Monday, March 31, 2014

Lecture Notes 2 / Veith

Christian Imagination and Apologetics

(My notes from lecture by Dr. G. Veith.  March 2014.  Video to be posted to internet, hopefully.)

It is currently being said that people believe in nothing whatsoever.  Not only this, they are also skeptical  about reason. -- This is, among other things, a failure of the imagination.  People are unable to imagine a spiritual reality.

In enjoying a piece, as we did from Hildegard von Bingen, we note a yearning for goodness, a yearning for the virtuous, the beauty of the virtues.   There is such a thing as moral beauty.  There is repugnance of evil. -- Now we often portray the opposite.

This is a problem for apologetics. We are to imagine "eternal life", and unseen realm, eternity, God, but we can't imagine such a being.  These are mysteries.

A mystery is not something to be solved by getting back to the intellect.  It is not something for us to "figure out." A mystery opens up the imagination and sends it reeling.

The opposite is boredom--a lifeless, mechanistic universe, where nothing satisfies.

It is the task of art to "re-enchant" the world, so that we see that there is mystery in it.

The church needs re-enchanting.  It is the place where supernatural gifts are given.  The apologetic task is to change the bleak and negative outlook.  Reason, also, needs to be re-enchanted.  It is something glorious.  There is a rational basis for Christianity.  There is also an emotional basis, as emotional experiences reach people.

Again, the "imagination" is often neglected. It has a lot of potential. The imagination is an important way to reach people with the Gospel.

In the 20th century, rationalism's appealed to reason was the focus.  But you can give all the answers and it seems that none of them have impact on people.  For example, he lent out C.S. Lewis' books to a young woman and all she could say was "But he uses sexist language."  -- In post-modern times even reason is minimized.

Emotionalism can be used by promising happiness through pop-psychology or prosperity gospel.  But what about suffering and sickness?  When it strikes there is disillusionment and a fall from faith.  Obviously, there is no God after all.

The Will can be used to replace the intellect.  It becomes important whether or not a choice was involved.  You chose what to believe.  You have a private reality.  What happens, though, is that the private reality conflicts with the actual reality.  You can end with despair.

T.S.Eliot, was THE modernist artist.  There is a "dissociation of sensibility", of thinking and feeling.  Thinking, feeling and imagination are going in all different directions.  Thinking and feeling are seen as opposites.  But John Donne feels his thoughts and thinks his feelings.

But in the Christian faith there is a Wholeness.  When T.S.Eliot embraced the orthodox Christian faith, it pushed his style further and further, centered on the Image, evocative images, orchestrated together, cultivating the imagination.  (e.g. "April is the cruelest month.")

C.S. Lewis also appeals to imagination.  When he speaks about the choice between Lord, liar, lunatic, he gives a logical alternative but with lots of imagination.  He is very descriptive.  ("Poached egg...")  He appeals to the will, and the fact that it needs to make a choice, but he connects to us by means of the imagination.

In a variety of writers we can find a baptized imagination.  There is dazzling fantasy.  Lewis himself began finding what he yearned for in imaginative Christian writers.  He also had been speaking with Tolkien, who explained to him that in Christianity the myths had become fact.  We do have to come back to the facts.

Today, we can engage and bring people along.  Their imagination can be baptized.

Again, defamiliarizing can make us pay attention. All of a sudden, we are paying attention. Some of the art defamiliarizes the message of Christianity; it does not seem the same old thing and we miss how mind-blowing the stories really are.  We get beyond the associations so that the matter is now seen in its full potency.  The Chronicles of Narnia defamiliarize the gospel.  We bypass reverence and piety.  Things can be seen in a fresh way, awakening the imagination to the transcendent, breaking open the mind to realities beyond, to mystery, to the things we cannot understand, to supernatural grace.

It has been labeled "escapism".

Eliot works in modernist idiom.  Hemingway, Joyce go into the human psyche... but not making something up.

