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October 2009

All Hallows’ Eve 2009

The more or less traditional Halloween post about or from Charles Williams’s All Hallows’ Eve. See the 2007 post for a little more about Lester, who is speaking here, and Richard. Here Lester (a woman) leaves what we call the world of the living for the world of what we call the dead, which is actually the world of the truly living.

She looked across at Richard. She said, “Dearest, I did love you. Forgive me. And thank you— Oh Richard, thank you! Goodbye, my blessing!” She stood, quiet and very real, before them; almost she shone on them;then the brightness quivered in the air, a gleam of brighter light than day, and in a flash traversed all the hall; the approach of all the hallows possessed her, and she too, into the separations and unions which are indeed its approach, and into the end to which it is itself an approach, was wholly gone. The tremor of brightness received her.

Since Alabama has the week off...

...let’s replay the big blocked kick from last week.

(Hat tip to Will, who I can’t believe is interested in this.)

In the unlikely event that you (a) don’t know the resolution of the claim that Alabama should have been penalized because Cody took his helmet off before the ball was dead, and that as a result Tennessee should have been given another shot at making the kick, and (b) care: the SEC stated officially that even if a penalty had been called it would have been enforceable on the next play, and since time had expired there would have been no next play.

Blind Bartimaeus, Again

I keep thinking about blind Bartimeus, and the other people, all damaged in one way or another, who reached out to Jesus in their weakness. I suppose someone has made a list of them, but anyone who goes to Mass or reads the New Testament very often can immediately think of several: the woman with the hemorrhage, the ten lepers of whom only one returned to give thanks for his healing, the crippled man who was told to take up his bed and walk.

It is a constant theme in the New Testament: that weakness is a form of strength, that poverty is a form of wealth. I think the reason for this, or one of the reasons, is that those who are in some way weak or poor are able to recognize the truth of their situation in a way that the powerful and rich are not. It seems to have been the thing that Nietzsche, with his admiration (to say the least) of power, hated most about Christianity, the thing that made him call it, contemptuously, a religion for women and slaves.

But weakness and poverty are the true condition of us all. One need not believe in God to recognize the fundamental weakness of every human being; all human strength is paltry in comparison to the physical forces of the world. Every source and form of human power—wealth, beauty, domination—is fragile at best and doomed by time. One who has those things finds it easy to believe that they are his by right and that he will always have them. But age and death will eventually take them all.

Better then, to understand the situation from the beginning. And those who know, like Bartimaeus, that we are damaged and weak and broken stand open to both God and despair. We may still choose wrongly, of course—poverty and weakness are certainly no guarantors of wisdom or virtue—but we make our choice in the face of reality, not illusion.

I’ve never been the sort of person who hears God speaking to him at every turn. You know the sort I mean: the sort who frequently says “The Lord laid it on my heart” to do or say something. There have been only two or three times when it seemed to me that God might have spoken directly to me. I didn’t hear a voice, but words were suddenly present in my mind, addressed to me as if they came from someone else else.

One of these was soon after I returned to the Christian faith after what I’ve come to think of as my lost years, between the ages of roughly eighteen and twenty-eight. They weren’t truly or entirely lost, and quite a few good things happened in that time, but I was lost, and I made a real mess of things. And when I came out of that period I was very conscious of my weakness, almost to the point of despair. One night I was praying, and the words came into my mind: I  made you weak so that you would know where real strength comes from.

That was a comfort to me, though as time went on I’ve often forgotten it. I find it very difficult to glory in my weakness, as St. Paul said he did. I would rather be strong. I guess I still haven’t completely learned my lesson. Most of us, perhaps, really and fully grasp it only at the point of death.

Blind Bartimeus

Jesus said to him in reply, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man replied to him, “Master, I want to see.”

Mark 10:51

This exchange always seem to me to sum up a major part of Christian belief: there is something wrong with me, and only God can fix it.

This is also one of the few instances where I prefer the New American and other current translations to the KJV:

And Jesus answered and said unto him, “What wilt thou that I should do unto thee?” The blind man said unto him, “Lord, that I might receive my sight.”

That’s very musical, but it doesn’t have the simple impact of “I want to see.”

I want to see.

Hats Off to Tennessee

For a really hard-fought game that I can’t honestly say you deserved to lose.

Of course I probably wouldn’t say that if you’d won. Which you would have done if you had a better kicker.

And hats off to Terrence Cody for two (2) blocked field goals.

This Alabama team can’t beat Florida, though. Maybe not LSU, either. Somehow Saban, McElroy, and Co. are going to have to rediscover the art of the touchdown. Soon.

An Alabama Fan, Preparing for Tomorrow

I refer of course to the Alabama-Tennessee game. Disclaimer: I do not hate Tennessee, or its fans. I believe they deserve equal treatment before the law. One of my uncles went to Tennessee, and he was nevertheless a fine man.

I do think, however, that there is some valid scientific evidence that the proportion of orange in a team’s uniform can be correlated to its objectionableness. Certainly this holds true in the SEC, though I don’t know about the rest of the country. Think about it. Florida. Auburn. And the Big Orange, Tennessee.

(Hat tip to Will)

Ross Douthat on Health Care Reform

Ross Douthat had an interesting piece in the NYT a few days ago on the health care reform issue. Here’s the key passage:

We know what one such approach would look like. It’s the eventual endgame that liberals pushing a “public option” are aiming for: a federal takeover of the health-insurance sector, paid for by rising tax rates, in which the government guarantees universal access while using its monopoly power to hold down costs.

But there’s another path, equally radical, that’s more in keeping with the traditional American approach to government, taxation and free enterprise. This approach would give up on the costly goal of insuring everyone for everything, forever. Instead, it would seek to insure Americans only against costs that exceed a certain percentage of their income, while expecting them to pay for everyday medical expenditures out of their own pockets.

