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Posts Tagged ‘Eugen Rosenstock Huessy’

Catechism and the Power to Speak

May 3, 2010 8 comments

I’ve been lingering in Telford Work’s Brazos Commentary on Deuteronomy. His midrashic style invites slow rumination. He introduced the term “apochesis” when discussing Deuteronomy 4:25. He says,

“The apostasy is not just a failure of parent to catechize their children (cf. 6:7). It is a life of ‘apo-chesis’ in which parents train their children away from purity. Apochesis is endemic in our day when tradition is mistrusted, cultural revolution exalted, experimentation treated as expression, and youth glorified for its own sake.”

Work has adapted the term catachesis. This word comes from an ancient Greek term, katēcheō, meaning “to sound from above”(Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. 3, Page 637) or to “teach by word of mouth” (Encyclopedia of Christianity, Vol 1, p 360). Two Greek words from this word, “kata” meaning according to, after, against, in, down (Strongs, 2596) and “echos” meaning sound and sometimes used to speak about the roar of the waves (Strongs, 2279).

This word was originally used as a dramatic term. The actors spoke down from the stage to the audience. The Scripture uses the word to mean instruction in the word or way of Jesus. So the idea of sounding from above captures the sense of an echo the resounds both in our instruction and in our reflection. The Word of Jesus resounds through His people and in His people. This word is instructing, guiding, opening our eyes to the Gospel and the way of the Jesus.

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy says the speech is the power to create the future. Using his understanding of speech, we might see catechism as the way resound the Gospel and thus create the future. We remember, we rehearse, we resound the Gospel. The Gospel is a past historical event in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, a present encounter in the Living Person of Jesus Christ we meet in and through the Spirit, and a future kingdom will be fully unveiled in the days to come. It seems to me that catechism capture all three tense: past, present and future. Thus we speak, proclaim, declare Christ is King even in the midst of corrupt and ruling powers.

With this in mind, I return to Work’s use of the word “apothesis.” Work is talking about a generation that choose not to speak, has forgotten to speak, has abandoned the power of speech. Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy wrote in the 1940s that he feared we were entering a “speechless future” (The Christian Future). We live in a world where the prevailing norm is a loss of real speech, words that create the future.

Apothesis seems an apt description to me of a people who have abandoned the future by abandoning the past. They have no power to resound the Word of God and thus they simply make sounds, or as Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy said somewhere, we use words for chatter (from one of his lectures). We are surrounded by chattering voices, sounding off bits of data stripped of vital life. Now more than ever, let us relearn to speak by listening to the Word made Flesh and resounding the Word made Flesh.

Poems to Live By in Troubling Times

February 12, 2010 2 comments

A friend gave me a copy of Joan Murray’s, “Poems to Live By in Troubling Times” last December. So far I haven’t been able to get past the second poem.

That’s not an indictment on poor writing. Just the opposite. It is a voice of gratitude for words that “git way inside us” as Sterling Brown once wrote of “Ma Rainey.” Published in response to the bombing on 9/11/2001, Murray’s early words still resonate. Listen to her introductory remarks,

I was moved by people’s urgent and unembarrassed need for a poem–for words that cut through all the pages of reportage…

We live in an age of too much reporting and too little resonation. From the earthquake in Haiti to continuing economic problems in the US and throughout the world, we need to hear more than facts. Yes, reporting can be helpful and facts may convey aspects of specific events but we need to learn how to mourn, how to lament, how to rejoice. Eugen Rosenstock Huessy accused the modern man of losing his humanity in the constant bits of data that pound us daily, and he wrote this in the 40s. He suggested the modern man has forgotten how to wail and how to moan as well as how to shout and dance with all our hearts. Instead, we live muted lives somewhere in between.

Murray offers a collection of poems that help train us to lament. That call upon the wells of grief in our troubled souls. Shortly after 9/11, she was riding on a train with “six young men on their way to New York to dig at the wreckage site.” In this difficult time, she waas overcome by their willingness to face the task ahead. She writes, “Yet by coming forward to do this very difficult thing, they had stepped across the line and had become larger than themselves. They seemed to be lit from within.”

Responding to this encounter, Murray wrote the poem, “Survivors–Found.” She writes, “It was clearly an occasional poem, admittedly not a great poem. But it had to force of an inevitable poem, as if someone needed it.”

We need poems. We need poets. We need to set aside times for listening and responding to our world in ways that reach deeper than the competing facts dancing on the surface. In our soul starved age, we need more inevitable poems, and I am grateful for the heart and the gift of Joan Murray’s voice.

Direction in 2009

January 10, 2009 1 comment

If you read this blog on occasion, you may run across my reference to Eugen Rosenstock’s Cross of Reality. He talks about man moving in four directions (backward-forward -time) and (inward-outward – space). We live within the time/space axis, and yet oddly we often get stuck in one of the four directions. Some people, groups, nations are stuck in the past. On the other hand, some are stuck in the future. To live and move within time we must enjoy the freedom to move backward and forward.

