Discover more from Ben Simpson's Faith & Formation Newsletter
Of Something or Another, One Way or Another, at One Time or Another, in One Place or Another
Self-invention is a freedom. It can also be a burden.
In our effort to unshackle ourselves from the past, to cast off the burdensomeness of a heritage or a family name, to escape the trappings of class or societal or familial or religious expectation, we encourage and invite self-definition and self-expression. In order to encourage dreams and ambitions and aspiration to new and greater heights, we tell anyone and everyone that they can be whomever they wish to be, and to do whatever they wish to do.
We propagate the myth of unlimited possibility so that we might not dissuade the realization of an unknown and unseen potential. We do not encourage, to balance this myth, or to reign it in, the good that an be found in the recognition and embrace of limitations, and the ways such constraints can define us, our efforts, and even result in our flourishing. In the United States, we maintain a frontier spirit, chasing after the new, the possible, the different.
Departure from the past and the embrace of the new defines our outlook, and is a major theme of many of our books, short stories, and films. Great stories feature transformation of character. Many of our modern stories accomplish this aim by including within their plot some kind of radical break from a tradition. We are not romanced by stories of someone waking up to the riches they have received from a family, a religious tradition, or a cultural heritage and then chooses to stay, to commit themselves to the preservation, transmission, and strengthening of a given school, institution, or way of life. There are exceptions. I can think of one that does both: Moana, a heroine who breaks away from constraining forces, only to discover the riches of her heritage, tradition, and past.
We are all representative of something, some way, some time, some school, some philosophy, some people. But we are more than a product of our time and place, only at the mercy of societal and historical forces. Though our setting, time, and place do shape us, I believe we are all individuals, and must regard ourselves as such. I’ve read too much Kierkegaard to think otherwise, and I think that, in the end, we must all stand before God not as an amalgam of influences, but as a self.
Nonetheless, this very self is shaped and influenced be persons, institutions, societies, and by a time and place. We are contingent beings, born within a history, belonging to a place, representative of a people. I think individuality is found not by becoming lost in these influences, but by moving through them, choosing what to embrace, rejecting what is false, and standing on what is true and enduring, and then passing that on to another generation.
In 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 (NRSVUE), the Apostle Paul writes:
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we no longer know him in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; look, new things have come into being! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ: be reconciled to God. For our sake God made the one who knew no sin to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
The claims here are grand; for my purposes today, I take up one: the Chrisian is an ambassador, claimed for a particular work, and appointed as a representative of a particular person, entrusted with a particular message, and sent forth with a particular mission. The work of the Christian is established. It is to know whom and what domain one represents, the wisdom one has been received, and to commit oneself to the work that has been appointed, uniquely, for us in each time and place. We represent Christ. We herald his kingdom. And we invite everyone, likewise, to pledge their lives to him.
As a person created in God’s image, we are called to represent the person whom we have been representing all along, albeit badly as a fallen creature, dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1-). As a person redeemed in Christ, we are called to represent him as a restored, renewed creature, freed to live according to our design, in reconciled relationship to our creator, and in responsible relationship to our neighbor.
Christians represent a living person who is eternal, whose sovereignty spans the created order. Thus, we are representatives of a person and a tradition that is alive, ongoing, under development, and under the oversight and guidance of God.
The composer Gustav Mahler said, “Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.” He knew well that the musician does not create ex nihilo, but instead works within what they have received as trustees, guardians, and as innovators, uncovering the new contained within the old, waiting to be discovered and revealed. Tradition is not something to be adored as a good in and of itself, but rather to be stewarded as something alive and dynamic. A fire offers warmth, security, and energy. If it burns hot enough, it can smelt and transform raw material into something refined. It is the same with tradition.
I choose to be a representative of Christ, or, it could rightly be said that I have been chosen. The Holy Spirit, whom Jesus sends, is said to rest on those who follow him as tongues of fire. I trust that Spirit’s work to make me a witness, to renew me, so that I may no longer be a representative of the old world, which is passing away, but the world to come, the kingdom that will last.
Still reading Ron Chernow’s Washington. Progressing, still.
I continue to read, and enjoy, Seneca’s Selected Letters. I’m reading a book by Gordon T. Smith, Your Calling Here and Now and have now begun Robert Creech’s Pastoral Theology in the Baptist Tradition. I continue to read Michelle Ule’s Mrs. Oswald Chambers: The Woman Behind the World’s Bestselling Devotional.
Reading has been the best part of my summer.
Sights and Sounds
Bits and pieces, here and there. I’ve watched parts of Marry Me (2022) and am partway through episode one of The Terminal List starring Chris Pratt (Amazon Original). When it comes to movies or television viewing, I haven’t had much energy for it. I’m directing my efforts elsewhere, mostly to books and a little more to writing.
As far as music goes, I’ve had it on in the background: Duke Ellington’s Far East Suite (1966), SUSS’s Ghost Box (2017), and The Deslondes’s Ways & Means (2022). I like SUSS’s track “Gunfighter,” which I find suspenseful, western, and weird.
Dawes also has a new track, “Ghost in the Machine,” that I’ve given more than one listen. I still say, from time to time, that I’m giving music a spin, though I’m often giving it a stream. Streaming doesn’t have the same magic, though it is magical. I can access and listen to just about anything, composed anywhere, across a wide span of time. It’s overwhelming. A deluge of music. Curation is important.
I like Fog Chaser’s latest composition, Meditation 011.
On the blog: the Stoic philosopher Seneca advises us to read and digest one idea a day (to be present and attentive to what you read so that you may learn from it), I wrote about training in hope as human beings generally and a Christian specifically, and my review of Stephen Macchia’s The Discerning Life was published this week in ERB.
Before I go, standard copy.
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Be well this week. Bless others.
P.S. - No.