How Civilized is Civilization?

 

One of the great laments I have is that I never read great works of literature. Yeats, Hemingway, Twain, Dostoyevsky, Woolf, Plath and Thoreau are a mere sampling of the great cloud of literary witnesses whose company I’ve failed to keep. Granted, I had some exposure to such works, but I didn’t care at the time; it was college, after all. There was more to do.

While in Brevard, North Carolina one day, Lindsey and I happened upon a used book sale at the Transylvania County Library. There were no copies of Twilight, Fifty Shade of Grey, or The Notebook to be seen, presumably because people checked out those books . What I found, though, was a treasure trove of great works by Faulkner, Twain, Hemingway, Thoreau, and Dostoyevsky. So I bought them.

I read The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway first because it fit in my back pocket. That fish put up one heck of a fight. The old man’s patience was both inspiring and depressing. When patience bleeds into passivity, it is not longer inspiring.

I picked up another book, a double volume, from my nightstand and started reading. Walden and Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau were both on my ‘list’. So I started Walden.

I take it Thoreau didn’t watch television and wouldn’t have had it been available. His reach into Latin, Greek mythology, and religion is envious–attainable with time, sure, but who has such time with Netflix?

In the first paragraph of the book Thoreau tells of coming back from his stay in the woods, counting himself “a sojourner in civilized life again.” That line struck me for its Christian undertones. Though acquainted with the Bible, I doubt Thoreau was making that allusion.

Inside of cabin

In light of the chaos of the cosmos and the increasing expressions of darkness around the world, one should ask what and/or who is civilized. It seems to me that Walden’s woods might be the kind of “civilized” we long for.

Here we [read, Christians] are, sojourners in a civilization that sees us as foreign and irrelevant, at best. But it is our irrelevance to the modern culture at large that makes us distinctly Christian. I am not saying pipe organs equate you with holiness. Fundamentally, the message of the cross and Christ is largely impractical and ineffective by count of the civilized.

Thus the task we take on in Christ is to sojourn faithfully, not as escapists or as those who embrace all for the sake of relevance, whatever that is. We engage as those in the world but not of the world.

As the quote below says, would that none of us upon coming to die discover that we had not lived

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