Category Archive: Miscellaneous

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February 12, 2008

Two New Blogs

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Here are two new blogs you ought to check out: The Avenue, written by Steve Wilkins and Duane Garner, the pastors of Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church in Monroe, LA, and Biblical Horizons, written by many, many people.

Biblical Horizons is the ministry of James B. Jordan and some close associates, and I’ve learned from the material BH has produced for many years.  Furthermore, I’ve been a member of the Biblical Horizons mailing list throughout my whole ministry.  I’m delighted to see that now several of the members of that mailing list are putting some of their thoughts into this blog.  Read and enjoy!

Posted by John Barach @ 12:48 pm | Discuss (1)
January 23, 2008

Rowdy Christians

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This afternoon, I was in Starbucks, as I frequently am, and overheard a conversation at a nearby table, where a couple of guys were interviewing people to work for their security company.  They were making the point that the use of force was rarely necessary and that it was more important to be able to talk with people in a way that calms them down.

In that connection, one of them said something that jumped out at me:  “We have three cage fights a month and we’ve never had a problem.  We have more problems at Christian concerts, to be honest.”

“Huh,” I said to myself.  What do you make of that?

Posted by John Barach @ 7:03 pm | Discuss (7)
January 12, 2008

Yeats on the Victorians

Category: History,Literature,Miscellaneous :: Link :: Print

In one of his letters to his brother, C. S. Lewis talks about having met William Butler Yeats, whose poetry he had once admired.  The first meeting, Lewis says, was very strange.  A few days later, however, Lewis visited Yeats at his home again, and this time Yeats “was almost quite sane, and talked about books and things, still eloquently and quite intelligently.”

Lewis summarizes something Yeats said about the “great Victorians,” which I found interesting for the light it sheds on that period:

The most interesting thing about the Victorian period was their penchant for selecting one typical great man in each department — Tennyson, THE poet, Roberts, THE soldier: and then these types were made into myths.  You never heard of anyone else: if you spoke of medicine it meant — (some ‘THE Doctor’ whose name I have forgotten): if you spoke of politics it was Gladstone (in Lewis, Collected Letters, 1:534).

Posted by John Barach @ 5:26 pm | Discuss (0)
January 11, 2008


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One of the anticipatory criticisms on Mr. Stephen Phillips’s “Nero,” a criticism in a daily paper, says, among other things, the following: “Mr. Phillips has not drawn him as an inhumn monster, mad with the lust of blood, and fiendish in his cruelty.  Inhuman monsters do not really exist among men, but only in fairy-tales and folk-lore.”

Of all sentences I have ever read, that seems to me the most astonishing.  And yet it is more astonishing still in that it comes in a daily paper.  In the police news on the other side of the page you might read every other day of an inhuman monster.  You may read of a man who marries a long catalogue of women, destroying them with poison like rats.  You may read of a man who invents new tortures for his own infants as a man might invent new metres or new combinations in music.  But it is the comfortable doctrine of the paper that we are all inevitably mild.  We cannot be monsters of vice.  We need not be monsters of virtue.  And everyone loses sight of the true and terrible and inspiring doctrine — the old doctrine that unless we strive every instant to be monsters of virtue, we ourselves may easily be monsters of vice.  There is nothing nearer to us than madness; as every man knows who recalls some one moment of his life.

“Inhuman monsters do not really exist, except in fairy-tales”!  There are plenty of inhuman monsters in the modern world; inhuman monsters control commerce and rule continents.  The only real difference between fairy-tale and modern fact is this: that in fairy-tales the monsters are fought.  That is one of the very many superiorities of fairy-tales. — G. K. Chesterton, “Plain-Speaking in Elections; Art and Artists,”  Collected Works 27: The Illustrated London News 1905-1907, pp. 119-120 (paragraph breaks added in spite of Chesterton’s preference for writing everything in one long paragraph).

Posted by John Barach @ 1:05 pm | Discuss (1)
January 9, 2008


Category: Miscellaneous :: Link :: Print

Most of the modern controversies arise out of a complete inability to grasp the idea of human fraternity.  We talk a huge amount of rhetoric about mankind and manhood and man as man; but we always contrive to forget the manhood of anybody who can contrive to get mentioned under any other special description.

