September 8, 2007
I'm in the process of transferring my blog to ericpyle.blogspot.com. Hopefully more comment friendly! ~Eric
August 18, 2007
(Chorus) Blue Canary's self-interpretation of "Birdhouse in your Soul" by They Might Be Giants
If the first verse is something of riddle concerning my identity, it is in the chorus of "Birdhouse in your soul" that I bring you to the top of the mountain, so to speak, of my self-disclosure, and your relationship to me. Who am I? I am...
- Blue canary in the outlet by the light switch
- who watches over you
- Make a little birdhouse in your soul
- Not to put too fine a point on it
- Say I'm the only bee in your bonnet
- Make a little birdhouse in your soul
First off, I find my existence situated in a trinitarian relationship:
1) Blue Canary
2) in the Outlet
3) by the Light Switch
The Outlet corresponds to the Holy Spirit in a biblical schema. From it I receive power and thus light. But this outlet is not situated close to the floor, like typical outlets. I am seated, as it were, in the Outlet, up by the Light Switch (the Father in the biblical schema), whose will/counsel controls the existence of light or darkness in the room environment. The Son sits on the throne next to his Father in the biblical schema.
I have a triple association with HEAVEN. First, I am blue (yellow is the natural canary color). Blue is the color of the sky, which is day-heaven. Second, I am a bird. Birds inhabit heaven in flight. Third, I glow in the dark like the stars in night-heaven. This triple association emphasizes the completeness of my association with the realm of heaven. The altitude of my seat helps me to better "watch over you" (v.2).
This heaven association is seconded by the idiom "bee in your bonnet". Like birds, bees also inhabit the realm of heaven during flight. The bonnet is worn on top of the head, which is typically the closest part of a person to heaven. Metaphysically, the idiom "bee in your bonnet" means "a fanciful or impractical idea that will not go away." Ideas,especially, fanciful or impractical ones, are again associate one's head with being up in the clouds.
My identity is emphatically CHILD-SAFE, in an otherwise DANGEROUS environment. Outlets are generally dangerous to children, as they have the potential to shock little fingers. I inhabit an outlet that is at an adult altitude, out of child's reach. Plus, I provide a safe covering for the outlet and mediate its power in a benevolent manner. So also in the biblical schema, the Holy Spirit can pose a threat to human flesh-existence, especially when sin has poluted the relationship between God and man, and therefore God provides special coverings (veils, blood, clothes), to either protect flesh from the Spirit, or make flesh more fit for the presence of the Spirit.
Of birds, canaries are a good choice for a domestic pet. They are smaller than most birds. Eagles, hawks, vultures, even geese are not appropriate for children. Children are small, and so a canary is a child-sized bird. Canaries are also extra sensitive to toxins in the air, and are so used to detect when harmful gases are in the air or if there is a shortage in oxygen. Canaries can thus serve to warn of dangerous breathing conditions.
Just because I'm a domestic canary in form doesn't mean that you have the power to domesticate me. I've chosen that form in order to be child-safe, not because I am naturally weak and defenseless. On the contrary, think of me also as a "bee in your bonnet." Bees also are typically dangerous because they have poisonous stingers. That's why I say "not to put too fine point on it." Don't let my stinger frighten you. I demand to be your topmost thought, but not because you're affraid of the (fine point) tip of my stinger. Friendships cannot be based upon dread. I simply want you to confess to being your best friend in a way that doesn't allow other thoughts to take my place, and I'll constantly bug you when I think someone or something else is occupying your mind in a manner that damages that relationship.
I'm not merely a friend. If I were, you may think I'm being overly controlling. My power and position are proportionate to the PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITY I have over your life. You are in a very dark room. I am the one who watches over you in the dark. Your parents sleep in another room during the night and that's of little comfort to you. Without me, you'd have much to be affraid of. Your room is full of things that can do you harm without my presence. My blue glow brings day-heaven into an otherwise pitch-black night.
My responsiblity over you also carries the authority of parental command. There are two basic commands for you to respond to under my care. Both are for your well being:
1) Make a little birdhouse in your soul (v.3,6)
2) Say I'm the only bee in your bonnet (v.5)
My responsibility over you has implications for your life with respect to me. In the biblical schema, this is what's called a covenant-relationship. God takes responsibility over men, and they must respond and respect his responsibility in a manner that makes the world more like heaven, God's dwelling place, so God and men might dwell together. In the Bible, it is the responsibility of his king to make a home for God on earth (e.g. Moses, Solomon, Cyrus, Jesus). The king is endowed with knowledge and wisdom to design a temple on earth according to the pattern of God's home in heaven (though neither a home on earth or his home in heaven can "contain" him).
