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The Sloth May Be Very Busy

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In 1941, Dorothy Sayers wrote of “Sloth”:

[I]t is one of the favourite tricks of this Sin to dissemble itself under cover of a whiffling activity of body.  We think that if we are busily rushing about and doing things, we cannot be suffering from Sloth.  And besides, violent activity seems to offer an escape from the horrors of Sloth.  So the other sins hasten to provide a cloak for Sloth: Gluttony offers a whirl of dancing, dining, sports, and dashing very fast from place to place to gape at beauty-spots; which when we get to them, we defile with vulgarity and waste.  Covetousness rakes us out of bed at an early hour, in order that we may put pep and hustle into our business: Envy sets us to gossip and scandal, to writing cantankerous letters to the papers, and to the unearthing of secrets and the scavenging of dustbins; Wrath provides (very ingeniously) the argument that the only fitting activity in a world so full of evildoers and evil demons is to curse loudly and incessantly “Whatever brute and blackguard made the world”; while Lust provides that round of dreary promiscuity that passes for bodily vigour.  But these are all disguises for the empty heart and the empty brain and the empty soul of Acedia (i.e., Sloth). 

Some Christian brothers and I have been reading and discussing Every Good Endeavor, by Tim Keller. When I read this Sayers quote in the book, it went through me like a shot. I had never considered sloth and laziness in this way, particularly my own sloth. Yet I think Sayers is correct. Like other sins, sloth is not always, and likely not typically, identifiable by the observance of outward actions. While there are many who “sit around and do nothing,” there are also many who run around at breakneck speed, doing only that which “disguises the empty heart and empty brain.” I know from my own experience exactly what she means. My inward sloth is masked, or “cloaked” by other sins. To wit, I may not truly want to work and think hard, I may want simply to look better than my co-workers.

Sayers goes on, more pointedly:

Let us take particular notice of the empty brain. Here Sloth is in a conspiracy with Envy to prevent people from thinking.  Sloth persuades us that stupidity is not our sin, but our misfortune: while Envy at the same time persuades us that intelligence is despicable—a dusty, highbrow, and commercially useless thing. 

The “conspiracy . . . to prevent people from thinking” is legion on our college campuses, in our primary public education system, and in our political and cultural discourse (if one may call it that). We Evangelicals suffer from a good bit of it as well. Yet we in the Church may suffer even more painfully from the view that “intelligence is despicable.” Dusty and highbrow, yes, but even more, we consider it unspiritual. arrogant, and perhaps even a “quenching of the Spirit.” If Sayers is right, there is more sloth beneath our failure to think hard and well than we had supposed.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

November 21, 2015 at 8:23 am

Paragraphs Change People: You Never See a Flower

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Jesus aims to throw us back upon himself and his resources. We often imagine this to be an easy process, or at least rather painless. I think not. Idolatry and pride are no easy cure. God’s stripping them from us can be gut-wrenching, soul-assaulting work. Though it is certainly gracious. It brings us to decide whether we want him as our Lord, or whether we are simply hoping to use him to get to something other than him.

This came to me as I was thinking about my marriage, something I’ve been pondering quite a bit lately. I would be self-deceived if I were to say that I loved God always more than I love my wife. She is so very precious to me, and that’s as it should be. I cannot imagine my world without her. But if I am to love her, Christ must be my first and highest love, and by far. It is him to whom I must cling. His nearness must be my joy and my good. The beauty and wonder of Christ and the Church, its reflection in my marriage, must be what captures my heart. Her sanctification, my aim.

And yet my heart doesn’t work this way, and God knows it. But God will have me, and all of me at that. Things have not always been easy for my wife and I (and how could they be, she’s married to me, after all), and law school has put strains on our marriage which have thrown me back upon God. Yet he must pry my fingers from lesser things even more. How do I know? I feel it in my soul, the ways that I too often only pretend to esteem and prize Jesus above all others, for the sake of all others. I can feel in my bones his pulling from me my reliance and dependence on my wife for lasting joy, peace and satisfaction, deep things only Christ can ultimately provide. And I thought about what it might be like even to be without my wife through some happenstance, and the pain such a thing would bring.

