Monday, October 31, 2011

Follow-up to "All Truth is God's Truth"

John Henry Newman, who was instrumental in the founding of the Catholic University of Ireland, also spoke of the seamless nature of all truth.

I lay it down that all knowledge forms one whole, because its subject-matter is one; for the universe in its length and breadth is so intimately knit together, that we cannot separate off portion from portion, and operation from operation, except by a mental abstraction; and then again, as to its Creator, though He of course in His own Being is infinitely separate from it, and Theology has its departments towards which human knowledge has no relations, yet He has so implicated Himself with it, and taken it into His very bosom, by His presence in it, His providence over it, His impressions upon it, and His influences through it, that we cannot truly or fully contemplate it without in some main aspects contemplating Him. (John Henry Newman, (1858), The Idea of a University,  p. 50-51)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

All Truth is God's Truth

There is an often quoted statement that says, "all truth is God's truth." Arthur Holmes wrote a book with this title in which he explained that there is no divide between sacred and secular knowledge. The quote is a paraphrase from one of Augustine of Hippo's writings. He said,

A person who is a good and true Christian should realize that truth belongs to his Lord, wherever it is found, gathering and acknowledging it even in pagan literature, but rejecting superstitious vanities and deploring and avoiding those who 'though they knew God did not glorify him as God' . . .*

Wherever truth is found, if it is indeed truth, it is known to God and is part of what we too can know if God allows us to know it. We can trust that truth is a good gift from his hand.

Of course truth must be separated from untruth, lies, and superstition. That is often the challenge. How do we know things? How do we know truth when we see it? Is what we think to be true, actually true or simply something we have always believed? These are difficult questions and we may always find some uncertainty in our answers. When it comes to understanding God's revelation in the Bible and God's revelation in the created world, we must read the two together and allow each to help interpret the other.# Science that reveals truth is God's truth as much as God's word in the Bible is truth. Augustine goes on to say that
In matters that are so obscure and far beyond our vision, we find in Holy Scripture passages which can be interpreted in very different ways without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such cases, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search for truth justly undermines our position, we too fall with it. We should not battle for our own interpretation but for the teaching of Holy Scripture. We should not wish to conform the meaning of Holy Scripture to our interpretation, but our interpretation to the meaning of Holy Scripture.
The science of our day, some of it being done by followers of Jesus, is revealing many things that we could not previously dream of knowing. Some of it is very challenging to our traditional interpretations of the Bible.^ Does this mean that the Bible is wrong? No, the Bible is still God's word and is true. Could it be that our interpretation of the Bible is wrong? Truth and truth will agree. In some places, we may need to reinterpret our understanding of the Bible, but the truth of the Bible will indeed fit with truth wherever it is found. The challenge will be for theologians to understand God's meaning in his word and find a way to understand the truth in light of truth found elsewhere. There is much work to do and some scholars such as Darrel Falk at the Biologos Forum are seeking to help with the conversations that need to happen. He has said

We have some re-thinking to do, but it can be done and will be done within the context of a Christian faith that is fully orthodox and thoroughly evangelical. Any time we draw closer to truth, to God’s truth, we have nothing to fear. There is still much to learn, but we can look back at what we have learned with awe—absolute awe.&
Truth, wherever it is found, is truth; it is not hidden from God. All truth is God's truth.

*Augustine, On Christian Teaching II.75
#For further explanation of the two book metaphor see the article by Loren Wilkonson in Crux.
^ As one example, see these articles by Dennis Venema at the BioLogos Forum.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sacred Spaces Followup

A few days ago I wrote about sacred spaces and challenged us to create our own. Now I would like to ask you to tell me about your sacred spaces. Where do you go to be creative? Where do you go to unplug? Some write songs or solve problems in the shower. For others their creative space is in the car while they drive. Still others find solice and sanctity on a mountain-top? Take the time to send me a comment in the space below.

"Creative Arts raise a person to another level of consciousness as if you could imagine life before words." Charlie Haden

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Guarding Sacred Spaces

What are the sacred spaces of our time? At one time it was only God's Tabernacle or His Temple in Jerusalem that were considered holy. God used to rage against the Israelite people for going to other sacred spaces. Back then, people saw every high place or wooded grove as a potential sacred space to whatever god it might be dedicated. God drew his people to worship him in appropriate places and in appropriate ways. Eventually churches and cathedrals became the sacred spaces of choice. Oh there was still the occasional holy moment celebrated on a mountain-top; but everyone knew that the only real place to meet God was in a church building. So people built churches and they proliferated throughout our cities. Municipal planners left room for them in their community designs and people attended them. Today it is a rare thing to see the construction of a new church building.

Today, it seems there are no sacred spaces left. All have become secular and stripped of spiritual meaning. Even places that were once dedicated to God have become community halls or condos with only a facade left to give an impression of past glory. We have declared that nothing is holy. Annie Dillard says, "We doused the burning bush and cannot rekindle it." [1]

We wonder why we feel so scattered. We wonder if we will ever again feel together and holistic. Our spaces are a constant barrage of email, internet, social networking, twitter, mobile phones, satellite radios, iPods, and every other imaginable distraction. Nothing is sacred.

