She could see the threatening glow gathering in the East. The Hammer was rising.

Everyone else in the village had hidden themselves away- just as The Boundaries stipulated. The young mother was trying, but raising two young children alone was not easy, and getting them to move without violating the writings seemed impossible. They were always in danger of transgressing, and so, often in danger of dying. Every morning’s Heatrise was one of those times.

“Come on. Come on… but don’t hurry. Don’t….,” her voice grew loud in exasperation, but she caught herself and glanced around. Little children wanted to run. It seemed a perverse joke to give them desires that would only kill them.

Chai, the youngest slowed to a walk, trying not to make eye contact. Mother and daughter then waited on the ten year old boy to reach them. He was very pious.

“The moisture is not yours alone,” he chided his sister. “You have taken from the village.”

Slowly the mother bent down. Her son counted to see if the exertion was lawful. He could not imagine turning his mother in, but it was good practice and…she did play loose with the letter sometimes.

“Chai, my rose,” she took the little chin in her dry fingers. “The Boundaries are there because you will die without them. You must not run.”

The six year old turned and headed towards the tent. It was half the size it should have been. One of the ancient anchoring bolts had torn loose from the granite like earth, allowing that portion of the tent to collapse. It was decided by the village that since the woman and her children were without a man, the space would suffice. It would take the moisture surplus of the entire village to accomplish the needed drilling. Centuries of hammering by the sun had rendered the ground inviolable. It had been a thousand years since it had taken notice of men and women.

The sky was turning threateningly clear as the three undressed and placed the perspiration soiled garments in the collection bag. Their moving bodies threw very distinct shadows onto the ground, and the small family’s lapse in observance was threatening the ritual standing of the Collector and the guard who accompanied him. This was the last pickup. The collector had arranged it so, to give the young widow as much time as possible. He was a good man.

The two children relieved themselves into the chamber pot, and the mother signaled awkwardly with a smile that the collector should take it. She had no contribution to make to the village today.

The man reached out, but the boy stopped him. A dark orange rivulet ran down the inside of the dusty leg of his sister, and he smeared a cloth down it before carefully moving to place it into the collection bag. The gesture was in keeping with The Boundaries, but the collector found it distastefully self-righteous- especially coming from a boy so young. Then, making sure he was being watched, the boy spat into the cloth before carefully folding it and placing it back into the bag. You only saw such self sacrifice from those who were very holy or too young to understand.

His mother closed her eyes, fighting back the tears that were not hers to shed.

The collector smiled compassionately, his cracked lips forming the blessing of “God sees.” And he turned and headed towards the reclamation tent with the family’s offering.

“Shadow thrower,” the boy murmured contemptuously.

“Lie down. It’s almost daytime,” she said. “Go to sleep.”

Sometimes, she didn’t like the boy either.

Chai lay down beside her mother. The heat pressed on their exposed bodies like a weight. Outside the centuries old solar pounding began anew.

“Tell me again” the child asked “About the rose.”

“It’s an ancient thing, a beautiful thing that our Fathers lost untold ages ago,” the widow began. “My mother used to tell me that it was red like blood and opened like a twirling skirt.” Dancing was forbidden by The Boundaries– with a few clearly defined exceptions. So while living plants were mythical, twirling skirts were deliciously rare, and the comparison was magical.

“It grew- like a person grows- only in one place. With tiny fingers that pushed their way beneath the earth.” This was the most exotic of all.

“It was soft- like the inside of your cheek,” The child ran her tongue to see just how soft that must be as her mother continued “And between the small twirling skirt and the earth-fingers ran a long thin bone…only it was soft …but crunchy-like it had been left out after Heatrise, only it wasn’t dry; it was wet inside…Wet when you crunched it.”

The girl grinned.

“Was there only one?” she asked- knowing what her mother’s answer would be.

“No, my rose. There were as many as there are stars in the sky.”

“Will I see one?”

“Yes. When the Father-who-guards-the-boundaries gives us back all that we have destroyed…and even more.”

The child lay quietly for awhile before asking, “when will he forgive us. When will he give it back?”

“At the end, little rose. When the Hammer stops rising and all those who have shared their water with the village are given it back again, it will be as it was at the first- only better and ours forever. The whole world covered in roses of all kinds and water flowing everywhere- for everyone”

The child fell asleep. Her dreams were filled with bizarre images of twirling blood red skirts, crunchy moisture and shifting colors she mistook for green.

The nearly dehydrated condition of the villagers kept them asleep long after the Hammer had dropped out of sight. They would have to be awakened. The Guardians allowed them to rest, as the writings demanded. It was hours after nightfall before the ground’s absorbed heat was bearable. The Purifiers, however, had begun their work. Using techniques and incantations given countless ages ago in The Boundaries, these chosen few lifted the remnants of moisture from the offerings of the people.

Muffled words accompanied the skilled lifting of dry fingers and a small cloud appeared above a child’s tunic. Like a thread drawn from cloth, it was pulled upward and then dropped into a glass globe. Instantly it condensed into droplets, which hurried to pool at the base of the glass. Large billows were being formed with difficulty above the chamber pots before being deposited in the globes. The villagers called these gallon sized containers ‘seas,’ and they were the most sacred of the village’s possessions. Depending on the size of the offering, two Purifiers might be required to maintain control of a billowing harvest. An individual’s final offering almost always required three or more. A body was made mostly of water.

