Monday, July 24, 2017

"Real evil still haunts the world..."

The importance of reading history is an emphasis of several posts I've come across today. A film reviewer suggests that many of those viewing Dunkirk probably had no idea it was about an actual event. Myron Magnet at age nineteen learned for the first time about the Holocaust — "I never dreamed it possible, and learning that it had actually happened, in my own lifetime and to my own kinsmen, turned my worldview upside-down." In "See No Evil?" he worries:
Why am I telling you all this? Because I fear that, except for a few of us remaining graybeards and some immigrants from the world’s manifold tyrannies and anarchies, most Americans are too young to remember, even vicariously, the ills that the world can inflict and the effort it takes to withstand and restrain them. They have studied no history, so not only can they not distinguish Napoleon from Hitler, but also they have no conception of how many ills mankind has suffered or inflicted on itself and how heroic has been the effort of the great, the wise, and the good over the centuries to advance the world’s enlightenment and civilization—efforts that the young have learned to scorn as the self-interested machinations of dead white men to maintain their dominance. While young people are examining their belly buttons for micro-aggressions, real evil still haunts the world, still inheres in human nature; and those who don’t know this are at risk of being ambushed and crushed by it.

Slogans, placards, and chants won’t stop it: the world is not a campus, Donald Trump is not Adolf Hitler, the Israelis are not Nazis. Moreover, it is disgracefully, cloyingly naive to think—as the professor hurt in the melee to keep Charles Murray from addressing a Middlebury College audience recently put it in the New York Times—that “All violence is a breakdown of communication.” An hour’s talk over a nice cup of tea would not have kept Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine, or persuaded an Islamist terrorist not to explode his bomb. Misunderstanding does not cause murder, and reasoned conversation does not penetrate the heart of darkness.

Much as I revere Yeats, I do not share his theory that history is cyclical, with civilizations rising and decaying, until something new arises from the ashes. Perhaps it’s the ember of mid-century optimism still alive in me, but I can’t believe that “All things fall and are built again.” I don’t want to believe, with Conrad in his darkest moods, that “we live in the flicker,” that moments of enlightenment shine but briefly between the eras of ignorance and barbarism.

But who can deny that there are some truths that history has taught—the Copybook Headings, Rudyard Kipling calls them—that we ignore at our peril? Has not history’s recurring tale been, as Kipling cautions, that “a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome?” So beware of UN-style promises of perpetual peace through disarmament, which you’ll find will have “sold us and delivered us bound to our foe.” Beware of a sexual freedom that will end when “our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith.” Don’t believe that you can achieve “abundance for all,/ By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul,” because the eternal truth is, “If you don’t work you die.” And the truth that history teaches is that when
the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!
Man is a believing animal. We live by some of those beliefs, made plausible by the labors of the good and the great to embody them, and of the wise to explain how they have created a freer, more prosperous, more just, and more fulfilling life for mankind. But other beliefs, the stock-in-trade of the world’s deluded or power-hungry demagogues and charlatans, will kill us. Our nation’s fate depends on relearning the difference. [more]

Rooted

...[C]hurch history is a treasure box, not a map. We err if we look to the past in order to chart the precise path of faithfulness for the future. We are marching to Zion, not retreating to Constantinople or Geneva. For this reason, we should look to the past in order to retrieve the resources we need in order to fortify and renew our faith in the present as we discern with wisdom and prudence the way forward. ....

...[O]ne of the things we must do as preachers, both for ourselves and also for our people, is to lift our eyes from our current moment, to listen to the words of the psalmist, hear the laments of the prophets, recall the stories of our ancestors, visit our church fathers, read and learn from our missionary mothers, and realize that spiritual struggle is the norm, not the exception. ....

By quoting from ancient church leaders, we remind our congregations that our faith is relevant not because it is "modern," but because it is rooted.

We also protect our people from being convinced that their novel, never-before-heard-of interpretation of a text cannot be challenged. The Holy Spirit is not stingy with spiritual insights. He has been at work for thousands of years. We make this truth clear when we quote from ancient saints. ....

To think that I'm better off—just me and the Holy Spirit and my Bible—without ever consulting the Spirit-filled people of God who have gone before me is to impoverish myself from insights that flow through the centuries. ....

Saturday, July 22, 2017

"Breaths there the man...."