Tolkien wrote an essay on Fairy tales, to help get a glimpse of something beyond those prison walls.  The idea is to make Christianity "strange."

Our world deadens desire and people don't know what they are missing.  Presenting the faith convincingly is aimed at opening this desire, a yearning for something more.

Reason needs rescuing, too.  Christianity gives us the range and the wholeness.

Some people hate religion.  They have a deeply flawed picture, which is a function of the imagination.  For example, they say "What kind of God can will and allow all this suffering.  And what kind of God, kills his son;  this is child-abuse..."  We have here a situation where God is imagined as above the suffering, beyond it.  This would be a deist picture, or Muslim.  But imagine the God who enters this world.  We have the incarnation.  The central image is the cross.  He took evil into himself.  He become sin for us.  This is the central aspect of atonement.  Isaiah:  "He has borne our griefs and sorrows."

Atheism has an imagination problem.  Atheist imagination has been tried.  Someone died and the body rotted in the grave, all the molecules go on... -- It is not very successful.

Instead of man with the beard we might talk about God being infinite, in the infinite spaces of the cosmos.  He does not know why Christians do not do more Pascal [?].   People could imagine different things in terns of the incarnation and the infinite.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Lecture Notes: Christianity, Imagination and the Arts / 1

Lecture Notes:  Gene Veith on the Imagination
Edmonton, March 2014
Taken down and summarized by me, Brigitte.
The video will be available on-line, at some point.

Cognition is most commonly discussed in terms of the mind and feelings.  Others want to bring in the will, emphasizing our choosing and moral agency.  However, the imagination, has been neglected in relation to speaking about cognition.  The imagination is the ability to picture things in the mind.

With this imagination we are able to make present things that happened in the past, are current or in the future.  We can picture events that have not happened yet.  We are able to conjure things up by the power of the mind.  They can be daydreams, memories, revelries, the reliving of an experience.  It is really quite incredible.  It can help us with planning and goal setting.

The imagination has been neglected because we have associated with special people, as if regular people did not have any.  But NO.  The imagination may be more prevalent overall with all of us than the intellect.  Imagination takes up more of our lives.  Much of what goes on in the mind is imagination.  Also when we speak to others we often appeal to their imagination.  We address the imagination of the audience.

This is precisely the point where Luther picks up against the iconoclasts.  This very thing brought him out of seclusion on the Wartburg.  When we read the Bible, we are always forming mental images.  We are always picturing it.  This is the basis of the defense of images.  If we are forming images in the mind, why can we not look at art?  Art comes from the imagination.  The iconoclasts are wrong.

Art and the imagination is often marginalized or glamorized.  But no. The liberal arts have freed human creativity.  It comes from the creative part of the mind. It contributes to free people. They do not exist primarily for financial rewards.  It is not servile in this way.  It is free.

The mechanical arts and physical labor also involve creativity, but fine arts are seen to exist for their own sake. This is a focus of this present conference “Christianity and the Fine Arts.”  We plan, make and create things.

Art addresses all the parts of the cognition.  It addressed the intellect:  “What does it mean”, etc. It addresses the will.  “What will be the moral response?”  But also:  “What is it doing to me?”  The imagination sinks things deep, deep into the heart, interacting with our personal identity and our social identity.  Our worldview interacts with what we imagine.  It acts as a lens.  What we believe shapes what we imagine.  And the reverse also happens.  The books we read, the movies we watch... all have a profound influence on us.  What we take in can make us more compassionate, increase our empathy.  It can also hurt us and increase our anxieties and worries. Only one thing can really happen, at most, in the end, but in our imagination we see all the possible outcomes and can worry about everything.  It can lead to paralysis. We imagine things and react with fear and misery. 

