Sunday, October 2, 2022

Dillard

The quotation in the last post reminded of Annie Dillard. I once owned and read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. I looked online for quotations from her work. Some of what I found:
  • I know only enough of God to want to worship him, by any means ready to hand.
  • Those of us who read carried around with us like martyrs a secret knowledge, a secret joy, and a secret hope: There is a life worth living where history is still taking place; there are ideas worth dying for, and circumstances where courage is still prized.
  • I cannot cause light; the most I can do is try to put myself in the path of its beam.
  • As soon as beauty is sought not from religion and love, but for pleasure, it degrades the seeker.
  • There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough. The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet. Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading — that is a good life.
  • On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke?
  • I've been thinking about seeing. There are lots of things to see, unwrapped gifts and free surprises. The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from a generous hand. But — and this is the point — who gets excited by a mere penny? If you follow one arrow, if you crouch motionless on a bank to watch a tremulous ripple thrill on the water and are rewarded by the sight of a muskrat kit paddling from its den, will you count that sight a chip of copper only, and go your rueful way? It is dire poverty indeed when a man is so malnourished and fatigued that he won't stoop to pick up a penny. But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days. It is that simple. What you see is what you get.

Worshiping

Chesterton wrote that “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” I came across this on Twitter this morning:
Annie Dillard on worshiping in her small Northwest town with awkward preaching, embarrassing singing, and experiencing the presence of Christ. Good reminder for today:
A high school stage play is more polished than this service we have been rehearsing since the year one. In two thousand years, we have not worked out the kinks. We positively glorify them. Week after week we witness the same miracle: that God is so mighty he can stifle his own laughter. Week after week, we witness the same miracle: that God, for reasons unfathomable, refrains from blowing our dancing bear act to smithereens. Week after week Christ washes the disciples' dirty feet, handles their very toes, and repeats, It is all right—believe it or not—to be people. Who can believe it?
That is not to say that we shouldn't really try to do it well

Saturday, October 1, 2022

Loyalty

Peter Meilaender recalls a story I remember and then reflects on the meaning of loyalty:
.... Based on a true story, Greyfriars Bobby tells of a Skye terrier, Bobby, whose master, a poor shepherd named Auld Jock, was released from work and went to the city of Edinburgh, where he quickly fell ill and died. The grieving Bobby then snuck into Greyfriars Kirkyard, where Auld Jock was buried, to watch over the grave. Despite one challenge after another—attempts to reclaim him by his actual owner, the farmer for whom Auld Jock had worked; repeated efforts to expel him from the kirkyard, where no dogs are allowed; a mean-spirited plan to seize him for not having a proper license; and even getting locked inside the grounds of Edinburgh Castle one night, high above the city on Castle Rock—the faithful Bobby returns night after night.

The handsome and good-tempered terrier is happy enough to play with the poor children of the city’s tenements, whose hearts he quickly wins, and to be fed by the kind and sagacious innkeeper, Mr. Traill. But Bobby is unwilling to sleep anywhere but on Auld Jock’s grave. Eventually his loyalty is rewarded when the city’s Lord Provost gives him a license, a collar, and the run of the city, and Lady Burdett-Coutts erects a statue in his honor across from Greyfriars. ....

Loyalty is, by and large, a good thing, but we do not always admire it. One can be loyal to wicked people or false gods, can wrong one person out of loyalty to another, can fail to see when loyalty is leading one astray. In order to admire acts of loyalty, we want them to be combined with a certain kind of good judgment. Indeed, this might make it even more puzzling that we would admire the loyalty of a dog, which is incapable of such judgment. .... The dog’s loyalty really is blind. ....

If we sense that a pure and unreserved loyalty seems to belong to another and better world, so too do we sense that only those capable of loyalty will ever attain to that world. Committing one’s self in love and fidelity involves a risk, a risk of getting things wrong. But without that commitment, Bobby’s perfect loyalty, for which we long, remains out of reach. ....
When in Edinburgh I visited that graveyard and the statue.

