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Archive for the ‘context’ Category

It’s happened before.  I hear about a friend whose marriage is rough.  I understand the swirling strain the mind goes through, trying to solve problems.  Is there a way out?  I understand the grief when a thing isn’t what it should be.  It may be the only way to stay sane, to hold tight to the fact that God’s design is better than this.  Marriage is good.  God designed it to be good.  He designed it to be better than what anyone experiences.  And though He isn’t out of control, what we do and experience falls short of the glories God designed.  What we do and experience, though, can still bring Him glory.

 

I digress.  Is there a way out?  If God didn’t intend it to be this way, must I still live in it?  God’s design for humanity is health, but we get sick; we feel pain.  Must we still live it?

 

God’s design for fatherhood is to be one who speaks to his children, teaching them the way they should go, demonstrating love and patience. Fathers chasten their children so that they will learn to be good, God-fearing, and productive.  But if a man fathers a child and then walks away, is he still a father?  Our society is all in a rush, with step-parents and father-figures, to give the title of father to those who come closest to fulfilling the design for that role.  I’m not sure I disagree with an analogous application of the term “father” to someone who is doing the work of a father.  What concerns me is when we say that the man who abandoned his family is not a father.  The thing that, in fact, makes a man a father, is his biological participation in bringing a child into the world.  Are we letting biological fathers off the hook by telling them that unless they act like fathers, they aren’t fathers (and, thence, they don’t have the responsibilities of fathers)?  Perhaps a more difficult question is whether God means for “Honor your father and mother” to apply even to fathers (or mothers) who are not living up to the ideals.

 

So I’ve been pondering the difference between what is essential to a thing, and what makes a thing “good”.  A marriage is one man and one woman covenanting and becoming one flesh for this life.  A good marriage is more.  A good marriage has good communication, good teamwork, is productive and pleasurable.  A good marriage involves each helping the other become closer to God.  A good marriage is a testimony of love to the world.  Do God’s expectations for marriage only apply to healthy, thriving ones?  If one spouse isn’t living up to the ideals of a “good” marriage, is the other spouse free to claim this isn’t going to work out?  Or does “What God has brought together, let no man separate” apply even to marriages that just meet the bare bones definition of a marriage?  (And what are the bare bones of things, in God’s eyes – as He has revealed them to us?)

 

It’s a hard road, but I believe that we are called not to escape the things and people who are broken, but to love them and to mourn over their/our brokenness.  I believe we are to hope for the good, even when it looks impossible.  I believe that when we read the Bible, we must do so submitting to God’s revelation for our understanding of the institutions God instructs us about.  A father begets a child. Those children are commanded to relate to their father with obedience and honor.  Such a father is commanded to treat his children in certain ways.  Marriage is a thing, even if it is a different thing from what we imagined or hoped for when we started it.  Being a Christian is a thing, with responsibilities that we don’t escape by failing to live up to them.  Being a friend is a thing that I’m wrestling with right now, trying to understand what God teaches are the bare-bones essentials of friendship and also what He delights for it to be.  Church is a thing.  Gender is a thing.  How well we live these things doesn’t change what they are.

