Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Science and the Magician (a fragment)

[I'm doing some work on an upcoming class on C. S. Lewis, as well as the manuscript that I'll finish at the end of 2013, C. S. Lewis in Crisis. Here's a brief excerpt of today's reflections.]

Lewis had criticisms of the Scientific Outlook that are worthy of note—the inherent connection, historically, between the rise of science and search for magic, both as means to control nature and make it what human beings want.

Francis Bacon saying, "Lewis, you're right"
[W]e see at once that [Sir Francis] Bacon and the magicians have the closest possible affinity. Both seek knowledge for the sake of power (in Bacon’s words, as ‘spouse for fruit’ not a ‘curtesan for pleasure’), both move in a grandiose dream of days when Man shall have been raised to the performance of ‘all things possible.’ 

Lewis believed, along with the medieval, that the goal of human life is to conform to nature. When, in contrast, we seek to use science or nature to bend it to our will and to make it in our image, then we raise enormous problems, and we deceive ourselves.
      As a result, Lewis lamented the growth of the Machine, of the technological progress that distanced us from nature. In one of his most notable poems, “The Future of Forestry,” Lewis describes a world that has forgotten the beauty of the forest, and thus of nature, in its headlong pursuit of technological advance. (I am reminded of the work of Lewis’s friend and fellow Inkling, J. R. R. Tolkien, who placed in the hands of Saruman, the evil wizard, the destruction of the forests for the sake of production.)

How will the legend of the age of trees

Feel, when the last tree falls in England?

When the concrete spreads and the town conquers

The country’s heart;…

      All these problems derive from scientific materialism, the assertion that this world is all there is and that science has demonstrated this fact. Lewis looked toward a re-enchantment of the world through myth and story to bring us to the place where we can find joy.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

I Wasn’t Always a Pastor

Since The Time for Yes just came out, I should be writing some entry to pique your interest. Well, instead, I started on an essay that's been gurgling around in my head for a while. So here goes... just some initial notes... let me know what you think. 

One of the things that cracks me up is when people treat me like some knick-knack on their grandmother’s shelf, a fragile soul that will shatter into pieces, when people drop the F-bomb and, shamefaced, apologize to me, “I’m sorry. I hope I haven’t offended you.”

You see I wasn’t always a pastor. I didn’t grow up in a pious family. And I’m thankful for that.

Sometimes I think back to my formative early ‘teen years when I toured around with a jazz band, A Little Night Music. At age 13, we found ourselves in a wild party in the farming community of Modesto, California. As we played toward the back of the lawn at a cocktail party, we saw couples gradually pairing off and heading for the bushes… and certainly not only with their spouses. There was one free-spirit, who—emboldened by enough Jack and Cokes—faced the band and decided to do high kicks in her mini skirt facing while we played Carole King’s “I Feel the Earth Move Under My Feet.” One additional fact: she wasn’t wearing any underwear. Tending figs and cows must not be all that interesting.

(Then there were the years at Cal--by now having been a Christian--when I came back from studying at Doe Library and returning to a house full or fraternity brothers crawling on the floor, having taken hallucinogenic ‘shrooms. But I'll leave that for the next edition of this essay....)

I haven’t always been a pastor, and I’m thankful—thankful because I don’t come to faith and to the church with the immense baggage and rage that churched people do who are still muttering about “the hypocrites” and the “legalism” and “all the evil stuff the church does.”  True I never sang Kum Ba Ya crying around a fire at a Christian summer camp. But I had the opportunity to read about Jesus with fresh eyes, without the distorting fun house mirrors that Christianity so often puts between us and God. For that, I am grateful.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Yes and No

We have seen and known some people who seem to have found this deep Center of living, where the fretful calls of life are integrated, where No as well as Yes can be said with confidence.

Thomas Kelly

Through the miracle of self-publishing, my newest book, The Time for No, has just appeared. I thought it might be a moment to reflect on this fact.

It--and by "it" I mean publishing this book and Say Yes to No--began with the aftermath of 9-11 in New York City and a sermon I preached, "A Time for Yes and a Time for No," which built off a slight reworking of Ecclesiastes 3, 
For everything there is a season,and a time for every matter under heaven:a time to be born, and a time to die;a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted…
a time to seek, and a time to lose;a time to keep, and a time to throw away;a time for no, and a time for yes.
I realized that, after the tragedy of that day, we as a country needed to return to key values, to key yeses. But in order to do that, we needed strategic, nurturing nos--the kind of no that surrounds, sustains, and protects our yeses.

So no is a critical word. But even with my first book, I knew it couldn't be the last word. I wrote something like this: Ultimately, our nos only create space for a deeper yes to be declared. Conversely the great yeses of life define our nos. Beyond the no, we are designed to listen to a still, small voice whispering Yes to what truly matters. Ultimately, it’s not even the yes that we pronounce. It’s the Yes of God we hear and follow fearlessly. 

In The Time for Yes, I continue. Yes is basic to faith. As the noted author Kathleen Norris has written in the introduction to Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, human infants “build a vocabulary, making sense of the chaos of sound that bombards the senses.” She continues, “Eventually the rudiments of words come; often ‘Mama,’ ‘Dada,’ ‘Me,’ and the all-powerful ‘No!’ An unqualified ‘Yes’ is a harder sell, to both children and adults.” Actually I had always thought that nos were harder, that setting out boundaries in a world of seemingly infinite possibilities posed the greatest challenge, but Norris ties saying yes to realities of faith.

To say “yes” is to make a leap of faith, to risk oneself in a new and often scary relationship. Not being quite sure of what we are doing, or where it will lead us, we try on assent, we commit ourselves to affirmation. With luck, we find that our efforts are rewarded. The vocabulary of faith begins.[i]

           Yes is also central to understanding Jesus Christ, at least according to the early Christian writer Paul who declared,

In him [that’s Christ] it is always “Yes.” For in him every one of God's promises is a “Yes.” (1 Corinthians 1:19-20)

By that, I believe Paul is leading us to see that God’s final word in Christ is an affirmation. Our nos, as it were, make make room for God's great Yes.
           One final note: The inverse is also true; faith is also basic to saying yes. Saying yes to our calling implies that Someone calls us. In my mind, this means God’s call, expressed definitively in Jesus.
           So I decided it was time to look at the time for yes.

[i] Norris, Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith (Riverhead, 1998), 1.