Friday, January 28, 2011

On Authority and Slavery - lessons from Woolman and Douglass

I've finally begun reading another of the Harvard Classics my husband has been pressing me to read for months now: The Journal of John Woolman. Woolman was a Quaker living in colonial days in America. In his travels visiting Friends among the colonies he saw his share of slavery and was often housed by fellow Quakers who were slaveholders. His experiences and his faith convinced him that slavery was an evil which destroyed both slave and master:
"Two things were remarkable to me in this journey: first, in regard to my entertainment. When I ate, drank, and lodged free-cost with people who lived in ease on the hard labor of their slaves I felt uneasy; and as my mind was inward to the Lord, I found this uneasiness return upon me, at times, through the whole visit. Where the masters bore a good share of the burden, and lived frugally, so that their servants were well provided for, and their labor moderate, I felt more easy; but where they lived in a costly way, and laid heavy burdens on their slaves, my exercise was often great, and I frequently had conversation with them in private concerning it. Secondly, this trade of importing slaves from their native country being much encouraged amongst them, and the white people and their children so generally living without much labor, was frequently the subject of my serious thoughts. I saw in these southern provinces so many vices and corruptions, increased by this trade and this way of life, that it appeared to me as a dark gloominess hanging over the land; and though now many willingly run into it, yet in future the consequence will be grievous to posterity. I express it as it hath appeared to me, not once, nor twice, but as a matter fixed on my mind."  (1746 emphasis mine)
After this first enlightening journey, Woolman, as part of his mercantile business, would find himself faced with requests for him to draw up wills and other contracts which involved the disposition of slaves. On the first of these occasions he did as he was asked, but found his conscience troubled so deeply that in the future he would refuse all such work, and never without explaining his scruples. From these experiences of obeying his Christ-informed conscience he learned "...that acting contrary to present outward interest, from a motive of Divine love and in regard to truth and righteousness, and thereby incurring the resentments of people, opens the way to a treasure better than silver, and to a friendship exceeding the friendship of men." And as time passed, he would see his earnest conviction bring about changes of hearts which would lead to the eventual freeing of many slaves.
"My mind was deeply engaged in this visit, both in public and private, and at several places where I was, on observing that they had slaves, I found myself under a necessity, in a friendly way, to labor with them on that subject; expressing, as way opened, the inconsistency of that practice with the purity of the Christian religion, and the ill effects of it manifested amongst us." (emphasis mine)
Indeed, Woolman's ongoing outspoken stance against slavery would eventually lead to a change in the official position of the Quakers on the subject, a conviction so firm that in 1790 the Society of Friends would go so far as to petition the United States Congress for the abolition of slavery *.

Woolman's observations on the morally destructive nature of slavery on those who practiced it resounded clearly another account I read earlier in the week. This, the recollection of former slave Frederick Douglass regarding his childhood master:
image via Wikipedia
"Yet he was not by nature worse than other men. Had he been brought up in a free state, surrounded by the full restraints of civilized society - restraints which are necessary to the freedom of all its members, alike and equally, Capt. Anthony might have been as humane a man as are members of such society generally. A man's character always takes its hue, more or less, from the form and color of things about him. The slaveholder, as well as the slave, was the victim of the slave system. Under the whole heavens there could be no relation more unfavorable to the development of honorable character than that sustained by the slaveholder to the slave. Reason is imprisoned here and passions run wild." from The Autobiography of Frederick Douglass (emphasis mine)
And in another place he relates the testimony of his own eyes - the steady moral degradation of an otherwise kind woman as she settles into the attitude of slave ownership.
"She at first lacked the depravity indispensable to shutting me up in mental darkness. It was at least necessary for her to have some training in the exercise of irresponsible power, to make her equal to the task of treating me as though I were a brute.
. . . In entering upon the duties of a slaveholder, she did not seem to perceive that I sustained to her the relation of a mere chattel, and that for her to treat me as a human being was not only wrong, but dangerously so. Slavery proved as injurious to her as it did to me.
When I went there she was a pious, warm, and tender-hearted woman. There was no sorrow or suffering for which she had not a tear. . . . Slavery soon proved its ability to divest her of these heavenly qualities. Under its influence, the tender heart became stone, and the lamb-like disposition gave way to one of tiger-like fierceness.
The first step in her downward course was in her ceasing to instruct me. She now commenced to practice her husband’s precepts. She finally became even more violent in her opposition than her husband himself. She was not satisfied with simply doing as well as he had commanded. . . .
Nothing seemed to make her more angry than to see me with a newspaper. She seemed to think that here lay the danger. I have had her rush at me with a face made all up of fury, and snatch from me the newspaper, in a manner that fully revealed her apprehension. She was an apt woman; and a little experience soon demonstrated, to her satisfaction, that education and slavery were incompatible with each other." (Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1995, orig. 1885, p. 22). As quoted and emphasized by John Piper.

