Thursday, December 22, 2016

Christmas 2016

In the Bleak Midwinter
by Christina Rossetti (1830- 1894)

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.
Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.
Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.
Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Great perspective on life

My friend Maggie tipped me to this wonderful short film by Louie Schwartzberg on Gratitude:

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Truth on that page

From the book Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young, a meditation that grabbed me in an especially powerful way this past Saturday morning.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Leonard Cohen, R.I.P.

Songwriter Leonard Cohen has gone on to his reward, it seems. He was far more than a one-hit wonder (If you haven't heard the Emmylou Harris cover of Cohen's "Ballad of a Runaway Horse," you owe it to yourself to look that up and listen to it). Thanks for sharing your talents and observations with the rest of us, Leonard. Rest in Peace.

UPDATE: Neo-Neocon has more.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

In tribute to Steven Den Beste

I see via InstapunditNational Review, and Ace of Spades that pioneering blogger Steven Den Beste has gone to his eternal reward. I never met the man, but I remember reading his essays and being inspired by his thought. That's saying something, because he came to wide notice in the blogosphere after the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks but stopped essay-form blogging somewhere around 2004.

"Energy Scaling Problems" was certainly not his best essay, but I like this quote from it because even in two sentences, it shows how careful and how fair he was as a writer. The man had a knack for analysis:

"The biggest drawback of wind/solar is that they generate power when conditions permit them to do so, not when demand requires them to do so. And there's no practical way to store electric energy in adequate quantities to deal with this without unacceptable losses or unreasonable capital and/or operating expense."

Rest in peace, Mr. Den Beste.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Brotherly harmony or "Pet Sounds"?

Joe Spagnardi (on rhythm guitar) jams with his brother Billy, the mandolin player. That right there is two fifths of The Gravy Boys, who put on another fine show -- this time for North Carolina's "Wide Open Bluegrass" festival.

Unusually thoughtful analysis

This essay by Julia Shaw on why Joshua Harris was wrong to "kiss dating goodbye" has far more thoughtful rigor in it than its headline might suggest.

I vaguely remember that Mr. Harris was arguing for virtue in relationships a few years back, but other people had taken up the same cause, and so Harris never exercised any particular influence on me. What I don't know about the big names in evangelical Christian publishing circles could fill a book. That said, Julia Shaw's answer to Joshua Harris was and is well worth reading.

Dating leads to broken hearts, Harris contends. In response to that, Shaw notes  -- in effect -- that the problem there lies not with dating per se, but with love itself.

Where Harris still thinks of dating as a sort of sanitized hookup, Shaw reminds him (and her readers) that many advocates of his preferred alternative -- old-fashioned, family-controlled courtship -- make the same wrongheaded assumptions about pleasure being an end in itself as the people immersed in "hookup culture" do. That looks counter-intuitive in the sentence I just used to summarize Shaw's point, but she develops her thesis carefully while defending dating from the libel under which Harris blithely tried to bury it. One significant problem, she argues, is that "Rather than exploring our emotions and thoughts, Harris recommends fleeing them." It's no surprise, then, that Shaw finds Harris guilty of "influence without analysis" that has the unintended consequence of treating God like a "helicopter parent." I'm persuaded that Shaw is right. Three cheers for her, and for editors at The Federalist who recognized the merit of her critique.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Summer music with the Blue Eyed Bettys

Nobody in the trio is actually named Betty, but the Blue Eyed Bettys are worth traveling to see and hear. Ben, Sarah, and Daniel are fun people and talented musicians who harmonize wonderfully with each other. I'm glad I discovered them earlier this month.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Another fine show for Gravy Nation

The Gravy Boys in Durham last night -- they rocked; they jammed; they harmonized. Total pros. And a good time was had by all!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Opposing view from the same camp

Maureen Mullarkey wonders whether Fr. Jacques Hamel was a martyr, but unlike the hapless journalist who thought that calling him one might "rile the opposition" unnecessarily, Mullarkey turns her gimlet eye on criteria we both accept, to suggest that Fr. Hamel's death might have had as much to do with failure to recognize the danger of "politically correct" approaches to jihadism as with anything else.

Mullarkey doesn't blame the victim, but she does write a searing indictment of the culture of which he was part -- and of which we are part.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

No cause for reticence

I argued with the misguided essayist who said in the New York Times that he wants the rest of us to avoid using words like "saint" and "martyr" with reference to the priest who was murdered in France last week.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Tough love

Found this pithy poster over at Gerard Van der Leun's American Digest:

The illustration fits well with this post from Donald Sensing, who happens to be a Methodist minister.

Fond memories

Because life is too short to watch the DNC convention...It's Little Jerry and the Monotones instead, singing "Telephone Rock" (from Sesame Street in 1974)

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

David Warren musing thoughtfully again

From an essay with the cheery title, "Why Our Problems Are Insoluble" --

Saint Thomas More is to my mind among the greatest statesmen because he could, with sublime courage, articulate the limits of political power. He was martyred because he delineated them in the presence of a great tyrant. He was not executed because the monster, Henry Tudor, was stupid or a hothead. He was executed because Henry was intelligent enough to see that More had got to the crux of the matter. He knew, in effect, that More was a saint, and that other people could see that he was.

quote context:

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Imputed vs. Infused

A thought I had after a road trip to Tennessee and back:

Why yes, it is sometimes possible to be more Catholic than the Pope. Fr. Dwight Longenecker explains, with the help of a Catholic deacon named Richard Ballard who was a Lutheran pastor for 25 years:

"I asked what he thought of the Holy Father's surprising and heavily stressed statement that in the matter of justification Luther 'did not err.' 

"According to orthodox Catholic theology, Luther did err," he insisted. "Luther argued for an exterior 'imputed righteousness' which means the baptized person remains a sinner, even after justification. In essence, God is merely pretending that the person is justified and sanctified, when he really isn't," he said.

"This is a major divergence from Catholic theology, which instead of 'imputed righteousness' teaches 'infused righteousness'; in other words, the baptized person really is transformed and purified by God's grace," Ballard said.

Kudos to Fr. Longenecker -- himself a convert to Catholicism -- for talking with his friend, and respectfully pointing out that when this pope chats with reporters on the papal plane (as he was doing when he praised Martin Luther too fulsomely), bad or confusing things happen.

(Photo is from a rest stop in the Great Smoky Mountains)

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Genius marketing

It was not from Ghirardelli or Lindt or Toblerone or even Hershey, and I should probably not have eaten the whole thing at one sitting last night. Nevertheless, the Raspberry Chocolate bar from an off-brand in the grocery store (Chocolove? really?) also had this going for it -- a poem inside the outer wrapper, tucked next to the gold foil that wrapped the chocolate itself. And we're not talking about some 8-year-old's variation on "Roses are red; Violets are blue," either:

If You're Ever Going to Love Me

If you're ever going to love me, love me now while I can know
All the sweet and tender feelings from which real affection flow.
Love me now, while I am living; do not wait till I am gone
And then chisel it in marble -- warm love words on ice-cold stone.
If you've dear, sweet thoughts about me, why not whisper them to me?
Don't you know 'twould make me happy, and as glad as glad could be?
If you wait till I am sleeping, ne'er to waken here again,
There'll be walls of earth between us and I coudn't hear you then.
If you knew someone was thirsting for a drop of water sweet,
Would you be so slow to bring it? Would you step with laggard feet?
There are tender hearts all round us who are thirsting for our love;
Why withhold from them what nature makes them crave all else above?
I won't need your kind caresses when the grass grows o'er my face;
I won't crave your love or kisses in my last low resting place.
So, then, if you love me any, if it's but a little bit,
Let me know it now while living; I can own and treasure it.

Unknown Author

Monday, June 20, 2016

A compelling cover

Shawn Colvin plays an acoustic version of Bruce Springsteen's "Tougher Than the Rest." It's just a memorably good tune for a fine summer solstice.

This poem by Robert Hayden fits well with the song, also.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Sometimes all you can do is laugh

Judging by letters to the editor that he spawned afterword, Los Angeles Times columnist Richard Rodriguez knows less about word usage than anyone with a platform in a major metropolitan daily should, and not much  about Christianity, either.

Trailing in the wake of a Rodriguez column that sounds like a health hazard to brain cells (replete with references to murder as a form of prayer), grandees who run the op-ed page at the LA Times have begrudgingly decided that "Not all Christians worship a homophobic God."

Would that their breathtaking ignorance were rare and special. Unfortunately, as Mollie Hemingway and others have so ably demonstrated, it's not.

Word to journalists on both coasts who wouldn't recognize a legitimate phobia if it bought them a drink at a dive bar near the newsroom: a "phobia" is an irrational fear. "Homophobia" is an almost-wholly-pretend condition synonymous with less-than enthusiastic embrace of all things homosexual.

God has no phobias. God is perfect.

It follows that there are no Christians who worship a "homophobic" God. None!

Is Theology 101 really that hard?

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Slice and Dice

CNN today published a story headlined 'Obama goes on tirade against Trump over 'dangerous' Muslim ban, 'radical Islam.' The two men credited with writing the story were apparently beside themselves with ill-concealed admiration for our president, because their piece was filled with lines like "The commander-in-chief's fury, which seethed out of him in a stunning soliloquy on live television, amounted to a moment of historic significance."

There are several things wrong with that string of assertions. First, President Obama's "fury" was delivered in the same bloodless lecture style he always uses. Second, his soliloquy would be more aptly described as "petty" than "stunning." And third, I'm not prepared to regard improvised sneering at critics as "historically significant."

That said, I did also watch what CNN had suggested was an epic tirade. I don't know what the CNN reporters thought they saw, because President Obama's remarks were a poorly-conceived hash of misdirection, straw man, and playground insult.

