Tuesday, March 15

Two Years On

It was two years ago this month that I actually began blogging. Inspired by a feature on the website of author William Gibson--as well as intermitent requests from visitors to the King's Meadow site for more personal recommendations and comments--I decided on March 3, 2003 to create this somewhat regular online journal or weblog (from whence the name "blog" is derived). My plan was to post random musings, recommended book lists, commentary on current events, recommended book lists, observations from my travels around the country and around the world, recommended book lists, updates on the work of the King's Meadow ministry, and of course recommended book lists. Two years on and a quick scan of the archives provides ample evidence that I now have no unpublished thoughts! But, there are still oodles of books yet to recommend!

Building Codes

Speaking of books to recommend, I've been rereading a wonderful book that I picked up just this last year. I even listed it as one of my top ten books of 2004. But, I realized this past weekend that I had zipped through it far too quickly the first time around--thus, missing much of the pleasure and benefit of really savoring. So, Building Codes: The Aesthetics of Calvinism in the Early Modern World by Catherine Randall (Penn) is on my nightstand again.

This book is a stunning revelation. It brilliantly combines several of my deepest passions: Reformation history, architecture, worldview applicability, and prophetic clarity. It is also adorned with fabulous pen and ink renderings of some of the most amazing buildings in the history of Christendom's great flowering. In it, Randall focuses on the remarkable work of a handful of pioneering Calvinist artisans who subtly subverted the worldview of Imperial Catholicism in 17th century Paris by working out a substantive and overt architectural Protestant classicism. I'm going slowly this time. And, oh my, is it ever worth it!

Ahh! Books!

"A broad interest in books usually means a broad interest in life." Lyman Abbott (1835-1922)

"The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them." Mark Twain (1835-1910)

"Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body." Richard Steele (1672-1729)

"You can’t get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me." C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)

"Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?" Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887)

"If a book is worth reading, it is worth buying." John Ruskin (1819-1900)

"When I get a little money, I buy books; and if there is any left, I buy food and clothes." Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536)

"A bookstore is an earthly elysium. In some strange way, it seems to represent so much of what man aspires to and it embodies so much of what man yearns for. Like a well-stocked library, a good used bookstore can be a sort of nexus of piety and sensuality, of holiness and seduction. Such sanctuaries from the hustle bustle of everyday life are in some sense cenacles of virtue, vessels of erudition, arks of prudence, towers of wisdom, domains of meekness, bastions of strength, and thuribles of sanctity as well as crucibles of dissipation, throne rooms of desire, caryatids of opulence, repositories of salaciousness, milieus of concupiscence, and trusses of extravagance." Tristan Gylberd (1954-)

Food and Faith

“The way to a man’s heart is his stomach,” said the inimitable Samuel Johnson. “Similarly, the way to a man’s theology is the setting of his table at the various seasonal celebrations.” Indeed, there is little that is more revealing of our ultimate concerns than what we eat and how we eat it.

Generally we moderns tend to think of faith as a rather other-worldly concern while we think of food as a rather this-worldly concern. It is difficult for us to see how the twain could ever meet. In fact though, food and faith are inextricably linked. And while that is true to one degree or another in every culture the world over, it is especially evident in the Judeo-Christian tradition of the West.

Interestingly, the word faith is used less than 300 times in the Bible while the verb to eat is used more than 800 times. You can hardly read a single page of the Scriptures without running into a discussion of bread and wine, of milk and honey, of leeks and onions, of glistening oil and plump figs, sweet grapes and delectable pomegranates, of roast lamb and savory stew. Throughout there are images of feasts and celebrations. The themes of justice and virtue are often defined in terms of food while the themes of hungering and thirsting are inevitably defined in terms of faith. Community and hospitality are evidences of a faithful covenant while righteousness and holiness are evidences of a healthy appetite. Biblical worship—in both the Old and the New Testaments—does not revolve around some esoteric discussion of philosophy or some ascetic ritual enactment, but around a Meal.

As if to underscore this, all of the resurrection appearances of Christ occurred at meals—with the single exception of the garden tomb. On the road to Emmaus, in the Upper Room, and at the edge of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus supped with His disciples. Indeed, He did not say, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone opens the door, I will enter in and discuss theology with him.” No. Jesus said, “I will come in and sup with him.”

Food is the stuff of life. And the Christian faith reminds us that Jesus came to give us life—indeed, He came to give us “abundant life.” So, it is not surprising for Him—as well as all of the apostles and prophets—to utilize food as a primary image in the conveyance of theology.

