The Limitations of Kitten Hugging

From Douglas Wilson:

You see, if we accept that Jesus is Lord, and that He is the final authority in our civic and public affairs, we might find ourselves, much to the consternation of fair-minded individuals, burning witches and stoning rebellious teenagers. See? We can’t risk it.

Okay. You say that we cannot risk this kind of Christian rejection of secularism, for fear that it might lead to outrages. But what happens if we stay with secularism? Well, it is just possible, for example, that we might find ourselves celebrating as true love the kind of sodomite practices that got the attention of the avenging angel of the Lord for the cities of the plain. We might find ourselves dismembering millions of unborn babies. What if something like that happens?

As Richard Weaver wonderfully put it, ideas have consequences. Moreover, all of them do. One of the most destructive ideas out there is that some ideas are privileged in this regard, and do not have any consequences at all. You have to worry about excesses of fundamentalist zeal if you give an inch to the Christians, but you never have to worry about the excesses of secularism. I can say that we think that we don’t have to worry about such excesses because hardly anybody ever does. And yet, we are living the midst of such pandemoniac excesses. Look at the news, man.

Read the rest in his post The Limitations of Kitten Hugging.

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My Christian Brothers: Having No Beard Make You Weird

“The beard is a masculine ornament, given to us by God not for any practical purpose, but for our dignity.” – St. Augustine

(Roman Catholic brothers, consider skipping this post. I pick on you in it. And if you do not skip it, bear with me in love.)

This past Sunday I experienced something that made me realize, or at least form a theory for, why so few Roman Catholics have beards.

Think about it. This doesn’t prove anything, of course, but think about the Roman Catholics you know. Do any of them have beards? I can think of one or two of my own acquaintance, but overwhelmingly, they are clean-shaven.

Some of this, I believe, is connected with the roman-ness of the Roman Catholic church. Scipio Africanus, the man who defeated Hannibal, and scion of the mid-Republic, is said to have been the first Roman to shave. After him, the Roman fashion was always to be clean shaven, except for brief periods when imitating the Greeks might have been seen to have been fashionable. Shaving was a symbol of being Roman, usually over against being Greek, but also in comparison to the barbarian races.

Shaving was a rite of passage of religious significance for the pagan Romans, and a sign of manhood. Having a long beard meant slovenliness and squalor. The propensity of early Christians to grow a beard signaled two things: the eastern origins of their faith, and their willingness to be seen as other than Roman.

As Europe moved further into the Christian era, the barbarian Christians brought the beard back in. Men had beards. Warriors had beards. Knights had beards. Beardlessness was a sign of extreme youth, or of femininity.

Priests of the Western church began to shave. It became a symbol of celibacy. It became a symbol of control over the flesh and sin. Men have their appetites to kill and rut and grow beards, but the Roman priests overcame that through shavery.

According to a very interesting post at the Catholic Encyclopedia (the complexity of which will allow you to poke holes in this wee little post if you care to, although it will still hold water after you’re done):

The legislation requiring the beard to be shaved seems to have remained in force throughout the Middle Ages. Thus an ordinance of the Council of Toulouse, in 1119, threatened with excommunication the clerics who “like a layman allowed hair and beard to grow”, and Pope Alexander III ordained that clerics who nourished their hair and beard were to be shorn by their archdeacon, by force if necessary. This last decree was incorporated in the text of the canon law (Decretals of Gregory IX, III, tit. i, cap. vii). Durandus, finding mystical reasons for everything, according to his wont, tells us that “length of hair is symbolical of the multitude of sins. Hence clerics are directed to shave their beards; for the cutting of the hair of the beard, which is said to be nourished by the superfluous humours of the stomach, denotes that we ought to cut away the vices and sins which are a superfluous growth in us. Hence we shave our beards that we may seem purified by innocence and humility and that we may be like the angels who remain always in the bloom of youth.” (Rationale, II, lib. XXXII.)

This body is a body of sin; the beard is an unleashing of the body. Therefore mortify the beard.

Thus the scholars of the West, inspired to shave by their connection to a cultural Rome that Frankish kings and Saxon peasants knew nothing of, and driven to shave by their desire to overcome concupiscence, became the clean-cheeked representatives of our faith.

But none of this, I propose, is the reason Roman Catholics today are still shaven.

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You may have heard that I have an awesome beard. A beard perhaps worthy even of El Cid, defender of Christians before the Moorish hordes, que en buenhora nació. His wife called him “the perfect beard”. His beard has a facebook page. Of his beard El Mio Cid himself hath said, “Thanks be to almighty God, it is long because it has had much loving care lavished on it. What reproach can you cast on my beard? All my life it has been my chief delight. No woman’s son has ever plucked it and no one… ever tore it.” Truly here, and not in the tonsured scriptoriums, was a paragon of Christian manliness in the Middle Ages.

