A special thanks to Blue Shepard for allowing me to publish his weekly e-newsletter here on Vigilant Wolf. The Blue Shepard is a friend and past guest of Ever Vigilant podcast (episode 43). I personally look forward to his weekly thoughts on Christianity, Manhood, and Brotherhood and I believe you will feel the same.
Numbers 15:37-40, and 19:1-9
Raised in a Christian home and reared in a very conservative denomination, my parents set no unclear example of adhering to devotional goals. Every night that we were all together, nearly without fail, we would gather in the living room together and my father would read from the nearest of several Bibles staged around the house like well placed guns. Later his narration was replaced with adiobible from Biblegateway.com, but we still stuck with our ritual. After the Scriptures were read, each of us would take some time in personal prayer - still together of course. This was expected and if something hindered us from accomplishing our daily rite then we would all fall subject to internal consternation.
I have always struggled with discipline in personal devotion. Prayer is easy to regulate for a while. Whenever something comes up to disrupt our emotional homeostasis, or we fall into a hex of boredom, our regularity seems to be emaciated. This phenomenon is not more clearly demonstrated than by the teen boy or girl who visits a church camp, with rigid discipline for four or five days straight, and leaves with a burning passion to pray and read their Bibles every day; yet, after no time at all, slumps back into the slouch of spiritual apathy. The chore of personal devotion is no more desirable to the carnal mind, and not nearly as enforced (sadly) in the day to day life of the average youth as any other chore.
My wife gave me a traditional shave set with a safety razor for Christmas. I had been interested in these for sometime; really since childhood, when I first saw my grandfather beating the ivory soap with the boars hair in his Old Spice coffee mug. I find the process most enjoyable of an evening with hot coffee and a votive flame; even a spiritual experience.
I have only had it since 24 December and in no way consider myself proficient in its use. I was, nonetheless, immediately titillated by the experience.
First, a batch of warm water is drawn and the face is washed to remove any debris and excess oil. Then the badger's hair brush is placed in the water and permitted to marinate. This warms and softens the bristles, as well as causes them to displace for proper painting of the face.
Once the face has dried, a shave oil can be applied. This softens and lubricates the skin. After applying the oil and cleaning the hands, the brush is retrieved and gently wrung of excess water. The wet brush is then daubed in whatever soap with which you plan to lather. The soap is then applied in the lathering dish and beaten with the brush until a lather forms. An alternate method is to leave the soap in the lathering dish and simply form the lather directly on the surface of the soap.
Once a lather has been constructed, it is applied to the face with the brush in painting strokes. I prefer, as my Grandfather always said, to let the lather, in the verbatim, "Lather", or let it set on the face a few moments (or a few long drinks of coffee) before making the first cut. Also the razor should have a relatively new blade and should be heated under running hot water: a hot blade cuts better.
The cutting comes next. Short strokes, about two inches or so, and all down (the first time). For a smoother shave, the process is repeated form the lathering forward, and then shaved upward. If an unnervingly smooth shave is desired, the process may be repeated a third time, shaving deliberately against the grain with stretched skin.
Once the face has been unpainted and you are satisfied with the suppleness of your freshly smoothed skin, the face is once again rinsed with warm water, daubed dry with a towel, and an aftershave lotion should be applied.
Look at that beard line, y'all... Just saying...
Anti-tank men kneel before a crucifix before going into battle, Belgium. 29 December 1944.
For most of my life, personal devotion had been a chore. Like I said: we felt horrible if we missed it. But there was a certain dread of dropping whatever we were doing to accomplish one more check-off on our daily list, only to immediately resume business as usual. It was usually wholesome, but often took on the stigma of being boring and tedious.
Many of you probably do not relate to my background, and many men with whom I speak had no semblance of discipline in devotion in their childhoods at all. One thing is universal: Adding a chore to your monotonous regimen is hardly incentive enough in and of itself to perpetuate it's faithful practice. This is because of other key elements of a man's nature which we have discussed in prior letters.