In Genesis, with the account of Noah, we hear that wickedness had greatly increased and that the imagination of man’s heart was wicked continually.  We have such a thing as an evil imagination.  Jesus talks about this in the Sermon on the Mount.  It is an offense to be angry, to despise and to hate your neighbor.  This is the soul’s state of a murderer.  We are responsible for this.  It is sin.  He makes it clear.  Then there is the lustful fantasy...

The Gospel also repairs our inner lives.  It redeems also our imagination.
There was the idolatry on the Aeropagus.  We are God’s offspring, but not like the image.  God makes us.  We don’t make him from our imagination. He is not ours to control and manipulate.
Ideologies are false idols.  We want to get our own way.

Neither is art going to save you.  The sooner you realize it, the better for you, artist.  Isaiah speaks about the craftsman who with his skill fashions a “god”.  He makes it with his hand and then prays to it “Deliver me!”  Artists can come to this point.  But it leads to despair and even suicide at the height of artistic achievement.  This is a danger for the artist.  The sooner he realizes the danger, the better.

Christ redeems the imagination, and also the tangible. Christ is God as human being.  Redemption by Christ is also for the tangible.  Somehow he took this to the cross.  The atonement is physical.  The sacraments are physical. 

Simple water.

To proclaim. To reach us. To apply to us.  He gives us his Word.--Reading is the best exercise of the imagination. It is a wonderful training for forming the images oneself---stories, parables, descriptions, symbols, visions.
In addition, God ordained the art that went into the tabernacle, and calls by name the artist who was to make it.  This is not just given to anyone.  He was filled with the Spirit of God, with skill, intelligence, knowledge of craftsmanship.

There is so much art in the church.  The Christian imagination is so big.  Christianity has expressed itself in any possible style that ever came along. Singing is practiced more in church than anywhere else.  There is the liturgically rich language.  There are the rich gestures.  There is the full range of emotions:  sorrow, joy, recognition of evil and goodness, law and gospel.  This can all nurture you and the imagination.

If, on the contrary, all you are taking in is nihilistic, it is going to make you a nihilist.  If you are going to take in the hateful, it will make you hateful, if you don’t watch it, if you are not careful.

A great thing about art is that it can make us notice things we normally neglect.  It can defamiliarize our experience.  

Familiarity can lead to boredom.  It can go so far that we care about nothing and no one.  Our marriage can die.   It can be a hellish condition. – Art can counter that.  Art can break through that. It can make us aware of our world, our relationships and ourselves.  It can help us bring out the capacity to love.  We may learn to weep with those who weep and laugh with those who laugh.  There is a healthy spiritual discipline.  It is the vocation of the artist to always love the neighbor. He does not practice his vocation to corrupt the neighbor.

There is great freedom in the Gospel.  Art can revive faith, compassion and love. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

How are things

Dear Blog:

I have a week off work...

The reading of Chesterton's "Orthodoxy" is almost completed.  The snail's pace I can afford right now is suitable to this booki, since there are so many beautiful and interesting things in it.  Chesterton is forever spying out a mystery, picking up clues and finishing with a surprise.  His life is an endless adventure even in relation to what we consider most mundane.  He's a funny and sweet guy, as well as a lion tamer of all the wild and woolly ideas out there.

The image of the "lion tamer" is fitting.  Chesterton introduces it when he talks about the beginner who first gets inflamed with an idea or ideology;  he is like a tea teetotaler on his first drink gone to his head.  But others deal with ideas like a "lion tamer".  I would suggest we can say that he is such a man.  He brings them all to heel and obey and into the right place. He is in control.

Secondly, I want to say that I squeezed in two lectures by Dr. Gene Veith when he was in Edmonton last weekend.  His talks dealt with "Christianity and the Arts and the Imagination", also in relationship to Christian Apologetics.

A summary of these lectures, by moi, will be the next post, probably by Monday.  That's the plan.

