The Lion in my House

Category: Gospel

This is Christmas

“By indirections find directions out.” Polonius Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 1 “Tell all the truth but tell it slant — Success in Circuit lies” Emily Dickinson, “Tell all the truth,…

“By indirections find directions out.”
Polonius
Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 1

“Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies”
Emily Dickinson, “Tell all the truth, but tell it slant”

This runs counter to contemporary thinking. We think that if we can dissect a thing and see it under a microscope, to wrestle it into submission, then we will find out its truth. But, it depends on the nature of the thing we are trying to understand.

Sometimes the best thing is to “stand under” a thing in order to understand it, rather than to stand over it and dominate it.

“He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy
He who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise”

William Blake, “Eternity”

In the modern Evangelical mind, we have forgotten (at great loss to the sharing of the Gospel) an important skill: artistry.

It is revealed most starkly in our horrible books and films. It is revealed painfully in the trite, boring, off-putting drivel on the shelves of the “Christian Living” sections of our bookstores.

We bemoan the commercialism of the age and yet commercialize ourselves to death. Except our products, by comparison, are shoddy and uninspiring. They are the most basic, the simplest and least stimulating, saccharine, textbook material.

The world, so we reason, has turned from the Cross to Science, and we have thus repositioned ourselves to “fight fire with fire.” In so many cases, our own scientists are brought to the battle with well-reasoned, clinical, antiseptic, logical retorts. We should instead learn to fight fire with water. After all, no one believes our scientists anyway.

Or, if that were not bad enough, we give, as an alternative to our dull Science books, these schmaltzy, sorghum devotional books that smear the cracks like peanut butter for the soul. Meanwhile, we get fat, and happy.

There is no sense of the numinous. There is no adventure.

The Bible so many pretend to love is full of treason and betrayal and war and death and blessed salvation. Our art is full of melodrama and perfect endings.

We lack imagination. And this, while it sucks the saturation from our art into dull monotones, belies a deeper, more sinister problem.

In our endeavors to stand up our well-reasoned scientific apologists against the reasoners of the world, we have bought into a sorrowful lie: that reason and imagination are solo endeavors, running parallel paths that never meet and serve wholly separate functions.

Apologetics is usually defined as “a reasoned defense.” The scripture which is at the heart of apologetics speaks directly to this, “Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” (1 Peter‬ ‭3:15‬ ‭HCSB‬‬)

But reason can only operate if it is first supplied with materials to reason about. It is imagination’s task to supply those materials. Therefore, apologetics is foundationally an imaginative task. The same natural organ that feeds us something simple, like a purple unicorn, also gives us something complex, like empathy or the mechanism which forms letters on the page and binds the pages into books (which a few of us has ever seen, but we imagine how it works). Or what, when the indicator light on your car flashes on and off and on and off, it must mean. A faulty electrical connection? A signal that a turn is coming? Imagination feeds our reasoning brains and provides meaning to the flashing light and the moral dilemma.

And so, if imagination is the organ of meaning (and meaninglessness), then we can reason truth or falsehood. Before something can be true, it must mean. And that is the work of imagination. Meaning is the antecedent condition of truth and falsehood, and imagination supplies the raw materials for reason.

And woe, we have ignored the imagination. We have allowed it to atrophy because of a lack of faith.

We persevere to preserve the Gospel. But it doesn’t need us, except to the extent that God chooses to use us. And when we fail, the rocks will cry out. We ready ourselves for war, but hand over the most effective tool. We have given up on imagination.

God is full of meaning beyond our grasp and we cannot fit into our cold prose exactly what He means. We lack the imagination.

Christianity is meant to be understood as a story – a true, historical, personal, fantastic story – and not merely cold doctrine. In order to “save” Christianity, we start with cold doctrine and try to squeeze out a story. That’s not at all how this works!

We are so afraid of being misunderstood or espousing something doctrinally incorrect that we sap our stories of the nonsensical, and thus the reality.

After all, the real story of Christ’s birth is fantastic and unexplainable and that is what makes it real. We have no sense of the presence of the transcendent (yes, that is a paradox) and thus we are either too mired in the vulgar or too distant in the logical.