In the early 1970s I added to my library Breathes There the Man: Heroic Ballads and Poems of the English Speaking Peoples, edited by Frank S. Meyer, an ex-leftist and an early editor at National Review. The book title is self-explanatory. The first four chapters collect examples from the United States. Poems and ballads from England, Scotland, Ireland and "Other Lands" fill out the remaing chapters. It is a great book for browsing. Today from the Civil War collection:
The Battle-Cry of Freedom
Yes, we'll rally 'round the flag, boys, we'll rally once again,
Shouting the battle-cry of freedom;
We will rally from the hillside, we'll gather from the plain,
Shouting the battle-cry of freedom.
Chorus:
The Union forever, hurrah, boys, hurrah!
Down with the traitor, up with the star,
While we rally 'round the flag, boys, rally once again,
Shouting the battle-cry of freedom.
We are springing to the call of our brothers gone before,
Shouting the battle-cry of freedom,
And we'll fill the vacant ranks with a million freemen more,
Shouting the battle-cry of freedom.
We will welcome to our numbers the loyal, true, and brave,
Shouting the battle-cry of freedom,
And altho' they may be poor, not a man shall be a slave,
Shouting the battle-cry of freedom.
So we're springing to the call from the East and from the West,
Shouting the battle-cry of freedom,
And we'll hurl the rebel crew from the land we love the best,
Shouting the battle-cry of freedom.
And the poem that saved the U.S.S. Constitution, by Oliver Wendell Holmes. The ship, now in Boston harbor, was headed for the wreckers when this was written:

Old Ironsides
Ay, tear her tattered ensign down!
Long has it waved on high;
And many an eye has danced to see
That banner in the sky;
Beneath it rung the battle shout,
And burst the cannon's roar;—
The meteor of the ocean air
Shall sweep the clouds no more.
Her deck, once red with heroes' blood,
Where knelt the vanquished foe,
When winds were hurrying o'er the flood,
And waves were white below,
No more shall feel the victor's tread,
Or know the conquered knee;
The harpies of the shore shall pluck
The eagle of the sea!
O, better that her shattered hulk
Should sink beneath the wave;
Her thunders shook the mighty deep,
And there should be her grave;
Nail to the mast her holy flag,
Set every threadbare sail,
And give her to the god of storms.
The lightning and the gale!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

A miracle at Dunkirk


Via Denny Burk, from the Preamble of William Manchester, The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Visions of Glory (Vol. 1):
The French had collapsed. The Dutch had been overwhelmed. The Belgians had surrendered. The British army, trapped, fought free and fell back toward the Channel ports, converging on a fishing town whose name was then spelled Dunkerque.

Behind them lay the sea.

It was England’s greatest crisis since the Norman conquest, vaster than those precipitated by Philip II’s Spanish Armada, Louis XIV’s triumphant armies, or Napoleon’s invasion barges massed at Boulogne. This time Britain stood alone. If the Germans crossed the Channel and established uncontested beachheads, all would be lost…

Now the 220,000 Tommies at Dunkirk, Britain’s only hope, seemed doomed. On the Flanders beaches they stood around in angular, existential attitudes, like dim purgatorial souls awaiting disposition. There appeared to be no way to bring more than a handful of them home. The Royal Navy’s vessels were inadequate. King George VI has been told that they would be lucky to save 17,000. The House of Commons was warned to prepare for “hard and heavy tidings.” Then, from the streams and estuaries of Kent and Dover, a strange fleet appeared: trawlers and tugs, scows and fishing sloops, lifeboats and pleasure crafts, smacks and coasters; the island ferry Gracie Fields; Tom Sopwith’s America’s Cup challenger Endeavour; even the London fire brigade’s fire-float Massey Shaw—all of them manned by civilian volunteers: English fathers, sailing to rescue England’s exhausted, bleeding sons.
Burk:
When it was all said and done, this rag-tag armada of leisure crafts and fishing boats evacuated 338,226 soldiers (198,229 British and 139,997 French). It was one of the most impressive escapes in history, and it enabled the Allies to fight another day.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

An evening prayer

On the 200th anniversary of her death, one of Jane Austen's prayers:
Father of Heaven, whose goodness has brought me in safety to the close of this day, dispose my heart in fervent prayer. Another day is now gone and added to those for which I was already accountable. Teach me, Almighty Father, to consider this solemn truth, as I should do, that I may feel the importance of every day and every hour as it passes, and earnestly strive to make a better use of what your goodness may yet bestow on me than I have done of the time past.

Give me grace to endeavor after a truly Christian spirit to seek to attain that temper of forbearance and patience of which my blessed savior has set me the highest example, and which, while it prepares me for the spiritual happiness of the life to come, will secure the best enjoyment of what the world can give. Incline me, O God, to think humbly of myself, to be severe only in the examination of my own conduct, to consider my fellow creatures with kindness, and to judge of all they say and do with that charity that I would desire from them myself.