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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The other night I watched a movie with a friend. It was a thinking movie, the kind I love. Do people ever tell you a movie is “about” the plot? I mean, a movie or book is rarely about what happens. The events and characters are about something else. Jane Austen was kind enough to tell us in her titles what her books were about. Some people don’t realize the subject of their art until they themselves step back to view the metaphor against the big picture.
This movie, it quoted Shakespeare. And even though I’m familiar with about two Shakespeare plays (a comedy – translate: happy ending and a tragedy – translate: everyone dies, but only in the end) and a sonnet, I’ve figured out that Shakespeare wrote about things. I don’t always know what. And so to quote a line from Shakespeare is to imply the subject of his play.
Because my examples are limited, I’m going to use the one I can think of. In Hamlet, the title character arranges for a pointed stage drama designed to convict his mother of her sins. (He ruins the effect by talking straight through the play; Shakespeare should have better appreciated the power of art when left to speak for itself.) In this drama within a play is a woman who worries aloud about whether she is making the right decision. She hesitates to give into temptation. At the end of the play, Hamlet asks his mother for her review of the performance. “Methinks she doth protest too much,” says the mother. And so we have a commonly quoted phrase of Shakespeare.
When someone quotes that line, they are often and most correctly implying the context, too. They’re even bringing with them the end of the tale, with its vilifications and justifications. Being familiar with the anthologies referenced in works of art can go a long way towards comprehension. Another advandage to interpretation is to have already made a thought venture or two into the subject. The Matrix, I believe, is about fate. How powerful is the human will? Whether I agree with The Matrix’s statements on this subject or not, I can more readily grasp those statements because I’ve spent a lot of time investigating free will and the sovereignty of God.
These references to shared philosophical questions, literary experiences, etc. make up a story-mosaic within the larger story. And it can be done in a movie, in a poem, in witticism, in art, and even in everyday conversation. A frequent form of Context Matrix is the inside joke phenomenon.
 

Image from DiyHappy

 

My brother writes poetry. Sometimes he just writes whatever is in his head that jumbles into verse form. Some evolutionists wrongly suggest that organisms acquire additional DNA information (to change them into new species) by sort of colliding with other organisms with different DNA (we have the eye factory organism over here, going through generations of natural selection to finally reach vision, and he’ll share someday with the organism working out wings and flight). This is not a sufficient mechanism for biology, but it seems to happen in the thought realm of my brother’s mind. But he isn’t in control of his mental context matrix, of all the things he encounters in his life to fuel his thoughts and shape his experiences. I believe there is a designer at work on each of our lives, and sometimes before we are even aware, He is writing patterns into the mosaic of experiences. Those patterns come out like (good) toxocology reports on my brother’s thoughts.

Let me tell you, though, that unless you know my brother on a day-to-day basis, interpreting his poetry is impossible. He doesn’t care. For whatever it’s worth to you, whatever the words mean to you, take them or leave them. I suppose a lot of art is like that, subjected to the needs and interests of the connoisseur.

I’m really bad at getting metaphors. There is probably a common representative language among poets into which I, for lack of study, have not been initiated. When I do catch on to a metaphor, I’m really excited.

One breakthrough recently is the willingness to admit my ignorance and ask for help in understanding things. (For years I’ve been trying to help my “blonde” – literal or figurative – friends appear smarter by teaching them to wait a while and see if they catch on before they admit themselves to teasing by that inimitable expression, “Huh?” Now they’re teaching me to learn by being willing to ask.) Having a brother like mine helps. Sometimes, you just have to ask the source. Such was my plan of action for a blog I read.

A friend told me that his friend was disappointed in the lack of response to his blog. I’ve been blogging for two and a half years, and let me tell you, the blog world is big; finding an audience is hard. Out of compassionate curiosity, I found the blog and read it. It didn’t make any sense. I mean the words made sense, but they were the plot, not the subject. Months later I checked it again. This time I was convinced that the blog was more than the product of bored hours of creatively mimicing archaic literature. The author was getting at something flying over my head at light speed. So I asked.

And today the author answered. By now I forgot most of what I read, so I have to re-read the post, too. Here it is: The Perilous Journeys of St. Upid I dare you to leave comments (on my blog as well as his) with what you think it’s about.

My point here is that my friend understood his friend’s blog because he knew the context matrix his friend was using. They’ve talked in unambiguous language about these topics. They’ve also both seen Monty Python, which may have helped me if I’d seen more of his stuff. That’s your only hint.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn 

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Portrait of a young pig by Joel Sartore
Portrait of a young pig

For my birthday, we had a Pigfest. I blogged a long time ago promising a Pigfest, and challenged you all to discover what it was. Here’s how it went.

