Monday, March 30, 2020

For protection

More Jeremy Taylor: a prayer "for all that lie under the rod of war, famine, pestilence." Protection from pestilence is definitely something we desire for ourselves and others.
O Lord God Almighty, Thou art our Father, we are Thy children. Let health and peace be within our dwellings; let righteousness and holiness dwell for ever in our hearts, and be expressed in all our actions. O merciful God, say unto the destroying angel, 'It is enough'; let Thy hand cover Thy servants and hide us from the present anger; that though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we may fear no evil, and suffer none. Those smitten, support with Thy staff, and visit them with Thy mercies and salvation, through Jesus Christ. Amen.
Jeremy Taylor, The Role and Exercises of Holy Living, 1650-51.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

"Remember that thou art a Christian..."

An excellent reminder:
NOW suppose thyself in as great a sadness as ever did load thy spirit, wouldst thou not bear it cheerfully and nobly if thou wert sure that within a certain space some strange excellent fortune would relieve thee, and enrich thee so as to overflow all thy hopes and thy desires and capacities? Now, then, when a sadness lies heavy upon thee, remember that thou art a Christian designed to the inheritance of Jesus. Indeed if thou thinkest thou shalt perish, I cannot blame thee to be sad, sad till thy heartstrings crack. But if thou believest thou shalt be saved, consider how great is that joy, how unspeakable is the glory, how excellent is the recompense for all the sufferings in the world, if they were all laden upon the spirit? So that, let thy condition be what it will, here thou art but a stranger, travelling to thy country, where the glories of a kingdom are prepared for thee; it is therefore a huge folly to be much afflicted because thou hast a less convenient inn to lodge in by the way.

But these arts of looking forwards and backwards are more than enough to support the spirit of a Christian: there is no man but hath blessings enough in present possession to outweigh the evils of a great affliction.
Jeremy Taylor, The Role and Exercises of Holy Living, 1650-51.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

"I love you, but Jesus loves you best"

Signposts

From the final page of Surprised By Joy:
But what, in conclusion, of Joy? for that, after all, is what the story has mainly been about. To tell you the truth, the subject has lost nearly all interest for me since I became a Christian. I cannot, indeed, complain, like Wordsworth, that the visionary gleam has passed away. I believe (if the thing were at all worth recording) that the old stab, the old bitter-sweet, has come to me as often and as sharply since my conversion as at any time of my life whatever. But I now know that the experience, considered as a state of my own mind, had never had the kind of importance I once gave it. It was valuable only as a pointer to something other and outer. While that other was in doubt, the pointer naturally loomed large in my thoughts. When we are lost in the woods the sight of a signpost is a great matter. He who first sees it cries, "Look!" The whole party gathers round and stares. But when we have found the road and are passing signposts every few miles, we shall not stop and stare. They will encourage us and we shall be grateful to the authority that set them up. But we shall not stop and stare, or not much; not on this road, though their pillars are of silver and their lettering of gold.
C.S. Lewis, Surprised By Joy, Harcourt, Brace & World, 1955.

Friday, March 27, 2020

"Vice, for vice is necessary to be shewn, should always disgust"

Samuel Johnson, The Rambler No. 4, Saturday, March 31, 1750, writing about fiction:
.... In narratives, where historical veracity has no place, I cannot discover why there should not be exhibited the most perfect idea of virtue; of virtue not angelical, nor above probability; for what we cannot credit we shall never imitate; but of the highest and purest kind that humanity can reach, which, when exercised in such trials as the various revolutions of things shall bring upon it, may, by conquering some calamities, and enduring others, teach us what we may hope, and what we can perform. Vice, for vice is necessary to be shewn, should always disgust; nor should the graces of gaiety, or the dignity of courage, be so united with it, as to reconcile it to the mind. Wherever it appears, it should raise hatred by the malignity of its practices; and contempt, by the meanness of its stratagems; for while it is supported by either parts or spirit, it will be seldom heartily abhorred. The Roman tyrant was content to be hated, if he was but feared; and there are thousands of the readers of romances willing to be thought wicked, if they may be allowed to be wits. It is therefore to be always inculcated, that virtue is the highest proof of a superior understanding, and the only solid basis of greatness; and that vice is the natural consequence of narrow thoughts; that it begins in mistake, and ends in ignominy.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

