Monthly Archives: March 2019

(Eleanor Parker) A medieval song about the Annunciation

Gabriel, from heaven’s king
Sent to the maid sweet,
Brought her blissful tidings,
And fair he did her greet:
“Hail be thou, full of grace aright,
For God’s Son, this heaven’s light,
For man’s love
Will man become
And take
Flesh of thee, maiden bright,
Mankind free for to make
From sin and devil’s might.”

Gently him did answer
The gentle maiden then:
“In what way can I bear
A child without a man?”
The angel said, “Fear thee naught;
Through the Holy Ghost shall be wrought
This same thing
Of which tiding
I bring.
All mankind will be bought [redeemed]
Through thy sweet childing,
And out of torment brought.”

When the maiden understood
And the angel’s words heard,
Gently with a gentle mind
To the angel she answered:
“Our Lord’s serving maiden iwis [indeed]
I am, who here above is.
Concerning me
Fulfilled shall be
Thy saw, [your words]
That I, since his will it is,
A maiden, without law, [i.e. outside the law of nature]
Of mother will have the bliss.”

Read it all.

Posted in Church History, Liturgy, Music, Worship

A Poem for the Feast of the Annunciation from Andrew Hudgins

The angel has already said, Be not afraid.
He’s said, The power of the Most High
will darken you.
Her eyes are downcast and half closed.
And there’s a long pause — a pause here of forever —
as the angel crowds her. She backs away,
her left side pressed against the picture frame.

Read it all.

Posted in Church History, Poetry & Literature

A Prayer for the Feast of the Annunciation

We beseech thee, O Lord, pour thy grace into our hearts; that we who have known the incarnation of thy Son Jesus Christ, announced by an angel to the Virgin Mary, may by his cross and passion be brought unto the glory of his resurrection; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Posted in Church History, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, Theology: Scripture

A Prayer to Begin the Day from Frank Colquhoun

Lord Christ, almighty Saviour, we cry to thee for aid against our strong enemy. O thou who art the Stronger than the strong, deliver us, we pray thee, from the evil one, and take sole possession of our hearts and minds; that filled with thy Spirit we may henceforth devote our lives to thy service, and therein find our perfect freedom; for the honour of thy great name.

Posted in Spirituality/Prayer

From the Morning Bible Readings

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, Amend your ways and your doings, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’

“For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers for ever.

–Jeremiah 7:1-7

Posted in Theology: Scripture

More Sunday food for Thought–Theology in the Nursing home in the Midst of Dementia

–Shared by yours truly in the morning sermon–KSH.

Posted in Aging / the Elderly, Health & Medicine, Theology, Theology: Scripture

(NBC) ‘Band Grandpas’ helping students through music and mentorship

Arnie Rosen, a retired doctor and amateur musician, created the “Band Grandpas” program in Rockford, Illinois so senior instrumentalists can help students and spread the joy of music.

watch it all.

Posted in Aging / the Elderly, Children, Education, Music

(CT) America’s Farming Crisis, Laid Bare by Midwest Floods

The fields where my grandfather and his brothers once played football are currently covered by several feet of water.

My grandpa Bert was born in a small Nebraska town called Oakland, a couple hours north of Lincoln, just down the road from Senator Ben Sasse in Fremont. Like much of northeastern Nebraska, these towns are now in crisis, battling the historic flooding that has devastated the state’s farms and ranches, killed three people, and dislocated thousands.

Currently the state estimates $439 million in damages to infrastructure, $85 million in damages to homes and businesses, $400 million worth of cattle lost, and $440 million of crops destroyed, placing the total damages, by my count, at around $1.3 billion….

Sadly, I cannot help but see this quickening destruction happening in my home state. The flood has soaked thousands of homes and hundreds of businesses to ruin in places that already struggled with a trajectory of economic decline and despair brought about by forces outside their control.

 

To understand the impact of these catastrophic floods in Nebraska—what they will mean for the communities in the weeks, months, and years after the rivers recede and the roads clear—we have to look at the state of the farmers, the men and women who have loved this place even when no one else did.

 

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Natural Disasters: Earthquakes, Tornadoes, Hurricanes, etc., Religion & Culture, Theology

Sunday Food for Thought from Saint Augustine

“I could not exist therefore, my God, were it not for Your existence in me. Or would it be truer to say that I could not exist unless I existed in You, of whom are all things, by whom are all things, in whom are all things?”