Peter C. Meilaender, "Man’s Best Friend: Lessons in Loyalty from Greyfriars Bobby," The Dispatch, Oct. 1, 2022.

Friday, September 30, 2022

"Two to three cups of coffee a day"

I really like studies that affirm the health value of one of my habits. CNN:
“The results suggest that mild to moderate intake of ground, instant and decaffeinated coffee should be considered part of a healthy lifestyle,” said study author Peter Kistler, head of clinical electrophysiology research at the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute and head of electrophysiology at Alfred Hospital in Melbourne.

Researchers found “significant reductions” in the risk for coronary heart disease, congestive heart failure and stroke for all three types of coffee. However, only ground and instant coffee with caffeine reduced the risk for an irregular heartbeat called arrhythmia. Decaffeinated coffee did not lower that risk, according to the study published Wednesday in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. ....

Drinking two to three cups of coffee a day was linked to the largest reduction in early death, compared to people who drank no coffee, according to the statement. Ground coffee consumption lowered the risk of death by 27%, followed by 14% for decaffeinated, and 11% for instant caffeinated coffee. ....
"Coffee lowers risk of heart problems and early death, study says, especially ground and caffeinated," CNN, Sept. 29, 2022.

"Count your blessings"

I have thus far had a comfortable life. An important reminder:
“Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matt 6:27).
What is accomplished by worrying? Gray hair and ulcers! Oh, and telling God you don’t trust him.

What should we do instead of worry? “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt 6:33). How do we do that? By doing everything he’s taught before this — shine your light so that God is glorified, practice real righteousness, love your enemy, and do your acts of piety for God’s approval rather than man’s. Do these things and trust God to take care of the more mundane things.

That’s what Jesus wants us to do, but will that necessarily keep us from worrying? No, worry will still be a temptation. So what do we do when we’re tempted to worry? Paul gives us an excellent action plan:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Phil 4:6).
Take your requests to God "with thanksgiving." That last part is the key. Don’t just pray for what you need but take the time to thank God for all the ways he’s already provided, for all he’s already done. ....
"Don't Worry, Be Thankful," Homeward Bound, Sept 28, 2022.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Ritual

From Thomas Howard:
Any criticism of ritual arrives not from a non-ritualist (there are none) but only from another sort of ritual. That is, I may say that such and such a ritual looks childish to me (I find it hard, for example, to see the costumes and liturgies of secret societies as serious). But two things need to be said here. In the first place, it is not the idea of ritual itself that I am criticizing, in that I myself can't walk ten steps without doing something ritually (again, standing aside for a lady, waving to a friend, lowering my voice in a museum). And in the second place, I would have to admit that the ritual that I see as silly probably proceeds very logically from the special set of ideas held by the people in that circle (in the secret society, say), so that their bibs and tassels and most reverend titles make perfect sense given their set of categories. If, then, I want to expose them as silly, I will have to show not that their ritual is silly but that their prior ideas are silly.
Thomas Howard, An Antique Drum, Harold Shaw Publishers, 1969.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Hymns that teach

Jonathan Aigner is a parent and considers "What Do I Want My Kids to Sing":
...I find that I cannot escape considering what I would want my own children singing. Which hymns do I want entrenched in their earliest memories of singing in church? Which hymns do I want them to encounter with enough repetition that they become part of their spiritual formation? Which hymns do I want them to take with them in the coming seasons of their life? Time is short. ....

Here’s what I came up with. [at the post, he elaborates and gives examples]

Hymns of Praise That Speak to God’s Character
It should be obvious, but good hymns testify to the transcendent character of Almighty God as revealed in Scripture, and call the church to join in his praise. An overarching theme of worship is that God is God, and we are not. Great hymns remind us of this, and set our minds on God’s greatness. ....
Hymns That Proclaim the Gospel
I want them to sing hymns that talk about the love of Christ as shown through his redemptive work. Christ crucified for sinners is the greatest theme the human voice could possibly sing. ....
Hymns That Draw from Holy Scripture
Great hymns don’t apologize or cloud the truth of Holy Scripture, nor do they seek to make it more palatable to modern ears. Some of the greatest hymns are simply Scripture in poetic form. Take the wonderful hymns of Isaac Watts, for instance. ....