And so, what have I gained from these contemplations of slavery? I mean, really, slavery is over in America, right? Well, yes it is. But the nature of man has not changed, only the structures of authority. There are lessons here for everyone who owns even the slightest measure of authority - fathers, mothers, husbands, law enforcement officials, judges, social workers, employers, creditors, pastors...anyone really who holds the reigns of power in their hands to significantly alter the life-course and livelihood of another. As the old tried and true saying goes "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely". It is the nature of man, whether great or small, to be corrupted by authority. Abuse of authority is a hallmark of godlessness, but the heart of a servant is a hallmark of the Christian:
"But Jesus called them to him and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mt. 20:25-28)
So, in every area were we have the God-given power of authority at our fingertips, we are warned not to wield it as a weapon, but to forge it into the tools of a servant. And, as the citations above reveal, we fail to do so at our own peril. Our abuses of power and mistreatment of others destroy not only them, but our own souls.

Monday, January 24, 2011

An Excellent Husband

Image via Vincentiens
I am not a great woman. I am a woman damaged and scarred by a world and a lifetime of sin. A woman who finally, at the age of forty, became convinced of the goodness of God, as revealed in His Son Jesus Christ, and trusted in Him. That was over six years ago. Almost four years ago I married my husband, Paul. I was determined to be a good and godly wife. I'd studied and read books to teach me how. By the time of our engagement I'd worked up a hand-written list of rules I thought a good Christian wife should follow, things like: "I was made for him, to be his helper, not the other way around so I must not expect anything from him, because he is not my helper - God is....My role is only to help him glorify God in whatever he does....I must obey my husband....I must never attempt to direct my husband, but wait for him to move, and then follow....Never try to influence him in any way but prayer.....never disagree with him....etc, etc." (It sounded very spiritual, and I was very proud of it!) I showed it to Paul when we got engaged, expecting his approval. Imagine my shock when he told me to tear it up and throw it away!

He didn't want that wife. He didn't want a blank slate to write on. He wanted me, the real me! Me, wounded, abandoned, and prone to depression. Me the uptight woman more worried about what others thought of her than what he did. But really, though he was not blind to those weaknesses, that was not what he saw in me. What he saw in me was a woman with a heart being shaped and gentled by the grace of God - a heart he could trust with his own heart. He saw his friend of two years who would understand and accept him, who he could safely tell anything, who would really try to understand his perspectives and intellectual interests, whose own wounds and frailties enabled her to feel compassion for his. In me he also saw an intelligent, creative soul, an erstwhile artist who would appreciate his idiosyncrasies, delight in his delights, and perhaps even give him new things to be delighted in. He truly valued everything I brought to the table, and I don't just mean food. He eagerly sought out my thoughts and opinions. Paul married me because he recognized it was not good for him to be alone, and he had come to love this woman God had formed and placed in his life. From the day he determined to marry me he set about nurturing all he saw that was beautiful in me, and, seeing my struggles and weaknesses, to set me free from my emotional chains. Every single day, for four years my husband has encouraged me with the hope of the Gospel and demonstrated Christ's own love and dedication to me.

