Saturday, March 29, 2008
More a role than an individual,...The Racer suffers from two serious drawbacks. One, of course, is political correctness. Note in the bottom illustration that the character is faceless and without apparent race, he quickly became a distinctively african-american character, for no apparent reason other than to make sure there was a character of such race somewhere in the series.
The other serious drawback is those skis. Designed to make the character look more kinetic, and an obvious homage to Kirby's creation of the Silver Surfer in the early days at Marvel, these just come off goofy.
I think it is the poles and the crouch, a skier just cannot look majestic like a surfer can. Too bad snowboards had not been invented when Kirby cooked this one up. The Racer has appeared so infrequenly that people don't quite know what is up. Even the official DC wiki has little to say.
I find the character fascinating because he does point out that even the great creative minds turn the wrong direction every now-and-then.
Friday, March 28, 2008
I decided, "iPod-ness" was an ever-changing, randomly-ordered, and infinite subset of the words and melodies I love best. A sample, if you will, of a much bigger library of music that is far too vast to contain or transport. Of all the songs in the world ever composed and sung, my iPod holds less than a sliver. So what's that got to do with God? Maybe this: I don't believe I've seen or heard even a little of what he's been pouring forth since time began. I'm pretty sure that the Grand Canyon - magnificent as it is - isn't his defining work. That crafting butterflies and wheat fields and a baby's sigh didn't begin to exhaust his creativity. That all the randomly ordered samplings I've seen of his goodness and his grace put together wouldn't crowd his iPod, if he had one.I, in turn am very glad that Leigh "gets" this extraordinary point. Most Christians I know think that the sliver of God they have on their spiritual iPod is all there is, and they are willing to do serious intellectual and spiritual battle with you to prove it.
Wouldn't it be a shame to be satisfied with only a shuffled sample of what I think are his "greatest hits," marvelous as they are? God's "iPod-ness" reminds me that there's infinitely more of him than I can carry in my pocket. And I'm so very glad that's true.
Humility is the essence of the idea that Leigh has herein developed. It requires humility to know that we don't know.
"I don't know" are, unquestionably the most difficult words in the English language for me to muster. As a consultant, I make my living by knowing, knowing more than the people around me. Those people pay me to know what they do not know and for me to provide them access to that knowledge. If I don't know, I am pretty pointless, and seriously overpaid. And if the occasional instance arises where I actually do not know, I darn well better be able to find out really quickly.
But most people do not make a living by being an expert on something, and yet we so readily cast ourselves in the expert role. Even as an expert, my expertise is in a very limited field, and outside that field I am as lost as the next guy, or gal. But even writing that last phrase I get a bit of a twinge, like I am less somehow by the admission.
I think that is where the rub lies. We think we are less somehow when we do not know. But such belies a serious misunderstanding of what we were created to be. See, in our lack of knowledge and subsequent reliance on the Almighty, we actually assume our proper place, and in attaining such we become not less, but more.
We are creatures created to know less and depend more. The problem is we never really figure that out until we reach the state. Try it - you might find it much more comfortable than you suspect.
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Friday Humor - a little off color
"You got a last name, Earl?"
"Nope. It's a long story, Officer."
"I got time."
Earl sighs and says, "Well, Officer, at first I was known as Earl Doo-Daa. I was going to school to become a doctor, and I did, so I was known as Earl Doo-Daa, MD.
I got bored just being a doctor so I went to dental school, graduated, and became Earl Doo-Daa, M.D., D.D.
After a little more time I fooled around with this girl and got VD. So I was known as Earl Doo-Daa, MD, DD, with VD.
When the medical board found out about my VD they took away my MD so I was known as Earl Doo-Daa, DD with VD. The dentistry board also found out about the VD and took away my DD making me Earl Doo-Dah with VD.
Finally, the VD took away my Doo-Dah so I'm now just Earl."
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Lips and Hearts
When you come to the place where you are drinking deeply from God and trusting him to act with you, there is peace about what you have communicated.Forget preaching, that is true for just about everything. It is less about what we do and more about what God does with what we do.
One of my great joys came when I got up from a chair to walk to the podium and the Lord said to me, "Now remember, it's what I do with the Word between your lips and their hearts that matters." That is a tremendous lesson. If you do not trust God to do that, then he will let you do what you're going to do, and it's not going to come to much.
