Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Quality Food People

Giant in Langlet Park, MD (not mine)

Yellow stripes litter the wine-dark asphalt
Like the broken ribs of wrecked ships,
Telling car-boats where to moor.
Here, amid the pilings in the port
Of this petite Giant, a carswain maiden
Stands sentinel, leans against
The bed of her bobbing truck.
She signals ashore to me via Morse Code
from a cigarette's burning cherry;
I send a message back, but do not think
Carefully of all that I may be saying
Through haphazard inspirations, expirations,
And the semaphore of hand-to-mouth.

What if it had been an honest S.O.S.
Which she just blinked to me?
I must now ponder more carefully
All that I still would not have said.


The Plymouth Sundance

for Jon's car.
Metallurgic horse,
You did your duty duly.
Jon sure sold you quick.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011


I decided to give my blog a facelift.

I needed something easier on the eyes, frankly. The new template accomplishes this, I think.

What do you think?

Also, you'll notice that my "Recommended Reading" gadget is gone, having been replaced by a lovely septuplet of Mimetic Desire Fish. This is because the Google will no longer allow me to handily share things with you via Reader. I have to share everything to Google + instead. I'm not crazy about this change to Reader's platform, but I'm mostly over making comments to that effect in a high dudgeon. The fish are better, though -- admit it. Anyway, if you want to add me to your circles on Plus, go ahead.

Anyway, that's all. Happy reading what I write (I hope).


The Gospel and its discontents

Image by Marco Dheim Orciuoli

That sinners are accounted just before a righteous God solely on account of Christ’s perfect obedience in life, in suffering, and in death, and liberated from sin and death by His resurrection is simultaneously the easiest and most difficult thing to believe. But it is the Gospel, which only poor, miserable sinners righteously exposed, crushed and broken by the Law and regenerated by the Holy Spirit can and will believe, those who have despaired in their own works, and by faith trust in the works of Another.

Roman Catholics love to say that this is a “cheap and easy Gospel” which lets man off the hook and foments spiritual laziness and antinomianism.

Really? Not so, I say.

Clinging to this promise in faith over and against the ridicule of the world and walking in good works that cannot merit anything for us is probably the most difficult thing imaginable. It is a small gate; few find it. It is the 
“one thing needful,” the faith which makes one well, makes one rise, and walk.

It is not in the pomp of Rome (though it is not my place to judge individuals), nor is it in the enthusiasm of an unmitigated, perpetually-Protestantizing Protestantism. This narrow gate is the Gospel. And it is the Gospel which, I believe, the churches of the Augsburg Confession have faithfully, albeit imperfectly, preserved since the Lutheran fathers reformed the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century. Rome owns the historical narrative still, as well as the term “Catholic,” but what Rome teaches is not the catholic faith once passed down to the saints. Rather, it is an amalgam of Aristotelian moral philosophy and Christian pietism. Much has been retained by Rome which is good, but more has been dispensed with, lamentably. It comes as no surprise, then, that evangelicals whose churches have never preached Justification or Christology correctly and who have always felt the need to work strenuously for their salvation take the surprisingly easy, increasingly predictable sideways step to Rome: same treadmill, but with sacraments and (an aura of vaunted) authority, gravitas, etc. Kids at my alma mater often made what I like to call the “Lord of the Rings” conversion: they fell in love with Rome because the impression they got of it while in college was that it was traditional (whatever that means), reverent, and mythopoeic: you can feel like you’re part of something big, mystical, and exciting — the adventure of your salvation! Then they end up at some Novus Ordo parish with a clown-celebrant and a rock-a-billy banjo-liturgy with a square dance procession of the gifts. Poetic justice, says I.

Yes, the risk of the pure Gospel is antinomianism. But there is a clear difference between the worth of something and the risks of something. The risk of walking the Narrow Path is falling off of it (think of Scylla and Charybdis in the Odyssey); the risk of walking through the door to the sheep-pen is missing it and running into the fence (which is electric, and barbed-wire — it’s called the Law); the risk of getting married is getting divorced, etc. There is also a significantly higher risk to Roman theology — that of never hearing the Gospel. Put another way, the risk of the partial/obscured/perverted Gospel is, well, nomianism. Thankfully, even in the Roman church much of the liturgy still preaches the Gospel, even if the homily (catechism, etc.) does not.