I thank you with all my heart for every gracious dispensation, for all the blessings that have attended my life, for every hour of safety, health, and peace; and of domestic comfort and innocent enjoyment. I feel that I have been blessed far beyond anything that I have deserved. And though I cannot but pray for a continuance of all these mercies, I acknowledge my unworthiness of them and implore you to pardon the presumption of my desires.

Keep me, O Heavenly Father, from evil this night. Bring me in safety to the beginning of another day, and grant that I may rise again with every serious and religious feeling that now directs me.

May your mercy be extended over all mankind, bringing the ignorant to the knowledge of your truth, awakening the impenitent, touching the hardened. Look with compassion upon the afflicted of every condition. Assuage the pangs of disease, comfort the broken in spirit.

More particularly do I pray for the safety and welfare of my own family and friends wheresoever dispersed, beseeching you to avert from them all material and lasting evil of body and mind. And may I, by the assistance of your Holy Spirit, to so conduct myself on Earth as to secure an eternity of happiness in your Heavenly kingdom.

Grant this, most merciful Father, for the sake of my blessed savior, in whose name and words I further address you,
Our Father, who art in Heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
On Earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our trespasses
As we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
The power, and glory,
Forever and ever. Amen.

Monday, July 17, 2017

"The most attractive aspect of faith"

David Harsanyi, who doesn't believe in God:
.... Faith in God is gained or lost, embraced or rejected, but it can’t be fabricated. On the other hand, for me at least, these rituals and convictions born of thousands of years of human existence are more than mere superstitions.

Unlike many of my fellow non-believers, I don’t feel especially enlightened or rational for my apostasy; I feel kind of unlucky, actually. The typical non-believer sees the strictures of Christianity or Judaism as a punishment — mythical limitations set to inconvenience him — but I see people who take profound comfort in a beautiful fate that awaits them as long as they treat people as they would want to be treated themselves. As a man who believes his story ends in a pile of dirt rather than in celestial salvation, I have many reasons to be envious. ....

Not long after a hyper-partisan leftist named James Hodgkinson attempted to assassinate Republican congressional leadership on a baseball field in Alexandria, Va., a Washington Post reporter noted that the only way to improve comity in American life was for people “to stop making their political identity a central part of their personal identity.”

Perhaps secular Americans haven’t quite figured out how to replace their churches yet. I mean, what should the central identity of an American be? According to the contemporary Left, it might be your sexual orientation. Or maybe your racial identity. Or perhaps your gender. And always your economic station. All of these things define us to some extent, of course, but they are meted out by evolution and circumstance. They are things we are, not things we believe. All of them have been transformed into political designations. ....

Humans will always fail you. And politicians are the most human among us. Yet some denominations seem to believe that malleability is the way to attract more congregants. With all due respect, any philosophy that bends that easily to the vagaries of contemporary thinking is not much different from a political party, anyway. For many of us, the promise of structure, ritual, tradition, and community — even if we’re skeptical of the underlying belief — is the most attractive aspect of faith. It has probably always been that way.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Calvinism without Christ

I haven't watched any of the seasons of Game of Thrones. I'm not a big fan of fantasy literature — at least apart from Middle Earth and Narnia. In the current issue of National Review, on the eve of a new season, David French, who has been watching, discusses "HBO's "Game of Thrones" & Conservative Values." He compares Tolkien's epic with Martin's:
.... In Tolkien’s world the stakes are immense, the moral battle lines are clear, and victory actually means victory, the end of a distinct evil force. In this respect, as noted above, Tolkien was a man of his age. He published Fellowship of the Ring in 1954 — after the Allies vanquished the great evil Adolf Hitler. When Tolkien wrote of the triumph of good over evil, it all felt real. Victory didn’t usher in utopia, but victory meant something substantial. Sauron was real, and when Sauron died, the world revived

Tolkien’s world isn’t Martin’s world. Whereas Tolkien’s work represented a literal journey with a fixed destination, Martin’s can feel like a treadmill of conflict where squabbling lords and ladies ignore looming threats and greater dangers for the sake of momentary advantage in a seemingly never-ending battle for control. The stakes can seem small — what’s the real difference for humanity between Lannister or Targaryen rule? — but the conflicts are still intense

Whereas the typical high-fantasy novel might end after a hero defeats her enemies and frees entire cities’ worth of slaves, in Game of Thrones, Martin (and the show’s creators) ask, “What comes next?” And the answer, instead of a glorious celebration of freedom and liberty, is a period of chaos and vengeance.

Whereas the typical high-fantasy novel centers on the most honorable of heroes and writes him to victory against insurmountable odds, in Game of Thrones, the honorable hero loses his head unless he’s honorable and shrewd or honorable and violent. And whereas the typical high-fantasy novel casts its heroes and villains in clear and unmistakable terms, in Game of Thrones you sometimes find that your rooting interests evolve in interesting ways. Just as in life, people change — especially in response to shocking events.

