- O breathe on me, O Breath of God,
Fill me with life anew,
That I may love what Thou dost love,
And do what Thou wouldst do.
- O breathe on me, O Breath of God,
Until my heart is pure,
Until with Thee I will one will,
To do and to endure.
- O breathe on me, O Breath of God,
Till I am wholly Thine,
Until this earthly part of me
Glows with Thy fire divine.
- O breathe on me, O Breath of God,
So I shall never die,
But live with Thee the perfect life
Of Thine eternity.
Of the several good Pentecost hymns out there, Edwin Hatch's "O Breathe on Me, O Breath of God" is one of the most beloved, yet there are many different settings one could use. One of the more popular tunes to use is the Old Irish melody most associated with Henry W. Baker's "The King of Love My Shepherd Is." As it turns out, it is no easy feat finding Hatch's Pentecost lyrics set to the Old Irish melody, until now! Redemptor Press is glad to share with you the following sheet music.
by Brian G. Daigle
I received an email from a friend asking my thoughts on how it is we love God and how it is we know we love God. The initial email voiced a concern about loving the things God gives us vs. loving God for himself. Here is my response:
Thanks for contacting me with your question. I'd be happy to provide some preliminary thoughts.
It appears you posed a number of questions in your initial message:
What does it mean to love God?
What causes me to love God?
How does one love God?
Why does one love God?
While these are four different questions, I think I can condense your inquiry down to a single question: What is a biblical motivation for our loving God? I could have also asked the question "What is a God-honoring motivation for loving God?" My answer will be in two parts: 1) We love God because who he is, and 2) We know who he is because how he reveals himself to us.
We love God because who he is. You touched on this in your message when you said "My own conclusion to this is that we see the loveliness of God within the gifts he gives us..." This is exactly right, and it is supported in every book of Scripture and by experience. The things God gives us (everything) are intended not as ends but as symbols, moments, opportunities, words, revelations, songs, vehicles, or whatever metaphor you'd like, which point us or bring us to God. At the beginning and end of every gift is a giver, and the purpose of every gift is to lead us into greater intimacy with the giver. You give your wife a gift, because you want her to love that gift, but more than that, you want her to love you with greater joy and intimacy because of the gift you gave, when you gave it, and how you gave it. You give your children gifts, not so they would take the gift and ignore you, but so that your fellowship with them would be greater than before you gave the gift. God speaks the world into existence moment by moment, because he is a groom who has called a bride. And that bride is to ultimately delight in the groom, to follow every gift back to the groom's face, the groom's character, the groom's virtue, the groom's intrinsic beauty. If she does not, she is a harlot, who delights in the groom only for his utility to her.
We know who God is because how he reveals himself to us, and so we also love the things he gives us. The interesting thing about the question, and about what many Christians believe, is that we have adopted what some call a "soft dualism." We all but ignore the fact that God created the material world and reveals himself by it. I took a class on the body in graduate school. I can share some of those books with you, but the class was a paradigm changer for me. It caused me to see that having bodies is not just incidental in the Christian view of things; it is essential; it is blessed; it is good and redeeming. It is necessary. This is proven in Christ's Incarnation, throughout his earthly ministry, and in his passion, death, resurrection, ascension, and session. Some have called this "Incarnational Humanism." It's a beautiful concept. And the idea, in summary, is that we love the things of this world, the things of humanity, because Christ came to redeem them, to sanctify them as his own, and because when seen rightly, good gifts bring our hearts and imaginations and souls and bodies to Christ. So, while Christ's kingdom isn't an earthly kingdom, as some of the Jews suspected, it is an earthy kingdom. It is a kingdom, a realm of glory, that is materialistic, in the denotative sense.
To restate what you said in your email, "My own conclusion to this is that we see the loveliness of God within the very gifts he gives us (a sunrise, my wife's embrace, my child's laughter, crickets under a full moon, etc.) and therefore I love Him through these 'declarations of his glory' as the psalmist says." This is quite right, and you should lean into developing this more in how you see things. It is one of the greatest missing doctrines in our contemporary churches. We may call this the doctrine of the Lordship of Christ. I'll save the details, but in short it says that to the Christian, and even often to the natural, unredeemed man, everything is a moment of grace, a moment of God revealing his love to us. Oh, if we could see it. As we follow every gift to his hand, we need not fear that enjoying the gift for the sake of the giver may lead to idolatry. We always risk idolatry, but the antidote to it is precisely this: we love creation because it ultimately brings us to the Creator, who is the source of all beauty and goodness and truth and joy and happiness and delight. John Piper called this kind of thing "Christian hedonism."
I would take one step further, though, and say that it is only by truly loving what God gives us do we prove our love for God. As Christians we are not Platonists or ascetics. We do not set oursleves up in our rooms day in and day out, strip ourselves of all we have, and say we are searching for a pure and formless love for God. To love God is to respect, honor, care for, maintain, beautify, redeem, sanctify, bless, and be obedient with the things he has given us. We saw this in Adam. How did Adam show his unfallen love for God? He physically took care of what God gave him. It is an active love, a material love. Loving our neighbor is the most obvious expression of this, and the most concrete expression of loving our neighbor is being a part of the local church, the local body of Christ. It is the same way with being a father or husband. How do you know your children love you? Because they care for the things you've given them, and they respect your voice. How do you know they respect your voice? You see their atoms rightly handle other atoms. They also show you physical affection. All these are bodily things. The opposite is also true. How do you know your children do not love you? They do with the stuff precisely what you asked them not to do with the stuff (i.e. they disrespect your wife, they punch the walls, they key the car, they use their vocal chords to shame you, they waste the money you gave them, etc.). All love for God is a biblical love for things on this earth, but not all love for the things of this earth is a love for God. That last point is important for you to ponder, based on what you expressed in your email.
A Trinitarian love. The highest form of love, love perfected, is not in how God loves us or in how we love God, but in how God loves himself. There is a love eternally subsisting between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is an ontological love, an essential love, a love of being, and it is ultimately a love based purely on self-giving. The Father loves the Son, not because of the Son's obedience to the Father, but because of the Son's essence, his nature, which is in perfect submission to the Father. Out of the essence of the Son we have that he was begotten of the Father and therefore was perfectly obedient to the Father, obedient even to death on a cross. So notice the play between "the Son loved in himself" and "the Son being revealed to us and manifested in his earthly obedience." Does the Father love the Son in himself? Yes! Does the Father love the Son for his earthly obedience? Yes! This is love perfected, the kind of love we ought to have for God and our neighbor. We love our neighbor because the image of God dwells therein, because God has loved my neighbor, and because God calls me to love my neighbor. But because they are my neighbor, there will be earthly transactions happening between us (time and space and matter), and I ought not to be afraid that the love shared is a bodily and material love, a love of action and humanity, for Christ showed us how this should look, in bodily form. There is much to be said here, but that should suffice for now.
In all this you are right to be careful about what you love and why. The heart is deceitful, and we can think we are loving God when really we love how God makes us feel, what God does for me. One litmus test for this is heaven. I once heard a pastor ask, "If Jesus were not in heaven, would you still want to go there?" It causes us, especially those raised in the south with all kinds of religious lingo, to check our affections, to check the motivations and end of our desires. If I want to go to heaven simply because I'll see and party with all my loved ones, I neither understand heaven nor do I understand love. I am merely appropriating some religious idea for my own benefit.
Regarding little things and our love for God, I write more here and here and here.
To summarize, because we are embodied beings, knowing God is bound up in time and space and matter. That is to say, we cannot separate knowing God from what God gives us. To know what God gives us (our bodies, our children, the natural world, intelligence, art, friendship, etc.) is to know God and how he has chosen to reveal himself to us. We are right to love the things God gives us, because in giving them to us, God gives us himself. And we love them not in themselves, but because they lead us to God. For certainly, there is basis neither in Scripture nor in experience which testifies that we ought to hate the things God has given us, especially if he has given them to us to love. To say it another way, I don't love God because he is useful; I love God because he is God. It just so happens that loving God is also the most beneficial and useful thing to a human.
A complimentary question, by the way, to the one explored here is "Why do I hate sin?" The ultimate answer should be, "I hate my sin--not because it makes me feel bad, though it does, and not because it can get me in trouble with others, though it can, and not because it shrivels my soul and causes others pain, though it does. I hate my sin for all this, but I ultimately hate my sin because it draws me away from the blessed presence of my holy and loving Father, in whom my soul delights." So, why do I love my children? Not because they are enjoyable people, though they are, and not because God commands I do so, though he does, and not because it makes my wife a happier person, though it does, and not because it will likely give my children greater success as humans, though it will, and not because it will be a blessing on their future community, though it will. These are all benefits of loving my children, but the greatest reason I love my children is because it brings me closer to God (and it brings them closer to God), to be obedient with one of the greatest gifts God has given me. When I am faithful with God's gifts, God draws near, and this is the greatest gift, that God gives himself to me. And as he gives himself to me, I want even more to give myself to my children. Oh, blessed cycle.
I so happen to be working on a reading guide to Augustine's Confessions. If you have not read Confessions, you should get together a group of men and go for it. It will answer many of the questions above, and even raise some wonderfully new ones. In short, Augustine spends the majority of his life purposefully walking away from God, the Christian God his mother faithfully followed. Augustine became a renowned rhetoric professor throughout the Roman Empire. Through a series of important moments in his life, his disbelief is first suspended and then ultimately overcome by a great belief in and love for the Triune God. Augustine wrote Confessions later in his life as a Bishop of Hippo, and there are two main themes you can follow in the text: 1) How and why does the soul long to journey to God, who is our home, and 2) What does it mean to love God and why?
Thank you again for reaching out on this, and I hope what I've provided blesses your path ahead.