A few years ago I saw a little plaque in a kitchen supply store that read, “A good theology will invariably produce a good meal.” At first I just chuckled and quickly dismissed it as just another bit of gourmet’s hyperbole. But then, the more I thought about it the more I began realize that the epigram actually conveys a substantive and healthy worldview—one that uniquely expresses the Christian tradition. Like a fine feast, a good theology is more than the sum of its parts. While it is composed of certain essential dogmas and doctrines, each of those essentials must also be carefully related to all the others. It sees all too clearly the crucial connection between the profound and the mundane. While it wisely attends to the minutest of details, it also remains fully cognizant of how those details affect the bigger picture. It places as much significance on the bits and pieces as it does on the totals and vice versa.

A good theology is good for the soul. But it is also good for the world. Its spiritual vision gives vitality to all that it touches—from herb gardens and table settings to nation states and cultures—simply because the integrity of that vision ultimately depends as much on a balanced perspective of everyday life as on a solid comprehension of our highest aspirations. Its attention to heavenly concerns is integrally bound to its fulfillment of earthly responsibilities. A good meal, a joyous family celebration, or a well-kept seasonal feast effectively portrays that truth in a very tangible—and Biblical—fashion.

Of course, actually making that kind of integrated connection between heavenly concerns and earthly responsibilities is never easy—in either a mealtime or a lifetime. We are all constantly tugged between piety and practicality, between devotion and duty, between communion with God and calling in the world. Like blending sundry recipes into a cohesive meal-plan, honing a balanced worldview involves both the drudgery of daily labor and the high ideals of faith, hope, and love. But the results are always worth the extra effort.

A good theology—with its comprehensive worldview—inevitably affects the world for good. It cheers the heart like a sumptuous dish. While a bad theology—with its fragmented worldview—can only leave a bitter taste in the mouth. In our day, that basic fact has been borne out again and again.

When the subject of worldview comes up, we generally think of philosophy—not cooking. And that is really too bad. We think of intellectual niggling. We think of the brief and blinding oblivion of ivory tower speculation, of thickly obscure tomes, and of inscrutable logical complexities.

In fact, a worldview is as practical as potatoes. It is less metaphysical than understanding marginal market buying at the stock exchange or legislative initiatives in congress. It is less esoteric than typing a book into a laptop computer or sending a fax across the continent. It is instead as down to earth as grinding condiments for a savory sauce.

The word itself is a poor English attempt at translating the German weltanshauung. It literally means a “life perspective” or “a way of seeing.” It is simply the way we look at the world. You have a worldview. I have a worldview. Everyone does. It is our perspective. It is our frame of reference. It is the means by which we interpret the situations and circumstances around us. It is what enables us to integrate all the different aspects of our faith, and life, and experience.

And the Christian view of the world is fraught with a sort of cook’s paradox—an appreciation for both the potentialities and the liabilities of fallen creation. The problem is that we tend to want to hammer out our philosophy of life in isolation from life. We disconnect our worldview from the world. We either become so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good or we become so earthly minded that we’re no heavenly good. The Christian tradition on the other hand, affords us a distinctively balanced worldview that encourages us to be “in the world” but not be entirely “of it.”

The reason for this seemingly contradictory state of affairs—a kind of enmity with the world on the one hand and a responsibility to it on the other—is simply that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” Though the world is “in the power of the evil one” and “knows not God, neither the children of God,” He is “reconciling the world unto Himself.”

A genuinely integrated Biblical worldview must be cognizant of this remarkable sort of paradox. It must be engaged in the world. It must be unengaged in worldliness. It must somehow correlate spiritual concerns with temporal concerns. It must coalesce heavenly hope and landed life. It must coordinate heart-felt faith and down-to-earth practice.

That is a difficult ideal to visualize—much less to implement in our lives. But that is just what a healthy apprehension of the connection between food and faith enables us to do. By vitally connecting the head with the hand with the heart with the palate, by placing emphasis on the whole of life—our relationships, traditions, simple joys, family celebrations, tastes, pleasures, and expressions of thanksgiving—the high ideals of a Biblical worldview are happily instituted in the very warp and woof of our existence. Perhaps that is why God so clearly portrays the essence of the New Covenant in a Meal. His aim appears rather simple: His gracious provision is to utterly invade what we are and what we do, what we think and how we act, and what we believe and what we eat.

According to Samuel Johnson, that covenantal link is ultimately inescapable. Looking across the wide span of Christ’s covenantal activity, it is obvious that he was right. Isn’t it amazing how easily we overlook the obvious? “Taste and see that the Lord, He is good” (Psalm 34:8).

Mmmm. I'm hungry!

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