Let's roll the tape, shall we?

POTUS: "For awhile now, the main contribution some of my friends on the other side of the aisle have made in the fight against ISIL is to criticize this administration, and me, for not using the phrase, 'radical Islam.' That's the key, they tell us."

Me: "ISIL" is a poker tell, and one of the things to which critics rightly object, seeing as how people who don't accept or legitimize grandiose dreams of a restored caliphate that includes parts of Israel say 'ISIS' instead. Beyond that, nobody's said that identifying the problem properly is "the key" to beating ISIS. What many people have said is that proper identification would be a good start, and far better than pretending that ISIS is "un-Islamic," as the administration wants us to do.

POTUS: "What exactly would using this label [radical Islam] accomplish?"

Me: He meant that as a rhetorical question, but naming things rightly would make it easier for the machinery of American foreign policy to stop wasting time fighting generic "hate" or falsely conflating "extremists" of many different religions with the jihadists who alone have been waging open war against everyone else for more than two generations now.

POTUS: "Calling a threat by a different name does not make it go away."

Me: Straw Man! The point of proper labeling is not to treat labels as though they were magic spells, but to make offense and defense more efficient, and to more easily fortify the argument for hearts and minds that must be won because it is a prerequisite for any lasting victory over people who hate (or maybe just despise) all that the West stands for, and think we're all "infidels." There is irony here, also, because ignoring a threat does not make it go away, either.

POTUS: "Since before I've been president, I've been clear about how extremist groups have perverted Islam to justify terrorism."

Me: How do you know that those groups have "perverted" Islam? Are you more of an authority on Islam than the imams and the mullahs who say to anyone who will listen that ISIS is well within mainstream Muslim thought? Are you suggesting that "extremists" are misquoting the Koran?

POTUS: "Not once has an adviser of mine said, 'Man, if we really use that phrase, we're gonna turn this whole thing around."

Me: Straw Man! It's good to know that your advisers don't believe in pixie dust, but we also know that your advisers include Ben "Mind Meld" Rhodes and Valerie Jarrett, neither of whom has ever ventured out of the ideological corral that you like so much. Hillary Clinton was an adviser of yours, also.

The president's tirade goes on in the same easily-refutable vein for several more minutes. Everything I commented on above came from the first 1:20, but life's too short to fisk the whole peevish exercise in arrogant self-justification.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

An Open Letter to Mike Lee

Hi Mike,

May I call you Mike? We've met, but don't know each other, and although you don't strike me as the kind of guy who stands on ceremony, I could be wrong. I'm not in your church. Moreover, I wouldn't know a "Free Will Baptist" if I tripped over one, and I've never set foot on the campus of Bob Jones University. That said, I'm a pretty good listener. When I go to one of the services you lead, it's because I want to hear what you're telling my children, and what bothers me is that lately you seem to have descended into a functional anti-Catholicism, perhaps even without meaning to.

I get that many of the people in your congregation think of themselves as ex-Catholics. The "Meet the Gospel" series that you are currently preaching hasn't done Catholicism any favors. I would not have expected it to, but have you considered the irony involved when you talk about Saint Paul's Letter to the Romans without first acknowledging that the only reason you have talking points tied to the canon of Scripture is that the Catholic Church preserved that canon for you and every other Christian?

Last week you poked gentle fun at the Catholic criteria for declaring people saints. When I asked after the service about that, you said your sole aim was to highlight Saint Paul's well-known greeting "to all the beloved of God in Rome, called to be holy." I get that; I really do. It's often paraphrased as the "priesthood of all believers," as you well know. But guess what? The Catholic Church gets that, too. Except you don't seem to care: You played my church -- the Church -- for laughs, mentioning the Vatican's "Congregation for the Causes of Saints" just to snark about how "they sound like a fun bunch to hang out with." I'm certain you are under the impression that Catholicism has complicated Jesus's message unnecessarily. As an heir of the Protestant Reformation, how could you think otherwise?

What you did not mention, but should have, is that Catholic criteria for sainthood does not contradict or ignore Saint Paul's insight; it merely allows that insight to scale up and out past local devotion so that models of heroic virtue can be admired by people worldwide. True, "saint" means "holy," and we're all called to holiness. But had you done a little more reading, you would have found that canonized saints have lots of company (Remember all the people in the Book of Revelation whose robes were "washed white in the Blood of the Lamb"?).

In other words, as much as you'd like to slam clerical bureaucracies, the Church has never claimed to know who all the saints are. You and I could -- and should -- become saints even if we're never blessed to have two verifiable miracles attributed to our intercession, Yet it's unlikely that Christians in faraway places will know of our example after we die unless that example was stellar enough for the worldwide Church to take notice of it. You want to pretend that's "unscriptural"? Ha! It's "extra-scriptural," but in perfect harmony with Scripture.