The miracle of Christ is that the logos intersected with the vulgar. Find that in our modern Christian art!

“I’d rather be
A pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.”

William Wordsworth, “The World is Too Much with Us”

Did you ever consider that we have made the Gospel boring? Have we analyein – analyzed – and loosened it into mere doctrine?

For sure, we underscore that doctrine with a kind of popular subculture full of pithy mockeries of the real world. We are isolationist; we hide in the bright shadows of this subculture and pretend it is fun. It is pleasant, but it isn’t fun.

Many a sermon has rigored against “religion” in favor of relationship. But what is relationship without religion? Without the central figure of Christ to religare – to re-ligature – and tie us back together? We have done much loosening. We need to be sewn back together tightly with the thread of ages.

And what of the imagination of the pagan world that captures our attentions and hearts? What do we make of it?

How many atheists howl at the pagan roots of Christmas? Of Easter? How many pagan gods die and resurrect?

How many Christians, having coldly analyzed the Logos, sleep in fear that it is yet another myth? Merely an amalgam of the myths that went before and now, at the fulcrum of history, cast into a golden calf for ages hence?

They lack imagination.

What a surprise it may come to atheists and believers that the atheist is more practical than he believed, and the Christian more imaginative. After all, the atheist purports to not believe in a supreme objective moral standard which exists outside of us, yet he acts much as if there is. And the Christian is often charged with lacking the imagination to see that his beliefs are the practical result of his parentage, yet it is his imagination that has developed his reason for faith.

The apostle Paul shows us what to make of these fractured lights of pagan mythology and sets the record straight. He gives us the freedom from the dubious place of “protecting the Gospel” and also from the fear of loosing bad doctrine.

In paganism, God expresses himself in an unfocused way through man’s imagination. It was God’s direct expression of Himself in His true myth that brought meaning to man’s dim visions.

When Epimenides wrote of Zeus, he saw through a mirror darkly:

“They fashioned a tomb for thee [O Zeus], O holy and high one-
The Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies!
But thou art not dead: thou livest and abidest forever,
For in thee we live and move and have our being.”

And dear Paul, breathing new life into this worn old myth of men, imagined a God who might once have been misunderstood by pagan prophets, but now could be known:

“He did this so they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. For in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’”

‭‭Acts‬ ‭17:27-28‬ ‭HCSB‬‬

And, of Zeus, Aratus wrote:

“From Zeus let us begin; him do we mortals never leave unnamed; full of Zeus are all the streets and all the market-places of men; full is the sea and the havens thereof; always we all have need of Zeus. For we are also his offspring; and he in his kindness unto men giveth favourable signs and wakeneth the people to work, reminding them of livelihood. He tells what time the soil is best for the labour of the ox and for the mattock, and what time the seasons are favourable both for the planting of trees and for casting all manner of seeds. For himself it was who set the signs in heaven, and marked out the constellations, and for the year devised what stars chiefly should give to men right signs of the seasons, to the end that all things might grow unfailingly. Wherefore him do men ever worship first and last.”

Does this scare you? Does it shake the foundations of your well-reasoned faith?

It shouldn’t. It should, instead, teach you how to tell the world how God, in the fullness of time, revealed the truth, once just a whisper, now on the lips of the Heavenly Host, bathed in glory.

That Tantalusian fruit, strained to touch, has been revealed.

That is Christmas.

That is Christmas.

That is now.

“…Every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…By His own choice, He gave us a new birth by the message of truth so that we would be the firstfruits of His creatures.”

‭‭James‬ ‭1:17-18‬ ‭HCSB‬‬

All light. Even the fractured light. It all points to God’s revealed truth in Christ.

This is the power of imagination. It is not as cold and heartless as the doctrine that it bears. God loves us in the fullness and richness of stories, and it was that child’s birth that flipped the world on its head and gave us a God in a child, who would, like the old stories, die and rise again.

But this time it’s true.

Unlike the old gods of men, He came to serve and to teach us to serve; to be last, and to teach us to be last; to be humble, even to be misunderstood. And yet, as frail and weak and misunderstood is the Written Word of God, so was the Living Word of God, and still He cannot be conquered.

This is Christmas.

This is Christmas.