What results is a moral universe of surprising complexity and nuance, one that is true to life in a way that conservatives especially should understand. Think of it as Calvinism without Christ — natural human depravity unleashed. The realities of human nature mean that evil is very, very evil, and good is also touched with the weight of sin. You see the reality of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans unfold on screen. Time and again, characters don’t do the good they want to do. Instead, they achieve the very evil they sought to avoid. ....
I may watch Game of Thrones, although six seasons in, with a seventh just beginning, it would be a major commitment. Is it worth it?


Death by government

One difficulty in teaching middle class Midwestern adolescents about 20th century history was convincing them how much difference there is among types of government in the degree of evil. They had no frame of reference. Dictatorships are different and those that justify their actions by a utopian vision are very different. I intentionally spent time teaching about the purges, planned famines, and the Holocaust because otherwise there was a tendency to assume an equivalency of guilt among types of governments and regimes. Although the wars of the last century resulted in massive numbers of dead, even more people were murdered by the governments that ruled over them.

In the 20th century the selected governments below, within their own countries, quite apart from war, killed their own subjects in massive numbers:
USSR between 1917 and 1987 — 61,911,000
People’s Republic of China between 1949 and 1987 — 35,326,000
Nazi Germany between 1933 and 1945 — 20,946,000
Nationalist China between 1928 and 1949 — 10,075,000
169 million in total were killed by the government ruling them in the last century. 37.4 million more were killed in wars —- some started by these regimes.
 
Those statistics come from R.J. Rummel's Death by Government published in 1994 (revised in 1997), another of the books I kept. Rummel, who was a professor of political science at the University of Hawaii, authored a number of books about genocide including China's Bloody Century: Genocide and Mass Murder since 1900, Democide: Nazi Genocide and Mass Murder, and Lethal Politics: Soviet Genocide and Mass Murder since 1917. Each of the books includes an attempt to assess the quantity of killing by these regimes on the people they ruled over, i.e. "death by government," not war. The book, Death by Government, pulls together much of that material and adds to it mass murder by other regimes. The chart below is an example of the material he has compiled:

 These statistics, of course, are a bit dated. There are more recent murderous regimes. ISIS comes immediately to mind.
 
I think one of the reasons many think war is more deadly than bloodthirsty governments is that war is so much more destructive of the physical environment. Governments can simply transport people somewhere else and then murder them. I recall descriptions of empty cities in Cambodia after Pol Pot ordered everyone out. The deaths occurred somewhere else, the buildings remained.

R.J. Rummel, Death by Government, 1997

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Band of brothers

When I retired from teaching I went through the history section of my library culling out those books that I was unlikely to consult or read again. That turned out to be about half of that collection. Most of those books were donated. One I kept was John Keegan's The Face of Battle (1976). Keegan was one of the best military historians of the 20th century. This book, however, is not typical military history. The flyleaf explains:
In this major and wholly original contribution to military history, John Keegan reverses the usual convention of writing about war in terms of generals and nations in conflict, which tend to leave the common soldier as cipher. Instead he focuses on what a set battle is like for the man in the thick of it—his fears, his wounds and their treatment, the mechanics of being taken prisoner, the nature of leadership at the most junior level, the role of compulsion in getting men to stand their ground, the intrusions of cruelty and compassion, the very din and blood.
He wrote about the experience of the infantryman. He did so by examining several battles that took place in nearly the same geographic space but in very different eras.
Chapter 2: Agincourt, October 25, 1415
Chapter 3: Waterloo, June 18, 1815
Chapter 4: The Somme, July 1, 1916
Technology had changed a lot over time. But in some respects the experience of the soldier on the ground had not. I've never been in the military and have no personal experience to judge by. I lent the book to a teacher friend who is a Korean War infantry veteran. When he returned it there was quite a bit of underlining and marginalia — in pencil, but I'm not inclined to erase any of it. He also included this note:
Jim, Thank you for letting me read this. I found it profoundly true — the first I've read that really tried to explore the fears and forces working on infantrymen in battle. It was not easy for me to read through because it awakened long soothed fears and anxieties and some memories that had been covered over by the passing years.
From Chapter 1:
...[O]rdinary soldiers do not think of themselves, in life-and-death situations, as subordinate members of whatever formal military organization it is to which authority has assigned them, but as equals within a very tiny group—perhaps no more than six or seven men. They are not exact equals, of course, because at least one of them will hold junior military rank and he—though perhaps another, naturally stronger character—will be looked to for leadership. But it will not be because of his or anyone else's leadership that the group members will begin to fight and continue to fight. It will be, on the one hand, for personal survival, which individuals will recognize to be bound up with group survival, and, on the other, for fear of incurring by cowardly conduct the group's contempt. ....
My friend underlined these lines, quoted by Keegan from S.L.A. Marshall's Men Against Fire:
...[M]en are commonly loath that their fear will be expressed in specific acts which their comrades will recognize as cowardice. .... When a soldier...known to the men who are around him, he...has reason to fear losing the one thing he is likely to value more highly than life — his reputation as a man among other men.
In the margin: "TRUE!"

