R.S. Thomas

Well, I know a little more about the suspicion for the machine (that Paul Kingsnorth channels) now. I should say the literary suspicion of the machine. It depends on symbols, and these are conjured by literary means. The most powerful symbols are stories. After reading him, I have found that R.S. Thomas set about suggesting stories with his poems.

Is it just me or do others find modern poems characteristically enigmatic? My experience has been that one has to struggle to read and re-read and to apply concentration because modern poetry is in some way more grudging. There is a surliness to the thing, and something of a camaraderie of misanthropy about being a reader of a modern poem.

Why don’t they elicit attention more? In some ways it has to be a response to the saturated world of advertising and self-promotion that thinking persons shrink from. And yet when I read modern poetry first and then pick up something old I always feel a contrast. I find the old far more accessible, there is a charm and winning appeal to it. Now this is not altogether true, only mostly true–when I look at Shakespeare’s sonnets and some other things I find a density that requires persistence on my part. It is true enough, however, because what I don’t find is the enigmatic surliness that seems to me a deliberate feature in modern poetry.

I don’t mean to suggest that the fundamental character of R.S. Thomas is surly. I think more fundamental to R.S. Thomas is ambivalence and because of that a winning honesty and a persistent fortitude. The surliness is there though, often ironical and persistently featured. At the Poetry Foundation’s page on Thomas a critic is quoted describing the poet’s approach as a “cold, telling purity of language.” To me this sounds like praising him for his grudging approach.

And it makes him a grudging story teller. One who suggests stories rather than telling them. He is not sure the soil that represents the farmer’s hard and bitter life is better, but he is even more ambivalent about the machine than the soil and more persistently ambivalent about the machine, even, than the persistent dubieties of the religion which he has not the fortitude to abandon.

Why go to Mexico City?

One of the great things about Mexico is that it retains its identity. American cities can be generic and hold small pockets of attraction. They are sometimes so clean and orderly they are just bare collections of sidewalks and skyscrapers. Even when they are trying to be bare collections of sidewalks and skyscrapers in Mexico, they do not succeed. If you have enough sidewalk space, you will have people swarming it. If there is no public transportation, they rig some, and people will pool and eddy in and out of vehicles and buildings. Said sidewalk space will get squatters: stands will flourish, mysteriously acquiring electricity, supplied with propane. Food will arrive on motorcycles, onions will be diced, salsas set forth, cooking will ensue and smells allure. Women will mix cornmeal, men will scrape the griddle and shift steaming vegetables. The cooks will never make eye contact, but they will call to you: gorditas, flautas, huaraches, gringas, tortas, tacos, que se le ofrece? Churros are common nowadays too. What’s next, empanadas? Friers will bubble and mounds of onions steam and sizzle. That sidewalk will be transformed into a tourist destination.

You don’t want to eat at a stand that has no running water, of course. Oh they have ways to get water, but if you don’t have natural immunities, you should only smell and see. How they all manage to be brightly illuminated, where they store things overnight, how the propane tanks are safely delivered, let alone all the perishable food, remains sometimes a mystery. It would be interesting to stalk one of the vendors and see how they do it. Perhaps it comes from a nearby indoor market, because you can always find everything–including the roadside stand–in there.

Speaking of how it all works, you know what a garbage truck is? Cab, compactor body, back end where the trash is loaded? They have those in Mexico, just they turn them into a complicated warren of trash activity. The cab has decorations and looks sometimes like a living room, the back is a platform where you can see guys sitting inside of it, besides all the others hanging on in the more usual fashion. You have bags hung all around, an actual tunnel through the truck behind the cab is to be discerned, along with a person manning it. The whole things is more like an ambulating trash processing platform than a means of swiftly gathering up the trash. The vehicle has to park, not just pause. What exactly ensues, how much of the trash gets compacted, when the compacter even runs is a mystery. I doubt very much that a closed bag is ever deposited inside. Nothing is hurled. All is gently received or gathered, opened, examined, sifted with almost meditative care. I bet someone could do a whole documentary about it. This is just one example of Mexican appropriation of something we do otherwise.

One of the strengths of Mexico is that they have a cult of plants. I doubt there is a greener city in all the world than the old central districts of Mexico City where at unpredictable angles tree lined avenues with middle, shady walkways connect the splashing fountains in the chaotic roundabouts. And they have so many parks. And they have so many fountains. And they have so many shaded walks down the middle of a busy avenue, accentuating in the busy traffic the imperative of leisure. And they have so many places for people to linger, and so many people to do the lingering at all odd hours. What I don’t understand is why there’s not more grass, but what there is plenty of is shade, shrubs, trees of all description, palms, cascading leaves, park benches, etc. Nowadays the thing is even to fill the lower stories of newer skyscrapers with walls of growing plants. Much more interesting than glass! There are hot and dusty places you can go in Mexico City, believe me, as long as its not raining. But if you are there, you might think of moving over a street or two and going beneath the shade of trees and by the hanging leaves of growing things, even if the sidewalk is more narrow.