Hymns That Teach Good Theology
The hymnal is many things. One of those things is a theological textbook. (I think I said this in a post a long time ago…) Choose hymns that teach the truths of the Christian faith strongly and beautifully.
Hymns With a Low Anthropology
Again, God is God, and we are not. There is a tendency in modern hymn-writing to make too much out of human ability, insight, and will.... This is, in part, a high anthropology; it is the notion that, if all external factors are removed, humans can choose to be good and well-behaved, and can turn the world into a nice place. I want to sing hymns that, instead, follow the biblical and orthodox understanding of humanity as fallen, helpless to save themselves, and fully in need of God’s grace. ....
Hymns That Faithfully Portray the Church’s Mission ....

Hymns That Are Beautiful
There are a number of hymns that have some good things to say, but the poetry is so awful it gets in the way. ....
There are many examples of these kinds of hymns. Some are rich theological treasures. Others more simple and stark. Again, the main concern should be whether the hymn is really worth singing, knowing, and committing to memory. Is it true? Does it edify? Does it have enough meat on it to sustain us? Does it give us a realistic view of God, his kingdom, Christ’s work on our behalf, and humanity? If the answer to these is “no,” then perhaps it won’t do us any good at all, and maybe we should choose something else.  (more)
Jonathan Aigner, "What Do I Want My Kids to Sing: How I Choose Hymns," Ponder Anew, Sept. 28, 2022.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Eulogy

I have always assumed that the eulogy is an important part of a funeral service. Eulogies were in both my parents' services. But Jonathan Aigner doesn't like them and I think he makes a good argument:
Eulogies are a recent phenomenon, particularly in liturgical churches. The fact that they’ve come to be expected is due to our individualistic and increasingly de-churched, de-Christianized society. When people don’t have hope in Christ, or don’t understand that the funeral is about his victory over death, the occasions often become “celebrations of life.” You can’t have a celebration of life without a eulogy. ....

Any decent funeral liturgy is not about a celebration of life. At least, not a celebration of the deceased’s life. The point of the whole thing is to witness to the resurrection of Christ, and the victory that Christ has won for us, and the fact that, for those in Christ, death doesn’t get the final word.

I hope and pray that, for my family and loved ones, the promise of resurrection is the most comforting thing for them to hear. If it isn’t, I still want them to hear it, so that they might believe it for themselves. I want them to hear about Christ’s victory over death, not about how much I loved baseball or told dumb jokes or earned a weird combination of degrees.

If they want to sit around and tell stories and reminisce, so be it, but do it at lunch. Remembering the good times will not defeat death. Only Jesus can do that. His life ended in a death which ended with a resurrection. That is the life worth celebrating. His is the life worth eulogizing.
Jonathan Aigner, "Let’s Make Eulogies a Thing of the Past," Ponder Anew, Sept. 27, 2022.

Monday, September 26, 2022

"Rings of Power" so far

I've been enjoying Rings of Power so far. It isn't compelling enough for me to consider re-watching—at least not yet—but compared to much that is available, it's not bad and could get better. I agreed with much of this review at The Spectator:
Why is Amazon’s new Lord of the Rings show taking so much flak? The way I see it, there are two (mostly separate) factors at play: Tolkien fandom and race. ....

This, in my mind, is a travesty, because it’s causing people to miss out on what’s actually a pretty good show so far. Plenty of Tolkien fans have avoided the series altogether, while others have chosen to hatewatch it. And when you watch something with the sole intention of finding things to hate, you’re usually successful. ....