Dr. GeneVeith blogs here:
Also find his excellent books on

Everything he writes is timely and profound, as well as deeply Christian in the Lutheran tradition, carefully distinguishing Law and Gospel, always Christ and cross-centered; excellent stuff.  He is also a very kind man and deeply in awe of the mysteries of God; -- no mere dogmatician here.  He also is a lion tamer and in love with life in the right way.

Both he and Chesterton can help us see things straight, intellectually, emotionally and imaginatively.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Monday Night in March

March on the Flats

A dull sun reflects barely
on the rippled ice of the pond
that has thawed several times already.

A mouse scurries from the snowbank to the creek,
and back again, startled by a dog bark in the distance.
The noise seems strangely amplified.

A little water trickles in the  frozen creek
making its path with an eerie clinking
--like glass, or a tiny, high bell far away,
from another world.

The snow makes a crunching sound, groaning
with a low, sharp "Au", under the boots.
Well, it will be gone soon.
Die snow!  Die.

The chickadees are active in a swarm.
A little wood-pecker is at work.

Were they here all winter?

I can hear some geese.

The longer strands of the fur of my hood
play in front of my eyes like a curtain.

I've pulled the hood tight.
I didn't bring a toque.
Who thought it was so cold?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Sunday Afternoon in March

It's melting, fast and furious, at the moment.  The sun is out and the little brooks are running everywhere.  Everything is a-shimmer.

While talking the dog for a walk, I met a little girl in a gully.  She was wearing a loose red sweater with white polka dots and her trusty rubber boots, of course.  When I came up to her she told me triumphantly that she had found a maple leaf.  Indeed, she held a large, brown, old leaf. I admired it dutifully and reverently.   It looked like a Linden tree leaf to me, but never mind.  We held a conversation about the merits of various kinds of rubber boots, including mine, which also serve as winter boots.  We covered subjects like the need or lack thereof of an outer layer, such as a jacket.  She held the dog.

Her mother was standing on a balcony.  I waved to her.

How fun.

The poor kids haven't seen running water nor rain in a long time.

In terms of Chesterton, I finished "Heretics" and am ready to move on to "Orthodoxy".  Chesterton is funny, and bombastic and weighty.  He could sell me ice-cubes, even living this close to the arctic circle. -- He can't be right about everything, though, since he staunchly Roman Catholic. He.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Busy / Duty and Punishment

Dear Blog:  I have been busy and fighting the flu...  Not much time to read and write.

In the morning I read my Bible from the Treasury.  In the evening I read a bit from Chesterton.  That's all we can do right now.

The story this morning was of Noah's Ark.  Wow, what a punishment.  It goes from bad to worse.  First Adam and Eve are banished from God and the garden, plus receive the curses, then Cain gets sent away to be a wanderer, and now the whole earth is flooded and drowned.  -- People doubt these stories, but they sure have a ring of truth to them.   We still have such a mess everywhere.  And we still seek God's face, but he is missing, it seems.  I am finding my faith confirmed rather than threatened by reading them.  God's plan and promises and hopes held out, is what we have, by his mercy to the incorrigible, dumb and selfish egomaniacs.

--Chesterton is a hoot.  What else can one say.  Last night he ridiculed all those who thought pagans were all revelers.  No, no, he said, it's all about civic duty.  Indeed, I'd say, he hit the nail on the head, in thinking about Plato from the other day.  "Be just, my children, and serve the state faithfully."

So much.

Sunday, March 9, 2014


I read the story of Cain and Abel this morning, the appointed reading from the Treasury of Daily Prayer.  There is an ever increasing distance.  First Adam and Eve were sent away from the Garden, and now Cain, because of his deed, is sent further afield to be a wanderer.  He complains.  I will be away from your face.

But he worries about his safety.  The further away you get from God's face, the less safe you are.  Safe in what respects?  Cain thought he would be killed.  God tells him, your problem is sin.  It is crouching at your door.  Go about mastering it.

