The new normal

In the sermon for last Sunday, Pastor Douthwaite employed an interesting turn of phrase:

There’s been a new phrased coined in our civil discourse of late, and that is folks talking about “the new normal.” Is the constant threat of terrorism the new normal? Are gas prices around $4 a gallon the new normal? Is our current partisan divide and the seeming inability for our political parties to work together the new normal? Or in other words, are these things here to stay and so you better get used to them as normal now, or are they just temporary glitches or passing events? Depending on who you talk to, you’ll get different answers to those questions.

But it seems to me that we can use that phrase when talking about the Christian life. That in Christ, there is a new normal for you and me. For in Christ, things change. In Christ, things are different. In Christ, we have been made new and so there is a new normal for Christians, which is truly a whole new way of life and of looking at life.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Reformation [observed] Sermon.

Read what Pastor Douthwaite does with this concept, showing how the perfection that was “normal” before the Fall turned into a “new normal” of sin, which, in turn, was changed by Christ into a “new normal” of grace, forgiveness, and joy.

That’s the main point of the sermon, so I don’t want to take away from that.  But I am curious about other kinds of things that used to be “out of the norm,” but are now considered “normal.”  What are some?  How does something go from beyond the pale to become accepted as “normal”?

The death of a true intellectual

Jacques Barzun died at age 104.  A scholar of breath-taking range, Barzun, a French immigrant, was a cultural historian wrote about literature, history, music, philosophy, religion, education, how to write well, and baseball.  (He is the source of the quotation, “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball.”  A champion of the liberal arts, he was a key developer of the “great books” approach to higher education.  He was a critic of Darwinism, existentialism, and other modern and postmodern philosophies.  Though his positions seemed largely in accord with a Christian perspective, he did not profess any personal Christian convictions.  And yet, he was baptized and sometimes attended both Catholic and Protestant churches.  (See this for the question of his religious beliefs.)

From his obituary in the Washington Post:

Jacques Barzun, a Columbia University historian and administrator whose sheer breadth of scholarship — culminating in a survey of 500 years of Western civilization — brought him renown as one of the foremost intellectuals of the 20th century, died Oct. 25 in San Antonio, where he had lived in recent years. He was 104. . . .

Dr. Barzun was 92 when he published what is widely regarded as his masterwork, “From Dawn to Decadence, 500 Years of Western Cultural Life: 1500 to the Present.” Journalist David Gates spoke for a majority of critics when he wrote in Newsweek magazine that the book, which appeared in 2000, “will go down in history as one of the great one-man shows of Western letters.”

Dr. Barzun sustained one of the longest and brightest careers in academia, having first risen to prominence as a professor who helped shape Columbia University’s approach to general education. He later was dean of the graduate school, dean of faculties and provost. . . . [Read more...]

An art critic discovers Luther

Daniel Siedell is a Christian art critic and curator, the author of God in the Gallery: A Christian Embrace of Modern Art.  In a recent post on his Patheos blog Cultivare, he describes how frustrated he became with evangelical and Reformed scholarship on the arts, leading him to turn to Catholic and Orthodox theologians.  But then he discovered Luther and Lutheranism, who were not at all the way he had assumed:

 The outlier in my aesthetic evangelical resourcement was Luther, whom I had simply lumped into the Protestant tradition as a “pre-Calvinist” and a “post-Catholic,” shaped as I was by the biases of Catholic and Reformed interpreters, and art historians like Joseph Leo Koerner, who blamed the Reformer for a privatized, relativized, and disenchanted Protestant faith. But things changed when my family and I became members of a confessional Lutheran Church (LCMS), and I discovered through the weekly practice of the preached Word and Sacrament, that Philip Cary is right: Luther is not quite Protestant. And for the sake of enriching evangelical cultural thought, that is a very good thing, as even Reformed historian Mark Noll observed in his classic essay, “The Lutheran Difference,” published in 1992 in First Things. But, unfortunately, as Kevin DeYoung admitted last summer, Luther and the Lutheran tradition remain virtually unknown to conference-circuit evangelicalism.

Although I practiced the Christian faith in the Lutheran tradition for almost eight years, it was not until I encountered Luther, liberated from a confessional tradition that had domesticated it and non-Lutheran thinkers who had distorted it, and interpreted through sensitive readers like the Hamann scholar Oswald Bayer, Steve Paulson, Gerhard Ebeling, and Gerhard Forde, that he came alive for me, presenting to me a Luther I never knew. And a Luther evangelicalism desperately needs.