The vault of your room is my temple, but I also desire to have a home-temple in your soul as well. I not only have power to watch over your well being from the outside, but can also serve the same for in the inner-room of your soul. Your soul is a dark room, like the dark room you sleep in, full of evil and foolish thoughts that can bring harm to yourself and others. My responsibility is for a complete watchfulness of your soul, inside and out. Light to comfort you from the enemies without, and a light inside to guide your thoughts.
I call upon you, my child-king, not only to build me a little birdhouse for your child-sized soul, but secondly, to speak as a prophet, confessing me to be your ONLY SOURCE OF REVELATION: "Say I'm the only bee in your bonnet." (See above for discussion of this idiom and its association with heaven.)
By the way, did you know that the word "canary" is also slang for "an informer"? Someone who is able to listen into the secrets and share them without their permission? While I do not give you permission to let someone else be a source for revelation, don't think for a minute I don't know your secrets when you let someone or something else take authority over your mind. That said, what is more important, is not your secrets but mine. And I have a secret to tell in the next verse of my song...
July 14, 2007
with no further ado...Beloved friends,
What a busy year! I hope your summer is being filled with God-glorifying and God-enjoying work and relationships, and that you're staying out of the heat and/or rain!
My July newsletter highlights a few of the things that have been occupying my time.
Here are the headlines:
- Engaged in Holy War (devotional)
- Fieldworks Language Explorer (FLEx) continues to impress missionaries
- My annual thousand-dollar oil change (finances)
- Personal Files (dating, seminary, godparenting)
In His Spirit,
Eric D. Pyle
ps. If you're using Acrobat Reader 7.0, clicking on my email "email@example.com" at the bottom of the pdf seems to result in "firstname.lastname@example.org" which is incorrect. Please use "email@example.com", or better yet, reply to this email!
Webpage : http://www.opcNorman.org/Wycliffe/EricPyle/
Personal Address : 1520 Bradford St, Irving, TX 75061 (469-222-2865)
Wycliffe Bible Translators : P.O. Box 628200, Orlando, Florida 32862-8200
July 9, 2007
Book Review of The Passion of the Western Mind by Richard Tarnas
Church History 323, Dr. Hannah
April 17, 2007
Richard Tarnas’s The Passion of the Western Mind is an account of Western thought that is both comprehensive and penetratingly insightful to understanding the historical origins and development of our civilization’s “world view.” The book, by his own admission, is as much a philosophy of history as it is a history of Western philosophy. It is as much Tarnas’s passion for the Western mind as much as it is his account of the passion of the Western mind. Not only is his interest bound to capture the reader’s own, readers will undoubtedly feel the weight and value of reflecting upon and comparing their own beliefs about the nature of reality, and thinking critically about whether and to what extent their own relationship to Western thought can viably address the social and intellectual emergencies of our day.
Tarnas’s book divides Western history into the three traditional eras, Classical (Greek), Medieval (Christian), and Modern. Each era is followed by an age of “transformation” offering explanations for how a once dominant paradigm begins to wane in its creative energy and power over culture to sustain a civilization’s view of the world. Tarnas does a surprising job explaining each era’s convictions upon its own grounds. Such is his pathos for each period that each transition carries with it a kind of epochal conversion experience, through which the author’s own convictions about the natural of the world evolves. Thus, he does well in executing his purpose stated in the preface: “my goal in these pages has been to give voice to each perspective mastered by the Western mind in the course of its evolution, and to take each on its own terms. I have assumed no special priority for any particular conception of reality…I have approached each world view in the same spirit that I would approach an exceptional work of art—seeking to understand and appreciate, to experience its human consequences, to let its meaning unfold.”