You see, it is really funny how this works. The more less we worry about what we do and the more we let God work with what we do, the more what we do will be what God wanted us to do and the more effeective it will be.
What's the old phrase, "Let Go, Let God." Trite, but true.
Our life in Christ may be the only endeavor we ever undertake where the less we try the better we get. Well, provided that the less we try is accompanied by trust. See there in lies the rub. There is a big difference between less trying and trusting.
Are you really willing to let the invisible God handle things? I mean really?
Why is it so hard to trust in God? Why is it so hard to give up control? I think the answers are different for every person, but this much is undeniable, it is in that those contradictory desire that the key to a genuine Christian life lies.
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Wednesday, March 26, 2008
The Best Of Intentions
I think that a most apt title and it fits almost precisely my own impressions of Pentecostalism. So rather than labor in the specifics, I want to look at the broader picture.
How many movements begin with the best of intentions and end with something much less than the best? We worry about libertarian bents in the church, and efforts to combat it result in legalism. We worry about dry intellectualism and we get the many problems of Pentecostalism as John so rightly points out. We worry about the fertility of our mission field and end up substituting politics for genuine faith. I could go on...and on...and on.
Bottom line is a straightforward one. Movements, organizations, denominations, congregations are only as good as the people that make them up. Further, these things exist to serve people, not the other way around. All the problems I cite in the paragraph above result from confusing these facts.
This means our first priority is individuals. We cannot allow leadership that is not composed of outstanding individuals. We cannot allow the "greater good" to corrupt our approach to the individual.
Jesus came to change the world, one person at a time.
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Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Well, I'll be...
Language changes, as does connotation and the definition of profane. If the church remains unawares, more and more young people will be unbiblically condemned for using language that is for them completely normal and acceptable. Grudem expresses his concern, “Using words commonly thought to be offensive in the culture seems to me to be sort of the verbal equivalent of not wearing deodorant – or of going around with spilled food on our shirts” [Piper]. Yet, even within the church, Grudem would be hard pressed to find young people who hold the same words irreverent as he does. This is not to say that profanity is something for which the church should aspire. But history proves that what was once profane is no longer, and what is now profane may not have always been and will not always be.I tend to agree with that analysis, but I think there is both more at stake than mere cultural relevancy. In fact, I think this argument leaves the door open to morph the church in radical ways to reach "the latest generation." Heck I remember this discussion when I was in my 20's. Long before the current generation started claiming profanity as their own.
Rather than fight these changes, the church has the opportunity to lead the way in cultural language trends, showing sensitivity, awareness, and acceptance to formerly marginalized people. By using gender inclusive language, refraining from new and developing curse words, and even allowing the use of former profane explicit expletives, the church can demonstrate its acceptance of an entirely new generation of people.
The paper divided profanity into three types:
essentially, "damning," "gross," and the n-word. I think the key to a theology concerning profanity in the church lies in those distinctions. The excommunicatory is, I think, forbidden. The explicit is in poor taste, but dear friends the church has been guilty of poor taste in many ways over the millennia.
The exclusionary is where things get problematic. These words can simply be insulting, which is a bad idea when you are trying to win souls, or they can cross the line into excommuncatory, in which case, we have established that we have a problem.
Profanity, like drinking, is about intent and moderation. Banning it entirely is legalistic. Using it for verbal punctuation is a problem.
"Common sense" seems the watch word here.
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Monday, March 24, 2008
Understatement Of The Century
“My primary assessment would be because American Christians tend to be incredibly self-indulgent so they see the church as a place there for them to meet their needs and to express faith in a way that is meaningful for them,” said cultural architect Erwin McManus, lead pastor at Mosaic Church in Los Angeles, to The Christian Post on Monday.Boy that self-indulgent part is absolutely right-on, but I have some issue with the back up, and then again...
We are indeed self-indulgent, amazingly so, but I have always contended that the church was, in fact, the place where we go to be energized in order to be able to reach out.
I think the real issue is this - the church does not have a single ministry or purpose. We tend to want to organize it that way because when you have one someone in charge, an organization reflects their desires. But I think God has a more diverse organizational and management structure in mind when he designed the church.