I'm glad I kept this one.

Friday, July 14, 2017

"As inclination leads..."

Via Anecdotal Evidence, Samuel Johnson, July 14, 1763:
Idleness is a disease which must be combated; but I would not advise a rigid adherence to a particular plan of study. I myself have never persisted in any plan for two days together. A man ought to read just as inclination leads him; for what he reads as a task will do him little good.

Game of Thrones

Matthew Loftus considers the possibility of "Biblical themes" in Game of Thrones:
...[W]e don’t want to repeat the Christian subcultural errors of the 90s that condemned Harry Potter (which is probably the closest thing to decent literature most millennials will bother to read)....

Thus, we must look to see if there are Biblical themes that we can apply and use to relevantly communicate the Good News to our neighbors who are fascinated by the show. Is one of the many characters who gets eviscerated a Christ figure? Does the darkness and despair of the series point us to our longing for a True King? Are the sorcery and swords meant to help us more deeply imagine a world in which monsters can be slain? Is there a Gospel message in Game of Thrones?

No. There isn’t.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Laodicean

In "Eugene Peterson Shrugs" at Christianity Today Jake Meador explains why indifference is an enemy. (Note that Peterson has clarified his position on marriage):
.... In the aftermath of the break from the Roman church in the 16th century, many Protestants rightly emphasized the idea of adiaphora—Greek for “things indifferent.” It meant that there are many matters on which Scripture does not speak explicitly. The church should therefore not attempt to order a specific practice when Scripture itself fails to do so. ....

But this principle can easily be twisted into something more dangerous. ....

Many of the questions we relegated to the realm of “things indifferent” are pervasive enough that something will eventually have to address that question for you. ....

In American history, that “something else” is often an Enlightenment-inspired progressivism that sees human history as an advancing narrative of people being liberated from unchosen norms and freed toward greater levels of self-actualization. Such progressivism, of course, draws more heavily from Rousseau, Voltaire, and other 18th century philosophers than it does classical orthodoxy. ....

This approach is driving the shift on matters of sexual ethics. ...[B]ecause of a narrow focus on questions of salvation, we have wrongly concluded that doctrines not essential for salvation are, therefore, things indifferent. ....

As a result, we are now witnessing an attempt to relegate questions of sexuality to this same realm, not because Scripture is silent on these matters (it isn’t) but because it is much easier to default to the cultural posture of affirmation and acceptance. ....

It is not progressive argument that will hollow out the Christian teachings on sexuality or the communities that those teachings help to create and preserve. It is indifference that will cause us to neglect the centrality of the natural family and the ways that same-sex marriage undermines these natural relationships. .... [more]

"Let dogs delight to bark and bite..."

Against quarreling and fighting.
Let dogs delight to bark and bite,
For God has made them so:
Let bears and lions growl and fight,
For ‘tis their nature, too.
His soul was gentle as a lamb; 
And as his stature grew,
He grew in favour both with man,
And God his Father, too.
But, children, you should never let
Such angry passions rise:
Your little hands were never made
To tear each other’s eyes.
Now, Lord of all, he reigns above;
And from his heavenly throne
He sees what children dwell in love,
And marks them for his own.
Let love through all your actions run,
And all your words be mild:
Live like the blessed Virgin’s Son,
That sweet and lovely child.


Anthony Madrid has just finished reading a children's book by someone I have only known by his hymns:
I have just closed Isaac Watts’s once-famous book of children’s poetry, Divine Songs Attempted in Easy Language for the Use of Children. This book came out in 1715 and went through nobody-knows-how-many editions. Billions. Apparently there was a very long period during which it could reasonably be expected that any English-speaker could recite every one of these twenty-eight poems backward....

Today, we are inclined to explain away the wild success of Divine Songs, because we believe we have in hand all the pertinent facts concerning children and their minds. Children, it is now known, delight in nonsense, noisemaking, pointlessness, and perversity. They do not wish to be taught anything. They relish, obscenely, rhythm and rhyme. They love the idea of making a b-i-i-i-i-i-g mess. They also “respond with deep satisfaction” to assurances that they are treasured and special. Others are muggles; they are magic.

