T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Susie and I watched the Paul Giamatti film, Cold Souls, last night. This is a powerful meditation on a subject not friendly to our materialistic age: What is the soul?
In the film Giamatti plays himself, but he is struggling, because of personal angst, to master a part in a Chekov play. He decides, on the advice of his agent, to put his soul into storage for a while – just until he gets through this play. He visits a clinic and has his soul extracted – well, 95% of it – and it’s all downhill from there.
Giamatti ends up with another person’s soul and then has to go to Russia to recover his own, with the help of a “soul smuggler” from Russia. I won’t tell you how it ends. See it for yourself.
This film raises every question you’ve ever pondered about the soul. The main value of the film, I think, is that it reminds us that, for all their materialistic and rationalistic blather, our contemporaries know the reality of who they are: They are creatures with souls, which means they participate in an immaterial existence, a spiritual existence, an existence where, at the end of the infinite regression, God is waiting for them.
Cold Souls is neither a comedy nor a tragedy; it defies being set in one particular genre. And, according to the film, picking up on a quote from Descartes, the soul is only mostly immaterial; like anything that’s real it must have some material reality, even if it’s only a chick pea. Right?
But the movie leaves no doubt about the reality and value of the soul. The soul governs the body, shapes our outlook, generates affections, holds our priorities, and pretty much determines just who the heck we are.
So, in case you’re wondering, our contemporaries are aware of the kind of beings they are and, as evidenced in Cold Souls, they have a lot of questions. You and I have the answers – or, at the very least, we know how to talk intelligently about the subject.
T. M. Moore
Yeah, I don't think so. But this is precisely what we in the Christian community are allowing to happen with the prized treasures of the Christian cultural heritage. So little do we know about and regard the cultural achievements of our forebears, that we don't seem to mind when those who despise the Gospel acquire - or steal - the greatest artifacts of Christian history and put them to their own uses in a manner completely contrary to the intentions and practices of Christians who made these things for the glory of God.
I'm not just speaking about the obvious: the way, for example, Chrysostom's great cathedral in Constantinople (modern Istanbul) - Hagia Sophia - was seized by Muslims and converted to a mosque, which it remains to this day. Or how, for years, many of the oldest and most important original language manuscripts of the Old and New Testaments were held in trust by Marxists. Or that Cal Berkeley was originally intended to be a Christian university. I'm thinking rather more practically along two lines.
First, because of our indifference and willful ignorance, we are hardly aware of the great cultural achievements of our Christian forebears (many of you may still be asking, "What is he talking about?"). This simply means that great works of art and literature, sculpture and architecture, scientific, technical, educational, and political advance - created by Christians to bring glory to God and benefit to men - are now in the hands of secular and unbelieving trustees who define and employ them for their own purposes, and we don't even know what or where they are.
Second, and again because of our indifference, we allow, without protest or objection, museums, academics, publishing houses, politicians, and others to take the cultural achievements of our forebears and, like the Muslims of Istanbul, attach their own definitions to them, so that they use the very things our forebears created in order to honor God as handy ways of denying Him. Not long ago a Baltimore art museum put on display certain of its Medieval illuminated manuscripts, carefully captioning many of them in a way designed to minimize or even reinterpret the faith motivation of those who made them. The Christians in Baltimore simply ignored it.
Is this a big deal? Well, it is to me. Can we do anything about it? Perhaps.
At the very least, we can become more familiar with our heritage - with what is ours if only by identity because of our common faith with those who made them - so that we can identify, celebrate, and preserve this inheritance, and show it to our children, before those who hold it in trust boil all the glory out for their own pecuniary ends.
And then we can encourage and support those, in every field of endeavor, who are seeking to continue and develop that cultural heritage, so that it doesn't grind to a halt with our generation.
Maybe we just don't care. But one day we will be united forever with the people who, at great expense of prayer and strength, made these things. And were it not for the fact that in the new heavens and new earth there will be no more sorrow and no more tears, I daresay we should spend eternity with those folks in a perpetual state of embarrassment, if not shame.