And birds. The mornings before 9AM when things start to happen seem to be loud with birds. Before the birds, there’s silence in the residential neighborhoods. Then come the birds around dawn, then people start walking through, perhaps around 7, bundled up against the chilly air. At 8 employees start preparing for the opening of the day, which takes place at 9 or so, and then the surge of untamed traffic. The pace of Mexico City is not the pace of American cities. They start late, they have lunch late, and they stay up late. Seldom will you see somebody rushing, except that they are slow to stop for red lights. Often you will see people waiting. Waiting in the fine weather by a splashing fountain on a park bench not far away from where they need to be . . . eventually. Or waiting in a long line at a place of official reckoning. It is a good place for slowing down, especially since they love restaurants and are rather exuberant about food. No shortage of options: traditional places, chains, foreign cuisine, upscale, down market, street food. Just the coffee shops run the whole gamut. And in Mexico City the cafés and restaurants have taken to spilling out of small spaces onto the sidewalks in a big way. The weather lends itself. Even for some reason Starbucks, which is really geared toward people rushing to work, manages to thrive there. I have the feeling Mexicans appropriate it in far less stressful ways. I never tried it, I went to a few of the many alternatives crowded into all kinds of interesting buildings, bookstores, courtyards, and of course sidewalks.

Waiters never give you the bill until you ask for it. They are prompt with everything else: taking your order, bringing it, bringing extra things, jumping solicitously, whisking finished plates away. But they will never suggest that you should ever leave your table. I watched a group do lunch and then supper, from about 1PM through 9 or 10 or so at the same table at a popular and busy restaurant. There was a restaurant where boardgames were provided, along with a full menu.

And there is where the other contrast with all the other leisure taking place in Mexico City lies. People doing food work quickly, deftly. People serving food walk briskly and are as efficient as it gets. That is where the pace picks up: in the service. That is how they run things. The service is never substandard, because there are always those standing by to take the laggard’s place. High unemployment has that effect. As well as the effect of vendors all over the sidewalks, accosting the outdoor tables, calling out constantly. And the sounds of those who solicit funds otherwise: roving musicians. There are parts of the city you can walk from the overlapping sound of one street musician to the next, on and on.

Go to their markets, go to their restaurants, go to the museums, go see the shop-lined streets. Go on the double decker bus, go on the double-jointed bus, go on the modern electric trolley bus or the antique, dingy subway, just get a taxi, or rent a bike or a scooter. They put the stamp of their identity on it all. Everything is characteristic, even the way a flagger stands at what would otherwise be an ordinary gas station, waving people into the bays. It has to be one of the best cities on this planet, and it costs nothing like what our northern cities do.

The Naivete of Pietism

I think when Carl Trueman described George Whitefield as “celebrity, preacher, saint,” he was saying that there are both concerns and examples to be found in the man. I do not know if he would associate Whitefield with Pietism, as I do, but since I do, and providing Trueman agreed with me, then he would be saying at least two cheers for Pietism. I think that there are good things to seek out in Pietism. I am not against it; I’ve read Spener, Francke, Arnold, and Tersteegen, to mention the most Pietistic Pietists I’ve encountered and enjoyed. I think Whitefield was of that spirit. Two cheers for it all. But not three.

Pietism is at least sincere. There is a lot to be said for sincerity. There are other virtues, but any virtue is better than none and this virtue is superior to, for example, the virtue of punctuality. Sincerity, however, is not the kind of thing which can stand alone. The problem that Pietism has is that it can sometimes be naively sincere, and naïve sincerity can be deceived. It can be self-deceived. When that happens, it is a very poor sincerity indeed. It is not the sincerity that is degrading the Pietism, but it is the naivete. Resolving the naivete is the cure. Resisting, therefore, the sophistication of distinctions, of inquiry, of historical research, all those things which mitigate naivete, is a refusal to relinquish the naivete, as if naivete were sincerity.

Often when someone expresses reservations about Pietism he is met by Pietist reproach. It is a reproach not of reason but of sentiment. Can there be clearer evidence that Pietism is sometimes naïve rather than truly humble? Sentiment has its place, but not as the arbiter of that which is in the realm of demonstrable fact and argument. Things, after all, are not always as we wish them to be. The reaction of humility is to consider whether the reservations are valid. Are there correct premises? Is the argument sound? Humility deals in reality and desires the actual truth, rather than distorting reality by simply projecting arbitrary (as opposed to ordinate) sentiment or by privately selecting what it will consider.

And so I say two cheers for Pietism. Sentiment is important–as long as the inner is corresponding to the outer and not the other way around. I am for sincerity, entire devotion, making explicit the radical nature of the claims of Christ and the real cost of following him. The true costs can only be borne by the radically dedicated heart, one that is being transformed by an agency that is no less than supernatural. I am for a religion in which there is true inwardness, one that ordinately corresponds to a demonstrable outwardness. But Pietism can be unsophisticated, naïve, anti-academic, and in some cases too much affect rather than posses humility. It exhibits something deplorable when it is contemptuous of precise theological formulation, contemptuous of painstaking research, and contemptuous of accurate historical evaluation. No cheers for that.

