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Friday
Sep062013

North and Newton

This piece originally appeared on my (former) blog for the Newton Kansan newspaper on May 30 of this year.

     When I was sixteen years old, two Zambian orphan baby boys were placed in my arms, and I was told to name them. I asked if they needed first and middle names and was told only first names would be requisite. Without much hesitation I christened them with two of my favorite boy names at the time: North and Newton. I had no thought of the Kansas town at the time. North was a compass point and had a strong, virile Norse association for me. Newton made me think of a brilliant physicist and health-sustaining apples. So, if the LORD has sustained them, there are two nine-year-old boys growing up on the dusty Zambian plain north of Lusaka. I wonder every now and then whether they have heard the story of their Christening by the gangly, pale American youth, and if they wonder about me like I wonder about them.

       Well last Tuesday I drove to North Newton (the town) and ran on the Bethel track for a workout, reliving my track days, sans the hurdles. It was sunny, not too windy and not too warm. I ran a couple miles and a couple sets of stairs and headed home. As I drove home, windows down, on I-135 I thought of North and Newton, the only two people to whom I have given names—except my wife, and that was more of a legal, covenantal gesture than a creative one.

      The ill-fated Juliet Capulet famously asked, “What’s in a name?” And, where I Romeo listening below her balcony I would have responded, “Forsooth, quite a bit, Juliet. Just readith thou the Bible. God set great import on the name he gavest his son, Jesus. God didst change Abram’s name. Saul was transformed to Paul, following his vexing encounter with the risen Christ. Ah me! What’s in a name? All, my dear. Now, make haste. Get thee back to bed. I am no good for thee. Alas, it would not end well. Wherefore art thou tarrying? Fly! And do thou avoid all apothecaries and Montagues.”

       So I hope North and Newton are healthy, happy and well-fed, spiritually as well as physically. The town for which I accidently named them seems to be thriving, and I can only hope they are too.

 

R. Eric Tippin
in The Study on 8th Street
May 30, 2013

 

Image:
"Christening Sunday (South Harting, Sussex)"
Oil on Canvas - 1887
James Charles

Thursday
Sep052013

Spiritual Sunglasses

 When working outside, I often wear sunglasses to protect my eyes and avoid throbbing headaches. Unfortunately, my discombobulated mind frequently neglects to remember my glasses and I am forced to work throughout the day without their protective lenses. On such occasions I have made a curious observation—when entering a low lit room upon being exposed to intense sunlight all day, my eyes are unable to focus clearly. A haze of light seems to blanket my mind and I cannot see details easily.

            While light is essential for sight, my inability to focus on a chair obstructing my path indicates real drawbacks to excessive light exposure. Removing light in order to see more clearly sounds paradoxical, but my bruised shin says otherwise. Comparatively, my bruised brain communicates the dangers of excessive exposure to information, specifically information regarding interpreting the Bible. The same stupor caused by excessive sunlight seems to replicate when I am bombarded with excessive amounts of information. My mind is blinded by a haze disabling distinction between concrete truth and camouflaged lies. More often then not failure to indentify truth in today’s world is hindered not by a lack of information but by a saturation of possibilities. This haze of potentialities either blurs the truth or eliminates the possibility that truth exists.

            Upon entering my kitchen after a hard day’s work earlier this summer, I remember stumbling toward the cabinet in search of a drink mix in order to make a delightful, ice cold beverage. As I removed the box containing several drink flavors, I realized I could not identify the peach tea packet (my favorite) from the remaining flavor assortments; the haze from suddenly being removed from the direct sunlight blurred my vision to the extent that I could no longer recognize the correct packet.

            Searching for biblical truth can sometimes be a futile quest for a specific truth through a blinding haze of possibilities; many moral potentialities are presented, all claiming biblical authority. While a plethora of biblical information can be both helpful and stimulating, it can also cause confusion and stagnancy. Consider the debate over modesty. Go to one hundred different churches and you will very likely identify one hundred definitions. Church discipline also possesses differing degrees of intensity depending on the body of believers. These and countless other moral, theological, and church government contentions provide countless interpretations all claiming the authenticity and authority of God’s Word. So is it possible for believers to identify a correct interpretation of scripture or do many correct interpretations exist? How do believers shake off the blinding haze of excessive possibilities?