–St. Augustine, Confessions, Book 1, Chapter 2

Posted in Church History, Theology: Scripture

A Prayer to Begin the Day from Daily Prayer

Do thou give us, O Holy Spirit of God, a new mind to comprehend thy loving purposes, a new heart to rejoice in them, and a new perseverance upon the paths of thy will, now and for ever.

Daily Prayer, Eric Milner-White and G. W. Briggs, eds. (London: Penguin Books 1959 edition of the 1941 original)

Posted in Spirituality/Prayer

From the Morning Scripture Readings

The LORD reigns; he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed, he is girded with strength. Yea, the world is established; it shall never be moved;
thy throne is established from of old; thou art from everlasting.

–Psalm 93:1-2

Posted in Theology: Scripture

(History) Why the King James Bible of 1604 Remains the Most Popular Translation in History

In 1604, England’s King James I authorized a new translation of the Bible aimed at settling some thorny religious differences in his kingdom—and solidifying his own power.

But in seeking to prove his own supremacy, King James ended up democratizing the Bible instead. Thanks to emerging printing technology, the new translation brought the Bible out of the church’s sole control and directly into the hands of more people than ever before, including the Protestant reformers who settled England’s North American colonies in the 17th century.

Emerging at a high point in the English Renaissance, the King James Bible held its own among some of the most celebrated literary works in the English language (think William Shakespeare). Its majestic cadences would inspire generations of artists, poets, musicians and political leaders, while many of its specific phrases worked their way into the fabric of the language itself.

Even now, more than four centuries after its publication, the King James Bible (a.k.a. the King James Version, or simply the Authorized Version) remains the most famous Bible translation in history—and one of the most printed books ever.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, History, Religion & Culture

(Wash Post) It’s not just you: New data shows more than half of young people in America don’t have a romantic partner

Austin Spivey, a 24-year-old woman in Washington, has been looking for a relationship for years. She’s been on several dating apps – OkCupid, Coffee Meets Bagel, Hinge, Tinder, Bumble. She’s on a volleyball team, where she has a chance to meet people with similar interests in a casual setting. She’s even let The Washington Post set her up.

“I’m a very optimistic dater,” Spivey says, adding that she’s “always energetic to keep trying.” But it can get a little frustrating, she adds, when she’s talking to someone on a dating app and they disappear mid-conversation. (She’s vanished too, she admits.)

Spivey has a lot of company in her frustration, and in her singledom. Just over half of Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 – 51 percent of them – said they do not have a steady romantic partner, according to data from the General Social Survey released this week. That 2018 figure is up significantly from 33 percent in 2004 – the lowest figure since the question was first asked in 1986 – and up slightly from 45 percent in 2016. The shift has helped drive singledom to a record high among the overall public, among whom 35 percent say they have no steady partner, but only up slightly from 33 percent in 2016 and 2014.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Sociology, Young Adults

(Church Times) Lords will break silence on betting, says Bishop of St Albans

The announcement of a new House of Lords special inquiry into gambling has been welcomed by the Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith.

The new Lords committee, which will examine the “social and economic consequences” of the gambling industry, was announced last Friday. It will begin its investigation later this year, and produce a report by March 2020.

Dr Smith said: “This means we can start to meet the needs of problem gamblers, and honour the hopes of the families of those who have lost their lives as a result of problem gambling.

“It’s time we broke the silence for them. This inquiry is a vital part of that.”

The Liaison Committee of the House of Lords recommended the gambling industry as one of four areas for inquiries, as proposed by Dr Smith.

He continued: “An overdue inquiry, it will have the range, depth, and authority to mount a truly evidence-based investigation. Currently, we have seen levels of suicide and other gambling-related harms becoming part of the national consciousness, while 55,000 young people are now classified as problem gamblers.

Read it all.

Posted in Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, Gambling

(CH) The Oldest National Church in the World

When investigating the origin of church-state collaboration, most Westerners look back to Constantine and the 313 Edict of Milan, which made Christianity the favored religion in the Roman Empire. But Christianity likely achieved state- approved status even earlier in Armenia, where celebrations this year will commemorate 1,700 years of faith.