Protestants and Dominican Friars

The Church Grammar podcast’s interviews of Thomas Joseph White, a Dominican friar and an eminent Roman Catholic theologian, are worth listening to if you are interested in advanced theology. So, for that matter, is The Reformed Forum’s interview of Dominic Legge (who can be described exactly as White is). These Dominicans are impressive theologians. They take difficult questions, use very precise language, and provide answers that satisfy not just in terms of the information provided, but also terms of the skill and wisdom with which they handle them. And I marvel that the vision of Domingo de Guzman from way back in 1216 for coherent, clear teaching is still flourishing 900 years later. No doubt a whole lot of it is owing to the gifts that the Spirit of God bestowed on Thomas Aquinas. But what a remarkable institution-building power emerged from the roots of that tumultuous 12th century of Europe!

I wonder if our age could learn from it. We do have the internet, where you can get tweets that lead you to podcasts in which you hear what you otherwise never would. It has to be one of the greatest gifts of the internet that a schmuck such as myself gets to listen in on these kinds of conversations—that they can be instantly broadcast to hundreds and over time to thousands and in some cases millions. That is probably one factor that makes it seem as if new possibilities are opening up, where in fact these conversations may only be something that has been going on all along.

This engagement may also be owing to a healthy development from the Trinitarian controversies of 2016. Some people really are looking for more precise language, and it is no wonder that Dominicans can provide it; they are, after all, the right heirs of Thomas Aquinas, king of scholasticism! They are Thomists: defenders, explainers, proclaimers, and above all else, his most devoted students. They translate and publish his works as Cistercians proudly publish Bernard of Clairvaux and as Franciscans so diligently publish heresy. And no wonder, Aquinas was one of the greatest theologians Christianity has ever had! It is silly to pretend otherwise, though people, it must be said, feel that they have to try. It is very silly or something worse to try to debate the king of the disputatio. It is an error that could be fixed by teaching church history less casually than protestants sometimes do. You need a remedial course: Aquinas in Context. Or just a good course on the Medieval Church that did some justice to 1000 years of the building power of Jesus Christ.

Whenever there is controversy in the doctrine of God, or of Christ, or the Holy Spirit, Thomas Aquinas is going to be a source of clarity. It is due to his mastery of the necessary philosophical tools as well as his mastery of preceding Christian theology, and of course his mastery of the pages of Scripture. He had some sharp distinguishers with which to draw crucial distinctions. He had Aristotle, that whetstone of taxonomic variety and precision. And Aquinas learned, in the formation of scholastic disputation, to make necessary distinctions, to reason carefully, to classify accurately, and in short, to shine a light into difficult matters.

My Life Is Full

The voice of experience and authority has decreed for me a rest. It has been suggested that I only work one job till the end of March and only then to take up again all of my labors. I have most willingly accepted the suggestion and submitted to the advice of counsel.

Too little of that voice in my life, to tell you the truth.

Already I can feel my life unclenching.

And so the question of Aristotle’s pragmatic Nicomachean Ethics arises. With what activity shall we occupy our leisure? Wisdom suggests two projects. Hampton and Kenney’s Christian Platonism and Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn’s Ars Vita. What could be better? Thanks to the Guthrie Library of Hanover, PA, I can borrow them from Temple and Villanova without charge.

Ars Vita has been briefly described as Platonism Wins. So both are Plato all the way down. And that is why my life is full.

Of Plato.

A Platonist Dilemma

I broke out in a rash about a week ago. Red dots came out on both wrists covering the area you would see if you look down when you’re typing. I attributed it to stress.

What is there in my life to stress me out?

After turning in the dissertation whole in December, I was informed in January that it would not do, precipitating, for me, a crisis. After meeting with my advisor for two hours, I came away with no clear idea of what I had to do but nevertheless resolved. Resolved to work steadily and to have no days off. I would work every day except the Lord’s day, and on that day I only teach Sunday School, and lead worship and preach twice. Resolved to have to forego any vacations other than snatching a few days here and there. Resolved that the only way forward was to work as hard as possible until I got out from under the burden. I no longer enjoy researching my dissertation, I do not enjoy the subject of my dissertation, and I think the argument is trivial and its contribution to knowledge insignificant. I resolved to wade into it nevertheless, and I hit a wall. I was paralyzed. I realized I have no idea what to do next, and then I got the rash.

There are of course a whole bunch of factors. I do live the writer’s life. I write 300,000 words (at least) every year because I don’t have the confidence to get up and preach without writing down everything I’m going to say. I have a series of lectures I’m giving for a friend in Colombia on Christianity in the Middle Ages. That’s going to require 60,000 words. I have to do it especially when I speak in Spanish: knowing all the vocabulary you are going to need requires some advanced exploration. That is hard work, but it is work I enjoy. I love the research. I did the same thing last year and it was a highlight. Neither thing was the cause of the rash.