Christ in All, All in Christ,
by Brian G. Daigle
For many families vacations can be tortuous. They can be expensive. New places and new schedules make for a difficult adjustment. Some fathers really can’t vacate, and so they stay on their phones and answer emails day in and day out, even more absent than normal days at home. Then, every family vacations differently, which can also mean that children see others afforded freedom of which they’ve only dreamed. Children, especially young ones, can be out of their rhythms. Emotions can be heightened because everyone is spending more time with one another, and so you have to really deal with your close neighbor, the one who has been living in your house (and, as it turns out, that dealing is wrought with hidden bitterness and frustrations that were somehow tied to the roof of your car). Add on top of all this the expectation of the adults: because this is vacation, things should be easier, not harder; there should be less parenting, not more; there should be more sleep, not less. Only strong remedies can fix some of these vacation illnesses. Still, others can be cured by a few simple principles, one of them being the ever-present truth that family vacations are much smoother when parents realize they cannot vacate from parenting.
Healthy vacationing begins at home, long before a single bag is packed. A family may leave their physical space, their schedules, and their work, but the family can never leave itself. Therefore, the first rule in healthy vacationing is that a healthy family has to be the one vacating. The second rule is that the healthy family has to plan to continue in its healthiness, even as it vacates. Part of continuing as a healthy family is to remember that as parents, we never vacate from parenting. Parents may vacate from many good things (schedules, work, their house, etc.), and this itself is desirable and good, the purpose of a vacation. But parents cannot vacate from being parents. When our children join us for vacations, we cannot cease being fathers and mothers. Below are three principles to keep in mind when taking your summer vacations, whether spending a few days with grandparents or taking a family vacation to the beach. Each principle is accompanied by phrases my wife and I say or have said to our children, sometimes multiple times a day. They are reminders to us as much as they are reminders to them:
Don’t vacate from your manners. “We didn’t leave our manners at home,” or “Others are sleeping. Inside voices. Inside hands. Inside feet.” If we want our children to be consistent and lovely humans, this means we must be ever-so-purposeful about teaching them virtue and decency, especially when we are out of our family rhythm. Vacations are the times when we can either undermine the parenting we have been doing all year or cause it to bear much fruit, to take even greater root into the soil of our children’s imaginations and expectations. This includes not interrupting others. Continuing to say “Yes, mam.” and “Yes, sir.” Obeying quickly and joyfully. Obeying the first time. There are some things which cease to be the case when we go on vacation; but there are many others which must continue, and on the top of that list is behavior and speech which loves and honors others.
Don’t vacate from disciplining. “Go sit in timeout, please,” or “Please go apologize to your cousin and seek forgiveness.” When we vacate and arrive at our new location—beach condo, family residence, hotel—I make sure to identify the best place for “timeout.” I don’t tell others I do this (before now), and I don’t point it out and nag the children with it. I don’t’ say, “Oooh, looks like dad found your timeout spot! I’ll go ahead and warm it up for ya!” I just quickly look around as we get situated and plan for the moment when we will have to ask Emery or Charlotte to take a moment for a timeout. If we know our children, we know they will continue to be fully human, wherever they are, and I know that I will need to fully be a father, no matter where we are. Lauren and I need to be in a good rhythm of how we discipline, when and where we discipline, especially in public places, and especially according to good and biblical principles, rather than out of our own momentary annoyance. These rhythms and habits of discipline must be set at home, day by day, but they must be enforced and encouraged when we are on vacation. In so doing, the vacation will be smooth and enjoyable for the whole family. If you discipline your children at home for lying or snatching a toy, then that should not change when you go on vacation. If we let those things slide, we undermine ourselves as parents and our child’s impressionable imagination concerning conduct and society. Also, think about how often vacations require us to be in closer quarters with our family and friends. Requiring proper conduct from our children while on vacation is even more a matter of “loving your neighbor.”
I write this on our second day at the beach. On the first day we had to establish the rule for Emery (5) and Charlotte (3) that when they are not playing with the toys, they must put the toys away, in the proper bags and boxes, in the corner of the living room. Not only is this what we require at home, but it is also loving to the rest of the family not to leave all the toys strewn throughout the condo. In the immediate, it would be much easier to let it go, to not deal with it. But it’s the kind of thing that will start to cause physical and emotional clutter throughout the week here, especially if we are vacationing with others who are not used to having small children around. Because we want to love our neighbor, and teach our children to love their neighbor, we need to be considerate and well-disciplined on our vacations. It’s good to allow freedom for the whole family when your family vacates, but it’s good to allow that freedom to stay within healthy boundaries; those boundaries are held together here as they are back at home, through biblical discipline.
Don’t vacate from praising your children. “Well done, Em!” or “Charlotte, I’m so proud you picked up your toys without us asking.” This is similar to the previous point. If during vacations we neglect to discipline our children, we will neglect a good opportunity to love them well and love others well. If we neglect to praise them when they do good, we also neglect a good opportunity to love them well and lover others well. For a child, a familiar compliment in a new space will feel brand new. As parents, we want to see good at-home habits become good every-where habits, but to do so we cannot as parents neglect to recognize our child’s appropriation of those habits when outside the home. That is to say, we cannot cease being parents, either in curbing our children away from vice or spurring them on to virtue. Again, a familiar compliment in a new setting will be loud and clear for a child, especially if the parent points out the surpassed barrier of the new setting. When you arrive at the new location and your helpful child comes to you and asks how they can help, reinforce this in them, that you appreciate their consideration, and that you appreciate they “are even considerate when we are away from home!”
Don’t vacate from your God. “Of course we are going to Church; today is the Lord’s Day,” or “What a treat for us to have family prayer time this evening, especially while we are at the beach.” A vacation is an opportunity to visit somewhere special. There will be plenty of moments to further catechize our children. We should look for those moments. But don’t just look for those moments, plan them, create them. When my family visits the beach, I like to remind my girls, as we take our first dip in the ocean, that “God created every drop (Ps. 89:9), and that it is the Lord who tells the waves where to stop, the Lord who sets the bounds of these mighty waters (Job 38:11), and that the Lord’s beloved will be as numberless as the sands on this seashore, which you, my child, are among (Jer. 33:22), and that the Lord is mightier than these small Gulf waves, far mightier even than this whole ocean (Ps. 93:4).” What we bring on vacation with us says a lot about who we are, what we love, what we think we need. The same is true for what we leave behind. If vacationing has clear similarities to fasting, and it does, then there are prime opportunities to bolster our Christian faith and the faith of our children when we vacation. Bring your Bible. Bring your Book of Common Prayer. Bring your books. Bring good music to sing with your family. Bring your family’s favorite board game to set those childhood memories firm in place. Most especially, bring your Christian faith and bring an imagination for how to especially mature it during your vacation.
At this point the reader may be thinking that this doesn’t sound like much of a vacation. And to that I say, “Maybe not,” at least a vacation from parenting. This is where parents need to, together, have the right expectations. Vacations should mean vacating, but vacations can’t mean neglecting. To ensure the reader that when the Daigles vacate, we indeed want our children to likewise relax and enjoy the change of pace and scenery, there are some home rules we drop or adjust:
Movies in greater abundance. At our home movie days are only Friday and Saturday. When we vacation, we allow every day to be a movie day, without binge watching, which we never think is a good idea. This doesn’t mean they can watch movies whenever they want. It means we allow, as we are doing as I type this, the kids to watch Toy Story while they get ready for their afternoon naps, which, on a Tuesday, doesn’t happen in our home. But we can loosen this up, without being fussy about it. And without any fear of contradiction we can return to our normal habits when we get home, because, well, “We left ‘Movie Day Everyday’ back at the beach, buried in the sand. We will dig it up next summer.”
Looser on snacks. I don’t believe our children have ever had a soda. Perhaps once they had a sip at a baseball game. It’s not because we think sodas are the devil’s nectar. It’s only that sodas are not a regular part of our diet at home, and when we eat at a restaurant, the children drink water or milk. We like it that way. However, when we vacate, we loosen that up a bit. We will allow them to share a soda at dinner, or we will let them get one at the gas station and they can share it. Yes, I know. We are really letting our hair down! Well, as I said earlier, it’s good to allow freedom for the whole family when your family vacates, but it’s good to allow that freedom to stay within healthy boundaries.
Bedtimes are negotiable. Vacations for us often feel like big family sleepovers. Bags are squished together. Beds are close by. We may sleep in later than normal (or not, if beds are close by). We visit more and spend lots of time together. And I mentioned earlier we are more lenient on snacks and movies. This means things get squished right up to bedtime—like walking on the beach or reading or watching a movie or playing games or visiting. And so we let those things spill over into what would otherwise be our children’s normal bedtime. This kind of frayed edge communicates to our children that all things have their place, and that includes letting good things creep out of their place.
There are no off-days for a parent. There are no sick-days. And there are no raises. There is no maternity leave from motherhood, and the legislature will not advocate for a minimum wage for fatherhood. Parenting is one of the greatest proofs for God’s existence, for it is only by divine inspiration all this stuff gets done day in and day out, and that we wake up each morning to do it again. This doesn’t change when we vacation. Our little gifts we’ve been given come with us, and from them we cannot and should not want to vacate. We can parent while on vacation, but we cannot put our parenting on vacation. A vacation is nothing more than yet another stage upon which we can teach our children to be good people, or not. To close, I remind each of us, yet again, of the best quote on parenting:
"[A child's] character is forming under a principle, not of choice, but of nurture. The spirit of the house is breathed into his nature, day by day. The anger and gentleness, the fretfulness and patience - the appetites, passions, and manners - all the variant moods of feeling exhibited around him, pass into him as impressions, and become seeds of character in him; not because the parents will, but because it must be so, whether they will or not. They propagate their own evil in the child, not by design, but under a law of moral infection...The spirit of the house is in the members of the children by nurture, not by teaching, not by any attempt to communicate the same, but because it is the air the children breathe...Understand that it is the family spirit, the organic life of the house, the silent power of a domestic godliness, working as it does, unconsciously and with sovereign effect - this it is which forms your children to God." (Christian Nurture by Horace Bushnell)
by Brian G. Daigle
Our oldest daughter (Emery) is five, and this year she had the opportunity to take dance at a local dance studio, De Frances Academy of Dance. Throughout the year she enjoyed her time, enjoyed her instructor, and experienced the kind of activity and formation I’d want for my young daughter. On a few occasions I picked her up from dance and spoke with her regularly about her practices and her time in the class; I was thankful for her opportunity to be in the class. She benefited from it, in nearly every way.
