Response to a Letter – January 2016

Thanks for the Newman quotations!
I am persistently interested in Newman’s deeply considered decision to “return” to Roman Catholicism from Anglicanism, and in the nineteenth-century context, it made considerable sense for him. I believe him to be one of the leading respondents to what has been called the “sundering of the whole” in the great rise of Enlightenment ideology, rationalism ending in Idealism and abstractions, and the redefinition of God so that God could in no way match the times and the needs, let alone the demands of nurturing fellowship (re Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s rich corrections and encouragement). Friedrich Nietzsche proclaimed such a God was dead, and fie on the churches and the culture that had helped to create such a god—and numerous other modern gods!

These years I continue to read from Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy (d. 1973) and Franz Rosenzweig (d. 1929), among others, who in the German Jewish and Christian contexts (ca. 1910-1933 and forward for ERH; both were born Jews—ERH was baptized a Christian at 17; FR was “converted” to Judaism in his twenties) defied the divinized modern powers and idols. They took language (speech), Scriptures and traditions seriously and provided a way to seat faith firmly in the God who loves and who calls everyone into that very same life of love God possesses. I am impressed that they anticipated in fresh (eccentric, yes, but that’s what was needed) ways what happens from time to time as the Spirit moves, including in the deliberations and activities of Vatican II and the teaching of the last few popes on the Gospel, the family, and on global evangelization.

Yes, that’s something coming from a Baptist, but then, anyone who knows the Evangelical Catholics and isn’t afraid of the spiritual discernment that allows recognizing them as true brothers and sisters—coworkers in the faith, albeit another “communion”—will know that. I think this is an example of what Rosenstock-Huessy spent his life probing and describing, and what he wrote about as “incarnatory” or incarnational Christianity. We can say, O yeah, that’s basic, but he really meant that we are to incarnate the presence and Spirit of God just like Jesus Messiah, in an unbreakable, co-creative, gospel-oriented, constructive, revelatory, and redemptive partnership. The Eastern Fathers and more recent Eastern Orthodox teachers have a lot to do with the inspiration and force of his arguments, and I want to know more about their direct influence. Besides that, would you believe, the Scriptures help in this endeavor!

Anyway, the quotations from Newman provoked me to comment because the “incarnatory” quality that Rosenstock-Huessy taught and lived thrives in the life and words of Newman. Wherever one sees the flourishing of Christ-centered and biblically informed communities, there one finds the selfsame Spirit.

No Skyworld Passport

The church at Philippi was the Apostle Paul’s first founding in Europe during his second missionary journey.  Much earlier, in 358 BCE, King Philip II of Macedonia had taken the ancient town of Crenides, refounded and renovated it, and renamed it as Philippi.  It was to be useful to him.  The Romans had it beginning in 168 BCE; Rome unified the province of Macedonia in 146 BCE.  A century later (42 BCE) a cluster of battles pitted the forces of Brutus and Cassius against the armies of Octavian and Mark Antony.  In the end, their armies defeated, Cassius and Brutus killed themselves using their own swords.  The battles of Philippi, important as they were at that moment, only cleared the way to the sickening storm of relationships and rivalries that ended in Octavian’s triumph over Mark Antony at the naval Battle of Actium in 31 BCE. Antony, with Cleopatra, died months later in Egypt.

I have skipped over the fascinating, abundant details, but only to get to a first point: Octavian is the nephew and adopted son of Julius Caesar, and he alone is left to claim rule of Rome–Lepidus, Brutus, Cassius, Mark Antony–all are gone.  And as imperator, emperor, Octavian as Augustus Caesar holds the keys to the Sky-World, the Overworld of Roman pagan culture.  In his book The Fruit of Lips, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy refers to the European emperors (Christians after a point in time who changed their primary allegiance!), evoking their status beginning with Augustus:

Because the emperor was the cosmocrator, he was lifted into the hub of the wheel to unite night and day, to reconcile the north where the sun never shines, with the south to which the polar stars of midnight never move.  The emperor, the Son of Heaven as he was called in China, was the prime mover of a reconciled, a non-panicky, non-chaotic heaven and earth.  His knowledge and compliance with the stars shielded the people from the panic of catastrophes.  When the people of our days hold a President of the United States responsible for a world-wide depression, they follow in the footsteps of all ancient nations who believed that the eternal cycles could be perfected by a human being lifted into the hub of the wheel.  The incense burned before the emperor’s statue was a means to enliven his nostrils so that he might smell the harmony and beauty of the universe.  He who did not burn incense, who did not say Heil Hitler, destroyed the skyworld.  He must die.  (Fruit of Lips, 59)

My second point is that the Christian apostles, the Gospel writers, and the Apostle Paul preached, wrote, and lived in opposition to the “skyworld”.  As Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy put it in reference to the Gospel of Mark (and the Gospels), “It was written by men who denied the emperor’s claim, and who, therefore, plunged those for whom they wrote the Gospel into imminent danger of death for high treason against the welfare of the empire.” (Fruit of Lips, 60)  This statement helps us to comprehend the apocalyptic passages in Mark’s Gospel: the Christians defied and denied citizenship in such a Skyworld, and its true citizens spared no effort to eliminate or disable the opposing life-power of Christianity.