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I posted the foregoing in a comment-feed of a piece over at Internet Monk, the main author/webmaster of which site has decided to become Lutheran. I haven't been writing much on my own site, so I thought I would paste a slightly touched-up version of my comment for the perusal of anyone who...reads this blog and cares.

Do you read this blog and care? Thank you.


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Who says?

So I'm posting other random fragments of posts I started this summer but never got around to finishing. Here's another one:

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Originally composed June 2011

“These things are written that you may believe, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”

There seems to be a fundamental difference in theology that we’re overlooking here, and that is this: we Lutherans have no problem whatsoever admitting that there is no authoritative fiat made vicarius Dei which gives force and credibility to Scripture. Scripture itself supplies this. Rather, Scripture is this. But we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in the truth that it reveals, i.e., the Lordship of Christ. We cannot confess Him as Lord, but the Holy Spirit calls us by the Gospel, enlightens us with His gifts, sanctifies and keeps us in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens and Sanctifies the whole Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. The Holy Spirit works through the Word—read, preached, and proclaimed—to accomplish this good purpose. Christian belief, then, is not traceable back to the various affirmations of the Bishops of Rome, but to the work of the Holy Spirit in and through the Word. Not by power, not by might, not by all the pomp and opulence of Rome, but by His Spirit will it be accomplished.

Now, Rome, too, believes in the working of the Holy Spirit. But Rome teaches (indeed, their entire sacerdotal system is premised upon the notion) that the Holy Spirit works through the Roman popes as the authoritative interpreters of the content of the Scriptures. The plain sense of Scripture, then, must bow to their word. The Word is beholden to the word of the pope, who construes the authority of his office to be one of making meaning. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved” does not necessarily mean what it seems to say; its meaning is instead contingent upon what they say it says. It necessarily means what the pope says it means. If this is taken to its logical conclusion, it obviates any need for a canon of Scripture, or Scripture at all. It should then come as no surprise that Rome has fared so well in its enterprise without Scriptural support for its doctrines.

Related post: On Private Judgment


Even children know bad art when they see it

I wrote the following post this past summer but never got around to publishing it, for some reason or another. In any event, the thoughts of June Trent Demarest seemed to withstand the November Trent Demarest's scrutiny (that's me, in case you were wondering) with little reworking, so I'm just posting them as-is, rather than changing verb tenses, etc.

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Originally composed June 2011

When working with children you really have to be on your toes. You must be vigilant not only on behalf of their safety, but also on account of those sanguine truths which can only be elucidated by their native precocity and naivete. If you’re not careful, you’ll miss them. I know that parents will corroborate this, and know it better than I. Still, my job this summer consists of taking care of the children attending Immanuel Lutheran School’s summer day-camp, and for the nine months preceding consisted of educating them, so I know something of what these little creatures are like. Yesterday’s venture to Old Town Alexandria with the children was no exception, as our trip to the Torpedo Factory Art Gallery provided an unexpected opportunity for reflection on the nature of art. I’m excited to report that I have culled a single sentence from my mental meanderings that adequately summarizes the experience:

Even children know bad art when they see it.

I’m aware that sounds far too neat, too absolute, and too inductive: Trent, after spending time with subset “Immanuel children,” infers from his observations that set “children” are good judges of the relative merits and demerits of art. Inductive leap! Converse accident! Hasty generalization!

Maybe so. Perhaps I should modify my statement so that it reads, “Certain children seem to agree with me with respect to what counts as ugly.” That much is indisputable. Just how much of a subjectivist measure this is, we shall have to see.