At the end of the year, the company put on a large production in The River Center Ballroom in downtown Baton Rouge. I suspect they do this every year. I just returned from this production. The various ages performed the pieces they’ve been working on, rotating one group after another on stage to display their work. I had not been to this kind of event since I was a young boy, since one of my older sisters participated in this kind of thing. And I don’t do much thinking about the philosophy or sociology of dance. But it was only a few acts in when an older group of girls came on stage and performed what was one of the most atrocious performances I’ve witnessed. I blushed. I cringed. I wondered if adults were really in support of this kind of thing. No, it was not technically poor, as if their ability to dance was subpar. It was poor ethically, biblically, perhaps even legally. At best it was vulgar and obscene. At best, it was perverted and unholy. I had to wait around until it was time for Emery’s class to perform their Green Eggs and Ham piece, which I enjoyed and saw no concern with. But what I saw in that first unnerving performance quickly became a trend, a theme of the entire production.
As I watched performance after performance, and because I don’t analyze dance performances often, I wanted to quickly gain some kind of understanding of what was going on. I wanted some categories by which I could better assess my concerns. I quickly compiled a series of questions I could ask about each group. I came up with a few parts of each performance to consider:
Performance after performance, I would organize my thoughts into these three categories. All three of these categories, when taken together, boil down to one word: story. What kind of story did the performance tell? Who were the characters, even the singer in the compilation? What was the plot? The setting? The themes? Each dance told a story; the story was what I ultimately wanted to determine. In more than half of the performances of the day, all of which were young ladies over the age of eleven or twelve, the themes in all three of these categories, the story told by every dance, were the same: eroticism, romanticism, or feminism. For anyone who has had their eyes open the past thirty years in America, this is generally what our female culture has become. This should be no surprise to us. What did surprise me was how explicit it all was in the compilation, in the choreography, and in the costumes. During a few moments of some of the performances, I could see no difference between what was happening in front of me and what happens on stage at a strip club. To be sure, there are kinds of dance which are elegant and feminine. There is a kind of dance which is beautiful and lovely. This was not it. A few questions then arose for me, questions I’m still wrestling with. Questions I ask you to join me in considering:
I do not write this because I suspect the myriad of non-Christians or nominal Christians in the ballroom this afternoon will suddenly come to grips with what’s happening with their daughters. I do write this, however, for Christian parents who want to get serious about honoring God with our children, participating in things which promote virtue in our city, and even choosing to forego some things which tell the wrong story to our neighbor and ourselves. We ultimately want the souls of our daughters to dance, so what does this mean about the dancing their bodies do?
I will be in prayer in the coming months about these questions, hoping my family and I can find a good path forward for our daughters in this city. If you have thoughts on the above questions, I look forward to reading them below in the comments.
by Brian G. Daigle
Dear Christian Student,
I know you are tired. I know you have probably had a full year of personal trials and family mishaps and social challenges among your friends. But finish well. This year may have been filled with greater academic challenges than years before. But finish well. Because I am trying to finish my own race well, closing out this school year with excellence and joy, I will need to keep this short. But I have just a brief piece of advice to give you:
I want to remind you that every time in your life you choose to finish good (but tough) things well, you are imitating St. Paul, and you are preparing yourself for a life of Christian ministry and faithfulness. Paul said, "For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." (2 Timothy 4:6-7).
Your academic year is a kind of race. You started this journey with your friends beside you, your parents and teachers in front of you, and your God above you. You have been called to do good things, but more often than not good things are tough things, hard things. You are now in a small race, to the finish line of final exams. Worry not about your grades. Worry not about your peers. Worry not about how much your academic muscles may ache. Worry not about how loud the crowd is cheering or how silent they may be. You have a finish line, and it is a finite one. It is there. Finish this small race, that the Lord may bless you both now and in the larger races to come.
Finishing With You,
by Fr. Brian G. Daigle
a sermon preached on Resurrection Sunday 2019 at Christ the Redeemer Anglican Church
Please pray with me.
May my heart’s affection, my mind’s attention, and my soul’s submission be to you, oh Lord, my Savior and my Redeemer. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
God wants our minds and our hearts. He wants our bodies and our souls. We see from Genesis to Revelation that there is not one square inch of the man, or his life, over which Christ does not cry “Mine!” This has been true since our first breath, and it will be true until our last breath, and beyond. God did not become man so that we would simply live upright and moral lives; God became man so that everything about man would be subject to his light and power. This is the story of Christ’s resurrection, the truth we proclaim at Easter: there is nothing in the human experience, throughout any civilization, including death, which Christ does not rise above and claim as his own. It is not enough to give him our faith but not our finances. It is not enough to give him our Easter morning but not our summer evening. There are two options with everything in our lives: either they are given to Christ and made alive in Christ, or we subject them to the grave of our own desires where they waste as a rotting corpse.
Please turn in your Bible with me to Colossians 3:1-4
Given this is my first Easter as a priest, I have decided that each Easter, as long as God would have me in this role, I want to consider how the resurrection of Jesus Christ changes our understanding of a particular human endeavor or idea. That is to say, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is massive. It is important. Christ’s resurrection is one of those religious claims that, if false, ought to be among the chief objects of great ridicule. But if it is true, it changes everything. Just as there is nothing on this earth the rising sun does not influence day in and day out, so there is nothing the risen Son of God does not inform, day in and day out. So, each Easter, starting today, I’d like to explore how the truth of Christ’s resurrection ought to inform our understanding of, let’s say, education, or art, or architecture, or science, or our bodies, or war, or politics, or medicine. Today, I have titled this first sermon “Education and the Resurrection.”
Before you think that this is a sermon just for teachers or principals, I’d like you to consider that education is something in which all people engage. Education is not simply going to a school, sitting in a classroom, learning, and getting credits toward some kind of diploma or degree. Education is one of a human’s greatest and most natural pursuits. Education is wonder. It is curiosity. It is the pursuit of answers to questions, no matter how big or small. It is leading and being led to the truth about any subject whatsoever. Education is person formation. A teacher can be a parent, a boss, a friend, a book, a building, or the natural world. In this way, man is always being educated. There are three important lessons the resurrection of Christ has to teach us concerning education.
First, the resurrection of Christ is the ideal of education. To understand what the resurrection and education have to do with one another, we only need to look at the word education. Education comes from the Latin word educere, which means to lead, draw out, take out, raise up, or erect. Let that sink in for a moment.
Some philosophers in history will say that education is where we draw out of the child what is naturally in there from birth. In one sense, this may be true. Each person is born with natural abilities, natural endowments, even a natural and good image of God in their person. At the same time, however, the Christian doctrine of sin warns us against drawing from what is in the human heart and the human mind. We may very well draw something out of a child through education, but because that child is fallen and depraved, what we draw out may be something which is harmful, dangerous and full of death and decay.
But there is an alternate understanding of this drawing out, which St. Thomas Aquinas depicts in his prayer before study:
“A Prayer Before Study” adopted from Thomas Aquinas
O God, Creator of all that is, from the treasures of Your wisdom, You have arrayed the universe with marvelous order, and now govern with skill and might. You are the true fount of light and wisdom.
Pour forth a ray of your brightness into the darkened places of our minds; Disperse from our souls of the two fold darkness into which we were born: sin and ignorance. Grant to each of us deftness of hand, keenness of mind, skill in learning, subtlety to interpret, and eloquence in speech.
May you guide the beginning of our work, direct its progress, and bring it to completion. You who bring all that is good to its proper end, now prosper the work of our hands, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
What we see here is not that education is drawing something out of the person so much as it is drawing the person out of something, namely the “two-fold darkness into which we were born: sin and ignorance.” In this way, education is nothing more than our longing for the resurrection. It is our longing to be led out of the cold and dark grave of our fallen humanity, Adam’s sepulcher.
What is the greatest moment in history of a person being led out of something? A prison? A hard situation? Great ignorance? Great danger? Even Lazarus, who was led out of the grave by Christ, was not led out of something as miraculous as Christ’s resurrection. No mouth of a lion or slavery in Egypt was as dark as the grave which belonged to Joseph of Arimathea. Education is our great pursuit to find Easter each day; it is our hope that the resurrection indeed was true and will be true of us. Each time a person learns something, each time a person is led out of the dark tomb of their sin or ignorance, there is something of a daily Easter happening in their heart and mind and soul. These moments we call “education” are but scattered rays of that first great Easter morning, when God bursts forth from the greatest darkness, the greatest weight of sin, the greatest death in human history, into glorious light. If we want to understand what education is, we must understand that the resurrection of Christ is the ideal of all educational pursuits.
Second, as it was with the resurrection, only the power of God can make education effectual. This is one of the great claims which makes Christ’s resurrection so miraculous. What else could have made this happen? What else, but the power of God, could have brought this miracle into being. Jesus, the mocked king of the Jews, was pierced and brought off the cross to ensure he was dead. Guards were placed around the tomb, to ensure a hoax didn’t take place. None of these could stop the mighty power of God. And so it was the mighty power of God which brought forth Christ’s resurrection.