Which is where the real self-indulgence comes into play. There is a great deal of self-indulgent vanity in declaring all those that simply want a Christian community in which they can be fed, held accountable, and nurtured. Now it is self-indulgent to do those things and only those things, but those things are necessary to making God's church capable of doing what it is called to do.
Is it self-indulgent for a soldier to want a meal? Of course not. Are those that provide that meal any less a part of the military than the soldier? Again, no. Do you see? To deny those things as a part of the greater calling of the church is to place one particular calling of one particular individual onto the greater whole. Isn't that definitionally self-indulgent?
Narrow-focusing helps to gather the strength of an organization, that is a fact or organizations, but doing that automatically does away with at least a portion of God's total vision for the church. The church has got to find new ways to harness its organizational energy - or maybe it has to let that energy run a bit uncontrolled.
Maybe the church is supposed to be a little out-of-control, just beyond our ability to harness and focus it. In such an instance we have little choice but to rely on the Holy Spirit to make it work.
Frankly, that sounds like the right formula to me.
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Sunday, March 23, 2008
He Is Risen!
Sermons and Lessons
William L. Watkinson, Wesleyan minister, was born at Hull, 1838, was educated privately and rose to eminence as a preacher and writer. The Rev. William Durban calls him “The classic preacher of British Methodism.” “He ranks,” says Dr. Durban, “with Dr. Dallinger and the Rev. Thomas Gunn Selby as the three most learned and refined of living preachers in the English Methodist pulpit. Dr. Watkinson is famous for the glittering illustrations which adorn his style. These are for the most part gathered from biography, the classics, and science, and of late years Dr. Watkinson has become more and more addicted to spiritualizing the aspects of modem scientific discovery. Dr. Watkinson never reads his utterances from a manuscript. Nor does he preach memoriter, as far as the language of his addresses is concerned. They are always carefully thought out and are never characterized by florid diction. His simple, strong Anglo-Saxon endears him to the people, for he is never guilty of an obscure sentence. He is in the habit of saying, ‘I have always been aware that I have no power of voice for declamation, and therefore I can only hope for success in the pulpit by originality of thought.” He was president of the Wesleyan Conference, 1897-1898, and editor of the Wesleyan Church, 1893-1890. He has published several volumes of sermons.
These shall first set forth. - Num. 2:9.
And they shall set forth in the second rank. - Ver. 16.
And they shall go forward in the third rank. - Ver. 24.
They shall go hindmost with their standards. - Ver. 31.
So God determined the order of the marching of the Israelites through the wilderness. The’ camp of Judah took the lead, followed by Reuben and Ephraim, whilst Dan brought up the rear. The tribes were not to travel as a rabble, but as a disciplined host under its several standards. A similar law prevails in society through all the generations, assigning to each individual his place and service, and resolving the multitude into great classes. These distinctive sections exist, they persist from age to age, and are not likely to be effaced. All attempts to abolish social gradations, to reduce society to a uniform mass, have hitherto proved abortive, whether those efforts were of a political, philosophical, or an ecclesiastical character. As by a great law society resolves itself into separate and graduated groups; and no attempts to annul that law have succeeded, or are likely to succeed, for mainly the distinctions of society are first distinctions in nature.
I. These social distinctions must be accepted broadly as determinations of the government of God. Looking away from men, and contemplating the universe at large, we have no difficulty in recognizing and accepting the superiority and precedence, the inferiority and dependence, everywhere displayed. “There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and an9tber glory of the stars; for one star differeth from another star in glory.” In each department of creation the same law demonstrates itself in the diverse volume arid virtue of whatever has been made; all things and creatures vary in magnitude, energy, and splendor. God’s shaping, sovereign hand is equally manifest in society.
