Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Rich (a song of sweet desire by Current Orthodox Rebels)

Why is this band awesome? Because this song is literally the musical version of Lewis' essay "The Weight of Glory" (an excerpt of which can be found here).

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Part of Our Inconsolable Secret (thoughts by an Original Orthodox Rebel)

I like to break up the monotony every once in a while, especially when I'm doing one of my infamous "series". So here, for your reading pleasure, is an excerpt from C.S. Lewis' essay "The Weight of Glory" (from the book by the same name). I do this merely to tease you, as you should go buy the book immediately if you are one of those shame-faced few who have yet to purchase it.

If I had rejected the authoritative and scriptural image of glory and stuck obstinately to the vague desire which was, at the outset, my only pointer to heaven, I could have seen no connection at all between that desire and the Christian promise [of heaven]. But now, having followed up what seemed puzzling and repellent in the sacred books, I find, to my great surprise, looking back, that the connection is perfectly clear. Glory, as Christianity teaches me to hope for it, turns out to satisfy my original desire and indeed reveal an element in that desire which I had not noticed. By ceasing for a moment to consider my own wants I have begun to learn better what I really wanted.

When I attempted, a few minutes ago [earlier in the essay], to describe our spiritual longings, I was omitting one of their most curious characteristics. We usually notice it just as the moment of vision dies away, as the music ends, or the landscape loses the celestial light. What we feel then has been well described by Keats as "the journey homeward to habitual self." You know what I mean. For a few minutes we have had the illusion of belonging to that world. Now we wake to find that it is no such thing. We have been mere spectators. Beauty has smiled, but not to welcome us; her face was turned in our direction, but not to see us. We have not been accepted, welcomed, or taken into the dance. We may go when we please, we may stay if we can: "Nobody marks us."

A scientist may reply that since most of the things we call beautiful are inanimate, it is not very surprising that they take no notice of us. That, of course, is true. It is not the physical objects that I am speaking of, but that indescribable something of which they become for a moment the messengers. And part of the bitterness which mixes with the sweetness of that message is due to the fact that it seldom seems to be a message intended for us, but rather something we have overheard. By bitterness I mean pain, not resentment. We should hardly dare to ask that any notice be taken of ourselves. But we pine. The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longing to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of our inconsolable secret. And surely, from this point of view, the promise of glory, in the sense described, becomes highly relevant to our deep desire. For glory means good report with God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledgement, and welcome into the heart of things. The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last.

Perhaps it seems rather crude to describe glory as the fact of being "noticed" by God. But this is almost the language of the New Testament. St. Paul promises to those who love God not, as we should expect, that they will know Him, but that they will be known by Him (I Cor. 8:3). It is a strange promise. Does not God know all things at all times? But it is dreadfully reechoed in another passage of the New Testament. There we are warned that it may happen to anyone of us to appear at last before the face of God and hear only the appalling words, "I never knew you. Depart from me."

In some sense, as dark to the intellect as it is unendurable to the feelings, we can be both banished from the presence of Him who is present everywhere and erased from the knowledge of Him who knows all. We can be left utterly and absolutely outside---repelled, exiled, estranged, finally and unspeakably ignored. On the other hand, we can be called in, welcomed, received, acknowledged. We walk every day on the razor edge between these two incredible possibilities. Apparently, our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy but the truest index of our real situation. And to be at last summoned inside would be both glory and honor beyond all our merits and also the healing of that old ache.


Monday, October 29, 2012

The Lunatic (The Six Shades of Sin, Part IV)

"Woe unto them who call evil good and good evil, who count darkness as light and light as darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!" Is. 5:20

Immorality is frowned upon as a term because it reeks of prudish pedantry. It conjures up the image of a great, waving index finger in the sky and a disembodied voice crying, "Thou shalt not!" Of course, we all acknowledge that people do "bad" things (for no one is perfect), but the term "immorality" seems made up by some unholy alliance between wet blankets and killjoys, the private codification of buzz-killers. This is because we have a skewed view of immorality (and subsequently, morality). If we view immorality as a path to all the finer (or at least, more exciting) pleasures of life, then morality cannot help but be seen as a divergence from everything enjoyable. Nobody wants that, and truthfully nobody should want that, if that is what it is.

Unfortunately, that is not what it is, and here is how skewed our view is. Morality is not and has never been a divergence from all good things; immorality is. It is the great refusal, the negation and rejection, the complete turning away from and falling out of the right path. It is with God that all joy and pleasures dwell (Ps. 16:11), but we have all gone astray (Is. 53:6). That is the true meaning of immorality: not a surrender to pleasure, but a denial of it. You are not a seeker but a strayer. You have left the course to Canaan to wander in the wilderness, and out there all those who wander are lost.

