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The Late Great Medieval World

April 8, 2008 Leave a comment

I love studying the Christian Celts, particularly the golden period of the 5th to 8th century. What little we know about this world seems offer a balance to our world today. Their faith was less abstract and more rooted in every day living. Their prayers engage every activity of the day with God’s grace–from sweeping to stirring fires to milking cows to taking walks. They are rooted in community. They seem more in touch with creation.

It is easy to project back all our ideals to a period in the ancient past. (And to ignore many of their fatal flaws.) And we really don’t have enough information to paint a clear picture of that period. But we do have some writing and images that suggest a more integrated worldview between natural and supernatural as well as a connectedness to the land and the community/tribe.

While the Christian Celts may have brought some unique perspectives to the world, they also represent a way of thinking and living that was characteristic in that world. But this world came to an end. In a simplistic summary of history, I’ll point out a few major events.

The Western Church and the Eastern Church officially split in the Great Schism of 1054. While this split resulted from centuries of tension, it marks a formal break in the church that violates the love of God among His people.

A series of Crusades took place between 1095 – 1272. Millions of people lost their lives and the participation was debated then as now.

It appears to me that the next two events are judgments on the West possibly as a result of the Great Schism and some of the abuses of the Crusades but also maybe for other factors. These judgments in one sense represent the end of the medieval world (just as WW1 and WW2 represent the end of the modern world).

The Great Famine 1315-17 – While famines were a constant threat, this famine resulted in 1 million deaths, marking the end a population growth between the 11th and 13th centuries.

The Black Death – 1338 – 1375 – During these years, it is estimated that over 75 million people died. The Western world looked completely different. Entire towns ceased to exists, families lines ended, the social fabric fell apart.

The Medieval worldview did not have the energy to move this broken population forward. If we were using our terminology today, we might say that the world entered into a post-Medieval world. The world had to be rebuilt through new ideas, symbols, economic systems, cultural orders and more.

Part of reaching for a new world emerged in what we now call the Renaissance (14th – 17 th century). This emerging world had two competing interests: secular and Christian.

Martin Luther posts his 95 theses in 1517. While reforming voices and movements echoed through the church, this seems to mark the articulation that leads to a new world view. Secularist would prefer to speak of Renaissance, but I think the Reformation maybe the more defining transformation of the period. The energy of this worldview gave birth to modern science, classical music and more.

While the shift was not so dramatic, this new world gave birth to our modern world (both good and bad). The strain between secular and sacred only grew during this period. The doctrine of the Trinity was not guarded or articulated much during this period. James Jordan suggests that the unequally yoked marriage of Christianity and Greek thought propelled this world forward but eventually corrupted this world as well.

(I think Ingmar Berman’s “Seventh Seal” is exploring the end of the modern world via a story on the end of the medieval world while inverting Kirkegaard’s aesthete, ethicist and knight of faith.)

This world showed signs of breaking in the 19th century but the fundamental collapse was World War 1 and the echo of World War 2. We live in the arftermath of a world that died before most of us were born. Much like the post-medievalists, we live in a time that awaits a fresh articulation.

More on this later. I’m going to bed.

The Late Great Planet Earth

April 8, 2008 Leave a comment

Late Great Planet Earth

I grew up under the haunts of songs and stories that anticipated the immediate destruction of the earth. Instead of visions of sugar plums dancing in my head, I slept with visions of Armageddon. While I disagree on all the particulars, I think folks like Hal Lindsey intuitively realized we were standing at the end of the world. Or to be exact, we were standing in the remains of a world that already ended.

The other day when writing Why Don’t We Want to Go to Church, I suggested that judgment came on the West in World War 1. I might go even farther by suggesting that World War 1 and World War 2 mark the end of the world. Most of us grew up in a world that had already come to an end.

I’ll clarify by suggesting what I mean by world. On a personal level, all of us have experienced the end of one world and the beginning of another world. We are already comfortable with language that suggests worlds end. Thus the common phrase, “His whole world fell apart.”

A world is the time and space where I live. Whether conscious or not, I express that world through symbols of language, clothing, hairstyle, relationships and more. A child uses a specific language. It may be English but it will include words and sentence constructions that reflect the age of that child. As a child moves from into adulthood clothes change, language changes, currency changes (real money replaces tokens or toy money), relationships and more. The child leaves one world and enters another.

This is not limited to a personal level. The world of city can come to an end. We speak of the end of an era, which indicates time, but the end of an era will also impact space, so a city may pass from one world to another. A large company may employ a high percentage of people within a city. Other businesses spring up to support the workers. One generation passes through the city in this world. So the next generation only knows the city with the businesses and culture and particularities that have sprung up around that city.

If the large company leaves the city or goes out of business, the world of that city comes to an end. Businesses close. People move away. The few who remain live in a vastly different landscape and may even speak of the city as a “ghost town.” A world that has died but has not yet been born again.

I would suggest that the Western world died in the early part of the twentieth century, and it has yet to be born again. But a new world is coming. In case this doesn’t make sense yet, I’ll follow-up with a second post exploring how the medieval world came to an end, and how the new world emerged slowly (over the course of at least a hundred years).

And eventually I’ll connect all this back to the 10 commandments.

Joshua and the Flood

April 8, 2008 Leave a comment

18 Joshua made war a long time with all those kings. 19 There was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel, except the Hivites, the inhabitants of Gibeon. All the others they took in battle. 20 For it was of the LORD to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that He might utterly destroy them, and that they might receive no mercy, but that He might destroy them, as the LORD had commanded Moses. – Joshua 11:18-20

Warning: This is when I turn off a bunch of readers with my questions.

Reading through Joshua looks very similar to the pattern of the flood. The flood brings judgment to all living things with the exception of Noah et al. And God promises never to flood the earth in the same way again. But He doesn’t promise to restrain judgment.

The book of Joshua reads like a series of local, particularized floods, bringing judgment to entire cities and tribes. We read these passages with our arrogant, self-indulgent sense of morality (which when really weighed will hold no water*), and we cannot grasp the angry God who orchestrates such an event.

But another question might be asked, “Why does he hold back judgment for so long?” The pattern in Scripture and in history outside of Scripture seems to be that God shows mercy to the undeserving (such as Ninevah) in ways and for periods far longer than we would show mercy. His mercy is unfathomable, but His justice is sure.

* – C.S. Lewis’ “Till We Have Faces” is one great response to our empty self-righteous morality.

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