Consider those who occupy the front by virtue of extraordinary genius, and we are compelled to recognize the divine election. Few who acknowledge God at all but will admit that lie determined the power and place of these intellectual princes. How entirely was this the case with Shakespeare! Like Melchizedec, he had neither father nor mother; he owed nothing to society, universities, or parliaments. Heaven endowed him, placed him in the front rank, and there his stately figure shines until marching days are done. Handel is another conspicuous instance of the same sovereign ordination. As J. A. Symonds describes him: “Irritable and greedy, coarse and garrulous, fond of beer, destitute of affection, without a single intellectual taste. He never received any education. He had no experience. Yet he could interpret the deepest psychological secrets; he could express the feelings of mighty nations, and speak with the voice of angels more effectually than even Milton; he could give life to passion, and in a few changes of his melody lead love through all its variations from despair to triumph - there was nothing that he did not know. We shall never comprehend the mysteries of genius. It is a God-sent clairvoyance, inexplicable.” The mighty musician with golden trumpet by right divine not to be gainsaid took his place with the foremost, and for ever animates the host by his glorious music. Turner is also an example of this marked election to greatness. Born of the poorest parents, reared in a squalid court, without scholastic or other advantage, he forthwith dipped his pencil into the radiances of nature, and left us those gorgeous gems of color which astonish and delight as do the splendors of the world. These marvelous masters received their gifts and glory directly and solely from God, as certainly as that He created the greater light to rule the day.
Acknowledging in the intellectual realm the sovereign Disposer, we cannot deny His authority in the political. President or king is a necessity of social organization, and the believer in the divine government must recognize its sway in dynasties and rulership. We cannot study revelation or history without discerning that God reigns in the political world equally with the intellectual, ordaining presidents as well as painters, princes as well as philosophers and poets. The wisest and noblest of mankind confess the mystic sanctity of the throne. If we are to affirm the absolute will of God in the solitary grandeur of Homer and Plato, of Shakespeare and Goethe, must we not concede the same supreme fiat in the royalty of Alexander and Caesar, of Napoleon and Washington? He who assigns the magical pen or pencil to one, entrusts the scepter or diadem to the other. We are free to admit that princes are not seldom in some sense sorry creatures; but that does not disprove divine calling and office: the monarchs of the intellectual world have also been in certain respects unworthy, yet their royal gifts and vocation were indisputable for all that. How the anointed servants of God use their splendid prerogatives is another matter; but that certain men are elected to majestic facility and estate by Him who governs all things is undeniable by those who recognize the divine government.
Allowing the sovereignty of God in intellect and rank, we cannot exclude it from the province of wealth. It is the fashion of our day to decry the very rich as necessarily enemies to the body politic; and if this were true, it would be impossible to consider them as servants of God, for God has no servants who are not also servants of humanity; but it is not true, and such an estimate of the status of the very rich is false. The millionaire in gold does not necessarily do us injustice any more than the millionaire in brains wrongs us. Aristotle, Plato, Shakespeare, Newton, and the rest of the mighty capitalists in genius, so far as they were faithful in the use of their extraordinary gifts, enriched us all; so the world may yet conic to see that the method of God for the happiness of the multitude follows the same lines in material things as it does in intellectual, and that the millionaire who is faithful in his stewardship is a blessing to society equally with the great thinker and the good king. It pleases God to endow the few with immense opulence, as it pleases Him to confer on others transcendent ability and the seats of the mighty; and all attempts to discredit wealth and greatness, honestly attained, are prompted by ignorance or envy. “Thine is the kingdom, 0 Lord, and Thou art exalted as head above aU. Both riches and honor come of Thee, and Thou reignest over all; and in Thine hand is power and might; and in Thine hand it is to make great, and to give strength unto all.”
Having recognized the will of God in the great shapers of history, we cannot hesitate to confess it in the endowments and allocations of the second, third, and final ranks. He who gives to one ten talents, to another five, to another two, loans to the last one talent, to each according to his several ability; for, as already said, the distinctions obtaining in society are owing first to the inequalities of personality. We greatly need in these days to remind ourselves of the divine sovereignty. The marching orders of the race are not enjoined by Acts of Parliament, the curriculum of universities, nor by the dogmas of science; but, whatever some may think, we are dominated by a supernaturalism which fixes a great deal more in our lot beside the bounds of our habitation. If the ancient demarcations of society are to be annulled, it must be in those secret places where the primal Power gives to the embryo its character and bias; education, sociologies, and politics come too late. God is likely to keep all things in His own hands, regulating the mighty host, maintaining a variegated world, assigning to each his place and standard. The rationalist is compelled to believe in something equivalent to this. According to his materialistic conception of things, nature is the potter and we are the clay; and if for unknown reasons, or without them, the supreme Force fashions one vessel modestly and another magnificently, the skeptic can not complain of these inequalities of mind and circumstance. “Nay, but, 0 ‘man, who art thou that repliest against the partialities of cosmic law? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?” The atheist can not remonstrate with the Power which, after evolving’ the infinite distinctions of heaven, earth. and sea, has instituted the’ variety and contrasts of human power, status, and circumstance. The Christian finds no difficulty in acquiescing in the obvious order of the wise and gracious God. “He doeth according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand, or say unto Him, What doest Thou?”
