What We're Reading (March edition)...

As we prepare to enter the penitential season of Lent, our latest edition of "What we're reading..." includes some resources and family devotions for the season, as well as a variety of other articles we have compiled on a variety of topics.

This month, we include a selection of articles on beauty, hospitality, art, fair tales, and more! Also included, the latest article from our own ILS Music Teacher, Mrs. Marie Greenway, writing on keeping reverence in church.

Have you read (or written!) anything recently that you think we and other ILS families may enjoy? We always welcome you to share any articles or blogs with use to consider including in future blog features.

Rev. A. Trevor Sutton, the co-writer with me of Authentic Christianity: How Lutheran Theology Speaks to a Postmodern World, is working on a doctorate in which he is studying the relationship between technology and theology. He has written some interesting articles lately that I wanted to pass along.

In Mr. Zuckerberg, Meet Martin Luther, he applies the doctrine of vocation to Silicon Valley. Like the “Robber Barons” of the Gilded Age, the tycoons of Silicon Valley have been both lauded for their economy-and-culture-changing entrepreneurship and condemned for their all-too-human faults. Trevor shows that not only in their influence but in the “digital interfaces” that they rule over, the CEOs of high-tech companies function much like the “rulers” whom Luther exhorts to serve their subjects.
— Gene Veith, "Vocation, Technology, & Luther's 'Theology of Tools'"

Our culture often promotes relaxed and casual attitudes toward church, urging that a church should be a place where you feel welcomed and comfortable and where you can enjoy your favorite songs while sipping your favorite latte. As appealing as this sounds, why should we strive to keep church and worship reverent? What does music have to do with it?

As I urge appropriate behavior among my students, the word that comes up over and over again is “reverent.” My students know what it means to sing something “reverently” versus using a silly voice or singing in a casual way. They also know what it means to show reverence physically as we practice standing, sitting, kneeling, and walking reverently, in addition to striving for reverent countenances.

All of these behaviors used specifically for church or chapel or for singing hymns and psalms serve to set these places and activities apart. Their proper behavior along with their specific chapel uniform and the liturgy indicates that the house of God is a unique place that is not like the playground or their homes or even their classrooms. All of these things show that divine matters are of the utmost importance and demand our serious contemplation, study, and adoration.
— Mrs. Marie Greenway, "Keeping Church Reverent

A few hundred years ago, fairy tale auteurs like the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen and Charles Perrault helped bring magical tales of princesses, evil ogres, dark forests, weird spells and thwarted love into the storybooks—and to the bedsides—of children, everywhere. But how old are the tales they transcribed? A new study suggests that their origins go all the way back to prehistory.

In a new study published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, a folklorist and anthropologist say that stories like Rumpelstiltskin and Jack and the Beanstalk are much older than originally thought. Instead of dating from the 1500s, the researchers say that some of these classic stories are 4,000 and 5,000 years old, respectively. This contradicts previous speculation that story collectors like the Brothers Grimm were relaying tales that were only a few hundred years old.

It turns out that it’s pretty hard to figure out how old fairy tales are using simple historical data. Since the tales were passed down orally, they can be almost impossible to unwind using a historian or anthropologist’s traditional toolbox. So the team borrowed from biology, instead, using a technique called phylogenetic analysis. Usually, phylogenetic analysis is used to show how organisms evolved. In this case, researchers used strategies created by evolutionary biologists to trace the roots of 275 fairy tales through complex trees of language, population and culture.
— Erin Blakemore, "Fairy Tales Could be Older than You Ever Imagined"

A little over a year ago I posted the following on Facebook: “I totally get the challenge of keeping kids quiet in church, but letting your kids play Angry Birds on silent mode on your phone rubs me the wrong way.” There followed a lively discussion on said topic, with some excellent points made all around. It got me thinking about kids in church, and I realized I’d been asking the wrong question all along. I had been asking, “How can I keep my kids quiet in church?” when I should have been asking, “How can I teach my children what church is?” We don’t bring our children to church to “keep them quiet.” We bring them there to hear God’s Word and receive His blessings. If they’re quiet in the process, that’s wonderful, but that shouldn’t be our ultimate goal.

When our oldest was a baby, I had a bag full of tricks for every church service. I had Cheerios to stuff in his mouth the second he started squawking, a sippy cup to keep him occupied, and books and quiet activities galore. Frankly, I missed a goodly portion of the service because I was so concerned about keeping him quiet. But then a curious thing happened. We had another baby, and as he got older, so did our oldest. Suddenly I realized that the oldest, now 3, was old enough to not need Cheerios or books. I wanted him to be participating as best he could. He could stand when we stood, fold his hands when we prayed, even recite the Lord’s Prayer with us. But he wasn’t. He was trying to snitch Cheerios from his younger brother or sneak books out of the diaper bag. Something had to change.
— Ruth Meyer, "Getting Kids to Behave in Church"

Few maxims are likely to excite the concern of a classicist quite like, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” The claim rings with the kind of subjectivity that eschews the transcendent and easily slips into radical relativism.