Then the words of Richard Wurmbrand, the Romanian pastor imprisoned for his faith by the Communists, came to me: “And here comes the great need for the role of preparation for suffering which must start now. It is too difficult to prepare yourself for it when the Communists have put you in prison . . . I remember my last confirmation class before I left Romania. I took a group of ten to fifteen boys and girls on a Sunday morning, not to a church, but to the zoo. Before the cage of lions I told them, ‘Your forefathers in faith were thrown before such wild beasts for their faith. Know that you also will have to suffer. You will not be thrown before lions, but you will have to do with men who would be much worse than lions. Decide here and now if you wish to pledge allegiance to Christ. They had tears in their eyes when they said, ‘Yes.’ We have to make the preparation now, before we are imprisoned. In prison you lose everything. You are undressed and given a prisoner’s suit. No more nice furniture, nice carpets, or nice curtains. You do not have a wife any more and you do not have your children. You do not have your library and you never see a flower. Nothing of what makes like pleasant remains. Nobody resists who has not renounced the pleasures of life beforehand.”

To renounce them. To be thrown upon God alone. To have His Word in our hearts. To suffer for His sake, that we might be brought to him. This is the narrow road that leads to life. Do it, O Lord. Bring us along this road.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

August 28, 2013 at 10:35 pm

Paragraphs Change People: The World Needs a Righteous Man

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“Books don’t change people – paragraphs do; sometimes even sentences.” – John Piper

Perhaps my favorite movie is The Chosen, based on the novel by Chaim Potok. The movie explores many themes: friendship, faith, familial relationships, and Hasidic Judaism. But most profoundly, it addresses the place and value of suffering. For that, I have loved it. And there are few paragraphs that have had the emotional and spiritual staying power than the one below. Daniel Saunders, the brilliant son of Rabbi Saunders, has spent the entire movie in a seemingly non-relationship with his father because, well, they don’t speak to each other. Thus, the viewer is left with the impression that Rabbi Saunders is a cold-hearted, distant father, with no true love for his son. Which is often the way people assume that God relates to them: silent, cold, distant and uncaring. Yet we then come to the end of the film, and these words by Reb Saunders, still not spoken directly to his son, Daniel, but to Daniel’s best friend, Reuven Malter, with Daniel sitting beside him in the Rabbi’s study.

So, you’re going to a become a Rabbi, and my Daniel…my Daniel will go his own way. [Daniel & Reuven look at each other.] Reuven, I’m going to tell you something. When my Daniel was four years old, I saw him, he read a book. He didn’t read the book–he swallowed it. He swallowed it like one would swallow food. And then he came to me, and then he told me the story that was in the book. And this story was about a man whose life was filled with suffering and with pain. But, that didn’…it didn’t move Daniel. You know, Daniel was happy. He was happy because he realized, for the first time in his life, what a memory he had. “Master of the Universe,” I cried, “what have you done to me? You give me a mind like this for a son? A heart I need for a son. A soul I need for a son. Compassion and mercy I need for my son. And above all, the strength to carry pain. That I need for my son.” How was I to do this? I mean, that was the question. How was I to…to teach him? How was I going to be able to do this to this son that I love…and not lose the love of my son? When Daniel was young, I used to hold him close. We used to laugh together. We used to play together. We used to whisper secrets to each other. We played. Then as he became older, and he became indifferent to people less brilliant than he thought he was, I saw what I had to do. I had to teach my Daniel that way: through the wisdom and the pain of silence…as my father did to me. I was forced to push him away from me. He became very frightened, he became bewildered, but slowly, he began to understand that other people are alone in this world, too. Other people are suffering. Other people are carrying pain. And then, in this silence we had between us, gradually his self-pride, his feeling of superiority, his indifference began to…to fade away. And he learned, through the wisdom and the pain of silence, that a mind without a heart is nothing. So, you think that I’ve been cruel? Maybe. Maybe, but…but I don’t think so…because my beloved Daniel has learned. O, let him go, let him become a…psychologist. You see, I know-I know about that. I should know. The books and the universities…the letters. Become a psychologist, already. But you see, now I am not afraid. I have no fear because my Daniel is a tzadik. He’s a righteous man. And the world needs a righteous man.