And so, as I said before, I am not a great woman. Nor, as I have mentioned in a previous blog entry, do I have the kind of marriage the books led me to expect. And yet I can with all honesty say that I have a wonderful and uniquely Christian marriage. My husband even insists that I am an excellent wife! So how can that be? Well, I attribute it largely to the example of a truly excellent husband. My husband is a quiet and unassuming man, nearly the definition of meekness, and yet as I look back over the years of our life together it becomes clear to me that it is he who has been primarily responsible for shaping the character of our marriage. So how does he do it? I've given this matter a lot of thought and decided to try to distill here, as best I can, the essence of his strength. What I've come up with, interestingly enough, is not a list of do's or don'ts so much as a set of character traits. Good husbanding begins in the heart.

An excellent Christian husband, above all, is formed by the Gospel. His focus is aligned with Christ's, his emphases on what the Scripture emphasizes. For instance, he has gathered that the Scripture nowhere says, "Husbands lead your wives...." so his focus is not on leading. And yet he does lead, instinctively and strongly, but (like Christ) in ways often so gentle, so imperceptible as to almost be missed. In fact it is almost always in retrospect that I recognize how my husband has led me. I can only trace this to the fact that he has internalized those key Christian truths that turn relationships entirely upside-down - or rather, right-side-up - from what sin and fallen culture has done to them.
"But Jesus called them to him and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mt. 20:25-28)
Being a Christian requires an altered understanding of authority. In the kingdom of God those with authority are to behave as those who have the least authority of all - servants. In Christ the highest rank is that of slave. Positions of leadership are actually positions of servanthood. Servants by definition submit their wills to the good of others. When we really believe this, it turns our lives upside down. Wives give themselves up for their husbands. Husbands love to serve their wives.

The excellent husband, for the sake of love, has submitted his right to wield authority. His heart's goal is not to rule, but to serve - not to lead, but to love. He will lead when that is what love requires, and when love leads it does so lovingly, with meekness and gentleness.

In Ephesians 5 all Christians are commanded to "walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." (v.2) Wives are then specifically told to reflect this in their marriages by submitting to their husbands. This submission implies a heart-felt and willing giving up of self for the sake of the husband. Husbands, are addressed next, with their appropriate expression of Christian love expanded upon at some length:
"Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body." (vs. 25-30)
The excellent husband places the same value and regard upon his wife as he does his own life, and gives himself up for her, just as she does for him, and Christ did for the church. This expression of the self-sacrificial nature of husband love is so strong that the apostle senses a need at the end of it to protect it: "let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband." The temptation to abuse a love that tender is strong. Which reminds me of the admonition of Peter: "Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered." (1 Peter 3:7) A godly husband will not use the tender, submissive nature of his wife as temptation or opportunity for scorn or abuse.

In fact, the excellent husband has great respect for women in general. His wife will never have the sense that she is valued only for sex and service. He recognizes that physically and culturally, men throughout history, as a result of the curse, have wielded the power in relationships and demeaned and subjected women in every level of society. Christians, however are not called to perpetuate the curse of sin, but to restore what sin destroyed. And so a godly man remembers that "in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God." (1 Cor. 11:11) And that in Christ "there is no male and female" (Gal. 3:28), that his wife and his sisters in Christ are fellow-heirs with him of the grace of life (1 Pet. 3:7), and that they, too, are complete human beings created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27) fully capable of serving and pleasing Him independent of marriage, should they be called to do so (see 1 Cor. 7).