The show is also just nice to watch. There’s beauty and joy to it. After so many years immersed in Game of Thrones (and now House of the Dragon), it’s nice to be reminded that there’s more to life than killing, screwing, and scheming. In one Rings of Power episode, the Harfoot maid leads some younguns out to a clearing full of berry bushes, and they all have a good frolic. I’d forgotten how much I love watching a good frolic. The closest Game of Thrones can get to a frolic is an orgy. .... (more)
Grayson Quay, "The Rings of Power is more than just blue-haired trans elves," The Spectator, Sept. 23, 2022.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

A stiff upper lip

From Theodore Dalrymple, "In defence of repression":
.... People can undoubtedly go to pieces under the effect of suffering: and what each person can bear depends upon many factors, both personal and impersonal. For example, if someone is capable of investing suffering with meaning – religious, political or philosophical – whatever has caused it is easier to bear. Meaningless trauma is much harder to overcome. ....

The very claim that there are means to ‘deal with’ or obtain ‘closure on’ the inevitable tragedies of human existence leads, if it becomes widely believed, to the fragilization of the human psyche, especially where there are rewards for fragility. ....

A psychologically fragile population is the delight of bureaucrats, lawyers and professional carers, and resilience and fortitude are their worst enemies. Repression in the psychological sense is deemed by them not only as damaging but almost as treason to the self. A person who does not dwell on his trauma must expect, and almost deserves, later trouble, as does someone who willfully ignores the formation of an abscess. ....

[But] repression can also mean the deliberate putting memories of trauma to the back of the mind so that life can be got on with. It is not that such memories cannot be called to the conscious mind when necessary, or even that they never do harm: but the person who represses in this fashion has an instinctive understanding that dwelling on them is an obstacle to future life, rather than a precondition of it. They do not forget, either consciously or unconsciously; they choose to think of something else. ....

Psychology seems often to forget or disregard the fact that humans live in a world of meaning, and that they are actors rather than mere objects acted upon. In the process, it destroys resilience, fortitude and self-respect.
Theodore Dalrymple, "In defence of repression," The Spectatorr, Sept. 25, 2022.

Blessed are those who mourn

From an essay by Roger Scruton, "The Work of Mourning":
.... We lose many things in our lives. But some losses are existential losses. They take away some part of what we are. After such a loss we are in a new and unfamiliar world, wherein the support on which we had—perhaps unknowingly—depended is no longer available. The loss of a parent, especially during one’s early years, is a world-changing experience, and orphans are marked for life by this. The loss of a spouse is equally traumatic, as is the loss of children, who take with them into the void all the most tender feelings of their parents.

Nevertheless, however grievous the blow, mourning is a therapy that points toward survival. Through mourning we bury the dead. But we also raise them from the dead, not as living beings, but as purified images, washed clean of their faults and transfigured by our mutual forgiveness. ....

.... We are far more likely to be interested in what the deceased person ­owes to us by way of a legacy than what we owe to him or her in the way of mourning. Of course, we still offer funerals to our dead, though we expect them to budget for this while still alive. And we grieve for them as we must. But it is increasingly rare to raise a monument, or even to lay our dead to rest in a grave that we might subsequently visit. The habit of cremating the dead and then scattering their ashes reflects our post-religious conception of what they become by dying, namely nothing. We briefly snatch at their nothingness and then watch them fade from our empty hands. .... Since the obligation is unreal, its fulfillment becomes a kind of ritualized pretense, an opportunity for displays of kitsch emotion. ....

The Western response to loss is not to remove yourself from the world. It is to bear it as a loss, to mourn it, and to strive to overcome it by seeing it as a form of consecrated suffering. Religion lies at the root of that attitude. Religion enables us to bear our losses not, primarily, because it promises to offset them with some compensating gain, but because it sees them from a transcendental perspective. Judged from that perspective they appear not as meaningless afflictions but as sacrifices. Loss, conceived as sacrifice, becomes consecrated to something higher than itself....

.... The loss of religion makes real loss difficult to bear; hence people begin to flee from loss, to make light of it with Disneyfying ornaments, or to expel from themselves the feelings that make it inevitable. .... This is why, in a society without religion, we see emerging a kind of contagious hardness of heart, an assumption on every side that there is no tragedy, no grief, no mourning, for there is nothing to mourn. There is neither love nor happiness—only fun. The loss of religion, one might suggest, is the loss of loss. .... (more)
Roger Scruton, "The Work of Mourning," First Things, Oct., 1022.