Behind the veneer of “carrying on” or “getting on with life,” most people are carrying pain at one level or another. Perhaps due to betrayal by a friend or spouse, a wayward child, a sickness, stress from work or ill-treatment by co-workers, grinding poverty, socio-political oppression, sexual degradation and abuse, and ten-thousand other things. People carry this pain, and our Lord Jesus Christ entered this pain-filled world, and took upon Himself the most excruciating pain possible: the wrath of God directed toward sinners. As Reb Saunders says, the world needs to see and know the love of Christ, administered primarily through his people, and in order for that to happen, God’s people need to walk with others in their pain. And how can we do this if we are aloof, prideful and indifferent, not knowing anything of their pain ourselves? So God must teach us, and most often, he must do it through other people. It is a great grace, though it seems not so at the time. For as the author of Hebrews says, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Yet later on, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Heb. 12:11).

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

July 29, 2013 at 10:39 am

Paragraphs Change People: None of Them is a Psychopath

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Books don’t change people, paragraphs do. – John Piper

Weekly Standard columnist, Andrew Ferguson, wrote a piece entitled The Heretic, wherein he reviews Mind and Cosmos, the recent book by atheist philosopher, Thomas Nagel. The reason Ferguson’s piece is called “The Heretic” is because Nagel dissents from the orthodoxy of the materialist naturalism that characterizes the neo-Darwinian position on evolution. In other words, the evolutionary view of the cosmos is that material beings and processes are all that exists, and thus, there can by definition be no God, no soul, no eternity, no morality, no human will, no anything that we take for granted as human beings. Yet Nagel is villified by his neo-Darwinian peers for pointing this out, and finding such a worldview to be untenable. More popularly, this materialistic naturalism that has taken over the sciences is called “scientism,” and I have sought to expose it and its logical consequences in great detail on this blog. Yet Ferguson says something better in a paragraph than I have been able to in almost all of my writing on the topic. He concludes:

You can sympathize with [materialists] Leiter and Weisberg for fudging on materialism. As a philosophy of everything it is an undeniable drag. As a way of life it would be even worse. Fortunately, materialism is never translated into life as it’s lived. As colleagues and friends, husbands and mothers, wives and fathers, sons and daughters, materialists never put their money where their mouth is. Nobody thinks his daughter is just molecules in motion and nothing but; nobody thinks the Holocaust was evil, but only in a relative, provisional sense. A materialist who lived his life according to his professed convictions—understanding himself to have no moral agency at all, seeing his friends and enemies and family as genetically determined robots—wouldn’t just be a materialist: He’d be a psychopath. Say what you will about Leiter and Weisberg and the workshoppers in the Berkshires. From what I can tell, none of them is a psychopath. Not even close. Applied beyond its own usefulness as a scientific methodology, materialism is, as Nagel suggests, self-evidently absurd…Materialism can only be taken seriously as a philosophy through a heroic feat of cognitive dissonance; pretending, in our abstract, intellectual life, that values like truth and goodness have no objective content even as, in our private life, we try to learn what’s really true and behave in a way we know to be good. Nagel has sealed his ostracism from the intelligentsia by idly speculating why his fellow intellectuals would undertake such a feat.

Materialist naturalism is the gaping abyss of atheism which no one owns up to. It’s all well and good to hear Carl Sagan on NPR today, “waxing poetical” about the universe and man’s place in it, but given Sagan’s atheism, there’s no waxing about anything. His awe is nothing of the sort. He is simply uttering noises because his body has reached a certain temperature and the atoms in his brain are moving around, firing neurons mechanically, as they are wont to do under such biochemical conditions. Thus, even Sagan is not consistent in his atheism. It entails too many things which common sense says are intolerable. Closer to consistency were the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Bertrand Russell, Oliver Wendell Holmes and Friedrich Nitzche. They at least spoke as though their existence and that of everything else was a senseless void and a howling wilderness of nothingness, even if their lives betrayed such a belief.