I am writing here about the antithesis (the opposition of Maranatha and pagan Anathema) that drives the battle between “the domain of darkness” (Colossians 1:13): “the rulers,” “powers,” “world forces of this darkness,” the “spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places,” (Ephesians 6:12) and the “authority and power and dominion” of the Christ (Ephesians 1:21).  I want to emphasize that the same authority the Churches have invoked against the Caesars of any era, against Hitler and Stalin and Mao is the same authority that says confidently, “And He [God] put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church.” (Ephesians 1:22)

So, back to the main discussion:  that same Paul the Apostle writes to the church at Philippi a century or more after the Roman generals contended for the chance to take charge in the Skyworld.  Whether he or the Phillippians were thinking of this, I do not know.  But I see the contrast and must speak about it.

In the Philippian letter, Paul writes, most probably from Rome, as a prisoner for Christ.  He is among the least significant of persons.  But in his humiliating circumstances he actually is identified with his Master, the selfsame servant who suffers.  Paul shares the life of Christ–in chains.  He had shared that life in many other painful, challenging ways.  He reminds me of dozens of Baptists in England and North America during the 1600s and 1700s–Baptist “jailbirds” who were criminals, and for what?  They were prosecuted and punished, as criminals, for preaching without “license” — without permission of the government, the authorities, and the state churches who took part in that scheme of authority through statute law.  These Baptist jailbirds wrote letters, sermons, poetry, hymns, theologies, and other works, in and out of jail, and so we know about them now through their preserved works.  To read more about them, take a look at Keith Durso’s book No Armor for the Back: Baptist Prison Writings, 1600s – 1700s.

The Apostle Paul also reminds me of another Baptist letter-writer, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who also stood up to the dominant authorities of the day.  Surely Christ was with him, too, in the Birmingham jail, eloquently declaring and grieving that the churches of America had failed, and asking, “Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world?”  On the matter of racial injustice and segregation, the church was now “a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound,”  a quiet thing functionally comforting to the Jim Crow establishment and the status quo, a hollow thing to repudiate in a new generation.

For Paul, “to live is Christ” meant to live in bondage–to service, to suffering, to others, to truth, to God’s continuous calling and presence.  “To live is Christ” is to live in a bound condition, like Christ, to be bound tightly, to live within the limitations God imposes, and in that place, within those limitations, to be radically free.  Others may see that kind of freedom as the worst kind of restriction, but no!  In that kind of freedom I, and others, know who we are in relation to God, to ourselves, to others, to the world.

There are the walking prisoners, and there are those who walk free.  There are none who walk entirely on their own.  There are the prisoners who live in cells of steel and concrete, there are prisoners who dwell in dungeons of their own and others’ making–negativity, denial, dishonesty, classism, racism, violence, addictions, hatred, murder, theft, envy, demagoguery. There are those, most of the global community, who live in bondage to the dominant powers of the time and place–and of the Skyworld.

Powerful though he was, Augustus, and all others like him, were prisoners of a world system representing all that most men would pay heavily and struggle mightily to get. Please do not misunderstand.  I do not agree with Augustus that the struggle of world systems–the struggle for empire–is a “zero-sum” game.  I do believe, however, that only with the victory of “the children of light” is there the promise of any enduring, liberating future–or fulfilled present (Ephesians 5). Any other victory promises only degrees of a bondage that allows no true freedom.  In the end, the Skyworld has no friends, only subjects and victims.

If we do not pray with Israel . . .

Franz Rosenzweig (1886-1929) continues to challenge and engage me.  So, too, his mentor, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy (1888-1973), the steel to Rosenzweig’s flint.  They escort me roughly out of the easy seats onto the stone seats of a contentious forum; there they bid me listen until I squirm, my butt on the hard limestone, my brain on their hard arguments.

Yet this I want to do, it’s worth the effort and discomfort.  Rosenzweig was the skeptical Jew converted to his own people’s religion; Rosenstock the acculturated Jew who was baptized a Christian in his teens, and who eviscerated Rosenzweig’s sloppy thinking about reality, forcing him to dare to face God.

