Tuesday, November 20, 2012

important work

Driving somewhere recently in a more rural area not far from our home, I came upon a parcel of personal property that had many scattered and abandoned vehicles, large and small, old and new with several derelict buildings and a house that I cannot recall at all.  My immediate thought at seeing such a chaotic and unkempt piece of property was to wonder if the owners were Christians or not and that inner question surprised me.  Did it matter if they were Christians or not?  Surely many people have clean and organized homes and property and yet profess no allegiance to Christ.  What then of these people and their allegiances?  What did the mess tell us about them who were strangers to us?  Did they care that their property and the hunks of auto metal and dilapidated buildings that were strewn among the trees and overgrown grass was a huge eyesore to those passing by?  It was pure ugliness and only the thick green grass and large mature trees gave you any relief from the offensive view.

I gave this incident no further thought until this past week as I was reading through Francis Schaeffer's essay, Pollution and the Death of Man where he describes lecturing at a Christian school whose neighboring property across a ravine was what they termed a "hippie community" which included trees and farms where pagan grape stomps were enjoyed by the members of this "Bohemian" community.  Francis Schaeffer's curiosity was stirred so he visited the community and met one of the leaders and enjoyed a conversation which included Schaeffer's views on the Christian answer to life and ecology.  The leader complimented Schaeffer by telling him that he was the first person from "across the ravine" who had ever been shown the pagan grape stomping area, complete with a pagan image.   I will let Schaeffer tell it now:

Having shown me all this, he looked across to the Christian school and said to me, "Look at that, isn't that ugly?" And it was!  I could not deny it.  It was an ugly building, without even trees around it.
It was then that I realized what a poor situation this was. When I stood on Christian ground and looked at the Bohemian people's place, it was beautiful.  They had even gone to the trouble of running their electricity cables under the level of the trees so that they couldn't be seen.  Then I stood on pagan ground and looked at the Christian community and saw ugliness. Here you have a Christianity that is failing to take into account man's responsibility and proper relationship to nature.

Several pages later, he comes back to this thought as he writes how the Christian church can exercise dominion over nature without being destructive.

For instance, the area of nature, we ought to be exhibiting the very opposite of the situation I described earlier, where the pagans who had their wine stomps provided a beautiful setting for the Christians to look at, while the Christians provided something ugly for the pagans to see.  That sort of situation should be reversed, or our words and our philosophy will, predictably, be ignored.
It is always true that if you treat the land properly, you have to make two choices.  The first is in the area of economics.  It costs more money, at least at first, to treat the land well. For instance, in the case of the school I have mentioned, all they had to do to improve the place was to plant trees, and somebody decided that instead of planting trees they would prefer to do something else with the money.  Of course, the school needs the money for its important work; but there is a time when planting trees is an important work.

His account really resonated with me.  Christians should be providing something beautiful for the pagans to look at.   When the hippie community looked across the ravine, they saw no culture worth pursing, no nourishment for their souls, no ideas for their consideration.  They saw ugliness and there was no relief from it, except to turn away. And while Schaeffer was writing especially about nature and ecology, this has implications for all of our endeavors as Christians.

Doug Wilson recently urged something similar following the election earlier this month:
We also need Christians with a thorough-going biblical worldview writing good books, making good movies, and recording good music. As I have argued before, you can't have a naval war without ships, you can't have tank warfare without tanks, and you can't fight a culture war without a culture. ~Seven Post Mortem Principles 
Charlotte Mason in her book A Philosophy of Education concludes a chapter with these words written shortly after World War 1:
We are filled with compassion when we detect the lifeless hand or leg, the artificial nose or jaw that many a man has brought home as a consequence of the War.  But many of our young men and women go about more seriously maimed than these.  They are devoid of intellectual interests, history and poetry are without charm for them, the scientific work of the day is only slightly interesting, their 'job' and the social amenities they can secure are all that their life has for them.
The maimed existence in which a man goes on from day to day without either nourishing or using his intellect, is causing anxiety to those interested in education, who know that after religion it is our chief concern, is indeed, the necessary handmaid of religion.
Francis Schaeffer again:
These are reasons why the church seems irrelevant and helpless in our generation.  We are living in and practicing a sub-Christianity. 
A paraphrase of a definition of education as put forth by Christians like Andrew Kern and others is:  to cultivate a love for beauty, wisdom and goodness.  I've added order to that list for my family. To cultivate a love for beauty, order, wisdom and goodness that brings life to our family and to those we meet.

This past Sunday we stayed after our morning worship time to enjoy a meal with our church family.  As I was feeding Kate her lunch, I realized that in my running to and fro to get food and utensils for all of us, that Seth was seated at the other end of the table and a young woman that I did not know was speaking to him as they both ate their food.  I strained to hear their conversation but could really only hear her side as Seth's voice was quieter and more timid.  But I realized she was asking him questions like "what do you think you want to do when you grow up" and I was disappointed I could not hear his replies very well.  I did hear some talk of different video games he enjoyed and she seemed to know about the games he mentioned.  I'm not sure how long their conversation lasted as my eavesdropping efforts were not very successful.  Later when the kids were down from the table and the adults were left to chat, I was able to be part of a conversation that was happening between her and several other people close by.  I still didn't know her name as the time came for me to clean up and get ready to go.  I introduced myself to her and thanked her for talking to Seth and taking an interest in him.  She smiled very kindly and said she very much enjoyed talking him and that she was surprised at how articulate he was for being nine.  I expressed doubt that he was really any different than other nine year old boys, but she genuinely assured me it was her pleasure to talk with him.

David Mills, writes to Christian parents in particular, on what is necessary to form our children's imaginations, which is required if we are going to create beauty for the pagan world to see and cultivate a culture which gives evidence of allegiance to our King.
To put it another way, we want to raise kings, children at least somewhat worthy of the status of sons of God they have received through our Lord’s death on the Cross. We do not want the average, the mean, the mediocre. We want the elite.
Children with a special calling must be trained in a special way. They must be set apart. More must be asked of them than we would ask of other children. This is not easy to do. We are giving them a privilege that will seem to them like a burden.
One way to set them apart is to try to form their imaginations, to give them an alternative to the worldly lessons even the sheltered child absorbs as if from the air, by immersing them in books that express the Christian understanding of the world. ~Enchanting Children 
As Christians, we need to cultivate a Christian understanding of the world  and we need to make it obvious, whether it shows in planting trees and flowers, making good music, writing lasting stories, building beautiful buildings or cooking wholesome food.  May it no longer be said that we as Christians have only contributed that which is sterile, but instead that we have sought to cultivate a culture of beauty through wisdom and virtue.


  1. Awesome, awesome post! You've given me some really interesting and important things to think about! Thanks for sharing!

  2. I'm so glad, Gina! Thank you for your encouragement, love you.

  3. Heather~
    What a thoughtful, articulate and inspiring post!
    Blessings to you, friend!

  4. Anonymous10:17 AM

    I love this Heather - I was always struck when Christ asked his disciples, "Will you leave too?" and they said, "To whom shall we go?" Almost like it was so beautiful and so compelling to stay beside Him that they didn't let their minds wander to anywhere else.

    I think you are right that we need to reflect that compelling beauty more...

    great post.

    Love - kath

    PS - I love that you had the word hippie on your blog


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