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June 2012

Faults and Other Faults

The faults of character which sometimes created people's difficulties were far less repellent to Caryll than those faults which make for success in this world.

--from Maisie Ward's biography of Carryl Houselander

I feel exactly the same way. Yet I have to consider whether there is a bit of envy in it.

The Everly Brothers: Cathy's Clown

Weekend Music

1960. They were so great. One of my earliest musical memories is hearing "Wake Up, Little Susie" on the radio. Unless my memory is playing tricks on me it was either in my maternal grandfather's cabinet-making shop or in his car which was parked in front of the shop. The song came out in 1957, so that would have been very near the end of his life. It wasn't my earliest musical memory, though, because I also remember hearing Elvis singing "Hound Dog," which was released a year earlier. That memory also is associated with my maternal grandparents. That whole side of my family were great music lovers.


Having It All

Perhaps you've read or heard about this Atlantic piece, "Why Women Still Can't Have It All". It's the cover story of the most recent issue of the magazine, which arrived at our house a couple of weeks ago. I haven't read it yet, but apparently it's aroused quite a controversy, as this topic usually does--"this topic" being the difficulty women have in balancing family and job. Or, as it is generally framed by the journalists and academics who talk about it most (or most conspicuously anyway), family and career. 


There is a whole lot to be said about this, and everybody on all sides has said it, from the traditionalists who believe it's best for mothers to focus on raising their children, even if it means less money and prestige!!, a troublesome idea in some quarters, to the feminists who argue that is actually wrong for women not to have jobs outside the home. I'm not making that last one up; that also was an Atlantic piece, I think, sometime within the last ten years, but I've forgotten the woman's name now.

A whole lot to be said, but I just want to register one complaint from the male point of view: there's an implication in this complaint that men do "have it all." Anybody who thinks that we do, in general, is an idiot. Most men don't go off every morning to a career they love. They go to work, at a job which they don't especially like, or maybe even hate, and they do it because they have to, and/or because it's their duty. 

For most of us life after adolescence involves a great many compromises between what we would really like to do and what we have to do to earn a living. Adults accept this.

There's an interesting exchange about the Atlantic  piece at PBS. I like this, from one of the participants, Naomi Decter:

Of course we can't have it all. No one can have it all. Men can't have it all either. ...this is a problem and always has been a problem of highly privileged, highly educated women. And I think the fact is, we're extremely lucky and we may not have it all, but we have much, much more than most of the women and men in this country or certainly in the world.

Observation tells me that a great many mothers, possibly a majority, possibly a large majority, who hold down jobs would really rather be at home with their children, at least while the children are young, but must work to make ends meet. Feminists have never had much interest in them. In fact, to the extent that improving that situation would require paying better wages to the husbands of those women, they're hostile to that concern.


Is TypePad mainly for women?

Or are most bloggers female now, or what? As you can see from the URL, TypePad is where this blog is hosted. They recently redesigned their own web site. The new look struck me as feminine, but I didn't really give that any thought until I had logged in to it a number of times and finally stopped and noticed the content of the page. "Crafts, food, style"? And every one of the blogs displayed on the page is by a woman. I don't care--it's a good service and I'm happy with it--but it seems a little odd. Surely it's not accidental. You don't get the same feel from the WordPress homepage.


Sunday Night Journal — June 23, 2012

Progressive Ironies

The past month or so has seen the deaths of two men associated with progressive Catholicism in this area. One was a priest, one was a deacon. I had a slight personal acquaintance with both of them, a bit more so with the deacon, and on the basis of that and of their reputations know them to have been good and thoughtful men who loved God and the Church, notwithstanding the fact that they were on what is, from my point of view, the wrong side of the struggle that has been going on within the Church since Vatican II. I once heard the deacon call for a Third Vatican Council which would carry through what he regarded as the clear implications of Vatican II with regard to the Church’s teachings about sex and hierarchy and so forth. And my opinion of the priest as a shepherd—he was also a theology teacher—was forever lowered by a remark he made in a homily when the Catechism was published: that the best thing about it was the pictures. I, on the other hand, regarded the Catechism as a gift from God, sorely needed by the Church for precisely the reasons the priest objected to it: its clarification and re-emphasis of traditional teachings.

Progressive Catholicism has suffered a good many setbacks since it flourished ca. 1965-1980, and so I suppose these two men died disappointed on this score—disappointed, and perhaps somewhat puzzled that the progress they had witnessed when they were young had not continued. That is certainly not to say that they died unhappy or embittered, because I don’t think they did, but I don't think things had gone as they had hoped and expected.