            Similar to wearing sunglasses to protect my eyes from excessive sunrays during the summer, believers must also utilize scripture interpreting shades (preferably aviator style). The first protective layer of scripture interpreting sunglasses is limiting your sources. I say this with timidity and care because I do believe identifying and understand differing schools of thought about any given issue is healthy, but absorbing numerous and opposing sources can be like staring at the sun through a telescope (ask Galileo how that turns out). Identifying trusted sources and diligently comparing their assertions with the entire biblical context is far more productive than reading numerous interpretations and picking one that meets your needs. A great place to begin is by asking a trusted leader in your church about a specific topic you desire to contemplate further. Trusting your Godly leader’s such as pastors, elders, and Sunday School teachers can be a great way to filter your spiritual intake. Their guidance toward biblically sound material will help you avoid wasted time and, more importantly, avoid confusing contradictions.

            Another useful filtering mechanism of Bible interpreting sunglasses is viewing the Bible contextually. A majority, if not all, of inaccurate interpretations of scripture fail to calculate the specific text within the entire context of the Bible. While contextual interpretation sounds noble and righteous, application seems far more elusive. I propose that a practical and audacious starting point would be to read the Bible in its entirety, whether from cover to cover or chronologically. So many times believers profess that “context is king,” but have never read the entire context for which they are advocating. My grandfather was an inspiration in this regard. He did not become a believer until his late teens, but upon accepting Christ, he read the entire Bible every year of his remaining life (more than 65 times). I’m not advising this for everyone but what better way to understand the context of scripture than to read the context. This simple yet admittedly daunting task can protect your spiritual eyes from being stunned with the brightness of varying possible explanations.

            Most would agree that sunlight is a positive and delightful aspect of God’s creation, but excessive amounts can present a severe hindrance. Admittedly, it took me a considerable amount of time to identify my need for sunglasses (I am not quite so bright as I would hope sometimes) while working outside in the summer, but I am so thankful for their protective lenses. They removed the momentary haze when entering a low-lit room and diminished my headaches. Spiritually protective glasses can similarly provide protection from excessive biblical insinuations. Limiting your biblical commentary sources and reading the entire Bible are two fundamental layers of protection for believers attempting to avoid being blinded by biblical interpretation saturation.

 

Stuart Busenitz
September 5, 2013

Image:
"A Sunny Afternoon"
Oil on Canvas
Hamilton Marr (1846-1916) 

Monday
Sep022013

Of Mirrors and Men

I suggest that a ten or twenty years' abstinence both from the reading and from the writing of evaluative criticism might do us all a great deal of good. -- CS Lewis, An Experiment in Crticism

The hypocrisy of the modern is one in which he will willingly allow himself to enter into the mindset of another person so long as that mindset allows him to better love himself. Thus, the modern is more apt to vicariously enjoy a movie or TV show because there he meets himself. He will not read an old book because he is nowhere to be found in it. All his preaching about accepting the views of others and tolerance is rejected in his actions which suggest he really only cares about himself. This is no more true than in popular literary theories which allow for readers to bring themselves into a text they have no right to enter. If, for instance, I read King Lear objectively, I do not meet myself. But the modern rejects this, warps the text itself and makes Lear about something which it was never about all in an effort to "relate to the text": If the work has no bearing on me the reader, the work has no bearing period. This is a sentiment CS Lewis argued against in his book An Experiment in Criticism.

Lewis' essentially forgotten book argues that literary criticism should primarily be focused on what types of books make good readers. He spends a better part of the book explaining the difference between a good and bad reader. Good reading is reading in which the reader essentially leaves himself and enters the world of the text -- that world which the author created and intended. The good reader understands that his world is best affected not by "discovering" himself in the work but by letting the world of the text work on him in a way that changes his own world.

The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through the eyes of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough. I will see what others have invented. Even the eyes of all humanity are not enough. I regret that the brutes cannot write books. Very gladly would I learn what face things present to a mouse or a bee; more gladly still would I perceive the olfactory world charged with all the information and emotion it carries for a dog.

Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege of individuality. There are mass emotions which heal the wound; but they destroy the privilege. In them our separate selves are are pooled and we sink back into sub-individuality. But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself... Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.

