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Calvin on Luther

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 7:42 AM

If he were to call me a devil, I should still regard him an outstanding servant of God.

So quoth John Calvin, while reflecting on Luther, in a letter to Bullinger.

Waiting for Siri

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 11:55 PM

Anyone who has read or seen Waiting for Godot will appreciate this.

The Peacemaker of the Reformation

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 4:20 AM

Ephraim Emerton describes Martin Bucer's reaction to the writings of Michael Servetus:

Bucer in Strassburg, often known as the Peacemaker of the Reformation, seems at first to have listened with some patience, if not actual interest, to the Spaniard's vagaries, but now, having read his book, he publicly declares that such a man ought to be disembowelled and torn to pieces.

Not all peacemaking is created equal.

Grammars of Deconstruction

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 3:25 AM

Steiner adeptly picks up on this with his critique of the modern tendency toward exhibitionism (319). The “fish-bowl” that modern popular culture revels in offers no greater insight into reality, for, at best, it simply shows us reality as we already see it, or, at worst, corrupts our understanding of reality further. On the contrary, the artist goes beyond our perception of reality, yet brings something back to tell of it. “If I believed that my reply were made / to one who could ever climb to the world again, / this flame would shake no more,” Guido Da Montefeltro remarks in Canto XXVII of Dante's Inferno. Dante, and later Eliot, who invokes those verses in “the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” both serve that purpose in bringing to the reader that which otherwise is beyond our reach. The poet is to reality what the explorer is to the frontier: one who goes beyond the known world and yet returns to report. The exhibitionistic impulse is a cheap imitator, an imitation not based on the necessity of relaying truth previously undiscovered, but of creating a new middleman for that which we already knew. It is a tautology and thus is unable to create new beginnings or grammars.

The commonality of poets' reports surely point to the singular creation from which we come. The “archetypes” of Jung are a part of Natural Revelation, the aftershocks of God's creative speech act. Having acknowledged Freud and Jung, Steiner admits that the “imaginary” is bequeathed a “controlling source and inventory” in reality (167). Yet, he wishes to claim that in the artistic process, there is a big-G God-like creative capacity (for little-g gods were never creative in the sense that Steiner wishes to discuss). The artist, however, is within the creation and never creates ex nihilo. As Steiner observes, the “divine precedent empowers him or her to make fruitful a process whose innermost springs remain impenetrable” (174). The “divine precedent” is key. Creation is a sui generis event in the divine sense. While human beings, formed as we are in the imago dei, are creative, we are creative in a subordinate sense. When the artist creates a character, she is reenacting at a microcosmic level to the divine creative act, but unlike the first day, the first day of Hamlet's Denmark was made of preexistent stuff, stuff ultimately created on the first day.

If it were otherwise, the human's creation would be unintelligible. I started this quarter's reflections by citing T.S. Eliot's “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” and I think it is fitting to end there as well. Eliot recognized that art created purely as new, as a novelty that spurned tradition, would be completely unintelligible. Instead, the great artist is, to use his metaphor, a catalyst to tradition, transforming that which was into that which will be. In some sense, we might say that the artist is gifted not to follow God's acts of Genesis 1, but rather his continued historical acting, in which he has continued to providentially care for his creation through that creation and not by further ex nihilo acts.

Nevertheless, while the artist cannot create a “grammar” all his own, living in a world that has the Grammar Writer as its creator, the creative human can at least follow the Creator in defining a framework within his meta-framework. Our “grammars” are, to use the phrase Steiner cites from Duchamp, “a ready-made” (331). We can construct something that is different, but just as any physical object is built with atomic particles that we ultimately can only form, not materialize, we can only form, not materialize the substances of cultural grammars. “Only God is deemed capable of making out of non-being,” Steiner adds.

With this in mind, in a god-less universe such as the one posited by Steiner, creation “in its classic sense” must be seen as a “fruitful invention” (334). Hence the possibility for multiple beginnings in Steiner's worldview - his concept of “beginning” is an equivocation from the sense we normally think of. If we are both unable to bring being out of non-being and lacking one by whom we can even mime such an act, grammars would necessarily always be a mere process of forming frameworks of purposeless being. Perhaps the greatest “creation” in such a world - using creation in the sense the modern employs the word “magic” - is the very concept that creation is even possible. It is the mere building of a facade that infuses some element of meaningless existence with an evanescent flash of purpose.

Cut adrift from any properly creative act, human creativity can become degenerate from the perspective of one who judges it from a framework of belief in God. “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” can no longer be uttered with an intrinsic meaning when nothing is intrinsic but only a facade over an atheistic universe. Just as truth can be defined by whomever has enough power to do so, so too can beauty with regards to creative activity. Thus, the Michelangelos of the past are replaced with the Duchamp urinals of today.