In 1975 or so progressives had pretty much vanquished the old order liturgically and made strong inroads in every other aspects of the church’s life, and it must have looked as if the transformation they looked for was well under way. But then came the papacy of John Paul II, and at the same time a host of younger Catholics who rebelled against the revolution, and the tide began to turn. It has been a source of amusement (not very charitable amusement) for me to see certain features of what had been a youth movement slowly become associated with grey hair and complaints about the younger generation. (Although sometimes it’s not amusing at all: I have seen more instances than I would have thought possible of younger Catholics expressing the hope that the baby boomers, having ruined the world, would die as soon as possible. That’s not only nasty but mistaken, as the baby boomers were too young to have any responsibility for anything that happened in the first ten years or so after Vatican II.)

Progressives envision a movement toward a very specific goal, an end point in which some kind of perfect freedom and equality are the rule. This direction of movement is seen as natural, right, and inevitable—right because it is inevitable, and inevitable because it is right. For religious progressives, it’s God’s will, or the will of the Spirit. For secular progressives, it seems a vague idea vaguely connected with the idea that evolution is always an advance. And yet there seems no serenity in this knowledge. Progress is constantly under threat from the forces of reaction, which must be fought constantly, and so it isn’t truly inevitable. Change in general is presumed to be change for the better, or at least expected to be, but evil forces may interfere.

That picture makes sense at the revolutionary moment. But what of the day when the revolution has assumed power, and new forces arise which were not part of the old defeated order, but which for reasons of their own oppose the revolution? When there is rebellion against the rebellion? It becomes more difficult to assert that the revolution is the vanguard of an inevitable future, to speak of changing with the times as if that could only mean change in the direction considered desirable by the progressives. The usual response to the new rebels is to associate them with the efforts of the old regime to maintain its order, but this often falls apart: no one under the age of fifty or so can now be accused of wanting to bring back the Latin Mass because he’s resistant to change.

Of the people I knew in my youth as political leftists and still have contact with, most appear not to have changed their views very much. I, on the other hand, moved to the right. Which of us then is truly progressive, and which conservative?

I often wish we could do away with the whole vocabulary of progressive and conservative, with their focus on the movement of history. They have their place, but it’s a fairly small place, and we make them serve in contexts where they make little sense. Strip away the confused notions of historical progress tending toward the earthly paradise, and of evolution tending toward what man considers progress—a notion draped in the authority of science, but completely unjustified from a scientific point of view—and all the progressives have left is This is what we want. The lazy association of “change” with “good” falls apart.

It’s not only more honest but in the long run a better argument to say that what you want is right and good. Say you want something to come about because it is right, not because progress demands it. Progressivism is a sort of wishful thinking about the future course of history, and history has a bad way of taking us where we never wished or expected to go. But the modern world is in flight from first principles, and that argument requires a willingness to assert them. It’s much easier to say that something is the wave of the future, if you like it, or a relic of the past, if you don’t.

I often hear people say that the argument from authority is the weakest argument. Well, that depends entirely on the authority. But in all except its very weakest forms it’s still stronger than the argument from progress. It makes more sense to argue that a certain notion is to be disregarded because your neighbor down the street said so than because you think it’s outmoded. Your neighbor may know something about the question, but to say that the idea is outmoded is usually no more than to say it’s unfashionable. And what does fashion have to do with truth? It’s nonsense, but people talk this way all the time. We hear it especially about social changes. Those of us who believe that many of the changes of the past forty years or so have been for the worse and ought to be reversed are frequently told that our views are out of date and therefore of no consequence. This is just a way of saying “Shut up.”

The thing is to pursue and embrace the true, the good, and the beautiful. We have no guarantee whatsoever that earthly history is headed toward a goal any of us would regard as desirable. It is true, an article of faith for Christians, that earthly history will end with the triumph of God. But it is not promised that the triumph will take place within history. It is not even promised that things will get better.There has certainly been material progress in human history, but I sometimes wonder whether there has been, on balance, moral progress. Our ancestors did things that shock us, and did them in good conscience. But we would shock some of them, too. Perhaps there has been some net progress; let’s say for the sake of argument that there has. It can only be preserved by keeping a clear grasp of what genuine progress means, which is a movement toward the good, not merely toward the new. It must mean that when we achieve something good we must work to preserve it, not throw it back into the stream of history.

Having invented the wheel, we did not forget it. But in our moral and spiritual life it is not so. Every person and every society has to labor constantly to preserve any progress there, and that labor is the only thing that’s truly inevitable, as far as human vision can see. To regard progress as inevitable is probably a way of insuring that it won’t be.

Ben E. King: Don't Play That Song

Weekend Music

I think I'll continue in the vein of last week's post: love songs from the early '60s or so, which is to say, my puppy love years. This song was a follow-up to Ben E. King's "Stand By Me" and is an imitation, musically, including pretty much the same bass riff. I had a crush on a girl--I think her name was Sherry--and this song got associated with that. I have a memory of standing at the door of one of the barns at the Alabama Junior Cattlemen's Association convention in Montgomery and hearing this from a radio somewhere nearby and feeling very lovelorn. The song came out in 1962 so I would have been fourteen.