Each person in attendance was asked to have a statement prepared for debate. It could be about theology, philosophy, politics, history, or economics. They would state their proposition and explain it if necessary. A timer set for fifteen minutes was started and the debate began, with any person present allowed to play devil’s advocate or switch sides or bring up a new aspect for debate at any time.

A Gentleman's Debate, 1881 by Benjamin Eugene Fichel
A Gentleman’s Debate, 1881

The first proposition was that Imagination is inversely proportional to the amount of toys one possesses. Discussion included types of toys, what happens if one has no toys, the advantage of having a few toys over either extreme, whether we meant toys, or property in general (who defines toy?). The assumption that imagination is a desired goal was addressed, as well as the purpose of imagination and of toys. “Is passive entertainment ever healthy?” someone asked. We talked about different kinds of people, and the kinds of entertainment that are more satisfying because they engage the entertained to interact. Finally at the last minute it was suggested that the relationship is not inverse. If “inverse” were true of toys and imagination, no toys would produce infinite imagination, and that is not the case.

Secondly it was proposed that Evangelical Christianity should be more like Roman Catholicism in that there are wards, and one is expected to attend the nearest church, focusing on involvement in their immediate community. This would mean that problems in churches get fled, not ignored. There would ideally then be accountability in the leadership of the church. The Roman Catholic church, however, enforces accountability with a bishop who is outside of the local congregations, overseeing several churches. Who would enforce the rule? How would it be enforced? Would a Christian be able to exercise their freedom and their conscience toward doctrine? Someone suggested choosing between the three closest congregations. The condition was Evangelical Christianity, so it was argued that one’s own theology defined what one considered an appropriate church/denomination to attend, and most people present wouldn’t change the church they attend (Pigfesters at this event represented at least four churches, and I invited members of several more churches.) If community is the end goal, then why do we have church buildings at all? Why not house churches? How do you hear about/get invited to a house church? If one is going to fix problems in existing churches, wouldn’t that lead to a sort of vigilante church take-over? Wait! Is that happening in some churches already?

Our third debate was on the need for a national language, and that because the majority of the nation speaks English, and our legal and founding documents were written therein, the national language should be English. The first objection was that one would have to define English. English is evolving, as evidenced by the low comprehension we would have of a Middle or Old English document. A national language would enable integration of immigrants, encouraging unity in our country. How would you enforce the national language? How would you integrate those whose birth language was not English? What does a national language mean? Are road signs only in English? Laws? Ballots? Government documents? If one national language is such a good thing, why should we stop at that? Why not a global language? We talked about the tower of Babel, and God’s design in confusing languages.

Next was a discussion of the relative morality of nuclear weapons. The proposition stated that the morality equaled that of using hand grenades or traditional bombs. Brought up was the economics of both the use of and the recovery from nuclear weapons; the effect upon innocent non-combatants, the number of dead, and the number of miserably injured. What is the object of war? To obtain land and property? Defense? Killing the most enemy combatants? Killing the most people? Is psychological warfare moral? Doesn’t the use of morally regulated nuclear weapons facilitate escalation in that it emboldens the less principled (or sane) enemies to use nuclear weapons against innocents or recklessly?

We had a proxy proposition that Lying is justifiable to save a human life. Immediately presented were the biblical examples of Rahab and the Midwives, and contrasting example of Corrie ten Boom’s sister (Corrie nine Bang?). What was God rewarding? Is it ok to give the appearance of lying? God clearly says that He abhors lying, but we are only assuming from examples that it is ok to lie to save lives. Theology and application should be consistent with the whole revelation of Scripture. A Bible story was brought up in which God caused an attacking army to believe there was an army attacking them, even though there wasn’t. Does God use mind control? Will He use it if we don’t take initiative and lie for Him? Is lying ok in other circumstances, like surprise parties? It was argued that life is the highest end, taken from Proverbs 31 where it says to intercede for those being delivered to death. Against that was the position that God’s glory was the highest, that faith in God says that God can accomplish His purposes inside our obedience (as well as outside). What else could Rahab, for example, have done? Refuse to answer. Be creative. Die for the truth. The Holy Spirit will guide a Christian to the proper response in a given situation.

