How God is in the world

Longtime Cranach reader and commenter Dan Kempen “got” yesterday’s post Makoto Fujimura on art, paganism, and worship. His reflections are worth considering in themselves:

God is in the world, not merely as the one who has authority over it, but as the one who is creating it. Even in a broken world, everything God creates is a work of art. Everything God creates is a masterpiece. There is a wonder of God in the created world that is both immanent and transcendent. It is not the deification of “nature,” but the perception of the handiwork of God, and, to follow Makoto Fujimura, when your eyes are opened, you can even see the second article woven into the first. You can perceive the Grace of God in the very fabric of his creation.

Granted that, strictly speaking, the grace of God is revealed in His Word rather than creation as such, in what sense is that last sentence true?

Could this be the basis of a Christian environmentalism? How would it be different from regular environmentalism?

Do you see how this relates also to vocation?

Makoto Fujimura on art, paganism, and worship

My former student and current. . . tech guru Stewart Lundy has a fascinating interview with via Makoto Fujimura, the acclaimed Japanese-American abstract artist who is also a devout Christian. Read the whole interview. What struck me the most was what he said about paganism and about worship:

There is spiritual danger in Paganism, and as Origen stated (and recently quoted by Pope Benedict) Paganism is defined by “Lacking feeling and reason, they are transformed into stones and wood.”  In other words, Paganism flattens our perception, makes all experience virtual, dumbing down our senses. Paganism, as in the Matrix movie, is virtual, manageable, flat reality, whereas the red pill takes you down into the harsh reality of pain and suffering. Christianity opens our perception and our understanding of Reality. . . . .

Proper worship is central to our understanding of reality, the arts, and it affects everyone, Christians and non Christians.  Culture is affected by how we worship God. . . .

By “proper worship,” I mean a distinctively Christological way of looking at God, the world and ourselves that is driven by understanding and experiencing God’s grace.

Do you get what he’s saying? What’s the connection between worship as he defines it and our understanding of reality, the arts, and culture?

The Liberty Cap

My son and I went into D.C. yesterday. I can tell you that the brand new Capitol Visitors’ Center makes touring the Capitol much easier. No longer do you need to go through your Congressman or Senator for a good tour, or stand outside by daybreak to get a ticket for a tour much later in the day. You can reserve a time online, or, especially in the off season, just walk up and get a ticket. We also visited what has to be one of my favorite buildings, the Library of Congress. Its beauty inside is breathtaking. One highlight was seeing the Gutenberg Bible. There are only three complete, perfect copies in existence. This is basically the first major printed book. A dealer who bought it from a German monastery offered to sell it to the United States Congress in 1930 for $2 million. In those cash-strapped times, Congress voted to spend the money. Now it is priceless.

But what I learned from both tours, with our guides talking about the art that was everywhere in both buildings, was the symbolism of the Liberty Cap. This is the conical cloth hat, usually red, with the peak pointing forward or to the side. It appears everywhere in early American iconography.

It comes from classical antiquity and was known as the “Phrygian cap,” being commonly worn in that country of Asia Minor. The Greeks considered Troy part of Phrygia, so early illustrations of Homer used it to identify Trojans.

Phrygian cap of a Trojan

But then it was used in Rome as a formal marker worn by former slaves to signify that they were now free. Classicist James Yates describes the custom:

Among the Romans the cap of felt was the emblem of liberty. When a slave obtained his freedom he had his head shaved, and wore instead of his hair an undyed pileus (πίλεον λευκόν, Diod. Sic. Exc. Leg. 31º p625, ed. Wess.; Plaut. Amphit. I.1.306; Persius, V.82). Hence the phrase servos ad pileum vocare is a summons to liberty, by which slaves were frequently called upon to take up arms with a promise of liberty (Liv. XXIV.32).

The Phrygian cap thus became associated with freedom and became known as the “Liberty Cap.” American revolutionaries wore it, as did the most radical French revolutionaries.

