What Doesn’t Change

What’s more surprising; the way our culture has changed, or the way it hasn’t?

The changes are obvious: our novel ideas about men and women and sex, about the role of government, about the value of children. The new ideas seem to have won, but – strangely – their supporters shrink back as if embarrassed by their success. As if, even in victory, they see their ideas as inferior to those they pushed aside.

This is apparent in the confusion and half-measures of their crusade, the constant attempt to dress up new ideas in old language.

If a man really could escape the ancient and obvious category of Male, why in the world should he promptly (and pointlessly) run toward the equally ancient and obvious category of Female? If he claims to overthrow gender, let him get on with it. Let him take pride in being a neuter or gelding, or whatever new category he offers to replace the old.

If a man rejects the ancient conclusions of Christianity and morality, why should he cling to its framework by claiming to be “good”? Let him take pride in being evil or offer some new category to replace good and evil.

If a man spends his career stopping the hearts of children, or surgically mutilating their gender, why hide his actions behind the veil of medicine and a clamor for rights? Let him take pride in his carnage and stop pretending that he is a doctor.

But of course, these things will not happen. Evil may triumph, but it will always hide. It may rage, but it will always feel ashamed. It cannot take pride in its distortions because it knows, as we know, that they are distortions. It will always pretend to be something else – to be that eternal, indelible thing we call Good.

The Clue of Beauty

A girl begins to sing, and she sings very well. The other judges are pleased, but one sinks into her chair, hides her face in her hands, and weeps.

A busy mall in December. The roaring crowd of shoppers abruptly stops and looks around, silenced by a lonely voice singing a half-forgotten Christmas song.

In a movie theatre with my young son, something inside me leaps as the rings of Saturn crawl across the window of our spaceship.

It feels like a clue, the way beauty can capture us, the way it sometimes tears a hole in the dense fabric of the day, allowing something deep and heartbreaking to shine through.

We might stare in wonder, or close our eyes for a moment, retreating to a secret place. It feels like memory, like a familiar voice we had somehow forgotten or the scent of a home we somehow lost. It calls to something deep inside us, and something in us longs to answer.

And then it is gone. The tear is mended, and we return to ourselves, immersed in the events of the day.

Such experiences are easy to dismiss. We call them emotion, or art, or nostalgia. We pin them like dead butterflies and file them away. But they leave us tender, either wary of whatever waits outside, calling to half-forgotten parts of us, or maybe wishing we knew how to answer.

And that is the question. What to do with the clue?

If our culture is right, we humans are biological accidents with no soul, no reason to love, and no reason to feel awe or joy in the presence of beauty. Beauty means nothing because life means nothing.

But what if our hearts are right after all? What if we long for more because there is more? What if the beauty that captivates us is more solid and enduring than our everyday routine? What if something outside is calling to the most important part of us, and there is a way for us to answer?

And that’s the point of Christmas.

We find great beauty in this world, but it is a world of goodbyes. Good things come, but also evil, and in the end we die.

In this angry and hopeless world, if we happen to think of God, we often think of him as distant and vague, but Christmas brings us back to reality. To a tired man and woman, far from home, making do in a cold stable. To a newborn baby, wrinkled and freshly scrubbed, looking into his mother’s face. Not God up there, but God right here. God so small. God with us.

The Christ-child came as beauty always comes, as a gift and a word. A gift that offers joy and demands nothing. A word that tells of the giver and his goodwill toward us.

When we are moved by beauty, we are moved toward home. Toward the Creator of beauty who is always giving and always calling to the deepest part of us. Toward the Christ-child who gave us his very self, living and dying in a way that is still tearing holes in the darkness.

——

Talent show: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZT-rdjv8wgQ

Mall choir: https://www.facebook.com/CarmanLicciardello/videos/533740169977550

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart, yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

-Ecclesiastes 3

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

-Luke 2

Thoughts about October 7

You couldn’t bear to watch, and it would be dangerous to try. Some things are better left unseen. To know them might be the end of you.

And so, we do not watch. We avoid pictures of the raped, murdered, burned, and beheaded because no sane person can bear to see such things.

This is the nature of cruelty. It transcends debate. It sickens and stains the witness. It screams what we can hardly bear to remember: That evil is real. That evil is among us.

The rancid stench of evil cannot be disguised, and so it is hidden by those who have developed a taste for it and evaded by those who have not. Cruelty creates a strange partnership between the sane, who cannot bear to see, and the cruel, who do not want to be seen. Those who would expose heinous evil have two enemies and no allies. No one wants it known.

The cover-up of evil is also evil, and that evil is among us. We stand aside as Americans tear down photos of hostage Jews and blame the victims for their own mutilation.