Then we addressed the question Does God tell you what to do and change the plans? The general answer was yes, He does. Then it was asked is God lying. The example was given of Abraham and Isaac, that God tests our surrender. Is God lying, or is our perspective not reflective of reality?

Finally, trying to mix up the topics, I selected a topic from history from my list. This was my proposal: Ancient civilizations knew about and had maps of America and Antarctica. After the strong stand taken against lying in any circumstance, no one wanted to argue with me. There was discussion on the evidence: trigonometry, maps, Columbus’s discovery of America, that Antarctica was mapped pre-ice cap (what if there was a civilization there?). We diverted into conversation on ancient technology (that we moderns don’t understand), Mormon myths, similar architecture in rings out from Babel reflecting the dispersion. From the Bible we talked about Peleg (in his days the earth was divided, whatever that means) and boundaries (between nations that are not to be moved), and the knowledge possible to be acquired in 500 years of life versus the current life expectancy. Evidence was presented that mammoths were found with dandelions that had been blooming in their stomachs as they were frozen, suggesting the climate was more temperate in the arctic and Antarctic in the past, and that it changed rapidly.

Afterward we watched Amazing Grace, the movie about William Wilberforce’s campaign to abolish the slave trade in England. It was positively inspiring. Afterward we passed around the petition to amend the Colorado Constitution defining person as a human from the moment of fertilization.

I’m told, and experienced myself, that the conversation sparked by fifteen minute segments of debate carried on into the next few days. We have all resolved to have Pigfests again.

Feel free to add to the arguments, ask questions, click on the links, host your own Pigfests, comment on your debate experiences, say hi, etc.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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In my review of Family Driven Faith, I think I mentioned wanting everyone in my church to read the book.  They would be exposed to new ideas, and I wouldn’t have to do all the explaining and defending.  My idealistic vision was of friends and leaders with changed understanding of church. 

Today I’m reading No Little People, a collection of essays by Francis Schaeffer.  The same thoughts are coming to mind.  Earlier this week I read the essay “God’s Work God’s Way.”  To me the points exactly contained evangelical Christianity.  We want to do God’s work, but instead of looking for biblical directions, we take our corporation-based programs and modify them for church.  Or we adopt the evolutionary view of education that is used in the public schools and implement it in our discipleship.  We see what is effective for the entertainment industry and we make our “services” more attractive. 

Last night I was listening to a sermon entitled, “My People Perish,” by R.C. Sproul, Jr.  He argues against adopting the world’s goals.  We don’t raise up children to be missionaries so the kingdom will increase.  We raise up children to increase the kingdom.  I think he’s saying first things first.  Our goal is not to take back Harvard or Hollywood, but to serve Jesus Christ and bring Him glory. 

A friend was telling me about how God is teaching her about money.  She’s being sanctified a little bit at a time.  At this point she’s trying to take God’s perspective that money is not the object.  He embraced sacrifice, and calls us to, as well.  The question is not, “Can I afford that?” or “Is it in my budget?” or even, “Have I set aside money for God first?”  The question is does God’s Spirit call your members to hand over money for more clothes, for Pizza Hut pizza, for a coffee or a soda, for a cd, for that concert? 

If our lives are going to be radically faith-led, shining brightly in a world of darkness, we have to be different.  We can’t put a Christian icing to a worldly practice. 

All this to say that this week conditioned me to pull the above applications from their respective situations.  I felt the force of No Little People to be sanctification and faith (not sight) because of where I am and how I read.  I’m willing to heed every word when I can.  It may surprise you, but as a writer I know that most of the time the words we use are not just fillers in between bold-faced headings.  We have something to say. 