Liberty Caps on French Revolutionaries

It adorned the head of many allegorical representations of Lady Liberty, both in the French and the American versions:

Goddess of Liberty with Phrygian Cap

In the United States, it is upon many of our older coins and national symbols, such as the Seal of the United States Senate:

Seal of the U.S. Senate

The personified statue of “Freedom” that is at the top of the Capitol building originally wore a Liberty Cap. But Jefferson Davis, then Secretary of War who had been put in charge of overseeing the construction of the Capitol, objected. We are born free, he insisted. We have never been slaves. Mr. Davis, who would soon defend the institution of slavery as the president of the Confederate States of America, was repelled by the very idea of being a slave himself. So he rejected the Liberty Cap. The headdress was changed (as you can see in the first article linked above).

Still, I am wondering about the difference between being “born free” and having been freed. It seems that liberty would mean something more to someone who knew bondage and then experienced liberation. In Christian terms, we are not born free; rather, we are born into the slavery of sin. In Christ, though, the Son has freed us and we are free indeed.

We can wear the Liberty Cap, and maybe we should. (Note: I repudiate any Jacobin or Masonic associations that this headgear may carry in proposing to give it instead a Christian meaning.) Politically, it would be an appropriate fashion statement, along with the appropriation of other early revolutionary symbols such as the “don’t tread on me” snake, when attending a Tea Party.

The most powerful writer since Julius Caesar

More embarrassing, unbecoming, grovelling sycophancy from America’s artists and intellectuals when it comes to Barack Obama. Rocco Landesman, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, is lauding our president’s literary gifts, saying he is the most powerful writer since Julius Caesar:

This is the first president that actually writes his own books since Teddy Roosevelt and arguably the first to write them really well since Lincoln. If you accept the premise, and I do, that the United States is the most powerful country in the world, then Barack Obama is the most powerful writer since Julius Caesar. That has to be good for American artists.

I know that he is not saying that the President is a writer of powerful works; rather, that he is a powerful man who writes. And, yes, he can call down nuclear weapons–whereas Julius Caesar could only put nations to the sword in the old fashioned way–so that makes him powerful, a powerful writer of a memoir. But the comparison to the divinized overthrower of Rome’s republic remains unsettling. Still, what our arts czar says isn’t even true. Lots of presidents since Teddy Roosevelt wrote their own books, from Woodrow Wilson to Bill Clinton.

I know tODD says that some of this artistic adulation is ironic. It just has to be. Maybe it is in some cases. But go to your local gallery, mention Barack Obama, and see what people say. No, this emperor-worship is NOT good for American artists.

The meaning of monsters

Stephen Asma is a philosophy professor writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education on Monsters and the Moral Imagination. Here is some of his theory:

The uses of monsters vary widely. In our liberal culture, we dramatize the rage of the monstrous creature—and Frankenstein's is a good example—then scold ourselves and our "intolerant society" for alienating the outcast in the first place. The liberal lesson of monsters is one of tolerance: We must overcome our innate scapegoating, our xenophobic tendencies. Of course, this is by no means the only interpretation of monster stories. The medieval mind saw giants and mythical creatures as God's punishments for the sin of pride. For the Greeks and Romans, monsters were prodigies—warnings of impending calamity.

After Freud, monster stories were considered cathartic journeys into our unconscious—everybody contains a Mr. Hyde, and these stories give us a chance to "walk on the wild side." But in the denouement of most stories, the monster is killed and the psyche restored to civilized order. We can have our fun with the "torture porn" of Leatherface and Freddy Krueger or the erotic vampires, but this "vacation" to where the wild things are ultimately helps us return to our lives of quiet repression. . . .

According to the critic Christopher Craft, Gothic monster tales—Frankenstein, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dracula, Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles—rehearse a similar story structure. "Each of these texts first invites or admits a monster, then entertains and is entertained by monstrosity for some extended duration, until in its closing pages it expels or repudiates the monster and all the disruption that he/she/it brings," he writes. . . .