T. M. Moore
In voting with the majority to pass her nomination out of committee, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham deferred to what he regarded as President Obama's ability to choose "wisely" in this matter. It's safe to suppose that all those with whom he voted, and who will confirm Ms. Kagan in the Senate, concur.
But if that is so, if the President really is so wise in selecting judges, then why is the Administration leaning on the Brits and Scots to try to reincarcerate Libyan terrorist Abdel Baset al-Megrahi?
You will recall that al-Megrahi was released from a Scottish prison on compassionate grounds last year, shortly after President Obama made his first nomination to Supreme Court. At that time, asked what he was looking for in a judge, the President stated that he wanted someone who was "compassionate."
Yet when a Scottish judge acted on just such grounds, the President was outraged, and his Administration continues to seek to overturn that "compassionate" action to this day, especially in view of the fact that that decision seems to have been, shall we say, ill-informed.
So the President wants compassion in his judges, but he resents compassion in a judge when such is actually expressed. Perhaps the President reserves the right to dictate the terms of compassion? Or maybe he only wants judges to act in compassion toward certain people? For example, not necessarily military recruiters (we must suppose). Or has the President come to the realization that there are other, more important grounds, for rendering judgments than compassion? Like, perhaps, "justice and only justice"?
It just strikes me as a little far-fetched to be deferring to the President's wisdom in selecting judges. Or in much else, for that matter.
T. M. Moore
Ms. Lears is an abstract artist whose latest work features a series of meditations designed to encourage reflection on suffering. Her work is rather too difficult to describe, and I can't say that I found the photographs accompanying this interview all that helpful or interesting.
But Ms. Lears stated concerning her works, "I gave them titles that would resonate with the assemblage on canvas to disorient the viewer and encourage being still, searching for meanings." Something about those words "being still, searching for meanings", arrested my attention.
Ours is an age not especially friendly to such pursuits. Things happen so fast; there are so many distractions; and now personal communications and social networking have made it increasingly difficult to find time for ourselves. The idea of "being still" so that we might discover some "meanings" to life in a work of art sounds almost like a joke.
The pace and noise of our day makes a mockery of being still for anything - especially for knowing God and contemplating His sovereignty over the world (Ps. 46.10). Many Christians have allowed themselves to become so caught up in the current of the world that their ability to know the presence of God and to contemplate His power over all things is seriously impaired.
I doubt many people will take the time to be still over Ms. Lears' art, as thoughtful and provocative as it is. Being still and knowing the Lord is an even less likely prospect - unless, of course, those whose lives should be characterized by those words should begin actually to practice them more consistently.
T. M. Moore
On Monday of this week President Obama held a kind of celebration at the White House, honoring the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disability Act. This was altogether appropriate for what many consider a landmark piece of legislation and one that demonstrates the real character of the American people. I would like to have been there amid all that high-fiving, glad-handing, and patting ourselves on the back for how good and wise we are.
Meanwhile, the President seems almost never to miss an opportunity to remind the public of how he convinced BP to pony up $20 billion to clean up the mess they've made in the Gulf of Mexico. He seems to sense that all Americans see the justice in this and that, of course, they should be reminded of his role in bringing it to pass.
But I wonder if the glad-handers and high-fivers in America's capital, and the President himself, would be pleased to know that their legislative acts and deal-brokering contain no original thinking, and that, in fact, they're only just catching up, in all their political acumen and wisdom, to the plain teaching of the Law of God.
Anent ADA: "You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind..." Leviticus 19.14. And BP's act of retribution and restoration: "If fire breaks out and catches in thorns so that the stacked grain or the field is consumed, he who started the fire shall make full restitution."
Imagine that the Law of God could be so far-thinking. Now, using your wild imagination, imagine that knowing this fact would make one bit of difference as to whether lawmakers will be any more open to divine wisdom in their policies and practices.
Not gonna happen.