This is Christmas.

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Part 3: Behold, Celaeno

She glanced at the cage closest to her own, and suddenly felt the breath in her body turning to cold iron. There sat on an oaken perch a creature with…

She glanced at the cage closest to her own, and suddenly felt the breath in her body turning to cold iron. There sat on an oaken perch a creature with the body of a great bronze bird and a hag’s face, clenched and deadly as the talons with which she gripped the wood. She had the shaggy round ears of a bear; but down her scaly shoulders, mingling with the bright knives of her plumage, there fell hair the color of moonlight, thick and youthful around the hating human face. She glittered, but to look at her was to feel the light going out of the sky. Catching sight of the unicorn, she made a queer sound like a hiss and a chuckle together.

The unicorn said quietly, “This one is real. This is the harpy Celaeno.”

The unicorn began to walk toward the harpy’s cage. Schmendrick the Magician, tiny and pale, kept opening and closing his mouth at her, and she knew what he was shrieking, though she could not hear him. “She will kill you, she will kill you! Run, you fool, while she’s still a prisoner! She will kill you if you set her free!” But the unicorn walked on, following the light of her horn, until she stood before Celaeno, the Dark One.

For an instant the icy wings hung silent in the air, like clouds, and the harpy’s old yellow eyes sank into the unicorn’s heart and drew her close. “I will kill you if you set me free,” the eyes said. “Set me free.”

The unicorn lowered her head until her horn touched the lock of the harpy’s cage. The door did not swing open, and the iron bars did not thaw into starlight. But the harpy lifted her wings, and the four sides of the cage fell slowly away and down, like the petals of some great flower waking at night. And out of the wreckage the harpy bloomed, terrible and free, screaming, her hair swinging like a sword. The moon withered and fled.

The unicorn heard herself cry out, not in terror but in wonder, “Oh, you are like me!” She reared joyously to meet the harpy’s stoop, and her horn leaped up into the wicked wind. The harpy struck once, missed, and swung away, her wings clanging and her breath warm and stinking. She burned overhead, and the unicorn saw herself reflected on the harpy’s bronze breast and felt the monster shining from her own body. So they circled one another like a double star, and under the shrunken sky there was nothing real but the two of them. The harpy laughed with delight, and her eyes turned the color of honey. The unicorn knew that she was going to strike again.

The harpy folded her wings and fell like a star — not at the unicorn, but beyond her, passing so close that a single feather drew blood from the unicorn’s shoulder; bright claws reaching for the heart of Mommy Fortuna, who was stretching out her own sharp hands as though to welcome the harpy home. “Not alone!” the witch howled triumphantly at both of them. “You never could have freed yourselves alone! I held you!” Then the harpy reached her, and she broke like a dead stick and fell. The harpy crouched on her body, hiding it from sight, and the bronze wings turned red.

The unicorn turned away. Close by, she heard a child’s voice telling her that she must run, she must run. It was the magician. His eyes were huge and empty, and his face — always too young — was collapsing into childhood as the unicorn looked at him. “No,” she said. “Come with me.”

The harpy made a thick, happy sound that melted the magician’s knees. But the unicorn said again, “Come with me,” and together they walked away from the Midnight Carnival. The moon was gone, but to the magician’s eyes the unicorn was the moon, cold and white and very old, lighting his way to safety, or to madness. He followed her, never once looking back, even when he heard the desperate scrambling and skidding of heavy feet, the boom of bronze wings, and Rukh’s interrupted scream.

“He ran,” the unicorn said. “You must never run from anything immortal. It attracts their attention.” Her voice was gentle, and without pity. “Never run,” she said. “Walk slowly, and pretend to be thinking of something else. Sing a song, say a poem, do your tricks, but walk slowly and she may not follow. Walk very slowly, magician.”

Excerpts from “The Last Unicorn,” by Peter S. Beagle

. . .

Such is evil. It seeks to kill and destroy (Romans 6:23).

Here, Celaeno reveals the strange contradiction of our souls: “I will kill you if you set me free,” yet, “Set me free.”

Why are we compelled to free within ourselves the very thing things that will seek our destruction? Why does sin nature, even on this side of the cross and on this side of baptism and on this side of the indwelling of the Spirit of God, yet insidiously persist?