People who could not afford to pay for anything at all would have to be helped, of course, but with this approach they would be assisted in buying the same care that everyone else is getting, not be shunted off into a separate and inferior system.

As a number of people have pointed out over the past few months, what we call “health insurance” is not really that. Insurance is something you purchase to protect yourself in the event of some catastrophe that leaves you facing an expense you can’t possibly cover. You have insurance on your house so that if it burns down you can replace it; you don’t expect insurance to pay for fixing a broken window or a clogged drain. You don’t expect your car insurance to pay for a flat tire or an oil change.

But that’s the way we treat health care. Even more irrationally, we expect the lion’s share of this expense to be borne by our employers, and so we have a situation in which people who are out of work or self-employed or employed by small businesses are either at a severe financial disadvantage where health care is concerned, or are shut out of the system altogether, having to fall back on a patchwork of government programs.

I really don’t have much hope of our elected representatives taking this path, but it seems by far the most sensible. I don’t think anyone who’s thought about it for more than a minute or two would argue that the system doesn’t need major reform. I have been saying for at least twenty years that we will eventually get a government-run system because the present system is crazy and unjust. But I’m afraid we’re going to get something that’s worse—almost certainly in the long run, and perhaps in the short run. The Democrats want a federally-controlled system, and the Republicans will most likely play their usual role in limiting the expansion of federal power: that of a piece of chewing gum on the bottom of the Democrats’ shoe, annoying them but slowing them down only a little.

The ideas presented by Douthat are radical in the sense of getting at the root, or rather roots, of the problem, but, as he says, they seem far more suited to the American context. I’ve also been thinking that for some time, and discussed it here a couple of months ago. My view is frequently reinforced by stories like these:

Organized crime’s new targets: Medicare and Medicaid

As I said in that earlier post, we have a large number of people in this country “who would approach the system as vultures would approach a big dead pig.” I wasn’t joking.

Nearly 65? Time for the Medicare Maze

For someone new to the system, the hundreds of options Medicare provides can be daunting. “We’ve seen C.P.A.’s get stymied,” said Paul Gada, personal financial planning director at Allsup, a provider of Social Security and Medicare consultation services…

There’s something wrong with a system which ordinary people can’t navigate without a consultant. If we extend that to everybody, it will be neither cheap, nor efficient, nor fair.

Strangest Reaction to Rome’s Anglican Move

Here, at National Review Online, is Andrew Stuttaford, more or less applauding the departure of “international brigades”—I think he means Anglicans outside of England—from Anglicanism:

“it would be no bad thing if the C of E were to become a little less ‘church,’ and a little more ‘England’...”

What makes this so odd to me is that Stuttaford, if I’m not mistaken, is not a Christian. I have the impression from reading his posts at NRO that he’s more or less an atheist. This conflation of nationalism and Christianity is not unusual, but generally it’s either more unconscious, as with some American Protestants who see the story of America as a continuation of the story of the Bible and really cannot separate the two, or less straightforward, as with the skeptic who quietly keeps his reservations to himself because he thinks religion is good for people, or for the country. I think it is relatively rare for someone in that latter camp to openly wish to build up the national church while actively denigrating the faith to which the church is ostensibly devoted.

Stuttaford’s remark is, however, a blog post, probably written hastily, so it could be that I’m misunderstanding him.

I am not, by the way, and obviously, not going to try to link to all the interesting commentary on this development. Most likely anyone who reads this blog and is interested in the matter reads others that cover it better than I could hope to. But in case you don’t, the American Papist is a good place to start.

Sally Thomas Update

I wandered over to Icons & Curiosities this afternoon, as I usually do two or three times a week, only to find that it has shut down. The last post invited readers to Sally’s personal blog, calling it Castle in the Sea, which was puzzling, as everyone knows her blog is called Fine Old Famly. Well, it turns out they’re the same place, and she has resumed her former very engaging ways. I’m selfishly pleased about this, as I liked FOF better than I&C. I’m about to update my blog roll to reflect these developments.

And of course for the real SallyT update, you should go read this post. Also, she has an excellent piece on the good and bad of blogging, here. I’m pretty much in agreement, and not just because she said something nice about this blog.

Addendum: In case you didn’t see it in the comments, Sally reminds me that she will continue blogging sometimes at First Thoughts, another First Things blog.

Here’s Some Good News

A new door has been opened for Anglican communities wishing to enter the Catholic Church. I’m one of those whose eyes begin to glaze over when people talk of the governing structures of the Church in terms more detailed than “Pope, bishops, priests, religious” so I’m not totally sure how much further this goes than the arrangement of 1980 which established the Anglican Use. I suppose the key is the existence of a sort of Bishop of Anglicans: “pastoral oversight and guidance will be provided for groups of former Anglicans through a Personal Ordinariate, whose Ordinary will usually be appointed from among former Anglican clergy.”

Having said that, I’ll add that I feel a little like someone suffering from a fatal disease for which a cure has been found, but too late for him. But that comparison breaks down in two ways: one, I did not die, spiritually, of my hunger for beauty and reverence in the liturgy, but rather adapted so that I don’t need it anymore; you might say I killed that hunger. And that’s just as well, because, two, I have no reason to suppose that there is any group of Anglicans in my part of the world who would be interested in this. I think dissident Anglicans in this area tend to go in a more Protestant rather than a more Catholic direction, either back toward a sort of hard-core Low Church Anglicanism, or toward contemporary charismatic-evangelical Protestantism.

But whether or not I see any personal benefit from this, I’m awfully glad it’s happening. I wonder whether we dare hope for some movement in the mother country?....