Since all of the above is true, we can infer that poems about not swearing, about not fighting with one’s brothers and sisters, and about not wasting time can only be the soporific effusions of persons with ant farms up their asses. Prigs, in a word—who want to teach children to be prigs.

There’s just one problem. Children actually are prigs. They adore scolding one another. They adore pulling rank. And they adore the idea that they (unlike the brutish, unlike the neighbors, unlike the damned) know what is appropriate and what is not.

Watts spoke to this need, to this Passion of the Spirit—and so he was, for a hundred and fifty years at least, as popular as Dr. Seuss and J. K. Rowling combined. ....
Solemn thoughts on God and death.
There is a God that reigns above,
Lord of the heavens, and earth, and seas:
I fear his wrath, I ask his love,
And with my lips I sing his praise.
There is an hour when I must die,
Nor do I know how soon ‘twill come:
A thousand children, young as I,
Are call’d by death to hear their doom.
There is a law which he has writ,
To teach us all what we must do:
My soul, to his commands submit,
For they are holy, just, and true.
Let me improve the hours I have,
Before the day of grace is fled:
There’s no repentance in the grave,
No pardon offer’d to the dead.
There is a Gospel of rich grace,
Whence sinners all their comforts draw:
Lord, I repent, and seek thy face,
For I have often broke thy law.
Just as a tree cut down, that fell
To north or southward, there it lies,
So man departs to heaven or hell,
Fix’d in the state wherein he dies.

Christian Classics Ethereal Library provides a very readable HTML version of Isaac Watts' Divine Songs Attempted in Easy Language for the Use of Children

What Do Kids Want from Children’s Poetry?

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

"Woe to him whose good name is more to him than goodness!"

...[T]he preacher slowly turned over the leaves of the Bible, and at last, folding his hand down upon the proper page, said: ‘Beloved shipmates, clinch the last verse of the first chapter of Jonah—“And God had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah.”

From Moby Dick, Chapter IX, "The Sermon":
.... ‘Shipmates, God has laid but one hand upon you; both his hands press upon me. I have read ye by what murky light may be mine the lesson that Jonah teaches to all sinners; and therefore to ye, and still more to me, for I am a greater sinner than ye. And now how gladly would I come down from this mast-head and sit on the hatches there where you sit, and listen as you listen, while some one of you reads me that other and more awful lesson which Jonah teaches to me, as a pilot of the living God. How being an anointed pilot-prophet, or speaker of true things, and bidden by the Lord to sound those unwelcome truths in the ears of a wicked Nineveh, Jonah, appalled at the hostility he should raise, fled from his mission, and sought to escape his duty and his God by taking ship at Joppa. But God is everywhere; Tarshish he never reached. As we have seen, God came upon him in the whale, and swallowed him down to living gulfs of doom, and with swift slantings tore him along “into the midst of the seas,” where the eddying depths sucked him ten thousand fathoms down, and “the weeds were wrapped about his head,” and all the watery world of woe bowled over him. Yet even then beyond the reach of any plummet—“out of the belly of hell”—when the whale grounded upon the ocean’s utmost bones, even then, God heard the engulphed, repenting prophet when he cried. Then God spake unto the fish; and from the shuddering cold and blackness of the sea, the whale came breeching up toward the warm and pleasant sun, and all the delights of air and earth; and “vomited out Jonah upon the dry land”; when the word of the Lord came a second time; and Jonah, bruised and beaten—his ears, like two sea-shells, still multitudinously murmuring of the ocean—Jonah did the Almighty’s bidding. And what was that, shipmates? To preach the Truth to the face of Falsehood! That was it!

‘This, shipmates, this is that other lesson; and woe to that pilot of the living God who slights it. Woe to him whom this world charms from Gospel duty! Woe to him who seeks to pour oil upon the waters when God has brewed them into a gale! Woe to him who seeks to please rather than to appal! Woe to him whose good name is more to him than goodness! Woe to him who, in this world, courts not dishonour! Woe to him who would not be true, even though to be false were salvation! Yea, woe to him who, as the great Pilot Paul has it, while preaching to others is himself a castaway!'