Monsters can stand as symbols of human vulnerability and crisis, and as such they play imaginative foils for thinking about our own responses to menace. Part of our fascination with serial-killer monsters is that we (and our loved ones) are potentially vulnerable to sadistic violence—never mind that statistical probability renders such an attack almost laughable. Irrational fears are decidedly unfunny. We are vulnerable to both the inner and the outer forces. Monster stories and films only draw us in when we identify with the persons who are being chased, and we tacitly ask ourselves: Would I board up the windows to keep the zombies out or seek the open water? Would I go down to the basement after I hear the thump, and if so, would I bring the butcher knife or the fireplace poker? What will I do when I am vulnerable?

He goes on and on about such “monsterology,” but I don’t find any of these points particularly persuasive about why we find zombies, vampires, aliens, and slashers so compelling. What is YOUR theory? Put another way, if you are a monster fan this time of year, if you love to get scared, and if you enjoy horrific images, what’s the big attraction?

Why conservative Anglicans can’t just go to Rome

My colleague Dr. Roberta Bayer, professor of political theory here at Patrick Henry College is a conservative Anglican, an editor with the Prayer Book Society, which champions the 1928 version of the Book of Common Prayer. She writes about how the Pope’s offer to let Anglicans come on over to Rome is not a legitimate option for genuine Anglicans:

The spirituality of the Book of Common Prayer is not the spirituality of the Counter-Reformation. The art and the architecture, the poetry and prose of the seventeenth century reflect some of the differences. The churches of the Anglican Reformation reflect classical order, the inward spirituality,of Christian vocation lived out in the family, the community, and the nation. The churches of the Counter-Reformation reflect an inward spirituality as well, but one which glories in the spiritual journey of the soul within the church. The Bernini statue of the Ecstacy of Teresa of Avila relates an approach to God which is very different from that found in the theology of the Reverend Jeremy Taylor, writing in the same period, or the poetry of George Herbert and John Donne. Roman spirituality calls for an ecstatic art and architecture, calling heaven down to earth, and the church up to heaven. Anglican spirituality, calls for columns and rational proportion, for reflection upon the right relation of our sinful nature to our final redemption, a proper relation of man to world, and the consideration of holy living in this world, and preparing ourselves for the the next.

The nineteenth century revival of a nostaligic neo-Gothic in both Roman and Anglican traditions, bringing with it a spirituality sometimes of sentiment, followed in the twentieth century by a new spirituality, charismatic and self-expressive, means that in the English speaking world, Christianity presents itself, in both Roman and Anglican churches, as more or less similar. Yet contemporary perceptions are deceptive. Counter-Reformation practices in the church of Rome are as remote to most peoples’ contemporary sensibilities as is the Book of Common Prayer. The proper recovery of both is salutary to the recovery of the fullness of Christian teaching in both traditions.

In the contemporary world, given our changed perceptions of prayer and worship, and the fact that few leaders, if any, are sympathetic to a historical understanding of their own tradition, people have forgotten the theological basis for the dispute about spiritual formation that drove the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. Thus, the move to Rome seems easy: the liturgical rite in an Anglican parish looks much like the rite in a contemporary Roman parish. Rome appears attractive because it upholds orthodox Christian teaching on gay marriage and women clergy. But morality never was a fundamental or key point of difference between traditional Anglican teaching and that of Rome. It is only in the twentieth century that there have come to be divisions over moral truth for reasons having to do with the culture at large.

Benedict has been friendly to those willing to embrace the fullness of tradition in his own church by allowing for the older mass. But on behalf of those too few Anglicans who continue to embrace the theology and spirituality of Cranmer, Hooker, Ridley, Taylor, Donne and Herbert one can only ask of the Vatican how it is that catechetical, spiritual, and liturgical differences can truly be resolved? To move to Rome with this ordinariate may be to remain Anglican in name only. Indeed, it may have the further and unfortunate consequence of confusing perceptions about Anglicanism, and make the possibility of reviving the Anglican Way, its spiritual and liturgical patrimony even more remote. And one may in fact be moving from one instantiation of contemporary theology to another, having lost the riches of the past on the way.

This is an important point. Conservative Anglicanism, as defined in the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer, is NOT Anglo-Catholicism. Rather, it is a church of the Reformation.


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