An excellent husband recognizes that God did not hand him a blank slate, a shapeless lump to do with whatever he pleases or make into whatever suits his perceived needs. Rather, he recognizes his wife as God's handiwork, beautiful and suited to him, created to share his joys and pains, to reign with him in life, to glorify God together with him, and to be his strong support. (Gen. 2:18-14)

Paul sees me as his equal in every way (though of course we are very different). He sees our marriage as two people following the Lord together, one flesh, side-by-side leaning upon one another, not marching single-file. He leads by example, by his strong presence, and by the exercise of a love that won't bend when it sees me leaning toward a wrong path. If I veer off in a harmful direction, he plants himself firmly and urges me back to the right road. And though I've no intention to be a leader, I've done the same for him on occasion. This is part of what it means to be a strong help. This is marriage. This is husband and wife living as one flesh, loving and following Christ, glorifying Him together, each with all our hearts desiring to display His self-sacrificial love.

Paul likes to compare marriage to making a cup of tea. In the beginning there is water and there is tea - two very different things. Yet once the tea is introduced to the water, it infuses it entirely. These two when joined change each other, forever. Their individual qualities are integrated throughout. I've told my husband repeatedly that it is only because of his Christlike behavior that we have the lovely marriage that we do. I know he likes to hear that. He always smiles. But he then always shakes his head and says it's not true. It is true that his love is a powerful driving force in our marriage, but it would not be sufficient were I not devoted to Christ myself. He and I both know that were it not for Christ and His example of self-sacrifice I would be a cruel, bitter, and dominating force in our home. I would interpret my husband's deep love as pathetic weakness and despise him for it. So it is the work of Christ and His love in my heart which makes me receptive to the loving influence of my husband.

So it is the Gospel of Jesus Christ that makes a Christian husband excellent. Specifically it is the husband living in his own home as Christ did when He walked on this earth, loving, serving, humbling Himself for His church. And it is the Gospel again, working in the heart of a wife, which leads her to treasure the love of her husband, seeing in it the reflection of that Savior she so adores and relies upon. It is this that shapes her into a godly wife. And it is these two, living as one, sacrificing for each other that become a living picture of the God's self-sacrificial love for all the world to see.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Riches to Share

It's been a long while since I've offered up a collection of influences that have had significance in my recent life. That is partly a result of there being fewer of them. I am spending more time in Scripture and a few good books, and less spreading the internet dragnet. So what I have here is close to six months' accumulation.

Sanctity of Life

Because today is known as "Sanctity of Life" Sunday. I've chosen to begin the list with my own testimony regarding abortion first published here a year ago.

Christian Discernment

This sermon series on Christian discernment was preached in the church I attend, and has transformed my life, teaching me how to discern what teachings, teachers, and ideas of all kinds and all sources to submit my conscience to. I'm still integrating the things I've learned through it and am becoming increasingly able to take my own thoughts and ideas captive to the obedience of Christ, as well as taking responsibility for the maintaining of a healthy conscience.

Christian Discernment, by Pastor Matthew Raley
The following is a blog entry from Dan at Cerulean Sanctum which complements the series above nicely:  Making Sense of Confusing Voices

Honoring God with your Wealth

It's a rare day when I've heard a sermon focused on financial matters in the Christian life which has left me feeling blessed and encouraged. Yet I spent two rare Sundays at the beginning of this year  doing just that. See if you aren't blessed as well.

Loving Disagreement

Finally, a short blog entry from John Armstrong, a man whose ministry and heart for unity in the body of Christ has been an ongoing source of encouragement for me:  On Delivering Reproof in Love.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

There Sits a Man Enthroned in Heaven

There Sits a Man Enthroned in Heaven
 by Laurie Mathers

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Almighty God revealed from Heaven
eternal wisdom in all that He made,
He carved into man His own divine image,
and granted him freedom, to will and obey.

In ancient days Satan worshiped in Heaven.
Gorgeous, he directed the worship of all,
until the sight of his lovely reflection,
puffed him with pride and led to his fall.