Side note, assuming that the line "Oh Lord, I want to be in that number" rings a few bells: If you associate the gospel tune "When the Saints Go Marching In" with a particular style of American music, it's New Orleans Jazz, and guess who the original settlers of New Orleans were? French Catholics. Perhaps their theology was a little more squared away than you give it credit for being.

I'd hoped that last week's failure to do enough homework for your message was a one-off, but today you went after infant baptism in similarly snarky fashion, saying that there isn't a single instance of infant baptism in Scripture. I'm beginning to wonder how many targets are in your doctrinal shooting gallery, and where you get the authority to draw a bead on them.

With respect to infant baptism not being in Scripture, my question for you is, "Are you sure?" Seriously. Here's why I ask: We know that John baptized with water "for repentance," and prophesied that Jesus would bring a greater baptism.We know that Jesus was Himself baptized by John, so that the two of them could together "fulfill all righteousness." The other baptism accounts in the New Testament are in the Acts of the Apostles, right? That book is about the early Church. If you're starting a church, as the apostles were, you don't start it with babies -- you start by converting your adult friends and neighbors. That's what they did. But the apostles also knew that Jesus had said "Let the little children come to me." Do you think Jesus was kidding? Do you think He added a caveat about how kids couldn't come to Him unless they were old enough to profess faith in His name?

And how about -- in the Acts of the Apostles -- when a Roman centurion accepts the new faith, and is baptized, "and all his household with him." Do you know for certain that there were no youngsters in that household? I don't think so. While I'm in a betting mood, let me note that you never told us where you got the idea that infant baptism started "300 years after the apostles." Did you mean to blame the Emperor Constantine for that "innovation," or did it just sound like that? If the "300 years" figure that you tossed out was not just for effect, then may I ask whether you take a similarly dim view of the statements of faith in the Nicene Creed, which actually does date from that time?

I know you love Saint Paul. We both do. Even without getting to the other inspired writers, Catholics can't help but notice how chapter 2 of Paul's letter to the Colossians says some very cool things about the power of baptism as more than a sign, and about how baptism is the New Covenant analog to what circumcision was in the Old Covenant. You pointed out that Jews traditionally circumcise male infants when they are 8 days old. What, then, is the justification for denying baptism at the same age? It either is an analog to circumcision or it isn't -- only you didn't mention that analogy. I wish you would.

I'll  end with a plea: You're welcome to argue with Roman Catholic theology, but it's a disservice to your congregation and the Catholics you don't know who love you and your congregation when you use your position as a pastor to knock down straw man arguments rather than grappling honestly with what Catholics believe and why. A two-minute trip to the Vatican web site and another round of highlighting mistakes made by John Calvin or Martin Luther won't cut it. Neither will passive-aggressive class titles like "From Pope to Hope." You can do better than that. Please do.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Amen to that, Mister Lowry

Rich Lowry, saying what needs to be said about Yale students who major in English but would rather not study major English poets:

It takes a deeply impoverished imagination to read Shakespeare and regard him simply as an agent of the patriarchy. It is safe to say that the bard is better at expressing what it is like to be a teenage girl in love, or a woman disguised as a man who falls for a man, or a bloody tyrant than almost every actual teenage girl in love, woman disguised as a man, or bloody tyrant...

The poet Maya Angelou said in a lecture once that as a child she thought, "Shakespeare must be a black girl." It was because, growing up in the Jim Crow South, a victim of unspeakable abuse, Sonnet 29 spoke so powerfully to her ("When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes, / I all alone beweep my outcast state, / And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries, /  And look upon myself and curse my fate.")

Monday, May 30, 2016

The amalgam of memory and gratitude

Hillsdale College posts a poignant Memorial Day reminder:

As is his custom, the director of music at my parish dusted off most of the patriotic hymns for Mass this morning. We sang not just "America the Beautiful" and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," but also "Finlandia" (which the hymnal irksomely calls 'This Is My Song') and "Eternal Father Strong to Save."

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Quote of the Day

"In this golden age of information, 32 percent of Americans can't identify the Supreme Court as one of the three branches of the federal government, yet we're advocating they Rock the Vote. It's irresponsible."
-- David Harsanyi writing in The Federalist

 Bonus Quote:

"The good news is that Hillary is wrong about everything. She incorrectly interprets the Constitution; she misunderstands the impact that guns have on mass murders; she's wrong about America's allegedly skyrocketing crime rate; and she's wrong that those countries that have banned guns have benefited from those bans."
-- The irrepressible Bookworm, my friend

Wednesday, May 18, 2016


Both street and structure seem aptly named. That's the "Holy Name of Jesus" cathedral under construction on a rainy day in Raleigh.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Solid political advice

Denise C. McAllister has what she calls "A Conservative's Guide to a Trump Nomination," and, like most of her work, it's worth reading.

Picking for strawberries?