If you've thought of reading C.S. Lewis

Russell Moore on "Reading in Exile: Books by C.S. Lewis." Advice about books to read while self isolating. If you haven't read Lewis or about him, but have thought of doing so, these are very good recommendations.
Reading in Exile: Books by C.S. Lewis - YouTube

Monday, March 23, 2020

Hobbits, Hooligans, and Vulcans

From an interesting review of Against Democracy — a libertarian's argument that the franchise should be limited — comes this categorization of the voters in our democracy:
.... Brennan places citizens into three categories—Hobbits, Hooligans, and Vulcans. Hobbits are uninformed about politics and indifferent to them. The average non-voter in a Western democracy is a Hobbit. Hooligans are interested in politics, but follow it in the same way that a person follows a team sport. They are strongly partisan, frequently uninformed, and prone to cognitive bias. They barrack for team Republican or team Labour in the same way someone barracks for the New York Yankees or Manchester United. They can repeat the arguments in favour of their preferred party or ideology, but limit their sources of news to those which confirm their own views and have only a limited understanding of the position of the other side. A conservative Hooligan could not give an explanation of the arguments in favour of socialism that a socialist would recognise, nor could a socialist Hooligan give a cogent argument in favour of capitalism. In most democracies, he writes, the average voter is a Hooligan. Vulcans, by contrast, are the ideal democratic citizens—they inform themselves, seek out opposing views, and consider issues with as little cognitive bias as possible (nobody could be completely free from it). While we all like to think of ourselves as Vulcans, Brennan argues that they are actually rare. In general, when the apolitical become interested in politics, they go from Hobbits to Hooligans.

These categories do not conform to any one political ideology, and people in all three categories can be found in different camps. .... (more)
'Against Democracy'—A Review - Quillette

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Recklessness, courage, and cowardice

In "Coronavirus, Courage, and the Second Temptation of Christ" David French responds to those Christians who refuse to take precautions in the face of pandemic, for instance "a pastor encouraged people to greet each other and said that his Bible school was open because they’re 'raising up revivalists, not pansies.'"
.... Even within those churches that have chosen to comply with public health warnings and temporarily cancel services, there are rumblings of dissent and discontent. You see it all over social media. And whether sophisticated or simple, these impulses toward defiance are virtually all grounded in a similar question: Why should Christians surrender to fear? People of faith should reject the guidance of public officials. Our gatherings are different. After all, isn’t it true that “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control”? ....

There exists within Christianity a temptation to performative acts that masquerade as fearlessness. In reality, this recklessness represents—as the early church father John Chrysostom called it—“display and vainglory.” Look how fearless we are, we declare, as we court risks that rational people should shun. In the context of a global pandemic followers of Christ can actually become a danger to their fellow citizens, rather than a source of help and hope.

Or, put another way, reckless Christians can transform themselves from angels of mercy to angels of death, and the rest of the world would be right to fear their presence.

But just as Christ rejected performative displays, [Matthew 4:5-7] he also rejected cowardice. He demands sacrifice even unto death. Yet taking up one’s cross in imitation of Christ means engaging in purposeful sacrifice. This is the risk of the doctor or the nurse who possesses the courage to continually expose himself or herself to deadly disease to care for the sick and dying. This is the risk of the faithful believer who sheds personal protection to care for the least of these so that they are not alone. ....

Shun performative recklessness. Do not presume that our faith makes us immune to the laws of biology and viral transmission. At the same time, believers should not shrink from purposeful and sacrificial personal risk. There may come a time when you must care for those who are sick. Do so without reservation, but do so prudently with the knowledge that you should not impute your risks to others. ....

Saturday, March 21, 2020

"Let our spirits always rejoice..."

Thou, who with thine own mouth hast told us that at midnight the bridegroom shall come: Grant that the cry, "The bridegroom cometh!" may sound evermore in our ears, that so we be never unprepared to meet him, or forgetful of the souls for whom he died, for whom we watch and pray. And save us, O Lord. Amen.
Lancelot Andrewes (1555 – 1626)

Lord Jesus, be mindful of your promise. Think of us, your servants, and when we shall depart, speak to our spirits these loving words: "Today you shall be with me in joy." O Lord Jesus Christ, remember us, your servants who trust in you, when our tongues cannot speak, when the sight of our eyes fails, and when our ears are stopped. Let our spirits always rejoice in you and be joyful about our salvation, which you, through your death, have purchased for us. Amen.
Miles Coverdale (1488 – 1569)