T. M. Moore
Let's see. Lazarus was sick. Paul had some kind of physical problem. Epaphroditus fell ill, almost to the point of death. God allowed some of the Corinthians to become sick - and some to die - because they abused the Lord's Supper. And Jesus, well, He died. (So, by the way, will Creflo Dollar.)
But it's not God's will for me to be sick. I want to know (a) how this man presumes to know that; (b) why I should receive that as somehow related to the Gospel; and (c) why so many thousands of people are willing to sit through that nonsense week after week.
This is no-load Christianity at its most venal. God does not want you to have a hard time, no sir, not never, not at all! He wants your life to be easy, smooth, and full of all the stuff you want the most. So lean on Him for it! Go get what you want from God! Hallelujah for the good news of everything good!
I feel like I'm about to burst into one of those lawyer commercials for a class action lawsuit: "If you or someone you love believes that this is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then go look in the mirror at once and say to the face that appears there, 'What are you thinking?'"
"In this world you will have tribulation." Presumably, a little sickness along the way from time to time, as well as scorn, derision, opposition, persecution, chastisement, and more. The Christian life is a hard row, friends, and if you're not experiencing it that way, then you need to wonder whether what you're experiencing is the Christian life at all.
"In this workd you will have tribulation." But be of good cheer: Jesus has overcome the world.
Let's pray that He'll help the adoring followers of prosperity preachers to overcome their folly and take up their crosses before it's too late.
T. M. Moore
The Congressman is charged with 13 violations of House ethics rules - 13! - and for that he is to be brought down to the front of the House and told, "Naughty, naughty." Whether or not he'll go along, and thus save the Democrats a potentially embarrassing trial, lasting into the heat of the political season, remains to be seen.
And, as if that weren't enough, California Congresswoman Maxine Waters seems likely to be in line for trouble with the House Ethics Committee.
Our political leaders, in recent years, have presented a veritable library of case studies in ethical failure. Is it any wonder that the nation seems to have lost its ethical bearings when governors, members of Congress, and public officials at all levels are seen to have a penchant for moral lapse?
We might expect to find the Church offering a higher standard; but we would be disappointed. Here as well high-visibility leaders have fallen into ethical snares, while, at the local level, pastors have all but abandoned instruction in the Law of God, preferring a kind of ethic of tolerance and love in its place.
But this is not enabling the Body of Christ to provide solid moral leadership for the body politic and the nation as a whole. The ethical pontificating of Congress is strictly a matter of expediency; if they didn't have to charge anyone, they probably wouldn't.
What's our excuse? Why isn't the Church a shining light of moral conviction and goodness in a day when everyone's ethical gyroscopes seem to have gone haywire? Have we forgotten that our redemption is unto good works? That we are to shine like a city on a hill? That our good works should be conspicuous to all?
The affair of Rep. Charles Rangel might never have happened if only there were a strong and widespread contingent among the electorate, living and demanding of all our neighbors, not just our elected officials, a standard of ethics pleasing to God and beneficial for all men, a standard rooted in the Law of God.
T. M. Moore
But wait, there's more. The Iranians, or, at least, their peace-loving leaders, may have secured the services of SAM 300 missiles, thus effectively thwarting any effort Israel might make to destabilize Tehran's nuclear project. Only stealth bombers can get through such a defense and, well, let's see, who's got any of those?
Meanwhile, on the battlefields of Afghanistan, the enemy pores over the latest top secret documents describing American tactics and covert Afghani helpers, conveniently downloaded from the Internet, courtesy of some Australian coward with a chip on his shoulder against the US.
Well that's just great. What a great week it's been for US global strategy. How do they expect us to police all the indignities on the planet when people can't leave well enough alone and insist on gumming up a good thing? And how are we ever going to export democracy to the rest of the world if we can't make it work in Iraq and Afghanistan?
George Washington warned us about this. Foreign entanglements. Isn't it enough that we learn to be content within our own borders, making the best use of our resources, caring for our neighbors, and leaving the world to its folly? I think I'm becoming an isolationist in my later years. But more than that, I'm wishing that our country could be truly great again, in de Tocqueville's sense of great as good.