This then causes us to ask the same question of education. If education is a desire to be led out, to be, in a sense daily resurrected, moment by moment resurrected, then by what or whose power does that resurrection happen? It is only by the power of God that education becomes a great good, a great and joyful bursting forth of our humanity into divine light. The common educator knows this better than perhaps she realizes: what is it, even while employing all the latest methods and gadgets, which causes a truth to flame into a child’s mind? What causes the penny to drop? What determines when it will drop? It is only the loving power and favor of God which causes a truth to be identified in a person’s mind, whether about science or art or biology or religion. This is why learning is such a sacred and even sacramental endeavor. It is only the power and grace of God in the great economy of education which has any transactional merit. So it was with Christ’s miraculous resurrection, and so it is with education.
Third, but for the resurrection, education would be either futile and irrelevant or of great harm. The final point to be made on this topic is less metaphorical than the previous two. It is one thing to say that education is a kind of deep pursuit of the resurrection and only happens by the power of God. It is quite another to say that but for the historical resurrection, education is either futile and irrelevant or of great harm. That is to say, unless the resurrection happened, all learning and all of life is of no worth at all. Flannery O’Connor, in her popular story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” puts some of the truest words in the mouth of a vile man:
“ ‘Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead,’ The Misfit continued, ‘and He shouldn't have done it. He shown everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it's nothing for you to do but throw away everything and follow Him, and if He didn't, then it's nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but meanness,’ he said and his voice had become almost a snarl.”
This is indeed the great claim of the Christ’s resurrection: because of it, because by it Jesus proved to be God, all things matter, and so we must ‘set our minds on things that are above,’ and we must set all things on this earth in a heavenward path. If Christ’s resurrection did not happen, then there is “no pleasure but meanness.’ Killing a man would be no different than giving him a cup of water, except that the first would provide us with much more earthly pleasure. And so education, as expansive as it is, falls either under this great liberation, slavery to Christ, or great condemnation, slavery to nihilism. But thanks be to God that his story is one of freedom in Christ. We are free to educate and to learn. Not because the local government gives us permission. Not because the state government writes it into law. Not because the federal government requires the same. Not because our human will has overcome the opposite. Not because my personal liberties make it the case. No, none of these. We are free to educate and learn because Jesus rose from the dead. Without this, not only does education and learning become irrelevant, education and learning would be a great harm.
We then come to this table, a table which is one of the greatest and most effectual classrooms in human history. At this table are all the symbols and lessons a man needs to learn the greatest truth he seeks, the greatest truth every textbook, poem, syllabus, and school tries to tell: that we are fed by, sustained with, and made for God’s power and love, which he exhibited historically and clearly in Christ’s resurrection. This is an Easter table because it is God’s table. It is a table foretold in Genesis. It is a table foretold in every Passover Israel observed. It is a table foretold in Advent and Christmas, when Christ was born in a food trough. It is table instituted at the Last Supper. It is a table anticipated on Calvary. At this table is foretold the resurrected, living, and returning body of Christ. Come then, and learn from your God, dear Christian. Come then to this table, and be educated this day and every day thereafter, that God has conquered all things so that you would be brought to the marriage supper of the resurrected and sacrificial Lamb.
To close our time, please hear a poem by George Herbert, titled “Easter”
Rise heart; thy Lord is risen. Sing his praise
Who takes thee by the hand, that thou likewise
With him mayst rise:
That, as his death calcined thee to dust,
His life may make thee gold, and much more just.
Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part
With all thy art.
The cross taught all wood to resound his name,
Who bore the same.
His stretched sinews taught all strings, what key
Is best to celebrate this most high day.
Consort both heart and lute, and twist a song
Pleasant and long:
Or since all music is but three parts vied
O let thy blessed Spirit bear a part,
And make up our defects with his sweet art.
I got me flowers to straw thy way:
I got me boughs off many a tree:
But thou wast up by break of day,
And brought’st thy sweets along with thee.
The Sun arising in the East,
Though he give light, and th’East perfume;
If they should offer to contest
With thy arising, they presume.
Can there be any day but this,
Though many suns to shine endeavour?
We count three hundred, but we miss:
There is but one, and that one ever.
by Brian G. Daigle
The modern world will be tongue-tied when it comes to speaking about Notre Dame’s death. There is no doubt there will be plenty of media coverage; there already has been. And in the months and years to come it will pop across our news feed as Parisian and Church officials go about the work of getting an answer for what’s left and what will eventually be rebuilt or take its place. But the west has been in a slow burn herself for the past three hundred years; the interesting cultural moment here is that she will be trying to rebuild one of her great icons while crawling, coughing, and stumbling her way through her own political, theological, and social incinerator. But Jesus is the “potentate of time,” and that means he governs what happens under the sun and when it happens. It is, therefore, a worthy question to ask, “Why now? Why us? Why this?” Why now does a rogue drip from the sun choose to dance with the stones of a great concrete poem? Of course, when my children ask these questions, even in far lesser cases, I can give some parameters and principals for the answers, but I will not be able to give the full answer that only time and eternity will give. What I can give are symbols, principals, literary themes, and a whole bunch of interesting and important ideas from great authors, and this is what I plan to give them concerning Notre Dame. And so I give it to myself, and I offer it as well to the reader:
Things burn. My wife and I visited Chicago a few weeks ago, and it is difficult to visit Chicago without hearing of the Great Chicago Fire which caused such destruction. I mourn the loss of the Library at Alexandria; it was burned by a religious fanatic who was afraid of ideas. It’s hard to see the images of the eastern pious who burn themselves; I can empathize with them, they feel pain. A burning cathedral does not. The Christians were once blamed for burning Rome. Aeneas began his heroism with his father on his shoulder and his burning city to his back. In all these instances, there is a theme on this earth, which is sustained by a great ball of fire: things burn, and God wants it that way. God spoke to Moses through a burning bush. Tongues of fire descended on the apostles at Pentecost. On this earth, fire should never surprise us. What should surprise us is that God, the author and perfector of our faith, would burn the Notre Dame and not wash it away with torrential rain. The Notre Dame made it through the French Revolution and two world wars, but it didn’t make it through a beautiful sunset on the Monday of Holy Week in 2019. Things burn.
Fire matters. Fire is an important biblical theme. It matters where it shows up, what it does, and what God chooses to do with it. Fire appears 549 times in the King James Bible. The first time we see fire is in Genesis 1:3, in the form of light. God makes the sun, contains it, and commands it to rule by day (and indirectly by night). The last time we see fire is when Jesus speaks in Rev. 21:8, a fire which separates and burns the ungodly. Some boys were put into a fiery furnace and escaped unscathed (Daniel 3). God instituted fire in the burnt offering. The Holy Spirit came at Pentecost in tongues of fire. Interesting enough, Jesus wasn’t burned at the stake. He was crucified, yet the writer of Hebrews tells us “…our God is a consuming fire.” (Heb. 12:29). Fire is providence and fire is violence. Fire is warmth and fire is terror. Fire shoots heavenward and fire clings to the earth. There is lots of fire in heaven, because God is there. And there is lots of fire in hell, because God is also there. “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. (Psalm 139: 7-12). Fire is one of the great biblical symbols of both the power and providence of God, divine beauty come down. It is one of the great biblical symbols of sovereignty and separation. This is also true of all great literature. All these themes are wrapped up in the fires of Notre Dame, yet we are too weak, too depraved to see the whole narrative and every plot turn now taking place with this one fire.
Learn from Aeneas. We may have several postures toward fire. We can run from a burning building. We can crawl to escape. We can run into a burning building to save others. Indeed, some of the priests, tourists, and individuals who ran from a burning Notre Dame had the same posture as Aenaeas: their backs were to the flames and their hands were full of things they thought were worth saving. We may even say some of them had their artistic and religious fathers on their shoulders. The question, though, is whether their piety will lead them to faithfulness. It is one thing for a man to run from flames; it is quite another for him to run to build a new city, to honor his God. There is no doubt that it is difficult to watch anything architectural burn, especially something as beautiful as Notre Dame. It is like watching a great poet lose his memory. But Virgil teaches us that great things can come from a burnt past, if only our allegiance is pointed toward the heavens. This is what Aeneas has to teach us about the fires of Notre Dame:
“She hid herself in the deep gloom of night,
And now the dire forms appeared to me
Of great immortals, enemies of Troy.
I know the end then: Ilium was going down
In fire, the Troy of Neptune going down,
As in high mountains when the countrymen
Have notched an ancient ash, then make their axes
Ring with might and main, chopping away
To fell the tree—ever on the point of falling,
Shaken through all its foliage, and the treetop
Nodding; bit by bit the strokes prevail
Until it gives a final groan at last
And crashes down in ruin from the height.
Now I descended where the goddess guided,
Clear of the flames, and clear of the enemies,
For both retired; so gained my father’s door,
My ancient home. I looked for him at once,
My first wish being to help him to the mountains…
…As night waned I rejoined my company.
And there to my astonishment I found
New refugees in a great crowd; men and women
Gathered for exile, young—pitiful people
Coming from every quarter, minds made up,
With their belongings, for whatever lands
I’d lead them to by sea.
The morning star
No rose on Ida’s ridges, bringing day.
Greeks had secured the city gates. No help
Or hope of help existed.
So I resigned myself, picked up my father,
And turned my face toward the mountain range.
Now our high masters had seen fit to visit
Upon the Asian power of Priam’s house
Unmerited ruin, and the seagod’s town,
Proud Ilium, lay smoking on the earth,
Our minds were turned by auguries of heaven
To exile in far quarters of the world.
By Antander, below Ida’s hills, we toiled
To build a fleet, though none could say where fate
Would take or settle us. Then we held muster
Of all our able-bodied men.
Had just begun, Anchises gave the word
To hoist sail to the winds of destiny.
