It’s nature to nurture

The conventional view in academia today is that sex is biological, but gender is a cultural construction.  That is, roles that are attached to being male or female are nothing more than the impositions of culture.  Well, I just observed my 15-month-old granddaughter picking up her first doll.   She had played with teddy bears and the like, but she never even saw a doll that looked like a baby.  This one wasn’t hers.  But she picked it up, cradled it, supported its head, and kissed it.  How did she know to do this?  No one taught her to.  She is not particularly receptive to culture at her age.  Her brother, at the ripe age of three, had no interest in that particular toy, even though he has some inchoate notions of babies from the existence of little sister.  But she knew immediately how to play mommy.

The sacramental imagination

A common notion in studies of Christianity and the arts  is “the sacramental imagination.”  It goes like this:  Christians with a high view of the sacraments believe that spiritual realities are mediated by means of physical things.  Christian artists with those beliefs, therefore, can easily employ images derived from the material world in order to communicate their faith.  This is also why so many Christian artists are Roman Catholics, a church whose sacramental theology encourages this kind of imagination.

That may be.  But it occurred to me–while contemplating that “Luther and the Body” article I blogged about earlier in the course of this road trip that I’m still on (driving long hours giving time for just thinking)–that Lutheran sacramental theology offers a basis for this sacramental imagination more than Roman Catholicism does.

The Roman Catholic view of Holy Communion teaches that the physical bread and wine is no longer present. We receive Christ’s Body and Blood only.  We perceive the “accidents” of bread and wine, their appearance, but the only “substance” is that of Christ.   This take on the physical material reality seems to be more that of Eastern monism–that the physical realm is an illusion–than an actual affirmation of the physical as a vehicle for the spiritual.

The Lutheran doctrine of the Real Presence, though, teaches that the bread and the wine, in their physicality, are still present, as is the actual Body and Blood of Christ.  (Again, don’t call this “consubstantiation,” which is the Roman Catholic attempt to explain this  teaching in terms of their own “substance” and “accidents” distinction that Lutheranism rejects.)

The mode of Christ’s presence is explained not in terms of different “substances” but in terms of “the ubiquity of Christ.”  That is, just as God is omnipresent without displacing the existence of other objects, Christ, because of His personal union of the divine and human natures, can be, in His body, present in bread and wine.   Not that He is in the Sacrament only in the sense of God being everywhere, but in a unique sacramental union in which He is present specifically through the Word of the Gospel, his body and blood being given and shed “for you.”

Now, this kind of teaching first of all is going to encourage those who believe it to think of God in Christ as being not far above the universe, looking down, as the imagination of many Christians has Him, but, rather, as being very close.  God, of course, is both transcendent and immanent, but the latter often gets minimized, which it can’t in Lutheran spirituality.

Furthermore, Lutheran theology also teaches the presence of God in vocation.  (It is God who gives us this day our daily bread through the vocation of the farmer and the baker; God milks the cows through the work of the milkmaid; God creates new life by working through mothers and fathers; vocation is a mask of God, etc., etc.)  This again encourages people to see the spiritual dimensions of the physical world.

For artists, it means that not only physical images can manifest the spiritual realm, the very act of creating–whether by paint, words, film, or whatever medium one’s vocation involves–manifests not just the presence of God but His activity, that He creates by means of human creation.

Martin Luther’s Body

I was browsing through the library, when imagine my surprise when I saw the latest issue of the American Historical Review with a big picture of Luther and Melanchthon on the cover.  The lead article is entitled “Martin Luther’s Body,” focusing on how fat he was (contrasting to the skinniness of the medieval saints) and on how his language, thinking, acting, and theology were all so physical.

The article is alternatively humorous (as when the author discusses and defends Luther’s scatalogical language), absurd (discussing the social construction of the body), and insightful (relating Luther’s physicality to that of Lutheran spirituality, with its insistence–against both Catholicism and other Protestantism–that Christ’s presence in the Sacrament is physical and in physical bread).  She also notes Lutheranism’s embrace of the physical realm, in its relatively positive views of sex, food and drink, the body, and earthly life (what we would call “vocation”).  The thing is, the scholar seems to get Luther and Lutheranism!

Like most scholarly journals, this one is only available online with a subscription, but here is a description from the journal’s press release:

Lyndal Roper takes a fresh look at Martin Luther in the April 2010 issue of the American Historical Review, focusing on the way depictions emphasizing Luther's “monumentality” and his own relationship to his body informed the theology of Lutheranism.

“This was a man whose body was fundamental to his personality,” writes Roper, a fellow and tutor in history at Balliol College, University of Oxford. Unlike saints and other pious figures, whose thinness illustrated their aversion or indifference to the temptations of the flesh, Luther’s stoutness was an unmistakable feature of his iconographic representations, she notes. . . .

In “Martin Luther’s Body: The ‘Stout Doctor’ and His Biographers,” Roper explores the way Luther constantly referred to the body — and specifically his body — in his writings and pronouncements, especially in the famous Table Talk.

Rather than seeing his preoccupation with the body as a character defect or neurosis, she proposes that Luther “offered a religious worldview that did not separate soul and body but incorporated a robust, redoubtable, and often mucky physicality.” Luther’s physicality — “his bulk, his digestion, his anality” — was intrinsic to his theology, including his views of the devil, she writes. Portraits of “the stout doctor” during and shortly after his life helped establish the emerging identity of Lutheranism.

via AHR for April: Luther’s body, suicide in Africa, the state in South Asia: IU News Room: Indiana University.

Not getting vocation

Why is this wrong?

As far as God is concerned, someone is unemployed if the person is not working for Him, said a Latin American mission leader at a global missions conference in Tokyo.

