From the 2022 issue

From Mathetes’s epistle to Diognetus:

For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity … But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers …

From Andrew Roycroft:

Speaking and writing are so much a part of who we are, that it can be a struggle to imagine a world in which they are not ours to employ. Tracing words back to their original source is, nevertheless, vital. What is in view here is not the science of human language acquisition, but the theology of speech. 

Much of theology’s concern with language centres on God’s accommodation of himself to words which are accessible and applicable to human beings, with less ink spilled on the fact of our verbal capacity as his creatures. The nature of human verbal ability most often finds its residence in Christian anthropology, reflecting as it does the image of God in human nature. Thomas Aquinas’ summary of this area is of considerable help:

As the uncreated Trinity is distinguished by the procession of the Word from the Speaker, and of Love from both of these, so we may say that in rational creatures wherein we find a procession of the word in the intellect, and a procession of the love in the will, there exists an image of the uncreated Trinity, by a certain representation of the species

From Crawford Gribben:

We need to be careful with the pan-opticism of structuralist theory. Christopher Booker’s analysis of The seven basic plots suggests that the shapes of fictional narrative can be reduced to structures based around the themes of defeating a monster, moving from rags to riches, pursuing a quest, voyaging and return, comedy, tragedy and rebirth. We can certainly find evidence of each of these plot structures within the Christian Bible: defeating the monster – David and Goliath; rags to riches – Joseph; pursuing a quest – king David; voyaging and return – Ruth; comedy – Jonah or the story of Balaam’s ass; tragedy – king Saul; rebirth – the conversion of Paul. But our Biblical narrative also pursues a global plot, of origin, loss, complication, and restoration – of creation, fall, rebellion and renewal through Jesus Christ. Other stories that follow that same plot – think of Lord of the rings, which has sold 150 million copies, or The hobbit, which has sold 100 million copies, making these two of the best-selling books in the history of literature. There is a reason why other stories that follow that same plot can become so popular. It is this – that these stories are true. These stories reverberate in our collective imagination because they parallel the real story – our story – the story of origin, loss, complication, and restoration that we find extending from the beginning to the end of the Bible. For, as J.N. Darby put it, even children “yield a ready ear” to stories that reveal Jesus Christ …

From Michael A.G. Haykin:

Macarius also likens the conversion of a person to the taming of a horse. Before being tamed, an unconverted person is “wild and indomitable.” But once “he hears the Word of God and believes, he is bridled by the Spirit. He puts away his wild habits and carnal thoughts, being now guided by Christ, his rider.” Paul, for Macarius, was a prime example of such conversion. He had been living under the “tyrannical spirit of sin,” and as a persecutor of the Church he can be rightly described as being “steeped in evil and turned back to a wild state.” But Christ arrested his progress in sin, and “flooding him with ineffable light,” liberated him from sin’s domination. Here, Macarius stated, we see Christ’s “goodness … and his power to change.” From another angle, the Spirit comes into the entirety of a person’s being to put it in order and beautify it just as “a house that has its master at home shows forth an abundance of orderliness, and beauty and harmony” …

From Sharon Jones:

In Jeremiah 29, God instructed his exiled people to settle down and get busy. They should build houses, make homes, and go about raising families and future generations. The lifestyle his people should pursue was not only industrious and diligent, but creative and generative. They were to contribute positively to civic life, and to pray for God’s blessing on the welfare of their new dwelling place. We know that significant numbers among the exiles were skilled workers and artisans; shipwrights, metal smiths and craftsmen. There were priestly families too, who were well-educated and highly literate. According to Wiseman, “some … are attested as rising to professional status and owning land and vineyards in the land of their sojourn.” Jewish exiles contributed to the building of this great and cosmopolitan city (we know that Daniel and his friends became high-ranking government officials) even if “they on their part longed for their own temple, city and freedom and saw about them a glory which they believed to be transient.” Nevertheless, God made it clear that he wanted his people to continue to use and hone their knowledge and expertise, and to keep working. The shalom they had sought for in Jerusalem was to be translated to the foreign cities of their exile. I wonder if this was the kind of message from God that the exiles anticipated, or even wanted, to hear? 

Such was the big picture, but there is one important detail I wish to focus on: God wanted His people to plant gardens. I wonder if the exiles found this surprising. Houses are one thing – everyone needs a roof over their head – but gardening and growing their own? Couldn’t they have gone to the market? 

From Paul Kingsnorth:

So the question that interests me is this: when a person or a society goes through a crisis – and we’re going through one now, not just with climate change but with all sorts of cultural and political fallings away, everything is changing very fast – what is revealed that was previously hidden? That’s the question that is interesting about apocalypse. What happens when the curtain is drawn back? At the moment, this virus that we are living through is apocalyptic, in that sense – not in the sense that it will automatically lead to the end of the world, but in the sense that it is revealing a huge amount about the way we live, what works, what doesn’t work, what our assumptions are, what “getting back to normal” is, for example – everyone’s talking about that – but what was “normal” about how we were living before, and how can we get back to it, and should we get back to it? It’s forcing us to look at a load of uncomfortable stuff that we didn’t want to look at. We just wanted to get on with our lives and hope that somebody else would sort out the mess. 

From Fionnghuala Finnegan:

Strange things were happening in the villages. Eoghan had heard whispers about a handful of boys further along the coast who had simply disappeared. No-one seemed to know who these boys were, or where they were now living. They were too young to have been taken as factory slaves. They were too old to simply have got lost. But no-one knew where they had gone.

There were rumours, of course. In these stories, the boys had run away to join the king in the mountains. The old king hadn’t died. He was building an army, and waiting to return. The old women taught the children songs about his patience. They said that the boys had gone to find him, and to join him in the battle. 

But these were only myths. No-one had ever seen this king. And the braver boys who had climbed up into the mountains said that the old fortress was no more than a forsaken ruin. Trees grew through its windows, and snow had long since broken through its roof. They had found no trace of faithful kings, magnificent armies, lost boys or any hope of rescue. 

From Seth Wright:

Her mother, Mary, also worked with words:

She was a poet, skilled at wrangling herds

Of verbal mustangs into rhythmic lines,

Then coaxing them towards intricate designs:

Magicians, lovers, ruins in darkest night.

In Mary’s stories, Kayla took delight

And learned to cherish possibilities,

For in a story, things might always be

Otherwise, if courage leads the way.

Those homely evenings fit her for each day

At College, where wisdom was her greatest need;

They help her follow where her parents lead.

Their wisdom, like all wisdom, feared the Lord,

Grew strong by rumination on his Word.

It set them free from strict, old-fashioned fears

To read and cherish books, yet persevere

(despite the arguments they might find) 

In loving God with heart and soul and mind.