Space is the same way. Some folks, groups, nations are trapped in inner space: reflection, meditation, philosophy, etc. Lots of ideas, passion, existential reality but little contact with outer world. Early in his life as a son a “righteous one,” Martin Buber was caught up in ecstatic encounter with the divine. A student came to see, but he turned the student away for the inner ecstasy trumped the call from the outer world. The student committed suicide. This horror shook up Buber and was one of the key influences that moved him to developed his thoughts on the life of dialogue. The call to move out beyond ourselves and encounter the other in dialogue.

Buber reminds us that we move between two directions in space inner world and outer world. Both are fundamental and one doesn’t trump the other.

One amazing power of humans is our power to change. While trees shed their leaves in the fall and have no choice, we can shed our hair in the spring and grow long beards in the fall. Or we can do the opposite. We can turn around. We have the power to decide when to move and when to rest. We can change our world. We can put trees where there are no trees, or we can add trees to fields and create a forest.

This quick reminder allows me to talk about and think about direction in 2009. With the lay-offs and economic news in our country, many people are turning inward. Fear is driving people backward. Looking back to better times.

I would suggest the two directions that I am focusing upon during this season of fear and distress is outward and forward. Now is the time to look ahead with vision and expectancy. Now is the time to act in ways that bring hope and courage to the faltering. Now is the time to plan for tomorrow and act on the basis of a vision for tomorrow.

This gets me to vision but that’s another post. I’m thinking about vision and how vision works, where it comes from and what is its purpose.

Articulating the Future While the World Collapses

November 26, 2008 Leave a comment

As reports of financial chaos echo through the world each day, we may begin to feel like Modern Romans watching our world collapse.

I still think the world collapsed about 90 years ago, and the collapse has been rippling across institutions and nations every since. The church’s initial response to a modern notion of progress that was built on an overconfident secular humanism was to turn inward, building a bulwark around the orthodox truths of our faith. I’m not just thinking about fundamentalism.

As the modern world forgot our past and assumed that we could do not wrong, men like G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis emerged to warn of the dangers of this blind pursuit of man’s unlimited potential. Chesterton (Apostle of Common Sense) and Lewis (Articulator of Mere Christianity) defended the past against a false future built on empty ideas of human progress that denied our need for grace (and God). In one sense, the church spent the 20th century defending the past and building fortresses around the past to protect it.

This was what the times required. But a few prescient thinkers, drawing inspiration from men like Chesterton and Lewis began to speak of the future, a Christian Future. Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy wrote and taught about articulating the future (and the cost associated with creating this future).

Two future thinker-actors were Augustine and Luther. They both lived at the end of an age. They articulated the future. When Augustine wrote “The City of God,” Rome was literally in flames due to invasions by tribal people (the terror may have felt much like the attacks from our terrorists today). He wrote that book when Rome was already a Christian empire and the pagans were accusing the Christians of the downfall of Roman power.

Augustine’s book was a defense of the faith, and in it he suggested that the city of man will never be perfect. It will never be the city of God. So all man’s system are doomed to fail until God finally establishes his city on the earth. Augustine’s ideas about the city of God inspired the people who came after him to rebuild the world that was falling apart.

The Roman empire never came back. But the empire eventually shifted into the image of Christendom when all of Europe was a Christian land. In some parts of Europe (United Kingdom, Germany, Netherlands, etc), barbaric tribal cultures were Christianized and eventually all shared a common culture and belief on the Lord. In spite of today’s bad press, there was much praiseworthy in this medieval world. (Just see Chesterton, Belloc, Lewis, Tolkien and others.)

But Christendom was not the final glory. It crumbled during the 14th and 15th centuries, leading to (or revealing) massive corruption in the church and a breakdown in the culture. In the mid to late 14th century many people were certain that the end of the world was at hand. But by the early 16th century, Martin Luther emerged to cast a new vision of what could be. (I realize that he was one voice among many. While not disparaging their contributions, he is the one who became the articulation of the future.)

His ideas led to the formation of the Protestant church, opened the door for massive developments in science, and eventually took shape in our democracy and the emergence of a modern world. (This is way oversimplified does not take into account many other significant developments.)

Now we live at the end of that world. Is it the end of time? I don’t know. If it’s not, then God will once again raise up voices who will proclaim the gospel in a way that will reshape the culture and the world. In the end, America may not look the same. It may not even be America. But God will do something glorious that will lead to a greater spread of his word.

As we acknowledge the bankruptcy of modern progress, we must move in step with what the times requires. The times require thinkers, writers, artists, musicians, and more to articulate a Christian Future.