According to legend, in 301 Gregory the Illuminator (so named because he “enlightened the nation with the light of the gospel”) ascended from a stone pit after 13 years of imprisonment for refusing to renounce his faith. He then cured Armenia’s King Tiridates III of madness and converted him to Christianity. Gregory went on to establish the church in Armenia on the spot where he saw Christ descend in a vision. In all his efforts, Gregory built on the groundwork laid by the apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew, who reportedly preached the Gospel in Armenia as early as the first century.

(Note: Recent scholarship suggests that most or all of Gregory’s accomplishments are more accurately dated to the years between 313 and 316, meaning Rome was actually first to convert, but Armenia’s sticking with 301 because the year “has always traditionally enjoyed the character of official acceptance.”)

Read it all.

Posted in Armenia, Church History

A Prayer for the Feast Day of Gregory the Illuminator

Almighty God, who willest to be glorified in thy saints, and didst raise up thy servant Gregory the Illuminator to be a light in the world, and to preach the Gospel to the people of Armenia: Shine, we pray thee, in our hearts, that we also in our generation may show forth thy praise, who hast called us out of darkness into thy marvelous light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Posted in Church History, Spirituality/Prayer

A Prayer to Begin the Day from H. C. Cooksey

O Holy Spirit of God, Lord and Giver of Life: Come into our hearts, we beseech thee; that enlightened by thy clear shining, and warmed by thine unselfish love, our souls may be revived to the worship of God, and our life be dedicated anew to the service of our fellows; for Jesus Christ’s sake.

Daily Prayer, Eric Milner-White and G. W. Briggs, eds. (London: Penguin Books 1959 edition of the 1941 original)

Posted in Spirituality/Prayer

From the Morning Bible Readings

After this Jesus went about in Galilee; he would not go about in Judea, because the Jews sought to kill him. Now the Jews’ feast of Tabernacles was at hand. So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples may see the works you are doing. For no man works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” For even his brothers did not believe in him. Jesus said to them, “My time has not yet come, but your time is always here. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify of it that its works are evil. Go to the feast yourselves; I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come.” So saying, he remained in Galilee. But after his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly but in private. The Jews were looking for him at the feast, and saying, “Where is he?” And there was much muttering about him among the people. While some said, “He is a good man,” others said, “No, he is leading the people astray.” Yet for fear of the Jews no one spoke openly of him.

–John 7:1-13

Posted in Theology: Scripture

(CT Editorial) Ted Olsen–Religious Freedom Isn’t Just for Christians

At the 2016 Southern Baptist annual meeting, pastors chastised convention bodies that had filed friend of the court briefs on behalf of New Jersey Muslims wanting to build a mosque. Russell Moore of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) didn’t back down. “A government that has the power to outlaw people from assembling together and saying what they believe, that does not turn people into Christians,” he said. “That turns people into pretend Christians, and it sends them straight to hell.”

The International Mission Board (IMB) initially defended itself too, saying the briefs both embodied Baptist beliefs and gave its workers credibility overseas. But it soon changed its policies and promised to “speak only into situations that are directly tied to our mission.”

Five years ago, the IMB and ERLC were two of several Christian organizations that filed briefs in a Supreme Court case on behalf of a Muslim prisoner barred from growing a half-inch beard. The Alliance Defending Freedom was another. But the ADF website indicates it hasn’t advocated for a Muslim’s religious freedom since. Meanwhile, some Christian organizations have been suggesting that Muslims don’t deserve religious freedom because Islam isn’t really a religion. The Thomas More Law Center’s Tom Lynch took aim at another organization: “[If you] Believe Islam a religion, then support the Becket Fund,” he tweeted. “Believe it will destroy US, then [support] thomas­more.org.”

This is madness. When we advocate on behalf of Muslims and other religious minorities, the Golden Rule dovetails with making common cause against aggressive secularization and government overreach. (It’s worth noting that Alabama said that if it lost the Ray case, it would bar chaplains instead of allowing imams.) But if you only argue for the religious liberty of your friends and co-religionists, what’s the point? Even pagans do that! (Matt. 5:47) We who know true freedom do not want to use our own freedom for self-indulgence but to serve others humbly in love (Gal. 5:13). Advocating for religious freedom is not just about what’s good for Christians. It’s also about being Christians: It is a way in which we can show our neighbors what the True God is about.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture

Letter to the Clergy in the Historic Diocese of SC about the latest attempted Maneuver by the brand new TEC Diocese in SC in the ongoing Legal Skirmish

From there:

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

As most of you are now aware, late on Wednesday afternoon, TECinSC notified Judge Dickson and our legal counsel by email that they had filed a petition for a writ of mandamus with the South Carolina Supreme Court. The Supreme Court rule and precedents (quoted below) make clear its intended proper use is to compel a “ministerial act” that is normative for an “officer” when no other remedy is available (i.e. requiring the county treasurer to collect taxes).