Charles Williams once said, "Hell is inaccurate." What he meant was that Hell (and by extension all wickedness), in diverging and pulling away from God, cannot help but consistently fall into error. To put it simply, Hell is stupid. It believes stupid things, thinks stupid things, and says stupid things. It calls good evil and darkness light. Idiocy is the very hallmark of evil, and for every wickedness there is a foolishness attached to it (whether it be foolish actions, foolish principles, or both).  For example, anyone who has ever done something wrong (of whatever degree) assumes a supremacy over the law (of whatever kind). They assume that they are greater than and smarter than the present authority, whether it be the police or their parents. They consider the consequences of their actions to be of no consequence, until (of course) they get caught. Then the absurdity of their actions falls upon them, and they become painfully aware that they were ants mocking a whirlwind.

It is the same with us and God. Those who do evil think their actions of no consequence because they deem Him to be of no consequence. It is folly. It is absurdity. It is lunacy. Every act of evil is lunacy, whether it is stealing cookies from the cookie jar or 9-11. Every act is a skewing, a swerve, a divergence, an act of unreality. To do evil is to turn away from the light of the law and be caught in a perpetual fog, and to be evil is to be that fog, thickening with every additional atrocity until your self-wrought stupification solidifies into a permanent, horrifying imbecility. Hell is the only fit place for such a terrible breaking down of the heart and mind, for Hell is inaccurate, the lunatic asylum of the universe.

If lunacy lies with evil, then sanity lies with good: not just a calming of mind and heart but also a continual clarity of mind and heart. Every act of true virtue is like a shaft of light cutting through a dark room, and the virtuous life fills its house with the dawn. Now, the height of virtue is to love God (Matt. 22:37-38), and the greatest way that we love God is to keep His commands (John 14:23-24). And what is His greatest command? That we should believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (I John 3:22-23), for He is the roadway to and source of all light (John 1:4-5; 8:12; 12:44-46; I John 1:5-7). In short, to believe in Christ is the ultimate sanity because Christ is the ultimate sanity, for He brings us to God. But for those who would diverge from His path, they will only find Hell, the home of all madmen who turn to their own way.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2012

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Idiot (The Six Shades of Sin, Part III)

"Woe unto those that draw along iniquity with cords of vanity, and [draw along] sin as it were with a cart rope, who say, 'Let Him make speed and hasten His work that we may see it, and let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw nigh and come that we may know it.'" Is. 5:18-19

Impiety is a stuffy sounding word to most, but in truth it is and has always been one of the greatest sins of humanity. Even ancient pagan cultures knew it: to fear the gods was the height of virtue (and common sense), and impiety was warned against. The impious rage of Achilles brought only death and sorrow, while the pious wiles of Odysseus brought him safely home (to slay the impious suitors). The point was simple and practical and yet profound: there is a moral order to things that is higher than and greater than you, and it behooves you to align yourself (as best as you can) with it.

That is the true idea behind piety: not arrogant or pompous self-righteousness, but humility. Piety is found in the humble realization and acceptance of our own smallness before something that is legitimately greater than us. Wisdom teaches us the truth of our smallness, and embracing that smallness is even further wisdom, for "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Pro. 1:7).

If piety is humility produced by and producing wisdom, then impiety is pride produced by and producing idiocy. The pride is obvious, but the idiocy should be even more obvious. To claim superiority over the One who holds your very breath in His hand is the height not only of arrogance but also absurdity. There is no greater farce than to see a spark speak blithely to its fire, or to watch a leaf rustle defiantly against its branch and tree, yet this is precisely what we do.

It is bad enough that we often plan in spite of God, but worse still is when we plan out of spite for God. Our schemes and dreams are no longer excusable indulgences but rather open acts of rebellion. Our utopic visions and agendas degrade from innocent ignorances to spitting in the eye of the Trinity. Our movements and politics and sloganeerings cease to be mere acts of dedication and devolve into acts of desecration. This is the point where the ignorance of fallen humanity gives way to the idiocy of human hubris. We do not believe, and we want no help for our unbelief. Without faith it is impossible to please God, for without faith there is only the slobbering stupidity and horror of humanity pleasing itself. All of human history (right up to this very day) can be summarized under a single declaration: "We will have no other gods before us."