But could El Mio Cid de Bivar, champion of Christendom, have taken the Lord’s Supper?

“Only if we practice intinction. That will permit the host to pass my mustache unmolested.”

My mustache runs over my lip, as I’m sure the mustache of El Cid Campeador did. This past Sunday, as one of the elders at my church handed me the chalice and I dragged deep and full of the wine, I got to enjoy a second sip courtesy of all the wine still caught in my mustache.

Think that’s gross? It’s just being human. Any dude with a mustache runs his lower lip over his mustache after taking a quaff of any drink, be it beer or water. But you couldn’t do that with transubstantiated wine.

So this is not a theological argument. Well, it is, but barely. It’s an anthropological one. My point is this: only dudes who shaved could have come up with a doctrine like the Roman Catholic one of transubstantiation. It is a doctrine that tries to drag earth, kicking and screaming, all the way up to heaven. But isn’t it our belief that the Kingdom of Heaven comes down to earth? This very real wine very really is Christ’s blood right here and right now. It has come down to you, and you may drink it and feast with it. Also, this very real man very really is God right here and right now. He has come down to you, and you may drink and feast with him. And while you’re at it, grow a beard with him, as he surely did.

Hence we shave our beards that we may seem purified by innocence and humility and that we may be like the angels who remain always in the bloom of youth. Here’s a question of sacramental theology for you. Do you want to be like the angels, or do you want to be like our Lord Jesus?

We are meant to be glorified humans. If we begin to reject our humanity, we will twist our glory and come up with all sorts of weird ideas.

If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.

When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory. Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:

Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.

Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.

When we mortify the flesh, we are to mortify our members, our arms and legs. These arms and legs are things like fornication and covetousness. We pluck those eyes out. This is very physical.

The new man is also very physical. Your new man may or may not be circumcised, but he certainly has bowels. And these are bowels of mercy.

We are not to cast aside all that is physical. We are to save it. We are to save men and their beards and their appetites. And if our priests tell us that it is best to not mate, we’ll be all weird when it comes to sex. If our priests tell us that this bread and wine is not so base as real bread and wine, we will become either aesthetes or drunkards.

And if our priests act like it’s best no to have a beard, we’ll go beardless.

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“I’m going there to see my Father. And finally get a decent shave.”

It is perilous to despise that which Jesus glorified. And we all do it. This has been a history of one weird scorn that developed in one corner of Christendom, and how it becomes part of a complex of ridicule for that which God has chosen to glorify. Ridiculing and despising that which God has glorified is what the world does. In this way the church is like the world.

If we despise wine, we will hate fellowship. If we despise sex, we will hate women. If we despise beards, we will hate brotherhood and masculinity. If we despise feasting, we will hate weddings and life together.

Don’t be like the angels. Figure out what sort of human Christians are supposed to be, and do that. Do I write you a new commandment, that all men must have beards? I do not write a new commandment, but an old commandment I write you. Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.

So I urge you, but do not command you: Grow out your beard, you son of a King! When he appears, we shall be like him! And if there’s beer at the right hand of God, my brother, I’ll buy the first hundred rounds if Jesus is clean-cheeked.

Why Christians Shouldn’t Say “America” When They Mean “The United States”

I admit that this is a peeve for me. So let me get that out of the way before I make my real point.

Listen, beloved, you ought not to call these here United States “America”. They’re the United States. Of America, sure. There are other United States in the Americas, such as the United States of Mexico or the former United States of Brazil, but we can acknowledge the original nature of the United States in this. We can’t grant the geographical America thing.

Americans call the U.S. “America”. But I’m not hear to bash Americans. The Brits do it too. It might, for all I know, be an English language thing. I haven’t asked enough Australians or South Africans to say. And I’m all for semantic convenience. As an American of Latin extraction this use of “America” annoys me, but I realize it’s a personal reaction. So whatevs.

Have your way on the whole “everyone knows you mean the U.S. when you say America” thing.

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What is Our Lord holding? The Law as given to Moses? The Law as given to our Founding Fathers?

Here’s the real reason you shouldn’t call the U.S. “America”.

The United States are/is a polity. America is an idea.

The U.S. can’t ever be ‘Merica!™, but America can be. It is worrying to see Christians thinking of the United States as a nation with a special role to play in God’s plan for the world, a sort of Christian Manifest Destiny. Sure, the United States may have enjoyed some wonderful blessings, but so have many others, and at the end of the day, it is part of the City of Man.