The impetus is upon the people of God to proclaim the kingship of our Lord Jesus, and to create under subjection to His rule. The prophet who has always inspired me about creating the future is Ezekiel. He is forced to change from priest to prophet because the times required it.

From the land of exile, Ezekiel sees, eats, acts, and lives out his fantastic visions. He articulates a future Israel through word-act. We are being called to be a people who articulate the future through word-act. This often means being derided as crazy and schizophrenic like Ezekiel. We must not fear but step forward into the foolishness that will usher in a new world.

Our attempts to define every aspect of the end times has often short-circuited our ability to see forward. We’ve become like businesses who live from payroll to payroll or quarter to quarter. Rather, we must become people who live between the garden and the New Jerusalem, learning to see and hear more clearly. As we see and hear, we must speak-act the Word of the Lord.

We are people who live in between the times. Like Ezekiel, we know exile too well. And sometimes we grow bitter and weary in heart. But like Paul we press on for the high calling of God. And like John we keep our eyes on Jesus, the Alpha and Omega, the groom, the Lord of Glory who is coming for a people who are without spot.

Worth Thinking About

August 14, 2008 Leave a comment

In his reflections on Eugen Rosenstock Huessy, Jeffrey Hart cites an ERH quote worth thinking about, “Our choices project us forward in our own histories. We make judgments, we may be prudent, but we act on faith. We create actualities that did not exist before.”

Stories upon Stories upon Story

July 16, 2008 Leave a comment

Last weekend Rick Doughty, Brad Getz and I did a retreat on story. This was the second retreat in my series of retreats on wisdom. We started with Meditation upon the 10 Commandments, followed by The Wisdom of Stories (last weekend), then we’ll do “Acting Wisely: the Translation of Wisdom into our Active Life,” and finally we’ll conclude with “Creating the Future with Words of Wisdom.” These four retreats follow Eugen Rosenstock Huessy’s “Cross of Reality,” moving from inward (meditation) to backward (storytelling) to outward (active life) to forward (wise words).

A few thoughts recapping The Wisdom of Stories may follow in future blog posts. I’ll focus what I write primarily on the notes that I used in preparation although I may reference Rick and Brad’s thoughts as they come to mind.

Each person’s life is filled with stories. When asked to tell my life story, the answer might actually be, “Which one?” For I am moving and have moved in multiple stories. Whatever I tell you will be an extraction from the wide web of stories. My wide-ranging stories are within a context of a storied world. And then there are many contexts for stories. For instance, if I consider setting as the basis for context, my stories are set within the context of family and friends’ stories that are set withing the context of a communities’ stories set within the context of a culture’s stories set within the context of the stories of the Western World set within the context of The Story (of stories) – The Word of God.

Stories pivot on multiple points some of which include setting, characters, plots, words and lines, action, symbols and images, tone/mood and pace. Each of these pivots reveals a particular dynamic to a story. Some writers capture the essence of certain pivots better than others. Charles Dickens certainly masters characters and settings. While his plots are often intricate and delightful, I think his real genius lay in creating characters within settings.

Edgar Allen Poe and Nathanial Hawthorne captured mood. For me, the feeling captured in Young Goodman Brown is one of the richest aspects of Hawthorne’s dark tale. I personally think this is particular genius of M. Night Shymalan. His stories create a mood that overarches the story. Some critique the story or the characters but the mood is his real gift.

Pace is the tempo of the story. Some recent films have played with pace both increasing pace or decreasing pace to almost a motionless state (Into the Great Silence). Andrei Tarkovsky films slow down pace, which make his films almost unbearable for some people. At the retreat someone mentioned “Napoleon Dynamite” as a great example of a movie tinkering with pace. Good observation! This may be why the movie seems for some to have no point or no action. It’s capturing an almost suspended state of time. “Run Lola Run” is a great example of a film that goes the oppositie direction and is breathless in it’s movement forward. The Bourne films (like many action films) speeds pace to a blinding fury.

Pace makes me think of Louie Armstrong. I once heard Wynton Marsalis say that Louie’s great genius was in capturing the changing pace of the American life. America was moving from an industrial nation to a communications nations where life is non stop 24/7. Louie’s phrasing both with his coronet and his voice plays with pace.

Sometimes setting is the driving force. Gormenghast tells the tale of a castle with endless halls and twists and turns. The story cannot be extracted from the setting. E.M. Forrestor’s Howard’s End plays with setting (both social and physical) in his fateful tale of a house in the country where two women are connected by being joined to the place.