Steiner, for his part, believes this problem is serious but surmountable. He shows an excitement for the new grammars that may be formed in the creative fiction of the world no longer backed by a Divine imprimatur. The natural world void of room for questions concerning the supernatural still deserves to be questioned and creatively explored, he asserts (338). Though he seems to be less than certain that a “Michelangelo fresco or King Lear” can be produced in a world that no longer believes in the transcendent, he is engrossed by the possibility. He does not seem to believe a world without an Absolute foundation is on the verge of skepticism, but is potentially a new frontier worthy to be explored.

Yet, we must ask if this can truly be so or whether he takes up this quest enthusiastically only because to deny its possibility is ultimately to crush an intrinsic part of the human soul. If Steiner does not wish to acknowledge the nihilistic result of the picture he paints, could it be because the essence of humanity is archetypally aware of the necessity of a Creator?


By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 7:11 AM

After a five year hiatus, Evanescence finally returned with a new album today. I have not heard it as of yet, but for the occasion, I thought I would repost a link to the video of “My Immortal” from 2003. Many music videos leave me scratching my head, wondering what they have to do with their associated songs. This video, however, has always struck me as having a melancholy picturesqueness fitted perfectly to a powerfully moving song.

Evanescence is something of a unique, genre-bending band. It will be interesting to see if Amy Lee and company can capture that unique essence for a third major label release.

Focusing is About Saying "No"

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 4:55 AM

A remark from Steve Jobs's Q&A at the 1997 WWDC. Jobs goes on to say the result of “saying 'no'” is that Apple was going to unveil products where the “total is much greater than the sum of the parts.” Was that first, bondi-blue iMac in his mind at that point?

Whatever products he had in mind, this is one of the things that makes Apple Apple. While other companies have raced to add as many gee-whiz features to their products as possible, Apple clearly has spent a great deal of time saying “no” to ideas. Sometimes it frustrates people, but that's OK. This is the difference between a company driven by an engineering-marketing complex and one driven by a visionary-artist.

The former appeals only to our rational side; when done well, the visionary-artist products appeal not only to our rational side (as we admire the engineering of the product) but also to our creativity (as we take in the aesthetics). Too often technology does appeal to us only rationally and in doing so fails to take into account that we are creatures that were made to be creative.

I think this is a fundamental place people like RMS, who have been criticizing Jobs since his passing, are missing the boat. License agreements may be a form of “prison,” but so are products so ugly and uncreative that they prevent us from doing what we want to do or make it a displeasure to do.

Part of freedom is not just having free access to tools, but having tools that enable us to realize our aspirations.

iPhone 4S "Disappointment"

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 4:19 AM

The “disappointment” over the iPhone 4S for only taking one of the best phones on the market and giving it a better camera, doubly fast processor, seven times more graphics power and an incredible voice assistant is really taking its toll on sales. That must be why the first batch of 16GB models — the ones set to be delivered on the first day of the phone's launch — are sold out and AT&T acknowledged record sales.

Ah, if only every company could disappoint customers like this.

The Cardinals' Biggest Furry Fan

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 5:08 AM

Jere Longman writes in the New York Times on the Rally Squirrel:

June Cantor, a spokeswoman for the Philadelphia Streets Department, said she could not comment on whether any laws prohibited the transportation of rodents across state lines for purposes of supporting a playoff baseball team. She did have a suggestion, though, for keeping Rally Squirrel out of Citizens Bank Park.

“Maybe they could have lots of acorns and peanuts outside the stadium to lure him out,” Cantor said.

Evangelicalism is the New Liberalism?

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 6:26 AM

My fellow theo-blogger and colleague, Travis McMaken, succinctly puts his finger on something I've been mulling over concerning Evangelicalism:

The really strange thing about this quote is that the things Barth identifies as present-day (in terms of 1920's Germany) tendencies emanating from Schleiermacher — “church life, experiential piety, historicism, psychologism, and ethicism” — are precisely the things that seem to me to be holding the field within contemporary American evangelicalism, in many ways. It is a well-worn trope of comic books and action movies that one is always in danger of becoming what one fights against. Have evangelicals started becoming liberals, in the classic European sense of the term?

I think he is on to something — read in a vacuum, Schleiermacher sounds remarkably “Evangelical” or Evangelicals can sound remarkably Schleiermachean. That Barth was identifying the same problematic tendencies in the Church of his day highlights the strength with which these sirens of theology sing.

Travis continues with a challenging question worth considering:

If so, how advanced are the symptoms, what is the prognosis, and what can be done to combat this malady?

Steve Jobs

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 5:39 AM

John Gruber sums up what I think everyone was thinking:

So it goes. So it goes.

Damn it. I thought the “That day has come” line in his resignation letter implied the end was near, but, truth be told, I never gave up hope that Steve would beat this again.

What a life.

On a personal note, October 5 has long been marked as a day “in infamy” for me — my grandfather died ten years ago today.

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