Well, the band has some fine pickers, and they did perform a set at the Strawberry Festival in Durham yesterday.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

My two cents on the state of argument

From an original essay with Princess Bride overtones published this weekend by American Spectator Online:

"As a few commentators on the left and right have both noticed, liberals embrace the smug life. People who remember how to make an argument tend to be the ones whose speeches provoke 'trigger warnings' among sheltered college students, presumably because moving coherently from a premise to a conclusion can intimidate anyone trapped in a 'safe' space."

Note:  American Spectator Online has been redesigned since that essay was originally published. As a result, the essay has been re-titled and re-filed.

Monday, April 11, 2016

A hint for CBS News

Web site elves at CBS News appear to be deaf to irony.

Each of the following screenshots was taken today:

Just below the video window under the Watch Now site banner asking the question about how terrorists are "able to hide in plain sight" was this howler of a story:

Short answer to the question in that headline: None. That's a stupid "blame the victim" question, and a failed attempt to relieve terrorists of moral culpability for their actions. It would make as much sense to imply that sunspot activity plays a role in terrorism. I hope the investigative team figured at least that much out, although I have my doubts.

Fortunately, some readers did not miss the irony that CBS employees did:

"Jimbob" is exactly right.

To tie a ribbon around the bias for which old-line mass media outlets in the United States are notorious: As some of the reporting after the San Bernardino shootings of December 2, 2015 made clear, terrorists are able to "hide in plain sight" wherever the dominant cultural narrative shames their potential victims into silence by accusing those potential victims of bigotry, racism, or, yes, "Islamophobia." 

It also helps to have a through-the-looking-glass notion of victimhood, as so many in the media do. Bookworm explains that at her blog, while David Harsanyi has some related thoughts.

Amusingly, the media does not even try for consistency. Screenshots in this post were prompted by "analysis" of the terrorist attacks in Belgium, but the false compassion and Potemkin investigation inherent in a search for something other than warped ideology that might plausibly provoke the murder of innocents does not square with what we were told about the husband-and-wife San Bernardino terrorists four months earlier. Those two were not lashing out in response to other people's Islamophobia, according to reports at the time. They were allegedly "self-radicalized." Homeland Security spokespeople apparently hoped that the rest of us would accept that finding as a reassuring alternative to being radicalized by others, but why it ought to be reassuring was never explained. Perhaps the people pushing that theory hoped that the rest of us would accept self-radicalization as a "one off" peculiar to the San Bernardino shooters and a handful of extremists like them.

Sadly, nobody in mainstream media seems to read Eric Hoffer anymore, or ask why Islam lends itself to "radicalization" with such discomfiting ease.

A phobia, as you probably know, is an irrational fear. But the dignity once ascribed to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual is not in play here. Even the much-misused term "homophobia" has a better record than "Islamophobia," which is a fake medical term of art (rhetorical cudgel, really) used by the progressive movement to explain its own failure to heed dissent from or by people whom they dismiss as narrow-minded mono-cultural "cisnormatives" (Because they are acutely sensitive to "thoughtcrime," leftists always play the long game starting with vocabulary, as witness words like "microagression" and "cisgender." When the Left cannot yet appropriate a word in common use, it makes one up instead).

UPDATE: Accepting the premise that Islamophobia might help provoke Islamist terrorist attacks does Islam no favors, either, because it reeks of condescension. If irrational fear of Methodists made Methodists violent, for example, then it would be fair to ask whether something was askew in the lives of John and Charles Wesley, who founded Methodism as a movement within the Church of England. Yet people are scorned or worse for trying to apply any scrutiny to the founder of Islam.

Monday, April 4, 2016

If you remember Bored of the Rings

The early Seventies parody of the Lord of the Rings by writers from the Harvard Lampoon has at least one fun scene applicable to current events:

As Goodgulf stepped onto the bridge the passage echoed with an ominous dribble, dribble, and a great crowd of narcs burst forth. In their midst was a towering dark shadow too terrible to describe. In its hand it held a huge black globe and on its chest was written in cruel runes, "Villanova." 

"Aiyee," shouted Legolam. "A ballhog!" 

Goodgulf turned to face the dread shadow, and as he did, it slowly circled toward the bridge, bouncing the grim sphere as it came. The Wizard reeled back and, clutching at the ropes, raised his wand. "Back, vile hoopster," he cried. 

At this the ballhog strode forward onto the bridge, and stepping back, the wizard drew himself up to his full height and said, "Avaunt, thin-clad one!" 

Arrowroot waved Krona. "He cannot hold the bridge," he shouted and rushed forward. 

"E pluribus unum," cried Bromosel and leaped after him. 

"Esso extra," said Legolam, jumping behind him. 

"Kaiser Frazer," shouted Gimlet, running up to join them. 

The ballhog sprang forward, and raising the dread globe over his head, uttered a triumphant cry. 

"Dulce et decorum," said Bromosel, hacking at the bridge. 

"Above and beyond," said Arrowroot, chopping a support. 

"A far, far better thing," said Legolam, slicing through the walkway. 

