52 Poems, Week 8: Dover Beach (Matthew Arnold)
52 Poems, Week 9: Deus, Ego Amo Te (Gerard Manley Hopkins)

Sunday Night Journal, February 25, 2018

Billy Graham's brand of Christianity was not mine; it never has been. Even apart from the vast doctrinal distance between his evangelical Protestantism and my Catholicism, simply as a matter of what you might call style or culture, it was not for me. There was a time when I more or less despised him as a representation of American civil religion. That was the case when I was a non-believer and a political leftist, because his public image was so strongly associated in my mind with the confused and unhealthy mixture of Christianity and Americanism that's so common here. I started to say "common in some brands of Protestantism," which it is of course, but there are Catholic strains, too.

But that was a long time ago, and I think the picture of Graham that I had in the '60s became less accurate over the years. Maybe it never was really accurate, but, rightly or wrongly, the mention of his name had always conjured up an image of the American flag, or the American eagle, alongside his face.

My impression of him became more positive over the years, though. That had something to do, of course, with my becoming a Christian and sharing his most fundamental beliefs. But it also had to do with the fact that he seemed to remain the same as American culture declined around him, making him look better in comparison. I used to read his "My Answer" advice column in the newspaper: someone would write in with problems and questions of one sort or another, and Graham's answers were always solidly Christian. (I wonder if he actually wrote them himself, but whether he did or not, they appeared under his name and presumably reflected his views.)  On the same page I read Ann Landers and/or Dear Abby, and their advice, though it was often shrewd, changed with the cultural winds in ways that were often amusing. Not Graham's. He tried to be sympathetic and generous but he didn't compromise. 

It wasn't only the secular culture that was declining, either. The kind of mass-appeal non-denominational evangelicalism he proclaimed was changed very much for the worse by glitzy stars of dubious honesty like Jim Bakker. But Graham seemed to stick to his original Christ-centered style and mission and in the process became the sort of American character who is also an institution, like Jimmy Stewart, or Johnny Cash. You don't have to view them as the brightest stars in the firmament of Western civilization to appreciate them for what they were, and to recognize that part of what made them so appealing was the insistent, if not consistent, integrity they seemed to represent, even if or when they failed to exemplify it. 

And so I'm sorry to see Graham go. As characters in The Lord of the Rings say more than once, "the world is changing." As always, it is changing simultaneously for better and for worse. But I can't see America producing another like him, or Jimmy Stewart, or Johnny Cash. 

In spite of what I just said about the mixed nature of change, the truth is that sometimes it's all I can do not to turn this journal into a continual jeremiad about the deterioration of our culture and our nation, and prophecies of the doom toward which we're heading. That impulse is encouraged by something you may have read about: the writer for Teen Vogue who expressed the belief that Billy Graham is in hell, and, when challenged on that remark, dug in her heels and called him, with the grace that is so characteristic of the contemporary left, "an evil piece of s**t." The sheer hatred is like an icy wind blowing over a garbage dump, and of course there's a lot of that around. But perhaps more significant--I hope more significant--is the fact that she seems to think that there should be a hell. I remember when Jerry Falwell died reading similar sentiments from people who despised Christianity, no doubt for, among other reasons, its teaching that unrepentant sinners go to hell. Could it be that a need to believe in some sort of ultimate justice is part of our nature? 

Teen Vogue, you might think, would be a fluffy magazine about clothes and makeup. Teen Vogue, you may have heard, ran a piece a few months ago instructing its audience of teenaged girls in techniques for anal sex. It's difficult to imagine that a culture which regularly produces such monstrosities, and is very proud of them, can endure for very long. Whether it is accurate to see the producers of such stuff as being part of the same culture as those who are appalled by it as being part of "a culture" is another matter. 

Here are two obituaries for Billy Graham that I found worth reading. One, in Commonweal, is a fair-minded overview of his career. The other, at the blog of the Anglicanorum Coetibus Society, is a reflection on his influence by someone who was a part of the evangelical world and is now Catholic. It gives us a picture of what went on behind the scenes in preparation for one of Graham's missions. Early in his career he seems to have been conventionally anti-Catholic, but by the time this writer was involved, at least, he seems to have changed his mind. RIP.


Turning from the foulness of our culture war as conducted on the internet (especially on Twitter, which I'm inclined to think is a force for evil) to The Lord of the Rings is like walking out of a gas station toilet that hasn't been cleaned for a couple of weeks into a cool meadow high in the Rockies. I'm about halfway through the last volume now, taking it still at my leisurely pace of a chapter or two a day, lingering over every page, reading it more closely than I have in the past. It has not diminished at all in my estimation; quite the contrary in fact. Since I was twenty or so I've considered myself to be a fairly good judge of literature. If this is not a great work, I'm no judge at all. 