Yes, I was a Junior Cattleman. And I liked it, especially the convention, where we exhibited our steers and sold them. That was sort of tough, because their next stop would be the slaughterhouse, but we learned to accept it. There was also a rodeo, and I liked that a lot.

Not surprisingly, of the half dozen or so most vivid memories I have of that convention, two are musical. The other one is Dale Robertson (minor cowboy actor) entertaining at the rodeo and singing "Ghost Riders In the Sky".  Well, let's have that one, too. Here's a good Johnny Cash version.


Such a great song.

So cowboy, change your ways today 
Or with us you will ride
Trying to catch the devil's herd
Across this endless sky

Still gives me a chill. I first heard it as a Ventures-style guitar instrumental--I can't remember who the artist was, maybe it was actually the Ventures--and even without the words I liked it. And when I heard the title I felt a physical thrill: an early instance of my responding to poetry before I really knew what it was.


A Convert

One never has time to read everything on the web that looks interesting. Well, that's almost a pointless thing to say, like observing that you can't drink all the water in a river. Anyway, one thing that I've thought looked pretty interesting but haven't ever read very much is a blog called Unequally Yoked, which Eve Tushnet sometimes discusses, and which appears to have begun as a forum in which a couple, one atheist and one Christian (the gal and the guy, respectively), attempted to understand each other's views in a dialog. I guess one reason I didn't follow it was that it's somewhat over my head intellectually--seems to be a good bit of philosophy-major-type stuff. (For instance:

I could hypothesize how a Forms-material world link would work in the case of mathematics (a little long and off topic for this post, but pretty much the canonical idea of recognizing Two-ness as the quality that’s shared by two chairs and two houses, etc.  Once you get the natural numbers, the rest of mathematics is in your grasp). )

Well, the atheist has converted: here's Eve's post about it, from which you can get to the atheist's announcement of her change. It's that same old story, the one we always love to hear:

I believed that the Moral Law wasn’t just a Platonic truth, abstract and distant.  It turns out I actually believed it was some kind of Person, as well as Truth.  And there was one religion that seemed like the most promising way to reach back to that living Truth. 

I wasn't at all surprised. On the few times when I did read the blog, it seemed to me that she understood Christianity far too well not to come over. Say a prayer for her; I always worry a bit about converts, that their enthusiasm will wear off, or that the questing energy which brought them in will take them out again. I don't know why I don't just look at myself for reassurance on that score; one of the very few good things I can say about myself is that it would take torture to get me out of the Church. (By the way, I think she and the Christian parted company a while back.)

Speaking of converts, Dawn Eden has a new book out. Here's some discussion at I plan to read it, though the subject is not one that I have any particular connection with, just because she wrote it.

Vietnam and The Twilight Zone

Last July 4 when the SyFy Channel was having its Twilight Zone marathon, I recorded a number of episodes, so many that I still haven't watched them all. And now it's almost July 4 again. I don't think I'll record any this year, though I do enjoy most of them. Last night we watched one called In Praise of Pip.To my great surprise, it opened with a scene in a field hospital in Vietnam.

The surprise came from the fact that I had thought The Twilight Zone had ended no later than 1962, and I didn't think the war was prominent enough in the life of the country to be mentioned in a TV show at that time. And not only mentioned, but questioned: the war scene is only an incidental part of the story, used to establish that one of the characters is dying, but there are a couple of remarks that express some doubt about its purpose. 

Investigation reveals that I was wrong about when the show ended--it was 1963, not 1962, and this episode aired in September of '63. (Here's its Wikipedia entry.)People of a certain age will immediately note that this was just a couple of months before the assassination of JFK. 

I suppose it's just a result of the fact that I was only 14, but I wasn't aware that the war was that much in the public eye at that time. Most interesting is the fact that this was still the Kennedy administration. It's an article of faith among a lot of Democrats that Kennedy would have ended the Vietnam war, but this is a reminder that he didn't seem to be moving in that direction at the time of his death.

Sunday Night Journal — June 17, 2012

Report on Anglican Developments

I haven’t yet written about my experience with our local instance of the Anglican Ordinariate. I first mentioned it here on Easter Sunday (see this SNJ), shortly after it had come to my attention, and a great deal has happened since then. The first word I had, back in April, was that a seminarian, Matthew Venuti, who was an Episcopal priest and hoped to be ordained in June had founded a group called The Society of St. Gregory the Great, and would soon begin offering the Anglican service called Evensong or Evening Prayer, a descendent of the traditional liturgical rite of Vespers. That began shortly after Easter. It was held at St. Mary’s in Mobile, which is one of the two most beautiful churches in this area (the other being the cathedral), on Sunday afternoons before a regularly-scheduled 6:30 Mass.