Many people argue that they have a job and have plenty of work, said Obed Alvarez, international director of the New World Mission Association in Peru. However, the landowner (God) is calling those standing idle to work for him, he pointed out as he read from Matthew 20 about the parable of the workers in the vineyard.

“We should understand that all are unemployed if we are not living out God’s plan for us,” said Alvarez at the Tokyo 2010 Global Missions Consultations this week. “It doesn’t matter if you are a doctor, a senator or the president, you will always be idle as far as He is concerned if you don’t have a part in missions.”

The missiologist and church planter continued, “The president of the republic is just as idle as far as the Lord is concerned, if he is not doing anything to advance the missionary cause. What is his investiture worth if he is still a sinner and his destiny is hell?”

Alvarez – who founded the Latin American School of Missiology, the first school of missions in Latin America – said people can have other jobs but they should have the identity that first and foremost they are a missionary.

via Mission Leader: You’re Unemployed if Not Working for God | Christianpost.com.

The government’s pens

I love pens.  Since pens are the primal tool of my vocation, I treasure a good pen, from a cheap-but-reliable Bic to the classical-and-hefty Cross.  So I appreciated this feature on those government-issue black pens, which are found in post offices, bureaucratic agencies, and the military. Would that the rest of the government were so inexpensive and worked so well!

Blind workers assemble the pens in factories in Wisconsin and North Carolina under the brand name Skilcraft as part of a 72-year-old legislative mandate. The original 16-page specifications for the pen are still in force: It must be able to write continuously for a mile and in temperatures up to 160 degrees and down to 40 degrees below zero.

It has been used in war zones and gas stations, and was designed to fit undetected into U.S. military uniforms. According to company lore, the pen can stand in for a two-inch fuse and comes in handy during emergency tracheotomies. . . .

The unassuming pen stamped with the words “SKILCRAFT U.S. GOVERNMENT” in white letters has endured despite quantum leaps in communications technology that have rendered lesser tools obsolete. Taking over from the fountain pen, it has withstood the advent of the rubberized “comfort grip” and the freely flowing gel ink, not to mention computers, instant messages and smartphones. The U.S. Postal Service alone orders 700,000 a year. . . .

The original design — brass ink tube, plastic barrel not shorter than 4 5/8 inches, ball of 94 percent tungsten carbide and 6 percent cobalt — has changed little over the decades. It costs less than 60 cents.

The pen’s roots date to the Depression. The 1938 Wagner-O’Day Act required the federal government to buy certain products made by the blind, thereby creating jobs for a then-marginalized population. First came mops and brooms, but the program eventually expanded to include a full line of cleaning and office supplies under the brand name Skilcraft. In fiscal 2009, the program, now known as AbilityOne, raked in a record $658.5 million in sales of products and services.

The pens account for about $5 million in sales each year. About 60 percent of business is from the military, but the Agriculture, Commerce and Justice departments are all reliable customers, according to NIB. The pens are primarily issued through government agencies, though civilians can buy them by request through some retail stores. . . .

Part of the pen’s cult appeal comes from its writing capabilities. Among other things, the original General Services Administration requirements for items FSC 7520 (the ballpoint pen) and FSC 7510 (the refill) dictated that:

– The ink cartridge shall be capable of producing under 125 grams of pressure a line not less than 5,000 feet long.

– Blobs shall not average more than 15 per 1,000 feet of writing, with a maximum of 25 for any 1,000-foot increment.

– Writing shall not be completely removed after two applications of chemical bleach.

The pens have also spawned their own folklore. The length of the pen is said to be equivalent to 150 nautical miles on Navy maps, helping pilots navigate in a pinch. The metal tip has reportedly been cited as the maximum length for a woman’s fingernails in the military.

Chuck Lange, chief executive of Industries for the Blind in Milwaukee, said that the pens can write upside down and that they have been used in Iraq and Afghanistan.

via Low-tech Skilcraft pens endure in a high-tech world.

What are some other good, basic, but high-quality products like this?

The vocation of a teacher

Congratulations to columnist Kathleen Parker–whom I actually met at a Patrick Henry College journalism event– for winning the Pulitzer Prize.  She credits a teacher for starting her on that road:

I materialized in James Gasque’s class in March of the school year for reasons that will have to wait for another day. Suffice to say, I knew no one and had come from a small high school in central Florida where, for some reason, no one had bothered to teach the diagramming of sentences.

Thus, my fellow students at Dreher High School in Columbia, S.C., were way ahead of me when Mr. Gasque finally called on me to identify some part of a sentence he had written on the blackboard. His back to the class with chalk in hand, he stood poised to write my instructions.

Every living soul knows the feeling of helplessness when a crowd of peers awaits the answer you do not know. Whatever I said was utterly ridiculous, I suppose, because my classmates erupted in peals of laughter.

I have not forgotten that moment, or the next, during all these years. As I was trying to figure out how to hurl myself under my desk, Mr. Gasque tossed me a sugarcoated, tangerine-colored lifesaver from the good ship lollipop.

He whirled. No perfectly executed pirouette can top the spin executed by Mr. Gasque that day. Suddenly facing the class, he flushed crimson and his voice trembled with rage.

“Don’t. You. Ever. Laugh. At her. Again.” he said. “She can out-write every one of you any day of the week.”

It is not possible to describe my gratitude. Time suspended and I dangled languorously from a fluff of cloud while my colleagues drowned in stunned silence. I dangle even now, like those silly participles I eventually got to know. Probably no one but me remembers Mr. Gasque’s act of paternal chivalry, but I basked in those words and in the thought that what he said might be true. I started that day to try to write as well as he said I could. I am still trying.

via Kathleen Parker – A sprig of verbena and the gifts of a great teacher.

Did any of you have a teacher who had a similar impact in your life?


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