Several observations can be made concerning this current petition.

  1. Judge Dickson (contrary to the accusations of judicial failings in this petition) is rightly exercising his duties as a judge and due process is moving forward. This is not the situation envisioned for the use of a mandamus.
  2. The clear motivation is concern for how Judge Dickson might shortly rule. If the matters before him were as clear and simple to discern as TECinSC again asserts, they would not be attempting such a desperate attempt to avoid a ruling by Judge Dickson.
  3. It is not believed that a single justice could or would, for a matter this significant, grant a writ. And in principle, Justice Hearn has recused herself from this case. The likelihood of this petition being granted should be quite low.
  4. The possibility of this being offensive to Judge Dickson is understandably significant. This is a serious criticism of his judicial competence, as exercised in this case.
  5. This might have other unintended consequences with the Supreme Court, by elevating the case to require their attention.

While an unpredictable turn of events, given its attempted misuse of judicial procedure, it is anticipated that this is only a temporary detour. Legal counsel is responding today with a reply to the assertions made in this petition. Because the nature of the petition itself presumes relatively prompt action, it is not expected that this matter will linger as long as others have more recently.

In the meantime, it continues apt to commend Judge Dickson and the Supreme Court Justices to our prayers that they might indeed, in all their decisions, courageously pursue what true justice demands. Please also keep the legal counsel of the Diocese and its parishes in your prayers. The continued and unexpected demands of this litigation are considerable and they merit our prayerful support.

Lenten blessings,

–(The Rev. Canon) Jim Lewis is Canon to the Ordinary for the Diocese of South Carolina

(Photo: Canon Jim Lewis (left) with Bishop Mark Lawrence)

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * South Carolina, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Parish Ministry, Stewardship

(Local Paper) Anti-human trafficking posters placed in South Carolina arena bathrooms during NCAA tournament

South Carolina law requires posting of human trafficking awareness posters in hotels, bars and airports.

But with Columbia hosting first- and second-round games of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament this weekend, the posters are on display for the first time ever in Colonial Life Arena.

“There’s always an increase in online solicitation around large sports events, which lands a lot of people in trafficking,” said Alexis Williams Scurry, the project coordinator for the Richland County Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force who pushed for adding the posters.

Read it all.

Posted in * South Carolina, Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Media, Sexuality, Sports, Violence

Archbp Foley Beach–A Christian Code of Ethics for Using Social Media

Most of us have done it!! We have posted something on the Internet when we had thought, incorrectly, that we had heard all the facts. Or we have written something slamming a brother or sister in Christ personally without talking to them in person first. Or we have written something when we were in the flesh and not in the Holy Spirit that caused heartache and pain to some innocent victim of our written words. Or we have spoken prophetically only later to have wished we had shared the comments in person.

The following is a simple code of ethics (5 Questions) for the follower of Jesus to consider before one clicks the “enter” button. It is intended for the follower of Jesus to remember that even in cyber-space we are witnesses (either for good or for bad) for Jesus Christ modeling a life which is supposed to emulate him….

Read it all.

Posted in --Social Networking, Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), Blogging & the Internet, Ethics / Moral Theology

(NYT Op-ed) David Brooks–What Rural America Has to Teach Us

Everybody says rural America is collapsing. But I keep going to places with more moral coherence and social commitment than we have in booming urban areas. These visits prompt the same question: How can we spread the civic mind-set they have in abundance?

For example, I spent this week in Nebraska, in towns like McCook and Grand Island. These places are not rich. At many of the schools, 50 percent of the students receive free or reduced-cost lunch. But they don’t have the pathologies we associate with poverty.

Nearly everybody is working at something. Nebraska has the sixth-lowest unemployment rate among the 50 states. It has the 12th-longest healthy life expectancy. Some of the high schools have 98 percent graduation rates. It ranks seventh among the states in intact family structure.

Crime is low. Many people leave their homes and cars unlocked.