On the anniversary of Bach's birth

Thursday, March 19, 2020

"Going up home to live in green pastures"


Troubles and trials often betray those
On in the weary body to stray
But we shall walk beside the still waters
With the Good Shepherd leading The Way  
We will not heed the voice of the stranger
For he would lead us all to despair
Following on with Jesus our savior
We shall all reach that country so fair
Those who have strayed were sought by The Master      
He who once gave His life for the sheep
Out on the mountain still He is searching
Bringing them in forever to keep
Going up home to live in green pastures
Where we shall live and die never more
Even The Lord will be in that number
When we shall reach that Heavenly Shore
Going up home to live in green pastures
Where we shall live and die never more
Even The Lord will be in that number
When we shall reach that Heavenly Shore

"Come unto me and rest"

Jonathan Aigner, is doing a series of blog posts about "Hymns of Hope and Comfort," today: "I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say." Some time ago I posted this performance of that great hymn:



I heard the voice of Jesus say,
"Come unto me and rest;
lay down, thou weary one, lay down
thy head upon my breast."
I came to Jesus as I was,
weary, and worn, and sad;
I found in him a resting place,
and he has made me glad.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
"Behold, I freely give
the living water; thirsty one,
stoop down and drink, and live."
I came to Jesus, and I drank
of that life-giving stream;
my thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
and now I live in him.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
"I am this dark world's light;
look unto me, thy morn shall rise,
and all thy day be bright."
I looked to Jesus, and I found
in him my Star, my Sun;
and in that light of life I'll walk
till traveling days are done.


Words: Horatio Bonar, 1846, Music: Kingsfold, Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1906

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

On talk and talkers

Continuing to read Robert Louis Stevenson, this time in "Talk and Talkers":
There can be no fairer ambition than to excel in talk; to be affable, gay, ready, clear and welcome; to have a fact, a thought, or an illustration, pat to every subject; and not only to cheer the flight of time among our intimates, but bear our part in that great international congress, always sitting, where public wrongs are first declared, public errors first corrected, and the course of public opinion shaped, day by day, a little nearer to the right. ....

There is a certain attitude, combative at once and deferential, eager to fight yet most averse to quarrel, which marks out at once the talkable man. It is not eloquence, not fairness, not obstinacy, but a certain proportion of all of these that I love to encounter in my amicable adversaries. They must not be pontiffs holding doctrine, but huntsmen questing after elements of truth. Neither must they be boys to be instructed, but fellow-teachers with whom I may, wrangle and agree on equal terms. We must reach some solution, some shadow of consent; for without that, eager talk becomes a torture. But we do not wish to reach it cheaply, or quickly, or without the tussle and effort wherein pleasure lies. ....

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Thanks be to God

Colossians 1:12-22 (KJV)
.... Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight....

Monday, March 16, 2020

"A tradition is a living thing"

From a good long essay by Roger Scruton, "T.S. Eliot as Conservative Mentor":
.... One other essay in The Sacred Wood deserves mention—"Tradition and the Individual Talent," in which Eliot introduces the term which best summarizes his contribution to the political consciousness of the twentieth century: tradition. In this essay Eliot argues that true originality is possible only within a tradition—and further, that every tradition must be remade by the genuine artist, in the very act of creating something new. A tradition is a living thing, and just as each writer is judged in terms of those who went before, so does the meaning of the tradition change as new works are added to it. It was this literary idea of a living tradition that was gradually to permeate Eliot’s thinking, and to form the core of his social and political philosophy.

Prufrock and The Sacred Wood already help us to understand the paradox of T.S. Eliot—that our greatest literary modernist should also be our greatest modern conservative. The man who overthrew the nineteenth century in literature and inaugurated the age of free verse, alienation, and experiment was also the man who, in 1928, was to describe himself as “classical in literature, royalist in politics, and Anglo-Catholic in religion.” This seeming paradox contains a clue to Eliot’s greatness as a social and political thinker. For Eliot recognized that it is precisely in modern conditions—conditions of fragmentation, heresy, and unbelief—that the conservative project acquires its sense. Conservatism is itself a modernism, and in this fact lies the secret of its success. What distinguishes Burke from the French revolutionaries is not his attachment to things past, but rather his desire to live fully in the concrete present, to understand the present in all its imperfections, and to accept the present as the only reality that is offered to us. Like Burke, Eliot recognized the distinction between a backward-looking nostalgia, which is but another form of modern sentimentality, and a genuine tradition, which grants us the courage and the vision with which to live in the modern world. .... (much more, worth reading if you value Eliot)