We constantly say for instance, that So-and-So will certainly be exact, impartial, and veracious because he is a man of science . But we only remember the word “science” and forget the word  “man.”  In so far as he is of science he will doubtless be exact, impartial, and veracious.  In os far as he is a man of science he will be loose, partial, and a liar.

So in the same way we speak of a military man, and say that if he is a military man he will be firm, masculine, and indomitable.  In so far as he is military he is liable to have these merits.  In so far as he is a man he is liable to run away.  So again we speak of a medical man, and do not adequately reflect that he is a man, however medical.

Even of the more attractive word “gentleman” the same principle is true.  The man is inside the gentleman as certainly as the word “man” is inside the word “gentleman.”  The gentleman means only the man who is gentle.  And the man is not always gentle.  — G. K. Chesterton, “Ladies, Women, and Human Beings,” Collected Works 27: The Illustrated London News 1905-1907, pp. 110-111 (paragraph breaks added in spite of Chesterton’s preference for writing everything in one long paragraph).

Posted by John Barach @ 2:54 pm | Discuss (0)
December 10, 2007


Category: Language,Miscellaneous :: Link :: Print

In his introduction to Fragile Things (p. xxv-xxvi), which, by the way, contains only a few stories I enjoyed, Neil Gaiman writes:

And on the subject of naming animals, can I just say how happy I was to discover that the word yeti, literally translated, apparently means “that thing over there.”  (“Quick, brave Himalayan Guide — what’s that thing over there?”


“I see.”)

It makes me happy, too, although I see that this etymology, which is presented here is not accepted here.  It reminds me of the story, perhaps apocryphal, about the missionary who was trying to learn a particular African language.  He pointed at something and said, “What do you call that?” and the African responded with a word.  The missionary pointed at something else.  “And what do you call that?” he asked.  The African responded with the same word.  No matter what the missionary pointed at, the response was always the same.  Eventually, the missionary discovered that the word meant “finger”: no matter where he pointed it, it was still called “finger.”

What seemed obvious to the missionary, namely that you point with your finger and name the object you’re pointing at, wasn’t at all obvious to the African.  In his tribe, you point with your chin and indicate the distance of the object with your pitch, deep and low for something up close but high and squeaky for something far away.

It strikes me that we take a lot of things like this for granted.  Augustine thought that children learn language by having people point at something and name it over and over again (“Chair … chair….”).  That seems to be how it works for some nouns, but what about pronouns and verbs and adjectives and adverbs?  And what about this pointing gesture anyway?  How come our kids know that when we point at the chair and say a particular word over and over again, we’re naming the chair and not our finger or the gesture or something else altogether?

Language-learning, as Wittgenstein pointed out in his response to Augustine (if I recall what Fergus Kerr says about it) is much more complex and much more mysterious than Augustine thought.  Perhaps he should have observed some children more closely.  My daughter, for instance, has grasped participles sooner than verbs.  She doesn’t say, “Papa, hold me.”  She says, “Papa, holding me.”  Odd, but true.

Posted by John Barach @ 4:33 pm | Discuss (1)
September 2, 2007

Shadow Puppets

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For all of you who have struggled to make shadow puppets with your hands and once made something that looked a little bit like a rabbit:

Posted by John Barach @ 3:42 pm | Discuss (3)
July 31, 2007

The Intellectuals and the Masses

Category: Miscellaneous,Politics :: Link :: Print

At several points in The Ordeal of Change, Eric Hoffer deals with the intellectuals.  He points out that in the past, the intellectual (or the equivalent thereof) was often a member of the ruling elite or part of a privileged sector of society.  So in India, the highest caste of the Brahmins was the educated caste.  In classical Greece, the influential men in society were often philosophers, poets, historians, and artists.  But beginning in the fourteenth century or so, various changes took place, among them the introduction of the printing press, which made education no longer the privilege of an elite class.  As Hoffer says, “There emerged a large group of non-clerical teachers, students, scholars, and writers who were not members of a clearly-marked privileged class, and whose social usefulness was not self-evident” (p. 15).