Weeping, I drew away from our old country,
Our quiet harbors, and the coastal plain
Where Troy had been; I took to the open sea,
Borne outward into exile with my people,
My son, my hearth gods, and the greater gods.”
Learn from Tolkien. I couldn’t help but watch the Notre Dame fires and think of the Dwarves, of Smaug, of another kingdom which was devastated by fire. And so those gritty faces came to mind, as did Tolkien’s pathway for how to handle fiery devastation. Tolkien provides us a few pathways for dealing with Notre Dame. Lest we waste her life and her death, lest we waste our present exile from under her buttresses, we must look at this through the eyes of the hobbits and dwarves. This is what Tolkien has to teach us about the fires of Notre Dame:
“The few of us that were well outside sat and wept in hiding, and cursed Smaug; and there we were unexpectedly joined by my father and my grandfather with singed beards. They looked very grim but they said very little. When I asked how they had got away, they told me to hold my tongue, and said that one day in the proper time I should know. After that we went away, and we have had to earn our livings as best we could up and down the lands, often enough sinking as low as blacksmith-work or even coalmining. But we have never forgotten our stolen treasure. And even now, when I will allow we have a good bit laid by and are not so badly off”—here Thorin stroked the gold chain round his neck—“we still mean to get it back, and to bring our curses home to Smaug—if we can.”
“At last they came up the long road, and reached the very pass where the goblins had captured them before. But they came to that high point at morning, and looking backward they saw a white sun shining over the outstretched lands. There behind lay Mirkwood, blue in the distance, and darkly green at the nearer edge even in the spring. There far away was the Lonely Mountain on the edge of the eyesight. On its highest peak snow yet unmelted was gleaming pale. ‘So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their ending!’ said Bilbo, and he turned his back on his adventure. The Tookish part was getting very tired, and the Baggins was daily getting stronger. ‘I wish now only to be in my own armchair!’ he said.”
Learn from Chesterton. One of the reasons the modern world will be tongue-tied, and perhaps even have their imaginations and hands tied on what to do about Notre Dame is because we have been curators of a great piece of architecture, but we have not been curating our souls. That is to say, for the past couple hundred years, which is now considered the golden years of Notre Dame’s life, we have pushed her to the nursing home of our minds. When we are in the area, we will go visit her. Sure, we go visit and give gifts during holidays. We remember her fondly as we look over pictures, but we have not loved her, and we have not loved the things which made her. And so God saw fit to bring her back to where she came, during Lent. “Ashes to ashes” he said, long before her first stone was laid. Practically, we have to deal with a burning cathedral as we deal with a burning candle: put it out before it spreads any further. But we are not merely practical men; we are embodied souls. And so we must deal with a burning cathedral as we deal with a burning foot. The modern world, and especially modern education, is out to make practical men, while at the same time trying to deal with all the mysteries of them being truly men. And so in the modern world there happens to be fewer men who are truly practical. If we want to make great art, to build cathedrals anew, to even put out fires while they burn inside a building we perhaps thought was invincible, we need to start creating a world of unpractical men again. This is what Chesterton has to teach us about the fires of Notre Dame:
“There has arisen in our time a most singular fancy: the fancy that when things go very wrong we need a practical man. It would be far truer to say, that when things go very wrong we need an unpractical man. Certainly, at least, we need a theorist. A practical man means a man accustomed to mere daily practice, to the way things commonly work. When things will not work, you must have the thinker, the man who has some doctrine about why they work at all. It is wrong to fiddle while Rome is burning; but it is quite right to study the theory of hydraulics while Rome is burning.” (What’s Wrong With the World, 20)
Learn from Schaefer. Art can be lost temporarily, or it can be lost forever. As of now, Notre Dame has been lost temporarily. And the coming years will prove whether it will be lost eternally. The difference will be whether it’s rebuilt to the glory of God or the glory of man, whether it will be given to the hands and Lordship of Christ or to the appetites and idolatry of man. Near the middle of Francis Schaefer’s Art and the Bible, he describes a work of art which ought to guide and guard how we think about what Notre Dame once was and what it will one day be. This is what Schaefer has to teach us about the fires of Notre Dame:
“In the art museum in Neuchatel are three great murals by Paul Robert which for over eighty years have borne testimony to all the people of Neuchatel that Christ is coming again. One of the murals testifies to the fact that Christ has a relationship to agriculture, another to the fact that Christ has a relationship to industry. But the third one is the greatest. It depicts the relationship between Christ, the intellectual life and the arts. Paul Robert, a Swiss artist who was a real man of God, understood this relationship very well.
In the background of this mural he pictured Neuchatel, the lake on which it is situated and even the art museum which contains the mural. In the foreground near the bottom is a great dragon wounded to the death. Underneath the dragon is the file and the ugly—the pornographic and the rebellious. Near the top Jesus is seen coming in the sky with his endless hosts. On the left side is a beautiful stairway, and on the stairway are young and beautiful men and women carrying the symbols of the various forms of art—architecture, music and so forth. And as they are carrying them up and away from the dragon to present them to Christ, Christ is coming down to accept them. Paul Robert understood Scripture a lot better than many of us. He saw that at the second coming the Lordship of Christ will include everything.
But he also know that if these things are to be carried up to the praise of God and the lordship of Christ at the second coming, then we should be offering them to God now. In the same picture he portrayed the city of Neuchatel, the beautiful lake and the art museum itself: The art museum of Neuchatel and its works of art should be to the praise of Christ now. The reality of the future has meaning for the present!
Do we understand the freedom we have under the Lordship of Christ and the norms of Scripture? Is the creative part of our life committed to Christ? Christ is the Lord of our whole life and the Christian life should produce not only truth—flaming truth—but also beauty.”
Learn from Maritain. It is fitting to end here with Jacques Maritain, one of the great French Catholic philosophers of the 20th century, for it is in his wisdom he provided for us a pathway to not only rebuilding the Notre Dame, but also building anything in the future, whether in Europe or America. The residing question for us all is not whether we will ever look upon the Parisian skyline and see that maiden steeple. Some billionaire will ensure that happens. The question is “What kind of men will this fire make of us, and will we make art, even rebuild art, because our hearts burn with sin or burn with a love for Christ?” We ought not to try to simply rebuild a Christian icon; we ought to love and know Christ and then build in such a way that loves God and our neighbor. This is what Maritain has to teach us about the fires of Notre Dame.
“By the words ‘Christian art’ I do not mean Church art...I mean Christian art in the sense of art which bears within it the character of Christianity...It is the art of redeemed humanity…Everything belongs to it, the sacred as well as the profane. It is at home wherever the ingenuity and the joy of man extend. Symphony or ballet, film or novel, landscape or still-life, puppet-show libretto or opera, it can just as well appear in any of these as in the stained-glass windows and statues of churches…If you want to make a Christian work, then be Christian, and simply try to make a beautiful work, into which your heart will pass; do not try to ‘make Christian’. Art and Scholasticism by Jacques Maritain
We have never had an issue with fire in the Notre Dame Cathedral. Perhaps there have been billions of liturgical candles ablaze in her belly since her inception. Our issue here is that the fire touched her walls. It engulfed her beauty. It showed that its strength was far superior to hers. It was more prideful than she was, and so it brought our hearts low. But has it brought them low enough? Has it brought them as low as Calvary? Has it brought them as low as the grave? Has it brought them as low as the crucified God? The paradox amidst the fires of Notre Dame is that if we want to build something worth saving, we must build something worth losing. If we want to build something beautiful, we must build something that could appear grotesque. Great glory is never without great humiliation; and Notre Dame’s resurrection, if it be true, requires divine power. If it is to be the story of Christ, it must be the story of redeeming love and not a counterfeit affection for artifacts. The fires of Notre Dame is the story of Holy Week, but only if it is the God of life and light who raises her from the dead and not an already dead culture raising the requisite funds. If it is the former, she will be beautiful once more, perhaps even more beautiful than before. If it is the latter, she will have all the trappings of a harlot.
By Brian G. Daigle
delivered at The Wade Center (Wheaton College) in Wheaton, Illinois on 9 April 2019
It was my third year of graduate school, and I was in a class titled Modern Theology. This course was at a well-known Catholic university and taught by one of the professors from the theology department; near the end of the semester, he gave the students their final assignment: we were to do a bit of research on a modern theologian we had not discussed in the class and then present to the class the importance of that theologian. So, I went to the university’s library, did a bit of digging, and came across this strange name: Gilbert Keith Chesterton. I thought, “Surely a man who writes a book titled Orthodoxy must be some kind of theologian.” I saw when he was born and when he died, and so determined he was also modern. “Aha! Here is my modern theologian,” I concluded. I read a bit more of Chesterton, then determined that neither Chesterton nor I fit the title “theologian,” and most especially not the title “modern.” But I went ahead with my research anyways and presented to the class a few weeks later; I was hooked. My parents did not recite Chesterton to me as a boy. My pastors never mentioned Chesterton in a homily or sermon. My grandmother never spoke of Father Brown and his common but mysterious insights into the human condition. I fell backwards into G.K. Chesterton.
I came into education much the same way. I fell backwards into education as I fell backwards into G.K. Chesterton. If when I was 18 you had asked me what I thought of education, I would have simply smiled and gone along. Education was a nice thought. But for me, as a boy who wanted to be a man, going into education was a great curse. I saw a career in teaching as a kind of acceptable disgrace. The path for a male teacher I saw as a pitiable disgrace.
But though I fell into education and Chesterton separately and quite by accident, I have not stayed there by accident. I have most certainly not fallen backwards into G.K. Chesterton’s theory of education. Quite the contrary. As my questions about education rose, so did my interest in finding great thinkers who would provide the requisite wisdom, perhaps even the requisite paradigms, for getting education right. If we in America want to get education right for our children, for our churches, and for our cities, we must listen well to what G.K. Chesterton has to say.