Sunday, March 15, 2020

"A faculty for idleness"

In "reading in a time of anxiety" Alan Jacobs suggests stories and essays available free at Project Gutenberg. A friend has chosen Kipling. I decided to look at a collection of essays by Robert Louis Stevenson. The second essay I came across was "An Apology for Idlers" and since I am an idler, and am likely to be even more idle for the next few weeks, I read and enjoyed it. From the essay:
.... Extreme busyness, whether at school or college, kirk or market, is a symptom of deficient vitality; and a faculty for idleness implies a catholic appetite and a strong sense of personal identity. There is a sort of dead-alive, hackneyed people about, who are scarcely conscious of living except in the exercise of some conventional occupation. Bring these fellows into the country, or set them aboard ship, and you will see how they pine for their desk or their study. They have no curiosity; they cannot give themselves over to random provocations; they do not take pleasure in the exercise of their faculties for its own sake; and unless Necessity lays about them with a stick, they will even stand still. It is no good speaking to such folk: they cannot be idle, their nature is not generous enough; and they pass those hours in a sort of coma, which are not dedicated to furious moiling in the gold-mill. When they do not require to go to the office, when they are not hungry and have no mind to drink, the whole breathing world is a blank to them. .... As if a man's soul were not too small to begin with, they have dwarfed and narrowed theirs by a life of all work and no play; until here they are at forty, with a listless attention, a mind vacant of all material of amusement, and not one thought to rub against another....

....There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy. By being happy, we sow anonymous benefits upon the world, which remain unknown even to ourselves, or when they are disclosed, surprise nobody so much as the benefactor. The other day, a ragged, barefoot boy ran down the street after a marble, with so jolly an air that he set every one he passed into a good humour; one of these persons, who had been delivered from more than usually black thoughts, stopped the little fellow and gave him some money with this remark: "You see what sometimes comes of looking pleased." If he had looked pleased before, he had now to look both pleased and mystified. For my part, I justify this encouragement of smiling rather than tearful children; I do not wish to pay for tears anywhere but upon the stage; but I am prepared to deal largely in the opposite commodity. A happy man or woman is a better thing to find than a five-pound note. He or she is a radiating focus of good-will; and their entrance into a room is as though another candle had been lighted. .... ("This essay was first printed in the Cornhill Magazine, for July 1877, Vol. XXXVI, pp. 80-86.")

Saturday, March 14, 2020

"Preserve us from faithless fears..."

From the Book of Common Prayer (1928):
O MOST loving Father, who willest us to give thanks for all things, to dread nothing but the loss of Thee, and to cast all our care on Thee, who carest for us; Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, and grant that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which Thou hast manifested unto us in Thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
O MOST mighty and merciful God, in this time of grievous sickness, we flee unto Thee for succour. Deliver us, we beseech Thee, from our peril; give strength and skill to all those who minister to the sick; prosper the means made use of for their cure; and grant that, perceiving how frail and uncertain our life is, we may apply our hearts unto that heavenly wisdom which leadeth to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

"Leave us alone!"

Re-posted because it is so good and so true.

The worst thing about teaching didn't happen in the classroom. It was in-service meetings involving "brainstorming" and whiteboards and vast amounts of wasted time. Alan Jacobs explains the real reason these things happen:
...[I]n 2005 a very thoroughly researched and well-argued scholarly article was published that demonstrates, quite clearly, that group productivity is an illusion. All those brainstorming sessions and group projects you’ve been made to do at school and work? Useless. Everybody would have been better off working on their own. Here’s the abstract of the article:
It has consistently been found that people produce more ideas when working alone as compared to when working in a group. Yet, people generally believe that group brainstorming is more effective than individual brainstorming. Further, group members are more satisfied with their performance than individuals, whereas they have generated fewer ideas. We argue that this ‘illusion of group productivity’ is partly due to a reduction of cognitive failures (instances in which someone is unable to generate ideas) in a group setting. Three studies support that explanation, showing that: (1) group interaction leads to a reduction of experienced failures and that failures mediate the effect of setting on satisfaction; and (2) manipulations that affect failures also affect satisfaction ratings. Implications for group work are discussed.
Has the puncturing of that “illusion of group productivity” had any effect? Of course not. Groupthink is as powerful as ever. Why is that?