An Anglican Use Mass was to begin in June when Matthew was ordained. Up until a week or so before the June 2 ordinations there was some doubt as to whether that would actually happen. I’m not sure what the problems were but I think they had something to do with the speed with which he had gone from being ordained in the Episcopal Church, to Catholic seminary, to ordination. In the end, though, he became Fr. Venuti, and following the ordination on Saturday June 2 he was the celebrant on Sunday at an Anglican Use Mass. And we now have a regular Sunday afternoon Evensong followed by Mass with the Anglican Use liturgy. There are also three Masses during the week.

We were doing Evening Prayer at a side chapel. The first Mass was in the main church. Now we are in a tiny chapel apart from the church proper, normally used for Adoration, and very plain, which is good. There are plans to erect an altar in the side chapel, positioned suitably for a liturgy in which the priest faces the altar. We fit in the tiny chapel because we are a tiny group, fewer than a dozen. Of these, not all are eligible for formal membership in the Ordinariate, which is restricted to former Anglicans (more on that in a moment). There are a couple of people who have never been Anglican who come because they love the liturgy.

So much for the facts; what of the experience?

Well, the Evensong services have been beautiful and deeply moving. My eyes filled with tears when I heard some of those prayers, and participated in them. For the first time in many years, I felt the full sentiment of formal communal prayer. I don’t mean to say that when I participated in such prayer in the usual Mass I was insincere. I intended what the words said but in an instrumental sort of way; as a rule, they did not, by their own beauty and richness, call up the emotion that ought to have accompanied them. Except when a prayer touched on some particular personal concern of the moment, they were a prayer of the mind but not the heart. There is a great difference between saying “Well, in the end, life really doesn’t amount to much,” and Macbeth’s terrible “Out, out, brief candle...” speech. That’s the difference between the functional English of the current liturgy and the poetry of the Book of Divine Worship, the Catholicized Book of Common Prayer used in the Ordinariate.

And we have had excellent music. Our little group is struggling with the Anglican chant settings of things like the Magnificat, but we’ll get there. For several Sundays we had an organist, which meant that even a dozen or so people could do pretty well with the hymns, also mostly out of the Anglican tradition. The organist has been out recently, but will return.

The Mass itself has been, for me at least, a more difficult adjustment than I expected. I think this is because, unlike Evensong, it is a variant of something I’ve experienced every Sunday (at minimum) for over 30 years. It’s enough like what I’m used to, and yet enough different, that I find myself getting confused. And the whole group, including our priest, is still learning the rite. At the first one, on June 3, I was still tired and feeling a bit dislocated after having been away for most of a week, and I felt like I was really not all there. But we have now had two Masses since then, and things are coming together.

There has been a whirlwind quality about all this, and I feel like I haven’t fully taken it in yet. It was utterly unexpected, and, coming as it does long after I had learned to live with the—what do I call it?--the normal English Mass, or the Novus Ordo in English, whatever the right term is—it feels, I’m sorry to say, a bit of an anti-climax. Where was this when I really needed it? I want to say. But I am grateful, and certainly will stay with it as long as I have a choice.

Moreover, it’s still in flux. We need more people if the thing is to continue, and naturally we want it to grow because we believe it is a great gift to the Church. And there is one very troubling thing about the whole project. I hadn’t realized, on reading about the Ordinariate when it was first established, that formal membership is open only to former Anglicans. I had envisioned it becoming a light to the nations who have to live with a Mass which is at best colorless, drawing anyone who would appreciate the beauty and dignity of its liturgy. This, I’m told, is exactly what happened at one major parish which came into the Church in the early 1980s under the Pastoral Provision of 1982, and a majority of its members are now Latin Rite Catholics who came in after the original Episcopal congregation became Catholic as a group. But the restrictions on entry into the Ordinariate have resulted in this parish having decided (again, so I’m told) not to become part of it.

This limitation would seem to box it in permanently as a niche for ex-Episcopalians, a niche which would always remain very small and perhaps dwindle away entirely in time. Nothing of course would prevent any Catholic from attending the liturgies, but no matter how many did so, the official head count of the Ordinariate would remain low, and there would be no possibility of recruiting new priests for it apart from the occasional Episcopal priest deciding to take the great leap.

Well, all that must be placed in God’s hands for now—like everything else, of course, but in this case requiring a distinct effort. And we will continue to work on those chants, and try to attract a few more people.


The congregation: that's my foot in the lower right, and there are two other people not visible in this picture, so, a total of nine, counting Fr. Venuti's six-month-old son.


The Elevation: ad orientem, y'all!

The local paper did a story on Fr. Venuti, which was ok as far as it went, but it focused almost exclusively on him and the fact that he is married, with almost nothing about the Ordinariate. I'm about to write a letter to the editor.

You can hear the chanted Magnificat in the YouTube video below, beginning at 1:34:



A Chesterton Festival

I've been even more busy and distracted than usual for the past few weeks, and should have mentioned this before. At All Manner of Thing, Craig Burrell has been having a Chesterton festival in honor of the anniversary of the great man's death. There's a lot of good stuff there, including substantial reviews of a couple of GKC's books.