By way of a brief introduction, I’d like you to meet, either as an old friend because you have been reading him for years or as a new friend because you have hardly heard of him, the man we call G.K. Chesterton. Chesterton was born 29th of May, 1874 on Campden Hill, Kensington and baptized July 1st 1874, as he says in his Autobiography, “according to the formularies of the Church of England in the little church of St. George opposite the large Waterworks Tower that dominated that ridge…I do not allege any significance in the relation of the two buildings; and I indignantly deny that the church was chosen because it needed the whole water-power of West London to turn me into a Christian.”
Gilbert was born to a respectable middle-class family. His father, who greatly influenced his boyhood, was a small-business owner and had many hobbies in and around the house. Gilbert had a typical preparatory education for an English boy of his time. And while he was an intelligent boy, he was not particularly a strong student. Eventually, Chesterton was bound neither for Oxford nor Cambridge but for art school. Though he contributed great pieces of both prose and verse to the school journal, Chesterton was known to have wonderful handwriting and a master’s touch at draughtsmanship. Chesterton’s first publication in the national press appeared December 1892 and so showed his gifts as a writer. In 1893 he entered The University College, London Slade School to study art. After one year, he dropped out, attending lectures informally in English and French literature around the college for another year or two. Shortly after, and quite slowly, his career in writing, particularly as an essayist, began, and he never turned back. In no way, by his own admission or any other admission, was Chesterton an educator; perhaps this would be a great insult. We could perhaps apply to title to Lewis or Sayers, but not to Chesterton. So, why then turn to a forgotten 20th century English essayist for our understanding of education? This is the question of the hour: what does Chesterton have to teach us about education?
In short, nothing. Nothing at all.
Now I could end my talk here, and leave you all in great confusion. But then you would think I was a hoax or the Wade Center has tricked you. And you would leave. You would leave not understanding what I mean that Chesterton has absolutely nothing to teach us about education. What I mean by this is not that we have nothing to learn from Chesterton on education. Of course, we have much to learn from Chesterton on everything. What I mean is that while we have much to learn from Chesterton, he has nothing new to teach us which our own humanity has not tried to teach us from the very beginning, nothing which cannot be picked up by watching a five year-old little girl in a happy and healthy home. If Chesterton was here and heard us call him something like a teacher or an educator, he may jeer, of course with the utmost jolly and grace, to remind us that he is nothing more than a common man, and he does nothing more than to ask us to be very common as well. He would not want the title of Educator any more than he would want the title Incinerator, for while both may provide a kind of warmth, both turn their contents to mere ashes. The former may even be worst, for it takes living men and turns them to ashes, while the latter takes dead men and turns them to ashes. Nonetheless, Chesterton himself believed he has nothing to teach us on education:
“Of course, the main fact about education is that there is no such thing. It does not exist…” (WW, 170)
For Chesterton, a philosophy of education was something of a practice in redundancy. So is a term like good education or classical education or personal education or contemporary education or religious education. For Chesterton, education was not something confined to an academic institution, a specialist, or even a certain time of the day or week. In fact, Chesterton often expressed that it was the educated classes which understood education the least, because it was the educated classes which had the worst understanding of things like children, parents, tradition, reason, nursery rhymes, religion, humor, original sin, and especially common sense. It is not the uneducated that must be educated, Chesterton expressed; it is the educated that must be uneducated. For Chesterton, a great education was something found in the most common life and found in all of life, and the most important and common things in life were what truly educated a man. There are at least five great truths about education we ought to learn from Chesterton:
First, everyone educates and everyone is educated. It is a common misconception in our day that if you want to be a teacher, then go get a degree in teaching and then get a certification. But this is not the truth, and it is indeed not how Chesterton saw things.
Of course, the main fact about education is that there is no such thing. It does not exist…education is not a word like geology or kettles. Education is a word like “transmission” or “inheritance”; it is not an object, but a method. It must mean the conveying of certain facts, views or qualities, to the last baby born. They might be the most trivial facts or the most preposterous views or the most offensive qualities; but if they are handed on from one generation to another they are education. Education is not a thing like theology, it is not an inferior or superior thing; it is not a thing in the same category of terms. Theology and education are to each other like a love-letter to the General Post Office. Mr. Fagin was quite as educational as Dr. Strong; in practice probably more educational. It is giving something—perhaps poison. Education is tradition, and tradition (as its name implies) can be treason… A little boy in a little house, son of a little tradesman, is taught to eat his breakfast, to take his medicine, to love his country, to say his prayers, and to wear his Sunday clothes. Obviously Fagin, if he found such a boy, would teach him to drink gin, to lie, to betray his country, to blaspheme and to wear false whiskers. But so also Mr. Salt the vegetarian would abolish the boy’s breakfast; Mrs. Eddy would throw away his medicine; Count Tolstoi would rebuke him for loving his country; Mr. Blatchford would stop his prayers, and Mr. Edward Carpenter would theoretically denounce Sunday clothes, and perhaps all clothes. I do not defend any of these advanced views, not even Fagin’s. But I do ask what, between the lot of them, has become of the abstract entity called education. It is not (as commonly supposed) that the tradesman teaches education plus Christianity; Mr. Salt, education plus vegetarianism; Fagin, education plus crime. The truth is, that there is nothing in common at all between these teachers, except that they teach.” (WW, 170-171)
“We have said that if education is a solid substance, then there is none of it. We may now say that if education is an abstract expansion there is no lack of it. There is far too much of it. In fact, there is nothing else. There are no uneducated people. Everybody in England is educated; only most people are educated wrong. (WW, 182-183)
For Chesterton, there is indeed no great and categorical separation from Wheaton’s degree in education and how the Chicago gangs go about their work. It is not that the gangs are raising up punks and prisoners while Wheaton raises up priests and principals. Both are educating as thoroughly and deeply as possible. We may even say that the gangs have been more effective educators, for their pupils are willing to die now for their cause.
Second, education is tradition. I’d like to refer us to a section of the longer passage I read a moment ago:
“Education is not a thing like theology, it is not an inferior or superior thing; it is not a thing in the same category of terms. Theology and education are to each other like a love-letter to the General Post Office. Mr. Fagin was quite as educational as Dr. Strong; in practice probably more educational. It is giving something—perhaps poison. Education is tradition, and tradition (as its name implies) can be treason.” (WW, p.170-171)
Therefore, we can conclude, with great assurance, that everyone who teaches is a traditionalist. Of course, the great question is “Which tradition?” Tradition is not only pathway of civilizations and worldviews, quite abstract and intangible things, it is also the pathway of homes and fathers and mothers, quite concrete and tangible things:
“Now I am concerned, first and last, to maintain that unless you can save the fathers, you cannot save the children; that at present we cannot save others, for we cannot save ourselves. We cannot teach citizenship if we are not citizens; we cannot free others if we have forgotten the appetite of freedom. Education is only truth in a state of transmission; and how can we pass on truth if it has never come into our hand?...There is, indeed, in each living creature a collection of forces and functions; but education means producing these in particular shapes and training them to particular purposes, or it means nothing at all.” (WW, 173-174)
We consider Chesterton’s words and we rightly conclude that education is not just passing on a tradition, whatever that tradition be, it is person formation according to a tradition, and that person formation always has a posture toward the truth, even if the posture is that the truth is something altogether worse than a nursery rhyme.
Third, education is dogmatic. We now entertain one of those dreaded words for modern man: dogma. Other than the word progress, perhaps the most beloved word of the past two centuries is the term liberty, which has come to mean lacking any dogma, lacking rigidity, lacking boundary, lacking judgement. But if anyone sets his hand to educate, he is a dogmatist or he is no educator at all.
“The truth is, that there is nothing in common at all between these teachers, except that they teach. In short, the only thing they share is the one thing they profess to dislike: the general idea of authority. It is quaint that people talk of separating dogma from education. Dogma is actually the only thing that cannot be separated from education. It is education. A teacher who is not dogmatic is simply a teacher who is not teaching.” (WW, 171
As Dale Ahlquist states, “According to Chesterton, the whole point of education is that it should give a person a set of standards, eternal standards that can be used to judge fugitive standards. We have this backward, too. Our schools change their standards more often than they change the light bulbs. The modern mind cannot make up its mind.” (Ahlquist, Common Sense 101, p. 104)
Fourth, education is both closed-minded and narrow-minded. If you’ve read enough Chesterton, or even heard some of his quotes, it’s likely you’ve come across his sentiment that the open mind is a dangerous thing to have, and an ever-open mind is terrible thing to have, for the only purpose of an open mind is so that it will close on truth. Apply this to education, and we can see that from first to last, education must begin with a closed and narrow mind, and it must end, for both the pupil and the teacher, in a closed and narrow mind.
“Education is violent; because it is creative. It is creative because it is human. It is as reckless as playing on the fiddle; as dogmatic as drawing a picture; as brutal as building a house. In short, it is what all human action is; it is an interference with life and growth. After that it is a trifling and even a jocular question whether we say of this tremendous tormentor, the artist Man, that he puts things into us like an apothecary, or draws things out of us, like a dentist…Mr. Shaw and such people are especially shrinking from that awful and ancestral responsibility to which our fathers committed us when they took the wild step of becoming men. I mean the responsibility of affirming the truth of our human tradition and handing it on with a voice of authority, an unshaken voice. That is the one eternal education; to be sure enough that something is true that you dare to tell it to a child.” (WW, 177)
“The true task of culture to-day is not a task of expansion, but very decidedly of selection—and rejection. The educationist must find a creed and teach it. Even if it be not a theological creed, it must still be as fastidious and as firm as theology. In short, it must be orthodox… Out of all this throng of theories it must somehow select a theory; out of all these thundering voices it must manage to hear a voice; out of all this awful and aching battle of blinding lights, without one shadow to give shape to them, it must manage somehow to trace and to track a star.” (WW, 191-192)
In this way, the aim of education for Chesterton was nothing more than sanity, which always means closing one’s mind around the right things.
