W. H. Auden on self-awareness

 

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I came across these words by W. H. Auden in his foreword to Dag Hammarskjöld’s Markings and thought they were worth thinking about further:

No man can draw his own “profile” correctly because, as Thoreau said: “It is as hard to see oneself as to look backwards without turning round.” The truth is that our friends – and our enemies – always know us better than we know ourselves. These are, to be sure, a few corrective touches to their picture of us which only we can add, and these, as a rule, are concerned with our vulnerabilities and our weaknesses.

It is, for example, axiomatic that we should all think of ourselves as being more sensitive than other people because, when we are insensitive in our dealings with others, we cannot be aware of it at the time: conscious insensitivity is a self-contradiction.

Secondly, we can hardly avoid thinking that the majority of persons we meet have stronger characters than we. We cannot observe others making choices; we only know what, in fact, they do, and how, in fact, they behave. Provided their actions are not criminal, their behavior not patently vicious, and their performance of their job in life reasonably efficient, they will strike us as strong characters. But nobody can honestly think of himself as a strong character because, however successful he may be in overcoming them, he is necessarily aware of the doubts and temptations that accompany every important choice. Unless he is a crook or has made an utter mess of his life, he will recognize the truth Cesare Pavese’s observation: “We can all do good deeds, but very few of us can think good thoughts.”

The Weekend Wanderer: 23 February 2019

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

Richard Mouw“Richard Mouw Wrestles with Evangelicalism, Past and Present”Richard Mouw, is an elder statesman of evangelicalism, serving as an editor for numerous journals and a past president of Fuller Theological Seminary. Coming from the Reformed wing of evangelicalism, Mouw has been a strong voice for cultural engagement over the years. Tish Harrison Ward reviews his book, Restless Faith: Holding Evangelical Beliefs in a World of Contested Labels, at Christianity Today. “The book wrestles with questions of identity: What is this ever-changing movement called ‘evangelicalism?’ How do we deal with conflict over the meaning of this term and over the direction of the movement itself? And should we even use the ‘E-word’ anymore?”

 

science of miracles“The Science of Miracles” – Barbara Bradley Hagerty explores the science of miracles in this fascinating article that gives ample space for further consideration of how the science of faith and the faith of science interact. “But does that mean transcendent experiences are only a physiological event? Or, is this how the brain is wired to connect with a dimension of reality that our physical senses cannot perceive — in other words, does the brain activity reflect an encounter with the divine? I want to propose that how you come down on this issue depends on whether you think of the brain as a CD player or a radio.” You’ll have to read the rest of the article to discover what she means. [Thanks to Danny Clayton for sharing this article with me.]

 

89402“Our Churches Are Either Sacramental or Charismatic” – Andrew Wilson makes a case for the complementary value of both sacramental and charismatic traditions coming together in local churches. “There are, in other words, churches that are eucharistic and churches that are charismatic (as well as a good many churches that are neither). So it is interesting that the New Testament church about whose corporate worship we know the most, namely the church in Corinth, was both. The Corinthians were apparently unaware that those two strands of Christian worship were incompatible, and they happily (if somewhat erratically) pursued sacramental and spiritual gifts at the same time.”  Given my roots both in Anglicanism and the charismatic renewal, I have a lot of sympathy for Wilson’s case here and in his book Spirit and Sacrament.

 

89467“Making the Liturgy Sing a New Song” – “In 2015, when retired Anglican priest Nelson Koscheski shared one of his religious poems with the young music director at his Anglican church in Dallas, he never expected the poem to become a folk song. Koscheski thought the poem, which is about the Transfiguration, might make a good hymn, but would probably end up like most of his others—glanced at perfunctorily and then disregarded. But the music director, Ryan Flanigan, was so moved by the poem’s beauty that he set it to a simple folk tune, which he incorporated into the church’s Transfiguration Day service.”

 

new tolkien film“‘Tolkien’ Trailer: Fox Searchlight Biopic Stars Nicholas Hoult As ‘The Lord Of The Rings’ Author” – In case you didn’t know about it, there is forthcoming biographical movie on the life of J. R. R. Tolkien, creator of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. “The biopic follows the author through a hardscrabble childhood, into the battlefields of WWI and through the corridors of academia where he studied linguistics but eventually became a historian of the unreal.”

 

maxresdefault“Historic Vatican summit on clergy sexual abuse begins” – “Pope Francis began an unprecedented summit in Rome to confront the Catholic Church’s clergy abuse scandal by saying that Catholics are not looking for simple condemnation, but concrete actions. ‘In the face of this scourge of sexual abuse perpetrated by men of the church to the detriment of minors, I thought I would summon you, the Pope told the nearly 200 Catholic leaders gathered in Vatican City, so that all together we may lend an ear and listen to the Holy Spirit … and to the cry of the small who are asking for justice.'”