That last clause is particularly significant because one of the characteristics of the intellectual, according to Hoffer, is his desire to be socially useful:

In the modern Occident power was, and still is, the prerogative of men of action — landowners, soldiers, businessmen, industrialists, and their hangers-on.  The intellectual is treated as a poor relation and has to pick up the crumbs . He usually ekes out a living by teaching, journalism, or some white-collar job.  Even when his excellence as a writer, artist, scientist, or educator is generally recognized and rewarded, he does not feel himself one of the elite.

The intellectual’s passionate search for an acknowledged status and a role of social usefulness has been a ferment in the Occident since the days of the Renaissance.  He has pioneered every upheaval from the Reformation to the latest nationalist or socialist movement.  Yet the intellectual has not known how to retain a position of leadership in the movements and new regimes he has done so much to initiate and promote.  He has usually been elbowed out by fanatics and practical men of action (p. 15).

In Communist countries, mind you, things are a bit different: “In a Communist country writers, artists, scientists, professors, and intellectuals in general are near the top of the social ladder, and feel no doubt aobut their social usefulness” (p. 16).  But in the United States, in particular, intellectuals have a harder time, Hoffer says.

The intellectual, seeking an elite status and a role that’s socially useful, makes alliances.  He makes alliances with the downtrodden and underprivileged.  And, as Hoffer says, “his most potent alliance has been with the masses” (p. 39):

The intellectual goes to the masses in search of weightiness and a role of leadership.  Unlike the man of action, the man of words needs the sanction of ideals and the incantation of words in order to act forcefully.  He wants to lead, command, and conquer, but he must feel that in satisfyin these hungers he does not cater to a petty self.  He needs justification, and he seeks it in the realization of a grandiose design, and in the solemn ritual of making the word become flesh.  Thus he does battle for the downtrodden and disinherited, and for liberty, equality, justice, and truth, though, as Thoreau pointed out, the griveance which animates him is not mainly “his sympathy with his fellows in distress, but, though he be the holiest son of God, is his private ail.”

Once his “private ail” is righted, the intellectual’s ardor for the underprivileged cools considerably.  His cast of mind is essentially aristocratic….  He sees himself as a leader and master.  Not only does he doubt that the masses could do anything worthwhile on their own, but he would resent it if they made the attempt.  The masses must obey….

There is considerable evidence that when the militant intellectual succeeds in establishing a social order in which his craving for a superior status and social usefulness is fully satisfied, his view of the masses darkens, and from being their champion he becomes their detractor (pp. 39-40, one paragraph break added).

So various intellectuals have spoken out against the masses.  Hoffer quotes Emerson, who says that the masses are

rude, lame, uonmade, pernicious in their demands and influence, and need not to be flattered but to be schooled.  I wish not to concede anything to them, but to tame, drill, divide and break them up, and draw individuals out of them….  If government knew how, I should like to see it check, not multiply, the population (cited p. 43).

In fact, when the intellectuals have gained power and elite status, as in Communist countries, they often become the fiercest slavedrivers:

And what of the masses in this intellectual’s paradise?  They have found in the intellectual the most formidable taskmaster in history.  No other regime has treated the masses so callously as raw material, to be experimented on and manipulated at will; and never before have so many lives been wasted so recklessly in war and in peace (p. 42).

And yet the intellectual still needs the masses.  For one thing, he needs their money.  For another, he craves their worsihp: “He has a vital need for the flow of veneration and worship that can come only from a vast, formless, inarticulate multitude” (p. 45).

Summing up, Hoffer says:

The intellectual’s concern for the masses is as a rule a symptom of his uncertain status and his lack of an unquestionable sense of social usefulness.  It is the activities of the chronically thwarted intellectual which make it possible for the masses to get their share of the good things of life.  When the intellectual comes into his own, he becomes a pillar of stability and finds all kinds of lofty reasons for siding with the strong against the weak (p. 46)

The trick, then, according to Hoffer, is to keep the intellectuals “chronically thwarted.”  That’s the recipe for creativity.  Real intellectuals, real artists and writers, are often not much good at statecraft and rule, so it is usually “the pseudo-intellectual who rules the roost, and he is likely to imprint his mediocrity and meagerness on every phase of cultural activity” (p. 47).  Besides, “his creative impotence brews in him a murderous hatred of intellectual brilliance and he may be tempted, as Stalin was, to enforce a crude leveling of all intellectual activity” (p. 47).