"Despite the incredible power and potential of sacred spaces, they are quickly becoming extinct. We are depriving ourselves of every opportunity for disconnection. And our imaginations suffer the consequences." Scott Belsky[2]

It is time for a revolution. It is time to take back some sacred space. It is time that we drew a circle around some spaces and declared them holy. Standing within these circles we will stare technology in the eye and, like Gandalf facing a Balrog, declare, "Go back to the shadow. You cannot pass!"

Without sacred spaces we shall surely perish. Without places of imagination free from interruption our culture will wither on the vine. We must be proactive in creating sacred spaces for ourselves. When we find ourselves in places of disconnection we must guard them jealously and use them wisely. Unplug, disconnect, worship, let creativity flow, and seize the space.


Saturday, October 8, 2011

Steve Jobs

Walter Isaacson is a writer of biographies whose previous works include the life story of Henry Kissinger, Benjamin Franklin, and Albert Einstein. I find biographies to be interesting insights into public personalities and have read Isaacson's Einstein: His Life and Universe. Recently, Isaacson completed what will likely be his biggest selling book, the authorised biography of Steve Jobs. The publisher is rushing the book to the market to capitalize on the peak in interest following Jobs' death on October 5th. In a teaser to the book Isaacson has told of Jobs' motivation for having his biography written.
"I wanted my kids to know me," Isaacson quoted Jobs as saying in their final interview at Jobs' home in Palo Alto, California. "I wasn't always there for them and I wanted them to know why and to understand what I did." *
Steve Jobs' words don't sound so much like regret but rather an explanation. He wants his kids to know him through this book. He wants them to have an explanation for why they did not know him and why he was not "there for them." There is much we can learn from Steve Jobs. Even these words from his final interview are instructional. They can lead us to think about what we will leave behind when we pass from this life. They can lead us to ask questions about our own lives. "How well do people know me?" "Do I care whether or not people know me?" "Who are the people in my life for whom I want to 'be there'?"

I will likely read this biography of one of the most interesting men of our time. And as I read it I will ponder the important questions of my own life.

*© 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Good Work

When I grew up in Western Canada there was a weekly CBC television show called "Marketplace." The theme song was sung by Stompin' Tom Connors and the lyrics I most remember said,

The Consumer, they call us,
We're the people that buy
While everyone else is out to sell
Some kind of merchandise
Another sale on something,
We'll buy it while it's hot
And save a lot of money spending money we don't got
We'll save a lot of money spending money we don't got

Oh, yes we are the people
Running in the race,
Buying up the bargains in the old marketplace,
Another sale on something,
We'll buy it while it's hot
And save a lot of money spending money we don't got
We'll save a lot of money spending money we don't got


It was only a snippet of a longer song that spoke of the difficulties of the working population who were trying to pay their bills, get a good deal, buy quality products, borrow more money, and generally get a fair shake. Stompin' Tom was using his platform as a folk-singer to say some of the same things Dorothy Sayers said in a 1942 essay entitled "Why Work?". She says,
A society in which consumption has to be artificially stimulated in order to keep production going is a society founded on trash and waste, and such a society is a house built upon sand.
Nearly seventy years later, I wonder if we have learned anything from Dorothy Sayers'  important essay. Indeed, have we learned anything from Connors' folk song? Or are we simply "saving a lot of money spending money we don't got?" As economies of the world plunge to new depths and we wonder how it will affect our country and our jobs, politicians encourage us to see things as "business as usual." We continue to consume more than we can afford and individually and collectively go more and more in debt. We are told that it is just a temporary slowdown in the economy. "It will all get back to normal if we put our nation first. But the trouble with normal is it always gets worse."* We spiral into more debt and consume more to stimulate our flat economy.
Sayers suggests,
Whatever we do, we shall be faced with grave difficulties. That cannot be disguised. But
it will make a great difference to the result if we are genuinely aiming at a real change in
economic thinking. . . . The habit of thinking about work as something one does to make money is so ingrained in us that we can scarcely imagine what a revolutionary change it would be to think about it instead in terms of the work done. To do so would mean taking the attitude of mind we reserve for our unpaid work – our hobbies, our leisure interests, the things we make and do for pleasure – and making that the standard of all our judgments about things and people. We should ask of an enterprise, not “will it pay?” but “is it good?”; of a man, not “what does he make?” but “what is his work worth?”; of goods, not “Can we induce people to buy them?” but “are they useful things well made?”; of employment, not “how much a week?” but “will it exercise my faculties to the utmost?” And shareholders in – let us say – brewing companies, would astonish the directorate by arising at shareholders’ meeting and demanding to know, not merely where the profits go or what dividends are to be paid, not even merely whether the workers’ wages are sufficient and the conditions of labor satisfactory, but loudly and with a proper sense of personal responsibility: “What goes into the beer?”
Sayers is reminding us that our jobs are about more than money; they are about producing a good product. We ought to "clamor to be engaged in work that was worth doing, and in which we could take pride." Work is to be about making a difference in the world. I wonder if we might try that for a while.

*Bruce Cockburn, "The Trouble With Normal."