Bored to death

Before Gregory the Great’s 7 deadly sins, there were 8 Evil Thoughts. What we now call “sloth” used to be 2 different categories. Omitted was acedia, a deadly listlessness or “worldly sorrow” that Paul warns of in 2 Cor. 7:10. What the desert monks called “the noonday demon,” acedia has many similarities to modern-day depression, but with a spiritual emphasis.

“If you cannot lift yourself to be life invincible and immortal, then you must accept frustration. You must live in a succession of stimulations and new excitements, live for the day, and when these sustaining accidents begin to fail you or you yourself fail to respond to them, then there is nothing before you but sloth and apathy, accidie, which is a lingering suicide.”

– H.G. Wells, Spectator op-ed, 1934

Suicide, indeed. Here a few questions we might consider in understanding our own temptation to acedia:

To use Rebecca Konynydyk-DeYoung’s definition of acedia, what ways are we “resisting the demands of God’s love?”

How might our mediated self-images—the digital, social, data-driven, smart device dependent selves— help/hinder acedia’s grip in our lives?

What is the difference between following Christ by dying to self and a lingering killing of oneself via apathy and worldly sorrow?

How do we over-correct for the temptation of acedia? Which is worse?

What does repentance from and forgiveness of acedia look like?

How might God transform the tedium of acedia to Te Deum worship?

For more on acedia, here is an excellent post from Pathos on 5 cures of it.

 

Woodcraft

“I thought all the trees were whispering to each other, passing news and plots along in an unintelligible language; and the branches swayed and groped without any wind. They do say the trees do actually move, and can surround strangers and hem them.”

-J.R.R. Tolkien in The Fellowship of the Ring, 1954.

More than all of the building materials, there’s something about wood and trees that begs deep reflection. We don’t really hear people wax nostalgic about plastic or drywall after all.

This video could be considered a poem to woodcraft. This video is worthy of several views (778,000+ actually, many of them mine). To intro the video, what happens when a Latvian toolsmith/carpenter finds an old almanac that marks the day after New Year’s Day as the best day for felling trees to be used for timber-framing?

 

 

Here’s a little more background on Jacob, the house, and a website for his hand-crafted tools.

 

Aldo Leopold

Quotes from Aldo Leopold’s, A Sand County Almanac:

“A conservationist is one who is humbly aware that with each stroke he is writing his signature on the face of his land.”

“The landscape of any farm is the owner’s portrait of himself.”

We argue so much for creation in our Reformed worldview, but do such a terrible job of actually living in it.

We talk of creation as a theological concept without appreciating the actual world within which our theologizing happens. This world is more than just a mine to dig out analogy gems for our spiritual lives. It is an actual place we actually depend upon to actually live, and we are actually called to care for this land.

Take the creation mandate. “Be fruitful and multiply.” Is God referring to pro-creation or caring for creation? Or perhaps each of those concepts are related to one another. The context of this mandate also refers to God’s commands to “cultivate and keep” the land. The business of generating generations is more than just sexual intercourse, it is a topographical  marrying to and cultivating of the place God made for them.

Another error we can sometimes fall into is thinking of creation as this this idyllic, pastoral, Bambi-esque scene of rainbows, sunshine, and butterflies. We do our world no justice in relegating its wonder to ideal landscapes. Aldo Leopold takes the ordinary things of the world surrounding us—identifying a snow goose flying in solitude bereaved of it’s flock, coming back from a long winter, or a crane eating a frog—and blesses them with his patient listening and compelling reflection. Leopold teaches us to wonder at this world. As Christians, his reflections deepen our ability to enter into the worship of the creator of this beautiful, stark, even fearsome world.

Some other quotes to consider…

“There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.”

 

“I am glad I will not be young in a future without wilderness.”

 

“The modern dogma is comfort at any cost.”

 

“We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

 

“On motionless wing they emerge from the lifting mists, sweep a final arc of sky, and settle in clangorous descending spirals to their feeding grounds. A new day has begun on the crane marsh.”

Hoosier

“‘I long for home, long for the sight of home.”

Homer, The Odyssey

For me, “Hoosier” is a term of conflict.

We grew up going to grandma and grandpa’s farm outside of Terre Haute, IN. Surrounded by rows of corn or soybeans, the farm was indeed terre haute – good land. Willow furniture in various states of construction populated the yard outside their barn and front porch. Grandpa took willow saplings from a patch of his land in the Wabash river bottoms. He built the house and barn as well with my uncle from roughshod timbers. We would spend nights playing euchre and checkers before early mornings of coffee in mugs bearing retirement witticisms. Days were spent riding the tractor, checking out the new log splitter, building forts in the woods, and walks along country roads. This was a place of rooting for The Pacers and Colts, but also Larry Bird, ISU, and the Milan High School team of 1954.

When we returned from Terre Haute, I experienced a variation of Durkheim’s anomie: instead of normlessness, I felt an underlying tug of placelessness. It was a pull, a desire for the norm of “place.”

My home, Hammond, IN, was in the other corner of the state. It is a place of steel and industry. It was home to Ralph and Flint of The Christmas Story. We had the Lake and the dunes. Hammond at one point had more railroad tracks per capita than anywhere else in the country.

One summer I got to deliver bolts to the old Inland mill, at one time the largest steel mill in the world. I still remember the feelings of smallness in the vastness of the mill. There was the first wave of heat and danger that hit me trying to find my way among cranes and flatbed railcars borne-down with cherry red ore. This place was several steps removed from recipes for persimmons and sour apples, hunting mushrooms in the woods, or grandpa shooting birdshot into the neighbor’s dogs for wandering past the treeline. Our place up North was one of sidewalks and interstates, Cubs and Bears, a former marsh turned concrete landscape of industry. Somehow, both are “Hoosier” to me.