But if the intellectuals aren’t given rule and authority, they end up at their creative best:

The creativeness of the intellectual is often a function of a thwarted craving for purposeful action and a privileged rank.  It has its origin in the soul intensity generated in front of an insurmountable obstacle on the path to action.  The genuine writer, artist, and even scientist are dissatisfied persons — as dissatisfied as the revolutionary — but are endowed with a capacity for transmuting their dissatisfaction into a creative impules.  A busy, purposeful life of action not only diverts energies from creative channels, but above all reduces the potent irritation which releases the secretion of creativity (p. 47).

In short,

the chronic thwarting of the intellectual’s craving for power serves a higher purpose than the well-being of common folk.  The advancement of the masses is a mere by-product of the uniquely human fact that discontent is at the root of the creative process: that the most gifted members of the human species are at their creative best when they cannot have their way, and must compensate for what they miss by realizing and cultivating their capacities and talents (p. 47).

I pass all of this on to you because I found it fascinating.  But I also wonder whether it has any application to the life of the church.  The church also has her intellectuals and her pseudo-intellectuals, her men of creativity who are often not given positions of leadership but who — maybe precisely by virtue of their marginalization — produce great and important work (I think of men such as James Jordan!), and men who crave power and leadership and who work to rise to the top so that they can impose their ideas on the masses of the church.  It’s possible, for instance, for a pastor to denigrate his elders as if he’s the only one with the sense to know what ought to be done, or for a seminary professor to castigate pastors in his denomination because they don’t know sound doctrine the way he does.  At any rate, Hoffer’s understanding of the intellectuals should provide food for thought, not only as we look at the world around us (why are so many politicians these days lawyers?) but also as we look at the life of the church.

Posted by John Barach @ 3:17 pm | Discuss (0)
July 20, 2007

Toward the Holy Kiss

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For those of you guys who aren’t quite ready for the return of the holy kiss, here’s something that may help you take the first step: “How To Give a Great Man Hug.”

Posted by John Barach @ 1:53 pm | Discuss (4)
July 18, 2007


Category: Miscellaneous :: Link :: Print

In his essay “Workingman and Management,” Eric Hoffer writes:

One need not call to mind the example of Communist Russia to realize that the idealist has the making of a most formidable taskmaster.  The ruthlessness born of self-seeking is ineffectual compared with the ruthlessness sustained by dedication to a holy cause.  “God wishes,” said Calvin, “that one should put aside all humanity when it is a question of striving for His glory.” — Eric Hoffer, The Ordeal of Change, p. 65.

What Hoffer’s describing here is, I think, a genuine danger.  A guy who is self-seeking may be ruthless, but you might be able to convince him that it’s in his best interests to spare you.  Not so for a guy who thinks he’s fighting for some higher cause.

That’s a danger in churches, too.  There are people who adopt the motto “Truth Before Friendship” and who eagerly rush into battle in the name of “doctrinal purity.”  But “Doctrinal Purity” is a harsh goddess who demands ever increasing human sacrifices and her servants, thinking they are serving the true God, often cut down their brothers in Christ ruthlessly.  The biblical motto, it seems to me, is not “truth before friendship” but “speaking the truth in love.”

And now to my question: Does anyone know the source of this quotation from Calvin?  My quick Google search turned up the same quotation on a few pages, but no one cited a source.  Where does Calvin say this?  What might he mean from the context?  By itself, it sounds rather horrid, though I can imagine a situation where what Calvin says here might be true (e.g., the Israelites were not to allow themselves to feel compassion for the Canaanites such that they spared them when they conquered the land).  But Hoffer provides only the bare quotation with nary a footnote.  Anyone?

