52 Poems, Week 1: The Darkling Thrush (Thomas Hardy)
52 Poems, Week 2: I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud (Wordsworth)

Sunday Night Journal, January 7, 2018

How, how is it possible that this is the year 2018 A.D.?  I have a clear memory of sitting in Mrs. Bruce's 6th grade class, which means it was 1959 or '60 and I was eleven or twelve years old, and wondering for the first time (as far as I remember) how old I would be in the year 2000. I remember doing the arithmetic to find out...borrow one, ten minus eight is two, nine minus four is five.


Astonishing! Inconceivable! I truly had no way to conceive of that length of time, much less what it would be like to be that age.

A few years later I was reading science fiction, much of which was set in that far-distant time. As late as 1969 Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick thought it reasonable to set their drama of the next step in human development (guided by those substitute gods, super-intelligent extraterrestrials) in 2001. They furnished their vision with a space travel infrastructure comparable to that which existed for air travel at the time. Well, that has strikingly failed to appear, along with many other visions of a future set in or just beyond the beginning of the millennium. The bright sleek shiny ultra-modern future has in general strikingly failed to appear (as has the dystopia that apparently became the preferred vision sometime after the 1960s). The only really significant technological development since 2000 has been the emergence and spread of the pocket-size supercomputer, otherwise known as the smart phone. Arguably the web of information and communication, and the computers which constitute and give access to it, are the only really significant technological development since 1970--at least if by "significant" we mean something that changes daily life in some important way for almost everyone. 

And culturally--well, some would say we've advanced, some that we've declined, and I favor the latter view, but all in all the change has not been so dramatic as science fiction writers expected. We've been pretty well stalled for most of the past fifty years, actually: the cultural revolution of the late 1960s happened, and things were rather different in 1975 from what they had been in 1965. But since then they've been fairly static, really, at least domestically--the culture war started and the antagonists have been locked in a struggle ever since, neither side winning a clear and decisive victory. 

Most striking to me is the swiftness of the passage of the eighteen years since 2000. It's a tiresome thing for an old person to say, I know, but it keeps occurring to me because it's so astonishing. The turn of the millennium is roughly as many years in the past for us no as the end of the Second Word War was at the arrival of the Beatles.  This year, children born in 2000 will be finishing high school.  They've gone from being newborns with everything to learn to having at least some level of education and ability to manage for themselves. But for me it's mostly been a sort of plateau, and I've traversed it very quickly.

For someone my age the phrase "the year 2000" once had the aura of distant, exciting, hardly imaginable futurity. Now it's just an ordinary and rather dull bit of the past, and for me not a very far distant past, as it must be for someone who will be, say, just old enough to vote and buy alcohol this year. 

And fifty-two seems fairly young. Or at least not old.

I'm happy to say, by the way, that I never was much worried about the Y2K disaster. There was a guy who gained a fair amount of fame for himself at the time by predicting, with a great deal of confidence and a fair amount of irrelevant or invented data, that civilization as we know it could not survive. I thought he was nuts, unless he was lying. A few years after the day had come and gone with barely a ripple, I went looking online to see what he had to say about having been proved wrong. I couldn't find any trace of him.


I'm also happy to say that I've managed pretty well to keep to my resolve to stay out of the controversy surrounding Amoris laetitia, and in general the controversies surrounding the papacy of Pope Francis. I've not only stayed out of them but have gotten pretty good at ignoring them. But yesterday someone recommended to me this piece by Christopher Altieri at Catholic World Report as being "the most balanced explanation" of the situation he'd read. Well, to be honest, he actually said "of the current mess." And it does seem to be something of a mess. Maybe it shouldn't be, maybe it's really much ado about nothing. But in that case the fact that it seems so important would have to be counted as part of the mess. At any rate, Altieri's piece does seem a pretty good explanation of why it isn't crazy (pharasaical, etc.) to have concerns about what the pope seems to want to do.