I’ll tell you. It’s because the world is run by extraverts. (And FYI, that’s the proper spelling: extrovert is common but wrong, because extra- is the proper Latin prefix.) Extraverts love meetings — any possible excuse for a meeting, they’ll seize on it. They might hear others complain about meetings, but the complaints never sink in: extraverts can’t seem to imagine that the people who say they hate meetings really mean it. “Maybe they hate other meetings, but I know they’ll enjoy mine, because I make them fun! Besides, we’ll get so much done!” ....

...[E]xtraverts of the world, I invite you to make a New Year’s resolution: Refrain from organizing stuff. Don’t plan parties or outings or, God forbid, “team-building exercises.” Just don’t call meetings. (I would ask you to refrain from calling unnecessary meetings, but so many of you think almost all meetings necessary that it’s best you not call them at all.) Leave people alone and let them get their work done. Those who want to socialize can do it after work. I’ll not tell you you’ll enjoy it: you won’t. You’ll be miserable, at least at first, because you won’t be pulling others’ puppet-strings. But everyone will be more productive, and many people will be happier. Give it a try. Let go for a year. Just leave us alone.
Hey Extraverts: Enough is Enough | The American Conservative

Expertise

Alan Jacobs on what might increase the credibility and authority of experts:
.... I [would place] more stress on the need for experts to police themselves far more carefully then they currently do: to maintain the strictest standards of impartiality, and to make clear distinctions among (a) what they know, (b) matters about which they can reasonably surmise, and (c) those topics on which their opinions are no better than yours or mine. One of the primary responsibilities of genuine experts, in a heavily polluted informational ecosystem, is to give uninformed laypeople no justification, however implausible, for preferring their own judgment to that of the genuinely knowledgeable. ....

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Churchill

Caricature of Winston Churchill found at Old Book Illustrations. The book it is found in was published in 1913. World War I began in 1914. He was First Lord of the Admiralty when that war began.


Sunday, March 8, 2020

The Lord is my Shepherd



The King of love my Shepherd is,
Whose goodness faileth never;
I nothing lack if I am His
And He is mine for ever.
In death's dark vale I fear no ill
With Thee, dear Lord, beside me;
Thy rod and staff my comfort still,
Thy cross before to guide me.
Where streams of living water flow
My ransomed soul He leadeth,
And where the verdant pastures grow    
With food celestial feedeth.
Thou spread'st a table in my sight;
Thy unction, grace bestoweth:
And O what transport of delight
From Thy pure chalice floweth!
Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,
But yet in love He sought me,
And on His shoulder gently laid,
And home, rejoicing, brought me.
And so through all the length of days
Thy goodness faileth never;
Good Shepherd, may I sing Thy praise
Within Thy house for ever.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

"For Thine is the Kingdom"

I've been reading a lot about Tom Holland's Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World and what I've read interests me, especially as I am an erstwhile history teacher who is Christian. Dwight Longenecker's review, "For Thine is the Kingdom," may overcome my resistance to adding another hefty volume to my already too large library.
.... I love reading history, but there are few things more tedious than a historian who is a prisoner in his ivory tower—never venturing beyond the safety of his footnotes, his research, and his “objective findings.” So worried about the approval of his peers and so cautious for his tenure in the fantasy land of academia that he never ventures a daring opinion (if he even has one). So obsessive about “objectivity,” he never risks his reputation by voicing a view. ....

Like a queen who rides a bicycle, Tom Holland’s Dominion is both majestic and down to earth. From antiquity to modernity, Mr. Holland traces a sneaky thesis that Christianity has changed the world—transforming it from the inside out. For those who love symmetry, Mr. Holland breaks down his sprawling history of the West (and from there the whole world) into three sections of seven chapters each. ....

The first section is “Antiquity” in which Mr. Holland traces the germination of Christian thought among the Greeks before spreading through Jerusalem and across the Roman Empire. Part two deals with the flux and influence of Christendom from the ninth to seventeenth centuries, while the third section takes us through the enlightenment, the revolutions of the modern age, and the contemporary modern malaise. In each chapter Mr. Holland shows how a particular advance, philosophy, humanistic development, or philosophical insight was inspired and driven by the core tenets and worldview of Christianity. ....