Fifth and finally, education contains much moonshine. The bulk of education, since a generation or two before Chesterton, has been based on modern academic fields like psychology, sociology, and evolution, and based on these in the worst way. And so we no longer base our education ideals on things like poetry, paradox, natural philosophy, literature, friendship, wonder, religion, the home, and especially mystery. We attempt things like social experiments and how the manipulation of physical space will create one kind of citizen over another. But man is too mysterious; the image of God is not easily manipulated by human hands.
“The idea that surroundings will mold a man is always mixed up with the totally different idea that they will mold him in one particular way… Education contains much moonshine.” (WW, 166-167)
Taking all this into account, then, and considering I’ve convinced you that all Chesterton has said thus far is true, what then are you and I to do? In a word, read. We are to read more Chesterton. We are to read ourselves. We are to read the world.
The first thing I suggest is that we should read more Chesterton, and realize that, if he takes his own advice, all he writes has the expressed intent to educate his reader, to give his readers eyes, to make his reader sane, throughout every genre, even down to the last villain. Chesterton’s characters are always teachers.
The second thing we should do is read ourselves, we should ask how we are being educated and who is doing the educating. We should do what Chesterton always asks of us: to evaluate and defend our position, and if we find it is indefensible, to throw it by and start at the base level. How deep into the modern cave have we built our schools, even as Christians?
The final thing we should do is read the world, to seek the educational element in all things. That is to say, we should ask how this or that field is always forming its participants. This is a very kind thing for us to do for our children. If my daughter wanted to be an architect, I wouldn’t first put her into modeling classes or draughting classes or classes on Vitruvius or Bauhaus. I would put her in classes on speech, language, and rhetoric. I would teach her that a building is a speech act, that a piece of architecture is emulating God’s creative speech, and that the power of this speech act is that it does something with the whole of the user’s body and imagination, and not just his errands.
We then see that Chesterton is no educational reformer, though he has the power to reform education in America. He is no educationalist or modern educational philosopher, though he can provide us the groundwork for the future of American education. When speaking of education, he is attempting nothing more than he attempts in all his works: to lead us to that grand romance of home, to show that man has a home, that he belongs there, and that all his endeavors, especially education, are to affirm and nurture what is already in the child at birth. Thank you.
Delivered by Brian G. Daigle at the Veritas Academy Spring Gala in Beaumont, TX on 4 April 2019
Good evening. And thank you for having me here with you this evening. Thank you, Mr. Laenger and to the board of Veritas, for inviting me to participate in this evening’s event. It is always strange to me when I end up giving talks in cities where I have such fond memories from my childhood. I spent many summers and holidays here in Beaumont, driving over from Birmingham, Alabama with my family, to visit many of my aunts, uncles, and cousins who still live here. I love coming to places filled with the fondest childhood memories and speaking on a topic to which I have devoted my professional career. You couldn’t have known all of that before you asked me to come and speak this evening, but God did. So, I thank you, and I thank God as well.
In the field of architecture and design, perhaps even in the field of manufacturing and production as well, there has been a push to restore and repair rather than throw away and produce anew. Recycling is still an important term in our culture. And each month there appears to be another new television show about restoring a home or an old car or a deteriorating neighborhood. In large part, the motivation in this restoration movement is to create less waste. The other motivation is to be better stewards of what has been materially passed to us. It appears we can all agree there is nothing honorable in being too quick to discard physical goods, social goods, or intellectual goods. Nonetheless, despite the push to restore, repair, and renovate, we are still a wasteful people, in large part because we are a revolutionary people. We rid our lives of the old; we cast away the broken; we grow tired of the mundane. Unless we rid ourselves of a revolutionary heart, we will never fully adopt a spirit of restoration. Unless we love the truth, the goodness, and the beauty of repairing, we will continue to merely remove and replace.
There is yet another reason why it is increasingly difficult to convince someone to restore something rather than replace it: we do not have a proper philosophy of restoration. What I mean by this is that we do not possibly see, with our modern eyes, how restoring is a better idea than altogether replacing. We have not given enough consideration to the following questions:
These kinds of questions don’t cross our minds. And there is a good reason why that is the case: we think too much like modern men; we think too much like revolutionaries. We are up to our eyeballs in ideas like new, innovate, progress, and future. Perhaps in many instances even if we thought it financially wiser to repair rather than replace, we would, for the sake of honoring the spirit of the times, take the more expensive road and simply replace.
Let’s face it squarely, in the modern world, there is little honor in repairing anything. Ours is a time of innovation, novelty, revolution, and authenticity. Why repair a car when you go finance a new one? Why restore a home when a newer one would be much more comfortable for life today? Why do the hard and humbling work of repairing a marriage when you can just go get a new wife? To repair something means to care for something that is old, probably much older than us, and to do so according to an original plan, a plan that is not our own. Consider that for a moment. When a man goes in to repair a car, he is not creating whatever he wants. He is repairing it as best he can, back to an original design. And that means he must submit himself to another man’s work, another man’s ideas. The person repairing must put himself second, or even third, but he cannot put himself first. To repair means to submit one’s self to the work done before us, to respect it, to honor one’s father and mother. This is not the easy road. It is in the modern spirit to hate such a demand on our lives, and so it is in the modern spirit to hate repairing and restoring. This is the second problem we face.
And yet, for the classical Christian academy, there is no other option. Either we love and live by a spirit of restoration and repair, or we vanish.
Each year the Association of Classical Christian Schools hosts their national conference. Every year it is titled “Repairing the Ruins.” It features vendors and speakers, and it is the largest gathering of classical Christian educators in the United States, probably in the world. The name “Repairing the Ruins” is, in some ways, an appropriate title. It communicates much of what the national movement, and indeed every school, must be doing: each classical Christian school is in the business of repairing, and each school is in the business of repairing “ruins.” In another sense, our consideration of our work in classical Christian education must go beyond the title, for there are many motivations for repairing something. Repairing, in and of itself, may not be all that honorable; one must consider what we are repairing. And to say “Well, we are repairing the ruins, of course!” may still leave us with yet more questions, like, “Which ruins? Whose ruins, and how much of the ruins are we to repair? How far down do the ruins go?” Again, we must especially consider our motivation for repairing something.
In one sense, we can restore or repair because we have a personal and particular interest in the thing. That is to say, we have such an affinity for it, that we don’t want to see it continue in its state of decay or destruction. This happens from time to time with family heirlooms, like jewelry or antique furniture. It happens around things like Star Wars memorabilia or museum installations. We take the time and resources to restore it because we have a certain affinity for it. But the problem with this motivation is that it is solely based on one’s taste, which is hard to defend, and it lasts only as long as one’s affections last. In just a short time, perhaps with the end of one’s life, that item will be long forgotten, tossed in a landfill or passed on but devalued altogether. If we intend to repair the ruins of classical Christian education in our cities, whether Beaumont or Boston or Baton Rouge, we cannot do so simply because we have joined together with people who have a similar taste as ours on the matter. This kind of repair will not last beyond a single generation, and it won’t be very persuasive to onlookers.
A second motivation in repairing something is that it is a kind of artifact for our cultural memory. This goes beyond personal taste; this gets into the realm of a social good, something like a piece of historic architecture or a sculpture in the center of the city or a piece of art that has found its way onto every postcard with our city’s name on it. In this way, we repair things because our lives are collectively richer with it. But even this motivation is too short-lived, for in just a few generations cultural values may change; social allegiances will adjust, and those symbols of old resolutions will be taken down and replaced. Beyond the social sentimentality of the building, for example, there is nothing more that holds the building in its place from generation to generation. And so it would happen that in just a few generations, the thing will be toppled to make room for a new structure, a new idea, even a new identity.
A third and final reason is the strongest and longest lasting: we repair some thing when its demise, destruction, or decay would lead to great harm for those who depend on it. In these cases, we restore because we believe the thing being restored is necessary for the good life. It is not simply a matter of personal taste or social sentiment; the thing to be restored must be restored lest we risk the catastrophic results of our own negligence. This is the case with things like bridges, marriages, political ideas, economic values, national military, theological treatises, or human bodies. In this kind of repair, we will repair it at all costs, because it is a priority. Its importance has reached the point that to lose it would result in a great, perhaps even irreversible, catastrophe. We do not replace human skulls like we replace plastic forks; we repair human skulls. We do not simply replace broken governments; we repair them. In fact, we spend generations making repairs which perhaps were flawed from the beginning.
So which is our motivation when it comes to classical Christian education? What is our heart to repair the image of God in man? What is our motivation in repairing our literary imaginations or intellectual heritage? What is the reason we repair the gaping hole left by a neglect of logic and Latin? Why, instead of replacing the whole thing, would we spend our time and resources repairing those inescapable flaws of modern art and music? What is our motivation to restore old buildings, like the one Veritas will be working on in the coming months? I’d like to put forth that unless we possess all three motivations—the personal, the cultural, and the necessary—we may very well be on the road to repairing in vain.