Tarnas begins with the origins of the Western mind with the Greeks. There he sets forth the didactic strategy that will characterize the rest of the book: a presentation of a paradigm of thought in its historical development (e.g. “The Evolution of the Greek Mind from Homer to Plato”), its reason for being and a statement of its governing ideas (e.g. “The Philosopher’s Quest and the Universal Mind”), tensions that fuel further research, discussion, and debate, whether empirical (e.g. “The Problem of the Planets”) or logical (e.g. “Aristotle and the Greek Balance” and “The Dual Legacy”). Tarnas seems to argue that the power in the mind of Plato and Aristotle for Greek culture was found in its ability to provide a comprehensive system for understanding the nature of the whole universe, yet in a way that left room for ancient Homeric mythology and addressed a diversity of Greek philosophical traditions. For example, Aristotle’s transposition from Plato’s transcendant Ideas to vital immanence in material phenomena brought a synthesis to both Plato (universal) and materialistic (particular) philosophies. Tarnas repeatedly unpacks how each era’s paradigm gains cultural currency through its ability to synthesize diverse and competing ideas and bring new order to new human concerns, while providing a vision for growth in that knowledge.
In the historical development of the Classical mind, Tarnas establishes the social, political, religious and philosophical climate out of which arise the key figures of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, who form an enduring philosophical triumvirate for the Western mind. Socrates earns the status of archetypal philosopher, whose life and death embodied his persistent skepticism and lifelong quest for truth, and laid the existential and intellectual foundation for the works of Plato and Aristotle. Socrates’ life and Plato’s “religious romanticism” in discovering universal Ideas, are no doubt exemplary of the passion that Tarnas attributes as a psychogenetic character trait to the Western mind. For Tarnas, a philosopher is literally, “lover of wisdom” and “approaches his intellectual task as a romantic quest of universal significance.”
During the transformation period, the governance of an established paradigm loses its original power and energy to stimulate new creative ideas that can address the exigencies of society and peoples’ lives. Thus, Tarnas offers many reasons why the Classical Greek Mind declined due to external and internal pressures. Some key reasons include a critical individualism that deteriorated its own social order, external political wars that undermined confidence in individual self-determination, and cultural upheavals that overloaded Helenistic thinkers with a barrage of foreign ideas and influences. Perhaps most important was a resulting sense of loss of meaning and purpose for life, reinforced by an impersonal rationalism that undermined ancient mythologies. It is into this lost, fragmented world that the Christian Church and its universal saving vision for humanity under one Triune God through the divine Logos made flesh arose to take command of the Western mind.
Tarnas’s treatment of the Christian worldview is quite extraordinary. If one felt that in Classical Era, Tarnas seemed sympathetic to Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, when one comes to the Medieval Era, one certainly feels that Tarnas’s allegiances must reside in some respect with Christianity. His presentation of New Testament theology is so close to Westminster Theological Seminary’s tradition that I could easily imagine at times Tarnas to be a member in good standing with our tradition. This is especially true in his developing the relationship between the already-present victorious reality of the kingdom of God come in Christ, in tension (and yet in vital league) with a hope and longing for the full glory of that world to come in a final and ultimately cosmic sin-and-death-ending and worship rendering way. Thus, he appeals to an apostolic already/not yet scheme of eschatology in order to explain the development of two traditions within the Church, “exultant Christianity” (already) and “dualistic Christianity” (not yet).
Tarnas is able to maintain a level of confidence in evaluating the development of the Church and its traditions with respect to its founding scriptural sources. “[The Old and New Testament canon] effectively determined the parameters of the evolving Christian world view. These writings will therefore serve as the basis for our present study of the Christian phenomenon.” This conviction gives Tarnas a bit of a “Sola Scriptura” Protestant-edge. Even when at times it seems Tarnas begins to blur the distinction between Christianity and the pagan culture it seeks to subject to Christ, this always leads into underscoring crucial antithetical distinctives. For example, following Christianity’s ability to “assimilate” the pagan (often allegorically conceived) mythologies into an analogous yet absolutely literal and historical “Christian pantheon,” he declares, “unlike the mystery religions, Christianity was proclaimed and recognized as the exclusively authentic source of salvation, superceding all previous mysteries and religions, alone bestowing the true knowledge of the universe and a true basis for ethics” and “in contrast to the Greeks’ philosophical program of independent intellectual self-development, Christian approach centered on the revelation of one person, and thus the devout Christian sought enlightenment by reading the Holy Scriptures…hence faith was the primary means, and reason a distant second for comprehending the deeper meaning of things.” Tarnas is certainly helpful in exploring such comparisons and contrasts and their historical relationships.