"Nearer my God to thee," hummed Gimlet, cutting the last stay with a quick ax stroke. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

'Nof said

(It's not every day a pun like that walks into a bar)

Go read Gerard Vanderleun, who doesn't have enough faith to be an atheist. He'll explain. 

A Florida State University professor of oceanography named Doron Nof tried to explain (or, more honestly, debunk), but Nof just confuses people.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Happy Easter

All the durable inspiration today (or any day, really) is in scripture and sacrament rather than in blog posts.

But I do think that some meditations are worth bookmarking. Myra Adams made her joy palpable in an Easter essay. And here is Gerard Vanderleun writing about what he calls his own "cut-rate resurrection," which he intuitively grasps is just an echo of the original (full price!) Resurrection:

“Still not satisfied” is not a good attitude to have if one has been resurrected. As they say in meetings, “The attitude is gratitude.” I had that for a long time. It slipped away. Maybe I should try to get it back.

Or maybe I should not.

Maybe I should just drop all that and drop the searching for the BIG MESSAGE. Maybe, just maybe, I should try to see again what we always forget: the Here and the Now of the Miracle. Maybe, just maybe, on this day, I should strive always to recall that Christ is not just the Resurrection, but “the Resurrection and the Life.”

Here is John C. Wright, novelist, in a more puckish mood:

"When you meet someone who says Easter eggs are a pagan holdover of a pagan symbol, you can remind him that during Lent the tradition was to give up eating meat and eggs, so that eating delicious, delicious eggs again after 40 [days] became a matter for ceremony. Our grandfathers lived in a more ceremonial hence more fun society, one more suited to human psychology, and so having the kids eat eggs again became kind of a game, a hide-and-seek, and the eggs were decorated, because in those days people loved kids, and were not told having children was a disease that overburdened the earth, and did not abort them in the womb."

Meanwhile, Fr. Dwight Longenecker wraps the whole Triduum up in this post:

"Christianity is the only religion that does not ignore or skirt the issue of suffering. Indeed terrible suffering is at the very heart of our religion. Our central icon is a crucifix. Our central act of worship is a commemoration and re-presentation of the execution of an innocent victim...Christianity is the one religion that plunges into the depth of the suffering [to] wrestle with the darkness and come out the other side, bloodied but triumphant."

It seems to me a double blessing that the Web makes edifying thoughts from people I have not met easy to find, even as active participation in a parish also assures me of support from people whom I do know, and people I might eventually meet.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Holy Thursday hook

My (close) paraphrase of the beginning of the homily from Father Dan at tonight's Mass of the Lord's Supper:

"A few years back, there was a saying popular with our Protestant brothers and sisters that even made it into the rest of the culture after awhile. You probably remember that the initials 'WWJD' stood for 'What Would Jesus Do?' 

Well, I want to propose to you something much less popular, but much more useful. We are here tonight to celebrate not what Jesus would do, but what He actually did and does do. Moreover, He expects us to emulate His example."

Appreciating the pope emeritus

David Warren does appreciate Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger), and in two different places.

I particularly like how Warren develops this thought:

"It is in Ratzinger’s nature to review events of the last fifty years in the light of the last five hundred: he cannot be satisfied with the immediate. Nor did he ever respond in the “media” way, to events of the last five hours or five days. First, he examines.

This is precisely the virtue — prudence in its essential form — that seems most absent from contemporary life...

We, today, as men in all ages, cannot do without the anchoring of faith, which begins in an attachment to the unchanging. The detachment from “breaking news” follows from this. I pass by the profound theological observation, that underlies all faith — that it originates in the grace of God, not in some human intention — only because I am giving an external description. A man of any culture — East or West — who is not by desire rooted in the unchanging, is not rooted at all."

Joseph Ratzinger's tenure as Pope Benedict XVI continues to influence even non-Catholics in good ways.

And as my friend John might put it, prudence is a prerequisite for thinking long-term.

Nate has a point

And by "Nate," I mean Nathan Hale, writing at In from the Cold:

"In the wake of the massacre in Brussels, some American counter-intel types were shaking their heads about the "poor tradecraft" exhibited by their Belgian counterparts.  That little exercise in self-congratulation is not only delusional, it's hypocritical to boot.  To be fair, there are hundreds of dedicated CIA and FBI agents and analysts who have prevented countless attacks since 9-11.  But those successes must be squared against failures at places like Fort Hood, Chattanooga and most recently in San Bernardino.  In each case, clues were missed and innocent Americans paid with their lives.

Then again, it's hard for the security and intel agencies to get the resources they need when the commander-in-chief spends barely a minute addressing the Brussels attack, and adjourns to a baseball game with Raul Castro."

Andrew McCarthy has related thoughts at Imprimis that are also well worth reading, either at the original site maintained by Hillsdale College or in this handy one page format.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Always entertaining

The Gravy Boys played on a makeshift stage behind the Raleigh Beer Garden this past Saturday, adding a little Celtic flavor to their high-energy set in honor of that Irish-American holiday just around the corner.