Straight to mankind he took his deception:
Sweetness is found in what God forbids;
His command is intended to keep you from wisdom
To rob you of glory and true godliness.

From that moment forward man's discontent grew
with all of creation and God's precious words.
That day revelation was robbed of its blessing,
God's beautiful voice had uttered a curse.

Still God had his plan and left mankind a promise:
a seed from the woman would crush Satan's head.
Creation would return to singing God's glory
and God's living Word would give life to the dead.

In Christ God rejoins mankind with His image,
in time through a woman His Son would be born
In death He would bear the curse of the many
in new life reveal God's power and His love.

There now sits a Man enthroned in the Heavens,
interceding forever for humankind there.
What dignity God has bestowed on His people
to be clothed in their flesh and bearing their prayers.

Exploring the Integrity of God & His Revelation, with Browne (and Browne)
As you may have gathered from my last post, I've thoroughly enjoyed my time spent with Thomas Browne's Religio Medici. I wish I could adequately express what his little book had done for me. But I'll settle today for this:  I can thank Sir Thomas Browne for reminding me of the reason I ever loved theology in the first place, and why, too, in the same space and breath I adore science and never do find that it threatens my faith. Both are studies of the revelation of the Creator, both dedicated to beauty and complexity so rich that they require an eternity to comprehend. Both hold riches grand enough to inspire everlasting awe... And yet, sadly, until recently I've felt my own sense of delight in both God and His works fading.

The loveliness of God, in every revelation of Himself, is clouded into obscurity by the slightest hint of human pride and ambition, and, I might add, cynicism. Both theology and science, in their purest forms, are a labors of love and attract like moths to flame those with the eyes and imaginations of little children. But either, when used to destroy the other loses its very heart and soul. You see, God, though Three, is One. All that God does bears the same integrity as His own person. Nothing He does contradicts Himself. Thus God's revelation is not to be used to disprove God's revelation. Just as it is inherently destructive to pit Scripture against Scripture, so it is to pit theology against science, or vice versa. Each is God's revelation. They stand together, whole, whether our reason can grasp it or not.

In Thomas Browne's Religio Medici I was lured afresh to the light of the beauty of the witness of God in both.

Each of us who believes has our own set of eyes. Each is uniquely gifted with abilities, and also limited by the wiring of our own personalities. This means each of us will be attracted more particularly this or that aspect of the beauty of God.  Browne was no different. As a Christian, a gifted intellectual, and a man of science he found himself particularly intrigued by two of God's attributes in particular: His wisdom and His eternal nature.
"With the one I recreate, with the other I confound, my understanding: for who can speak of eternity without a solecism, or think thereof without an ecstasy?....God hath not made a creature that can comprehend him; 'tis a privilege of his own nature: 'I am that I am' was his own definition unto Moses; and 'twas a short one to confound mortality, that durst question God, or ask him what he was. Indeed he only is; all others have and shall be; but, in eternity, there is no distinction of tenses....What to us is to come, to his eternity is present; his whole duration being but one permanent point, without succession, parts, flux, or division....
"There is no attribute that adds more difficulty to the mystery of the Trinity, where, though in a relative way of Father and Son, we must deny a priority." Religio Medici
On reading this last statement I was driven by curiosity to my copy of An Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles, by one Edward Harold Browne to find out just what Anglican doctrine is in regard to the Trinity, and in so-doing I found my own smoldering delight in theology being unexpectedly fanned once again into flame. Mr. E. H. Browne explains that the only priority existing in the Godhead is one of order, not of nature or power. As the ancient meaning of the word "head" did not include any understanding of the function of the brain, it was never then used to refer to a control center or seat of authority, but rather it referred to a "source".  This helps us more clearly understand that statement that God is the Head of Christ.
"This eternal generation they [the orthodox church fathers] held to be a proof that He was of one substance and eternity with the Father; but the relation of Father to Son they held to constitute a priority of order, though not of nature or power. They held, that is, not that the Son was, in His nature as God, in any degree different from, or inferior to the Father; but that, as the Father alone was the source and fountain of Deity, the Son having been begotten, and the Spirit proceeding, so there was a subordination, without diversity, of the Son to the Father, and of the Spirit to the Father and the Son. It may be difficult to conceive of priority of order, without being led to believe in superiority of nature....
"God's eternal perfections He, from all eternity, communicated to His Son. 'So also the Divine Essence, being by reason of its simplicity not subject to division, and in respect of its infinity incapable of multiplication, is so communicated as not to be multiplied, insomuch that He, which proceedeth by that communication, hath not only the same nature, but is also the same God....'" (An Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles. The final quote is from Pearson's, On the Creed)