My daughter will soon be a year and a half old. She loves to brush her teeth. It is like play for her. She sees any tooth brush and immediately expresses excitement and desire. Much to our horrors, she recently was caught dipping my tooth brush in an open toilet and then brushing her teeth with the yet unsoiled water (and even more to my horror my mother-in-law had placed the brush back on the bathroom counter where it had been before - which fact was not divulged voluntarily but was pried out by my wife asking, "Well did you throw the tooth brush away?" Of course we have kept our bathroom doors closed, but little creatures will seize any occasion of oversight to sneak their ways in). She is drawn to this... well... chore. I am sure that eventually it will become less desirable, but it is a good start.
Most men don't have a good start. Most women don't either. I am speaking of personal devotion, of course.
Some time back I began to explore what I thought I knew about church history. I very quickly found myself in prostrate repentance over the numerous heresies I had believed and taught out of ignorance and merely repeating what others had told me. Confirmation bias is a dangerous thing. I will save that topic for another issue. Let us only discuss one side effect of my exploration: devotion.
It is a concrete consensus among Biblical students and scholars alike that the canonical gospels contain but a vague glimpse of all the things Christ did and said when walking the earth in flesh. There are at least 25 recorded and quoted prayers of Christ The Man in those gospels, as well as other third party records and inferences within and without scripture. Even with all of these examples, the most clear thing about the prayer life of Christ is the amount of ambiguity. But he was a born Jew.
Despite the obvious, vast hordes of American Evangelicals, Baptists, and whatever other flavor of denominational ice cream you want to insert are perpetuating a damnable lie that Jesus was some kind of neo-liberal, anti-establishment, anti-Judaic, anti-authoritarian, anarchistic, rebel-hippie (is that enough hyphenation for you, or what?). "The new covenant does away with the old, the new god supersedes the old, the new law abolishes the old.The christ of the new testament is not only the son of god, but the peaceful Gandhi who altogether destroyed the existence, imminence and relevance of the creator we so vehemently dread." Those lies and all who perpetuate them without repentance will burn in hell.
Christ himself said, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, til heaven and earth pass, not one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pas from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the Kingdom of Heaven." (Mat. 5:17-20).
If that quote does not frighten you to trembling and pleading for mercy then pray for God to soften your heart of stone.
As I explored, I realized that recent history and hell's devices have cheated me and my generation out of a very rich history and culture, as well as a very drawing devotional practice. Christianity in it's modern sense begins with Christ, but our religion does not. Diarmaid MacCulloch's extensive book say's it best in the very title, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years. We have to go farther back than the Advent of Christ if we want to grasp this thing by the root.
If you read the passages I prescribed above, you will see where I am beginning to go. If you did not, go back and read them before continuing, you lazy brat. Otherwise you will be confused.
In the process of shaving I described above, one thing stands out that is not so key with conventional modern shaving: preparation. Preparation is important. But our generation does not think so. You may bake a pie in the microwave, and it may be edible within record time, but it will in no way be as complete and wholesome as a traditionally made and baked pie. You may force yourself into abrupt sessions of prayer and scripture and meditation without forethought, but you are cheating yourself out of the experience.
The preparations for worship in the Levitical priesthood were expansive. From the washing, to the garments, to the prescribed methodological placement of items, to the order of worship, we see a drawn out, lingering time that is hissed and balked at by our social empire of immediate gratification. I heard a man recently put it this way in so many words: I used to long for an hour long church service that seemed like a half hour; but now I bask in the hour of worship that seems like an eternity in God's presence has passed all too soon. I began to add ritual and preparation to my devotions, and the entire dynamic changed. I began to realize that, just as I vest myself in armor, prepare my tools and weapons, and even sit in my patrol car for a few minutes, I am taking time for preparation. We should prepare ourselves, in all ways, before we enter the Court of the Most High.
I will continue the discussion on devotion where we leave off when I write to you next week. For now, I want you to reevaluate your devotional life and progress. Are you disciplined? Do you adhere to a rule of devotion? Do you use any material objects to help focus your worship? Or are you facing the enemy within yourself unprepared? Are you wandering around in morbid apathy, wearing spiritual razor rash, dreading the next droll chore of ill-prepared devotion?
The Blue Shepard
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