One woman I met came home and noticed her bedroom light was on. She thought it was her husband home early. But it was her plumber. She’d mentioned at the coffee shop that she had a clogged sink, so he’d swung round, let himself in and fixed it.

Read it all.

Posted in City Government, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Race/Race Relations, Rural/Town Life

(New Statesman) Rowan Williams–Brexit shows Britain is no longer able to imagine a “common good”

Democracy rests on a presupposition that is not often made explicit. Popular consent implies that everyone’s view and interest, without restriction, is worth taking into account in the running of a society – which is why the principle on which democracy rests is the same principle that affirms the rights of minorities and the need to continue testing the strength of popular consent. Any search for a permanent resolution of social issues that is declared to be beyond argument or challenge is a move away from the fundamental principle.

In other words, two salient aspects of a consistent democracy are that we go on arguing, and that our freedom to do so is protected. The law defends us from coercion and forcible silencing. Without these, we have naked populism, a reversion to the situation where the powerful (in numbers, wealth or status) determine what is “right”. Genuine politics gives way to suppressed or threatened violence.

In genuine politics – if there is no overwhelming consensus, and if the people who disagree with us are not going to oblige us by simply going away, and if coercion is not an option because of our legal settlement – we are committed to argument and negotiation. And this entails a readiness to suspend belief in the unqualified rightness of our own interests and to try to imagine a state of affairs emerging that could be manageable both for us and for those who do not share our ideas or priorities.

So to find ourselves – as we now regularly do – in a situation where opposing groups each regard the other’s agenda as the worst outcome imaginable is a dire situation for democracy. Not because it is not nice to be so rude to each other, but because it indicates a disturbing loss of any sense that there might be common goals that we can only discover through a process of argument and scrutiny; a loss of any willingness to think around the corners of the definitions we started with.

Read it all.

Posted in --Rowan Williams, Anthropology, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Europe, Foreign Relations, Politics in General, Theology

James DeKoven on his Feast Day–A Sermon on Christian Hope (1864)

“Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which entereth into that within the vail; whither the Forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus.”””HEB. vi. 19, and part of v. 20.

Life is full of changes and chances. It sounds commonplace to say so, and yet more and more one learns to realize that the commonplaces of life are the things we most frequently dwell on, and the things we most often need comfort about. Poverty and riches, sickness and health, prosperity and adversity, joy and sorrow, succeed one another in our lives in a way that men call chance, and Christians know to be the will of God. All external circumstances change and alter; friends fail us or are taken away; death breaks up family circles; we move away from the scenes of youth and dwell in other places; cities and towns lose their familiar appearance; nay, in this our day things that should be most stable shake and totter, and government and order seem about to fail, and the very Church itself partakes of the universal disquiet; and only the eye of faith can discern the sure and immovable foundations against which the gates of hell shall never prevail.

But, even if there were no external changes, the changes within us are still harder to bear. We are not what we were. Time more surely alters our inner selves than even it does what is without us. We do not love what we loved, we do not seek what we sought, we do not fear what we feared, we do not hate what we hated. We are not true to ourselves. However brave a front we may present to the world, we are compelled to acknowledge to ourselves our own inconsistencies. There is often a broad chasm even between the intellectual convictions of one period of life and of another; and our very religious convictions, except they are built on the unchanging rule of the catholic faith, contradict each other; and the weary heart, uncertainly reaching forth in the darkness, longs with an ever deeper longing for that immutable One “with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”

Blessed, then, is it to hear of an anchor of the soul. The imagery is simple enough. The ship, beaten by waves, tossed by tempests, driven by winds, takes refuge in the harbor. The anchor is cast from the stern. The ship rides securely; the danger is over.

Read it all.

Posted in Church History, Eschatology, Ministry of the Ordained, Preaching / Homiletics, Theology

A Prayer for the Feast Day of James Dekoven

Almighty and everlasting God, the source and perfection of all virtues, who didst inspire thy servant James de Koven to do what is right and to preach what is true: Grant that all ministers and stewards of thy mysteries may afford to thy faithful people, by word and example, the knowledge of thy grace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Posted in Church History, Spirituality/Prayer

A Prayer to Begin the Day from Benjamin Jenks (1646–1724)

O God, renew our spirits by thy Holy Spirit, and draw our hearts unto thyself, that our work may be not a burden, but a delight. Let us not serve as slaves with the spirit of bondage, but with freedom and gladness as thy sons, rejoicing in thy will; for Jesus Christ’s sake.