It seems almost inconceivable that such deep understanding and appreciation of our faith could come from anyone but a believer. It is clear, however, in his introduction the Christian worldview that Tarnas only grants Scripture an authority historically derived from and limited to the Church. The Church essentially established the divinity of the canon, and thereby established its own divine authority. Such a circular (and ultimately historically qualified) view of authority is probably the result of or influenced by his historical skepticism of the possibility of knowing the historical Jesus. His preface to the part of the book covering “The Christian Worldview” is largely concerned with qualifying and separating the authors of Scripture from the historical Jesus: “Precisely what the historical Jesus of Nazareth said, did, or believed himself to be cannot now be ascertained.” Thus, Paul and John are most commonly cited as responsible for the teachings of Christianity; Jesus, is barely cited, if ever. In comparison, much more space is granted to the life and teachings of Socrates, whom is only known through Plato. (We wonder if the fear of modern academic respectability has become an editorial factor here.) Without accepting a trustworthy connection between the faith of the authors and a historical Jesus, the Christian faith can easily be conceived as a human invention subsumed under the authority of a larger evolutionary process.
By the end of the book, the reader comes to realize that Tarnas’s hope and vision for the future of Western civilization ultimately lies, not in a transcendent Trinity’s self-revelation to mankind in Jesus Christ, but in our participating in creation’s own historical self-revelation through the Western mind: “…the human mind is ultimately the organ of the world’s own process of self-revelation…nature’s unfolding truth emerges only with the active participation of the human mind…[nature’s reality] is something that comes into being through the very act of human cognition. Nature becomes intelligible to itself through the human mind.” Thus, Tarnas constructs a synthesis of Hegel’s philosophy of history, Kuhn’s philosophy of science, and Jung’s psychology of collective consciousness to remythologize Western history in a way he hopes will fund for a new vision, hope, and future. In this light, the Medieval Church age was nothing more than a womb out of which Modern history would be given birth, the Copernican revolution being its birthday. Nature through our understanding has evolved since Christ, and has come to realize through us that Jesus is no longer (and never truly was) its Lord. In reality, the human mind is Mother Nature’s only-begotten Son. The Jesus of the Church’s faith, ultimately, came mainly from the resources of its own mind and imagination. Salvation comes from the passion of our mind, not the passion of Jesus.
Reading from the end of the book, one can especially see how the book aimed from the beginning to answer one pressing question: how can we participate intelligently in an age where the conception of reality is “multiple and in profound flux”? His answer to that question perhaps is more than simply helping us review history so we may be more “historically informed.” His answer is that our social and intellectual survival largely depends upon reconstructing our history in a way that provides us with meaning and purpose; that is only possible if truth is not simply imposed upon nature by our own minds (as conceived by Kant). Our history telling must lead us into a new faith in Mother Nature and the Human Mind. It must be metaphysical, leading us into a new way of unifying the entire cosmos. In effect, it must lead us into a new religion of knowledge. Thus, he suggests that the Great Commission of our age is largely epistemological: we must be willing to accept the consequences of adopting a more thoroughly personal and feminine view of nature (the modern epistemological and social delimas are ultimately rooted in an over masculization of our world).
Tarnas’s remythologization of Western history as creation’s self-revelation is unfortunately a groping after God in the darkness. Creation and humanity can never, and will never grow out of or evolve over Jesus and the mind of his Spirit, since he is God’s archetype and telos for mankind for the redemption of creation. The epistemological crisis of our day remains the same as it has always been: how can our faith-knowledge remain or else be scripturally reformed faithful to him amidst the changing circumstances of the world he gives us?
Conservative reactions to Tarnas are warranted, but should not be self-defensive. The Church still has room for reform, and should be in constant concern for self-examination in how her thinking over time has conformed more to a ‘Western’ mind than the mind of Christ. Tarnas’s stress upon the need for us to ‘participate’ in creation, for example, could be heard in terms of a more creation-accepting and Christ-embracing view of Church sacraments, its implications for the Church’s embodiment of true humanity and its representational, communal mission for the world (cf. Schmemann’s For the Life of the World). Tarnas’ feminine imperative, also finds biblical precedence. If all of human history is scheduled to culminate in Christ’s wedding ceremony with his purified Bride the Church, we should not be surprised that this architectonic movement from Man to Woman should be issuing forth cultural shock waves among the nations as history moves towards that end. So let us continue to remember his death until he comes; so let us put on the mind of Christ,
who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross