Many literary images have taken up residence in my life: laughing Lucy tossed into the air, safely caught by Aslan’s velvety paws; a gaunt Hamlet confronting a weird, haunting specter; the lovely Scheherazade, spinning a thousand tales for the Persian Šāhe Šāhān (King of Kings); a slave boy, answering questions posed by a curious man drawing figures in the sand; Margaret’s tears gently falling upon a golden carpet of leaves . . .
All classic literature aims at answering the Question, “What does it mean to be human?” Authors who agree on nothing else are nonetheless of one mind when it comes to the need to answer this Question. All great literature is born from some troubling of the mind, for the Question, “What does it mean to be human?” is a vexing, awful question to ask. The Question obviously implies the answer is unknown. We do not know what it means to be human. What is worse, the Question itself implies the Question may be the wrong one to ask.
Thanksgiving dinner is the holiest meal eaten in the American household. While the holiness of Christmas and Good Friday surpass Thanksgiving, Christmas dinner is merely an accident of the Nativity liturgy and neither is Easter dinner conducted by a cleric. On the other hand, the Thanksgiving meal is something of a worship service in and of itself. If Thanksgiving has not already overtaken the Fourth of July as the most sacred day in the American civil religion, the exchange will certainly take place within this generation.
How did we get to the point where journalists lose their jobs for opinions expressed on social media, a pastor can be terminated from his job at the fire department for writing a book that affirms Biblical morality, and disagreements over political ideology routinely split families and destroy friendships?
Some of the most important questions asked in class are bad questions. Despite a common prejudice against the expression “bad questions,” I simply must allow it, for I judge many of the most important questions I have ever asked to have been very terrible. Let me give you an example of a bad question I once asked: Isn’t the Father at war with the Son on the cross because it says somewhere that God cannot look at sin, and when Jesus was on the cross doesn’t it say God turned away His face? When I say this was a bad question, I do not mean it did not need an answer.
Bible scholars and Sunday School teachers routinely divide Paul’s Epistle to the Romans into two distinct sections: the first 11 chapters, where the apostle explains the gospel in theological terms, and chapters 12 through 16, where he discusses their moral and ethical implications.
The dividing line between these two sections is verse 12:1, which reads, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” (KJV)
Instability reigns; unlawful authorities seek selfish gain; violence is advertised as entertainment; brothers turn betrayers. But just when the world seems unbearable, a place of escape is found—a green world, full of music, to which, it turns out, the rest of the good people have already fled, and in which they have made a haven. Here, labor is rewarded with feasting, courage with honor, and longing with love.
What do you call a thing that is so "normal" to you that you couldn't imagine how life would work without it, but is so rare everywhere else that others wonder why you do it at all? What would even qualify for that description? I imagine sugar might be close. Americans, apparently, eat far more sugar than the rest of the world. Is sugar such a "normal" part of our lives that we couldn't even imagine life without it, whereas the rest of the world wonders why we use so much of it? Testing fits in this category.
Harold Burroughs Black was born July 16, 1945.