Must we then conclude that every man is in his place? It is impossible to do so. No doubt, for various reasons, these Israelites from time to time missed their ranks; and it is very patent that men today are found in places where they ought not to be. By stratagem and the strange chances of life some figure in foremost places in which they are hopelessly outclassed; whilst others, through personal misconduct or social injustice, drop behind their true comrades. Many accidents, errors, usurpations, and vices afflict society and confuse its ranks. God’s marching orders are imperfectly executed. Our contention is not that every person is in his place, but that for every one there is a place in which he will be specially happy and effective. That each may secure his billet it is necessary that the individual shall be true to himself seeking personally to understand and prove the will of God. “Education is not the equalizer, but the discerner of men,” writes Ruskin; and the more thoroughly we are educated, the more likely it will be that we find our fitting sphere. And, lastly, social and political justice must secure to every member of the community equality of opportunity. After this there is no more equality, for God has not predestinated the commonwealth to a dead uniformity, but provided for its perfection and happiness through a rich variety of gifts, offices, and orders. When each shall consult the divine will in his personal life; when education discriminates individual capacity, and indicates individual fitness; when a just government grants that equality of opportunity which allows and invites every citizen to strive unchecked for all that he is worth, then shall be attained the grand ideal of society exprest by St. Paul: “But now bath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it bath pleased Him.”
II. The universal discontent which these social divisions appear to occasion next demands consideration. The dissatisfaction with the laws which govern society, and which group and grade us, is real, deep, and general. We wish to be something other than we are, to be appointed otherwise than we are. This friction with the environment is confined to no particular class; few, indeed, in any class, are fairly satisfied; all along the line the successive columns murmur at the Captain of the host, and resent His dispositions. In nature a delightful harmony exists between creatures and their environment—the fern enjoys the coolness of the dell, the rose glows in the sun, the water lily drinks the pool, the violet hides in the grass, the orchid luxuriates in the summer glory; birds, flowers, and animals harmonize delicately with the landscapes and climes in which they sing, bloom, or roam. But the harmony of creation breaks off, abruptly with man. Here everything is awry. The fern faints, in the sun, the rose cankers in the shade, the water-lily thirsts in the desert, the violet frets in the glare, the orchid is bitten by the frost. We refuse to accept ourselves, we resent the conditions in which we must work out life; we believe ourselves to be misplaced, misinterpreted, misclassed, misused.
1. The first rank is the first to complain. The camp of Judah has burdens and difficulties, perils and sorrows, all its own. The greatest are not satisfied. In the very front rank they protest because they want to be in the rank before that—they are tormented by vague desires for an impossible greatness. The post of honor is also the place of special responsibility, temptation, and assault; whatever may be the coarse burdens of the porters in the rear, the princes in the front think them lighter than their own gilded sorrow. The cleverest are not satisfied. They who know the most resent most fiercely the limitations of the human understanding; they grow melancholy and cynical, plagued by the vision of the unattainable. The richest are not satisfied. Luxury and splendor pall on the senses. French purveyors, to tempt the eye and whet the appetite, paint the lovely fruits of summer, and heighten the flavor of the strawberry with ether. The epicure finds the cream of things insipid, and before long he will seek for the wherewithal to sprinkle the ether. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing, nor the mouth with tasting. No; the nobles in place and genius have unique griefs. They who are farther in the rear, men of inferior station and influence, have still the illusion left that riches and honor would satisfy had they more of them; but in the front rank no such illusion is possible - the bejewelled and laurel-crowned malcontents feel that life itself is a mockery. So the deepest wretchedness is the satiety of the rich; the bitterest cynicism is that of cul¬ture; and ages of extraordinary opulence and progress are ages of despair.
