Bring It All In

Hey again,

I’ve had some half-formed ideas running though my head for a while, and a stanza from a George Herbert poem helped to cement one a little bit. This is stanza 72 in his poem “Perirrhanterium:”

Judge not the preacher; for he is thy Judge:
If thou mislike him, thou conceiv’st him not.
God calleth preaching folly. Do not grudge
To pick out treasures from an earthen pot.
The worst speak something good: if all want sense;
God takes a text, and preacheth patience.

It was the last line or so that caught my eye: “The worst speak something good: if all want sense;/ God takes a text, and preacheth patience.”

I’m still having some difficulty articulating this, so bear with me. It seems that this is an example of the value of means- is that the right way to say it? Typically, we value ends; results; that which we set out to achieve when we set out to achieve something. The means- that which we do in order to get the result we want- is secondary. It may be necessary; it may sometimes even be enjoyable; but it is still secondary.

For example: When I am in my home and I want to eat a sandwich, I first must make a sandwich. This is (I think) common knowledge. The actual making of the sandwich holds no particular pleasures for me; I do not think to myself, Boy, I really could go for making a sandwich right now. I think people would begin to notice if I went around making sandwiches with great delight yet never eating them. The sandwich making is merely a means to an end. And largely, we do not associate the means with value. Perhaps in things we must practice, we think means are valuable- in learning to drive a car, for example. But not generally.

Here the line from Herbert comes in. When I sit in the church pew to hear a truly awful sermon, I’m usually not very happy; after all, I came here for the end of obtaining knowledge, receiving instruction, being stirred up in the faith, and so on, and to sit through the sermon in order for those things to happen is bad enough. Worse still is it when the text is poorly explicated by a passionless minister without a drop of charisma. Yet Herbert hits upon an important point: the event of preaching itself- whether the preaching is good or bad- is an occasion for God to teach a lesson which I could not have anticipated.

Isn’t that just like life? When I was in high school I strenuously objected to being forced to learn algebra and precalculus because I knew, I just knew that I was never going to use those things in real life. I seem to have been right thus far, in that since I graduated from high school six years ago no one has shoved a quadrilateral under my nose and demanded that I solve for x. But the equations themselves, I’ve come to realize, were the least of what I learned in my precalc class under Barney Mitchell those years ago.

Learning math, I am convinced, has helped my theology. After all, where did I learn the importance of caution in my reasoning? Where did I learn to show my work, so others might be able to learn from my method as well as correct my mistakes? Where did I learn to patiently labor at that which I did not understand, yet that which was right in front of me? I have to say, if I remember correctly, that I learned all of these things from good old Mr. Mitchell in math class. And there are a thousand examples of this.

I hope I’ve articulated myself well enough. Lord willing, I will have more to say on this subject.


More Herb

Good afternoon!

Another poem by George Herbert. This guy is solid gold. This poem is entitled “The Agony.”

Philosophers have measured mountains,
Fathomed the depths of the seas, of states, and kings,
Walked with a staff to heav’n, and traced fountains:
But there are two, vast, spacious things,
The which to measure it doth more behove:
Yet few there are that sound them; Sin and Love.

Who would know Sin, let him repair
Unto Mount Olivet; there shall he see
A man so wrung with pains, that all his hair,
His skin, his garments bloody be.
Sin is that press and vice, which forceth pain
To hunt his cruel food through ev’ry vein.

Who knows not Love, let him assay
And taste that juice, which on the cross a pike
Did set again abroach; then let him say
If ever he did taste the like.
Love is that liquor sweet and most divine,
Which my God feels as blood; but I, as wine.

I hope you enjoy Herbert as much as I do.


Memories of Mother

Hello again,

My grandfather loved his mother very much, I’m told. He wrote this sometime after she died.

Down that pathway called mourning
I’m drifting again
And in childhood, once more I shall be
Just as carefree and happy, as in the days when
I sat on my mother’s knee

No harm could befall me when mother was near
In her arms I found comfort and peace
And from sorrow and trouble and heartache and fear
I would soon find sweet, welcome release

When bad dreams awoke me, teardrops would fall
As trembling, I lay in my bed
My mother was there, and in voice sweet and low
Would sooth me, softly she said:

“Fear not the darkness, soon it will be light
Fear not! There’s no cause for alarm
Mother is with you, all through the dark night
She’ll protect you and keep you from harm”

Now mother has gone, but her memory lives on
And when troubles to plague me today
When fears do beset me- as in days of old
I still hear dear mother say:

“Fear not the darkness, soon it will be light
Fear not! There’s no cause for alarm
Mother is with you, all through the dark night
She’ll protect you and keep you from harm”
T.W. Carpenter


It’s Not Going To Kill You To Try


I’ve got be studying for these last weeks of school- I just need a little distraction before I start, so thank you for providing me with this opportunity.