As evidence, I turned to the contents page of No Little People to find a note scribbled there over twenty years ago, I’d think, when my parents were in college.  I think it was Mom who wrote “good – about waiting for God’s timing” next to the “God’s Work God’s Way” chapter.  She had a very different perspective on the author’s intended application. 

Even when interpretation is not subjective, for the force of a book to fall on someone, they have to be thoughtfully reading the words.  In a way they must be interacting with the text. 

This reminds me of a revelation I had this month.  I watched a film production of Cyrano De Bergerac.  I could imagine the actors delighting to speak the lines and play the parts.  There were twice as many characters as listed in the play, because I was allowed by the staged medium to consider the fictional players in the story as well as the motivations and feelings of the actors portraying them, and how they all interacted.  Later I was delighting in Wives and Daughters, Pride and Prejudice, and other films so well done that you are sure the actors are the literary heroes and heroines.  But really they are not.  In fact they are only able to give in their performance one interpretation of what the author was originally saying.  But I can pause these movies and talk for five minutes a frame about what is being said in an expression or a gesture or a muttered comment.  Do books have such depth?  Imagine approaching a book so engaged that on every page you subconsciously ask the text and yourself: If I were Mr. Darcy (for example), what would I be thinking and feeling?  Why did I come?  Why do I speak?  Why don’t I speak?  What do I see? 

Perhaps long ago when books were read aloud for entertainment and individuals prided themselves at their skill in doing so, the reader was forced to ask those questions, and so instantly come to a more vivid comprehension of the story. 

Thus I have every intention to read a classic piece of literature in that way.  I will keep you informed on how it is going. 

To God be all glory.   

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I can’t remember how many people I’ve told the story of Faramir and Eowyn, but I would like to make the best amends possible by publicly making available an apology, a retraction, a correction. The contextual imagery convinced my child’s mind years ago that “trothplight” meant marry. It does not. Through some annoying fluke of English, the word is a descriptive synonym of betroth. I don’t understand why Faramir and Eowyn would be publicly betrothed after she already said yes, he already kissed her, etc. Nor do I get why her hand was placed in his; that symbolism belongs to marriage. However, it seems inescapable that Tolkien did mean to indicate some courtly formal custom of public engagement rather than a marriage.

I am quite sure (from some appendix or timeline in some editorial posthumous publication) that Faramir and Eowyn were soon thereafter married. Hopefully you are reassured.

If there are any who heard me tell the story differently, based on a false impression of the indication given by the archaic “trothplight,” and they do not read this blog, it serves them right. Friends should read friends’ blogs. I do promise not to elsewhere perpetuate my misunderstanding any longer, however.

To God be all glory.

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Yesterday I sat reading one of C.S. Lewis’ books, The Four Loves. Which book doesn’t really matter for my point today, though. In any of his writings, you will find certain words and references that are very confusing to an American, unless that American has acquainted herself with customs, culture, and dialectical quirks of England, whence Lewis was writing. Even then, some things he said seemed unusual. He talks of gin as though it were common in every household. To draw a bath is a luxury.

C.S. Lewis talked about the love of dogs. My family keeps cats, and dogs with their noisy barking and exuberant running and tail-wagging have from time to time terrorized us. But I know that some of my friends own and love dogs. Having observed this context, I can understand the point C.S. Lewis makes about affection. Without it, I might mistake the meaning of affection to be something more like terror.

In any attempt to understand something written, one must consider the role of cultural context. Without grasping the position from which one is writing, how can you implement the things they write?

Take as another example the US Constitution. The men who debated about, wrote, and signed that document, and the people who finally ratified it, had certain beliefs and experiences which the wording of the document specially suited. Nearly every resident in the new country had witnessed the oppression under King George and the resulting revolution. Not only that: they had been immersed in philosophical and rational defenses of that revolution through the press and official statements such as the Declaration of Independence. There is a Creator, they affirmed, who originally endowed all men with rights. Rights are something the citizens of the new thirteen confederated states understood. Although rights were enumerated in the Bill of Rights after the ratification of the Constitution, they were recognized and fought for during the war. One rally-cry was the right to representation if one was taxed. The Declaration of Independence is a magnificent record of the beliefs at the heart of the revolution and at the establishment of a strong central government several years later.