The thing that I think is behind the rash is the rewriting of the dissertation. Is my body telling me it is not going to go along? Why a rash on the wrists, of all places?

You know what galls me the most about having my dissertation turned down like that? The thousands of dollars in continuation fees. I have the knowledge, mostly. Can I really bring myself to care enough about the degree actually to pay for this? I think my own body is saying no.

That would sound unambiguous, except that for a Platonist to listen to the body when it acts up that way poses a dilemma. Is it the lower part of me, or is it a deeper part of me?

I have since concluded that the Platonic lesson is that I need detachment. You do what you can, but you contemplate, mainly. You take it one step at a time. You are not anxious or stressed out about it. Who cares about temporal rewards such as having a degree when I already have the learning in my indestructible soul, mostly? This is the Platonist way. Perhaps I can avoid also having a rash. It is kind of like Balaam, who was driven by temporal achievements and vain glory: he was forced to listen to brother ass, wasn’t he?

Hour-long Podcasts Seem So Short

You have to think we are climbing our way out of the TV attention span with the lengths which the better podcasts are taking on. I don’t know what their actual impact is, but podcasting now seems a huge, substantial phenomenon. Is there a revolution going on in which the glitz and interruption of the old broadcast and commercials TV becomes to people more and more bizarre? If you don’t regularly watch TV, it is bizarre to see what they do on it from time to time. In the realm of podcasting and online video, UnHerd’s Freddy Sayers is doing something excellent very deliberately. Can’t imagine that being on TV. John Stossel and though I don’t listen to her, I expect Megyn Kelly are examples of people bringing their skills to a new format and thriving. And then there is the whole Joe Rogan apparatus.

I think you have to consider these things in terms of networks and figure out the network. They appear online because they’re networked already, and that is important. The better podcasts are elites networking with elites. I don’t know that much about Joe Rogan (he seems to be the next iteration of what Rush Limbaugh was doing), but he encourages other people to podcast. Jocko Willink is one, Michael Malice is another, and then there is Lex Friedman. All excel at at least one thing, and usually more. And then they all appear on each other’s podcast and you see the nodes of the network corresponding. Jordan Peterson of course bulks large, and he opens up networks for me. The podcasters on the whole seem to be spinning networks and further networks.

I just started on Lex Friedman. 5 or 6 hours of three of his podcasts so far. I took a day off to clean up my room and listened to him along with the self-described anarchist Michael Malice say a lot of interesting things. He did Elon Musk, which is where I started with him. Musk is central to a very interesting network in all this, and that is of course all part of the Joe Rogan network. There is something about discipline, about hyperproductivity, about independent thinking that defines that network. Pushing back on all the rot cheerfully. I am interested in Lex Friedman’s long interviews of elites. You learn about how these people eat, which is extremely peculiar, a kind of repudiation of traditional cuisine, and geared toward hyperproductivity. People have always had diet fads. Lex Friedman tells you in a video about his, which appears to be somewhat based on a robotic approach to shopping, trial and error, and the ideas of this all-conquering keto diet (Atkins 2.0?). Exercise is very central to it all. All these people prepared for action. Is it like the proliferation of Jeeps? A kind of prepper mania? And then you hear about their goals, aspirations, beliefs. What is also interesting is how they are fighting the moment. Mental and emotional toughness is important to them. The cold showers, the punishing routine, reading Solzhenitsyn and Dostoevsky and the concentration camp literature, thinking about it.

What I have most misgivings about is how therapeutic they sometimes sound. That is one of the things I wonder about with Jordan Peterson. We live in a therapeutic age; we want it perhaps like others in the past have not. But should we? We are focused on wellbeing so much. Should you care so much about your own productivity, your own contribution, your own wellbeing? Is this why they talk so much about depression and fighting their own demons and keeping happy? They visualize and have goals. It is not because they think they will have to give an account. But it is because they have something inside that tells them they ought to live as if they will.

I don’t want news as much as I want to understand what is happening. News is a part of it, a small part. There are facts, there is the bare statement of something going on. But without understanding why it is often trivial. In the case of an invasion, just knowing it is happening to your country is enough to go on. It becomes pressing to know why, and highly useful to know why, but just the bare knowledge that it is happening is something one would be grateful for, as opposed to not knowing.

And that is what I find interesting about these long-form podcasts. They are trying to understand a whole lot of things, and they are in a position to know. Now that they’re networking this way, they are also in a position to ask and to have conversations, and they’re just doing it. What an interesting development it is turning out to be.

Supernatural but Not Miraculous

I am enjoying Craig Carter’s latest book. I think his argument that our contemporaries are reverting to pagan metaphysics makes sense, and his suggestion that evolution is their mythology really explains a few things. Now I’m reading where he is arguing that the pagan gods were real spiritual beings and that there were real supernatural powers associated with pagan religions.