Friday, September 23, 2022

"Thy throne shall never, like earth's proud empires, pass away"


The day Thou gavest, Lord, is ended, the darkness falls at Thy behest;
to Thee our morning hymns ascended, Thy praise shall sanctify our rest.

We thank Thee that Thy Church unsleeping, while earth rolls onward into light,
through all the world her watch is keeping, and rests not now by day or night.

As o’er each continent and island the dawn leads on another day,
the voice of prayer is never silent, nor dies the strain of praise away.

The sun that bids us rest is waking our brethren ‘neath the western sky,
and hour by hour fresh lips are making Thy wondrous doings heard on high.

So be it, Lord; Thy throne shall never, like earth’s proud empires, pass away;
Thy kingdom stands, and grows for ever, till all Thy creatures own thy sway.

One of the hymns sung at Queen Elizabeth's funeral.

After the "Thin Man"

The author of "Scenes from a Marriage: Watching the 'Thin Man' Movies as a Set" likes all the "Thin Man" movies but one. I think even that one can be enjoyed. On Nick and Nora Charles (William Powell and Myrna Loy) after The Thin Man (1934):
The resulting movies–After the Thin Man (1936), Another Thin Man (1939), Shadow of the Thin Man (1941), The Thin Man Goes Home (1944), and Song of the Thin Man (1947)–don’t get the same overwhelming praise as the film that started the series. ....

The series as a whole is surprisingly consistent, having been made over a thirteen-year span, and enjoyable elements from that first classic continue in the rest of the movies. .... Only one of the films leaves the formula so far behind that it’s not worth the time....

.... Nick and Nora had some of the greatest ongoing banter in Hollywood history, combining clever wordplay, romantic innuendoes, good-humored sarcasm, and extremely dry observations on the world and people around them. While every film had a mystery to solve, what made the films so engrossing was the depiction of a wildly enjoyable marriage between two people so affectionate for each other that occasional spats never had a chance to get serious. What all the sequels get right is that this is a marriage that doesn’t evolve. Locations change, a person is added, and sobriety makes unwelcome advances, but Nick and Nora maintain their amorous regard for each other, without demanding that it strengthen, or deepen, or develop in any way. Because it’s perfect as it is. ....

Loy may have been the most important actor of the series, as wonderful as Powell was. There had been smart-aleck playboy detectives before, but none of them were married to Nora Charles, a combination of breeding, caustic wit, glamour, occasional daffiness, and heart. .... Loy’s Nora is the difference in the world, the thing that can’t be reduced to a cliché, the person who can never become boring. Audiences don’t need it spelled out—we know exactly what Nick sees in his wife. .... (more)
Hector DeJean, "Scenes from a Marriage: Watching the "Thin Man" Movies as a Set," CrimeReads, Sept. 23, 2022.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Cursive

A former Harvard president, now a history professor, makes a disturbing discovery:
It was a good book, the student told the 14 others in the undergraduate seminar I was teaching, and it included a number of excellent illustrations, such as photographs of relevant Civil War manuscripts. But, he continued, those weren’t very helpful to him, because of course he couldn’t read cursive.

Had I heard him correctly? Who else can’t read cursive? I asked the class. The answer: about two-thirds. And who can’t write it? Even more. ....

In 2010, cursive was omitted from the new national Common Core standards for K–12 education. The students in my class, and their peers, were then somewhere in elementary school. Handwriting instruction had already been declining as laptops and tablets and lessons in “keyboarding” assumed an ever more prominent place in the classroom. Most of my students remembered getting no more than a year or so of somewhat desultory cursive training, which was often pushed aside....

All of us, not just students and scholars, will be affected by cursive’s loss. The inability to read handwriting deprives society of direct access to its own past. We will become reliant on a small group of trained translators and experts to report what history—including the documents and papers of our own families—was about. The spread of literacy in the early modern West was driven by people’s desire to read God’s word for themselves, to be empowered by an experience of unmediated connection. The abandonment of cursive represents a curious reverse parallel: We are losing a connection, and thereby disempowering ourselves.