He killed his brother from pure malice and jealousy.  Able was a "good" one.  God tells Cain, that he should act decently.  God has always been holy and good.  We cannot stay in his presence and persist in our wrong. Leave, he says.

And enforces it.
Go away.
But he still protects Cain.

Eve has more babies "with the help of the Lord".  Adam knows her and God helps her.

We, too, are her offspring, by God's willing.  We are not in Eden, nor just east of it.  We don't see God's face.

But we can have his body and blood.

Off to it.

Forgive me, where I have wronged you.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

From my a friend

Why do you need to be online?  He asks me.  US Government recruits people to disrupts other people's websites, destroy reputations...

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The best female musical talent on my Facebook this week.

Below are two wonderfully intense musical women, that just thrill my soul.

Monday, March 3, 2014

"Often said silly things, like Plato"

We have picked up a new book, now that we have put The Republic behind us.  It is a G.K. Chesterton and it is this one:

It cost me $18.00 from, which ships to my house within several days and at no extra cost.  This is a dangerous thing.  One can convince oneself quite quickly to buy another book, and have it in one's lap in no time flat...  But Chesterton has been on my want-to-read-list, for quite some time.  After reading several volumes by Chesterton on the I-Pad while exercising (What I saw in America;  Eugenics and other Evils;  On George Bernhard Shaw) -- I have indulged in a hard copy which one can under-line in, take to sofa or bed, and generally make a decent mess of.  As I have a day time job, I have less time to read.  It will take several weeks to get through the 400 pages. We are already into the chapter on H.G. Wells (after suffering through a very long and boring introduction by a certain David Dooley).

It is a little frightening to find that I know so little about the men Chesterton speaks of, but this is just the point.  I want to know more about what happened intellectually in the 19th century and the turn of the century.  As a culture we seem to have a blind spot there, perhaps because everything before radio or WW I might as well be antiquity.  What is the difference to us between Plato and 400 B.C. or the 19th century?  They are all just various Wikipedia entries.

To make a quick link to Plato, let's begin with a quote that involves Plato and Rudyard Kipling.  Chesterton seems to value courage very highly, as we all do.  To stand against heresy takes courage.  Chesterton makes the point that as Europe has become more militarized, the average citizen has become less brave.  Something in Kipling and his view on military matters prompted this generalization.

"Now, the message of Rudyard Kipling, that upon which he has really concentrated, is the only thing worth worrying about in him or in any other man.  He has often written bad poetry, like Wordsworth.  He has often said silly things, like Plato.  He has often given way to mere political hysteria, like Gladstone.  But no one can reasonably doubt that he means steadily and sincerely to say something, and the only serious question is, what is hat which he has tried to say?  Perhaps the best way of stating this fairly will be to begin with that element which has been most insisted by himself and by his opponents--I mean his interest in militarism.  But when we are seeking for the real merits of a man it is unwise to go to his enemies, and much more foolish to go to himself.

Now, Mr. Kipling is certainly wrong in his worship of militarism, but his opponents are, generally speaking, quite as wrong as he.  The evil of militarism is not that it shows certain men to be fierce and haughty and excessively warlike.  The evil of militarism is that it show most men to be tame and timid and excessively peaceable.  The professional soldier gains more and more power as the general courage of a community declines... All ages and all epics have sung of arms and the man;  but we have effected simultaneously the deterioration of the man and the fantastic perfection of the arms.  Militarism demonstrated the decadence of Rome, and it demonstrated the decadence of Prussia." (p. 57)

--This is so very interesting, but about Rudyard Kipling I only know that he wrote the "Jungle Book".  About Prussia I know a lot more, having descended on one side of the family from Prussians. One of my grandmothers even saw a Kaiser Wilhelm.  I am afraid that the Prussians have not left a good impressions on Chesterton.  It will be interesting to see what else he has to say about them.

File:Bundesarchiv Bild 183-R43302, Kaiser Wilhelm II. und Zar Nikolaus II..jpg