The other thing I was reading recently was the Doctor Angelicus on angels ( in De Potentia). And he was answering the question whether angels do miracles. It would seem that they do: they are greater beings than we are. But Aquinas answers the question in the negative: angels do not, in fact, do miracles. How does he get there?

He gets there by how he defines a miracle. A miracle is an effect the cause of which can only be from beyond the created order. By defining a miracle as an effect in creation that only its transcendent Creator can cause, he ingeniously covers a lot of theological ground. And he answers the question about angels, because however we define natural and supernatural, they are part of the created order. Nothing created does miracles of its own unaided agency: created things only do the things for which God made them and gave them the power to do.

And so the pagan gods which could do things, can be called supernatural. They are part of the invisible realm, if Craig Carter is right then they are angelic beings, higher than man who is lower than the angels, with powers exceeding what we can do. But not with anything that exceeds the power with which God made them and ordered to the purposes for which they were created. That power is God’s alone, and it is the power of the only Agent capable of signs which are wonders: miracles.

And if you want a text that is working on that distinction, try the account of the shepherds in Luke chapter 2.

Calvin’s Prayer, concluding his lectures on Malachi

Grant, Almighty God, that as nothing is omitted by thee to help us onward in the course of our faith, and as our sloth is such that we hardly advance one step though stimulated by thee, — O grant, that we may strive to profit more by the various helps which thou hast provided for us, so that the Law, the Prophets, the voice of John the Baptist, and especially the doctrine of thine only-begotten Son, may more fully awaken us, that we may not only hasten to him, but also proceed constantly in our course, and persevere in it until we shall at length obtain the victory and the crown of our calling, as thou hast promised an eternal inherence in heaven to all who faint not but wait for the coming of the great Redeemer. — Amen.

Craig Carter and the NatCons

I was glad to see Craig Carter criticizing the NatCon panel. Not because I agree with him, but because I think criticism will make any undertaking robust. I like a lot of what I see the NatCons doing. Personally, I’d rather have Trump back, but you can’t have it all. I thought it was a bit silly of Carter to complain that the panel included no evangelical Protestants. There could be several reasons for doing so. Perhaps they only wanted minorities like Jews, Integralist Catholics, and gays represented. Or it could be that they could not think of any evangelical Protestants who would have actually contributed. I can’t think of any evangelical Protestant who commands my attention more that Murray, Hazony, and Ahmari regularly do.

I do think the point about homosexuals that Carter made is an interesting one. It is no wonder they didn’t invite him to the panel! Apparently there are those who believe a homosexual cannot be a conservative. I am on the fence. Doesn’t it depend on what it is you want to conserve? Obviously thy are not conservative of marriage or the family, but they might conserve art, literature, the constitution, great buildings, other such ephemera. It seems obvious to me that if such an alliance prevailed, then it could fall apart afterward, the circumstances being entirely different.

It is interesting because Yoram Hazony was taking shots at the new U of Austin. I think he was basically accusing it of what Carter is accusing him, of lacking a core. I’m glad he does, even though I don’t agree with him. They of the U of A are being entreprenurial, Hazony was being entreprenurial on the panel. Entrepreneurs try all kinds of things to see if they’ll stick. There is something to be said for being empirical rather than endeavoring to noodle it all out, isn’t there? In an age of ideology, isn’t the resistance going to be otherwise?

Which is why I’m glad for the back and forth. I think it bodes well. There are times when the noodles win and times when the entrepreneurs score. Douglas Murray was very skeptical of the whole thing too. I was glad he was on the panel and enjoyed his expression.

Paul Kingsnorth and Premonitions of Doom

I was very glad last year to discover Paul Kingsnorth’s remarkable novel, The Wake. I was actually disappointed that he didn’t write all his novels in the same adapted old English. That was a triumph, and the book was a triumph in many ways, though as a story it is somewhat lacking in a sense of completeness. Nevertheless, the literary powers are clearly there. All honor to him for that achievement as well as the rest of the trilogy.

Paul Kingsnorth was clearly thinking his way toward something in it all, and last year it emerged that he was making his way toward Christianity, having started as an environmental activist. And it is with the environmental activism that I get my first pause when it comes to Kingsnorth. He is still pretty alarmist about the environment though he has given up on the activism. And it is his alarm which sucitates misgivings in me because I think Michael Shellenberger and Bjorn Longberg are more factual environmentalists who believe the alarm is not only misinformed, but damaging. So I wonder if Kingsnorth has correct information, and why he seems to persist.

Kingsnorth has just come out with a substack which is full of a different kind of alarm. I subscribe. I read it. I enjoy Kingsnorth and what he does–with my annoying misgiving. He has some very interesting observations about vaccination and Africa and Australia. I can understand that part of the alarm has to do with where you live. In the more rural portions of the USA most of us are and have been back to normal for a long time. If we don’t fly, if we don’t go to cities, if we are not in the nursing profession, if we stay where we are, then we read about all the crazy stuff they’re doing in the unfortunate parts of the world that are not America, and we think, that’s life in the rest of the world. But if you live in the considerable portions of the habitable parts of this planet not considered the USA then you may have more cause for alarm. It is like the environmental question: not a big one in spacious green places such as many in the rurs rather than in the urbs inhabit. I think what Kingsnorth is seeing is alarming, and the symbols he puts together make sense. But is he drawn to doom because it stimulates the creative process? One hopes there is more, but would not blame him if that is all. Just . . . misgivings.