As you’ve doubtless discovered for yourself if you’ve clicked the above link, the Torpedo Factory Gallery is something of a mixed bag of different schools of art (there is a little flash gallery on the linked page which displays various artists’ work). To be sure, there are definitely artists whose work is more or less classical, i.e., they seek to discern and express the perfections of nature in their work, imposing order upon experience and at least attempting to harmonize their particular projects with various and sundry of the aesthetic norms found in nature. And, to be equally sure, there are others who are far more modern, i.e., they see it as their job as artists to provide ever novel, often radically unique, perspectives.

Perspectives? On...? Towards...? Don’t these prepositions need an object?

Well, I happen to think so. But it seems that even saying “perspectives on nature,” or “perspectives on reality,” or some suchlike, begs too many epistemological questions these days. Much of the art we looked at today was unrecognizable, not only in its form but in its intention, too. And the children smelled a rat. They may have smelled several rats, actually.

(Thank God for idioms, or that would be a huge non-sequitur. In my brief editing digression I just learnt [ha!] that “smelled” and “smelt” are not synonymous. So, had I not edited, I would have departed out of the safe haven of metaphor and told you that the children extracted metals out of superheated rodents, which they did not do. Oh, English...)

Per my discretion, we did not stop into each and every booth we walked past, but that did not stop the children from looking in the windows. It wasn’t necessarily on account of obscenity that I chose not to visit some of the shops (though there was at least one artiste peddling some weird fetishistic stuff that I had to steer some six-year-olds away from); no, some of the art was just ugly. Unrecognizable. It was like the “Emperor’s New Clothes” all over again.

“What is that? I can’t even tell what that is!”
“I could do that!”
“Ewww! That’s gross! What’s it even supposed to be anyway?”

While I was quick to hush such comments (so as not to bruise the ego of a nearby gift-to-unenlightened-humanity), I sometimes had to smirk to myself and think, “Yeah, no kidding.”

With the children, there was no pretense of enjoyment of the various pieces, whether ugly or beautiful. Some of this was due to the fact that their tastes are not educated. Some, but not all: there is a chasm of difference between a painting whose order is present but not immediately discernible, and random chaotic splatterings of paint on misshapen clay busts. Both may be opaque in some way to the young mind, but the former can be explained, and very often recognized in part even if not fully understood, whereas quite often the latter variety cannot, apart from the airheaded “it means whatever you want it to mean.”

A child’s initial fascination with good art can be cultivated and brought to fruition as various harmonies of shape, color, and perspective are elucidated. And lest we get too heady, let us remember that an explanation of the structural intricacies of a piece of good art often in no way enhances the delight which it cannot help but give often even in one’s first encounter with it, but provides a separate kind of appreciation. Just as the musical technicalities of Beethoven’s 5th need not be explained for one to be delighted by its beauty, so also a beautiful work of visual art need not be rationally grasped, at least not in a self-conscious way.

As we walked through the gallery, the children would brighten and exclaim when they found the exhibits pleasing to the eye. They were wont to linger longer at the booths of artists who seemed intent on offering high delight to their viewers. This was heartening for me to witness, and I was moved to thank more than a few artists for their part in enriching the imaginations of my young charges that day.

I’ll end with the following quotation from C.S. Lewis which – at least to me – epitomizes the problem with most “modernist art,” so called. It needs no further comment from me.

“Until quite recently – until the latter part of the last century – it was taken for granted that the business of the artist was to delight and instruct the public. There were, of course, different publics; the street songs and oratorios were not addressed to the same audience (though I think a good many people liked both). And an artist might lead his public on to appreciate finer things than they had wanted at first; but he could do this by being, from the first, if not merely entertaining, yet entertaining, and if not completely intelligible, yet very largely intelligible. All this has changed. In the highest aesthetic circles one now hears nothing about the artist’s duty to us. It is all about our duty to him. We owe him ‘recognition’ even though he has never paid the slightest attention to our tastes, interests, and habits. If we don’t give it to him, our name is mud. In this shop the customer is always wrong.” Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt, 2002, C.S. Lewis, The World’s Last Night, “Good Work and Good Works.”