Not Flourishing, Enduring

The Bar Jester keeps it real about human existence:

I don’t want an early spring. I don’t want the buds to get duped. I don’t want the fruit trees to flower and then get stung. I just want the trouble—the full brunt of the trouble until it’s time, really time, for the darling buds of May at last to come out. And I say this, of course, as an avowed lover of winter—as someone whose favorite seasons are, in this order, winter, fall, spring, and summer. At winter’s end I’m ready for my third favorite season. I’ll not deny that. But I can’t get excited about hot days and high humidity. Life isn’t like a hot sticky day that air conditioning mitigates the misery of. Life is like a hard wind in temperatures below zero. Life isn’t like salubrious days in fall and spring. It’s like unseasonable days in winter and summer. Luck’s a chance, but trouble’s sure.

Or, to put it another way, you might sink the forty-foot putt (because you might misread the thing so badly that dumb luck actually has a chance to kick in), but you also might three-putt as well—and probably will. Life isn’t like a birdie; it’s like a double-bogey. Life isn’t like a gentle draw; it’s like a snap-hook. Life isn’t sun-bathing on Daytona Beach in the afternoon with your sorority sisters from I Felta Guy; it’s milking a cow on a cold January morning in a dark barn by yourself while college boys earning their degrees in business are still hard at work playing poker in the frat house (I Felta Thigh, Tappa Kegga Beer), drinking Captain Morgan and stupidly counting on luck when only trouble’s sure.

Why would you as a Christian who takes sinfulness seriously, so serious that the Son of God had to die for your sins, ever talk about human flourishing or cultural transformation the way that Homer talked about the Land of Chocolate?

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47 thoughts on “Not Flourishing, Enduring

  1. How shall we describe the death of the flourishing myth? Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance? Lots of folks don’t even get to denial, and then some go beyond acceptance. How about:

    Replacement (construction of Happyland)
    Denial
    Anger
    Bargaining – praying for restoration of Happyland
    Depression – ugh, there is no Happyland
    Acceptance – yeah, it’s a fallen world, and I don’t make a huge difference
    Embrace the suck – a re-working of the Puritan idea of contentment with providence.

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  2. True story – was in Europe with a German tour guide and he said “reformater” when speaking English instead of reformer when talking about Luther, Calvin, et al. Reformater/Reformator sounds a lot more badass than Reformer. The French word is Reformateur, I think, but that sounds wimpy.

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  3. Living peaceably, albeit not as successfully as some of my more calamitous college buds.

    In fact, some months are downright hard. But Christ is enough.

    I’ll take it.

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  4. I’ll listen to talks about human flourishing and cultural transformation when the goal isn’t making the world into a mirror image of Greenwich Village.

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  5. I’ve met some TKNYers in my time. They won’t be satisfied until there’s a wine bar on every corner, an iPhone in every hand, and a gallery for every street artist. They also said lame things like “Happy Friday” too.

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  6. Michael,

    What about NCAA brackets, like Obama? Are they into that?

    I’ve never met a TKNYer, so I appreciate your insight.

    (+1)

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  7. A person who has not completely lost the memory of paradise, even though it is a faint one, will suffer endlessly. He will feel the call of the essential world, will hear the voice that comes from so far away that one cannot find out where it comes from, a voice that cannot guide him. –Eugene Ionesco, Present Past

    Livy’s Father

    Heading east and traveling with the bend of the Canal, Livy walked hand in hand with her Father. Every day she would spot him in advance as her bus driver circled the block so that her children could exit away from traffic and to safety. He seemed so tall as he walked towards her landing; his winter coat, snug and blue-black, must have been woven with just a touch of cashmere to have been so soft. Later, as she grew taller, she was quite surprised to find her Father not so tall at all. And as he aged he began to lose that Oriental quality that was so strikingly part of his appeal. His smooth chestnut hair began to grey early and he always longed for his Homeland and he always kept his true self to himself. Yet he was here now, and going back home could happen but it couldn’t happen this year or next year or even the year after that. He was as happy as he was ever going to be, despite his near-death recall and the nostalgia it convulsed for that favored twenty-third year of his life and the liberty those days without duty or possession carried for him.

    He fathered Livy tenderly and conditions were such and work so limited, that he cared for her physically as he had cared for none of her siblings. Before each day began in earnest and so that she might not cry, Livy’s Father, sitting on the closed commode would leave a thin stream of water to run in the bathroom sink and as he wet the comb and began drawing it through her long and tangled hair he would sing a song to her; an old and lonely tune and an ever-recurring plea calling a lost child home. One that he would sing again when she would not and indeed could not hear him.

    Nella mia vita triste e senza amore
    Tutto svanisce e nulla mi sorride piu
    Ho una speranza ancora in fondo al cuore,
    Questa speranza mia sei solo Tu.
    Torna piccina mia,
    Torna dal tuo papa,
    Egli t’aspetta sempre con ansieta.

    Written by M.L. DiGirolamo
    Excerpted from Chapter: No Country to Call Home

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  8. Things can seem a lot more flourishy, doable, and great if you spin them right and have someone like Bethany or Ann Voskamp writing them up. Has there ever been (I ask our historian-host) an Xian movement that requires so much in the way of PR apparatus/apparatchiks, technology, and media as the transformational one? Maybe the Roman church — if you consider all the extras as tech and media?

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  9. cw, Whitefield was the master of PR. The Second Not-So-Good Awakening had a host of publicity outlets.

    What sets New Calvinism apart (maybe) is finding the relatively cheap PR vehicle of the interweb. But I don’t think TGC would be anything without the books of pastor-celebrities of Piper and TKNY. Add all the man-bites-dog press of gee whillakers, how could you ever plant an evangelical church in cool, sophisticated Manhattan, and you have a dash of what Whitefield experienced when Ben Franklin discovered revivalism was good for the publishing business.

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  10. Two great books on this topic (my first post in more than a week, and I owe McMark still), both by Thomas Sowell:

    The Quest for Cosmic Justice
    The Vision of the Anointed

    Since you all are smarty pantseses you’ve read them no doubt.

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  11. Muddy,

    “Embrace the suck” is an interesting concept. Certainly a lot of truth to it. How do you see that as a reconfiguration of the earlier Puritan concept of contentment with Providence?

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  12. Seems to me that concepts of flourishing and transformation are subsumed under the Zeitgeist of modernism, that we have somehow attained the ability to leave the darkness of human history behind us and progress into a higher order of human existence. Maybe this can all be reduced to imminentizing the eschaton – in varying religious or non-religious ways.

    In the broader conservative evangelical and Reformed experience, could it be that we haven’t taken the splitness of the Christian this side of eternity. Yes, there is flourishing, even transformation, in Christ, these are Scripturally founded concepts, but there is also suffering, and ongoing battles with sin. The way we experience transformation and flourishing in the context of our fallen world is spiritual, inward, and counter-intuitive, often hidden from obvious sight. Whatever glory we have is in fragile earthen vessels at present, and I don’t think many Christians have thought seriously on what this implies.

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  13. realistic regrets (law) make Christians CONTINUE TO place our hope only in Christ’s death and resurrection (gospel)

    if you don’t do your homework and get a zero
    turning in the homework late does not make the zero go away
    it’s too late to turn in the homework

    but the grace of God’s death for the elect makes the zero go away, even though the justified never do the homework

    our apology will not make the zero go away
    our faith will not make the zero go away
    our promise will not make the zero go away
    our commitment will not make the zero go away
    our turning the homework will not make the zero go away

    Psalm 32—blessed is the person whose not turning in the homework is not counted against her

    Belgic 24: We can do no work but what is polluted by our flesh, and also punishable; and although we could perform such works, still the remembrance of one sin is sufficient to make God reject them. Thus, then, we would always be in doubt, tossed to and fro without any certainty, and our poor consciences would be continually vexed if they relied not on the merits of the suffering and death of our Savior.

    A regenerate justified sinner sins less than those who are still in Adam’s condemnation. But that’s because all that a condemned person does is sin and nothing but sin.

    Romans 6: 20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are NOW ashamed? For the end of those things is death.

    Romans 6: 7 For one who has died has been justified from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.

    Romans 6: 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

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  14. Jed, the Puritans had their issues but a lot of them had pretty tough lives and that inoculated them from buying into the flourishing idea. So they told us to be, er, a creeper:

    “be willing to take hold low, and creep low….One who creeps low cannot fall far, but it is those who are on high whose fall bruises them the most….do not promise yourselves great things, neither aim at any great things in the world.”

    This quote isn’t the bulls eye I was hoping for but it does promote acceptance of a lowly status. And in other places they grappled with yielding to seemingly harsh providence. So disclaiming the right to a lofty status and yielding to the hardships of providence – how are these topics doing in the “flourishing” road tour?

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  15. how are these topics doing in the “flourishing” road tour?

    Lame. Muddy, so very lame. Where is the pizazz? the joi de vive? Can’t we do mo betta than our crusty Pilgrim forebearers?

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  16. Jed,

    Like Michael T and Mud, part of my journey involved the Puritans.

    Mud,

    Good quote. I never finished Jewel, but I know how the elders talked about that book around the table at Men’s Breakfast.

    Who’s next?

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  17. Did you know I was a Puritan back in the day? If you’re googling, look for “Hezekiah Gravel” to see me online in the late 80’s. It’s pretty hard to examine yourself that much so I mixed it up by examining other people. That was funner though my first daughter Zipporah wasn’t too fond of confession time at breakfast and dinner.

    Some day I’ll tell you about the day I was reading Watson as earnest as ever but then heard some Robert Johnson waft into my trailer.

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  18. Mud and Jed (sounds like a comic duo), how do I know when I’ve embraced the suck ENOUGH? Maybe Piper will get his teeth in this concept and tell us how to fully, passionately, joyfully, lustily, totally (insert wild hand gestures and quivering voice), redemptively embrace the suck. I’ll bet he could find 10 (count ’em 10) ways to embrace more emphatically.

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  19. Dr Hart asks: “Why would you as a Christian who takes sinfulness seriously, so serious that the Son of God had to die for your sins, ever talk about human flourishing or cultural transformation…”
    Because that’s what the bible taught me was the purpose of the gospel.

    But it doesn’t.

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  20. vowel-period, do you not get that embracing the hard things and having modest expectations for earthly endeavors is necessary to biblical joy and being happy (as much as one can be) with providence? What joyful fruit have you exhibited here, you miserable pietist? Do you read the psalms — all of them?

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  21. Sure, CW, embracing the suck could be used like another hoop to jump through. But it’s more like, “yeah, this is what life is supposed to be like.” Ups, downs, fractures, some mended fractures and some that make you limp the rest of your life. The whole flourishing bit reminds me of the cults that don’t believe in bodily sickness and all that’s involved in fighting to maintain that false belief.

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  22. huh cw? Not sure what a pietist is anyway; and can I call you a ‘miserable’ mischaracterizer?
    don’t think I said anything different than what you and muddy say: “embrace the hard things; have modest expectations for earthly endeavors; ‘“this is what life is supposed to be like.” Ups, downs, fractures, some mended fractures and some that make you limp the rest of your life.

    though I do think reflect on why life is ever allowed to be so good sometimes Gen 8:21; Titus 2:13-14

    yes love all the psalms –a lot of favorites – Psalm 90 this am.

    anyway sorrowful yet always rejoicing in God’s kingdom of righteousness, peace, joy in the Spirit. [2 Cor 6:10; Rom 14:17]

    affectionately, your foil,
    vowel-period a.

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  23. Fair enough on all points, a. But see what I did there? I prompted you to say reasonable stuff we all agree on. That is the essence of unification. You’re tendency is to juke and deploy verses, but you’re probably a good dude, too.

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  24. juke, cw ? = to make a false movement in order to deceive? and deploy verses – didn’t think there was anything more pertinent on a ‘theology’ blog than scripture; opinions can be interesting and all, but worth much really?

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  25. Little a, is it your expectation that people will look up your five scripture references per comment? I’m just thinking not many people come here to undergo a research project.

    “Winsome” looks different on different people. For me it’s not showing annoyance at your non-use of capitals with malice aforethought. That and I have a twinkle in my eye as I write this. But it’s pretty unpredictable what will happen when my eye twinkles so don’t relax too much.

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  26. research project, muddy? 5 verse cut and paste into Biblegateway and read them = 1 minute

    “But it’s pretty unpredictable what will happen when my eye twinkles so don’t relax too much.”

    wow, didn’t even imagine a twinkling eye with that icon picture of yours, so that’s impressive ; but as far as that unpredictability you mention, all I have is ……bible verses 🙂
    Gal 5:23; 1 Cor 9:25; 2 Pet 1:6

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  27. Just trying to help little a. If you want to continue to cite multiple scriptures that no one will read, suit yourself. Lev. 8:17, Hez, 3:4-11, Ezek 22:8-20, Numbers 17:5-9.

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  28. OOOHH…thanks muddy. THAT’s why we don’t see much scripture….. cause no one will read… thinking you might be right

    anyway, thanks for including the ones you did for me this am – to see Jesus remembering His great sacrifice(Lev 8:1-7); reminded of His holiness and kind warnings (Ez 22:8-20);reminded of His kind plans and intentions and our hope of the priesthood of all believers (Num 17:5-9)

    and happy St. Pat’s celebration just don’t forget :Prov 20:1

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  29. Good morning little a,

    Was Proverbs 20:2 part of your morning do devotional?

    Don’t mind me if I don’t cite any scripture for you this morning. What would be the purpose?

    I hope things are going well at your non-denom Church. If you are on twitter, feel free to follow me and tell mr what your church is there. I could always be of help getting your church on Facebook.

    Grace and Peace.

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  30. morning Andrew..
    no, hadn’t read that one, but does goes along with ones I did read this am Isa 55:1-3,6-12

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  31. Okay, I’ll bite:

    I’ve been trying to process just this sort of thing lately, and heartily agree, especially when it comes to the 2GA, etc.

    I have a question for Cw: how is Ann Voskamp a “millenarian champion of human flourishing?” I haven’t extensively read her, but she doesn’t strike me as that kind of thinker.

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