After moving and traveling for several years, my wife and I will most likely call St. Louis home. Come to find out, “Hoosier—” an honorific in Indiana— is an invective in St. Louis. St. Louisans use “Hoosier” as most of the country uses “red-neck.”

This land of brick, arches, t-rav’s, and gooey butter has me longing to rehabilitate for St. Louisan’s my own “sight of home,” “Hoosier,” an amalgamated place of tilling and milling.

Gallery

Fix and Flip

Two months before our wedding, my fiancée and I, while juggling several part time jobs and getting through my final year of seminary, bought a condo to fix and flip. We had never done something like this before. Intended to be a quick turn around, our schedule quickly backed up when the wallpaper removal left the entire unit in need of several skim coats of mud. Permitting delays, a few mistakes, our honeymoon, midterms and finals, and a couple delays with contractors pushed the sale back even further. After finishing it in late winter, we listed it for sale. After three weeks on the market, we got it under contract. That contract fell through, so we listed it again, and quickly got two more offers. The 2nd contract also weirdly fell through. We accepted the 3rd offer, and after an inspection and appraisal, finally sold the place this past month. Here are some pics tracking some of the progress.

World on Fire

Book review of Walls, Andrew F. The Cross-Cultural Process in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission and Appropriation of Faith (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books), 2002.

In this set of essays, Andrew Walls unfolds the map of Christian mission in the last two centuries and traces its cross-cultural trajectory as it crosses the contours of history and place. Walls identifies the plotted path of evangelical leaders at the Edinburgh council in 1910 as reaching the ends of the earth. But the path of Christian mission has not been blazing that anticipated path forward from Edinburgh through resources, leadership, conversions, and a globalized Western Christianity.

Instead, like a wildfire blaze, strongest at its margins, the church has spread at its frontiers by cross-cultural diffusion. The shape of this mission contours to the bio-diverse topography of the different people groups, languages, and cultures of the unreached, non-Westernized world at the turn of the century. So, Walls argues that Christianity’s mission has gotten coldest in its Western center and hottest at its margins—the Global South. While Walls’ thesis can come across as sprawling, unfocused, and too broad, Nelson Jenningmap-pinss recommends Walls as “perhaps our day’s most insightful missions analyst.”[1]

He unpacks the meat of the thesis in the first 4 chapters, investigating the nature of mission, historiography, and how a deeper understanding of both illuminates both. In the 2nd section of this book, Walls particularizes his thesis with a missiological look at Africa’s role in Christianity, Christianity’s role in Africa, and Africa as the “theater of engagement” with Islam. Lastly, where most would stop when the well seems dry, Walls digs deeper on the British and African influence in this episode of Christian mission. Critical to Wall’s thesis is the 1st four essays, a full reexamination of Christian mission. Starting on the foundation of historian Latourette’s 3 signs of Christian expansion—kingdom, church, and gospel—Walls establishes that “it is only possible to take in a new idea in terms of ideas we already have.”[2] So, he argues, the West’s missionary focus is not the culminating work of cross-cultural advances. Instead, it is one episode in a series of movements that started in Antioch in Acts 11.

For me it is helpful to think of the mission’s bulletin board in so many of the churches. We often look at Christian mission as yarn emenating out from Western missionary’s smiling faces to thumbtacks placed in remote locales. I’ve been one of those smiling faces with thumbtacks in three different continents before. The mistaken belief when we see that map is that missional success is when we, the West, mobilize people, resources, and churches to establish Western thumbtacks in non-Western contexts until the map is filled with thumbtacks. Walls countermands this false Christendom perspective of belief in the movement of missions.
mapa-de-bonansa-3

Rather, and most notably, he says that wherever Christianity has been strongest, going back to Biblical times, eventually that light has burned out. How easily, he notes, “the kingdom sign embodied within human movements passes into counter-sign”[3] Building off Kenneth Scott Latourette’s thesis that Christianity has not been a steady triumphant march through history, Walls points out that cultural boundaries like Yemen or his own, Great Britain, were once solidly Christian. If one were to take cross-sections of human history within a particular culture, the Christian march would be seen as a staggered one-step forward, two steps-backward. His point is not so that we would lose hope and trust in the triumphant nature of Christ’s victory, but that we would notice the distinct nature of Christian movement in human history and let go of our triumphalism.

Here is the clearest articulation of his thesis. “Christian history reveals the faith often withering in its heartlands, in its centers of seeming strength and importance, to establish itself on or beyond its margins. In other words, cross-cultural diffusion has been necessary to Christianity.”[4] The rest of the book unpacks this thesis in those marginal areas. Interestingly to note, Christianity has if anything receded in the world sectors seen as Christian since Edinburgh, and has increased in unreached or unaddressed areas like Africa and Latin America.

One aspect of this is how Christianity differs from Islam. Where Christianity is fragile, Islam is rigid. Islam does not give ground easily, where Christian mission historically does. Christianity does not bring with it, or rather should not bring with it, whole laws and rules of culture as Islam. It does not belong to a particular place as many tribal religions do. It is a global religion that has a place in every topographical contour, or culture to which it spreads. Walls briefly talks about how African tribes have or had vernacular names for God all throughout pre-Christian Africa, whereas Islam must teach the language in which one hears God.

[1] Nelson Jennings, God the Real Superporwer: Rethinking Our Role in Missions, Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 2007, 147.

[2] Walls, The Cross-Cultural Process, 41.

[3] Ibid., 18.

[4] Ibid., 67.