It strikes me, and it is not a happy stroke, that what's going on in the Church looks a lot like what's going on in American politics:  bitter factions hurling invective at each other, "Pope Francis can do no wrong" vs. "Pope Francis can do no right." As with the political situation, though, I don't really see that much effect in my own life and in my own place. My diocese, the parishes within it, and my Ordinariate group muddle along as usual, trying to practice the faith to the best of our ability. The Pope is far away and the fight doesn't directly affect us (not counting the clergy, for whom it may have immediate practical import in their ministry). I think I'll be glad if the era of the celebrity pope fades away. Much as I loved John Paul II, I was always a little concerned about that. 

One happy effect of all this, as Altieri notes (though not happily), is that the folks at America magazine, and the similarly-minded, now have the opportunity to denounce their opponents as "dissenters." It's a pretty silly charge, but it must feel pretty good to be able to make it, after several decades of digging in their heels against the last two popes. So let them have their fun, I say.


I've been meaning to mention that Francesca Murphy is now doing a bi-weekly blog post at First Things. They're excellent, and I think this piece, "The Secrets of the Confessional," is my favorite so far, a reflection on the fact that "Feeling great after confession is probably the most widespread experience in Catholicism, a religion not founded on religious experience as such."


I never was very good at learning the rules of grammar, and am only bothered by the mistakes which I don't usually make. One such has been bothering me lately. Isn't it the distinction between "transitive" and "intransitive" verbs that describes whether the subject is doing something or having something done to it? Whatever the correct terminology is, the distinction seems to be breaking down. I keep running across sentences which seem to be misusing transitive verbs, if that's the right way to describe it. For instance, I was about to subscribe to a certain magazine a few days ago, and the web site referred to "the Spring issue which releases in March." Shouldn't that be "is released"? 

And this: if you do this or that on your computer, you're told, "a message displays." Shouldn't that be "is displayed"?

And this: "It transforms into...." Shouldn't that be "is transformed into"?

Like I said, I don't really even know the rules. I just play by ear. But these are like off-key notes to me.

I'm giving up on "I'm going to lay down" and "He said to John and I." Those battles are hopelessly lost.

But I reserve the right to laugh when I hear individual persons referred to as "they" and "them" in deference to gender-bending fads. As in "My boyfriend has recently come out as transgender, and they are saying I'm a bigot because I'm thinking of breaking up with them." I actually read something like that a few days ago, though I can't find it now. As I've mentioned before, those who think Donald Trump is inaugurating the reign of Orwellian Newspeak and thoughtcrime are barking up the wrong tree entirely.  


We had an actual cold snap last week. By "actual" I mean that the temperature was low enough (mid-20s Fahrenheit) and the wind from the north strong enough (mid-20s MPH), to qualify as being, so to speak, objectively cold. Sometimes in winter, or in a hurricane that hits at the right angle, a strong north wind can blow much of the water right out of the bay. That was the case when this picture was taken on New Year's morning. Under normal conditions the only thing you would see besides water and sky in this picture would be the top of that furthest post. This debris by the way is partly trees fallen years ago and partly the remains of the city's original sewer line. I really should try to get them to remove it.


Banana trees do not take the cold very well. This was taken the following morning.



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Agreed about the wacky passage of time, Mac. And at 51 I am apparently young. But 9/11 seems like yesterday, now coming on 17 years ago.

I've lived down here for 15 years and do not recall more than 2-3 days in a row that the temps would be in the 20s. I think we might have had six! It was sort of startling. And those of you up north that laugh at our travails should know that most houses down here are simply not built to keep out air that cold. :)

When I got a British Library reader's pass in the mid-1990s it had "Expires Sept. 2001" stamped on it. That was the first time I'd seen a 21st-century date used in a (relatively) mundane context. It seemed quite surreal. I kept getting it out again to check.

Of course, I grew up with 2000 AD. It's strange that they didn't change the name of that, really.

You're confusing transitive/intransitive with active/passive.

Transitive means that the action moves from the subject to the object, which receives the action of the verb. "The boy throws the ball," as opposed to the intransitive, "The boy is." The intransitive is a state of being.

Those things that worry you are used in the active rather than the passive voice.


Thanks, I had a feeling that wasn't the right term.

Paul, I gather from Wikipedia that it's *still* called 2000AD. That is strange. I suppose sci-fi writers have learned by now not to set a dramatically different future closer than a century or two to the lifetimes of those likely to read it.