America will only be great if she is good, and only American Christianity can make America good.
T. M. Moore
First, "60 Minutes." Last evening the CBS news magazine ran a report on His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholmeo, Patriarch of the Orthodox Church and shepherd of some 300 million Orthodox worldwide. The Patriarch ("call me Bartholomeo," he told the reporter) was presented as a humble, sincere, devout, and beloved leader of his congregations, courageous in the face of Islam's unrelenting attempt to close down Orthodoxy's presence in Istanbul. The Patriarch soldiers on, holding services, complaining to the government, and shepherding his flock far and near, refusing to leave his modest compound (1 acre, 9 buildings) in Istanbul for love of country and desire to fulfill his mission.
The presentation was fair and bold, especially given the fact that it was a repeat of a December broadcast (in case the Turks didn't catch it the first time around?) and it appeared in the same week that 6 medical workers were slaughtered in Afghanistan because, as their killers reported, they were promoting Christianity.
Second, BP - yes, the same oil giant we've come to hate. To their credit, BP has been diligent on task to stop the flow of oil into the Gulf, compensate those affected by their shoddy workmanship, and clean up the mess. There has been plenty to criticize along the way, but they are still there and still promising to bring the job to a conclusion. Let's pray that they do.
And if they could figure out a way to make their pumps work just a bit faster (honestly, BP's gas pumps are the slowest I've ever used!), well, they just might keep me as a customer.
The Hooray! goes to our Lord, of course, without whose common grace and steadfast love no one, least of all those who have no interest in Him, would be one bit inclined toward anything decent or good.
T. M. Moore
The Life of Devotion
10 May 2010
So then after writing the rule of the saints, and their customs, and devotion, Brendan returned to Bishop Erc, and received orders from him...It was after this therefore that there grew up in his heart a great love to the Lord, and he desired to leave his land and his country...
- Anonymous, Vita Brendani (Irish, 12th century, after an earlier ms.)
...train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.
- 1 Timothy 4.7, 8
Brendan's parents devoted him to the service of the Lord. In order to accomplish this, they fostered him, at a very young age, to the school of Ita, who inculcated the virtues of love and piety in the child. After that, he was returned to his pastor, Bishop Erc, who taught him the Scriptures, the disciplines of grace, and the practices which would be required of a minister of God's Word. Only one thing remained before Brendan could be ordained to the Gospel.
He had to study and learn the "rules" of the saints of Ireland. The great saints who had gone before in the two generations since Patrick had encoded their daily disciplines and practices in various "rules." These summarized their practices in seeking and serving the Lord and outlined the rigors of a life consecrated to the service of King Jesus. Before a young man like Brendan could be considered ready to enter that life, he had to make sure he understood what it required, and that he desired to submit to it for the rest of his days.
It is interesting to note how our hagiographer observes that it was only after Brendan learned the rules of the saints "and their customs, and devotion" that he truly began to love the Lord and desire a ministry of his own. The lesson is clear: love for God and willingness to serve Him are not for the fickle or faint of heart. The life of devotion is a life of self-denial, cross-bearing, weeping and striving, and knowing the presence of the Lord in the midst of every situation. Only those most committed to discipline - to living by a "rule" - would be ordained to such a life, or would flourish in it.
Does your practice of spiritual disciplines lead you daily to love the Lord more, and to desire to serve Him faithfully? If not, then you have not yet found the "rule" that God intends for you. God calls each of us to a life of devotion to Him, but they only will find that life who are determined to train themselves for godliness so that they might gain the promises of God for this life and the next.
Today in ReVision: Neither/Nor, Both/And - Can we recover the true meaning of the Constitution?
This Week's Download: A Personal Rule - This document - recently revised and updated - can help put you on a path of devotion so that you love the Lord more and serve Him with great joy and effects.
Get your copy of The Ailbe Psalter and Voices Together from our book store, and let these lay a foundation of worship beneath your daily devotion to the Lord.