Although you might not know it from the surname shared by the men in the rhythm section, they can claim some Irish heritage. Even if they couldn't claim such an affinity, however, that band does right by everything it plays.

If you want a little thinking with your music, you could do far worse than mull over what Scott Kirwin has to say about "cultural appropriation." Kirwin writes thoughtful stuff.

His essay reminded me why it's a shame that so many of the people who get intermittently but righteously indignant over cultural appropriation do not recognize that phenomenon as a collective salute to Sir Isaac Newton. Newton famously opined that if he saw farther than others, it was because he was "standing on the shoulders of giants." Fittingly, Wilkiquote asserts that Newton was himself paraphrasing the 12th-century philosopher Bernard of Chartres when he said that.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Contra Wirzba (On national character)

Duke Divinity School professor Norman Wirzba wrote recently about why he thinks we ought to declare the end of “Christian America.”  A link to that essay was emailed to me by a friend who thought it was an EXCELLENT read (the capital letters are his), but I was underwhelmed by the work. Wirzba opened with a basic grammatical error, and never really recovered. He is, it seems, disappointed with the country to which he moved 30 years ago. More specifically, the long run-up to the election has drained Wirzba of whatever tolerance he once had for the hypocrisy of American voters.

“Though voters may speak piously and rather vaguely about Christian values and ideals,” he wrote, “polls and election results communicate clearly that this is a nation consumed by fear, anger and suspicion, none of which are Christian virtues.” 

“Consumed” seems a dire verb in this context, but even if he's right, Wirzba's thesis only lends an academic gloss to the “Hate is not a family value” bumper sticker that retired to the Straw Man Hall of Fame a few years ago [Brief recap for leftie friends: 1) Nobody said it was; and 2) To decry something that other people see no problem with does not mean you “hate” those other people].

Wirzba wants Americans to “paint with the colors of love, joy, peace, and patience,” and he means that as an alternative to opposing truly progressive policies, or supporting any of several mean, dishonest people now vying for spots atop the Democrat and Republican tickets.  He does not think we will take his advice, which is why we he says we ought not be calling ourselves a “Christian” country. 

Remembering the “Judgement of the Nations” verses in the gospel according to Saint Matthew, Wirzba wonders how we will fare before the throne of God, “especially when we admit as evidence the millions of Americans (many of them children and the elderly) who do not have enough good food to eat, or the millions of Americans who have to drink water polluted with lead and industrial/agricultural pollutants.” 

To ask the question is to answer it. If the Last Judgement is collective rather than individual (something  that Wirzba does not get into), then we have reasons to be nervous, even without mentioning such blots on our national character as legally permissible abortion. But conspicuous failure to live up to a Christian moral code is not reason enough to abandon all thought of the American religious heritage when we describe ourselves. 

After all, it wasn't Muslims, Buddhists, or Sikhs who first fled England for the New World, or left comfortable lives in France to preach the gospel to indigenous people near the Canadian border as Isaac Jogues and his companions did. To whom besides Christians would Wirzba attribute the missions built up the length of California, or the religious heritage of cities as different as Philadelphia and Santa Fe?

Following Wirzba's advice would accelerate a kind of collective amnesia about those parts of American history, not to mention both the Civil War and the civil rights movement, each of which were attempts to find and secure a durable interpretation of the principle that “All men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.” 

Thomas Jefferson's magnificent preamble for the Declaration of Independence was the only part of that document that his colleagues in the Continental Congress let stand unedited, and they were all educated enough to recognize that his paraphrase of “Enlightenment” values had Christian roots. Even the “wall of separation” between church and state to which Jefferson later gave voice in a  letter reassuring nervous Baptists in Connecticut has Christian antecedents. What could that wall be, other than a Constitutional blueprint for working out how a free people might enjoy liberty enough to “Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, but to God what is God's”?

“What matters is not what you say, but how you live,” Wirzba asserts. In that, he is partly right. But he forgets that words mean things, and that how you live is shaped by what you say. Christianity itself understands that those of us who identify with it do not always live the way Jesus says we should. But that means we are sinners; it does not give Wirzba or people like him license to decide who is or is not Christian. 

If, demographics aside, we are not now a Christian nation, then let us at least remember that we once aspired to be. Laying that dream aside would douse the last embers of American exceptionalism for no good reason.

A slightly modified version of this essay was also published on March 8 by American Spectator Online, under the heading "The End of Christian America?"

Postscript: Matt Walsh makes the case that we are not a Christian nation, but he does not also make Wirzba's mistake of suggesting that hypocrisy ought to silence history.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Rooting for the "old" guy

He's not actually old, except by comparison with some of the other people auditioning for this year's edition of "The Voice." The guy can rock. Go, Laith, go!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Antonin Scalia, R.I.P.