I have prayed many times that I, the ego that has been so destructive and selfish and weak (Matthew 26:41) will die. I have asked that the Lord crucify my ego Himself, or at least that He would bless me by taking me captive and locking that wicked part of me in a cage of His design.

But, alas, He came to bring freedom and not captivity (John 8:36). And what is freedom if not the freedom to do with our sin nature what we choose?

Thomas Aquinas, in Summa Theologica, argues that freedom is the manner in which intellectual beings seek goodness and, if ever there was a source of the good, the true, and the beautiful, it is found in Christ.

So why then am I so confused?

Perhaps because the evil is a thing so like me that I often can’t tell the difference. This must be why we “fix our eyes on Christ, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2) and why we must “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). It is the kind of process by which God seems to be shaping us not into people who merely follow rules, but into the kind of people whose worst sins point others to Jesus.

And so, we — I — walk slowly, sing songs, say poems, do tricks, and as we are going, we teach all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).

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American Gospel

This ain’t no American Gospel. It isn’t secured by the troops, represented by the flag, or born on the 4th of July. It isn’t written into the 1st amendment, or…

This ain’t no American Gospel.

It isn’t secured by the troops, represented by the flag, or born on the 4th of July.

It isn’t written into the 1st amendment, or protected by the 2nd. It wasn’t emancipated by the 13th.

It isn’t negotiated on the floor of the House of the People, voted on by the electorate, or implemented by the Executive. It isn’t adjudicated by the Courts, and it doesn’t have a Party.

It doesn’t guarantee the right to remain silent, but One is appointed to speak for us, because we can’t afford to on our own. It isn’t the boys in blue. It isn’t the #resistance. It isn’t the Tea Party. It isn’t the revolution and it isn’t the establishment.

This ain’t no American Gospel. It didn’t land on Plymouth Rock or take Attica. It didn’t speak on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and it doesn’t take a knee at the games. The life it gives is the one that matters.

It didn’t come home in body cavities from Vietnam and it isn’t sold on the streets of South Central, funding illegal wars in South America and extorting families, stealing husbands and fathers. It isn’t decimating middle America, destroying bodies and families for a quick hit. It doesn’t have a Czar, and a budget and black money.

It doesn’t have a SuperPAC. It doesn’t lobby for influence and trade soul for soul and mammon for mammon. It doesn’t lie and cheat and steal and corrupt and corrode. It doesn’t care who gets elected or which bills get passed. It isn’t pork-barrel spending.

It isn’t technological innovation. It isn’t the next big thing or the next bubble to burst. It isn’t a new app or a new show to binge. It isn’t bread and circuses. This ain’t no American Gospel.

It isn’t amber waves of grain or the hard work and rugged hands pulling tight on boot straps about to snap under the pressure. It isn’t traditional values or the nuclear family. It isn’t progressivism and it isn’t gender identity studies. It isn’t conservatism and tax cuts. It isn’t just for the poor and it isn’t just for the wealthy. It isn’t about the middle class and the Silent Majority.

It isn’t in drone strikes or Nuclear Treaties or Climate Change action. It isn’t on a major network. It isn’t in grandma’s apple pie and they don’t serve it at McDonald’s.

No, this ain’t no American Gospel.

Because now there ain’t no Jew nor Greek, no White nor Black, no Rich nor Poor, no Native nor Immigrant, no Straight nor Gay, no Slave nor Free.

There is Christ, and there are those apart from Christ.

His Gospel puts the lost before the found. It puts the last before the first. It doesn’t need to be respected, protected, or elected to save. His Gospel stands and it cannot be shaken.

His Gospel is a blood transfusion. His Gospel is flesh and blood; spit upon and dragged through the dirt and killed and it showed that neither blood, nor dirt, nor spit, nor death could hold it down. Neither can politics. Neither can elected officials. Neither can constitutional amendments, Planned Parenthood, tax cuts for the rich, election fraud, Presidents, twitter feeds, football players, Tea Partiers, #resisters, college professors, conceal and carriers, or any other nonsense America can throw at it.