The development of science springs from a Christian theology that the natural world is real, and that it is ordered and structured and can therefore be studied and analyzed. The idea that one can take initiative and change one’s life and change the world springs from the empowerment that comes from the doctrine of free will. Human rights would never have been thought of without the belief in the innate dignity of each human being created in God’s image and likeness. Justice is possible because of the belief in an objective law—which would be impossible without a divine lawgiver, and even the atheistic rebellions of Voltaire, Nietzsche, and Marx would have been impossible without a higher belief in the values of truth and personal integrity that undermine hypocrisy, humbug, and injustice. ....

Aware of modern man’s antipathy towards organized religion, Mr. Holland simply lays out his case for the power and fecundity of the Christian worldview. Aware of our boredom with dull politically correct lectures, he portrays the dominion of Christianity as a series of surprises and a great adventure. Aware also of modern man’s distrust of establishment authority figures, he manages to portray the dominance of Christian thought as the subversive strain in society that it always has been. .... (more)

Friday, March 6, 2020

Modernism

I discover a quotation from Phillip Larkin:
...I dislike such things not because they are new, but because they are irresponsible exploitations of technique in contradiction of human life as we know it. This is my essential criticism of modernism, whether perpetrated by Parker, Pound, or Picasso: it helps us neither to enjoy nor endure. It will divert us as long as we are prepared to be mystified or outraged, but maintains its hold only by being more mystifying and more outrageous: it has no lasting power. Hence the compulsion on every modernist to wade deeper and deeper into violence and obscenity....
From a book I haven't read: Larkin, All What Jazz, 1985.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

"The only thing we ultimately control"

Alan Jacobs some years ago on "A Long Defeat, A Final Victory":
.... The phrase “long defeat” comes from J.R.R. Tolkien, who in The Lord of the Rings puts it in the mouth of Galadriel, and in a letter uses it himself: “I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat’ — though it contains (and in a legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory.” ....

.... Perhaps the chief problem with the “culture wars” paradigm that governs so much Christian action and reflection, in the North American context anyway, is that it encourages us to think in terms of trophies rather than testimonies. It tempts us to think too much about whether we’re winning or losing, and too little about the only thing we ultimately control, which is the firmness of our own resolve. ....

It seems to me that the most important political acts I can perform do not involve siding with one of the existing parties, or even necessarily to vote at all, but to try to bear witness through word and action to this double vision of the earthly city: a long defeat followed by a longer joy.

We are too prone, I believe, to think that voting is the definitive political act. That would be true only if politics simply belongs to the government. There is a far vaster sphere of politics — the life of the polis — that belongs to everyday acts of ordinary people. In this maybe Gandalf is a pretty good guide: “Yet it is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.”

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Death Day

Re-posted:

Philip Jenkins on why we are certain March 1 was the day the patron saint of Wales died and why "death days" were so important:
St David's, Pembrokeshire, Wales
March 1 is the feast of David, the early medieval bishop and missionary who became patron saint of Wales. We actually know strikingly little of David apart from that date, of March 1, but I’m going to suggest that represents a good deal in its own right. ....

A death about 590 is a reasonable guess, but we could easily slip fifty years either way. Oddly though, we can be sure that he died on March 1, whether in (say) 532 or 632 AD. Through the Middle Ages, hagiography was a vast area of cultural effort, when almost any outrageous achievements could be credited to a saint. (No, David did not really make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where he was ordained by the Patriarch). The one thing that we know these writers did keep faithfully was the death day — the date not the year — because that marked the hero’s ascension to glory, the promotion to heaven. In a particular church or community, those days were critical, as marking the annual celebration of the beloved local saint.
Argue as much as you like, then, about precise years, achievements, martyrdoms and areas of activity, about the number of lepers cured and tyrants opposed — but don’t quarrel with death days.
Death days.
It’s an interesting term. I know my birthday. I also know that at some future point I will die, and that that will befall on a particular date. Let me be optimistic and assume that it will be a distant event, say on July 23, 2049. Each year, then, I pass through July 23 happily unaware that I am marking my Death Day, surely as significant a milestone as my birthday, but not one I can ever know with certainty until it occurs. Nor is it something we really ever contemplate, as we all know, in our hearts, that we are immortal.
I suppose though that it is something we can learn from those medieval monks, that the Death Day is not just a key event in anyone’s life, but literally the only one we can take with absolute confidence. [emphasis added]