First, the quote of the day, from, amended only slightly by your blogger:

"If you read anyone who treats [the late, great] Antonin Scalia as an ideological conservative scoring points for his 'side' of a power struggle, you can be sure you are reading someone who doesn't know what [he or she] is talking about."

Next, what Justice Scalia accomplished, in a nutshell from the same site:

"It's not hyperbole to acknowledge that Antonin Scalia sparked a renaissance in Constitutional law. Before Scalia, the legal philosophy en vogue was viewing the Constitution as a "living, breathing document" which could be adapted whenever judges saw fit.

Justice Scalia argued instead for originalism, which meant judges must restrain themselves and interpret the Constitution by looking to what was actually written and intended, not what we want it to mean today. While Scalia didn't secure a majority of justices to agree with him in every case, his understanding of the Constitution led to a renewed defense of our most cherished rights, judicial restraint, limited government, including religious liberty."

And, finally, a few words from Scalia himself.

In June, 2010, he delivered a commencement address for Langley High School in Virginia because his granddaughter was graduating from there. This is part of what he said:

“[A] platitude I want discuss comes in many flavors. It can be variously delivered as, ‘Follow your star,’ or ‘Never compromise your principles.’ Or, quoting Polonius in ‘Hamlet’ — who people forget was supposed to be an idiot — ‘To thine ownself be true.’ Now this can be very good or very bad advice. Indeed, follow your star if you want to head north and it’s the North Star. But if you want to head north and it’s Mars, you had better follow somebody else’s star.

Indeed, never compromise your principles. Unless, of course, your principles are Adolf Hitler’s. In which case, you would be well advised to compromise your principles, as much as you can...

I am here to tell you that it is much less important how committed you are, than what you are committed to. If I had to choose, I would always take the less dynamic, indeed even the lazy person who knows what’s right, than the zealot in the cause of error. He may move slower, but he’s headed in the right direction.

Movement is not necessarily progress. More important than your obligation to follow your conscience, or at least prior to it, is your obligation to form your conscience correctly. Nobody — remember this — neither Hitler, nor Lenin, nor any despot you could name, ever came forward with a proposal that read, ‘Now, let’s create a really oppressive and evil society.’ Hitler said, ‘Let’s take the means necessary to restore our national pride and civic order.’ And Lenin said, ‘Let’s take the means necessary to assure a fair distribution of the goods of the world.’

In short, it is your responsibility...not just to be zealous in the pursuit of your ideals, but to be sure that your ideals are the right ones.”

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Goldberg vs. Dash

Talk show host Whoopi Goldberg has a public argument going with actress Stacey Dash. They're both successful black women, but Dash upset conventional liberal wisdom by suggesting that the BET (Black Entertainment Televsion) network contributes (albeit unintentionally) to racial divides in America. Dash also takes a dim view of Black History month, echoing what Morgan Freeman had once said about "black history being American history."

The entertainment-themed news outlets that regard every exchange between celebrities as an opportunity for score-keeping seem to think that Goldberg taught Dash about unmet needs in this plea:

"But the thing is, [black history] is not taught. Asian history is not taught in school as it pertains to America. American history holds all of us, and [Dash] is right in that, yes we are all Americans, but we're not all treated like Americans. One of the reasons that there is a BET is because networks wouldn't take a lot of shows that [had] an all black cast."

(Note that even Whoopi puts the rationale for BET in past tense -- "wouldn't," not "won't" --, doubtless because she knows that all-black shows like Empire are out there on other networks).

Phoenix Tso, web writer for Uproxx, amusingly suggests that "it's hard to argue with an explanation as direct as that." But Phoenix Tso has not read Cobb's masterful blog entry on The Problem With Multiculturalism. I don't imagine that Stacey Dash has read Cobb, either, but Dash understands our situation better than Goldberg does.

Here's part of Cobb's point:

"The problem with today's multiculturalism is that is is different than pluralism. Pluralism is the proper ethos for America; multiculturalism is not. The difference can be explained by assuming Americans can be divided into two tribes:

Ideological Tribe A

We believe that America is at its best when its mainstream is maintained without regard to race, creed, color, sexual preference, etc...

Ideological Tribe B

We believe that America is at its best when its mainstream is maintained with special regard to race, creed, color, sexual preference, etc.

I could go on at length to describe the nefarious notions that are sustained in the American Culture Wars, begun in the late 50s, taking shape in the 60s, and blossoming in the 90s, but the distinction above nails it. What's important is that multiculturalism is now clearly showing its philosophical weakness and that ordinary people are recognizing it."

Monday, January 18, 2016

Rest in Peace, Glenn Frey

In tribute to Glenn Frey, guitarist for and founding member of the Eagles, who died today at age 67, a YouTube clip originally posted by Phuong Hoang Nam Le, from the band's "Hotel California" tour in 1977. The lead vocal by Randy Meisner deserves repeated listenings, and the sound is tight throughout-- this was the Eagles at their peak. And Glenn singing Desperado in a 1984 performance for TV is also great.