When a community like Veritas sets its hand to the plow of repairing education in Beaumont it must do so because it is vitally important for the future health of the city and its citizens. It is essential to the present and future health of the churches in Beaumont. In order for Veritas to be around for many generations, you, the first generation of families, must be convinced that if Beaumont wants to be a good city, it must classically and Christianly educate its children. You must also be convinced of the second reason I gave, namely that this kind of education is a great artifact in American history, and that to lose it would mean the loss of a great and rich cultural good. You must be convinced that this education is not just a necessity, it is also a gift and a privelege, a symbol to remind us of our great heritage. And finally, as a community, you must not just see the necessity of classical Christian education and the cultural importance for a city like Beaumont, you must also have a personal interest and affinity for this kind of education. That is to say, you must also realize that this education is to be enjoyed and not just implemented out of necessity. Nothing is restored without a lot of elbow grease and a lot more love. You should know that well as hardworking Texans. This means that if classical Christian education is going to truly be restored in this city, and if Veritas is going to do it, it must be because you personally enjoy it, because you have a taste for it which is persuasive to those around you. And In all this talk of restoring and repairing, as you are soon to find as you set your hand to a new building, preparing a future home not just for your upcoming senior class but also for your upcoming Kindergarten, you must be prepared to fully embrace the requisite labor. If in the year 2069, future families at Veritas and future citizens of Beaumont look back and consider how Veritas has grown to be such a beautiful academic institution, it will be because this first generation worked hard to make it such. And that will be required of each subsequent generation.
Our God is a maker; it is one of the only things we know about him in the book of Genesis before he makes man in his image. Therefore, in so much as we are made in his image, we too are makers. We cannot help but make, build, create, organize, beautify, name, and adorn. This is a fundamental characteristic of being human. But there is yet another fundamental characteristic of being a human, which is quite unlike God. While God never misses the mark, never labors for nothing, it is the case that man can labor in vain. As Scripture says in Psalm 127:1 “Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.” This verse is often quoted to remind us who the builder is, who the active agent is in building: the Lord, and that fact is important. But there is another lesson in this verse, one often missed: man ought to be laboring. There must be laborers with which the Lord to build. This is man’s blessed responsibility. Repairing something is labor intensive. It will be work, but it will be good, and honest, and joyful work. Fruitful work. Blessed and eternal work. What kind of laborer are you? Laboring at a school like Veritas, a classical and Christian and university-structured academy, requires us to have three virtues in our labors: Labor with piety. Labor with persuasion. Labor in partnership. These are the themes which will be required to not just steward your new facilities well, but also steward all of your facilities, and steward well this great inheritance we have in classical Christian education.
The architectural road you have started down to repair the education wing of the church downtown is truly a great metaphor for what this academy must always be about: repairing the space of a church one inch at a time, like repairing the soul of our civilization one child at a time, or repairing the image of God in man one classroom lecture at a time. I commend you for your work; I commend you as faculty, as parents, and as a school board for first seeing the restoration God has done in your lives and then turning that gift outward to your children and the children of this city. I pray the Lord continues to richly bless and repair all the things to which you put your hands. Thank You.
by Fr. Brian G. Daigle
a sermon preached on 3 March 2019 at Christ the Redeemer Anglican Church
Please pray with me.
May my heart’s affection, my mind’s attention, and my soul’s submission be to you, oh Lord, my Savior and my Redeemer. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all…” (I 2:5-6) This is what Paul expresses in the opening chapters of his first letter to Timothy. These words are also the foundation of what the church believes, what is at the heart of our gathering each Sunday and our perseverance in the faith. We are here, Saint Paul was here and labored, Saint Timothy was here, so that this one God would be known and praised. For without this one mediator between God and man, we are nothing. Without Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all, we would not only cease to exist, but we would cease to live meaningful and joyful lives. Every degree of misery in a man, every moment of doubt and fear and sin and confusion is because we either do not know or we imperfectly know this great truth: “…there is one God…one mediator between God and men…a ransom for all.” When this slips from our imaginations, when it slips from our dinner tables, our marriages, our parenting, our schools, and our hearts and minds, we will slip from joy.
Please turn in your Bible with me to 2 Timothy 4:6-22. I would like to read for us today’s passage.
When a man embarks on a journey, it may be easy for him to forget his purpose. Halfway through the journey he may find that it has become something other than what he set out to do. He may even find he has traveled far off the intended course. He may get distracted; he may, like Odysseus’ men in the land of the Lotus eaters, lose all memory of their journey home. We do not want to be this way with our recent journey through Paul’s two letters to Timothy. Our journey through First and Second Timothy has had a particular purpose about it. Like with any good tour of a great cathedral or conversation with a great saint or great mind, we want to enter with purpose, but we also want to enter with a posture that is humble and open to surprise. Our purpose, as we should recall, in reading First and Second Timothy was to consider what Paul’s advice is to Timothy, a young pastor in Ephesus. Paul’s wisdom to Timothy is not just to Timothy; it is also particularly beneficial for a young church. As we learned what Paul has to say, we have also considered its importance for our own time and our own church. It is fitting then to end our journey here, at the end of Second Timothy, and also at the end of this green season, for this week is Ash Wednesday, which is the start of our Lenten fast.
There is one very simple and important exhortation I’d like to lay before us today, and that is the green church, the young church, though it is born, is the church that must also die. Therefore, the green church would do well to think properly upon death. This theme is fitting for us today for a few reasons:
First, the green church must keep death in mind because this is how Paul concludes his second letter to Timothy. In my preparation for this sermon series, I made great use of several books on these pastoral letters, one by Thomas C. Oden. Oden states, “…how distressed must [Timothy] have been to read toward the end of the letter, that ‘I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith’ (II 4:6-7). His heart surely must have sunk at those words. But just at that point, Paul came to the main point of his writing: Come to Rome. I want to see you. Come before winter. The winter metaphor is telling: Paul could envision his last winter inexorably coming. He longed to see his ‘own son.’ The dungeon was cold. He urged Timothy to come before winter (II 4:21)…” (Oden, p.7) What Oden is telling us, and indeed what Paul is telling us, is that it is good for Timothy to be aware that this older man in the faith will surely end his race, that the time is closer than expected, and that Timothy ought to have a sense of urgency and purpose about him. This not only goes for his trip to see Paul before winter, perhaps Paul’s final winter on earth, but also for Timothy’s own life, before his own winter comes. These final words from Paul ought to rest heavy upon our own hearts as a young church.
Second, the green church must keep death in mind because it is the best way to build something beyond ourselves. When we consider what Paul just said to conclude his second letter to Timothy, “Do your best to come before winter,” we see that Paul intended for this to stick in the imagination of a young Timothy. There is no doubt this would have been shocking to Timothy to hear, a man who was like a father to him, now in prison and on the brink of death, a man who was, with Timothy, one of the first Christians to set foot on European soil from Asia. If we were to read the letter Timothy perhaps wrote back to Paul, we would see that Timothy would have made great effort to comfort Paul and to do as he requested. Timothy would have taken to heart that our earthly ministry, like that of Christ’s, does not last forever, and therefore we ought to have a sense of purpose and urgency to build something beyond ourselves. Death has a way of doing this. It causes us to put our affairs in orders; it makes us count the days; it presses upon our humanity in a way which can bring out the best or the worst in us. As a green church, let us remember that we will, each of us, be put in the grave; let us then build this church, tithe, pray, worship, sing, eat tacos, make art, write books, and live together in such a way that we care for those who are coming behind us. Let us be able to say with Paul that we have “fought the good fight…finished the race…kept the faith,” so that we leave a wake of Timothies behind us when our winter comes.
Third, the green church must keep death in mind because it will cause us to keep holy perspective. Jonathan Edwards, the great American theologian and puritan, wrote his “70 Resolutions.” Seven of them speak of death. When I was in college, I would regularly go to the large Catholic cemetery in Lafayette and read through these resolutions, considering how they more deeply sink into my soul:
These quotes mature us as a green church. They require us to keep death in mind, and doing so will cause us to keep holy perspective on this life and the life to come. When we do keep perspective, we are able to more clearly and confidently see and discern our life together: making decisions on facilities, finances, ministries, etc, not out of personal and individual desires but out of a hope to follow Paul and pour ourselves out for one another “as a drink offering.”
Fourth and finally, we must keep death in mind because Lent is coming this week. It is fitting that this is the final sermon of The Green Church series, and that this topic would be the final one on Paul’s pen. This coming week marks the start of Lent—a time of fasting, penitence, humility, confession, focused prayer, greater attention to the sacrifice and death of Christ, and generally a time of “giving up.” While lent is not a season of dread, it is not a season of honoring death, it is a season of further considering the fullness of our humanity and Christ’s humanity, especially as it relates to suffering and death. It is also fitting that Lent should occur during the winter months and not during the summer, for, to hearken back to Paul, Christ went through his own winter before his glorious spring, and so shall we.
As we prepare to come to this table, we must be reminded that it is not a table of death. This is a table of life. It is teeming with life; it gives life; it sustains life; it teaches us how we are to live. But, we cannot ignore the symbolism of death at this table. There is this bread, which like the body of Christ, is broken for you. There is this cup, which like the life of Christ, was poured out for you. These are indeed the ideas expressed each Sunday during the prayer of consecration. Both the life and death in this table, the Lord’s Table, ought to inspire you to live like Paul, ought to encourage you to build something beyond yourselves, ought to cause you to keep holy perspective, and ought to better prepare you for the upcoming season of Lent.
To close our time, please hear a poem by George Herbert titled "Death."
Death, thou wast once an uncouth hideous thing,
Nothing but bones,
The sad effect of sadder groans:
Thy mouth was open, but thou couldst not sing.
For we considered thee as at some six
Or ten years hence,
After the loss of life and sense,
Flesh being turned to dust, and bones to sticks.
We looked on this side of thee, shooting short;
Where we did find
The shells of fledge souls left behind,
Dry dust, which sheds no tears, but may extort.
But since our Savior’s death did put some blood
Into thy face,
Thou art grown fair and full of grace,
Much in request, much sought for as a good.
For we do now behold thee gay and glad,
As at Doomsday;
When souls shall wear their new array,
And all thy bones with beauty shall be clad.
Therefore we can go die as sleep, and trust
Half that we have
Unto an honest faithful grave;
Making our pillows either down, or dust.
Brian G. Daigle