Posted by John Barach @ 5:14 pm | Discuss (2)
July 16, 2007

“Adults” and “Adolescents”

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Modern man’s personality is weakening.  Modern man is no longer certain of the sources of personal integrity.  We see the adults take flight into their expert knowledge, into their “fields” to find certainty and character and distinction.  The modern adult does not like politics or any general confession of faith or the emotional vagueness of a “movement.”  He concentrates on his profession and he is as good a specialist as he can be.

But simply by watching how the word “adult” has spread, we may gain an inkling that the modern “adult” is not too strong as a personality.  He is called an “adult” from the evidence of statistics about his biological age.  When persons are called “adults,” there is a divarication of biological and social maturity.  We see the boy and adolescent stay young, brutish, shapeless long beyond the years in which his grandfather took shape as a personality and took his place in society as a citizen, in the congregation as a member.  — Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, “Modern Man’s Disintegration and the Egyptian Ka,” I Am An Impure Thinker, p. 35 (paragraph break added).

I suspect that the term “adolescent” has done the same sort of damage.  Defining a young person as an “adolescent” until he reaches a certain age and then calling him an “adult” may lead young people to remain immature longer than they did in the past.  After all, “adolescents” or even “teenagers” aren’t “adults” and therefore aren’t expected to act like adults.  They aren’t expected to be mature, since maturity is now linked to biological age, and therefore they act immaturely.

That may explain why I’ve often met men from my grandfather’s generation or the succeeding one who strike me as “personalities.”  They’re sometimes quirky but they’re also interesting.  They aren’t all educated academically, but many of them have thought a lot of things through and formed their opinions on a wide variety of topics. 

They were often required to work at an early age.  In fact, I suspect that their age rarely mattered to anyone and when it did (e.g., entrance into the army in a time of war) they may even have lied about their age in order to get increased responsibility (which, need I mention, is far different from lying about your age in order to get into a club and drink your face off).

Today, however, “adolescence” seems to be expanding so that teenagers act childishly and young men, who are even past the biological age at which “adulthood” is said to begin, still want to act the way they did as teenagers.

And churches, in my experience, are no different in this regard from the rest of the culture.  That’s especially true when young people are required to wait until they approach adulthood before making profession of faith and being admitted to the Lord’s Table.  Until that time, they’re often seen as not-quite-members.  Sometimes their sins aren’t even taken seriously since, after all, they haven’t yet “made profession of faith.”

And so, it seems to me, that by focusing on a profession of faith at a particular age instead of treating children as full members and training them from childish faith to mature faith, the church perpetuates immaturity.  Instead of having adults who are defined by maturity instead of biological age, both our culture and many churches have adolescents stuck in a prolonged immaturity which, all too often, they seek to prolong as long as they can.

Posted by John Barach @ 4:17 pm | Discuss (1)
July 7, 2007


Category: Miscellaneous,Theology :: Link :: Print

Thomas Howard on the significance and importance of doors:

Hence the closed door.  It is not so much saying, “Stay outside there, all you unwashed,” as “There is an inside here, protected from mere randomness and clutter, in which things begin to be set in their proper order and seen in their true light.”

This door is for closing and for opening.  To slam a door in the face of a suppliant is not the same act as closing the door after you as you welcome the stranger in from the tempest.  In both cases a door has closed, though.  In the former, it was a sign of hell, that is, the attitude that says, “I’ll have my things and damn your need.”  In the latter, it was a sign of heaven, that is, the attitude that says, “Here.  What we have is for you.”

There has to be a “here” — a special place fenced off from indeterminateness — before the host can say, “Come in here.”  You can’t invite somebody into a generality. — Hallowed Be This House, pp. 19-20 (paragraph breaks added).

This book, by the way, has been reprinted as Splendor in the Ordinary, and was a major inspiration behind (not to mention the source of the title of) Doug Wilson’s My Life for Yours. Both books tour the house and talk about the significance of various aspects of the house, though they touch on different things.  I’ll likely blog some more from Howard later.

Posted by John Barach @ 12:12 pm | Discuss (0)

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