I also think that Kingsnorth is an artist and expresses himself in stories, and I wonder if it is not so much discursive thought as it is another story that he is wrestling with in his present writing. Just as a musician expresses things in music, or a painter who doesn’t write about things because he expresses himself through the visual medium and can’t explain the painting because the painting is what he is saying, so a writer like William Golding or, perhaps, Paul Kingsnorth. I am skeptical of Kingsnorth when it comes to logical analysis and argumentation and marshalling facts correctly. He tells stories, he knows he tells stories, he has a good reason to be confident in that ability (though I think the story of his trilogy isn’t finished, but then, it took J.K.Rowling 7 books; I certainly hope Kingsnorth continues with the fiction).

So I wonder if perhaps Kingnorth’s alarm is something caused by the place in which he his and by his gravitation toward alarm. I don’t say he’s not on to something. Perhaps he is more of a prophet than I judge him. I have misgivings. I also remember that George Orwell did not live 1984, what he did was to get a good book out of his misgivings that has been more valuable than much of his other writing.

Theological Interpretation

I find the translation of Luke 17:19’s last words in most translations simply astonishing. The point  of the story of the ten lepers is that all of them believed in Jesus as a miracle worker, but only one had the gratitude to return, praising God and falling on his face before Jesus. That he falls on his face argues worship. That Jesus told him that his faith had healed/saved him rather than his gratitude demonstrates the cause for which gratitude is an effect. Any encounter between Jesus and another human being in Scripture is at least a historical moment in which two human beings meet. But it is always more than that: it is always the encounter of the Creator veiled in flesh with one of his creatures. And those who see through the veil of flesh and know the Lord are believers. They have faith. They see who he is. It is theologically a saving encounter.

What am I missing? Why is it only a minority of translations that get it right? They all make it sound like Jesus is saying something minor (almost defeatist), when in fact the point is that the man has had more than a meeting with Jesus resulting in temporal benefits, he has had a real, spiritual encounter with eternal benefits.

καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ· ἀναστὰς πορεύου· ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε.

And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole. King James Version

And he said unto him, Arise, and go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole. American Standard Version

And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” The Revised Standard Version

And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” English Standard Version

And He said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has made you well.” New American Standard Bible

And Jesus said to the man, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.” New Living Translation

Then he said to the man, “Get up and go your way. Your faith has made you well.” NET Bible

Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” New Revised Standard Version

Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” New International Version

It’s as if only two out of twenty versions I could have listed have returned to praise God!

And he said to him, “Get up and go your way. Your faith has saved you.” The Lexham English Bible

and he said to him, ‘Having risen, be going on, thy faith hath saved thee.’ Young’s Literal Translation

In the News

The challenge is always finding someone who knows that he is talking about. Who does?

You have to know about what is being discussed in order to evaluate the people discussing it. And you have to know what it is to know. Do you think you know because you agree with the opinions floating around, or do you actually know something? That’s where the salutary confrontation of Socrates helps. Before you can know, you have to realize that it is difficult and you have to see that if you aren’t asking the right questions, you don’t know. That can lead you on to the right questions. From there you can do two things. You can evaluate the people asking questions on the basis of the questions they ask. The second thing is that when you learn to ask good questions, you start getting good answers. That opens the possibility of evaluating things and people on the basis of knowledge.

The shock of real learning is one Plato constantly dramatized. When it is demonstrated that you do not know, what do you do? Do you turn against Socrates or do you follow him and learn from his questions? Those who turn on Socrates will never be free because they refuse to admit they are slaves. They claim to see, but are blind, and won’t find a solution for their blindness because they refuse to admit there is a problem. They have degrees, they publish, but they are just surfing blindly on a sea of opinions. It is not a matter of succeeding in reality, but of succeeding in the denial of reality. That success is the strange success at which so many are successful in our times.

And there are those who really do succeed. There is a growing fellowship of them that podcasting and substacking and other such things has banded together. At this moment, there is actually a growing abundance of it, strangely. I find this one of the best things about this present moment.

The Hawk, by W.B. Yeats

“CALL down the hawk from the air;
Let him be hooded or caged
Till the yellow eye has grown mild,
For larder and spit are bare,
The old cook enraged,
The scullion gone wild.”

“I will not be clapped in a hood,
Nor a cage, nor alight upon wrist,
Now I have learnt to be proud
Hovering over the wood
In the broken mist
Or tumbling cloud.”