Dee Clark: Raindrops

Weekend Music

According to the text with the video, this came out in 1961, so I was thirteen years old. I loved it and can remember specific times when I heard it. I was particularly taken with that now-classic guitar lick, which, or some variant, has been heard in a lot of songs. I've always assumed this was the first but I could be wrong.


Why do they keep writing this story over and over and over?

"Alien earths may be plentiful" This one and the variant about life probably existing on a jillion other planets. They never have any real evidence, and although the details may vary (like the stuff about the metals here), it's always nearly pure conjecture and speculation.

The fascination of the modern secular mind with this stuff is in itself fascinating. It's a little sad, really: as if this is their last possible refuge for hope that the universe is not pretty much a dead place.


...I suddenly thought how there comes a time in one's religious experience when nothing can be added to, or subtracted from, what one understands as "belief." There it is, I tell myself, my 'belief,' minuscule though it may be in some eyes, it is oceanic in mine.

—Ronald Blythe, Out of the Valley

I'm not entirely sure what Blythe means here, and therefore not sure that my understanding is what he intended, but it struck me immediately as a description of my faith. It's not that I think I have nothing more to learn or am not always developing in my understanding of what I believe, but that it has some of the characteristics of an object: it's a single unified thing, which can be explored infinitely but which does not itself change.

Minuscule: I lead an ordinary life with ordinary virtues and vices; I don't spend a lot of time studying theology; my devotions are pretty routine and certainly not extravagant; I'm unnoticed in my parish. But yet

Oceanic: the faith is everything to me. It's the medium in which I exist and by which I exist; in one sense I would be dead without it. And it is incomprehensibly huge.

Sunday Night Journal — June 10, 2012

Reading at the Grand Babylon

I had intended to include this in last week’s journal, but had already gone on too long. So, picking up from there:

I took two books to the conference with me, and had made a pact with myself not to turn on the television. I have made and broken such pacts before, but this time I kept it. Well, mostly: I did turn the TV on twice, once out of curiosity to see if they had any good movies, which they didn’t, and once to check out of the hotel; I didn’t watch anything. It might have been wise to do something similar regarding the Internet, though I couldn’t stay off it completely, since I needed to log in to my work systems regularly, and of course once online one tends to wander around.

Anyway, the two books were Ross Macdonald’s The Ivory Grin and Ronald Blythe’s Out of the Valley. The first is a mystery/private-eye novel in the classic style, set in postwar southern California; the second is a journal written by an Anglican clergyman and covering a year in the English countryside. Which is to say, both of them involve worlds utterly different from mine. And they could hardly have been more different from each other, and from the place where I was staying.  That world, in some ways stranger than the other two, also a strong fictive component—the simulated Texas with its artificial and un-Texan climate—I began to feel that I actually existed in some purely mental realm from which I chose alternately one of three fictional worlds to inhabit. 


It’s very likely that The Ivory Grin was the only remaining book in Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer series that I had not read, certainly the only unread one in my possession. For that reason I had been in no great hurry to read it. Macdonald is one of my favorite writers, and I liked having one book yet to discover. But I decided that I was not likely to have a better circumstance than the isolation of airports and airplanes and hotel rooms.

The Ivory Grin doesn’t seem to be as well-known as some of the other Archer books, and I suppose I would count it as a lesser one, too. Its people and story are not as vivid and memorable as some of the others, but it differs from all of them in one interesting respect: as far as I can remember, this is the only one which deals much with race, and in which important characters are black. One of the murder victims is a “colored girl,” and her boyfriend, also colored, is accused of the crime. Macdonald’s treatment of these characters doesn’t seem quite as skillful as is usual for him. I suspect he simply didn’t know them that well, not the way he knew the white middle-class Californians who comprise most of the people in his books. Still, it’s an interesting picture. As a Southerner I’m accustomed to thinking of strictly enforced racial segregation as a feature of the past of my region only. Though I know that racial prejudice existed in the rest of the country and that de facto segregation was common, I have tended to accept the assumption of others that the South was much much worse. Well, if Macdonald’s picture is accurate, it wasn’t that much worse, at least as compared to California. It is perfectly clear that there are many places the black characters simply cannot go. And the fact that one of them is light-skinned enough to “pass” is a factor in the plot.

Whether Macdonald was attempting to make some sort of social statement here I have no idea. There is no evidence at all of any self-conscious effort of that sort. But the statement is there, merely by virtue of the facts.


I haven’t finished the Blythe book; it’s longer and more substantial. I’ve only reached September in this journey through the year. But it’s the sort of book you can put down for a while and pick up again later without having to reorient yourself. It consists entirely of pieces of a few hundred to a thousand words, like newspaper columns, which is exactly what they are. It seems the author writes a weekly column for the Church Times, and this book consists of those columns for the years 1997-1999. Its organization is a little odd, actually: it’s the weekly journal entries of several years organized into a single year, so that in each chapter we get ten or twelve pieces all dealing with affairs of that month in different years. It may sound as if that would be confusing, and there are moments when it is, a little, but overall it feels quite natural. There is little to no narrative thread connecting one week or one month to another, so the thematic grouping works.