On the last day of class, a student came up to me with a copy of one of my books and asked me to sign it. I wrote an inscription that included not just his name and mine, but thanks for his many contributions to the seminar. Then I asked, a little wistfully, if he’d like me to read it to him. (more)
Drew Gilpin Faust, "Gen Z Never Learned to Read Cursive," The Atlantic, Oct. 2022.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

"Rage drives clicks. Quality drives subscriptions"

An acquaintance once accused me of being a political partisan. I explained that although I usually voted for candidates of one political party it was because my principles were conservative, not because of the party label. Political partisanship is dumb. Choosing to vote for the candidate who is most likely to support (or least likely to oppose) the right policies makes sense. In the Trump era choices have become harder for people like me. I've always been a Reagan/National Review/Wall Street Journal editorial page kind of conservative. I've subscribed to National Review since high school and still appreciate the magazine. More recently I've become rather enthusiastic about The Dispatch, an online publication that is edited by Steve Hayes and publishes a whole lot of writers I respect including David French, Chris Stirewalt, and Jonah Goldberg. I go to their site just about every day and get several of their emailed newsletters. Yesterday another writer I like, Kevin Williamson, became a "national correspondent" there. Williamson explained what attracted him to The Dispatch:
I’ve sat in on a few long Dispatch meetings, and what was not talked about was this or that former or future presidential candidate, how to position ourselves for the midterms or 2024, how to influence this or that aspect or this or that party’s internal factional politics, or anything like that. The Dispatch is here to do journalism—not politics. I have nothing but the most narrowly limited and partial respect for people who do political speechwriting or run campaigns, but that isn’t what we are here to do.

We did talk in those meetings about the tensions inherent in building a reporting-based publication in an opinion-forward environment in a business currently anchored by a few famous opinion writers. The Dispatch is operating on the theory that our readers aren’t stupid. What that means as a practical matter is that we can do good reporting and good opinion journalism at the same time, as long as we do them both intelligently and with a high degree of integrity. Readers know that publications have points of view: There is a reason so many old U.S. newspapers have Republican or Democrat in the name. Having a point of view isn’t the same thing as distorting the facts—or ignoring them or making stuff up!—to support a political agenda.

Rage drives clicks. Quality drives subscriptions. And our business model is based on subscriptions, not clicks.

And that is why I am here. ....
The Dispatch can be found online here. There are always many free articles, but to read everything a subscription is required ($10 a month, or $100 for a year). I subscribe.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Blest is the man...

Last night I pulled an all-nighter in order to watch Queen Elizabeth's funeral. I am now badly in need of a nap but staying up was worth it. Two of many very good things:

 An unfamiliar (to me) John Donne prayer read in the funeral service and then sung at the interment:
Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening
   into the house and gate of heaven,
To enter into that gate and dwell in that house,
   where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling,
   but one equal light;
No noise nor silence, but one equal music;
No fears nor hopes, but one equal possession;
No ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity;
   in the habitation of Thy glory and dominion,
   world without end.
Amen.
And Vaughn Williams' setting of Psalm 34:8, originally composed for the Queen's coronation:
O Taste and see how gracious the Lord is:
Blest is the man that trusteth in him.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

A royal funeral: "Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord"

From the program for the funeral of Elizabeth II tomorrow morning:
All stand as the Procession of the Coffin enters the Abbey.


The Choir of Westminster Abbey sings

THE SENTENCES
(During which the Procession of the Coffin moves through the Abbey.)
I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.
John 11:25–26

I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God; whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another.
Job 19:25–27

We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.
The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.
1 Timothy 6:7; Job 1:21
The Choir of Westminster Abbey and the Choir of the Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace, sing:
Thou knowest, Lord, the secrets of our hearts; shut not thy merciful ears unto our prayer; but spare us, Lord most holy, O God most mighty, O holy and most merciful Saviour, thou most worthy Judge eternal, suffer us not, at our last hour, for any pains of death, to fall from thee. Amen.
The Book of Common Prayer 1549

I heard a voice from heaven, saying unto me, Write, From henceforth blessed are the dead which die in the Lord: even so saith the Spirit; for they rest from their labours. Amen.
Revelation 14:13
All remain standing. .... (the service)
The Telegraph, "Full order of service for the funeral and committal of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II ," Sept. 18, 2022.