Eowyn: "...may I not spend my life as I will?"

Aragorn: "Few may do that with honor."

How many of us today can feel those words? How many can even understand them? 


A misty moisty morning.




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Well my takeaway from your musings this morning are: Teen Vogue (!!!???) what a pathetic publication that apparently is; and Twitter as a force for evil. I don't follow anyone on Twitter, so to me it is just all about Donald Trump and those who respond to him. So, Twitter = Trump = Evil makes perfect sense.

Yikes, what a mess everything is.

I always liked Billy Graham a lot. Now Franklin Graham, not so much.

Are you on Twitter, or however you say it? I never have had any interest in it.

How do you even know that Teen Vogue exists, much less what's in it. Ick.

One of my best friends was converted at a Billy Graham Crusade 40+ years ago. He isn't Catholic, but is a very serious Christian. I know that many who come forward at a crusade fall away fairly soon, but there are many who don't. The preparation and follow-through must make a huge difference. I know I've commented here on how I became a part of that follow-up once.

This gets me to thinking about RCIA. We probably need to make a better effort to support people after they join the Church.

Whenever I am driving through the fog, which down here is quite often, I'm thinking "misty, moisty morning."

I have been on the road a great deal in the last week and a half and so I especially appreciate your comparison between LotR and the toilets.


Janet, thank you for posting this link on FB. My blog reading has declined a lot in the last few years (probably commensurate with my total decline in blog-writing), and I miss a lot! This is a great and thoughtful post.

1. When I went to pick up my daughter from Irish dance in Mountain View, NC, on Saturday, I was bewildered by all the cars parked along the overpass at Highway 321. I was even more bewildered by the people sitting in lawn chairs on the exit-ramp berm, and even more bewildered, as my daughter and I drove south down 321 towards home, by the fact that every exit and overpass had fire engines, cars, and people in lawn chairs. "Is this the Second Coming?" my daughter said. "Why didn't we know about it?" Finally I got off the highway and asked some people walking across the exit ramp in front of me what was going on, and that was how I found out that Billy Graham's funeral cortege was passing that way en route to Charlotte, and all these people had come out to show their respects. The daughter and I were dashing from one thing to the next, and I felt like kind of a heel for not immediately stopping to show our respects, too, but my husband and son went out to see the hearse go by.

2. I do follow people on Twitter, but it's mostly literary stuff. It is relatively possible to avoid the kind of constant firestorm that people describe. I actually like Twitter a lot and find it pleasant and interesting, but I've been at some pains to construct my "follow" list to make it so.

Thanks, Sally, especially as this post was pretty much thrown together late last night while I was dealing with unexpected job-related problems.

Stu, I think Franklin Graham has really damaged himself by his cheerleading for Trump. According to that Commonweal piece I linked to, and several others, his father decided after Nixon to keep some distance between him and politicians.

No, Janet, I'm not on Twitter. I knew right away that it was not for me. It seems practically designed to facilitate shallow meanness. Like the worst of Facebook. I'm sure, as Sally says, that it isn't always used that way, and certainly doesn't have to be. My wife is on it, for instance, but what she follows is stuff like a professional society for archivists.

I only know about it through the stuff that boils over onto other media, like this Billy-Graham-in-hell stuff.

That's how I know about Teen Vogue, too, btw. Well, actually, a relative of someone I know writes for them, or at least has done so, but the only thing of hers I've seen was a witty humor piece. But the mag/web site has attracted attention several times in the past year or two for stuff like the above-mentioned set of instructions. Like most every female-run-and-oriented magazine, it seems to have added a hard leftist political edge to its frothy stuff.

Btw Lauren Duca, who made the nasty Billy Graham remarks, is a Fordham grad.

The stuff about the preparation and follow-up in Graham's crusades was what really struck me in the blog post I linked to.

From Fordham's web site:

"Wisdom, experience, morality, critical thinking, creative problem-solving. This is what Fordham students take into the world."

You're welcome. I have been thinking that you might be interested in the 52 Poems series, too.

When I come to see you some time, you can show me how you do Twitter.


This is a little bit cruel, but I can't resist passing along these remarks about Billy Graham and whether his body should "lay in state" in the Capitol. Besides the fact that it's sorta funny, I think it's significant that this kind of atheism is now to be found among the apparently uneducated. (I know, it's entirely possible that he has a college degree.)