It is in essence a real journal, in that it chronicles the events of each week, and the reflections provoked by the events. The circumstances described are ones which I suspect many of us—myself at any rate—supposed must not exist any longer in England. The picture painted seems of another time: the comfortable and as far as I can tell fairly orthodox Anglicanism, the countryside with its ever-shifting weather and natural life, the country people, the little fairs and festivals, the long walks, the little clubs and societies devoted to nature or to little-known artists, the air of slight eccentricity which  names like Bottengoms Farm (Blythe's residence) and Little Horkesley  inevitably suggest to an American.

March, which means we paid-up members of the Wild Flower Society can begin registering this year’s plants in our Field Botanist’s Book.

The weather and landscape are observed with great precision and enthusiasm. But what really makes the book is the way all sorts of other things are pulled in from other places and times, within one paragraph and sometimes within one sentence. Present time is intertwined with historical and liturgical time so that the events of any particular week are thoroughly linked to the past and to the faith. Faulkner’s famous remark about the past—not dead, not even past—seems more true here than I think I have ever encountered it. Events and people of a thousand or more years ago sit alongside those of today. Medieval bishops are referenced as if they had only just vacated their cathedrals; historical events are local anecdotes. And literature and those who made it are a constant living presence, as is the faith. I think it would be more effective for me to illustrate this than to describe it. This is roughly half of one of the July entries:

So off we go to Colchester to see the Roman wall, which was being built at exactly the same moment as St. Paul concluded his Letter with a fascinating roll-call of first Christians, and so courteously.... And there in the museum are their inkpots and necklaces, even their sandals with the hollows made by their weary feet, for the Romans appear to have been proto-joggers and road worshippers generally, always stepping it out, counting the milestones and going straight. Jane comes to the cavalry officer’s gravestone and there is the familiar figure of Longinus, a Roman I have known all my life, mounted and stern, and she falls in love with him at once.... With millions-of-year-old mammals being dug upon the car radio, that Letter from Paul to the Romans was posted only the other day. The faith is so young....

At 6 a.m. the sun arrives in the wood with rapier-like beams, cutting into its interior and making the leaves jump with its brilliance. At breakfast I read the farming press. What grumpy news this week? Colossal machines rumble past my gaze. We potter along behind one such in a lane lined with mallows—cut satin, as the poet John Clare describes them. I have never seen so many. Wild flowers are back in abundance. Stephen Varcoe comes to talk about—the way we all talk and the difficulties of singing dialect, and how did Thomas Hardy talk? He has just returned from New Zealand where the lanes are lined with marijuana, not mallows, he says. Trinity 6. Anthony will be reading Romans 6. “For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall also be in the likeness of his resurrection.“

There are pretty frequent references that I don’t get, sometimes local, sometimes historical or literary. “George Herbert was given the task of begging the government not to drain the fens around Cambridge, as such a process it was thought would spoil the Backs.” The Backs? A glossary would be useful for Americans, and maybe for others: who is St. Botolph? But this is no deliberate quaintness, rather the genuine article. I seem to detect an occasional hint of Anglican anti-Romanism, but perhaps I’m over-sensitive; if it’s there, it’s pretty mild.

The entries give the impression of being dashed off, but they are far from artless. They should be savored, but I have to admit that I tend to start eating them in rush, like potato chips or popcorn, hardly finishing one before I think “just one more.” 

I’m grateful to Rob G for having sent me this book. He’d recommended Blythe before in comments here, and I did intend to act on the recommendation, but hadn’t. I’ll be reading the other two in the series in time.

If you’re wondering what the Church Times is like, have a look. And here, it appears, is a blog where the continuing diary seems to be published: the latest entry is last Friday.

Celebration and Adoration

I subscribe to a daily (weekdays) email from the Vatican News Service. It's mostly a summary of what the Pope has said and done on that day. Sometimes I wish I hadn't subscribed, because often they're pretty substantial and can come to seem a burden in the middle of a busy day. More often, though, I think "I should post that on the blog," though as yet I haven't done so. Well, here's one that struck me. This pope has been remarkable for decades for his ability to strike a balance in almost everything, and especially when recognizing what was good and needed in the reforms of Vatican II while correcting the errors and excesses that followed it.

During the liturgical celebration, the Pope pronounced a homily in which he focused on the sacredness of the Eucharist, and in particular on the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.