I’ve written on my previous blog about reading the Word typologically, poetically- an art I strongly believe in, and a thing which I think Christians are leery of today. There is good reason for this, no doubt. If you start assigning hidden meanings and symbolism to Scripture at will, it may end up looking more like Alice in Wonderland than orthodoxy pretty quickly. Nevertheless, I think it can be done responsibly, and even in a way which doesn’t presume upon Scripture.

What I’m talking about is thoughtful reflection on the Scripture, followed by creative expression. George Herbert is, I feel, the master of this. In his poem “The Sacrifice,” he points out over and over again these ironies in Christ’s Passion which are both poignant and deeply tragic.
For example: in speaking of the soldiers blindfolding Jesus to strike him, Herbert says (from the viewpoint of Christ), “My face they cover, though it be divine/ As Moses’ face was veiled, so is mine/ Lest on their double-dark souls either shine.”
Now, is that a comparison that the text would lead us to make? Probably not. But what insight it brings! It’s clear that Herbert thought deeply about the event of Christ’s trial, connected this event to Moses covering his face, and expressed it in such a way that we would see the sad irony in this bit of the story.
Another example: speaking of the crown of thorns, he writes, “So sits the earth’s great curse in Adam’s fall/ Upon my head: so I remove it all/ From th’ earth unto my brows, and bear the thrall.”
I had never thought of it like that- of course it’s true that in his crucifixion Jesus bore Adam’s curse, but is that what the crown of thorns represents? Maybe. Maybe not.

My point: Herbert isn’t saying that the authors of Scripture intended that these connections be made; in making them for us, he is simply helping us to think deeply about Scripture ourselves. We don’t have to pretend that everything we imagine Scripture might be saying is gospel truth, and it certainly isn’t going to kill us to try.

Back to work,

Felix Culpa

Today marks the end of National Poetry month, and what a better way to celebrate than with a poem from America’s greatest president ever- Teddy Roosevelt. Not only was he a boxer and a naturalist, he was also a fair hand with words. This poem of his was untitled, so I have titled it myself.

Because I craved a gift too great,
For any prayer of mine to bring,
Today with empty hands I go;
Yet must my heart rejoice to know
I did not ask a lesser thing.

Because the goal I sought for lay,
In cloud hid heights, today my soul,
Goes unaccompanied of its own;
Yet this shall comfort me alone,
I did not seek a nearer goal

O gift ungained, O goal unwon!
Still I am glad remembering this,
For all I go unsatisfied,
I have kept the faith with joy denied.
Nor cheated life with cheaper bliss.

More Wilson

Here’s another poem from Doug Wilson, published in his book of poetry, Untune The Sky. This one is called “Below.”

Eternity and time confound
The buckling minds of mortal men,
Who rail at God as though he were
A lesser god, or one of them.
They hate discriminating love,
And drag it into human courts
To try to crucify the cross.
“Will you try Me?” our Lord retorts.
Though pearls may fall beneath the swine
They do not therefore cease to be,
And trampling won’t deface a shine
Decreed before eternity.
So hold your peace, rebellious pot,
The Lord is God- and you are not.

I love Wilson’s poetic insight into our day.


Rocks In The Drive

I apologize for the recent dearth- I’ve been lazy. Anyway, it’s near the end of National Poetry month, so here’s one of my favorites by Doug Wilson, Rocks In The Drive.

When strings are pulled taut, the cello is tuned,
The wood holds the wine that is seasoned and old.
Dark music poured out and emptied the cask,
And rolled in my goblet, rich, tawny and told
How holiness tastes, how righteousness laughs.

You shall be as God, the great dragon had said,
Philosophers argue their shapes in the fire
And each to his shadow tenaciously clings;
They miss that our great father Abram aspired
To a city of solids, celestial marble.

But our earthly solids are fleeting, like faerie,
Far closer to ether than what we conceive.
Our granite is balsa, our oceans are floating,
Our atoms are rootless, and we, not believing,
We miss that this world speaks a fortiori.

Stop thinking that heaven means standing on clouds.

Why falter when told that our God remains good?
Why think the Almighty exhausted in sadness
His strength on the Alps or the plains of Dakota?
Will He not speak solid and substantive gladness
And bid all His people emerge from the shadows?

The carpets of heaven are thicker than moss.
With paint on the walls that is glossy to stay.
Hard wood for the tables is grown on the hillsides,
And rocks in the drive are all sapphire gray.
The breezes move curtains that are facing the sea.