He dropped and fell away from himself for a moment; then lifting his face to them again, showed a deep joy in his eyes, as he cried out with a heavenly enthusiasm,—‘But oh! shipmates! on the starboard hand of every woe, there is a sure delight; and higher the top of that delight, than the bottom of the woe is deep. Is not the main-truck higher than the kelson is low? Delight is to him—a far, far upward, and inward delight—who against the proud gods and commodores of this earth, ever stands forth his own inexorable self. Delight is to him whose strong arms yet support him, when the ship of this base treacherous world has gone down beneath him. Delight is to him, who gives no quarter in the truth, and kills, burns, and destroys all sin though he pluck it out from under the robes of Senators and Judges. Delight,—top-gallant delight is to him, who acknowledges no law or lord, but the Lord his God, and is only a patriot to heaven. Delight is to him, whom all the waves of the billows of the seas of the boisterous mob can never shake from this sure Keel of the Ages. And eternal delight and deliciousness will be his, who coming to lay him down, can say with his final breath—O Father!—chiefly known to me by Thy rod—mortal or immortal, here I die. I have striven to be Thine, more than to be this world’s, or mine own. Yet this is nothing; I leave eternity to Thee; for what is man that he should live out the lifetime of his God?’

He said no more, but slowly waving a benediction, covered his face with his hands, and so remained kneeling, till all the people had departed, and he was left alone in the place.
See also Observe His Prayer by Shalom Carmy | Articles | First Things, the article that sent me looking.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Hitchcock, again

A few days ago a friend asked me to recommend films directed by Alfred Hitchcock. I mentioned a few but it occurred to me this morning that I could do better than that. I think some may avoid Hitchcock because they associate him with Psycho or, perhaps, The Birds. Those were well-crafted movies but untypical of the director. Suspense, not shock, was more characteristic. Humor, too. These are the Hitchcocks I re-watch most often:
  • The Thirty-Nine Steps (1935) Based loosely on the Buchan book. A man pursued by both the police who think him a murderer and spies who fear he may expose a secret they hope to provide England's enemies.
  • The Lady Vanishes (1938) The only other of the British films that I watch over and over. As the title says, a woman on a train traveling in central Europe befriends an elderly lady. When she awakens after a nap the lady is gone and everyone else on the train denies the lady was ever there.
  • Foreign Correspondent (1940) An American newspaper reporter in pre-war Europe versus fascist spies. The windmill sequence is a favorite of mine.
  • Saboteur (1942) Once again, this time in the US during WW II, a lone man pursued by both the authorities and a ring of fascist saboteurs. (Seeing a pattern here). The Statue of Liberty plays a role.
  • Shadow of a Doubt (1943) Hitchcock's favorite of his films. Script credited to Thornton Wilder. A favorite uncle returns home but his niece begins to fear that everything isn't quite right. The Merry Widow Waltz is a recurring theme in the soundtrack.
  • Notorious (1946) Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant in Latin America versus Nazis. A famous film kiss.
  • Strangers on a Train (1951) What if we traded murders? I'll do yours if you'll do mine?
  • Dial M for Murder (1954) Why would anyone want to kill Grace Kelly?
  • Rear Window (1954) Grace Kelly again with James Stewart. Stewart is a bored convalescent with little to do except observe his neighbors through his apartment window. Kelly at her most beautiful.
  • To Catch a Thief (1955) Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in Monaco. Cat burglars on rooftops. Unfortunately from Hitchcock's point of view, in real life, Kelly meets the Prince of Monaco.
  • The Trouble with Harry (1956) The trouble is that Harry can't be got rid of. Set in New England in a glorious autumn in color. A very young Jerry Mathers in his first acting job. Shirley MacLain's first film.
  • North by Northwest (1959) My favorite of Hitchcock's films. Cary Grant on the run from both the police and another spy ring led by a rather sinister James Mason. Mount Rushmore.
There are other very good Hitchcock films. I own DVDs of quite a few more.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

"Known but unto God"

The Atlantic has a "series in which authors share and discuss their all-time favorite passages in literature." In the most recent entry Scott Spencer writes about a Kipling short story, "The Gardner." (The complete short story can be found here.) Spencer:
.... Helen, an upstanding woman, [raises] her own child out of wedlock, pretending to her English village that he, Michael, is her dead brother’s son. Throughout his life, the boy calls Helen “Auntie,” though he pleads with her, out of love and a sense of emotional, if not actual, truth, to let him call her “Mother.” Being an honest and pragmatic woman, she allows this only occasionally, and in private.

On his 18th birthday, Michael enlists in the British Army, and is slaughtered shortly after, his body covered over by debris and unable to be located. Much, much later Michael’s body is discovered and finally Helen is able to travel to his grave in a military cemetery in France to pay her last respects. The story, which is not very long, moves with the efficiency of a fable—years go by in a half sentence. The tone is almost matter-of-fact, but we are being set up by a master craftsman for the story’s devastating climactic scene. Helen wanders through a vast expanse of graves, all of them marked with a number, not a name, each individual soldier located only through a painstaking process of record-keeping. (It was Kipling who lifted the phrase “known unto God,” out of the Bible and into the cemeteries and the monuments for unknown soldiers.) Then, while searching the endless sea of crosses, helpless, Helen comes upon a gardener. Kipling describes the exchange this way:
[The gardener] rose at her approach and without prelude or salutation asked: "Who are you looking for?"

