemption of Jesus Christ is "much ado about nothing."

Job is seeing things exactly as they are. A healthy-minded individual bases his life on actual conditions, but let him be hit by bereavement, and when he has got beyond the noisy bit and blasphemous bit, he will find, as Job found, that despair is the basis of human life unless a man accepts a revelation from God and enters into the kingdom of Jesus Christ.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Calvinism as Anti-Romance (as argued by an Original Orthodox Rebel)

I do not agree with Calvinism, but neither do I agree with Arminianism. I feel like they are two opposite extremes that have lost the considerations of the other and have thus gone mad. Not that Calvinists are mad. On the contrary, my church is staunchly Calvinist, yet they are neither rabid nor arrogant, and I would not trade them for anything. However, just as the Arminian has failed to convince me of his position, so too has the Calvinist. Thus, the following excerpt (from pp. 129-30 of Chesterton's book What's Wrong With the World) caught my eye. I will not call it an argument as much as a  statement expressing a sentiment, a sentiment that I share.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2010

The difference between Puritanism and Catholicism is not about whether some priestly word or gesture is significant and sacred. It is about whether any word or gesture is significant and sacred. To the Catholic every other daily act is a dramatic dedication to the service of good or of evil. To the Calvinist, no act can have that sort of solemnity, because the person doing it has been dedicated from eternity, and is merely filling up his time until the crack of doom.

The difference is something subtler than plum-puddings or private theatricals; the difference is that to a Christian of my kind this short earthly life is intensely thrilling and precious; to a is confessedly automatic and uninteresting. To me these threescore years and ten are the battle. To the...Calvinist (by his own confession) they are only a long procession of the victors in laurels and the vanquished in chains. To me earthly life is the drama; to him it is the epilogue. [Calvinists] think about the embryo; Spiritualists about the ghost; Christians about the man. It is as well to have these things clear.

Homily 15: Life as Art (as preached by an orthodox rebel)

"Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not...." Daniel 1:8a

Life is like art: it involves drawing the line somewhere. The construction of ourselves and the shaping of our souls entails making true choices that result in solid stances. Going "with the flow," as an ultimate principle of life, is never a good idea. We can "flow" with peripheral issues, but at the center we must be stable. Without that central stability, we are no better than a wave caught in the winds (James 1:6).

Now, by "peripheral issues," what is meant is circumstances. In one sense, we can and should "flow" with circumstances in that we have no control over them: only God does. He constructs what we go through; what is left to us is how we go through it. It is that latter part that is central: when it comes to our environment, we must be as easy as a breeze; when it comes to the moments of choice, of character and holiness, of Christ-likeness (especially in the moments that we do not expect), we must be as solid as a rock.

Look at Daniel: He flowed with the peripherals of life. When the Babylonians came and took him as a child, he did not resist, nor did he fuss at being made a part of the king's court. However, he was solid on the essentials: "Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself." This instance is not unique. Look at Joseph: He did not resist his servitude and imprisonments, but he still fled from Potiphar's wife. What we see in these stories is a very difficult yet liberating truth: being a man or woman or principles does not mean a life of paralysis and petrification. On the contrary, without sure and settled principles, choices and actions are impossible. Without a fundamental understanding of where you stand and where you will and will not go, there is no possibility of any movement whatsoever. If the basic lines of your life are not set and stable, the there is no possibility of a picture.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2010