 

JDG SBC.jpeg“Southern Baptists should investigate churches that cover up abuse, says SBC president” – “J.D. Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, said the denomination’s Executive Committee should immediately investigate 10 churches named in a report by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News, including Second Baptist in Houston — one of the largest churches in the SBC. If any churches were found to have covered up abuse and refused to mend their ways, Greear told a gathering of Southern Baptist leaders on Monday (Feb. 18), then the convention should consider removing them from the denomination, a process known as ‘disfellowshipping.'”

 

weiss-wh-auden“Why W.H. Auden Hated His Most Famous Political Poems” – W. H. Auden is one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century, and also one of the most interesting essayists of his time. Late in his life, Auden revised many of his poems, redacting some parts of his work that he thought no longer worthy of being read. In this essay, Michael Weiss explores why Auden negatively assessed his early political poetry.

 

16-HammondBrochure-featured“‘Hearing’ the Hammond Organ” – On the lighter and musical side of things, how about the Hammond Organ. “The Hammond Organ was the first electronic musical instrument to become commercially successful. Just two years after it went on sale in 1935, major radio stations and Hollywood studios, hundreds of individuals, and over 2,500 churches had purchased a Hammond. The instrument had a major impact on the soundscape of both popular and religious musical life in the U.S., but it has been largely ignored by electronic music historians.” [Thanks to Micah Mattix for sharing these last two articles in The Daily Prufrock.]

 

Music: Johann Sebastian Bach’s Matthäus-Passion (BWV 244), performed by Sir John Eliot Gardiner & The English Baroque Soloists.

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

Choosing Hell: W. H. Auden on Charles Williams’ view of Hell

Here is W. H. Auden in his introduction to Charles Williams‘ The Descent of the Dove:

The popular notion of Hell is morally revolting and intellectually incredible because it is conceived of in terms of human criminal law, as a torture imposed upon the sinner against his will by an all-powerful God. Charles Williams succeeds, where even Dante, I think, fails, in showing us that nobody is ever sent to Hell; he, or she, insists on going there. If, as Christians believe, God is love, then, in one sense, He is not omnipotent, for He cannot compel His creatures to accept His love without ceasing to be Himself. The Wrath of God is not His wrath but the way in which those feel His love who refuse it, and the right of refusal is a privilege which not even their Creator can take from them.

Auden’s comments on Williams remind me of C. S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce, which is one of my favorite books by Lewis. There, souls are invited to respond to the love of God and enter into the Eternal City. Too often, however, they do not see the beauty for what it is, and resist it so that they might have their own way, which is, in a sense, a simple description of what Hell is really all about.

The Weekend Wanderer: 15 September 2018

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

 

The head pastor of the Zion church in Beijing Jin Mingri poses for picures in the lobby of the unofficial Protestant "house" church in Beijing“China outlaws large underground Protestant church in Beijing” – Those connected to the church in China are aware that the government has been putting increasing pressure on churches in China. This latest news is one more example of that. “Beijing city authorities have banned one of the largest unofficial Protestant churches in the city and confiscated ‘illegal promotional materials’, amid a deepening crackdown on China’s ‘underground’ churches.” See Christianity Today‘s helpful write-up about this here.

 

O6THYFTPZII6NGJ7OPDJHKEYEA“John MacArthur’s ‘Statement on Social Justice’ Is Aggravating Evangelicals” according to Christianity Today‘s “Quick to Listen” podcast. And they’re not alone, as is evidenced by a lot of mainstream attention to “The Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel” authored by John MacArthur and others (see last week’s “Weekend Wanderer” for more info). In one of his columns this week at The Washington Post, Michael Gerson writes in response to the statement that “Christians are suffering from complete spiritual blindness.”  Over at the Missio Alliance blog, Dennis Edwards posted a two-part response to the statement. I keep intending to write something on this, but have not had the time to get there this week. However, I did mention in my message last weekend at Eastbrook Church that the church should be a kingdom-oriented community that is so heavenly minded that we are more earthly good than anyone else.

 

girl-1192032_1280“Gen Z’s Biggest Legacy: Has Social Media Hacked a Generation?” – Rachel Seo, a sophomore at UC San Diego, reflects on social media’s impact on her generation. “There is research now that, in addition to paralleling with my own experiences, reveals the darker effects of social media, most particularly its long-lasting impact on Gen Z. Did anyone predict the impact of how a few apps could lead my generation into a mental health crisis? Could anyone have predicted it? Or, perhaps more hauntingly, did some people know about the potential effects that it would have on others—and simply not care enough to share?”