The Christian believes that God ordained reading as his primary means to know him, and this little book is a call to the importance of reading fiction. If reading literary works is merely a practice in which our theories can be played out, we have done the novel an injustice. If reading is only a practice in which I can better see myself, I am a narcissist. We do not come to books for truths about lives as most books are very different than the world we inhabit. We do not come to books as an aid to culture. For it is better to come to books as they would have us so we can understand the culture in which they were written rather than pulling out cultural topics that were never there in the first place. Lastly, and most importantly, we do not come to books as we do mirrors. We have Facebook for that. But literature is the great means by which we can better see through our brother's eyes and love him. For it is easier to "love your neighbor as yourself" when you have entered into, even accepted for a time, his perspective of the world.

Sam Snow

(theficklefarce.wordpress.com)

Image: "Friendly Critics"
Oil on Canvas - c. 1883
Charles Martin Hardie 

Friday
Aug302013

The Siege of the Martins

Are we not facing a shortage of bees? Are not the days of tender spring blossoms and sweet summer fruits numbered? I can't say, really, but some such reports have passed before my eyes over the last few years due to the increasing loss of striped abdomens. I certainly hope this is not the case and we can enjoy the sweet services of bees for many years to come. Now, amidst the global life crisis, the bee's plight may fall outside the top twenty, but these little winged things are precious, while pokey. Therefore, my children and I built a small beehouse this weekend to invite a few of the straggling remnants of the critters to live out their days in our backyard. As long as northern hemisphere bees don't mind southern hemisphere architecture (the plans were discovered in an australian journal), we may be in business.

Today, however, my thoughts turn more closely to the bees' greater winged bretheren. I hear fewer threats of sensational destruction (only reports of localized mass-death) of these feathered creatures, but building the small beehouse got me to thinking of the residents of the birdhouse.

On the whole, I think more of trees than birds as some may think more of the ocean than ships, but not everyone is like me. My mother, for instance, dwells on the fluttering ones with much greater dilligence if her library, writing, and art collection are any indication. It was not even many weeks ago that she was indicating to me that she had read in a certain book of aviarian bent on the various types of nests which birds call home. The real moment of surprise in the narrative came when the book indicated that the martin species is only known to live in martin houses, not martin nests of twigs and twine, no, martin houses of man-made construct. Where they ever lived before is lost to antiquity and myth. They now call the house their home and only the homeless are found elsewhere. Now, is not that suggestive?

The suggestive fact, to repeat myself, is just that the natural home has been forgotten and replaced with new walls and a door. In the same way we have lived in this sodden home of ours so long we cannot remember what our natural house should look like. Something is not right. We can see the peeling walls and mold creeping from beneath the carpets, but where would we go? Who could make a house of this size anew? Where is the architect and builder when we need Him? Funny you should ask. He's off preparing a new place for us, a restoration of the home we cannot remember!

 

Although we were building a beehouse this weekend, many birdhouses were probably built in other backyards (the martins must live somewhere). This seems to me to point to the natural desire of humankind to build houses for the creation under its charge: the dogs, the cats, the fish, the horses, the bees! The list could go on and on as we build the shelters and invite them in. For, as mentioned above, we want them in the neighborhood. We desire to draw them near for companionship, enjoyment, and assistance: the martins to eat our mesquitos, the dogs to bark at our dark, and the horses to carry our weight. While foxes have holes and birds have nests, we draw them to ourselves and invite them to live amongst us. Oh, but that verse does go on!

The Foxes have holes and birds (and bees) have nests, but, but...
The Son of Man has no place to lay His head.
We build homes for all kinds of creatures to draw them near, but, but...
The Son of Man has no place to lay His head.

"Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me."

 

One last thought bursts around these martins. The Fourth of July comes but once a year, and the Siege of the Martins commenced annually. The house that was erected for their protection, in appreciation of their service, and for raising more little Martins, is the center of a battle royal. Fireballs scream by and explode as they strike the sides of the house. It shudders with the impact. Some birds make a break and head for the skies to watch in horror as others surely huddle under trembling wings inside the home. The fifth of July comes, birdy heads are counted, the home damages are assessed by daddy martins, and restless sleep is assured for the next few weeks as green sparkles explode in martin dreams. Yes, it was great family fun to see who could hit the martin house with roman candles among the crowd gathered for the celebration each year in the Kansas countryside.