What is lacking in mortified greatness? Is it not that they ignore the great truth that “no man liveth to himself”? Judah was not nominated to the first place for its own glory and indulgence; the Keeper of Israel knew how the security and welfare of the whole host would be best served by its pre-eminence, and this was the sole basis of its election. The same reason and design explain all greatness to-day. The immortal few are not distinguished by genius, clothed in velvet, sceptred and crowned, that they may sate their personal pride and desire, but that they may greatly help and bless. Here the specially gifted too often make the mistake that turns life into wormwood—they make their personal indulgence and exaltation their exclusive object of solicitude. Out of this misconception springs the misery of the magnificent. How original and profound is the teaching of our Lord! “Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them.... But so it shall not be among you; but whosoever will be great among you shall be your minister.” And just because the privileged too often can not receive this wonderful philosophy, they chafe and bleed.
No sooner, however, do the aristocracy enter into the view and spirit of our Lord than they realize the blessedness of illustrious birth and fortune. The very moment they begin to sympathize and serve, although in the first instance such magnanimity may not be called forth by high considerations, they experience a thrill which puts sensual, selfish pleasure to shame; and as their view and purpose of love attain clearness and largeness, they know the rich delight of high place and splendid power: they no longer require ether for their strawberries - the hips and haws of the hedgerows cloy with sweetness. The more they possess, the more they bless and are blessed. The millionaire in mind or treasure is a sympathetic sun, rejoicing in all the summer it creates; he is a self-conscious sea, exulting in the health and blessing it brings to many shores; he is a sentient Lebanon whose gladness is as diffusive as the ampler air it fills with fragrance. Greatness sanctified by love knows a blessedness akin to His who blesses all.
2. The middle ranks are not less unhappy. “The golden mean” of talent and station is certainly not golden in contentment. Mediocre ability is often resented with peculiar bitterness. Conscious of deficiency in intellectual independence, in originality, depth, or richness, thousands of educated men taste little pleasure in anything that they accomplish or attain. Dean Hole writes: “At a flower-show I have seen a competitor of the highest respectability tear a card in pieces on which he read ‘Second Prize.’” This painful act was significant in an unusual degree of one of the diseases of our age: we are impatient with faculties and work which fall short of perfection. The second crown is scorned as a badge of disgrace; we would rather have none. Literary and artistic workers, together with handicraftsmen of all sorts, are fretted beyond expression because their work lacks the elements of popularity and fame. No one is willing to play the second fiddle. We have been made familiar with the most magnificent work of the human brain and hand, the prizes of eminent success are so immediate and splendid, the passion to excel is so intense, that mediocrity either in our¬selves or others is intolerable; we despise fair, honest, medium, useful work. This essentially vain temper eats as doth a canker, disenchanting many a worthy worker, and making his indispensable work loveless and joyless.
The intermediate state socially is felt to be similarly vexatious. The artist paints the renowned at the top of the social scale, or the picturesque at the bottom, but never respectability. The poet and the dramatist find the fascination of life anywhere but in the middle. The social critic from a villa scorns villadom. So without poetry or pathos respectability misses distinction, and too often fails to respect itself. The severity of life is felt nowhere more than in these central bands. Their struggles hardly ever appear heroic; their successes are too petty to provoke applause; their sorrows excite no sympathy; they commonly acquire enough culture to be aware of their deficiencies; and by the time they reach competence they are too old to enjoy it. In the tribes of Reuben and Ephraim the strain, dullness, and chagrin of life are most acutely realized.