Think of the power of words and line in stories. They can leave the story and take on a life of their own. “I’ll Be Baaack!” or “Go Ahead, Make My Day” became cultural catch phrases used in everyday life to create new meanings. These trendy phrase might be contrasted with the genius of Shakespeare who gave the world words and lines that continue to drive the way we think and talk. Just consider a few of the following (with thanks to Absolute Shakespeare):

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be.”
“This above all: to thine own self be true”.
“Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t.”.
“Brevity is the soul of wit”.
“To be, or not to be: that is the question.”
“All the world ‘s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts”
“Can one desire too much of a good thing?”
“For ever and a day.”
“Now is the winter of our discontent”
“A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!”
“Off with his head!”
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

And the list of familar quotes goes on and on and on. We’ve used his quotes verbatim and we’ve altered them to create new meanings or new contexts, but the the quotes appear on the mouths of many people who’ve never read one line of Shakespeare. His words live on and shape the way we frame our world.

Sometimes an image becomes so striking within a story that the image like the lines above takes a life of it’s own. We speak of a “scarlett letter” as a public disgrace. Hitchcock took common everyday images and turned them into images of terror. Aladdin gives us the “magic carpet.” Pinochio gives us a nose that grows and grows. These images are extracted from stories and used on our everyday discourse to convey meaning and ideas. Sometimes is less than honest and we mention that their nose might be growing.

All the elements I’ve mentioend thus far (plots, settings, characters, words, lines, images, tone/mood, pace) are conveyed in stories and may be the pivotal element in a story that connects with us or speaks to us. We may not remember anything else from a story but the element that moved us. In fact, we can dislike a story while loving a single element that impacts us.

This impact may be called inspiration. Stories and their elements “in-spire” us. We breathe in their influence. We are in “spired” or in “spirited” by the power of the story. Just as we breathe in oxygen and it keeps us alive, we breathe in these elements and they shape the way we understand and communicate and act in our world. The “inspired” stories become a source of wisdom that shapes us and gives us insight in the midst of living.

In the past, I’ve written about Memory and Vision as the life span of a person. I think stories fundamentally capture the movement between memory and vision, extending from our own story to the stories around us to The Story (the Word of God). I contend like Chesterton that the Bible tells The Story and all other stories are subsets of this story. There is a movement of energy, of vitality, of spirit that moves between these stories. As I consider this movement, this conversation of stories, I might begin to think more deeply of the “Holy Spirit” breathing upon creation, but more on this later.

In Praise of School Teachers

June 26, 2008 Leave a comment

Bobi Jones lifts up an anthem of praises to school teachers. Drawing from a rich reserve of past Welsh icons, he compares them to the ploughman, the soldier, a preacher, and Orpheus.

As warrior people, the ancient Celts wrote warrior poems in praise of battles, great fighters, kings and triumphs. In the middle ages, a Welsh poet used to the warrior epic to write a poem of praise the ploughman. The ploughman is worthy of praise for his faithful tilling of the land that produces food for a nation and provides the very stuff of the Eucharist. So the ploughman ultimately unites the people together under God by his faithful labor.

Bobi draws from both images to write a warrior poem in praise of the exploits of teachers:

Ploughman of the daily children! Solider of a nation!
I will praise the chalk of your hair while I have breath.

The image of ploughman, soldier and preacher combine in the teacher as one who tills the soil of the young hearts, wars with ignorance and the threat of losing the Welsh language and identity, and the preacher who connects the student of the present with the great communion of saints in the Welsh past. By telling the stories, by remembering, the teacher keeps alive a people who survive as distinctly Welsh against the onslaught of the surrounding culture.

…The clichés of education
Are charmed into adventure by your modest cherishing,
Our country’s past turned into the following day.

In this beautiful poem of praise, I encounter the exalted role of the teacher who fights daily in the rich battle of the Welsh people to preserve their story, their language, their life-blood from generation to generation. The teacher’s words create the future through the children. Creating the future may mean change but it also means connecting the generations.

The teacher is connecting the students to the soil of their being that will inspire them to move forward with the vision of their people in new challenges and contexts:

A land’s in a man; and through it he opens out lands
Like dawn reaching a pageant of fingers toward them.
You’re the river across their ears as well; the waterfall that carries them,
Sparks for a sun, earth and water of their searchings.

In a world where the pressure of homogeneity constantly threaten the identity of the faithful, the poem resounds as a clarion call to keep the vital life of memory alive in our stories, in our classrooms, in our children. It reminds me of Eugen Rosenstock Huessy’s exclamation that our present action is created by looking back to the past and forward to the future.

We are a forgetful people. We forget our names, our landmarks, our stories, our heritage. Without the stories of our past, we face a storyless future or a future filled with stories that submit to the demands of the trends that drive our culture from moment to moment. We need the bards to come forth and sing us awake into the memory of our heritage and our call forward:

A wraith’s in a river; you are Orpheus, rippling
Before each little life, bubbling up
Towards a free world of men, leading them from the dark
Without once looking back to their empty well-spring.

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