Thus Christ is wholly and ever God, equipped in His very nature with all the attributes of God including His eternity and wisdom. And so, understanding his Anglican doctrine more clearly, I drift back to the lovely devotional meditations of the first Browne on the wisdom of this God. This God does not deliberate within Himself. He is of one mind. There is no part in Him which inherently thinks one way and then convinces or commands the rest to obey. He is One though three, complete in His integrity, and so is the wisdom revealed in each revelation of Himself distinct, yet a complementary whole.
"Wisdom is his most beauteous attribute: no man can attain unto it: yet Solomon pleased God when he desired it. He is wise, because he knows all things; and he knoweth all things, because he made them all: but his greatest knowledge is in comprehending that he made not, that is, himself. And this is also the greatest knowledge in man....I know God is wise in all; wonderful in what we conceive, but far more in what we comprehend not: for we behold him but asquint, upon reflex or shadow...therefore to pry into the maze of his counsels is not only folly in man, but presumption even in angels....he holds no counsel, but that mystical one of the Trinity, wherein, though there be three persons there is but one mind that decrees without contradiction. Nor needs he any; his actions are not begot with deliberation; his wisdom naturally knows what's best: his intellect stands ready fraught with the superlative and purest ideas of goodness, consultations, and election, which are two motions in us, make but one in him: his actions springing from his power at the first touch of his will. Religio Medici
I cannot help but wonder here if one of the follies T. Browne had in mind was debate over the "Order of Decrees" even now dickered over in Calvinist circles. But, then, I'm now the one speculating. And since it is even greater hubris to speculate into the mind of God, and since we cannot know of God what He has not chosen to reveal to us, Thomas Browne prefers to commit himself wholly to all the ways in which God has revealed Himself. These include both Scripture and His work of creation, and so Browne does not take the misstep so common in our day of divorcing science from faith. He does not fear study or education. On the contrary, for him it is that joyous duty we call worship:
" humble speculations have another method, and are content to trace and discover those expressions he hath left in his creatures, and the obvious effects of nature. There is no danger to profound these mysteries, no sanctum sanctorum in philosophy. The world was made to be inhabited by beasts, but studied and contemplated by man: 'tis the debt of our reason we owe unto God, and the homage we pay for not being beasts. Without this, the world is still as thought it had not been, or as it was before the sixth day, when as yet there was not a creature that could conceive or say there was a world. The wisdom of God receives small honour from those vulgar heads that rudely stare about and with a gross rusticity admire his works. Those highly magnify him, whose judicious enquiry into his acts, and deliberate research into his creatures return the duty of a devout and learned admiration." Religio Medici
The desire to understand whatever God reveals of Himself burns in the bellies of we who love Him. It becomes no less than a labor of love to study and chase after Him with all our might. God revealed first to mankind His power, wisdom, eternal nature, and providential care first in Creation. Upon the fall of man into sin He revealed Himself further as a righteous yet merciful judge and lover of mankind through His prophets, and ultimately and most personally in His incarnation in Christ. In Christ He surpasses all other revelation. In Him He not only reveals Himself to man, but eternally embraces him, taking once and for all time our very created nature upon Himself:
"Again, the end and purpose of the union, whereby the Son of God took the nature of man, being that He might join together God and men, Himself both God and man, and the necessity of such conjunction never ceasing, it follows that the union of the natures shall never cease. It is through the instrumentality of Christ's humanity that man is united to God. When the union has been effected, we cannot suppose that the bond will be destroyed, the link annihilated. It is by virtue of incorporation into Christ's Body, that the saints shall rise and reign because of It."  Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles

And so, as God is one in His person, and is glorified in every revelation of Himself, so we glorify Him as we seek to know the whole of who He is, through all of His works, using the whole of who we are - with all our feelings, our intellect, and every ounce of our energy.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Religio Medici

Image via Wikipedia
My dear husband is a literary man to his core. As such he thinks it great fun to take on reading programs. He recently finished the 10 Essential Penguin Classics series as a reading group on his blog. Concurrently with this he has also dedicated himself to "Dr. Eliot's Five Foot Shelf", now more commonly known as the Harvard Classics. Dr. Eliot was known for claiming that anyone could have the equivalent of a Harvard education by spending fifteen minutes a day reading from a five foot shelf of books. Publisher P.F. Collier and Son thought they smelled a profit and challenged the man to select the books. And so, one hundred years later, my dear Paul, upon learning of this collection, and finding it all five feet of it available for free rent in our local library, decided it was time he got a no-cost Harvard education.

I should mention here that my husband has a keen intellect and is a quick reader. He absorbs these writings and then wants to talk about them. Thus, being his partner in life, I find myself on the receiving end of a lot of book talk. I feel rich! My only complaint is that I cannot keep up. My mind is capable but not as nimble as his. It takes me longer to wrap my head around ideas and many more readings to retain them. But wanting to contribute to the conversation, which is what he really wants most from me as his wife, and to be on the same proverbial page from time to time, means I need to read at least some of what he does. And so, sometimes I do. Which is what I'm getting to with all this chatter.

What usually ends up happening is that I end up reading the books Paul talks about the most, or the occasional book that he actually tells me he wants me to read. Religio Medici (The Religion of a Doctor), by Sir Thomas Browne, is both of those books. Paul just kept talking about it, and said I should read it. So I did. Every so often I find a work that so resonates with my own experiences and a writer so simpatico I just can't stop reading. This is one of those books. The fact that it was written over 350 years ago and yet feels so timely just adds to the wonder of it.  So, desiring to interact further with Browne (read that, "wanting to write in the margins and dog-ear the corners") I requested a copy of my own for my Christmas stocking, (did you know sometimes Santa gets behind schedule  and when he does he uses the U.S. Postal Service?) and now I'm reading it again. 

And all these words serve as explanation and excuse for the fact that I want to share and discuss bits of Religio Medici here, in hopes that you'll be as delighted, encouraged, and challenged as I have been, perhaps even so much so that you'll trot off and purchase a copy of your own.

Thomas Browne, an Anglican (yes, although un-premeditated, I do seem to be on a bit of an Anglican kick of late), a scholar and a doctor, published Religio Medici in 1643. Though published during the tumultuous period of the English Civil War and that odd period of English governance known as the Long Parliament  Browne manages to be both the very voice of reason, temperance, tolerance, and civility and uncompromising in his particular reformed version of the Anglican faith. (Truth be told, if you didn't know at what time he was living you would barely guess he was surrounded by conflict at all.) Although nearly forgotten these days, his book was wildly popular throughout Europe at the time of its release, and highly influential. It was considered by Virginia Woolf, for instance, to be the precursor to the modern personal memoir and confessional. It is, though, hardly a diary so much as it is the personal confession of faith and values of a man steadied by deep Christian conviction and solid reason.

My struggle in writing, to be perfectly honest, is first in not knowing where to begin and then in not knowing where to stop. So I suppose dear prudence would dictate that I begin with the beginning, take a look around and see what comes of it.