Of course The Well provided the foundation of the village’s existence, but it wasn’t enough. Each year the weighted harvesting cloths that were lowered into its depths sopped up less and less dampness. Even when left to absorb for a full day, the Purifier’s yield from the harvesting cloths shrank annually. The Guardian’s knew that the situation was desperate, but no more so than for those mangled beasts who had managed to survive without the Boundary’s direction- the Wildings.

Sometimes, because an individual had “shared his water” or because the daily harvest from the well was better than expected, a little bit could be put back for celebration and thanksgiving. The dancing was meager, but important.

This night was one of the dancing times. The strongest villagers would be given the stored extra water so they could dance in the stead of the others. Stories were told about a time when men and women were strong, straight and not thirsty. Their skin was supple and their eyes clear and they thought of more than the day’s water. Against the forgetting of their past they placed their dancing. Three times yearly, they danced in hope. A handful of dancers for the rest- to remind them that a day would come when everyone could move and drink prodigally whenever he or she desired it.

The dance tonight commemorated the giving of The Boundaries– the written guidelines that enabled them to live together with some memory that they were men and women.

The whole village had been awakened and was gathering for the daily rationing of provisions. Speculation ran high as to who would be chosen for the extra portions; it was a great honor…and the sensation of filling ones mouth with liquid was an exquisite one. Weak and expectant, the villagers took their place on the ground waiting for the selection.

Chai sat beside her mother, while her brother sat as close to the Guardians as possible. The chief of these slowly rose to speak, counting to himself so that his rising didn’t become illicitly fast. Chai’s brother was counting, too. He smiled at the elder’s care and integrity.

The guardian related how the villager’s God had given them The Boundaries so that they wouldn’t stoop to living off the blood of other men- as the Wildlings do. He told of their glorious past and of a coming age without dust or heat or thirst- a world of dripping excess.

A murmur started through the small crowd. A wisp of vapor began to form in the air above the Chief Guardian’s head. It grew and boiled until large enough to be lit from within by flashes of lightening. The rumblings took the villagers by surprise and they shrunk back in terror. No one dared to move. Not even the Chief Guardian dared speak, but he instinctively looked around to pinpoint each of the Purifiers. He didn’t know how they were doing this, but a harvest was being pulled from somewhere, and only a Purifier had the skill. He stopped before he had located them all. This was beyond their abilities. Moisture was coming from somewhere other than his village.

With a loud thunderclap the cloud divided neatly into six smaller versions of itself- each pulsating with light and bulging with wetness. They began to move, drifting slowly apart before stopping above the head of six of the villagers. Those six moved to escape, but as they moved, the clouds followed them. A woman screamed, and the villagers began to run. The Chief Guardian, indignant at the spectacle, yelled for them to stop. They paid him no mind. Tangles of people fell to the ground as weak legs collapsed under the demands of the panic. The elder swatted with his staff at one of the clouds as the villager it had attached itself to ran by.

“Harvest it!” he cried to the stunned Purifiers. “Harvest it now!”

Cracked lips began to move in incantation and wills reached out through grimy fingers in an attempt to control the clouds, but they would not bend to the Purifiers direction; instead they hovered steadily above the individuals they had selected.

Then the commotion stopped.

First one, then another and then another of the clouds let loose their showers on the heads of those six individuals. People turned in amazement. Silence replaced the roar of panic and everyone watched as water soaked tunics to the bodies that they covered. Six heads turned upward, and mouths opened to the downpour. The sight of men and women freely drinking broke the spell, and with shouts of excitement the fleeing circle collapsed back towards its center.

Desperate hands and parched faces dove for the downpour, but as quickly as it began, it ended. The villagers dropped to the ground, scrambling to soak up what remained. The shattered earth had swallowed the liquid into its deep cracks, and there was only the occasional tiny pool to be had. Some placed their faces to the earth in order to lap up the thin puddle. It was more than the Chief Guardian could stand.

“Stop! Stop!” he commanded. “This is transgression!”

The villagers stopped, and shaken, they looked his way.

He turned towards the six. The clouds still rumbled above their heads, and as they backed away from his approach, the clouds went with them.

The young widow was one of the six. Terrified she looked around for her children. The Guardian had singled her out and was heading towards her.

“You” he said with disgust. “Come here.”

Desperately she called for her youngest. Chai pushed her way through the forest of thighs that separated her from her mother. Unable to stand, the widow dropped to her knees. Her dry fingers palmed the parched ground in front of her and the transformation began.

An area extending twenty feet to her front began to subtly ripple, and as the villagers watched grass trembled upward until it hid the widow’s crouching form. The bright green area contrasted sharply with the broken world around it.

No one moved. The mother lifted her face in amazement. One of the other six slowly lowered himself to the ground and placed his palms on the earth. The cloud above his head rumbled and flared, and a stream of crystal water bubbled up through his fingers. He raised his hands and the spring gurgled on.