"A unilateral interpretation of Vatican Council II has penalised this dimension", the Holy Father explained, "effectively limiting the Eucharist to the moment of celebrating Mass. It is, of course, very important to recognise the importance of celebration, in which the Lord calls His people, bringing them together around the table of the Word and Bread of life, nourishing them and uniting them to Himself in the sacrificial offering. This interpretation of the liturgical gathering, in which the Lord works and achieves His mystery of communion, naturally retains all its validity, but a rightful balance must be restored. ... By concentrating our relationship with the Eucharistic Christ only on Mass we run the risk that the rest of time and space is emptied of His presence. Thus our perception of Jesus' constant, real and close presence among us and with us is diminished".

"It is a mistake to establish a contrast between celebration and adoration, as if they were in competition with one another. The opposite is true. The cult of the Blessed Sacrament represents the spiritual 'environment' within which the community can celebrate the Eucharist correctly and truthfully. Only if preceded, accompanied and followed by this interior attitude of faith and adoration, can liturgical activity express its full meaning and value", the Pope said.

He then went on to explain that, at the moment of adoration, we are all at the same level, "on our knees before the Sacrament of Love. The common and ministerial priesthood come together in the cult of the Eucharist. ... By remaining together in silence before the Lord, present in His Sacrament, we have one of the most authentic experiences of being Church, one that is complementary to our celebration of the Eucharist. ... Communion and contemplation cannot be separated, they go together", and if contemplation is lacking "even sacramental communion can become a superficial gesture on our part".

Here's the subscription form if you'd like to subscribe. 

Tom Waits: Tell Me

Weekend Music

This is from his most recent album, Bad As Me. If there's anyone reading this who's not a Waits fan and likes this song, let me warn you not to buy the album without hearing the rest of it first. Much of it is as rough and crazy as anything he's ever done. If you are a Waits fan, you probably already have it, but if not, buy it. It's an excellent album, to my taste not quite as outstanding as some others, maybe a little more fragmented and a little less consistent from song to song, but still top-notch. Get the "deluxe" or whatever it's called edition, the one with the three extra tracks, of which this is one.

I am loading the mp3 here instead of linking to the song on YouTube, because the visual there is just the rather deranged-looking cover art, which I certainly don't want to stare at for several minutes.

I'll probably take it down after a few days, in the spirit of good citizenship.

Update: I've removed it. You can probably find it on YouTube, but better, go buy it. You don't have to buy the whole album, you can buy the mp3 somewhere.

Here's "Chicago," the first track on the album, and a more typical one.


Bradbury, Watson, Scruggs

The high ones die, die. They die. You look up and who's there?

--John Berryman, Dream Song 36

Berryman wrote that sometime in the late 1950s or early '60s. Well, come to think of it, it must have been no earlier than 1962, when Faulkner died, as the poem seems to have been written after that. Berryman is lamenting the departure of his literary heroes. That's the way the deaths of Ray Bradbury, Doc Watson, and Earl Scruggs--and a few years ago, Johnny Cash--have affected me. It's not that I feel a personal grief, but that they were features of the landscape. They had always been here, already famous when I first heard of them, not mortals but part of the world that was there when I first became aware of things outside my immediate sphere. When they go, a part of the world goes with them. It's as if mountains had disappeared.

It just don't seem right. The passing of my parents' friends affects me much the same way. With my relatives it's more complex, because personal loss is added to the sense of something that I had thought was permanent having disappeared. The former one expects and understands; the latter is strange.

On the Queen's Jubilee

Interesting comments at National Review Online from John O'Sullivan and David Pryce-Jones. I like P-J's closing line: "The British monarchy survives by representing everything the nation once was, and what the British people would plainly wish it still to be." Do they really? A great many do, perhaps. 

I think the years when O'Sullivan edited National Review  were the years I liked it best. At any rate, it was before the current youngsters came in. 

Sunday Night Journal — June 3, 2012

At the Grand Babylon

“Grand Babylon” was the term Christopher Derrick once used to describe the American luxury hotel. I stayed at one of these for most of the past week, attending a conference for customers of the company that provides the software that supports most of the administrative functions of the college where I'm employed, and for which I'm the chief person responsible. It's an annual event, but this is the first time I've attended since 2008. With somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 people attending, it’s always held at a big hotel with a conference center, and that means not only big but luxurious. I couldn’t get Derrick’s phrase out of my head for very long.

This particular mini-Babylon is the Gaylord Texan, located in Grapevine, Texas, which seems to be a little town in the process of being absorbed by the Dallas/Fort Worth metropolis. Presumably the name was originally a straightforward reference to the fact that grapes are indeed grown here, and wine produced from them. I had the impression that it’s a formerly rustic little town which has turned to playing the role of rustic little town for city-dwellers and tourists. You find a lot of this near big cities: small towns that no longer have much of a genuine and viable economy of their own, but are now in commuting distance of the city, allowing people whose livelihood depends on the metropolis to play nostalgically at being residents of a sleepy little town, while turning it into an affluent suburb. I live in one such town, and I suppose the only thing that differentiates me much from immigrants of that sort is that I have, by way of my wife, pretty deep roots here. Also, I have less money than most of them.