"I think that the carcass laying there it state shows us more of what he stood for, than to honor the corpse of a great person. What he stool for, is quickly on the way out across the land and even the world. There are unfortunately a couple of his era of snake oil salesman and other feathered con men out there thumping,stealing and crying for dollars. However, for the most part; his era of dogma is withering on the vine. I see in Generation Z a great uplifting and ever growing understanding that religion is a source of anti-human degeneration and suppression of what it truly means to be human. Society has advance more in the last 50 years than it did in all of the previous 2000. And, the march forward will continue once the likes of people like this are buried and soon; forgotten."

"Society has advance more in the last 50 years than it did in all of the previous 2000."

Good grief! How myopic can you get?

Not much more than that. It's laugh or cry, and I was in the mood to laugh.

I don't know anything about the person who wrote that, btw. The post just appeared on my Facebook feed because someone I'm friends with commented on it.

I wonder what he thinks it truly means to be human.


More sex, among other things, maybe? :-)

I see a lot of enjoyable things on Twitter. I follow Ed West (for instance), and he shares many curious mediaeval things, like (to invent an example), mediaeval pictures of a dragon taking a dog for a walk.

I follow lots of people who share dog pictures.

I see a bit of the rudeness, but it seems worth it for the enjoyable bits.

The other thing is that people share newspaper articles they enjoyed, and I see a lot of articles I wouldn't otherwise have known about.

But the mag/web site has attracted attention several times in the past year or two for stuff like the above-mentioned set of instructions. Like most every female-run-and-oriented magazine, it seems to have added a hard leftist political edge to its frothy stuff.

Just read that the person responsible for publishing that "set of instructions" is a gay man, Phillip Picardi, and that he's now in charge of the magazine. It's no longer available in print, though, only online, so maybe it'll just go away one of these days.

Hmm, I thought I remembered some girl's name in connection with the article. (I know, "girl" is sort of impolite, but I find it hard to describe a lot of these people, female or male, as adults.) But that would certainly figure, wouldn't it? Seems a little odd that he would be in charge of the whole thing.

I've probably mentioned this before, but when I was about 12 to 14, there used to be a paper drive truck parked in the church parking lot next door to my house. We spent a lot of time digging around for stuff to read in that truck, and the worst thing we ever came across was Mad magazine--actually Mad magazine was our favorite find. I don't think I would let my kids do that now.


Grumpy, I'm sure I see only the venomous overflow of Twitter that makes its way into other venues. Aside from all that, though, just knowing that I don't need another distraction has kept me from signing up. Facebook serves a somewhat similar function for me, and it's enough.

Which reminds me: from my point of view Facebook has calmed down a lot in recent months. Friends and their friends seem to have wearied of the conflicts and stopped talking about the touchy issues. I don't know if this is a wider trend or not. I did a bit of unfollowing which maybe has something to do with it.

I used to love Mad when I was 14 or 15.

The other day, I was thinking how odd it was that there was hardly anything new on my newsfeed all day, and then I realized I have unfollowed all the heavy posters.


A couple of times I've unfollowed people whose posts were harmless but usually not interesting to me, and there were just *so* many of them that I got tired of having to scroll through them.

Although it's not actually quantified, I seem to have a sort of scoring system that at a certain point says "unfollow". It can be a huge number of inoffensive posts, or a smaller number of offensive ones, depending on how much the latter irritate me. Which in turn may have something to do with my mood at the moment.

"female-run-and-oriented magazine"

I always assumed that magazines of that ilk, whatever the bylines, were written by dodgy middle-aged men.

And reading further comments below the one that prompted my last remark seems at least partially to have vindicated that assumption.

Somewhere between 15 and 20 years ago, I attended a public lecture, at a Catholic university, by a Christian academic philosopher from Switzerland who was arguing that an afterlife was philosophically necessary, or at least plausible. In the Q&A at the end I asked why he seemed to assume that an afterlife, if necessary, would also necessarily be pleasant. His response was, "As a philosopher, the alternative is not worth taking seriously."

Paul - unrelated to this post, Mac and I saw the Mountain Goat guy last night here in Mobile, John Darnielle. He did a short set, read from one of his books, then was interviewed a little bit and took questions from the crowd. I guess I should have looked for your album post and written there, but I am too lazy.

Janet, the main reason I'm on Twitter is that the poet and translator (and former Social Security administrator) A.M. Juster isn't on Facebook. His posts are fascinating and wide-ranging, both his own things and things he retweets. He is also easily the nicest, most generous person (not to mention one of the best-read and most scholarly) working in the literary world today. So I follow him, and by extension his whole wide orbit, which is very good. It's a lot of New Formalist poets and formalism-friendly critics, but really his net is much wider than that, which I appreciate. Following him is like doing a little private homeschool MFA.

Also, taking Janet's lead, I think, last year at Lent, I unfollowed everyone on Facebook but my children. Didn't unfriend, just unfollowed. Then I couldn't figure out how to re-follow people -- I now get notifications, but things don't come across my newsfeed. Honestly, I prefer it this way, though again, I miss a lot. I do try to keep up with people, but I'm not forced to minute by minute -- which again I mostly prefer, but then again, it may make me seem unfriendly or uninterested, which I do not mean to be. And now it's Lent again . . .

At the risk of telling you something you'd just as soon not know at the moment: to unfollow somebody, go to your Friends list, find the person, and "hover" on the person's name. You'll get a pop-up with a little "Following" drop-down which will allow to follow/unfollow. Or you can click on the name and the same dropdown will appear in the lower right corner of their profile pic.

I mean "to re-follow." In other words you just turn "following" off or on.

Yes, the Darnielle concert/reading was really enjoyable. My only complaint was that it was sometimes hard to make out the words over his guitar, which matters since his lyrics are so good and so important. It was really cheap, too--$10. A Facebook friend tells me The Mountain Goats are appearing near him soon, presumably in a regular and probably larger concert format, and the tickets are $22.

Yes. I thought I had done that. Not that I'm really complaining. Anything that limits my social-media consumption, which I do not seem able to control by willpower, is a good thing. I just hate that people I care about probably think I don't care about them any more -- maybe because the bar for demonstrating "care" has moved from "I write you a letter once a quarter" to "I email you once a month" to "I liked your forty-seven posts today."

Paul, I'm unable to make sense of your Christian philosopher's remark. Maybe he meant "too frightening to think about so I won't."

Re the women's/girl's magazines and the dodgy old men: I'd be surprised if that were generally true, but then what do I know? TeenVogue seems to be mostly woman-run, though.


The Mountain Goats are coming to the Lyric Theater in Oxford in September. Tickets are $25. The Lyric was once a livery stable owned by Faulkner's family. I'm surprised it never burned down.


You should go. Since the date's far away you have time to get acquainted with some of their music, which judging by my experience could make it more enjoyable.

Who knows. I might. What would be the best thing to listen to?


The only ones I know at all well, out of the couple of dozen or so, are Tallahassee and The Sunset Tree. I think they're both extremely good. The first is about a couple whose marriage is falling apart. The second is about his unhappy youth, which involved an abusive stepfather. Very gloomy subject matter, but often treated with sardonic gritted-teeth humor that I find very funny, but that may indicate something wrong with me.

Sometimes his songs depend on references that aren't obvious to a lot of us, but I think most of those two albums isn't that way.

I listened to Goths once as a result of Paul's 52 Albums piece. I didn't like it as well as these two others but it's good. Less gloomy than the others.


I enjoyed the Mountain Goat record Paul recommended. I think its Mountain Goat. Its got Goth in the title. I play it in the car

Yeah, that's the one I was talking about above. It's good, though I think Sunset Tree and Tallahassee are even better.

I was warned I might not like it but I gave it a shot because of the need for car CDs that I have not already heard 100000000 times

Speaking of cds, I read the other day that Best Buy is not going to stock them anymore. Interesting sign of the times.

It seems that the "tangible" has made a comeback though. Especially with regard to books. I read an article a while ago, and I'm not sure where, most likely online where the writer of it discusses "owning nothing". This was his (or her) take on buying digital copies of media.

That said, physical newspapers are pretty much gone, and they should be. Just a lot of wasted paper needing to be recycled but likely ending up in land-fills. The news is immediate and everywhere, though much of it reported in a dubious manner.

Books, definitely. The comeback of vinyl and now even cassettes, too, although I think there's an element of faddishness in those.

I read somewhere a few months ago that it's mostly jazz and classical listeners who are still buying CD's in quantity. People who care about sound, in other words. But those are both niche markets, and therefore the sales are going to be a lot lower than those of pop/rock to begin with. Can't see classical or jazz CD's going away anytime soon, though.

There's an online classical CD dealer, ArkivMusic.com, that gives the impression of doing very well. Someone I know who was in the music business maybe 10 years or so ago says that pop artists don't make any significant amount of money off recorded music anymore, that they make their living from live performances. He says it's always been that way but I'm pretty sure it hasn't.

Speaking of newspapers, I never thought I would miss them, and more or less agreed with what Stu says about the waster of paper etc. But online news has not really replaced it. The local paper here, for instance, was really pretty decent. Its online replacement is not.

"He says it's always been that way but I'm pretty sure it hasn't." There are very few extremely popular musicians who made any real money of of recordings. That is why they burn themselves and their families out touring.

But even back in the '60s and '70s? Surely the big names of those days pulled in a lot from record sales. Though maybe the record companies stole most of it. There was certainly a whole lot of money in the record business.

I really like the Billy Graham room at Wheaton college. You walk through a three Dimensional landscape which takes you through a Protestant equivalent of the life of Christ and the stations of the cross. Then you walk through a door behind the cross. You come out in a pink room with clouds going up to heaven and the Hallelujah chorus. Its great. It amazes me that Catholics deprecate it. The same people admire Philippino or Latin American popular devotions.

I remember about a year or so after becoming RC I was staying with a Catholic family in up state NY. They are pre-Vatican II catholics, unworldly, individualists. I asked could I watch Billy Graham on TV - he must have been giving a performance that week somewhere. There was perplexity. I drew a compleat blank.

That's an excellent point about popular devotions in foreign parts. I have to say though that I'm sitting here laughing at the thought of the pink clouds and Hallelujah chorus.

Do you mean the Catholic family couldn't imagine watching him, or that they didn't even know about him?

They couldn't imagine watching him. I think that's very typical pre-Vatican II Catholicism. They were not so much hostile (not tribally Catholic) as simply without any interest. All the grace of God is within the walls of the Church and we don't need to look beyond it.

The pink clouds sound funny if you describe it, but if you walk through the whole thing, including walking through the final door past the cross its very affecting.

It seems to me like all Protestant groups are emulating Catholicisim from a remove. They are all emulating differnt aspects of it. The cause of that is partly the grace of Christ acting on them, through the prism of the Church, and partly just cultural - we are simply much bigger and therefore more empiritically likely to influence those outside the Church.

The high church Protestants imitate Catholic liturgy. Old fashioned high church Anglicanism is barely distinguishable from old fashioned Gallican Catholicism. The low church Protestants imitate the more popular, emotional aspects of the Church.

There is a real if very fragmented and partial reflection of Catholicism in these phenomena. Part of it really is the grace coming to them from Christ through the Church, so we deprecate them at the peril of deprecating the work of Christ.

Agreed, completely. I would never deprecate the Methodism I grew up with. I'm very grateful to it, even though I now see it as lacking a lot that the Catholic Church has.

Chesterton makes a similar point about the recovery of fragments: that the Protestant Reformation was like a shipwreck, and people are always retrieving things from the wreckage.

I really don't have any experience with that completely insular Catholicism. Apart from the fact that I didn't grow up Catholic, I doubt it was as common here, even pre-VII, since Catholics are such a minority. You might be hostile or standoffish to Protestantism, but you couldn't really ignore it.

Those were Americans -

A friend and I used to say that as every sect broke away from the Church, they took some part of the truth with them, so they all have their piece of the truth--some smaller, some greater. They all have some truth, but only the Church has the fullness of the truth, and the pieces don't function correctly in isolation.



I wasn't clear--by "here" I meant the South, not the country. I think some parts of the U.S. are as predominantly Catholic as the South is predominantly Protestant. Or at least used to be. I think things are more mixed now than 40 or 50 years ago.

They couldn't imagine watching him. I think that's very typical pre-Vatican II Catholicism. They were not so much hostile (not tribally Catholic) as simply without any interest. All the grace of God is within the walls of the Church and we don't need to look beyond it.

I grew up a pre-Vatican II Catholic and I watched some of one of his crusades on TV when I was a teenager. I must have been at least somewhat interested to watch it, but I remember thinking it was just strange, especially the part where people came forward to repent and be saved.

It is strange. :-)

And I, growing up in an almost 100% Protestant environment, remember seeing (briefly) Bishop Sheen on tv, and the grownups speaking respectfully of him. I think I knew he represented some kind of religion but I didn't know what.

I am reading Lord of the Rings for the third time, wanting to finish it tomorrow, Palm Sunday, March 25, The Annunciation of Our Lord. Beginning third volume today. Since Tolkien's work is frequently discussed in this blog - I am inserting this comment here - though not in the most appropriate spot. Returning to read...not much time remains.

Well, I have a friend who, when he first discovered LotR, took it back to his dorm room and didn't come out for four days, so I know you can finish if you try.


And if you don't have a lot of other demands on your time.

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