The third walked to the widening brook and a lay her hands on its bank. At first nothing happened, and then the ground boiled upward releasing the growth that shot skyward and out. An elm stood majestically above them. Its leaves hanging limp in the still air.

The fourth and fifth bent to the earth. The air was filled with the song of a sparrow and a honeysuckle vine lofted its perfume, though lying limp against the broken orange clay.

The bodies of the adults had kept Chai from seeing the miracles around her; she had finally reached her mother, now standing stunned in the grass. Small dirty fingers grasped her mothers limp hand and tugged downward for attention. Her little palm touched the earth, and instantly a teardrop shaped greenness began to form in the direction the child was facing. Realization slowly registered on the woman’s face. She looked to the right and extended her hand to the one closest. He shook his head and backed away. The mother’s cloud boiled with energy. Another man, one who had lapped the ground only moments before made his way slowly towards her. He took her hand; she smiled then looked in front of him expectantly. He knelt down, and the earth fluttered with new growth.

Some began to run away towards the protection of the tents. The Chief Guardian offered a rallying point with his staff. “Here!’ he called. “come to me!’

Others spontaneously joined hands and touched earth. A variety of healing resulted. Within minutes both Oak and Elm lined the bank of the chilly stream. Chipmunks and rabbits darted behind an apple tree heavy with fruit. Flowers swayed softly.

The sixth villager tentatively reached downward. He was timid and afraid of the unknown sensation awaiting him. Nothing happened. The joyful spell was broken with the failure. Everyone was looking towards the sixth cloud bearer. He touched the earth again and again and eyes searched the sky and grass for changes.


The small irregular shape of paradise stood quiet, surrounded by the global parchedness… until a child’s voice broke the silence.

“Look at the seas,” she cried and all eyes turned towards the glass globes. Dark wine was bubbling over the brim and spilling unto the ground. The community cheered with joy. They knew nothing of the wine’s magic; only that it was magic. That was enough.

Chai knelt down, disappearing in the grass, and plucked a rose for her mother. She wondered how long the crimson petal would last once the Hammer rose in the morning.

She knew the answer, but it didn’t matter, not really. She understood what the presence of the cloud meant- this place was theirs to recreate each day.

She looked about at the joyful faces gathering around the Cloud Bearers. She knew the others were peering from the dimness of the tents, and she knew that out beyond the darkness stalked the Wildings. Instinctively, she felt what this meant, as well. The new reality had brought with it a new people, and this people- by its simple existence- stood distinct from both Villager and Wilding; for both existed only under the certainty of the Hammer’s power.

She turned to run to her mother, and for the first time in untold centuries, the sound of splashing feet scattered outward into the dryness of the shadows.

Worthwhile read. Was There an Exodus?

Much of this is found in the work of Kenneth Kitchen as  summarized here.

Came across this comment by Fr. Michael Pahls. Thought is was helpful. The issue is how we are to regard the sacramental ministry of communions that are irregular in one way or another; or for that matter a modern ‘Prayerbook Presbyterian’ who has no intention of ministering the Body and Blood of our savior. I thought it was helpful.



‘Intention certainly plays a role, but the application is not rightly understood as a mechanism of exclusion. Rather, it has historically been deployed as a mechanism of inclusion. Let me contextualize this a bit.

First, lest it need to be said, Christ is the minister of the sacraments but he is at the same time free to work with, without, above, and even against the use of sacramental means, at his pleasure. This means that the Church’s determination of validity is never more than a provisional judgment.

Second, the use of categories like matter, form, intention, and subject is intended to establish a standard of continuity whereby the *faithful* may be confident in the Church’s administration of the sacraments in Christ’s name.

Third, because our determination of validity is provisional, our application of the above categories is prudential. We deploy them strictly with regard to ourselves as ministers, but generously and in keeping with the principle of divine mercy regarding other ministers and the faithful. Put more practically, I am rigorous in my own priestly ministry to the sacraments, carefully attending to the continuity of matter, form, intention, and subject in my own celebration. Were I a bishop (μὴ γένοιτο!), that rigor would extend to those under my jurisdiction. With regard to other priests, other provinces, and other communions, however, divine mercy summons me to a preferential option in favor of validity. This means that unless compelled by an undeniable defect — and undeniable means unarguable — it’s presumptuous and uncharitable (the latter being the greater sin) to question the validity of sacraments in other parts of our Lord’s vineyard.

This manner of judgment is biblical, historically warranted, and in keeping with Christian charity.

Whether we apply this historically to the situation of competing Jewish and Gentile house churches at Rome ca. 48 C.E. or to ourselves, the Apostle Paul explicitly warns us against our passing judgment on servants of another (Cf. Rom 14:4ff.).

Historically, the standard of continuity in matter, form, intention, and subject were hammered out amid the Novatianist and Donatist controversies. An apostate bishop, a midwife, or even an unbaptized pagan could validly administer the sacrament of baptism because the defect in the minister — regardless of whether that defect was a defect of sanctity, a defect of faith, or a defect in understanding — did not transfer to a defect in the ministrations of Jesus to the one receiving the sacrament. Even with regard to the sacramental ministrations of heretics (in his context, the Donatists), Augustine would not judge them invalid. Rather, he carefully distinguished between the use of the sacrament and its fruitfulness for those who willfully continued in heresy following their correction and admonition.