Chesterton once said that if we are to have a large universe then we must make ourselves small. What he meant is that humility produces clarity, while pride can only produce a contracted delusion. If impiety is the greatest kind of pride, then it also produces the greatest delusion. If we are to see the truth of real things, to see reality as it is and not as we make it, then we need humility. We need piety. We need a return to the radical notion that there is something higher and greater than ourselves, our nation, our party, our denomination, our status (in both secular and religious circles), and our way. We can only kick our insane habit of hubris when we acknowledge (day by day, moment by moment, instance by instance) that God is and that without Him we are not. He is the foundation and center and energy of all things. He is the ultimate source and ground for all movement, even the movement that runs away from Him. He is the one who knows better than we, for without Him there would be no grounds for reason, or minds to reason, or brains to house minds. The point is simple enough: unless God (and nothing else) is the highest in our life, then everything is in vain (Ps. 127:1). That is the fear of the Lord. That is piety, and wisdom, and the only way to walk safely and sanely through this world.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2012

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Over Joe-d (a comic strip by an orthodox rebel)

Political correctness, stereotypes, and the American way....

-Jon Vowell (c) 2012

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Extremist (The Six Shades of Sin, Part II)

"Woe unto them that rise up early in the morning [so] that they may pursue strong drink; [who] continue until night, till wine inflames them! [...] they regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation of His hands." Is. 5:11-12

Immoderation has always been misunderstood mainly because moderation is misunderstood. Moderation is often associated with a puritanical sense of abstinence, which it was never meant to be. It was never meant to be about abstinence but balance. This is a fact as old as human thought: the virtuous life is the point between extremes. For example, courage is not an extreme passion or pursuit but rather a moderate one. Cowardice and recklessness are the extremes, and thus they are the vices. Love is moderate; lust and apathy are the extremes. In short, moderation is not the life of a dullard or bore. On the contrary, it is the adventurous life, a perilous and precarious walk on the edge of a knife, the maintaining of a precious balance between two equal yet opposite points of mania. Such an endeavor calls forth the best from us, for as Chesterton put it, "There is an infinity of angles by which one falls but only one by which one stands." Any fool or weakling can go mad; it is easy to be insane, to be extreme. Sanity is the true struggle and spectacle. Vice can only be a sputter; virtue alone can be a song.

That virtue requires real struggle and adventure is the thought behind the ancient notion that evil was not only fundamentally wicked but also fundamentally dull. It takes the easy way out, settling for a lesser post. Much to the chagrin of popular perception, the evil life is ultimately lackluster because it is a stunted life. It always leaves something out. Rather than maintaining the healthy and powerful balance between caution and action (which we call courage), they succumb to either one extreme or the other, leading either the sedentary life of endless caution or the chaotic life of endless action. Likewise, rather than maintaining the healthy and joyous balance between restraint and pleasure (which we call love), they grow weary of the effort and slide into either joyless apathy or joyless lechery. In either case, they do not have love.

The immoderate life, the joyless, dull, inconsequential life, stems from one source: "they regard not the work of the Lord." Like all sin and all its insanity, the immoderate life is the life that disregards God. Is this any wonder? God is the supreme picture of sanity, of balance, of rigorous and living order that knows no extremity and therefore knows no ennui. In His trinitarian dance, we see His balance: Father begetting, Son creating, Spirit proceeding. Give and take, surrender and acceptance, obedience and love without confusion or division, nor dominion or neglect. The balance is perfect, the dance is tight, and thus the Being is One. Likewise in the Incarnation, we see the same balance: neither humanity dissolved into deity nor deity subsumed into humanity, but rather both gloriously preserved in hypostatic union, neither nature lacking or dominating. Both are maintained at the absolute fever-pitch of their intensity, and the God-man is One. God is the Great Sanity against all of our myriad madness. Both in His character and His actions, He proves how consistently we fall short of the glory of His moderation.

When God's people were not His people and did not know Him, He gave them an identity through a religion; but when that religion turned into dead formalism and meaningless rite, He broke their religion (Is. 1:10-15) and spoiled their identity (Is. 5:1-7). When Messiah came, He continually frustrated and bewildered both His enemies and His friends, for they could only conceive of Him as either this or that when He was both this and that. He was both conqueror and conquered, the breaker and the healer, the judge and the victim, the poor and the king, He who was dead and yet lives. The sanity of God frustrates our every plan, for our world is a ship of fools and the lunatics run the asylum. Sanity is only insanity to the insane, and moderation is only a threat to the extremist.