There is no law requiring one to be consistent in what he thinks, says and does. No one, short of our Lord Jesus Christ, does it close to perfectly. Yet we serve ourselves well to think about what our worldview entails, to see what it entails when truly carried out and lived. We may even come to see that much of what we hold to is our attempt to suppress the truth of God in our unrighteousness (Rom. 1), and we may ultimately come to bow the knee to the One who holds out for us the world as it is, and we as we are, and offers us the path to everlasting life.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

July 24, 2013 at 7:26 am

Paragraphs Change People: The Triumph of the Supermarket

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Books don’t change people, paragraphs do — sometimes sentences.  ~ John Piper

I have found this to be true in my own reading. John Piper surely proves the point with his sentence: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” There’s a sentence by which to head into eternity. Piper’s little aphorism came home to me as I thought back upon a book I just finished, The Abolition of Britain, by Peter Hitchens. You may think this a strange title for a Yankee on this side of the Pond, but having thoroughly enjoyed Hitchens’ The Rage Against God, I was eager to read his thoughts on Great Britain, thoughts which I take to be a cautionary tale for Americans. Anyway, back to the paragraphs changing people bit, I certainly found many great paragraphs in Hitchens’ book, and thought I’d share some of them over the course of several posts. I take the first paragraph from Hitchens’ Introduction, where he provides a general overview of the changes that have blasted the gourdes of his country:

Other physical changes have propelled and exaggerated these new ways of thinking. The atomization of society by new types of housing has broken up the old sense of belonging. The crazed over-use of private cars and the triumph of the supermarket over the personal service grocery store have kept us from meeting our fellow-creatures as effectively as any strict regime prison, and often reduced us to the level of objects rolling along someone else’s production line. Greater than all these is television, which has replaced individual imagination with images provided and selected by others, but also, and perhaps more importantly, destroyed the old forms of social sanction, a fear of the neighbours’ opinion or the even greater fear of upsetting the family. Television provided new judges of our behaviour, who were wittier, cleverer and more open-minded than anyone we knew in person. It also transformed child-rearing and narrowed the horizons of childhood itself. (p.7)

I remember once flying into LAX. On final approach, one can look out the plane’s window and see houses jammed together on grid-like streets for miles and miles. And I thought, “Think of all these strangers living right next to each other.” Rarely do we ponder how vastly our lives have been altered by this “atomization of society” of which Mr. Hitchens writes. I often wonder about the nature of lives where we rise, go to work, come home, shut the garage door, and don’t come out again. My old home town, Los Angeles, is the epitome of the “crazed over-use of private cars.” You can’t get a public transportation system into L.A. because people must have their cars, and must be free to drive them wherever and whenever they want, because this is “freedom,” even if it takes two hours and an increase of twenty numbers in your blood pressure to get across town. As children, we played outside unsupervised with our neighbors, who were our best friends. Virtually all of the adults on our street knew who we were. But this was before cable TV, and I believe that were I a child on my street today, things would be radically different, even if my neighbors had kids.

Many have critiqued the influence of television, but rarely have I heard the claim that “television provided new judges of our behaviour.” In other words, television has had a massive “conformist” power in the moral and social spheres. (see p. 9) We are not to think and speak in ways contrary to the ways approved by and conveyed to us through the TV. Hitchens observes this conforming phenomenon in Britian in the “unshakeable . . . certainty that personal righteousness is reserved for those who share [the politically correct] views about South Africa, landmines and the homeless,” which constitutes “the most intolerant system of thought to dominate the British Isles since the Reformation.” (p.3). Here in America we are witnessing television’s conforming and judging power by its portrayal of the “inevitability” and “rightness” of gay marriage, the gagging and denouncing of dissenting views. We are seeing TV’s conforming power in the Zimmerman trial as well, where the “officially approved” viewpoint was fed to us 24/7, before the arrest and trial even began. If you’re not in line with the latest Time/ CNN poll, your moral bona fides may be in question. But all of it goes down so easily, and we seem to be missing any alternatives. We might just think the alternatives weird anyway.

-D

 

 

Written by Michael Duenes

July 22, 2013 at 9:48 pm