Remarkable and shocking: we provide the home and the grief! However, I must confess, I personally also provide the home and grief. 

The sadness is undeniable. He to whom I have opened the door of my heart's home I ignore and, worse, I hurl roman candles. It is with tears and humbled heart I must come back to Him who always stands to intercede for me before the Father. Oh, may His Spirit come and walk the halls of this home and sweep out every unclean thing. I can be bound, but the robber cannot bind that Man, the master of my home.

 

Seeing the bees, the nest, and the siege of the martins may I leave my only home to follow the maker of the forgotten home while Inviting the homeowner in and laying no siege upon the One I invite!

 

Phillip Tippin
Waiting for the Pool
Roeland Park, KS

Image: 
Purple Martin
Lithograph, 1881
The Nelson E. Jones Family's Illustrations of the Nests and Eggs of Birds of Ohio
 

Tuesday
Aug272013

A Good Morning

That punctual servant of all work, the sun, had just risen, and begun to strike a light on the morning of the thirteenth of May, one thousand eight hundred and twenty-seven, when Mr. Samuel Pickwick burst like another sun from his slumbers, threw open his chamber window, and looked out upon the world beneath.  Goswell Street was at his feet, Goswell Street was on his right hand–as far as the eye could reach, Goswell Street extended on his left; and the opposite side of Goswell Street was over the way.  ’Such,’ thought Mr. Pickwick, ‘are the narrow views of those philosophers who, content with examining the things that lie before them, look not to the truths which are hidden beyond.  As well might I be content to gaze on Goswell Street for ever, without one effort to penetrate to the hidden countries which on every side surround it.’  And having given vent to this beautiful reflection, Mr. Pickwick proceeded to put himself into his clothes, and his clothes into his portmanteau.  Great men are seldom over scrupulous in the arrangement of their attire; the operation of shaving, dressing, and coffee-imbibing was soon performed; and, in another hour, Mr. Pickwick, with his portmanteau in his hand, his telescope in his greatcoat pocket, and his note-book in his waistcoat, ready for the reception of any discoveries worthy of being noted down, had arrived at the coach-stand inSt.  Martin’s-le-Grand. ’Cab!’ said Mr. Pickwick. — Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers

GK Chesterton, a Dickens enthusiast himself, said the words that are true of all men: "The sun rises every morning. I do not rise every morning" (Orthodoxy). Rolling is a better verb to use. And sleepwalking à la Lady Macbeth until I have imbibed coffee is accurate. Mr Pickwick's "bursting forth like another sun" is an anomaly on the human race. We do not "burst forth" as a general rule, yet this tremendous passage often creeps into my head at various times throughout my day. For life itself is a not a dull drudgery, fit only to "get through" until the weekend. A mere waking up every morning is worthy of worship, and if we were not fallen creatures (granting sleep), we would certainly "burst forth" each day. The first minutes of our day would be spent in lofty meditation "look[ing]... to truths which are hidden beyond." Though never over scrupulous, the drab phrase of "getting dressed" would change into "putting ourselves into our clothes." The emphasis here is the often forgotten wonder that we not only have bodies but that we put them into clothes, clothes that we place in portmanteaus: The exceptional body is everyday put into something so easily trivialized, a thing fitted in a portmanteau. "Bursting forth", we would grab a notebook, ready to record anything so exceptional worth noting, and the wonder in which we lived out days would produce a plethora of interesting "discoveries worth being noted down."

I read this passage a little over a week ago, before I officially began my two years at graduate school. The idea of "bursting forth" every morning is symbolic of new beginnings. We often begin new stages in life (e.g. a new school year) by "bursting forth" but then fall into the robot monotony of schedules. Let us, however, seek to "burst forth" each and every day as if life itself is such a spectacular gift, we cannot help but be excited that our Father has given it to us. A witty quote by Chesterton is pinned on my desk staring at me throughout my day: "There are no uninteresting things, only uninterested people." May we remember this truth as we "burst forth" each day, "ruminating on the strange mutability of human affairs."

Sam Snow

(For more from this author, please visit theficklefarce.wordpress.com

Image:
"A Misty Spring Morning"
Oil on Canvas
Francis Danby (1793-1861)