 

religious-father-praying-with-children“How parents act on their religious beliefs linked to the onset of atheism in their children” – A recent study at Religion, Brain & Behavior (“Predicting age of atheism: credibility enhancing displays and religious importance, choice, and conflict in family of upbringing“), highlights the fact that the credibility in the way parents live out their faith directly influences the way in which their children lean toward atheism. Eric Dolan writes of the study: “People tend to become atheists at a younger age when their religious parents talk the talk but don’t walk the walk, according to new research published in the journal Religion, Brain & Behavior. The study provides evidence that exposure to religiously-motivated actions plays an important role in the onset of atheism.”

 

virtues“Why You Can’t Name the Virtues” – Speaking of credibility in our faith, Karen Swallow Prior writes about the moral vacuum, not just in terms of action, but in terms of character formation. This is basically an excerpt from her book On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life in Great Books, which was just released. She writes: “For the past several decades, American evangelicalism has been concerned about morality—and for good reason. Sexual promiscuity, pornography, abortion, divorce, materialism, racism, and countless other ills so permeate our culture—even among the churched—that they seem to be the rule rather than the exception. But moral choices flow from moral character. Perhaps if we wish to reform morality, we should turn more attention to the formation of character.”

 

24f547f8af102a02576ce0a9d5d7bda6“When the Ship Has Sailed: Alan Jacobs on Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis” – Alan Jacobs’ new book, The Year of Our Lord 1943, explores the inheritance of the Christian intellectual tradition in the middle of the twentieth century, weaving together the life and thought of W. H. Auden, T. S. Eliot, C. S. Lewis, Jacques Maritain and Simone Weil.Whether you have or have not read the book, you will likely enjoy this interview with Jacobs by Robert L. Kehoe III at The Point in which they discuss various strands of Jacobs’ argument in the book, with a few loose ends in greater depth, including a few last words about Jacques Ellul.

 

perfect storm“Leadership’s Perfect Storm” – Steve Smith of Potter’s Inn reflects on the leadership failures in the evangelical church, giving attention to four main forces that he finds most concerning in today’s realm of leadership: “a success intoxicated leadership culture; the cult of emphasizing leadership gifts and skills rather than integrity and character; unchecked power in positions of leadership; and the unchecked speed and busyness in the life of a leader.” This is definitely worth a read, and has wider application than simply in the church. [Thanks to Tom Keppeler for sharing this article.]

 

power“Confronting the Toxic Power in Me: High-profile stories of fallen pastors can distract us from ourselves or hold up a mirror to our souls” – This article pairs well with Steve Smith’s above, this time giving attention to our own selves. If you ever read articles about the failure of leaders and say, “I would never do that,” then you are deceiving yourself in some way. Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel offer a very meaningful look at power and the ways in which we all can deceive ourselves. I remember the words of an older Christian who, in the midst of a discussion about temptation, said to me: “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” May we let God’s grace into our lives in ever-more transforming ways.

 

alan lee“Making fantasy reality: Alan Lee, the man who redrew Middle-earth” – With the release of the latest posthumous collection of J. R. R. Tolkien’s stories from Middle-Earth, The Guardian offered a nice interview with Alan Lee. Lee’s illustrations of Tolkien’s world are so closely linked with the works themselves that his vision of Middle Earth was one of the greatest inspirations for the film adaptations, aside from Tolkien’s own illustrations.

 

sub“Eerie photos show dilapidated relics of the Soviet era” – When I saw some of these photos, my mind spun around in all sorts of combinations of post-apocalyptic movies with some tinges of science fiction. If that’s your sort of thing, you should spend some time browsing through this unique photo collection. “Many of the areas where the photos were taken were inaccessible during the Soviet era, as they contained classified technology. They depict monuments, factories, military bases and various kinds of vehicles and technology, most in an advanced state of decay.”

 

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

The Weekend Wanderer: 28 July 2018

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

 

82813“Do Church Plants Drive Neighborhood Change?: Why gentrification seems to correlate with the opening of new urban congregations” – Christianity Today’s “Quick to Listen” podcast recently featured a conversation between José Humphreys, associate digital media producer Morgan Lee and associate theology editor Caleb Lindgren. Topics include “the catalysts behind church plants entering under-resourced neighborhoods, what separates church plants from the storefront churches, and if people should move into the neighborhoods in which they worship.”