What I discovered is a Luther whose thought offers fertile ground for a desperately needed re-evaluation of evangelical approaches to art and culture, from his understanding of the distinctions between the letter and the spirit; law and gospel; theology of the cross and theology of glory; the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world; the human being as simultaneously sinner and saint; God hidden and revealed; and nature and grace. In addition, in his revolutionary understanding of vocation and through his emphasis on the sacramental nature of the preached Word, Luther opens up space to think freely and creatively about modern art, without expectations for what art should look like. For Luther, it is not what we see, but what we hear from paintings, when the bullets are flying, when push comes to shove, as we live and feel the pressure of life and the strained relationship between God and neighbor.

And so I find Luther a welcome and helpful companion when I go to art museums and art galleries, when I am confronted by work that looks different, that frustrates my expectations, and distracts me by its strangeness. Luther is teaching me to wait in faith, and listen, with love.

via Luther, Evangelicals, and Modern Art.

Hobbes vs. Burke

Catholic author George Weigel says that the current election amounts to a choice between Hobbes and Burke:

This is a contest, to take symbolic reference points, between Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) and Edmund Burke (1729-1797).

Both were British subjects. Both had a profound impact on modern political theory. Both knew that religion and politics—Church and state—had been thickly interwoven into the history of the West, although here the deep differences between these two paradigmatic figures begin to sharpen: Hobbes tried to drive religious conviction out of the modern public square, while Burke fashioned a vision of political modernity that drew in part on the rich social pluralism of the Catholic Middle Ages.

In a Hobbesian world, the only actors of consequence are the state and the individual. In a Burkean world, the institutions of civil society—family, religious congregation, voluntary association, business, trade union and so forth—”mediate” between the individual and the state, and the just state takes care to provide an appropriate legal framework in which those civil-society institutions can flourish.

In a Hobbesian world, the state—”Leviathan,” in the title of Hobbes’s most famous and influential work—monopolizes power for the sake of protecting individuals from the vicissitudes of a life that is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” In a Burkean world, civil society provides a thick layer of mediation-protection, if you will-that cushions the interactions between individuals and life’s challenges.

A Hobbesian world is a world of contracts and legal relationships, period. A Burkean world is a world in which there are both contracts—the rule of law—and covenants: those more subtly textured human associations (beginning with marriage) by which men and women form bonds of affection, allegiance and mutual responsibility. . . .

Along one path, there is, finally, room for only the individual and the state. Along the other path, the flourishing institutions of civil society empower individuals and contribute to real problem-solving. In the former, the state defines responsibilities and awards benefits (and penalties). In the latter, individuals and free, voluntary associations assume responsibility and thereby thus make their contribution to the common good.Hobbes vs. Burke. It’s an old argument. It’s also the argument we shall have between now and Nov. 6.

via Home > Publications >.

The era of black-and-white TV

President Obama dismissed the Republican convention in these terms:

“Despite all the challenges that we face … what they offered over those three days was more often than not an agenda that was better suited for the last century. It was a re-run. We’ve seen it before. You might as well have watched it on a black-and-white TV.”

If only it were!  That was the last time anything was consistently good on television.  That was the golden age of TV, the era of Jack Benny, Gracie Allen, Rod Serling, Edward R. Murrow.

The  Eisenhower administration!  The early Elvis!  Intact families!  Route 66!

I guess the dividing line would be one’s attitude to the counter culture beginning in the late 1960s.  Liberals would generally favor that, I suppose, with Conservatives bemoaning the changes (e.g., the sexual revolution).

Though the era of black-and-white TV was a vibrant, creative, and positive time culturally for America, it was no utopia, with real problems.  For example, the institutionalized racism of the Jim Crow laws.  But compare the early Civil Rights protesters–moral, religious, dignified–with today’s Occupy Wall Street protesters (unfocused, hedonistic, squalid).  And, if you want counter culture, surely the Beatniks, reading existentialist philosophy and listening to jazz, were cooler than the Hippies, tripped out on acid and wearing flowers in their hair.

I wonder if we could date our cultural collapse from the advent of color television.  (The first all-color lineup was in 1966, which would be about right.)

via Obama: RNC fare for ‘black-and-white TV’ – POLITICO.com.

Vocation Day reading

Happy Vocation Day!  It was formerly known as Labor Day, but this blog has crusaded to take over this national holiday–day off work, last day of summer vacation, cook-out customs and all–and add it to the church year as a commemoration of the doctrine of vocation.

That topic is a major theme of this blog.  Vocation is more than just the notion that you can do your work to the glory of God.  It has to do not only with how we make our living–though it includes that–but also with our life in our families, our churches, and our cultures.  The doctrine of vocation is filled with specific details and practical guidance.  It is, in short, the theology of the Christian life.

A good activity for Labor Day would be to read up on the doctrine of vocation.  You could read from my two books on the subject– God at Work and Family Vocation–or, if you are in a hurry to get the car loaded, I’ll post a brief article with a sidebar that I wrote on the subject for  Modern Reformation.  Click “continue” to read it.

[Read more...]


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X