His Gospel frees us from the demands of all that nonsense. It gives us truth. It gives us Him, and the price He already paid. His Gospel doesn’t need you to be right. It doesn’t need you to be Left. It doesn’t need your Facebook wall, and it doesn’t need your protest signs.

His Gospel gives you Him.

This ain’t no American Gospel.

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Imaginal Cells

What a strange time. If Solomon was right and there is truly “nothing new under the sun,” it must be ab origine that we find ourselves wondering, “What could possibly…

What a strange time. If Solomon was right and there is truly “nothing new under the sun,” it must be ab origine that we find ourselves wondering, “What could possibly come next?” and marveling at the weirdness of the nature of man, in spite of it never having changed from the garden until today. Flatus vocis. Surely we are getting weirder.

The imaginal cells of God’s primordial creation are still somehow at work and it is by His grace alone when we emerge from our gooey cocoons as butterflies not not hornets. We alight on his purposes to sing our hymns and flutter away mindlessly.

That is the power of grace; the strength of the mercy in the Gospel.

Not the American gospel of hard work and reward; prosperity and justice. The American gospel is a lie, and we’re suckers for taking it too seriously.

After all, what has our prosperity earned us? What have we bought with all that labor?

The best of us this week didn’t come from our strength. It came from our weakness. From the baptism of tragedy we saw godliness emerge. In our excesses, we only see dull humanity.

Perhaps we ask too much of ourselves when we vie for safety. Maybe the best of us comes from tragedy; and we should hope for it more.

We should escape the cocoons. We should alight on his purposes. We should sing our hymns and give Him our hallelujahs and be grateful that in the tragedy of our souls, where the water has cut deep caverns and, over millennia, left dry bones with a fast quip and a taste for bad wine, He pours new water that quenches thirst and infuses dry bones with blood and life.

In return, He asks that we yield. He asks that, finally, after all the crooning for bad wine and the twisting of the clock that turns flesh and bone into dust and lays galaxies to waste; that after chasing shadows through the wastelands far from home where the shadows slip into deeper shadows, and the sun sinks at our backs and we dip deeply into the gulf within ourselves; He asks that we turn ourselves over. And, when we do, He stoops to put a cool cloth to us; to clean us up. He wipes off the shame and regret and the lostness that our wandering could not solve — and the bitter and demanding urgency to matter. And He just gives that to us; that thing we strive and scratch and claw and connive and twist and spit and cuss to produce. He just gives it away and in astounding abundance.

And He settles us into one of many rooms in His Father’s house; a room meant for us, with curiosities from the wasteland that were hidden behind the shadows, but were the evidence that all the loneliness and chasing was somehow always meant for this room in this house and those curiosities bear His mark, like scored stone markers highlighting a path we never knew we were traveling, but brought us here. And we bear new marks too; His, and His for us, which is like a beautiful and happy scar. A strange reminder of a time of sadness that can only be remembered with joy.

Multiverse galaxies sing as their gears turn like a machine ingesting time and exhausting grace, spraying glimmering drops of dew containing universes and machines and glories of their own. And, for all the beauty, the great mystery of His grace it that is belongs to the mundane; it is the miracle hiding in every stop at the post office, and every staff meeting, and every diaper changed. For all the work of the wasteland that reaped so little reward and cost so much, the grace of the gospel does its work like a scout sent out before His people to look deep into the frontier and illuminate our footsteps to His glory.

For the Father of Creation, who, with His invisible hand, powers the motion of the atoms and whose Spirit proceeds to give Life, gripped the machinery of time and space and wrought His Son to be born amongst His Creation; a new thing begotten in the mysteries of His authority and love, to blaze a new path for mankind home unto Himself through His own suffering and blood. The Father, Son, and Spirit are co-equal kings of eternity; Lords of a mansion home to his people, whom he has drawn unto Himself, for His own glory. His rod and his staff are a strange mercy in a world where we are not yet home, but we look toward the day now born not yet delivered when His people feast at His table and share in an inheritance not earned, but freely given and binding all to Him and to one another through His blood.

And we shall not want. And and the prosperity and all the suffering will be a chapter in a book only beginning, a book about Him and His people, wherein each chapter gets weirder. And we know Him – and love Him – better.

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