 

merlin_141183912_74bede79-04fa-4d49-9a84-12478039e11d-superJumbo“The Quiet Death of Racial Progress” – Social commentator David Brooks reevaluates the idea that we are making racial progress in America. He writes: “The deeper I dug into the evidence, the more I came to doubt the idea that we are still making progress on race. For every positive statistic indicating racial reconciliation, there was one indicating stagnation or even decay….We’ve fallen into a bogus logjam in which progressives emphasize systems of oppression and conservatives emphasize cultural norms. Both critiques are correct. If we’re going to do something about this appalling retrogression on race, we probably need to be radical on both ends.”

 

Oswald ChambersA friend from church shared this article by Patricia Raybon on racial tensions entitled “The Dead White Man Who Could Fix Our Race Problem: Oswald Chambers.” Drawing from Oswald Chambers’ life and ministry, Raybon highlights four key insights from Chambers that are relevant today for race relations in the church and our culture.

 

flag“State of the Nation”John Wilson, in his column at First Things, addresses the current challenges in our divided nation, particularly the immigration debate. “This reluctance to offer shelter, very much at odds with America’s self-image, has not been characteristic of our entire history, but it hasn’t been limited to a handful of episodes either. We should be honest about that. To do so doesn’t require us to agree with those who are saying that the US today is a ‘hellish dystopia.'”

 

US-Mexico-border-fence-at-beach-in-Tijuana-e1530628968728Taking this a little further, Alan Cross pointedly addresses the realities of the current immigration debate and Christian faith in “Migration, Security, and the Witness of the Church.”  He writes: “People all over the world are engaged in spiritual conversations about the value of human life, what it means to live in community, and who they really are. The church must speak into that biblically, not first as citizens of their nation-state, but as the people of God.” Cross offers specific attention to the recent Southern Baptist resolution on immigration as one way forward on this contentious issue.

 

Attendees of the Qingdao International Beer Festival taking a selfie with a smartphone, Shandong province, China, August 2015“In the Depths of the Digital Age” by Edward Mendelson is a review of six books on technology and the digital age from a couple of years ago with invaluable insight. By engaging with the thoughts of the authors, Mendelson offers a series of profound questions and reflections on the realities of contemporary life, touching upon topics including surveillance, the pace of life, solitude, reading, polarization, anxiety, and changing social mores. Technology is one of the most important areas of discipleship in our current era, so we do well to understand the variety of issues at stake. [Thanks to Alan Jacobs for sharing this article.]

 

2018_3-summer_auden_02Since Edward Mendelson is the literary executor of W. H. Auden, this seems like as good a time as any to share Danny Heitman‘s essay, “The Messy Genius of W. H. Auden: A disheveled poet crafted verse of exquisite order.” Auden is one of those writers who has intrigued me since my days as an undergrad and for whom my admiration has grown as I have read his work more widely, including his expansive collection of essays, forewords and afterwords. Heitman writes: “Auden’s personal contradictions make him a difficult man to fathom. His poems, like the poet himself, can defy easy understanding, too.” That could be said of many writers, but Heitman’s exploration of Auden’s messiness is delightful.

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

W. H. Auden on the modern barbarian

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MALIN said:

But the new barbarian is no uncouth
Desert-dweller; he does not emerge
From fir forests; factories bred him;
Corporate companies college towns
Mothered his mind, and many journals
Backed his beliefs. He was born here. The
Bravura of revolvers in vogue now
And the cult of death are quite at home
Inside the city.

From W. H. AudenThe Age of Anxiety: A Baroque Eclogue, edited by Alan Jacobs (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011), 16.

Eugene Peterson on G. M. Hopkins

There’s nothing like finding one of my favorite contemporary authors commenting on one of my favorite authors from another era.

I love the works of Eugene Peterson. His works on pastoral theology are outstanding, as have been the first three books of his new series on spiritual theology (see my comments on a few of them here and his influence on U2 here). He is best known for his paraphrase of the Bible, The Message.

I also love the poetry and writing of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Hopkins was a Victorian era poet who went practically unknown until after his death. While living in the Victorian era, his poetry was really one of the clearest forerunners of Modern poetry, influencing numerous key modern poets such as T. S. Eliot and W. H. Auden. His poem “God’s Grandeur” awakened me to true, meaningful Christian artistry during my senior year of high school. I’ll never forget reading it for the first time. I was shocked by his rich and powerful language.

Take a listen to this ten-minute excerpt of Ken Myers’ interview with Eugene Peterson about his book Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places. This is an outtake from Peterson’s interview for Mars Hill Audio, an excellent audio journal about the intersection of faith and culture. It’s not a fast-paced interview, but Peterson could never be accused of being fast-paced. In it, he discusses a wide variety of things from Hopkins’ poetry to A. W. Tozer’s understanding of idolatry and more in-between.