“What tumbling cloud did you cleave,
Yellow-eyed hawk of the mind,
Last evening? that I, who had sat
Dumbfounded before a knave,
Should give to my friend
A pretence of wit.”

You have to notice that the quotation marks indicate a change of speakers in every stanza. In the first, there is an unspecified speaker expressing a wish: call down. Order, trap, domesticate the hawk. Why? Because game that would otherwise be available is being depleted.

What part of the description ‘old cook’ is more important? Usually the substantive is more important than the modifier. In this case, however, the substantive is bound by the circumstances of the poem, and the modifier seems to me to be more free. Because of that, it seems more indicative of the poet’s choice, what he wants to say. Why is the old cook enraged? He is accustomed to having game. Why old? Tradition? Custom? Or is it feebleness as opposed to the strength of the hawk? The hawk is messing with the kitchen, and it is becoming intolerable.

But then we get the hawk’s story. He will not go back, he says. He has learned to be proud. This is not talking about a wild hawk that has to be domesticated, but a domesticated hawk that has reverted. I think that helps us with the adjective ‘old’ above.

Notice how the hawk describes the circumstances of his freedom, again, the adjectives in the concluding lines of the stanza. What kind of mist? What sort of cloud? He rises in circumstances of ruin.

It seems to me that the speaker in the last stanza is the same as the first, but now he is more specified. It is someone who has made a mistake. What kind of a mistake is it? What kind of regret? Why a hawk? Why game?

No Abiding City

Nothing says to me that it is a deeply and universally acknowledged truth that the human race is a race of exiles like this mad and glorious desire to colonize the universe. We want to go to Mars, we want to live on Mars, and yet we know that Mars can only be a step on the way. So what are we searching for?

There is nothing more purposeless than the desire to go to space. We make up purposes, but we do not recognize the real purpose.

It is good for learning things, for example, because the truth is that if you pursue practical learning, your learning will be limited. Learning needs to be speculative, you need to get knowledge for the sake of knowledge because all true knowledge exists to tell us something. Our problem is we do not always know what the question is to which we are obtaining an answer. Practical pursuits only seek answers to questions we have, but what about questions that will arise?

You can see this in church history. Origen of Alexandria, that glorious and speculative theologian lay the foundations for the hermeneutics and metaphysics of the fourth century, when very, very pressing and unanticipated questions arose. The import of those questions was remote and recondite, but needed to be discerned from afar. Origen was like Plato’s stargazer. We often talk about how we advance in our theology thanks to the questions that heretics raise. And that is true because we are too little involved in speculative theology; instead of being responsible, we end up scrambling. In the providence of God, there was Origen in the third century.

The same goes for the desire to be a space-faring race. It yields, and continues to yield. We have superior breathing apparatuses for firefighters, enhanced surgery techniques, and many such other kinds of safety and medical improvements. What killed the Apollo missions? When they were viewed merely as a geological survey of the moon and information about its formation. Billions of dollars were spent, and they could not continue to justify them on that practical objective. But that was not its original impulse; that is how the nebulous desire to go was badly clarified and as a result dissolved.

We search for life elsewhere because we want to find kindred. It is part of our search for a home. What is a home, after all? We talk loosely of home ownership, as if there really could be such a thing. It is the devaluation of the currency of our words to do so. You can’t own a home, you can at best own a building. Buildings are such things as can be owned, but a home . . . a home! That’s something that we will cover light years searching to obtain! We desperately want one, and there is a deep and largely unacknowledged sense that this planet is not it. A home is something you obtain by grace. It is something to strive to enter and yet that which you cannot earn. There is something given in a home, it is a blessing, it is received because it is greater than anything we can give ourselves. We are searching for life in other places to try to find out if that is where something belongs, and what belonging would be like, and if perhaps it is the place to which we can ourselves at last belong. We know ourselves to be exiles so fundamentally.

Nothing says to me that we are pilgrims and that we deeply know ourselves to be pilgrims like these daily videos of the massive effort in south eastern Texas to achieve a lasting presence for the human race, a home, a dwelling-place that is certain and enduring. “We need to be an inter-planetary species if we are going to survive.” Survival! If it were about survival we would not be trying to exit a survivable planet.

We want a home, that’s what we want. And we do not realize that what a home is, is a place where we are accepted. Isn’t that why we search for “life”? A home is a place were we live in relationship, conscious relationship, accepted and accepting in a deep and lasting way. It is glory as C. S. Lewis explains in his Biblical theology of the term in “The Weight of Glory.” And we long for the deep things that we in the wisdom of the awe of our religion of technology know; we long for the deep of distant space to accept us. And we toil, and watch, and pray to the gods of that religion, fervent about the designs of our priestly engineers and that highest priest of all, the driven and homeless Elon Musk, eager for them to bring us to the glorious temple that surely the right vehicle will find.

I would love to be a chaplain on that mission and colony on Mars. Don’t you think it will be poignant once there, to stand up and tell them about Abraham and Isaac and Jacob?