Many post- and late-Cold War Kids like me will wonder why I even bother to say this. In part, because many Christians still believe it. But mostly because, while the idea of America’s Special Christian Destiny may be on the way to bankruptcy, it needs to die. And for the health of the Church, the sooner the better.

We encourage the continuation of this thinking when we say America, even in our own minds. America, as I’ve said, is a special magical place. It’s a pagan place. Stop saying it.

The United States are a place (“is a place” my Yankee friends will say) that we can be honestly patriotic about. The United States are where I’m from. The country I pray for, the country I weep for. It is natural and good for an American to love the U.S. more than he loves Ecuador. All we Americans should. But let us not pray for America, lest we find ourselves praying for the idea of America.

Let us pray for these here United States, for its polity and its people. May God have mercy.

So Many Ways To Make Bread

A picture of my preacher with the one loaf in hand.

Our church does some things with the Lord’s Supper that I really like. For one, we use real wine (obviously! that’s the only option, right? I mean, right?). For another, we all share from one loaf. We’re still small enough to eat from one loaf, even at eighty strong. The loaf is torn in half, then each person tears of a piece for himself. To tell the truth, with an only sightly bigger loaf we could continue to tear off the healthy pieces that we do and still give bread to two hundred; it’s suprising how far the loaf stretches.

Another cool thing we do is the provision each Sunday by different families of the loaf. There’s a sign-up sheet, then an elder or a deacon makes a list and sends it out to the wives.

The bread tastes different every time. I never know which family brings what bread and what recipes, unless it’s our week to bring it. I think I know which family puts honey in their loaves, but I still have no idea who the crazy person who’s always putting herbs in the bread is.

And this is awesome, and only serves to bring us closer together as one body. For what is eating and drinking unworthily but despising brothers over issues of food and table? How easy and sanitary it is for churches to go out and buy bread made in a factory somewhere. Every Sunday I take the Lord’s body and blood, and it comes to me not only through the hands of the fallible men at the table, but through the hands of women who don’t do things the way I’d choose to do them. Somehow, whether it’s the way I’d choose or not, their work feeds me. Pastors and bakers alike.

This morning some silly thoughts reminded me of this. I ripped off my piece of bread and popped it in my mouth. Immediately I thought to myself, “Oh, this is the woman who never puts in enough salt.” But as I chewed I had a doubt. “Is it? I can’t quite tell. Not as much salt as it needs, for sure. Kimberly doesn’t like as much salt as I do either. I wonder why. Ooh! Is that oil?” Right as I was about to swallow I’d suddenly noticed that the bread had much more oil than my family normally uses, and it was really nice. In fact, more salt might have messed up the smoothing effect the oil had on ol’ bite n’ swallow.

There is only one loaf, and that is all there ever will be. And yet there are so many ways to make bread.

Ron Swanson on Exclusive Psalmody

I’m not an exclusive psalmody type (what is exclusive psalmody?). But I had to put together a little Ron Swanson inspiration for all Christians after reading a friend’s tweet:

This evening I ate like Ron Swanson and sang Psalms like a warrior. #manlyevening

Psalms are warrior-like. Psalms are manly. I imagine that Ron prefers to sing psalms. Next someone will have to ask him his opinion of the regulative principle.

Why I Homeschool My Kids

It might surprise some who know me to learn this, but I’m not a sold-out homeschool type. As much as wifey and I are enjoying homeschooling our kids, our preference would be for them to be in school. But that would only be under certain more ideal conditions, which we are not yet operating under, so we continue happily homeschooling away.

I mention this to let you know that this is not some sort of homeschool-or-die apologia.

I have a homeschooling pedigree, having been educated at home myself from the seventh grade on. I am part of the first generation of homeschoolers large enough to be noticed when they went to college, got married, had kids, and started educating them. I was only the second homeschooler to be accepted into the University of Florida. At the time, very few schools had any policies or standards for accepting us. UF decided that Robert (the first homeschooler accepted) and I should take a bunch of subject-specific SAT IIs, a very stop-gap policy that I’m sure has been changed by now. Within a few years I knew several other students who had been homeschooled, many of whom I had known when I was still in high school (my dad was a professor at UF, so I went to high school in the university’s home town).

So I’m part of the first mainstreamed generation. I’m also part of the last generation whose parents wondered and stressed about legalities, when homeschooling was very marginalized. Sure, today social workers still occasionally and usually illegally get in someone’s face, or homeschoolers deal with overregulation there or intrusive policies here. But there were still few enough of us out there back then that when a school board or social worker got offended that homeschoolers even existed, those people might think they could persecute and harass us without anybody important caring. The whole thing felt much more…guerrilla.

We moved from back alley to back alley, always pursued by the robots.

