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.

First Snow

And so, the summer sighs and turns away,

its once green leaves alight in bright farewell.

One final fire before their dull decay.

One final wave before they curled and fell.

The time has come for frost, for geese in flight;

their lonely shouts and silent, throbbing wings.

Dark, crooked branches etch the brooding night.

A quiet withering of summer things.

Meadows sway and bow and fade to white;

A silvering of every blade and flower.

Edged by the piercing gleam of warmthless light,

a frozen kiss to mark their final hour.

Pond’s trilling chorus stills, to silence yields.

Forsaken gardens and forgotten vines.

Night winds moaning over empty fields;

Each stem, a hollowed bone of gentler times.

All melt into the sober, aching earth.

All fall before the stony rule of snow.

The end we saw afar even from birth

must come and every mortal thing must go.

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

The Hierarchy of Evil

Tires squealing, the getaway car jerks from the curb and accelerates to 35 mph.

“What are you doing?” a bank robber roars from the back seat, ripping off his ski mask. “Get this thing moving!”

His partner raises a finger, slowing as the stoplight ahead turns yellow. “That’s the speed limit here.”

“Oh!” the thief exclaims, sticking his revolver out the window to fire at a trailing police cruiser. “My mistake.”

There have been many thousands of robberies in human history, but none like this, and we all know why. There is a hierarchy of evil, just as there is a hierarchy of good.

The man who commits big crimes will commit small crimes. If he is willing to kill, then he is also willing to steal because killing is a terrible theft. And if he is willing to steal, then he is also willing to lie because claiming what belongs to someone else is a lie.

It works the other way, too. “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much.”

We know this in our bones, but it is a dangerous thing to know. Our culture is teetering toward the opposite idea, that there is no logic to right or wrong. Killing may be kind, and honesty cruel, and hatred a very great beauty.

The great lies of our day are not hidden in shadow, because they are too proud for the shadows. They are shouted as truth, and we are dared to disbelieve.

We manage this tension with dissonance, which is to say we don’t manage it at all. We are daily tempted to lay aside what we know and, instead, say something we don’t know – something safer and more rewarding, and so become liars ourselves. It’s a slippery slope, and down we slide, further and further from reality.

I don’t know if there is hope for this culture, but if there is, this is how it will begin. We will dare to disbelieve. We will say without apology what we know to be true. A man is a man. A woman is a woman. The innocence of children must be protected.

There is a hierarchy of evil. The person who feels free to kill a child will feel free to steal a ballot. The official who steals power by ignoring the law will always be willing to lie. A culture that tolerates such lies from its leaders will soon have no room for freedom.

I would say that our lives are at stake, but it’s much worse than that: Because even the innocent person who goes along with evil becomes evil.

Fortunate Ghosts in Forgotten Machines

It’s funny how this works. You float through the scene like a ghost. Your legs must be working because the picture keeps changing. Your hands flit in and out of view; reaching, holding, typing. You don’t stop to calculate the angles required of your joints, the proper contraction of your pupil, or the six muscles that aim your eye. It all just works. Without batteries. Without software. Almost without thought.

It’s a lucky break, to say the least. Start with a dead planet, then – bam! – it springs to life because, of course, that’s what dead planets do. A simple creature morphs into increasingly complex and elegant creatures until it ends up like you because, of course, that’s what simple creatures do.

Except they don’t. For many years, brilliant scientists in expensive laboratories have been trying to make dead things come to life. But they can’t. And they can’t make a simple creature change into a complex creature, or into a different kind of creature (or find evidence that this ever happened).

But luck, we are told, can easily do what scientists can’t. Welcome to the religion of the modern world.

Someone will object – will say that Darwin’s theory of evolution explains that. But it doesn’t. Natural selection can only select something that already exists. And if it exists — the theory claims — it was produced by a random mutation. And if it was random, that’s luck.

I’m not saying our admiration of luck is bad; just that we’re not very consistent. When we’re sick, we don’t ask for a referral to the luckiest surgeon. If we want a new car or house, we don’t look for the luckiest engineer. We don’t think luck can do complicated things.

Except, of course, really, really complicated things, like designing the human being who performs the surgery or the verdant planet upon which our house will sit and our car will drive. Somehow, luck can easily do those complicated things.

If you find a horseshoe in your garden, no one will believe it was formed by luck. They will only believe it’s luck if you find an entire horse. No one thinks luck can compose a painting, but we’re assured that it can easily compose a painter. Luck can’t design a computer – merely the mind that designed the computer.

Such is the faith required by our modern religion: To know from experience that luck builds nothing, yet to simultaneously believe that it built almost everything. To believe that art and music and beauty and kindness – that every longing of our hearts — came from nowhere and mean nothing.

Yet we are surrounded by wonders. Our amazing, automatic bodies. The incredible diversity of elegant creatures, so naturally sustained by this beautiful planet. The fact that we can think about these things and wonder what they mean.

These wonders require an explanation that luck does not provide.

———–

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven… he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else… so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

-Acts 17