Finally — and this was the point I was making in the previous thread — Our Lord’s saving arm is not so short as you think. Those persuaded that the ordination of women is a faithful development in doctrine do not invalidate their orders or the sacraments they administer when functioning in good faith according to the doctrine and discipline of their diocese (in the case of the ACNA), of their province (in the broader Anglican Communion, including many GAFCON provinces), or of their communion. The question of it’s being a faithful or an unfaithful development is far from a settled question and absent a genuine ecumenical council to determine on the question the church’s ongoing process of discernment will likely outlive us both. Saying otherwise plays right into the erroneous ultramontanist judgment of Leo XIII (whose complaint was against the Edwardine Ordinal, not the Elizabethan Ordinal, BTW). Use that line of reasoning if you wish, but you will have invalidated your own orders long before you’ve gotten around to those of your ordained sisters.

One of the most significant watersheds in my own journey was the realization that I had totally misunderstood the pastoral implications of Justification By Faith Alone.

I wholeheartedly agree with the doctrine. If one asks the questions that Luther asked, then one needs to answer as he did; but it never occurred to me that the phrase can signify two radically different positions. (Well, the phrase itself stands in for a myriad of understandings, but for my purposes :-) they each fall into one of two categories.)

Either Justification By Faith Alone is a statement about the only type of faith that justifies, or it’s an affirmation that only faith justifies.

Let me try again: the first is comparable to saying that the body can only use the water we drink, if it is completely pure; the second wishes to point out that all the additives in the drink are so much marketing fluff; what the body actually uses is the water.

You can see that these aren’t the same. One says….

1) …the doctrine is about the purity of our faith. We are only justified if our faith is ‘alone’ in the sense of being purely directed away from ourselves. We are only justified if we are not trusting in any contribution of our own. We are only justified, if our faith is uncorrupted by confusion about what justifies; the other affirms…

2) … that the doctrine is about identifying the only instrument by which God justifies, and living as a community in light of all that implies. Amidst all the confusions, misconceptions and fears that we might bring to God, only faith in the gospel is really used by God to justify us, instrumentally. Amidst all the deep disagreements and ethnic/cultural divisions, all those who believe that God has made Jesus, the crucified and risen King Of Israel, Lord of all, belong at the same table together.

It seems to me that the  distinctions are significant. For example-

The first ends up being about my faith and the need to keep it pure. The second focuses on the gospel that is effectually grasped by faith- though weak, impure, conflicted, immature, or confused.

The first puts the emphasis on what is not (or must not be) there. The second emphasizes what is there.

The first warns that the effectual ingredient must be pure, if one wishes to receive its promised effect; the second comforts with the knowledge that regardless of what else might have made it into the elixir, as long as the effectual agent is present, one can be assured of the promised effect.

The first implicitly makes the gospel (what is believed to justification) about ‘Justification By Faith Alone’ (a term never mention in a positive sense in scripture). The second presents the gospel (as scripture does) as a declaration about the person of Christ.

The first leads to principled division between otherwise orthodox and baptized followers of Christ; the second requires principled table fellowship between all orthodox followers of Christ.

The first makes Justification By Faith Alone the great dividing wall between those who follow Christ the Lord. The second makes Justification By Faith Alone the great ecumenical doctrine.

The first makes division over the formulation, proof that the doctrine has been properly understood; the second makes division a denial of the doctrine.

Like I said, I was raised in the first understanding. Believing that ‘we are saved by faith alone’ meant that people who thought they must ‘do’ something were not saved.

I later discovered the more rigorous approach of Reformed theology. Reading the federal Puritans, Calvin and Luther ought to have taught me that people (all ostensibly within ‘the fold’) actually mean very different things by Justification By Faith Alone, but I fell under the influence of that (thankfully small) tribe that is committed to the phrase itself as a shibboleth. I shared RC Sproul’s concern that Luther (!) didn’t grasp the doctrine because of the Reformer’s commitment to baptismal regeneration (i.e. the Nicene Creed). No really; that once made sense to me.

Thankfully the world was much bigger than I realized. The Anglican giant, Richard Hooker, had pointed out a long time ago that there are many, many people who are justified by faith alone- without knowing it to be the case. It was the Anglican, NT Wright, who first allowed me to see it. And it was a good day.

I no longer needed to worry about the salvation of those who gave us both scripture itself and the radical Trinitarian and Christological distinctives of our faith- even though they lived centuries before the Reformed doctrine was first formulated

I didn’t have to feel schizophrenic in pulling out the powerful ‘Augustine card’ in support of many a point, while naming him a proponent of an anti-gospel when justification came up

I could quit worrying about whether I got my efforts to rid myself of all effort, right. I didn’t have to make sure I ‘didn’t.’ Neither did I have to make sure I ‘did’ just right. I only had to look to Christ imperfectly and confusedly.


Saint Athanasius, Francis and the Cappadocians my justified brothers! Teresa of Calcutta and John Paul the Great, family. Like I said, it was a good day.

Facebook made me aware of this: 10 Reasons I Kissed Halloween Goodbye.

The article really bothers me; I’m sure it will show below. Let me say up front that I know that Ms. Blake and those who advocate her views simply wish to honor Christ. I don’t question her motives. I question her view of reality. In my opinion this boils down to some basic convictions about the nature of the world, and so the faith that nests within it.

Here are my initial off the cuff, knee-jerk reactions:

Leaving the oft repeated, but dubious history of the holiday that she espouses to one side, and ignoring the assumption that any of the practices, language, concepts and traditions that she participates in are free from ‘pagan origins’ (I haven’t the heart to begin with that), her arguments have been used to bind tender consciences against all sorts of things besides the celebration of Halloween: reading fiction, attending the theater, dancing etc.

I know this from experience. My parents had tender consciences, and that because of their love. Growing up, our home avoided all ‘Hollywood’ movies. I once received a Cootie game as a birthday present. It was thrown out because it required the use of dice. Gamblers used dice. There was our testimony to consider, and the clear admonition to ‘be ye separate.’ Small things, lead to big things. This is so very familiar.

Syncopated music…. playing cards… what has light to do with darkness? To this we can add the celebration of Easter and Christmas. I’ve sat through many a sermon against the pagan Christmas tree. I’m thankful that silliness had little impact on my parents.

So I don’t find this sort of appeal very compelling. When I note the things that are allowed in the lives of those who condemn Halloween- though deemed obviously illicit by others because of the very arguments here presented, I go ‘Hmmm.’ It seems to me that the answer in each of these cases ought to be intentionality and discernment. When the response is a blanket ‘don’t taste; don’t touch’, children resent the loss. Perhaps more importantly they come to be embarrassed by (or worse, to embrace) the view of reality that the position assumes.

Perhaps Evangelicals would do well to explore the limits of the Modernity that is foundation of their tradition by considering more ancient visions of the Christian faith. If they were to explore other writers- Chesterton, MacDonald, etc they might find…

* God told Job that chaotic monsters were his good playthings. Things spooky and uncanny didn’t arrive with the fall, and like each of the other creatures, they were meant to point God-ward (here and here )- CS Lewis commented on the role of uncanny experiences (and by extension, things) in teaching human beings about the numinous nature of God and all things holy:

‘Suppose you were told that there was a tiger in the next room: you would know that you were in danger and would probably feel fear. But if you were told “There is a ghost in the next room,” and believed it, you would feel, indeed, what is often called fear, but of a different kind. It would not be based on the knowledge of danger, for no one is primarily afraid of what a ghost may do to him, but of the mere fact that it is a ghost. It is “uncanny” rather than dangerous, and the special kind of fear it excites may be called Dread. With the Uncanny one has reached the fringes of the Numinous. Now suppose that you were told simply “There is a might spirit in the room” and believed it. Your feelings would then be even less like the mere fear of danger: but the disturbance would be profound. You would feel wonder and a certain shrinking–described as awe, and the object which excites it is the Numinous.’

We can speak of ‘fearful awe’ until we’re blue in the face, but the mundane experiences that give meaning to the concept have much to do with the shiver that compels us to look over our shoulder on moonlit walks, or wrap our coat more closely when the dog howls mournfully in the distance. Deny or avoid these types of experiences, and ‘Awesomeness’ can only mean ‘Cool’ or ‘Wow.’

*All stories- as Tolkien insisted- are about the fall. Things Gothic are a focused consideration of things fallen. They allow us to Recover (in the Tolkienian sense) the reality we’ve become blind to.

What are werewolves, if not the concrete representation of the reality of ourselves, neighborhoods and markets: beasts disguised as men and women, devouring one another. Want to know what fallen reality is truly like- what you and I are really like at heart? I’d suggest Curse of the Werewolf.

What are vampiric beings who live on the blood of others, if not an anti-image of God. Fallen humanity lives precisely unlike the one who gives his own blood that others might live. Want to know what that means- what my selfish response to the person in the other car truly looks like? Watch The Horror of Dracula.

Zombies? Does Xianity know anything of those who wonder through life, though dead?

Frankenstein? There is no end to the Xian lessons of Frankenstein.

Want to know what all the manicured lawns and beautiful homes of the American Dream are hiding from us? Watch Poltergeist.

How can such focused opportunities for teaching truth (one of the themes that St. Paul required the Philippians to earnestly study) be missed? Fantasy (of which horror and the Gothic is a subset) is uniquely able to reveal the true nature of the lies, which we find the most attractive. Halloween gives us a focused night to reveal the grossness of the tune that the world dances to. I would think for a Xian, that is what Halloween is for.

*Things grotesque and uncanny stand in opposition to the rationalistic arrogance of modernity. They remind us that everything can’t be explained, that ‘All’ is mystery in the end- more than we really know or understand. Gargoyles and haunts snicker at our neat formulas and efforts.

The tacit reductionism of the prevalent worldview is dehumanizing. I suspect that the opportunity to get our heads above its smothering layers is a chief reason for the popularity of Halloween. Where else are people to affirm this part of our humanity? Certainly not in the sterile gatherings of most conservative ‘worship services.’ You go there to learn stuff – ironically, often the biblical ‘magic spell’  which will solve one’s particular problem.

You can’t fix something with nothing, and evangelicalism has little with which to resist modernity’s reductionism. Of course catholicism (whether that of Rome, Canterbury, Geneva or Wittenberg) has a Eucharist in which Christ’s body and blood are present. Wild stuff- not empirically approved or rationally definable- like things uncanny and grotesque, but Dabney and Hodge rejected this Calvinistic inheritance on the grounds that it was unintelligible. Just so.

Sacrament as flannel graph hardly scratches the itch created by modernity’s rationalism. Theologies that presume to aim for the diminution of mystery are superstitions of a kind that are much more hateful than that which is associated with things macabre. It seems to me that in the end, those who avoid black cats understand reality more truthfully than those represented by the ‘bible believing’ pastor I once had, who insisted that anointing the sick with oil for effectual healing is superstition. It seems to me that the latter could learn a lot about God’s world by visiting a haunted house. Just my opinion.

The world is not predictable or safe. There is much more of truth in the average horror story than in the Pollyannaish productions, which some Xians seem to so appreciate. If truth is the standard, then perhaps someone does need to repent.

*In a related way, the criticism seems to me to be much more 1950, Dick Van Dyke show, middle-class-American than biblical. Scripture contains incest, murder, tent pegs through skulls, infanticide, fat bellies swallowing slicing blades, women on all fours longing for men whose genital are like that of a horse and who ejaculate like a donkey. Christ spoke of people burning in pits and worms that never die. … Given that ostensibly that is the standard, I wonder what percentage of scripture Ms. Blake must avoid in order to be faithful to her maturing conscience.

*The tacit equation of the grotesque with evil is anti-gospel. For the majority of Xians, the primary symbol of our identity is an instrument of torture. The most precious reminder of our victory is a corpse hanging on a tree. (I understand that this isn’t true for many evangelicals, but that is, in part, my point). We learn from a consideration of gothic stories that ‘Monsters’ are opportunities for hospitality. We are not to judge or exclude the distorted, disfigured or corrupt. We are to look beyond the worldly, shallow and sentimental definitions of ‘lovely’ and ‘good.’ An evening spent watching The Elephant Man is a lesson in Xian perspective. (Or a Holy Week that refuses to skip over Good Friday and Holy Saturday to arrive at Easter, for that matter)

*In the Preface to his Letters From Hell, George McDonald (CS Lewis’ favorite writer) insisted that we should ‘make righteous use of the element of horror.’ He goes on to insist that those who refuse to do so out of a Xian fear of horror (to borrow from Travis Prinzi)…

…‘dismiss something of great value: an imaginative engagement with the consequences of rebellion against God. In fact, we become cowards ourselves, comfortable in our sin, committing the very evils we say we should not be reading in a story. When we throw out the horror genre altogether out of fear of Satanic influence, we give in to fear itself, become cowards, and lose a valuable conduit for truth. This is not to throw discernment out the window in our storytelling, but we err on the other side when we Pharisaically rule out the genre altogether.’

*Incidentally, I find the criticism that Halloween was never a Xian holiday to be somewhat disingenuous when advocated by those in a tradition that condemns the very idea of Xian holidays. I have no idea if Ms. Blake is reformed, but at least the re-poster who drew my attention to her article is, and (I’m certain) familiar with the Westminster Standard’s position on things like Christmas and Easter. For anyone who is not, I’d suggest you review Dr C Matthew McMahon’s: Easter, the Devil’s Holiday.

What are we celebrating on Halloween? It depends on what is meant by ‘we.’ For both pagans and Xians, Halloween is about death; as a Xian I am celebrating victory over death. Where my ancestors cowered at the approach of winter’s darkness and the contemplation of the reality of things both unexplainable and nightmarishly evil, these things are now occasion for play, rejoicing and mockery for those on this side of Christ’s resurrection.

In days before-
tribute offered-
To Death and her consorts.

Cold and welter nights, like this,
Enacted homage:
Cowering, loathing and dread of
Her patronage.

But hateful pretensions
This night
Cause us to laugh and play
Because we trust

Life has overcome
Christ has undone
‘The way its not supposed to be.’

Departed ones, without dread;
They are safe.
Terrors of the dark, no scourge;
Tonight mere flourish and farce for children at play.

A trophy raised; a prize of war:
Christ has died
Christ is risen
Christ will come again!

I don’t know what others are ‘celebrating.’ As for me, any attempt to escape modernity’s truncated, half-vision of creation would be reason enough to be thankful. Perhaps this is all they are up to- a vacation from the great dehumanizing lie. It’s likely that they do not celebrate Christ victory over death, but then I wouldn’t really expect them too. Perhaps- seeing that their vision of death must be different from that of the church- we should expect them to be up to something different, too. No?

But how wonderful to ask them to join us.

I acknowledge that as with all things, discernment is required. There are limits to be considered, but this is hardly only true of things horrific, grotesque or uncanny. Perhaps it is precisely those who think that their day to day lives have little to do with the themes of Halloween, that most need the lessons of Halloween.

Uncanny, spooky aspects of creation are God’s good idea for which we ought to be thankful; contemplation of the true nature and consequences of rebellion against God is needful; likewise learning that the grotesqueness of fallen things is really goodness in need of redemption- whether in a misunderstood ‘monster’ or a pagan holiday reaching for the truth- is needed; joyfully enacting the declaration “Oh grave where is thy victory” is worthwhile, and …. refusing to withdraw further into our pietistic enclaves on the one night that neighbors actually embrace community and act like neighbors- joyfully visiting one another- seems a wise course of action. At least to me.

If only as an augmentation to the vision Ms Blake endorses, I would suggest that one acquaint themselves with a more august one. Perhaps beginning with:
Taming of the Nightmare by GK Chesterton
Preface to Letters From Hell by George MacDonald
A Cautionary Note on the Ghostly Tale by Russell Kirk found in  his collection of ghost stories- Ancestral Shadows
Travis Prinzi’s The Parable of the Poltergeist in Light Shining In a Dark Place
On Fairy Stories by JRR Tolkien
Terence Fisher: Horror, Myth and Religion by Paul Leggett
Flannery O’Connor: A Proper Scaring by Jill Pelaez Baumgaertner

Short Online pieces:
James Jordan’s Concerning Halloween
Michael Spencer’s iMonk 101: My Annual Halloween Rant (One of them) Revisited and The Great Pumpkin Proposes a Toast
Reclaiming the Reclamation by Martha of Ireland

Let me tell you why God made the world.

One afternoon, before anything was made, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit sat around in the unity of their Godhead discussing one of the Father’s fixations. From all eternity, it seems, he had had this thing about being. He would keep thinking up all kinds of unnecessary things – new ways of being and new kinds of beings to be. And as they talked, God the Son suddenly said, “Really, this is absolutely great stuff Why don’t 1 go out and mix us up a batch?” And God the Holy Spirit said, “Terrific! I’ll help you.” So they all pitched in, and after supper that night, the Son and the Holy Spirit put on this tremendous show of being for the Father. It was full of water and light and frogs; pine cones kept dropping all over the place, and crazy fish swam around in the wineglasses. There were mushrooms and mastodons, grapes and geese, tornadoes and tigers – and men and women everywhere to taste them, to juggle them, to join them, and to love them. And God the Father looked at the whole wild party and said, “Wonderful! just what I had in mind! Tov! Tov! Tov!” And all God the Son and God the Holy Spirit could think of to say was the same thing: “Tov! Tov! Tov!” So they shouted together “Tov meod!” and they laughed for ages and ages, saying things like how great it was for beings to be, and how clever of the Father to think of the idea, and how kind of the Son to go to all that trouble putting it together, and how considerate of the Spirit to spend so much time directing and choreographing And for ever and ever they told old jokes, and the Father and the son drank their wine in unitate Spiritus Sancti, and they all threw ripe olives and pickled mushrooms at each other per omnia saecula saeculorum, Amen.

It is, I grant you, a crass analogy; but crass analogies are the safest. Everybody knows that God is not three old men throwing olives at each other. Not everyone, I’m afraid, is equally clear that God is not a cosmic force or a principle of being or any other dish of celestial blancmange we might choose to call him. Accordingly, I give you the central truth that creation is the result of a trinitarian bash, and leave the details of the analogy to sort themselves out as best they can.

Robert Capon

I believe that the  most consistently profitable time I’ve spent online has been reading the thought of Alastair Roberts. Stuff like this from many years ago:

Paradigm Shifts

It seems to me that many of the debates over such movements as the Auburn Avenue theology find their origin in the fact that there are some radically different ways of approaching the concept of salvation. If you try to interpret one paradigm within the frameworks provided by the others you will often end up with something resembling a bizarre heresy. Few people consciously adopt one particular paradigm over the rest and so remain, for the most part, ignorant about the assumptions that they import into their understanding of salvation. It is at this stage that a hermeneutic of self-suspicion becomes extremely important.

I will briefly try to outline what I see to be the two prominent ways of viewing salvation that seem to me to underlie many of the debates about such things as baptismal regeneration. Over the past two years I have been undergoing a shift between these two paradigms.

Most popular evangelical theologies of conversion are generally built around an understanding of conversion as first of all a private and individual decision, with incorporation into the Church seen as a secondary thing. The important thing is the saving of ‘souls’. ‘Souls’ are non-corporeal and abstracted from community. For many, salvation means little more than that the soul will go to heaven when the body dies.

Within such a theology ‘salvation’ becomes increasingly identified with that which happens ‘inside’ a person. Many Christians talk about salvation primarily as something we receive and possess. ‘Salvation’ is a substance, object or a correct status relative to an abstract and absolute legal standard that we are given.

Within such a theology — where the individual is elevated above the corporate — an abstract legal concept of God and salvation will generally take precedence over other views of God and salvation. God is the god of the contract, the god who operates in terms of systems of merit. The Law provides the stipulations of this contract. The Law is an abstract and absolute system of justice or code of ethics which we must obey perfectly or be condemned eternally. God is characterized primarily as the strict Judge, as one of unyielding justice who stands in detached judgment over us. It is with the framework of the legal contract that any individualistic theology or philosophy will generally frame forms of relationship between different parties.

Such a theology may have a place for intense ‘communion with God’ following justification. It can place considerable stress on individual subjective religious experience. Ironically, however, this focus on experience often serves to eclipse the God who is to be experienced. The focus of the Christian faith can become the individual’s experiential response to God, rather than God Himself. Such a theology throws us back upon our own response, and fails to draw attention to the Response that God has already provided in Jesus Christ. A doctrine of God is enshrined in every understanding of salvation; as James Torrance observes, such an understanding has clear unitarian leanings.

Within such a theology, the sacraments are subjectivized to fit in with the conception of salvation. If salvation is fundamentally about something that happens ‘inside’ us, the sacraments can be thought of in one of two ways. Either they become magical rites that pump me full of ‘salvation stuff’ in some mystical manner or they become empty vessels to be given content by my faith. It is my faith that gives Baptism its meaning, or my subjective remembrance and pious meditation that gives substance to the Supper.

As the ‘means of grace’ are increasingly downplayed, the mediatorship of Christ will be downplayed with them. The focus will be almost exclusively upon my possession of new life in my soul. As the means of grace are gradually emptied of their efficacy, I will be thrown back upon my own response to grace and will find myself crippled by assurance problems. I will have focused upon Christ in me so exclusively that there is no longer any Christ to be found outside of myself (i.e. meeting me graciously in the Word and sacraments). When the prospect in my heart looks bleak I will have nowhere to turn. If my communion with God is understood as fundamentally direct and unmediated by ‘externals’ such as the sacraments, it will not be long before I find that my faith has nothing sure left outside of itself to hold onto.

Within such a theology there is an emphasis upon such things as ‘imputed’ righteousness, ‘imputed’ righteousness here being understood as something which is ‘put to our account’ by means of some extrinsic legal transaction. We should not be surprised to see extrinsic legal transactions playing a prominent role in any individualistic soteriology.

Within such a theology ‘regeneration’ is seen as essentially the change that takes place inside an individual’s heart by means of the work of the Spirit of God. The Christian is one who has been given new life in his ‘soul’. This new life is possessed and comprehended by the soul. This theology also shapes the theology of the atonement to a great degree, as I have argued in the past.

Salvation is often regarded as distinct from the ‘relationship with God’ that follows after it. As salvation is fundamentally something that takes place ‘inside’ the individual, ‘joining a church’ becomes a mere ethical or religious duty. With its individualistic bias, such a theology thinks of the Church as that which exists for the chief purpose of enabling individual Christians to fulfill their individual vocations. When someone says ‘the will of God’, it is the will of God for the individual that instantly springs to mind. Within such a theology sola Scriptura naturally implies that only Scripture can have authority over the individual and so Church tradition should be treated with great suspicion when we come to interpret God’s Word.

Within such a theology one’s personal Bible study, personal quiet time, personal relationship with God, etc. are all granted priority over the Church’s engagement with Scripture, meditation and prayer and the communion with God that is enjoyed in corporate worship.

Within such a theology, redemptive history is downplayed because redemptive history has few immediate implications for the salvation of individuals. Redemptive history is treated as little more than a series of stories that give us pictures of Jesus, a few good and bad moral examples and some decontextualized texts that make for good evangelistic sermons.

Within such a theology regeneration, justification, adoption, sanctification and glorification are, at their foundation, events to be put in the correct order within an ordo salutis. Within such a theology such issues as the bringing of Jews and Gentiles together in the Church is of relatively minor import.

In contradistinction to this conception of salvation stands a view of salvation that regards salvation as fundamentally relational. Salvation is not something that should be regarded as the ‘property’ of an individual (any more than a husband or wife is the ‘property’ of their spouse), nor as something which is bounded by subjective experience. Rather, salvation is situated in restored relationships.

It is man’s life that needs to be saved and man’s life is not limited to a part of his make-up labeled the ‘soul’. Man’s life is something that is forged by community. If man’s life is to be saved, it must be saved within community. While many who follow the first model tend to see man’s true existence as something that is fundamentally individual and ‘internal’, this way of thinking sees man as a being in relationship. For man to be saved involves being reconstituted in a new matrix of relationships.

As a human being, my true identity is not found by stripping away all my relationships; rather, my identity is found in my relationships — both to God and my fellow human beings.

Within the biblical teaching on salvation, the central focus is not upon some amazing experience in my heart or upon blessings of Christ abstracted from His Person and ‘put to my account’. In the biblical teaching on salvation, the accent is placed upon the reality of belonging to something that is far larger than anything that can be comprehended by our own experience. The New Life of salvation is something that far exceeds and transcends my mere ‘religious experience’ or the quickening work of God in my soul.



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