Living in the Ocean

What accounts for the thinking of people? The strange thing about trying to account for the thinking of people is that it is not something going on just in their heads. It seems to me sometimes that the mind is like a fish in water, swimming in the medium of Mind, and the thing about the medium of Mind is that it is like an ocean, subject to tides and inner currents. The deeper you can go, one would think, the more stable you can be. But there are currents in the deep, invisible and unexpected. And in the end Mind is greater than any swimming mind. People learn to swim in it, to go with it, to be carried by the tides and currents. The thing is to be aware of these invisible motions, to chart something of where they go and what they reach. I do believe people not only swim but are also are carried, and it is often this which baffles us about the confluence of ideas we see in others.

When I go to a nursing home . . .

. . . then I remember that we are creatures and incapable of great strength. We have strength, but only for a little while. We think we possess it, but it is not something we keep for very long. One day we will possess lasting physical strength, that which Christ has gained for us and gives us. But that is not yet. I do my exercises, I do my pushups, I have more physical strength today perhaps than ever in my 145lb life. But only for a little while, only to enjoy in passing.

. . . why does it seem that something like this won’t happen to me? Would we even go with the full knowledge that this will be our place, that that will be our seat, that others who are young, who have no idea will see us as living in a kind of unreality? Would it take more resolve in that case? When things actually happen to us they are not as we expected such things to be. And so when I go I try to think about how it will be, how life will narrow down, and be limited, and without privacy, and completely dependent on strangers.

Seedtime in August

I went to the planting of a seed–a confessional Baptist regional association. It is germinating, and I hope it grows. The general observation I have about being at a synod of Reformed Baptists is that the main thing is to understand, isn’t it? To understand what you want to achieve. Once you understand you can act, but not before. It reminds me, however, of All of God’s Children in Blue Suede Shoes. Kenneth Myers was good on gathering facts and making a case, but not as good on then prescribing action. So should I say that the first thing is to understand the ends and the second thing is to know all possible means toward those ends. That would make the third thing the choice, the evaluation of the means; after that is when action can ensue.

I am thinking about it because I just read Michael Anton on David French. Nobody who has followed evangelical luminaries for a decade (any decade, they tend to be consistent) can be surprised that David French is French Davidian. There are many good things to be said for evangelicals and evangelicalism, but you don’t get a reliable wisdom in its salient leadership or major projects. Evangelicals want influence, which is a means, but they have no consensus regarding the end in view. They rally around the flag of achieving influence as if it were an end in itself.

The first thing is to understand, and then the second things is to evaluate, and it is in the realm of evaluation that evangelicalism shows its failure. That’s when the mistake flows backward, like a receeding tide, and their initial understanding gets reevaluated. Even adecuate understanding is degraded as a result. And the only question for the observer is, how do we avoid that? It makes you realize how wisdom is indispensiable, and how the categories of classical philosophy are too deep to be readjusted. It makes you listen to the marginal critics because that is where evangelical critics start and finish, whatever their moment of apogee.

Remember David Wells, No Place for Truth? This was part of starting the Alliance, and that has been a cause (among other causes) of an effect. Confessionalism is growing, full subscription with confessional boundaries is growing in new places even if only by trial and error. Confessional subscription is battered about, disputed, distorted, shearing off among disillusioned early adopters, misunderstood. But a strong thing is a strong thing, and full confessional subscription is a strong thing. There are those who are incapable of accepting things associated with the roots of what they are, since they would rather think of themselves as severed from such roots. But, as a general observation about church history, the only thing to grow in is the inherited soil, and you have to do it by the roots.

I was at a synod of pastors who have memories of ARBCA, speaking of soil. There are memories they do not want to repeat, and there is a wealth of experience harvested. Reformed Baptists (Confessional seems to be the ascendant adjective now) have a confession drawing them nevertheless together and forcing them to try to understand the degrees of regard in which it is and should be held. I observe that the process of living brings different strengths in different periods. It is the process of growth. It is the process of maturity and death, and planting new seeds that grow again, things with energy and excess that have no reproductive capacity, but which give way to something that does, which then grows feeble but stores a wealth of experience.

I am forced to drive through fields of corn regularly, having been planted in a new place. This is my third summer doing so. I would never chose it, but it has been chosen for me. The thing about watching something God does is that you can draw authoritative conclusions from it, can’t you? I say that about the land through which I drive, and I hope to say that about this germinating association.


I like Anton’s idea of counties and territories seceding. West Virginia seceded from Virginia, and apparently it is still open to being joined by other nearby counties in VA and MD. There is the whole greater Idaho thing too.

If that can be done, I think it would be interesting. Getting unsaddled from the big cities with their policies and political sway I think would widely appeal. There would be places where it would be done readily, and places where it would be fought. Would it lead to states wooing territories? And beyond that, what if you could, for example, join the state of your choice? Say you are a PA county that wanted to join Texas or Florida? The possibilities are endless.

I think it would leave some of the cities isolated. Perhaps NYC could become its own state. If that came about, it would solve the problem of D.C. statehood!