For that matter there was a lot of use of "2000" as part of brand names and the like, which look extremely dated now. Perhaps nostalgic for young people.

"I never was very good at learning the rules of grammar, and am only bothered by the mistakes which I don't usually make. One such has been bothering me lately. Isn't it the distinction between "transitive" and "intransitive" verbs that describes whether the subject is doing something or having something done to it? Whatever the correct terminology is, the distinction seems to be breaking down."

I find it ugly and grotesque.

"Feeling great after confession is probably the most widespread experience in Catholicism, a religion not founded on religious experience as such."

I certainly do! I should go tonight, in fact.

"I have a clear memory of sitting in Mrs. Bruce's 6th grade class, which means it was 1959 or '60 and I was eleven or twelve years old, and wondering for the first time (as far as I remember) how old I would be in the year 2000."

I was ten, in 1979 when I decided to calculate how old I would be in 2000. "31! I will never be that old," I thought.

Having been born in 1950, it wasn't too hard of a math problem for me.

Mrs. Bruce taught 5th grade at my children's school--when they went to school.


"Feeling great after confession" - perhaps the one thing before all others that Protestantism was a revolt against.

I grew up with use of singular "they" - everyone used it as an equivalent of "he/she" for an unspecified person, even teachers spoke like that. In some places people even use it for a specified person of quite definite sex, which is confusing. ("I talked to Bob last week, they say hi.") I've yet to hear anyone use it in its politicised gender-bending sense, I've only seen it online; but then I don't hang around social-justice types.

A lot of English verbs have this weird feature that they can be transitive or intransitive, with the object of the former being the subject of the latter: I smell/move/drop/shatter/change a thing, the thing smells/moves/drops/shatters/changes. I'd put "transform" on that list (Optimus Prime transforms into a truck!) but not "display" and "release", which do sound odd; also, Americans use "present" intransitively, which bugs me.

I've grudgingly accepted "they" etc for an unknown individual. It does arise from an actual deficiency in the language. And it has more precedent than I thought when I first heard it. I think someone found an instance in C.S. Lewis. I've used it myself in situations where defaulting to the masculine might have ruffled feathers. So I guess my complaint about the example I gave is as much social as grammatical. But it still *sounds* very wrong to me.

What do you mean about "present"? "The patient presents with high fever"? If that's what you mean I agree, though I've only heard that in a medical context as far as I remember.

Paul, I would have thought the Mass and the Real Presence a little higher on that list. "The blasphemous fable" and all that.

Re: "presents", I've come across it in sex/gender contexts - so-and-so presents as a woman, or a man.

Re: Protestant objections, in Britain and Ireland the Protestants suppressed the Mass quite harshly, but never (that I know of) tried much to suppress Confession. John Knox is reported to have complained about Mary, Queen of Scots, having a Mass in her private chapel, saying he feared a Mass more than ten thousand soldiers. But then, Mary, Queen of Scots, is quoted - by Knox's fans - as fearing Knox's prayers more than ten thousand soldiers. I strongly suspect that one of those quotes is a partisan rewording of the other by people who didn't like their hero(ine) admitting the other side as having spiritual power, but I don't know which one.

I think that use of "present" must have escaped from the clinical world. From the medical to the psychological to the gender-fashionable, maybe. I've never heard it in an everyday context.

For what it's worth, I've more than once heard the "ten thousand soldiers" remark attributed to Knox, but not to Mary.

I'm wondering if the use of "present" in the medical sense isn't derived from a foreign language.

In "The Power and the Glory" there is a very powerful scene where the priest wants desperately to go confession before he is captured, but he is the only faithful priest left. He goes to the home of a man who has renounced his priesthood and is married, and begs him to hear his confession. Things like this make me want to pray for Greene a lot.



I find it disconcerting when Facebook tells me that Paul Arblaster has changed their status.

Robert Gotcher used to change thiers, too, but now he doesn't anymore.


"disconcerting" at minimum. Always makes me cringe a bit. I can't really blame them for doing it, and I suppose in time this kind of thing will become the standard for third-person pronouns. But in the meantime...ouch.