"A world in which a man may be howled down for saying that two and two make four"

From essays that G.K. Chesterton wrote early in the last century:
We must first of all establish the principle that we do not want a newspaper to give us a vision of the world made perfect; we want a church for that. We do not want a newspaper to give us good news; we want a gospel for that. We want a newspaper to give us the true news, not elevating news or improving news. (The Illustrated London News, 3-06-1909)

There may have been a time when people found it easy to believe anything. But we are finding it vastly easier to disbelieve anything. (The Illustrated London News, 3-14-1914)

If free thought means that we are not free to rebuke free-thinkers, it is surely a very one-sided sort of free thought. It means that they may say anything they choose about all that we hold most dear, and we must not say anything we think in protest against all that we hold most damnable. (The Illustrated London News, 6-10-1922)

We shall soon be in a world in which a man may be howled down for saying that two and two make four, in which people will persecute the heresy of calling a triangle a three-sided figure, and hang a man for maddening a mob with the news that grass is green. (The Illustrated London News, 8-14-1926)

When somebody wishes to wage a social war against what all normal people have regarded as a social decency, the very first thing he does is to find some artificial term that shall sound relatively decent. He has no more of the real courage that would pit vice against virtue than the ordinary advertiser has the courage to advertise ale as arsenic.” (The Illustrated London News, 6-30-1928)
The quotations are from "G.K. Chesterton Quotes from The Illustrated London News, 1908-1936."

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Power abhors a vacuum

I taught a high school international relations class for several decades and have long had an interest in the subject. I found this long article, "A Christian Defense of American Empire," by British historian Nigel Biggar, very interesting. Read it all if you have time. This is only some of what he has to say about American international responsibility:
.... Since the American imperial system offers a far better future for the peoples of the world than do its Russian or Chinese alternatives, Americans need to be clear-minded about its moral legitimacy and their duty to defend it. ....

.... American Christians need to reckon with the reality that the United States in fact ­possesses imperial power—and they should argue in the public square that America has a duty to retain that power and to wield it well rather than badly.

The truth is that international affairs have always been characterized by the dominance of some states over others. Asymmetry of power is a fact of international life. .... And some nation-states are more powerful than others, dominating regions of the globe either formally through direct territorial control, treaty, or alliance or informally through economic clout or cultural power. Whether formal or informal, this international dominance is imperial. From 1815 to 1914 the dominant global power was Britain and its empire. Arguably from 1919, more so from 1945, and most clearly so from 1989, the dominant global power has been the United States.

To many people of Christian or liberal conviction, “domination” and “dominance” connote oppression and tyranny. Certainly, dominating power is prone to abuse, but an inclination is not a necessity. To dominate need not be to domineer, and in a world of inevitably unequal power, it is clearly better that the just (all things considered) should be more powerful than the unjust. Surely, we want the police to dominate the mafia, liberal democracy to dominate autocratic tyranny, self-defensive ­Ukrainians to dominate unjustly invading Russians.

It is true, of course, that empires, like ­nation-states, municipalities, and churches, are run by sinners. Consequently, they can do bad things, sometimes very bad indeed. ....

So, yes, those who possess dominant power are tempted by hubris. Some would argue that the U.S. succumbed to that temptation in the years following the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the result being its overambitious plan to transform Afghanistan after 2001 and its overoptimistic invasion of Iraq in 2003. Certainly, America’s staunchest allies felt slighted when she started to withdraw from Afghanistan in 2021 without informing them of her plans. Arrogance is a natural temptation for those on top.