In various treatises on the subject, Roger Scruton argues that between truth, beauty, and goodness, beauty is something of an odd-man out. The irregular place of beauty among the three transcendentals owes to the fact that beauty must be experienced directly, while we are willing to acknowledge truth and goodness via proxy. We come to believe a man is a good man by the testimony of witnesses, even while we have not met him personally. Similarly, I am willing to recommend a certain auto mechanic to my friends even if that mechanic has not serviced my car, simply because I have heard credible testimony about the mechanic from others. “There’s a good mechanic over in Lakeside where you can take your car,” I say, even though I don’t him from Adam.

On the other hand, we are generally unwilling to grant a thing is beautiful unless we have laid our own eyes on it. If Tom tells Harry, “I was cold today and a stranger gave me the coat off his back,” Harry might reply, “What a good man!” However, if Tom tells Harry, “I saw a beautiful woman today at the flower shop,” Harry cannot reply, “What a beautiful woman!” When it comes to beauty, we say, “I have heard Beethoven’s 7th if beautiful,” or, “I have heard Friedrich painted beautiful landscapes,” but unless our eyes have actually beheld the beauty in question, we can only report what we’ve heard.
— Joshua Gibbs, "Fear Not: Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder""

Perhaps you would like to know what virtue I consider the greatest of all. For me that question is not a difficult one. Though I celebrate courage in my Iliad and perseverance in my Odyssey, there is a third, greater virtue, apart from which civilization can neither thrive nor survive.

I speak of xenia, a word that your age would translate as hospitality, but which means far more. The virtue of xenia, and the rules that define it, have to do with the relationship between a stronger and a weaker person. That weaker person comes in many forms: as a stranger, as a suppliant, as a guest, or, sometimes, as a host.

The key factor is that the weaker person is put in a position where he must rely on the mercy, justice, and fair play of the stronger. For xenia to be fulfilled, the stronger person must yield to the pleas of the weaker, not make use of him to his own benefit.

The Trojan War began, not from a lack of courage or perseverance, but from a violation of xenia. When the Trojan Paris visited the Greek Menelaus in Sparta, the latter extended xenia to the former. He took him in and fed him and treated him with honor and respect. But Paris did not reciprocate. Abusing Menelaus’s trust, Paris stole away Helen, the wife of his host, and carried her off to Troy.

In one fell swoop, the covenants between husband and wife and guest and host were shattered, and all Europe and Asia trembled at the breach. For xenia, once broken, sets off a chain reaction that corrupts the very vows that raise us above the beasts.
— Louis Markos, "Homer on Hospitality"

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) met Nov. 29–Dec. 1 in St. Louis. At its meeting, the CTCR approved a new report, An Inexpressible Treasure: The Theology and Practice of Holy Baptism.

While the CTCR has produced several reports on the Lord’s Supper over the years in response to requests from the Synod (and a recent report on Confession and Absolution), it has not been asked — until recently — to prepare a report on Baptism.

In 2013, however, the LCMS national convention adopted Res. 4-08A, “To Provide Responsible Pastoral Care with Regard to Practices Surrounding Holy Baptism.”
— Cheryl Magness, "'An inexpressible treasure': CTCR releases report n Holy Baptism"

McLaren: Some students told me that you were not covering Jackson Pollock, de Kooning, Franz Kline, or any of the great 20th century abstract expressionists in your art history class. Why is this?

Gibbs: This is a classical school, and I don’t take that kind of art seriously.

McLaren: The larger art world takes them seriously, though.

Gibbs: I don’t really take the “larger art world” seriously, either.

McLaren: You style yourself a conservative, though. Is it not strange for a self-professed conservative to reject the majority opinion on significant, well-respected artists?

Gibbs: Respect for Pollock and Kline is not really a majority opinion, though it is certainly a fashionable opinion over the last several decades. I can’t imagine someone like Caravaggio or Rembrandt having any respect for Pollock, and I try to align my tastes in art with the tastes of artists like Caravaggio and Rembrandt.

McLaren: Have you ever read an essay which unpacked Pollock’s art?

Gibbs: Yes, and I thought it far more brilliant than Pollock’s art.
— Joshua Gibbs, "Must We Treat Every Bad Idea with Respect and Patience?"

Higher Things® is pleased to provide free daily devotions, called “Reflections,” for youth and their families. These Reflections are centered in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and are based upon each day’s texts from the weekly readings in the one year lectionary and from Luther’s Small Catechism.