I don't remember that from Power & Glory. The book didn't make all that big an impression on me, I regret to say. Maybe I'll give it another chance sometime.

I don't change our status any more because they aren't on FB.

I need to reread Power & Glory too. Read it many years ago and it made little impression. A friend of mine cites it as a very influential book to him and recently taught it in a class.

The first time I read it didn't make much of an impression on me either, but the second time it was very powerful. I was much younger the first time--probably in my 30s, and I think I re-read it about the time I wrote about Greene for 52 Authors.


Well in defence of Paul, my father used to say that Catholics could commit any crime they liked because they would just go to confession and be absolved. English people used to say that Irish maids would steal because they'd just confess it. But I think this is part of a later, Anglican, social-morality objection to Catholicism. The criticisms that Catholicism makes for bad social morality is not part of the original, volcanic Protestant objections to Catholicism. Even this objection, though, is about the (im)moral effects of Confession, not about 'feeling great' after confession. Luther seemed to object to the sale of indulgences and generally to Catholicism as a system that buys one's way into God's good graces. He believed in the real presence but few of his followers followed him on that. Calvin and the Presbyterians objected to the Mass alright - I think that was their central symbol of the evils of Catholicism. Then I think later as Protestantism degenerated into more of a social morality the objections to Confession started emerging.

I don't know about its presence in the early days of the Reformation ("it" being the objection to confession), but I've heard that bit about confession allowing Catholics to do whatever they want *many* times. I doubt that today's theologically casual Protestant or post-Protestant thinks much about the Real Presence, but he'll still bandy that "fact" around with great confidence.

Catholics and no doubt some Protestants see "once saved always saved" similarly.

My first and only reading of P&G btw was relatively recent, btw. Within the past ten years, maybe the past five. But I read Heart of the Matter forty years ago and remember it pretty well. Not sure whether those observations are more a result of my age or the books themselves.

The Heart of the Matter really got to me. It was painful. I was thinking the other day that it reminded me of Descent into Hell, except that Scobie wasn't self-absorbed like the guy in DiH--just weak.


But End of the Affair was best.


I haven't read it. Yet.

You haven't read Descent into Hell?


End of the Affair

Oh, I know, but sometimes if I tell you something is extremely good, like one of my top ten novels, over and over again for 10 years or so, you will finally read it.


And really like it.


No, if you look at the 95 theses they start off with confession but don't even mention the eucharist.

And the later objection to the Mass was to eucharistic theology, rather than to the eucharist as such – all Protestant churches kept having some sort of eucharist, albeit with a different understanding of it, but almost all abolished confession.

Actually, I did just check, and thesis 83 mentions masses for the dead. But confession still comes before all else.

Ok, I did not know that. That is interesting. Its the whole Catholic 'satisfaction' theory that is under attack by Luther, as symbolized by the practice of confession. Of course everyone knows that Luther kept going to confession and it didn't 'work' for him. But I had no idea he took it out in the 95 Theses.

A woman I know on facebook wrote something about having gone to confession just before Christmas, and as it happened I couldn't go because I'd had foot surgery. So I did a piece on confession. I didn't have any intention of having a go at the Protestants or tweaking their bells or whatever.

I was thinking the "blasphemous fable" remark was from one of Luther's diatribes, but it's not, it's from the 39 Articles, so much later than Luther. I thought I remembered him railing against the Catholic understanding of the Mass but it's been many years since I read him, so I'm probably wrong.

I was referring to eucharistic theology, not to the retaining of some form of the Lord's Supper. Even the anti-sacramental Baptists kept it, though with a very different (to say the least) understanding. I think it was the sacrificial aspect of the Mass that really enraged some of the reformers--that's what the "blasphemous fable" is directed at. If Luther did denounce some aspect of the Mass, that would have been it. It contradicts some fundamentals in his theology.

Some things mattered more to some of the "reformers" than to others, but it is interesting that confession did not survive at all. It would have been easy to get rid of, since there's little direct scriptural justification for it. And its theological challenge (or offense, from their point of view) would have been very much related to the notion of the eucharist as sacrifice.

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