"Lieutenant Michael Turrell—my nephew,” said Helen slowly and word for word, as she had many thousands of times in her life.

The man lifted his eyes and looked at her with infinite compassion before he turned from the fresh-sown grass toward the naked black crosses.

"Come with me,” he said, "and I will show you where your son lies."
That’s a shocking—I would say incandescent—moment in a story that is steeped in irony and filled with lies, a world of conventions ruthlessly enforced and feelings buried or swallowed. But when the gardener lifts his eyes the story is swiftly brought to a sudden spiritual climax that is beautiful and satisfying.

In my reading of “The Gardener,” Helen is a character who has held onto her secret, to her one great love affair, for her entire life. Though she has called this boy her nephew for 18 years, the man in the cemetery, who looks at her for only one moment, says he’ll take Helen to her son. “When Helen left the cemetery she turned for a last look. In the distance she saw the man bending over his young plants; and she went away, supposing him to be the gardener.”

The story ends, at least in my edition, with an asterisk in the text that links to a line from the Bible, John 20:15: “Jesus saith unto her, ‘Woman, why weepest thou; whom seekest thou?’ She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, ‘Sir, if thou has borne him hence, tell me where thou has laid him.’”

Friday, July 7, 2017

Rock-ribbed liberalism

I miss liberalism. Real liberalism. Not this namby-pamby, afraid-of-your-own-shadow faint-hearted liberalism. What I miss is the rock-ribbed, truth-seeking, justice-pursuing, rights-defending, I-don’t-agree-with-you-but-I’ll-defend-your-right-to-say-it liberalism. It was the liberalism that defeated Nazism and Communism.

It was your daddy’s liberalism, the sort whose champions would say something like this:
If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. (John Stuart Mill, 1859)
.... This rock-ribbed liberalism is being quickly replaced by a faint-hearted liberalism whose advocates reject the core principles of rock-ribbed liberalism – the pursuit of truth and the presumption of liberty – and seek to replace them with the sovereignty of identity and the supreme blessedness of affirmation (euphemistically called “dignity”). ....

For the rock-ribbed liberal, Jehovah Witnesses should not be forced to salute the flag, Mr. Johnson should be allowed to burn it, Quakers should not be conscripted to serve in the military, and the Amish should be exempted from compulsory education laws. But for the faint-hearted liberal, Christian bakers, photographers, and florists must employ their talents to cooperate with the celebration of a liturgical event they believe is a faux version of the authentic sort, or suffer crippling livelihood-destroying fines.

I miss rock-ribbed liberalism. [more]

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

"A tree will wither if its roots be destroyed"

On the occasion of the one-hundred-and-fiftieth birthday of the United States Calvin Coolidge delivered a speech in Philadelphia:
.... It was not because it was proposed to establish a new nation, but because it was proposed to establish a nation on new principles, that July 4, 1776, has come to be regarded as one of the greatest days in history. Great ideas do not burst upon the world unannounced. They are reached by a gradual development over a length of time usually proportionate to their importance. This is especially true of the principles laid down in the Declaration of Independence. Three very definite propositions were set out in its preamble regarding the nature of mankind and therefore of government. These were the doctrine that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain inalienable rights, and that therefore the source of the just powers of government must be derived from the consent of the governed. ....

.... A spring will cease to flow if its source be dried up; a tree will wither if its roots be destroyed. In its main features the Declaration of Independence is a great spiritual document. It is a declaration not of material but of spiritual conceptions. Equality, liberty, popular sovereignty, the rights of man — these are not elements which we can see and touch. They are ideals. They have their source and their roots in the religious convictions. They belong to the unseen world. Unless the faith of the American people in these religious convictions is to endure, the principles of our Declaration will perish. We can not continue to enjoy the result if we neglect and abandon the cause. ....

About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers. ....

.... If we are to maintain the great heritage which has been bequeathed to us, we must be like-minded as the fathers who created it. We must not sink into a pagan materialism. We must cultivate the reverence which they had for the things that are holy. We must follow the spiritual and moral leadership which they showed. We must keep replenished, that they may glow with a more compelling flame, the altar fires before which they worshiped.

A prayer for the nation

From The Book of Common Prayer (1928):
ALMIGHTY God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly beseech Thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of Thy favor and glad to do Thy will. Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogancy, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in Thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to Thy law, we may show forth Thy praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in Thee to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
I would hope especially that He would "endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in Thy Name we entrust the authority of government."