Nevertheless, the fact that power can be used badly does not mean that it should be abandoned. Rather, it should be used well. .... The quest for clean hands, if pursued without due regard for our responsibilities, can be a culpable form of moral vanity. This vice is a clear danger, given present realities. Moreover, what the U.S. jettisons, its rival—China—will pick up. International politics abhors a vacuum. And there is no reason to suppose that Beijing would be a better steward of dominant imperial power than Washington. Indeed, if the plights of Hong Kong and the Uighurs are anything to go by, there is good reason to suppose that it would be a lot worse.

Being an imperial power is burdensome. .... But the burden must be borne. It must be borne in part to ensure that one’s own national people and their way of life are kept secure. For those who do not dominate will themselves be dominated. And it should be borne so that other peoples who lack the privileges of superordinate power will not be dominated by a less just, less benevolent hegemon.

Ultimately, the justification for wielding dominant, imperial power depends on the value of the goals it seeks to serve. Of course, the first duty of a national government is to defend and promote the security and prosperity of its own people—and to do that for 332 million Americans is hardly a selfish act. But the defense and promotion of the domestic security and well-being of one people depends upon making and keeping the international environment friendly rather than hostile. So, what is defended and promoted at home must be defended and promoted abroad. And if what is defended and ­promoted includes values and institutions generally important for human welfare—such as the rule of law, an incorrupt civil service, and legal rights—then foreign peoples will benefit as well, as indeed many have since 1945.

The United States is not the only trustee of such values and institutions, but, thanks to the gifts of providence and its own achievements, it happens to be the most powerful global actor at this time. Its primary duty to its own people obliges it to sustain its power. But that duty implies a secondary one to promote the weal of other nations. For if it should surrender its dominant international power, other states, less humane and liberal, will pick it up. .... (more)
Nigel Biggar, "A Christian Defense of American Empire," First Things, Oct. issue, 2022.

Friday, September 16, 2022

Miss Marple

John Wilson reviews Marple: Twelve New Mysteries:
.... I suspect that the vast majority of fans will enjoy this high-spirited volume, loaded as it is with allusions to the canonical novels and stories.

Like many readers of our generation, Wendy and I see the actress Joan Hickson in our mind’s eye whenever we are reading about Miss Marple. Indeed, Hickson channeled Christie’s creation to an uncanny degree: the spinster Jane Marple living in the village of St Mary Mead, gardening, knitting, faithfully going to church, observing all that goes on with her compassionate but steely intelligence. ....

One of my favorite stories in the book is “The Second Murder at the Vicarage,” by Val McDermid (who happens to be the only one of the twelve authors I’d read before picking up this book). Here McDermid gives us a delightful mini sequel to Christie’s first Marple novel, The Murder at the Vicarage (1930). There’s a fine line to walk with such homages, avoiding self-indulgent cutesiness, but McDermid brings it off without a false step. And a crucial clue comes when Miss Marple glimpses the title of a book on a shelf where its presence is incongruous: Native Fungi of the Home Counties. Delicious.

Another story I particularly enjoyed was “Miss Marple’s Christmas,” by Ruth Ware. In this tale, a book that a sullen young man at the Christmas gathering is reading, Dorothy Sayers’s Hangman’s Holiday, gives Miss Marple a vital clue. ....

I have complained now and then that Christie’s convictions as an unambiguously Christian writer have often been given short shrift or overlooked entirely. (A sterling exception is Jeremy Black’s recent book The Importance of Being Poirot, which emphasizes Christie’s identity as a “practicing Anglican” with a “strong religious sensibility.”) Alas, that is true of the stories commissioned for this volume. I very much wish that at least a writer or two with a strong sense of Christie’s faith and the way it informed her work had been enlisted for this project. ....

Part of what made Joan Hickson’s portrayal of Miss Marple for British TV so memorably compelling was her voice. It will probably sound very silly or odd to you, but now and then, out of the blue, I hear in my head Miss Marple’s voice as rendered by Hickson. Don’t worry, I’m not saying that I am hearing her voice as if addressed to me. But there is something about her voice (embodying a cluster of winsome qualities) that I find immensely cheering and grounded in the real. Strange but delightful. ....
John Wilson, "Miss Marple Returns," First Things, Sept. 16, 2022.