This feels like a kick in the gut because our guts, though less discerning than our minds, are less easily fooled. America, which did much to end the holocaust, now does much to excuse it.

This did not happen suddenly. For years, we stood aside as abortion supporters tore down photos of severed children, falsified their suffering, and blamed them for their own mutilation. America, which claimed all men are created equal, now assumes we are created with no value at all.

It’s the pictures that prove it – our disgust at the cruelty of evil, our readiness to let others hide what we cannot bear to see. But we have seen, and we know, and to let these cruelties stand would be the end of us.

Blaming the Walls

There was a collision downtown the other night, a stylish new model smashing through walls that have stood for centuries. And curiously, many who witnessed the event are blaming the walls.

But it’s been that way in our little town. Change is in the air. The buildings look much as they did 100 years ago, a seeming tribute to the art and integrity of generations who came before, but it is no tribute. We live in their houses and do business in their shops, but the people who built this town would not be welcome here.

The collision made this clear all over again. There was a school board meeting downtown, a tense conversation, a new idea smashing into an old wall. Of course, it’s hard to root for a wall, and almost no one did. The new idea, that pornography has a place in school libraries, easily won the day.

It’s been that way in our little town, and it’s not just sex. The same drugs that police fought to keep off our streets are now the biggest business on our streets, with more than a dozen licensed dealers and billboards advertising our product across the state. Just another old wall, toppling into dust.

It’s hard to root for a wall, especially an ancient wall built by strange people, even if those strange people were our grandparents. We honor them, of course, but there must have been some mistake, some flaw that prevented them from seeing what we see. So, we cheerfully knock down their walls, proving we know more than they did.

Or, possibly, that we know less.

The danger of our situation is demonstrated by our impulsive answers to big questions. No one can tell you why marijuana is suddenly good for you. No one can tell you why pornography is suddenly good for children. No one can tell you why there is suddenly no difference between a girl and a boy. No one can tell you, and it’s dangerous to ask.

These are not new questions, only new answers. Very different answers than those given by the strong and intelligent people who came before us, people who won desperate wars and endured crushing hardships and built the towns we inhabit. What makes us so sure that our answers are better than theirs?

We smash through the walls they built to protect their children and culture. We belittle their faith in a kind and reasonable Creator, suddenly convinced that intricate and elegant worlds arise by luck.

We assume that we have learned something new about the world, but we have only forgotten something old. And now we must learn it all over again, as our children pay the price.

Not a Broken Place

I bumble from the dark house into a dim field that is waking to his approach. A million things wait here, just as they waited yesterday, and each will have its own sunrise, its warming from frost and dew, its banquet of light.

He is every year the same, but every minute different, so perfect and constant in his ways that he is all but forgotten. We live in his light and cannot imagine darkness.

We speak of many things, often with loud voices, but we don’t speak much of him. We don’t speak much of the plants and animals that somehow grow, the brain and heart and muscles that somehow move, the many unsolved mysteries of which our life consists.

I read the news at night and then bumble into this field every morning to remember how the world is run without us, to see small and beautiful things that are wise in their own way, grateful, and even glad.

It would be different if this were a broken place, if our screaming righted some wrong in the world, but we seem hardly to notice what is right in the world – to be grateful or even glad.

This is not a broken place. It is a place dense with miracles we can no longer see, as full of beauty as we are full of blindness. And if we are blind to the wonders that surround us – if we don’t begin at least with some curiosity and gratitude for this strangely elegant world – our plans can hardly be described as vision.

And so, I propose a test for those who scream. Let those who would change the world begin with appreciation for the world that gave them life. Let those who would change a woman first demonstrate proper awe of the miracle known as Woman. Let those who would mutilate a man prove they understand the responsibility of Man.

Let those who would erode our gratitude for this world first show they are even capable of gratitude. Let those who would revise our morals prove they are capable of morality.

The attacks on our culture come not from above but below. Our growing disrespect for Man and Woman and life itself do not arise from something new we have discovered, but from something old we have forgotten.

The world is full of small and beautiful things that are wise in their own way, grateful and even glad. In this, even the grass is wiser than us.

——–

Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;

let the sea resound, and all that is in it.

Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;

let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.

Let all creation rejoice before the LORD, for he comes,

he comes to judge the earth.

He will judge the world in righteousness

and the peoples in his faithfulness.

-Psalm 96

But ask the animals, and they will teach you,

or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;

or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,

or let the fish in the sea inform you.

Which of all these does not know

that the hand of the LORD has done this?

In his hand is the life of every creature

and the breath of all mankind.

-Job 12