To reconcile themselves to their appointed rank the middle classes must recall the fact of their signal value to the community. When one of Darwin’s correspondents remarked upon “the importance of our greatest men,” the scientist responded finely, “I have been accustomed to think second, third, and fourth-rate men of very high importance, at least in the case of science.” The masters of knowledge appreciate as brothers the second, third, and fourth-rate students, whose humbler work, wrought with poorer opportunity and inferior instruments, yet wrought in the spirit of love and patience, helps on the fuller interpretation of nature. What is true in science is yet more strikingly true, in commerce. The ideal heroes of Greece and Rome were sought in the military sphere; but advancing civilization understands the immense import of the market-place and the traffic of the seas. Here the middle class are supreme. and their conduct is pregnant of national destiny. Were they struck out of the procession it would make a fatal gap. And how disastrous the consequences to the stability and evolution of society if the average is found wanting in character and faithfulness! That the middle classes are not less influential in patriotism is equally certain. They bring into public life an intelligence, a practical judgment, a sense of responsibility, and a same enthusiasm which are of incalculable advantage in national life: in their sterling sense and virtue statesmen find the strength of the commonwealth. The importance of the middle classes as the religious factor of a nation is still more strongly marked. It required a Darwin justly to appreciate the importance of second, third, and fourth-rate men in science; but all can see how these classifications bear on the question of the religious faith and character of a nation. It is hardly too much to affirm that the scorned respectability of a nation is the backbone of Church and State.
This, then, is the great truth that the tribes of Reuben and Ephraim need to appreciate - their essential worth to God and humanity. Without the histrionic virtues and vices of the aristocracy, or the picturesque wretchedness of the ragged corps in the rear, they are not dramatically interesting; but on the loyalty of these drab troops depends the acquisition of Canaan. They lack the romance of the mighty and the pathos of the beggar; they tramp without either gay uniform or bizarre banner; the music is in the front, and the comedy and tragedy behind; yet if the patience, courage, and purity of this colorless rank and file are wanting, Armageddon will be lost. They constitute the nucleus in more senses than one; they are axial, for they maintain the integrity of the host first and last. This is the profound truth that must comfort and inspire the plebeian; and once conscious of what he is before God, and of the precious service he may render his generation, he will be more than content to belong to an order that has no distinction, to fulfill a mission that has no history. When the trumpet sounds the last réveillé, and the muster-roll is called out, no faithful soldier will be overlooked; and in the full assurance of this faith the undistinguished and unapplauded find the secret of peace.
3. The rear completes the chorus of discontent. The hindmost imagine that the disabilities of the premier ranks are chiefly imaginary, whilst their own sorrows are real and overwhelming. Trumpets quicken the steps of the foremost, and they glitter like the Milky Way, whilst hardly a waft of music reaches the rearmost, painfully trudging through the mud with the impedimenta. The middle classes are comfortably posited in the center, the leading rank is far removed from the fear of evil; but the hindmost is closely menaced by terrible camp-followers and cruel foes - gaunt hunger, ghastly poverty, fell disease, winter’s blast, desolate age, abject sickness, and death. So the fag-end is tormented by the sense of injustice, and loudly accuses kings, statesmen, capitalists, and priests.
It is no part of our purpose in this discourse to deny or condone the fact that the thoughtlessness, covetousness, and inhumanity of the stronger classes often inflict gratuitous suffering upon the sons and daughters of disadvantage. That fact is too obvious to be denied; it is one of the most tragic features of history, lamented by all noble souls. Nor are we to conclude that the miserable poor constitute any part of the program and procession of God; where-ever the fault may lie, these ragged regiments and tattered banners do not belong to His kingly state. Yet even where no injustice is alleged, there is usually deep dissatisfaction with the common lot. The hindmost rebel at the simple fact of being the hindmost, apart from every other consideration. As the selfish rich disregard the poor, the discontented poor envy the rich. The foot has its perennial quarrel with the head, the hand aches and threatens because it is not the eye.
The hindmost need to lay to heart two great lessons, which are yet one. The camp of Dan was not dishonored by coming last; the situation assigned it required the highest qualities, and the service it rendered to the host was of essential import. Two things the contemporary hindmost may remember to their deep consolation. They who fill the lowliest places, who do the rough work, who have the least silver and gold and the fewest changes of raiment, may nevertheless be men of the highest moral qualities. The intellectual limitations which involve social and civic subordination do not imply any inferiority in that moral character which is our chief glory; indeed, in the common people we find some of the noblest and saintliest of our fellows. A newspaper not long ago contained an article on “The Humbler Gems.” It was directed to condemn the prevailing fashion of affecting rare and garish jewellery, whilst the more modest gems were neglected. The article proceeded to explain that numbers of jewels hitherto known only to the lapidary are yet of exceeding beauty. Just as there are heaps of modest jewels of special beauty entirely overlooked, so are there humbler gems of humanity whose strong, pure life is the poetry of city street and obscure hamlet. These lowly toilers reveal the rarest qualities of conscience arid heart; and although they do not captivate the carnal eye as do fashionable brilliants and historic diamonds, yet are they His jewels who knows the exact value of us all, and they shall have their honored place in His diadem in the Great Day.