My experience of Texas is very limited, and my one previous trip to Dallas was spent, like this one, in hotels and meeting rooms. Judging by what I could see from the shuttle van that took me from and to the airport, the Dallas-Fort Worth area has an interesting countryside, pretty flat, dry-looking by my standards but far from desert, covered with smallish trees including what seemed to be a lot of live oaks.

But none of this was visible to me once I entered the hotel, a word which doesn't really do justice to the scope of the place. It is an entire environment, which conceptually if not physically resembles various cities of the future imagined in old science-fiction novels: my very rough guess is that it comprehends ten acres in area and somewhere between 100 and 150 ft (30-54m) in height, all of which is enclosed. The building proper surrounds an atrium which I would guess covers five acres or so, and the apex of its glass roof (with a Lone Star emblem of darker glass) appeared to be the highest point in the place. I am basing my height estimate on the fact that there is a fountain which shoots at least 30 feet (10m) straight up, but would have to go several times higher to hit the roof. This atrium is full of landscaping, including some fairly large trees, at least one of which, disconcertingly, is artificial: a replica of the Treaty Oak in Austin, which, we are told by a plaque, cost $250,00. There are a number of streams flowing through several levels linked by winding paths and containing canyons made of concrete formed and painted to resemble sandstone. There is a “mission” tower and plaza. There is a life-sized Longhorn (steer? I didn’t notice), and the biggest and most interesting model train layout I’ve ever seen—I believe it must have been half the size of my house. And there is pop-country music audible everywhere, from speakers hidden among the plants and rocks, in case anyone should feel insufficiently peppy.

The confusion of real and artificial was disconcerting at times. My room faced the atrium, and included a tiny terrace with two chairs. Several times I thought “I’ll sit outside and read for a while this evening,” only to realize that outside was inside. Large public areas of the hotel itself were fully open to this “outside,” and again I was momentarily puzzled by the fact that they were not miserably hot, because I knew the temperature of the actual outdoors must be in the vicinity of 90 (Fahrenheit—32 Celsius). One night there was a thunderstorm, and I thought of going out to watch it, and then I remembered—though someone who was out in the atrium said the lightning had been something to see.

After a day or so at the hotel, I discovered a short cut for the ten-minute walk to the meeting rooms. It took me into the actual outdoors, though still inside the hotel complex, and still in the carefully constructed unnatural-natural landscape. There I saw something surprising: actual grapevines, with actual grapes, still very green, on them. They were a welcome bit of actuality.

I have never pursued luxury, or had much desire to do so, though I certainly enjoy it when it comes my way. But to say that I have never pursued it doesn’t mean that I don’t find it attractive. A few weeks ago I wrote something here about the lure of the earthly paradise—the paradise of sensual ease and pleasure. The lure of the idea, and of images that suggest the idea, is very strong. And to some extent a luxury hotel realizes the idea. But I can never get out of my head the knowledge that the luxury comes at great cost, and that many of those who work to provide it do not share in it. I don’t know what the normal price for a night at the Gaylord Texan is, but the “special convention rate” paid by my employer was just under $200. Most people can’t afford to pay that very often, if at all. I cringe to imagine what it must cost to maintain the constant 72 degrees or so within this complex, summer and winter. I’m enough of an environmentalist to doubt whether our way of life is sustainable, and such things as this hotel provoke those doubts especially. And whenever I walked down the long halls of the hotel on my way to and from a day of technical sessions in the convention center, I heard the voices of the Spanish-speaking housekeepers who I doubt are very well paid. It isn’t paradise if it isn’t paradise for everyone.

Anyway, I don’t even need a place like this to feel that I’m living in luxury. I’m a middle-class resident of an industrialized nation, and most of us live in great luxury compared to most people in most times and places. 

There is an undeniable moral and spiritual problem with wealth. I think every religious tradition warns against its hazards. And for a Christian especially it is simply not licit to accumulate wealth vastly in excess of one’s needs. I don’t hold the idea that if A is rather wealthy, it can only be because he stole something from B, C, and D. I’m inclined to think that the attempt to distribute wealth more widely by taking it forcibly from some and giving it to others would tend, in the long (or maybe short) run to make everyone poorer. And “needs” is a pretty flexible term. And there is plenty of room for argument about explanations and solutions for the vast gap between rich and poor across the world and within our own society. But there’s no room for arguing that it’s a morally acceptable situation for some to starve while some live in extreme luxury, that there’s nothing wrong with the current situation in which that happens on a wide scale, or that we have no obligation to give what we can to those in immediate need, and to support efforts to alleviate the fundamental problems in whatever way we think can be effective. Four days of the pure and concentrated luxury of the Texan pricked my conscience on this score, as it ought to have done.

Here’s a short video that may give you some sense of the size of the atrium, though it only shows part of it.