These men believed rights to be inalienable, unbreachable by any law man could make or any violence man could inflict. The national anthem, in its fourth verse, asserts, “When our cause it is just…” The founders believed in justice. And it was not their belief that established its existence. Justice existed, and they recognized that. They built a life, a country, and a political system on that reality.

When we look at the system we inherit from the illustrious men who wrote the Constitution, we are often at a disadvantage. In our philosophical ignorance, the system does not fit. The constitution does not cover questions that have arisen in the modern culture. Why?

I submit that the Constitution could not plan for a people so given to individual indulgence and so scornful of the absolute laws that govern men and nature, specifically as revealed in the Bible. It was prepared as the governing document of that system. Many statesmen and historians recognized that if the philosophical status quo changed in our country, our government would fail.

Indeed, though the Constitution has been adapted over the years, or in some cases ignored or willfully misinterpreted, it has been unsuccessful in conforming to the new framework of thought in our country. I am skeptical whether any system can hold stability in a nation where absolutes and justice are denied. It is just such a spirit of complete democracy that causes the insurgencies and civil wars in democratic countries in Europe, Africa, and South America. Nevertheless, it is impossible to comprehend the original intent of the framers while denying their fundamental beliefs.

I could go into the ways the original Constitution is misinterpreted and misapplied, but that is outside the scope of this article.

To God be all glory.

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Context Part III

Maintaining or restoring the original culture is essential to the effectiveness of an instruction, in the prior cases: England’s fondness for baths, some households’ affections for dogs, and America’s familiarity with history and the Bible.

My real intention is to say that just as the culture of the late eighteenth century was essential not only to the interpretation, but also to the success of the government instituted for that time, so many parts of the culture of the first century after Christ are essential for the comprehension and effectiveness of the instructions given in the New Testament. I say ‘many parts’ because it is possible that some cultural pieces do not affect the matrix of the whole. Perhaps we would do better to study which of those pieces are essential to the success of the biblical system than to strive for a melted and conformed set of man-manipulated instructions to apply to our modern state of rebellion.

Instead of saying that women were not allowed to speak in church “back then” because of the cultural stigma against women drawing public attention to themselves, and therefore trying to shove meanings into the words of Paul which he did not intend or foresee, we should see whether that piece of their culture contributed to the harmony of the early Christian families and Church. Rather than assuming that our wisdom is more enlightened than the wisdom that God imparted to the apostles and early church, we should study that wisdom and put into practice as much of it as possible.

This is not to deny the eternal relevance of the Bible. It is much more. I intend to picture the live and powerful nature of the Bible, its effectiveness to transform lives and cultures.

The Church needs to remember the context in which the Scriptures were written, not as an excuse to abandon the writings, but as an instruction to understand them. To know that the Jews were horrified that Jesus would say, “Before Abraham was, I am,” is to add to our understanding of Scripture: the significance of His claim and the various reactions of Jesus’ enemies and followers. When we are familiar with shepherds and vine-tenders, we understand what Jesus meant when He said He is the Door of the sheep, and that His Father is the Vinedresser. Knowing that the Church was under persecution when Paul wrote to Rome instructing the Church there to subject themselves to all governing authorities leaves us without excuse in our subjection to the government of America.

Man’s attempts at reforming culture are falling utterly short. In many cases, Christians have surrendered, and have embraced the fallen culture in which they live. It is time to forsake the wisdom of men and return to the wisdom of God, whatever the cost. It is time to ignore the scorn of the world and be different. It is time to take God at His word and see what He will accomplish.

To God be all glory.

Please read Introduction.

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