Even today God's holy sanity bears witness against us. We who are caught up in the seemingly endless euroclydon of American Christianity often find ourselves tossed about with wave upon wave of doctrines or fads or movements or agendas or politics or some other unholy alliance between the Christian Faith and a fleeting element of American culture. We hear the siren calls every day as we walk a hairline between an array of Scylla's and Charybdis's. To remain moderate in such an environment is to live a life on the edge, but it is on the edge where we find God, and make no mistake: it is God who we must desire if we are to live moderately. It cannot be out of duty or drudgery but out of love, love for God and His Christ, for all that they are and all they have done and are doing and will do. God must be the highest, our all in all, with every thought or plan or scheme or desire or inkling or good intention made captive to the glory and supremacy of His sweet moderation. That is what it means to live moderately: not to wallow in prudery, but to every day, bit-by-bit and step-by-step, dance the dance of God, where all things find their place, and all of life is consumed into the holy harmony of His fullness.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2012

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Void (The Six Shades of Sin, Part 1)

"Woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field, till there is no place [left], [so] that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth." Is. 5:8

God had taken care of His people (vs. 1-2). He had protected them , nurtured them, and built them up. But they had not brought forth the "good grapes" of "judgment" and "righteousness" (vs. 2, 7). Instead, they brought forth "wild grapes," which Isaiah categorizes around six "woes" that God speaks against His people. Each of these "woes" points to a specific type of evil that Israel had been infected with, evil that any and all people (whether they be a believer or not) can be infected with. The first one (vs. 8) deals with greed.

It has been said that it is lonely at the top. The real truth of that statement is often missed. If it is lonely at the top, then those who seek the top want to be alone. They want silence and solitude, an absolute severance from all others. That is the diabolic root to the bloom of greed. Those who are greedy (whether for material possessions, or fame and popularity, or even religious status) are driven by a fundamental narcissism. They desire what they desire because they deem themselves and no one else worthy of it. They desire the top because they alone are fit to have it. Consequently, others mean very little to them. Even those who are greedy for attention or affirmation or affection care little for those who give it. They care only about the attention or affirmation or affection, which means they only care about themselves. So greed is not an over-accumulation of things (as if "things" were the problem). Rather, it is a void, a vacuum, a yawning abyss whose insatiable limits can never know peace. In old fantasy stories, this was the essential theme of dragons: not merely a monster, but a greedy monster, locked away in their lonely mountain, sleeping forever with their treasures, never spending but always slaying. Greed is the teeth in the darkness and the fire in the belly, and there is no grace for those who stand between it and its precious.

God's people ought not to be marked by greed, but we too have had our fill of it. Whether it is the greed for material prosperity that arrogantly presumes upon God's goodness, or the greed for strict moral adherence that arrogantly misreads God's righteousness, we can be and have been and even now are marked by the same basic narcissism. American Christianity is especially guilty of this. Our national religion is not Christianity, but rather the bastard child of Christianity and either the American dream or some perceived "golden age" of America's past. Both are erroneous, and both produce (among other things) greed. Greed for things, and for God to give us things, and for Him to bless our getting of things. Greed for the "good ol' days" of the 1950s or the age of the Puritans or whatever mythical pseudo-history is currently in vogue in the Bible Belt. We desire success and security. We desire social status and acceptance. We desire pious posturing or political revolution. We desire fads and movements and parties and agendas. We desire all these things like wine, but we do not desire God like wine. We do not desire Him at all.

In whatever way we choose to go, we invariably break the two greatest commandments: we do not love God nor do we love others; they are both equally means to our own ends. God is the sugar-daddy of our private dreams and desires or the poster child for our private notions. He is the scarecrow deity of our private fields, meant to keep others away while we plant our private seeds. Likewise, others become stepping stones or tally marks for our private projects and goals, or else they become impersonal points of comparison for our own private piety. They are mere tools in our hands to till our private lands, lands that stretch for miles. Secure in our separation, we can never allow anyone in for their own sake. Especially not others. Especially not God.

In C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce, Hell was depicted as a paradoxically contracted place where people tried their hardest to ignore and separate themselves from each other. The worse a damned soul was, the farther and farther it would go to isolate itself. Separation and isolation: those are the key doctrines to the divinity of Hell, the very heartbeat of the diabolical will, for the diabolical will always desires the top, the peak, the lonely mountain (Is. 14:13-14). There is a reason that American Christianity is often seen as (at best) a joke, or (at worst) a threat to its very enterprise. It is because this diabolical will, this endless, living void and vacuum, has taken root at our very foundations, and those foundations will crack under the strain. They are already cracking. How many more prosperity preachers or relativistic revolutionaries or ecumenical compromisers need to come and make the New York Times best-seller list before the whole hollowed-out edifice comes crashing to the ground?