Converse with the Eternal
11 May 2010
Brendan spoke to the brethren, and said, "O beloved fellow citizens," said he, "I am asking of you counsel and help, for my heart and thoughts are all fixed on one single desire, if it be God's desire, to seek the land which Barinthus told us of, the land which God has promised to the men who shall come after us."
- Anonymous, Vita Brendani (Irish, 12th century, from an earlier ms.)
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven - whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows.
- 2 Corinthians 12.2
Brendan's story receives its impetus shortly after he is ordained to the ministry of the Word. He meets a man named Barinthus who tells him of having journeyed to the Promised Land of the Saints - the place where Christ rules in eternal light, and where there is neither time, nor sin, nor day, nor night, a place of splendors and joys abounding.
In Irish hagiography from this period the Promised Land of the Saints seems to stand for what Jonathan Edwards referred to as the "beatific vision," the vision and, to a certain extent, experience of the unseen world of eternal glory. Irish saints knew that Paul had glimpsed this, Peter had converse with it, and John was able to look into the unseen realm as well. Why not them? Why not us?
At any rate, they longed for it, and they disciplined their bodies so as to be able to focus their hearts and minds on the vision of Christ exalted, so that the reality of Jesus seated at the right hand of God became a daily experience of God's glory for them.
You cannot engage this Promised Land of the Saints, this beatific vision of Christ exalted in glory, without a disciplined life of prayer, meditation, singing, and shutting out the attractions and allure of the mundane world. But discipline your focus to hold in a vision all that Scripture teaches about Jesus exalted, the unseen realm of saints and angels, and the beauties of Christ's heavenly court, and visiting that Promised Land of the Saints can be your experience as well.
And there you will know fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore (Ps. 16.11). For that place is real, and it's all around us, and it's accessible, Paul insists, to those who know how to gaze with the eye of the heart, escaping this veil of materiality and engaging by faith the larger world which is, and is yet to come.
Don't you want to go there?
Today in ReVision: Neither/Nor, Both/And
This Week's Download: A Personal Rule - Engaging the unseen realm is a function of discipline; this little pamphlet can help.
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Driven by the Spirit
12 May 2010
Brendan spake to them and said, "Fear not," said he,"for we have our God Himself as our guide and helper. And ship your oars, and do not toil or labour; and God will guide His own boat and company as He pleases." And they got a steady wind, but knew not wither the wind was carrying them.
- Anonymous, Vita Brendani (Irish, 12th century, from an earlier ms.)
The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan.
- Mark 1.12, 13
Brendan's mission was to sail north and west from Ireland, to minister the Gospel to whatever people he met on his journey, by whatever means seemed appropriate. For this mission he recruited a group of 16 companions, and they sailed west over the uncharted sea in a boat made of leather (a curragh).
Ten days into the journey they were becalmed, and wore themselves out rowing against an untoward sea. Then came Brendan's instruction, given above. The writer seems to want to use this episode to tell us that, early on in our walk with the Lord, we need to learn to trust in Him, to let His Spirit fill our sails and guide us, wherever He may want us to go. The life of discipline will only benefit us if we learn to listen for, submit to, be filled with, and walk in the Spirit of God.
And that's not always an easy row to hoe, as Jesus understood. Driven by the Spirit, He experienced deprivation, loneliness, weakness, and temptation. But sustained by the Spirit - as Brendan and his company were - Jesus knew the presence of God, the strength of His power, and the reliability of His Word.
These are important lessons, and only the Spirit can teach them to us. Would you describe yourself as driven by the Spirit in your daily life? Or are you struggling and striving with all your wits and might against all the adversity and obstacles of your life, but making no headway for the Lord?
Rest in the Spirit; listen for His voice, speaking to you from God's Word and His world. Let His comforting presence refresh and renew you, and submit to His leading. He'll fill your sails with a steady wind to guide you in the paths of righteousness, peace, and joy every moment of your life.
Today in ReVision: Skin Problem - Is the President a little touchy?
This Week's Download: A Personal Rule - In the framework of a personal rule, you can learn to rest in God's Spirit.
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