Daily Prayer, Eric Milner-White and G. W. Briggs, eds. (London: Penguin Books 1959 edition of the 1941 original)

Posted in Lent, Spirituality/Prayer

From the Morning Bible Readings

‘Then I said, “These are only the poor,
they have no sense;
for they do not know the way of the Lord,
the law of their God.
I will go to the great,
and will speak to them;
for they know the way of the Lord,
the law of their God’

–Jeremiah 9:4-5b

Posted in Theology: Scripture

(Westmoreland Gazette) New Bishop of Penrith starts work with a Lent walk

The new Bishop of Penrith has spent her first few days in post out and about greeting hundreds of people on a Lent Walk.

The Rt Rev Dr Emma Ineson was officially installed and welcomed as the Suffragan Bishop of the Diocese of Carlisle – the Church of England in Cumbria – at a special service in Carlisle Cathedral on Sunday.

The following day she joined the Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Rev James Newcome, as he continued his Lent walk across Cumbria with other ecumenical leaders from the county. The group was also joined by the Salvation Army’s Divisional Commander Roger Batt as they set off from Holme Cultram Abbey in Abbeytown bound for Silloth, Workington and Cockermouth.

ishop Emma, who will be based in Kendal, said: “I’m feeling wonderful and am raring to go. I can’t think of a better way to start ministry in this beautiful county than by joining the Lent walk. And we’ve just had some of the best sausage rolls and a lovely cup of tea provided by the ladies here at the abbey!

“This offers me a great opportunity to get out and about. The God for All strategy is really exciting and I’m keen to find out what that looks like on the ground; to see how people in the local churches and communities are living out that calling. What is it that’s going on in the clubs, in the shops, in the streets, in the churches to share the love of Jesus with everyone?”

Read it all.

Posted in Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops

(Comment) Alan Jacobs–Prophet Of The Human-Built World: An Introduction To John Ruskin

Ruskin is imagining virtuous persons whose virtues extend to their property—to the kinds of houses they build and the things they put in them, their “goods and chattels”—but he knows that such persons are indeed more imagined than real. “I say that if men lived like men indeed, their houses would be temples—temples which we should hardly dare to injure, and in which it would make us holy to be permitted to live”; and if we knew that our children might honour us in this way, it would be absurd to see “each man . . . build to himself, and build for the little revolution of his own life only.” What would the world be like, Ruskin muses, what would our ordinary daily experiences be like, if people strove to integrate their moral and religious commitments with their buying decisions, and did so in the hope that the very objects they left to their descendants would help those descendants love those same moral and religious commitments. Whether we would have it so or not, the things we make are reliable tokens of what we believe, because what we make declares our character in the same way that “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1 KJV).

This great truth is hidden from us by the fragmenting character of modern life, its constant pressure for us to consider each of our experiences in isolation from all the others, so that what we think and do and pray can never be “forming new wholes.” Ruskin sought always to fight against this powerful centripetal force, but during the years of his “deconversion” fought with inadequate tools, because for a time, for too long, he forgot something that at the outset of his career he understood: “God has lent us the earth for our life; it is a great entail.”

In English law an “entailed” estate is one that is inherited with conditions, the most typical and important one being that the estate cannot be sold. The one who inherits it must care for it until his or her death, at which point it passes to the next heir. Ruskin shows us that we hold the lease to the earth itself on similar terms: we cannot sell it and pocket the cash, we cannot despoil it for our profit; we are legally and morally obliged to conserve it “for our life.” This means that our thoughts must always be bent toward the future: the earth “belongs as much to those who are to come after us, and whose names are already written in the book of creation, as to us; and we have no right, by anything that we do or neglect, to involve them in unnecessary penalties, or deprive them of benefits which it was in our power to bequeath.” We have no right, by anything we do or neglect, to disregard our heirs. And woe be unto us if we forget this.

It cannot be stressed too strongly that for Ruskin there is no aspect of our lives, no matter how apparently trivial, where this principle does not apply. And if social and economic circumstances have changed so that we cannot exercise that care in the same way that Ruskin envisaged—many in our society will inherit their parents’ houses; relatively few will live in them—then we should focus our attention on everything that we can pass along to the next generation: a well-made sofa; a thoughtfully chosen collection of books or music; a recipe for pasta carbonara; a habit of prayer. All of that should, equally, testify to who we are.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology