Category: Life

Edith Hamilton keeps deep truth alive

In her 1948 book, Witness to the Truth, Edith Hamilton wrote in the Introduction that when times are bad and “storm-driven,” there is a “strong tendency to emphasize men’s baseness or their impotent insignificance.” This happens in both philosophy and art.

Seventy years later, there is still this tendency to bemoan the nature of humanity. Speaking from our not-to-distant past, Hamilton (1867-1963), a scholar of ancient Greece, has insight that may help us today, which is generally what one finds from the great Greeks and those who “know” them.

Philosophy and art have not always been as they are now, and this already was the case in Hamilton’s time.

“A great change has taken place in the intellectual and artistic atmosphere. Plato’s influence through all the centuries up to our own [the mid-20th century] was immensely strong; Platonic philosophy aimed at turning mankind away from baseness, ‘to lift up the wing of the soul,’ Plato wrote, ‘which is renewed and strengthened by the love of the good, the true, the beautiful.'”

Stop and let those words wash over you — ”lift up the wing of the soul” and “love of the good, the true, the beautiful.” There is spiritual uplift in the words. In our time of so much bad behavior, dishonesty, and ugliness of human character it is good to remember to focus on their opposites — the good, the true, the beautiful.

One can say the ugliness has always been with us, dating back to the plucking of that fruit in the first garden. But still, there have been times when humanity reached hard for the good, true, and beautiful.

“‘All things,’ he [Plato] said, ‘poverty or sickness or any other misfortune will work together for good to him who desires to be like God as far as the nature of man allows.’ That voice is not heard now in philosophy. Plato’s solution was to become like God; the solution of modern philosophy is to die.”

The Christian tradition says it a little differently, but it is essentially the same. We Christ followers seek to be more and more like Jesus — God come to earth. We die to self, yes, but it is in order to truly live in God. We do not fly to death; we fly to life.

One more quote from Hamilton, at last for this day:

“In all the great periods of art the artist looked at the world as its Creator did, and found it good. His aim was to make others share in that vision, to clarify for them the truth of beauty and the beauty of truth. When he had painted his picture or written his poem, people would see truth and beauty where they had not before.”

The best of artists do help clarify for us “the truth of beauty and beauty of truth.” They are, however, not alone in the world of the creative. There are some artists of amazing creativity who lift up the ugly, who seem to relish it, to swim in it, not to expose it but to be part of it.

As for me, I seek the artists of beauty and truth. I love bright and lively colors in painting. I like inspiring and encouraging music. And I fall in love with writers who can help me see the good. All great artists are aware of and touch the ugliness, but they do not stay there.

I heard someone say the other day that Buddhism does away with hope. I’m not sure if that is true, but how can one live without hope? I want the hope that comes from the truth and beauty that the best of artists capture.

In this storm-driven day, may we hold on to the good, the true, and the beautiful. And may we exemplify them by seeking to be more like the loving and forgiving Divine.

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Leave the cave; stay in the fray

Elijah “was afraid; he got up and fled for his life. . .” (1 Kings 19:3a, NRSV).

People who are trying to be faithful to God can empathize with Elijah — there can be a temptation to run away from it all. They confront evil and injustice as best they can, but still they sometimes want to slink away and hide. It is no fun being attacked and criticized even when you are right.

Faithfulness can be especially hard for those who seek to confront phony religion. Take Elijah. Take Jesus. Jezebel wanted to kill Elijah. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day pulled it off.

The story of Elijah’s run is in 1 Kings 19:1-18.

. . . he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”

This guy had just been God’s servant in doing some major religious clean-up work. Miraculous stuff. He goes from big-time faith to no faith in days.

I have known some godly people who can confront evil all day long and be ready for another day of the same — the late James Dunn comes to mind. (Though sometimes I thought he was tilting at windmills.)

Elijah and James Dunn stand out as confronters of bad religion, but a lot of people are trying to do their parts. Still, they may feel inadequate for the tasks. We need Elijah’s angel — a patient angel.

Then he [Elijah] lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep.

Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again.

The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.

Sometimes we want to lie down under a tree — a live oak, possibly. But then it’s like we hear: “Nope. You can’t lie down town. Take nourishment and get ready for another journey.” We hit the snooze button on such angelic encouragement and go back to sleep, but we all know that a snooze button doesn’t turn off an alarm.

Back to Elijah.

At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”

When we are in the pits we can overstate our situation, and that’s because we misunderstand it and ourselves and our God.

He [God] said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

That would get your attention. You would be like a kid in the old days if someone said a parade was coming to town. Gotta see it!

Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind;

and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake;

and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire;

and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.

Wind, earthquake, fire — but not God. Attention riveted. No God around. Then, silence. And Scripture says at odd thing — Elijah “hears” the silence.

When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.

Summoned by silence is almost an oxymoron. Silence does not summon — or does it? Has a parent ever suddenly realized his or her children had grown silent and proceeded to investigate.

Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Why is a prophet in a cave in the wilderness? Prophets are needed in the cities, in the middle of culture, out in the open where evil can be challenged.

He [Elijah] answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”

Elijah is continuing his earlier riff. God speaks.

Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return. . . .”

So many faithful believers feel like Elijah. They have been trying so hard for so long to be faithful, but no one seems to be listening. And this can happen even in the midst of praise and encouragement.

In the silence, however, we can be encouraged. We can gain a renewed sense of God’s presence. We can get new orders. “Go, return” to the fray, because God is up to something.

And we now have distinct advantages over Elijah. We have the example and teachings of Jesus, and the truth of this Man can change an individual and a world of individuals and their communities. And we have the Spirit of the Creator recreating within each of us the life spark that animated Jesus.

Ah, yes! Leave the cave!

So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith (Galatians 6:9-10).

(All quotations from the New Revised Standard Version, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)

 

100 years ago — a family starts & still lives

One hundred years ago today, two young people came together in marriage — William Everett Foster and Fairy Gertrude Morton. They eventually gave birth to four sons. One died very young. One fought in the Battle of the Bulge and survived. One died as an adult, leaving behind a young family. One (third in the order) still lives — my dad.

I’m thinking of these grandparents of mine today. We were not real close, but they laid part of the foundation for my life. Gertrude took my dad to church as a boy, and he never stopped. Everett took my dad into the fields to work as a boy, and my dad didn’t stop until his painful knees stopped him.

Every older person knows that life goes by quickly. As it does, it’s good to remember — even the things you did not experience but which laid the foundation for what you would.

Another way to think of this is that when they married in February, the Great War (our World War 1) was still going on. It would not end until November. Love and war.

Finding joy by running in the wind

My brown, wavy hair once grew to touch my shoulders. At that same time, my legs could move me faster than most young men when running full tilt. It is odd to remember the sensation, but one of the things I loved then was to feel my hair blowing in the wind created by my own endeavor, my own speed.

Four decades later, I still think of letting my now-white hair grow long just so I can experience that sensation again. I surely cannot run as fast, but I think I could run fast enough.

Why did that sensation strike me then and stay with me so long. Maybe it was the feeling of freedom. Maybe it was not psychological at all. It could merely have been the molecules of my hair roots massaging my scalp in a way that is pleasing, as when you touch the skin of a newborn baby. Maybe a bit of both.

When riding my bicycle, the same thing happened — hair blowing in the wind (no helmet) — but I do not have memories of feeling the same satisfaction. It’s as if my subconscious self minimized the feeling when machine-aided; something inside me knew when it was my energy alone creating the thrill.

Have you ever noticed in real life the difference between the speeds of light and sound? It doesn’t happen often. I noticed it clearly once as I watched a car entering a freeway in Dallas and plowing into the backend of a Ram pickup. I saw it, before I heard it — clearly. It was about 50 yards in front of me. That’s the difference between the speeds of light (seeing) and sound (hearing) in very non-technical terms.

I’ve also seen it on highways as the smoke from braking tires is seen before the squeal is heard. (I drive too much.)

Those two speeds are constant (though it gets technical). The difference is always there, but we don’t usually notice it.

The key is noticing.

There may be another factor in my experience. I didn’t have it until I was in my upper teens.

I grew up with a crew cut (very short) then migrated to a longer-but-well-trimmed haircut. During my crew-cut years, I never experienced the sensation of hair blowing in the wind. When my hair got a little longer, hair blowing in the wind meant only that my well-oiled hairdo had been disturbed — not good when your hair has to look just so.

When, at about 17, I let my hair begin to grow longer (against Dad’s wishes), I experienced something new — for me.  Sometimes the wind, on its own, blew my hair this way and that into a mess. But running differed. When I ran, the wind pushed my hair back and away from my eyes, and I finally noticed the joy of it.

I felt free, as if in some small way I was escaping time and space and simply experiencing pleasure in that moment. We really need to at times to just feel the joy of being human — created in the image of God, who clearly loves joy.

Moral of the story: When we move through life using the gifts God has implanted in us we can experience great joys and little joys. When we don’t use those gifts, we never know what we are missing. That’s why it’s so important for us to tell each other about the little and odd joys that just come from living as the gifted persons God has made each of us to be. It may encourage someone else to live a little.

And here is one more thought: Some Christians seem afraid of freedom and joy. They are bound up in fear and anger. This is so sad. The world turned to Jesus because of the love, forgiveness, hope, joy, and celebration that He has brought to living. We need only notice it.

And, don’t tempt me, or I may let my white hair grow long, part it down the middle again, and run like the wind — or more like a breeze. Trese, however, would not like that look on me, so I may need to just dream it.