If we are to avoid (or at the very least survive) the collapse of American religion, then we must return our hearts, our lives, and our worship back to the true center: God. God must be everything to us; not His blessings or gifts or approval, but Himself---His beauty and glory and holiness. He must be the Lord and King of our lives, and His heavenly vision must take hold of every inch of us. We must return to the greatest commandment: to love the Lord our God above all other loves because He is God, and from that fundamental love there will spring forth a life of love for all (Matt. 22:37-38; John 21:15; I John 4:7-11). That is the cure for our diseased desires: a turning away from ourselves and turning outward towards both the God who loves us and the people that He has given us to love. We must fight the corrupt centripetal energy of our American religion with the holy, centrifugal fervor of the spirit of Christ, who made Himself nothing (Phil. 2:5-7), submitted all to the will of the Father (Luke 22:42), loved to the end those who were His (John 13:1), and gave Himself as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

-Jon Vowell (c) 2012

Friday, October 12, 2012

Over Joe-d (a comic strip by an orthodox rebel)

Who says Bill Watterson should have all the fun?

-Jon Vowell (c) 2012

Thursday, October 11, 2012

"In the day of desolation...." (the first Theophilus letter)

In my long days of scholarship and study, I have stumbled across a collection of writings that I found stuffed in some old book encrusted with much dust and neglect. These miscellaneous scribblings were in some sort of Latin/Greek hybrid language that confounded my peers, and I have taken great pains to translate them. So far, they appear to be a collection of letters. The identity of the sender and receiver is unknown at the moment. However, for the time being, I have taken to name them "The Theophilus Letters," based on the pen name of the sender. Here is the translation of the first one. I hope to have more translated soon, if (and when) I find a moment to breath between my other pending scholastic projects. (-Prof. Douglas Ulysses Hightower)

"In that day, the Branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious...." Is. 4:2


May it be the real Thou to whom I speak, and may it be the real I who speaks. There is a wonder I must tell and a joy that I must express.

In the day of desolation, Your glory and beauty shine brighter, shine fairer, fiercer, faster. Without pause or hesitation, for fire feeds every soil in which You plant Yourself. In the furnace You spring forth like a tree, a tree of might, whose fruits feed thousands, and whose canopy will cover the world. The sun will make Your leaves glorious with light: they will shimmer like an emerald sky, and every flower in bloom will flair like jewels housing hidden flames.

The roots of Your glory will grasp the earth with a strong hand. They shall grip the very heart of the world, and dig deep and deeper still, filling all hollowed-out holes with Your infinite substance. Neither crack nor crevice will remain unfilled. All shall be filled, and all manner of things shall be filled with fire and fruit and life and song. There will be shade without night and warmth without day. There will be neither cowering nor withering but growing, a growing of all souls made fat on Your fullness.

Your branches shall grow throughout the universe, stretching forth like fierce fingers, full of terrible kindness, and every world and corner of creation will know Your fruits and feast. What ear has only heard, eye will now see. We shall all see You. In the day of fire You will rise. On the wings of desolation Your glory rides. On the wings of a storm, You unfurl Your purposes: after the thunder and the terror comes the rain and the inevitable, unstoppable harvest that shall show forth Your goodness. In that day, the last day, a day tremors and quakings and unspeakable violence, we will taste and see that You are good.

This is the victory of Your ultimate love. May my life sing it back to Thee.

Love (with sincerity),

-Jon Vowell (c) 2012


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Live Law (as explained by an Original Orthodox Rebel)

The following is from George MacDonald's essay "The Fantastic Imagination," and it is meant as a postscript to yesterday's post:

A man's inventions may be stupid or clever, but if he does not hold by the laws of them, or if he makes one law jar with another, he contradicts himself as an inventor; he is no artist. He does not rightly consort his instruments, or he tunes them in different keys. The mind of man is the product of live Law: it thinks by law, it dwells in the midst of law, it gathers from law its growth; with law, therefore, can it alone work to any result. Inharmonious, unconsorting ideas will come to a man, but if he tries to use one of [them], his work will grow dull, and he will drop it from mere lack if interest. Law is the soil in which alone beauty will grow. Beauty is the only stuff in which Truth can be clothed; and you may, if you will, call Imagination the tailor that cuts her garments to fit her....