Right now I am working through Judaism Despite Christianity and find in Rosenstock’s letter to Cynthia Harris in 1943 many stunning comments making a unified argument that prayer is an absolute necessity–and his definition of prayer encompasses the entire life of a people.  Nineteenth-century biblical scholars did not represent Jewish history accurately or fairly.  The missed the “No” of the Jews to idols–Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and God’s three “No’s”:  the Fall, the Great Flood, and the Exodus.  “‘Revelation’ is a knowledge of God’s will, after his ‘No’ to our will has become known.” (181)  But the “No” was necessary if Israel was to recognize “herself as God’s servant, merely a man in the face of God’s majesty.”  (181)  This is not just strong stuff, it is the basic stuff.  It undergirds everything else Rosenstock wrote in the letter to Cynthia Harris in 1943.

One example will be enough:

The Germans all knew in 1918 that the World War had been lost deservedly.  Faith accepted the defeat.  But it takes faith in God to accept defeat fully.  If there be no divine will, then our will must reign supreme.  Naturally the whisperers came–those all-knowing ones who cannot be named but who are always being quoted–those who said, “It was a stab in the back,” “It was this or that,” “It was unnecessary,” etc.  The reaction was inevitable:  “We shall undo the defeat.”  Whispering is unauthorized speech.  The devil is any person who does not wish to be quoted; and so he never attains the rank of a person.  For a person accepts God’s judgement over what he has said or done.  Thus can he come to know the truth.  The devil never receives his verdict because he whispers only and never speaks truly and confidently.

. . . The people who had believed only in science, and who could not distinguish between spell-binding magic and prayer, now fell for the stump speakers.

Rosenstock summarizes the German history of persecution and repression against Lutherans (after 1825) and Catholics (certainly after 1871) and identifies Hitler as “the third attempt to free the German nation from any check on its nationalistic conscience.  This time, the triangle Luther-Rome-Israel is attacked foremost at the Jewish corner.  Also, the attack is far more violent than the two former.”  The furor Teutonicus runs a system of hatred, and there are other arguments to illustrate, but I will finish this statement with a few more of Rosenstock’s sentences:

Hitler hates everything started by the Jews, including democracy and the Freemasons.  Why?  They all know of the insertion of God’s “No” into history as a vital element.  But a spellbinder must be sure that his spell will work under all circumstances.  This prevents him from admitting God’s “No” to the fabric of history.

Hitler’s will and his god’s will are nauseatingly one.  The great art of speech has made Hitler crazy.  Since he has the privilege of speaking, of inflaming the masses, he spellbinds.  And so he hovers as a ghost from the abyss of paganism, a ghost of the days before God touched Israel’s lips with his fiery coal:  “My will, O mortal, not thine, be done.”

The specific character of biblical prayer explains the uniqueness of the Bible.  We can’t forget the Bible because the divine “No” was created, in our speech, during those thousand years of Jewish prayer.  And all the other departments of our linguistic faculty rest on this clear distinction between prayer, on the one side, and science, poetry, fiction, and law, on the other.  If we do not pray with Israel, we cannot retain our Greek mathematics or our Roman law.  This will sound arbitrary or exaggerated at first reading.  But it is simple truth. (183)

Rosenstock goes on to illustrate examples that bind ancient and modern paganisms together while they show biblical prayer (faith, religion, core of revelation) to be absolutely distinct from them.  It is the distinction and emphasis that energized the philosophical, faithful thinking and dialogue that Rosenstock and Rosenzweig conducted over many years — theirs was an astonishing interchange between Christian and Jew; it started a century ago and lasted until Rosenzweig died.  Rosenstock lived to write voluminously on themes that grew out of scholarship as — I would like to say this —  a form of prayer.

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, letter to Cynthia Harris (in 1943 a freshman at Radcliffe College): “Hitler and Israel, or On Prayer,” first published in The Journal of Religion (University of Chicago Press, April 1945).  Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, ed., Judaism Despite Christianity:  The 1916 Wartime Correspondence between Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy and Franz Rosenzweig (with a new  foreword by Paul Mendes-Flohr, a new preface by Harold Stahmer, and a new chronology by Michael Gormann-Thelen (Chicago and London:  University of Chicago Press, 2011).

Enter into My Joy – John Stott

The news today of John Stott’s death at 90 saddened me for a moment, but only that long, for I knew he had entered the full joy of the Lord having done all the Lord’s bidding.  The Christianity Today obituary is moving and evokes good memory.  His life example is a good instance of what I was saying in my last posting about paganism compared to genuine faith.

Though as a Baptist I and my wife have enjoyed our wonderful visits to Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church in London and the New Road Baptist Church in Oxford during a sabbatical stay, All Souls Langham Place also attracted us.  But too late in his ministry, or off schedule, to hear John Stott, we nonetheless heard inspiring evangelical preaching by other staff pastors and enjoyed worshiping with a truly international congregation.  More recently the ministry of the Langham Partners International made a strong impression on me; I thought how positive, resolute and effective their mission sounded!