They who march in the rear, equally with the great, serve all the host by faithful service and sacrifice. The virtue of the humblest citizen adds to the splendor and stability of the commonwealth; and the influence, gifts, and prayers of nameless saints build up the kingdom of God. The happiness of the rich is found in cheerful unselfishness, and the happiness of the poor is in the same secret - the spirit of love and helpfulness. That the lowliest brother in the obscurest village may yet be a splendid servant of the race is one of the great lessons of the Carpenter of Nazareth.
It is impossible to predict the changes that may be brought about in the structure of society by the lapse of time. As the arrangements of today differ from the feudalism of the Middle Ages, so no doubt the manifold relations and interrelations of the community in ages to come will vary from the accepted social conditions of the present. As human nature itself is being ever more fully developed, and as advancing science is continually creating new conditions of human life and action, social readjustments are inevitable, and, in the course of generations, considerable. And we may justly hope and believe that successive readjustments will lessen friction, and finally bring about an ideal state, so far as the mechanism of the community is concerned. But we may just as confidently believe that the variations and gradations of power and position will continue. The scientist assures us that whilst nature is ever revealing itself in fresh forms and relations, yet many things remain the same thru all the ages, and in a high degree of probability these determinations and arrangements will remain for ever; there is permanence in mutation. So society may and will change in a thousand particulars, but its fundamental principles were settled early, and wifi continue as long as society itself.
Of this, we may be sure, that no period will ever arrive when room is not left for the virtues of humility, contentment, and obedience. No world is conceivable with which sloth, selfishness, and sensuality can be contented.
Nay, as the conditions of human life become more exquisitely perfect, and as human nature itself becomes more perfect, will not the obligations of humility, contentment, and obedience be more keenly felt, and be the more promptly responded to? The men of highest type today are precisely those who are readiest to render honor where honor is due, to do homage to genius, and unmurmuringly to accept their place and work in the service of humanity. The noblest of mankind least envy the gifts of others, and they find special delight in the vocation they can fill and adorn, what¬ever its conventional repute. The future we may expect to multiply these, and the world he the happiest, not when all varieties are lost in a vast monotony and all grades in a dead level, but when it is peopled throughout with Christian populations of variegated powers and situations, who in the love of God and humanity are alike utterly beyond the temptations of power and the sense of servility.
Do we not all need to think less, much less, of social distinctions, and more, much more, of moral qualities and faithfulness? Most of us are far more concerned about our conventional status than our standing before God; everything is supposed to depend upon the place we secure in the marshalled clusters. It is a serious error. Let every one by all means make the best of his personal powers; then let him seek out the niche in which he shall best disport himself: the faith of Jesus Christ has nothing to say contrary to this. This, however, being accomplished, let none yield to either pride or shame. We must concentrate our whole strength upon doing the will of God in the elected sphere. He is the Captain of the host; and, confiding in His wisdom and love, we must revere His sovereignty. Nothing but a sincere faith in God as our heavenly Father can reconcile us to our lot, and strengthen us for the long mysterious march through the wilderness. It is only as the heart is pure, simple, humble, patient, hopeful that we tran¬quilly accept our place, and adjust ourselves to the singularity and severity of circumstance. And lastly, if we are to march with songs, it can only be because we anticipate final victory and possession. If we are stepping to a funeral march and ending with a grave, there can be little joy in the wearied ranks. Marching orders! Marching whither? A great hope must charm our pained steps. Are we by faithfulness in things great and small becoming meet for ‘the inheritance? It is only as we enter into these great and holy considerations that we have strength for the journey. The greater world, and nothing else,’ reconciles us to this. He has not brought us into the wilderness to kill us, but to school us for a kingdom. Let our whole concern be to play our part perfectly. We had little to do with fixing our style in this world; but we shall have a large share in deciding our place in the hierarchy of the next.
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