Sunday, 6/26/22

Observing a metaworld

When I’m not wowed by a Fr. Stephen Freeman blog, I often wonder if my head just isn’t on straight that day, so often has he wowed me in the past.

He wowed me again today. Fr. Stephen Freeman, Healing the Soul and Unbelief:

The Church describes human beings as made in the image of the Logos. On that basis, we are sometimes hymned as “rational (logikos) sheep.” Human beings think and speak. There is a relationship between the thing that we perceive (say, an Auroch) and its depiction (a wall painting). The walls of the caves are covered in logoi, “words,” if only we knew how to read them!

When human beings speak, we inadvertently offer a world-beyond-the-world. There is the experience (my vacation), and there is the telling of the tale (“you won’t believe what happened on my vacation”). Were someone to insist that only the thing-itself mattered (“therefore, I don’t want to hear about your vacation”), the world would soon collapse into a muteness that even the animals transcend.

In our modern period we see far less of the sky and animals, much less the plants and the movement of the seasons. Our houses are much the same temperature year-round. We are, instead, observant of a meta-world, the narrative of the endless news cycle, driven by disaster, fear, speculation, and distraction. Our advertising (always present) bathes us in oil, sugar, salt, and sex while promising an endless supply of dopamine.

Then he almost seems to change the subject:

I am struck by the preponderance of unbelief in our day and time. Frequently, the “problem of evil” is cited as an overwhelming obstacle to belief. I think of this in particular when I consider that antiquity was dominated by far more suffering on a daily basis than our present age. Our lives would seem magical in their easy dismissal of childhood diseases, our caloric intake, and the unending variety of all things offering themselves for consumption.

I have an aside that is worthy of note. I have been particularly struck over the years of my pastoral ministry at the abiding interest in the Church within the ever-shrinking community of young couples who are starting families. My experience is anecdotal, such that I can point to no statistics. But those conversations point me in the direction of transcendence. Few things in our modern lives are as primitive as child-bearing … So much can go wrong. To raise a child attentively, is (and should be) awe-inspiring. They are examples of transcendence embodied.

The experience of belief begins, I think, with the experience of transcendence, the questions of meaning and significance. It is a conversation that struggles to find its way in a sea of commodities and mundane pleasure. We are not immune to the transcendent – but simply distracted.

In Jesus Christ, we confess, Transcendence became flesh and walked among us ….

Smack-talkin’

I’ve recently begun enjoying the Unbelievable podcast, downloading a few back episodes to get started. This one was outstanding; another was immediately suspect from the teaser:

Shane Claiborne: "The cross and the gun give us two very different versions of power, and one of them says ‘I’m willing to die,’ the other says ‘I’m willing to kill.’"
Kyle Thompson: "If somebody comes in there — an evil person wants to come in there — and kill people, you and people like you will be some of the people who hide behind people like me, hoping I take that guy out before he gets to you."

I was fairly confident after that brief teaser that I would find Kyle Thompson, new to me, unbearable — and something about Shane Claiborne (who I’ve encountered before) often grates a bit, too. I really don’t want to listen to American fundagelicals calling each other hypocrites or fascists on a British Christian podcast.

I still recommend the podcast. I’ve sort of drifted into following a lot of podcasts that are occasionally good, but then deleting two-thirds to three-quarters of new episodes base on a summary that is either uninteresting or not interesting enough to edge out something else. I recommend the approach, at least for free podcasts.

Boundaries

A "God-fearing" person is one who recognizes boundaries, and that when one reaches one, one should go no further.

(I failed to record the source of that bit of wisdom.)


If people have always said it, it is probably true; it is the distilled wisdom of the ages. If people have not always said it, but everybody is saying it now, it is probably a lie; it is the concentrated madness of the moment.

Anthony Esolen, Out of the Ashes

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