On at least two occasions my ETBU travel study students accompanied me to worship there at All Souls, once in March 2003, another in May 2006; that last time, on a Sunday morning, we walked the half mile or so from our hotel on Gower Street and entered that church just next to the BBC buildings. There the worshipers clearly recognized their congregation’s place in its own domestic society but displayed numerous, lively, and colorful connections with Christians around the world–and there were many visitors–the Africans dressed brightly, impressively for worship!  We enjoyed the tea and biscuits afterwards in the fellowship center, too, the opportunity to make new acquaintances, and to look at the books and tapes they offered.  It was a privilege to share just briefly in the vibrant experience of that missions and ministry-oriented urban church.  I am grateful to the Lord for all that, and for John Stott.

Randism contra the Real Norm

There may be more provocative statements in a recent Christianity Today article on Ayn Rand and “Randism,” but not by much:

Those who spend a lot of time and money on books and videos speculating about the antichrist can devote themselves to more immediate concerns. As I have explained elsewhere repeatedly, key candidates for the job have been running the American economy the past 30 years with our unwitting assistance.

That’s Gary Moore, “Ayn Rand: Goddess of the Great Recession,” online at:  http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/september/2.36.html?start=1

Moore’s article is part of a current wave of awareness of the kinds of conservatism and libertarianism (well, yes, and liberalism!) that not only run against Judeo-Christian teachings and ethics, but against the general welfare.  These speak, too, about the varieties of spiritual and functional disabilities in the churches–the dark underbelly of popular Americanism combined with Biblical ignorance or disregard, hostility to God, and selfishness.  Selfishness with respect to the neighbor whether next door or next day in our globalized world.

I tried to read Atlas Shrugged and Ship of Fools too young, in the sixties, and am surprised now (or should I be) that Dad brought them home from his job at Vandenburg along with None Dare Call It Treason and some John Birch Society titles.  I never talked with Dad about his reading, and I’m not sure how it influenced him–maybe it was just reading to kill time, borrowed from a co-worker at Convair or GDI.  I could not get into those books, and maybe it is just as well.   Whatever their influence on Dad, I think he turned in several ways from the past when he entered full-time Christian ministry in his late thirties.  I’ll never know how completely he changed, but he and Mom paid too much into the lives of others in tiny inner-city and rural churches, sometimes rebuffed and ill-used, but the evident truth of servanthood, even at times in brokenness and bad judgment serves vindication.  They received a lot of good in turn, too, but doesn’t that show the virtue of lasting communities where real caring and sacrifice are normal?  I don’t think Rand would understand.

Back from China ~ May 2008

Comments on the China Trip are on the Doc Summers on Tiger Mountain link on this page (may have to click on the Home tab to the left to show links).

True Patriots — Tecumseh, Oklahoma, April 2007

The Crossroads Academy and V-5 Institute Board has had little help from me recently, but I haven’t “quit” either, especially when I get opportunities to meet with some of God’s good men and women. So I and mine did this past weekend at the Rominger home in Tecumseh. The occasion was filled with conversation, board business (redefining, reorganizing), spiritual devotion, some great meals (thanks Janelle) and a good dose of Oklahoma history courtesy of Dr. Don Rominger. It is a rich history, and none are more aware of it than the numerous American Indians who in the twisting course of events had much befall them in Anglo-America. Yet they–and the rest of us–are part of a much more complex America that includes everyone (not always happily) but still permits special identities. That is no more so than with Indian identity, tribal belonging.

This past weekend our board president received, in absentia, a token, a totem of unity and patriotism, a gift in honor of his own military service, patriotism, and love of the United States and what our nation best represents, a ceremonial working/battle axe. It was also in honor of his sons, one of whom, a Marine lieutenant, still is recovering from burn injuries received in Iraq from a roadside bomb that killed most of his brothers-in-arms. Those injuries will force his retirement, which he must accept, though reluctantly, and earlier than he wished.

The giver? An elder representing the Citizen Pottawatomie tribe of Oklahoma. The recipient and his son? Members via Mexican ancestry, in part, of the Yaqui tribe. Yet all are citizens of the United States, heirs to a tradition of patriotism based not in what some consider a threatening militarism but in their convictions that they can best serve their country as members of a proud, distinguished service branch of the American Armed Forces. And these Marines have served well.

The United States includes many amazing people, humans whose backgrounds, convictions, and accomplishments can only evoke encouragement and admiration. I learned this past weekend about the long tradition of military service among the Cheyenne of the Middle and Northern Plains. Where in the social histories do we learn that the Indians are more than just a formerly oppressed group? Where do we learn that among them, always, have been individuals and groups who transcended the difficulties of accommodation and integration to the larger Anglo-European society, who came to share fully in it, yet who, paradoxically, retained their traditions as best they could? I am interested to learn more about the American Plains warriors whose love of country is a lesson for all Americans — not to glorify war, though some surely might, but to be reminded that in a world where wars will occur, there are patriots whose best response is to take part.