I don’t know what books my mom was reading in 1991, but they must have been pretty weird, since the year we started homeschooling was the same year we stopped eating wheat and moved to Berkeley. Strange times.

Like a lot of parents then, my parents were reacting. It’s a very positive thing that more and more parents are choosing to homeschool proactively. Although opting out is still a very large part of the culture today, opting in to homeschooling instead of opting out of state school is becoming the paradigm. And that’s helpful; it is always better to be formulating philosophies and making practical decisions based on positive frameworks.

My parents were Christians, but they did not believe I need a “Christian education”. They reacted to a dismaying experience, and since they had recently been exposed to the idea, the possibility, of homeschooling, they decided to give it a try.

I had attended school in Brazil from kindergarten to sixth grade. Most of those years I went to private schools, which would have been the norm for people in my class, with one year (I suspect my father was having a hard time financially) in state school.  In 1989/90 we moved from Brazil to Edmonton, Alberta, a large city in western Canada. My parents were absolutely scandalized by the way the kids in our church treated their parents; it was common for Canadian parents to be held hostage by teenagers threatening to call social services, since their version of DSS would remove children at their own request with no questions asked. And they couldn’t believe the stories I told them of my first year in a North American junior high. I was as shocked as they, but even so, I liked the school. I learned to play football, joined chess club, and was on a basketball team for the first time in my life. I was very disoriented, but even then I could see that I had never been surrounded by as much depravity as I was in that seventh grade. Drugs, bullying, sex, suicides.

My parents reacted. When we moved the next year to Berkeley, California, they decided to homeschool us. They made the decision because they wanted to keep us away from bad stuff, from sin and sinful patterns. They knew we were vulnerable to be influenced, and they decided to put us in a safer place.

All of which was good and laudable. And those are reason enough for me not to let my kids into a state school, if the state schools I were around were like that. But here in the Bible belt they’re often not.

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I think that many of the homeschoolers who are homeschool-only-do-or-die are reacting. Yes, I’m generalizing. Don’t get your prairie petticoats in a twist, just keep reading.

Reactions can’t endure; they are at best short-term solutions. Positive otherness is what is needed when considering how most Americans view education and its problems.

Have you opted out of state school until it’s fixed? Until there’s less violence, or they permit the teaching of Creationism? Or have you opted out of state school because it’s wrong? Because there’s a better other?

Our decision to homeschool, even if homeschooling is not our top choice, is a proactive one. It’s a positive choice based on our resources and recourses.

Much of it is about legitimate authority. And on a deeper level, it’s about what it means to be human. Yes, it’s that fundamental, because raising and educating your child are the same thing. There’s no separating them. And when you raise a human, you’re making a human.

Education is teleological. It’s in the word, boys and girls. Educare. To lead out. To lead toward. To lead forth. If you’re educating a kid, you’re taking him somewhere, you’re making him something. If you’re the state you’re making him a citizen. A productive member of society. A worker. That is the state’s highest aspiration for your child. Surely that is not yours.

Of the three spheres of human authority, a Christian might argue about whether education fall under the purview of the church or of the family. All parents ought to be aware of what they’re doing and where they’re placing authority when they choose how to educate their kids. The family would attempt to lead a child to be a faithful son. The church would want to make citizens of heaven, of the City of God. But the City of Man makes Citizens of Man.

I have counseled against being reactionary instead of positive and constructive. But the state of educational philosophy and application is so debased that any path we take will be limited in the good it can do. Building a wall when you’re holding a spear in one hand and a trowel in the other will slow down work significantly.

I believe in community life. And I won’t punch you if you say “it takes a village”. I’ll only punch you if you say “it takes a village” and you mean “it takes the State”. I’m not giving up any of my joyous responsibility over my children, but just as I share my life with my brothers and sisters in Christ, I can share my children. We are a family. Which is why we would prefer to have our kids in a good Christian school, preferably one run by our church.

Alas, we haven’t the funds. Meanwhile, homeschooling is great. God has given us all the tools, starting with the little humans themselves, to make Big Humans. To make Men With Chests. He asked us to do the job. And by his grace, we will.

The question we must always have before us is: what are we doing? Whatever your choices in education might be, the answer should be, “Making children of God”.

The Greatest Disaster of the 19th Century

“The greatest disaster of the nineteenth century was this: that men began to use the word ‘spiritual’ as the same as the word ‘good.’ They thought that to grow in refinement and uncorporeality was to grow in virtue. When scientific evolution was announced, some feared that it would encourage mere animality. It did worse: it encouraged mere spirituality. It taught men to think that so long as they were passing from the ape they were going to the angel. But you can pass from the ape and go to the devil.”

G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy