"The Little Drummer Boy" crossed my path several times this Christmas season. Let's go with the most recent incident first. This happens to be the reading of the National Post, the Dec. 24th edition, which I got around to this morning. In this edition there we find an article discussing how Hollywood co-opted Christmas, titled "How the crooners conquered Christmas." In the article are found many interesting observations regarding some of the very popular so-called Christmas songs.
Robert Cushman here calls "The Little Drummer Boy" an Ersatz Carol. I think he nailed it. "Ersatz Carol" is good... very good. Well said. It tells us nothing about God or Christmas. It is mostly just cute.
Which brings me to the first encounter with the song, this season. It was on FaceBook. A video, seemingly gone viral, appeared in my thread several times. Beautiful young people standing somewhere outdoors on a big rock or small mountain, in a very bright daylight, sang the song with faces full of rapture. The video came with a tagline that advertised it as the most wonderful, happy video anyone had seen in ages. Personally, I was sidetracked by the shining faces of young adults. Something was incongruous about the scene. I think it was the lack of message together with the exultation. It didn't work. It was shot in Los Angeles, we found out, and here it seems we have Hollywood crooners gone slightly pious. (I don't want to put the band down; they are probably very nice and gifted people, who have worked very hard at their craft and this video.)
The next encounter was, when a post-modern, Quaker conversation partner sent me the link to this self-same video as a "peace offering". Seeing that our exchanges are always multi-layered and ambiguous, by his choice not mine, (I am usually trying to be ulta-clear), I didn't know what to make of "peace offering". I had once sent a Thoreau quote about freedom as a "peace offering". It turns out, in the long run, that there cannot be peace between post-modernism and Christian orthodoxy. It will always be a clash.
We had a fall-out over what the song should mean to someone like me, a stick-in-the mud, old-fashioned, school-marmish, Lutheran, inauthentic, addicted to my certainties and dogma--"bickering buddy". Whatever. I love him anyways. -- "The Drummer Boy" did not serve us, because if we all walk to the beat of our own drummer, we all "authentically" walk in different directions, (all the sheep that have gone astray...) and not at all in the direction of hearing what God has to say to us in the coming of his Son, our Lord. If we don't have Him, we have nothing really. Nothing that lasts, anyhow.
My most profound interaction with "The Little Drummer Boy", however, was while caroling at the hospital. We were making our way down toward the palliative unit when we stopped at a room. I didn't know if we were in the palliative section or just a room or two before. (It is a small hospital.) In any case, we elicited a song request and the patient asked for, you guessed it, "The Little Drummer Boy", which was not contained in our 70 song strong carolling book, even though it also holds many secular songs. We might have done it from memory, seeing that almost the whole song is "rapapapums", but nevertheless, we asked the person to choose another, since we were lacking the words. The choice went to another default, another perennial favorite-- "Away in the Manger."
"Away in the Manger" is often credited to Martin Luther, but I can tell you with certainty, that it is not a German song, at all. It is truly an English song. It finishes like this:
Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay, Close by me forever, and love me, I pray! Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care And take us to heaven, to Live with Thee there. Except in our booklet it finished: "And fit me for heaven, to live with you there." I was really glad we sang this song in the palliative or nearly palliative section of the hospital. "And fit me for heaven, to live with you there." Now there is a Christmas song. It was very poignant to me and I caught the eye of another choir member who seemed to sense the same thing. We almost sang "The Little Drummer Boy" to a sick or dying person, but "Away in the Manger" came to the rescue.
"He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem." Isaiah 53:3
The prophet Isaiah was a seer. His book is also called a fifth gospel because he foresaw the Savior Christ so clearly. Of course, we see this in retrospect. One wonders a little bit what he thought he was saying. It must have been somewhat mystical to him. But he knew it was the truth, and the unimaginable came to be. Who is this despised man and Lord? --To have a God who is acquainted with grief, or here "familiar with pain", is to have one in whom one can confide. One with whom one can let one's guard down. One whom one can trust and this is "faith". --Yesterday, the Monday before Christmas Eve, I had a lot of shopping left to do, for lettuce and fruit, for meats and cheeses and eggnog... and what not... So, seemingly, did everybody else. The crowds were cheerful and well behaved, as Canadians usually are. But every five meters, or so, you would meet someone. And everyone was in the same boat: needing to get things done, figuring out who is going where for what and giving whom what and whether they were going to church and where and with whom. And they all had their rawness's. First, I met a woman, a dear friend and congregation member, my age, whose second husband just died. I had not seen her since his very recent death. We just stopped in our tracks and looked at each other and fondled each other, looked in each other's serious faces, ready but not to break out into tears. I didn't offer any condolences because I knew from experiences that it would be too much. We would have a scene and that was not the point. Five meters further, I met someone I work with and five meters further I met some elderly lady from the congregation. Then I still had to go to Walmart. In a one department store town, you are bound to run into people every time. But not only did I meet people from the town, I met people from all the out-lying towns. One I had not seen in a long time. She proceeded to pour out her heart about things from 2007 and onward. Everyone has things on their plate. But they all feel for me. They are very moved by my loss. It is the worst they can imagine. So, I am worthy to hear their griefs. I am acquainted with pain. My word has weight. --So it is with the Lord who is born to us. He bore everything we bore and more. He cried over Jerusalem which would not repent. So we cry this Christmas the most for those who will not turn to him. Our loved ones who have gone to be home with the Lord, are not suffering loss, we, who miss them, only have a temporary loss, but those from whom we are divided over lack of reconciliation cause us true grief. Even Jesus prayed for those who crucified him. Forgive them, they don't know what they are doing. His love is infinite. He bears everything.
"The Four Loves" has been on the back-burner. But I always find that C.S. Lewis does me good. He provides medicine, a salve applied by a sage, a loving doctor. His dialectics have nothing ill-bred in them. He heals even while he cuts. He seems to have thought about this tension: love and affection vs. honesty and rudeness. The Bible exhorts us to speak the truth in love. Lewis exhorts us to speak freely, but with care:
"We hear a great deal about the rudeness of the rising generation. I am an oldster myself and might be expected to take the oldsters' side, but in fact I have been far more impressed by the bad manners of parents to children than by those of children to parents. Who has not been the embarrassed guest at family meals where the father or mother treated their grown-up offspring with an incivility which, offered to any other young people, would simply have terminated the acquaintance? Dogmatic assertions on matters which the children understand and their elders don't, ruthless interruptions, flat contradictions, ridicule of things the young take seriously--sometimes of their religion--insulting references to their friends, all provide an easy answer to the question 'Why are they always out? Why do they like every house better than their home?' Who does not prefer civility to barbarism?
If you asked any of these insufferable people--they are not all parents of course--why they behaved that way at home, they would reply, 'Oh, hang it all, one comes home to relax. A chap can't be always on his best behaviour. If a man can't be himself in his own house, where can he? Of course we don't want Company Manners at home. We're a happy family. We can say anything to one another here. No one minds. We all understand.'
Once again it is so nearly true yet so fatally wrong. Affection is an affair of old clothes, and easy, of the unguarded moment, of liberties which would be ill-bred if we took them with strangers. But old clothes are one thing; to wear the same shirt till it stank would be another. There are proper clothes for a garden party; but the clothes for home must be proper too, in their own different way. similarly there is a distinction between public and domestic courtesy. The root principle of both is the same: 'that no one give any kind of preference to himself'. But the more public the occasion, the more out obedience to this principle has been 'taped' or formalized. There are 'rules' of good manners. The more intimate the occasion, the less the formalization; but not therefore the less need of courtesy. On the contrary, Affection at its best practices a courtesy which is incomparably more subtle, sensitive and deep than the public kind. In public a ritual would do. At home you must have the reality which that ritual represented, or else the deafening triumphs of the greatest egoist present. You must really give no kind of preference to yourself; at a party it is enough to conceal the preference. Hence the old proverb 'come live with me and you'll know me'. Hence a man's familiar manners first reveal the true value of his (significantly odious phrase!) 'Company' or 'Party' manners. Those who leave their manners behind them when they come home from the dance or the sherry party have no real courtesy even there. They were merely aping those who had.
'We can say anything to one another.' The truth behind this is that Affection at its best wishes neither to wound nor to humiliate nor to domineer. You may address the wife of your bosom as 'Pig!' when she has inadvertently drunk your cocktail as well as her own. You may roar down the story which your father is telling once too often. You may tease and hoax and banter. You can say 'Shut up. I want to read.' You can do anything in the right tone and at the right moment--the tone and moment which are not intended to, and will not, hurt. The better the Affection the more unerringly it knows which these are (every love has its art of love). But the domestic Rudesby means something quite different when he claims liberty to say 'anything'. Having a very imperfect sort of Affection himself, or perhaps at that moment none, he arrogates to himself the beautiful liberties which only the fullest Affection has a right to or knows how to manage. He then uses them spitefully in obedience to his resentments; or ruthlessly in obedience to his egoism; or at best stupidly, lacking the art. And all the time he may have a clear conscience. He knows that Affection takes liberties. He is taking liberties. Therefore (he concludes) he is being affectionate. Resent anything and he will say that the defect of love is on your side. He is hurt. He has been misunderstood." (pp. 52-55) --I really like the "You may address the wife of your bosom as 'Pig!' when she has inadvertently drunk your cocktail as well as her own." It probably happened just like that between him and his wife. But in the setting it is not meant to hurt, nor does it hurt. "Not giving preference to oneself" is not a phrase we use nowadays, and here it is the guiding principle. What does it mean? Probably just this: love your neighbor as yourself. Don't do to him what you would not like to have done to yourself. Or, as there is deep affection and knowledge, to consider the person's true needs and feelings and guide your words and actions by this understanding. Anyhow, it is all good advice as the Christmas family gatherings are approaching. It is said that many a family has a falling out after having eaten and drunk too much together. Something to watch out for in this season of Affection and indulgence.
What is it with these people, parading him around,
preaching him from the rooftops.
The "King of the Jews".
Of all places, born and raised and died in a real place,
Judea, Bethlehem, as foretold, and in a troubled city, Jerusalem.
Jerusalem: peace in its name but rarely at peace.
The king of peace came to you and you killed him,
as did we. Peace, not of this world.
At Nelson Mandela's funeral, we couldn't tell what the hymns were.
They were in another language, the parts I heard on BBC.
But "Jerusalem" was in the song.
Nelson Mandela has gone to Jerusalem with Jesus, the King.
I turned on the radio this morning to a glorious madrigal chorus
singing full-throatedly: "Born is the Kind of Israel"!
On CBC radio, of all places.
If it weren't a "tradition", if it weren't actual, living local people singing this,
you would never get it onto CBC.
The choir is full of seniors singing for seniors. We are always going to the lodges.
--We are not caroling today.
There are two funerals this week for the group in town.
--This is going to happen again.
There is a defibrillator "on site", as the sign on the door proclaims.
(I just renewed my Standard First Aid and CPR.)
--Mostly we will miss him.
He was one of our few men.
--In Germany, when someone died we always sang: "Wenn ich einmal soll scheiden, so scheide nicht von mir. Wenn ich den Tod soll leiden, so tritt du dann herfuer. Wenn mir am allerbaengsten wird um mein Herze sein, so reiss mich aus den Aengsten, Kraft deiner Angst und Pein." (Paul Gerhardt)
It is the last verse of "O Sacred Head now Wounded" and this is a translation:
"When I must part some day, then do not part from me. When I must suffer death, oh, then step forward. When I will be most afraid, so tear me from my fears, by the power of your own suffering and pain."
While we are talking about prayer and Hawaii, (last post), I must talk about Catholic Cathedrals. Whenever we are downtown in a large American city and it happens to be a Sunday, it seems not so simple to get to a Lutheran Church Missouri Synod church, but a huge Catholic Cathedral is at hand. So it was in San Francisco, for example, and so it was in Honolulu--right on Waikiki beach. In Hawaii it also happens that the time zone is three hours behind Edmonton's, so that one ends up getting early, even against one's wishes, to see sunrises, finely chiseled demi-gods rise out of the ocean after their first swim of the day, and notice that there is already a Catholic mass at 6:00 or 7:00 AM. The gate is open and you can walk on the driveway to get to the open church.
What I want to relate is that a big Catholic church seems to be always open for worshipers and that there seem to be many services. I recall, too, from long ago, that in my little Bavarian village, when we were waiting for public transport to get to the larger city for grammar school/ gymnasium, the older women were making their way to church at that hour for daily mass.
In the large Catholic churches, we note, too, that there always seems to be opportunity for confession and absolution; sometimes one can see people lined up for this. Usually, we only see this in some sort of sinister movie, with someone plotting murder or villains getting absolution before they head out for an evil deed, if they are not killing someone in a confessional. Since I hail from Bavaria, which is super-Catholic, and having attended Catholic school, this sort of thing is not new to me, but the fact is impressing itself on me that I meet this everywhere on my travels.
And it makes me a little jealous. Why aren't our churches open all the time so we can go in and pray? Why are there no posted times for confession and absolution?
I did go into the church on my early morning ambling and I did go and pray, there. I even genuflected the way the other people did. It seems like a good and right thing to do.--In Europe we were taught to curtsy and to bow when we met people. There can be no theological difficulty with making a gesture toward the big cross in the front. (I wouldn't have done it if it had been a Madonna in the front which can also happen in a Catholic church. This sort of thing makes me want to leave, not stay. Once we were in Syracuse on Sicily and there is found an ancient Greek temple, with Doric columns, converted to Christian church; but the whole edifice was for Mary and this is what it said on top of the front. We had never seen quite such a strange thing before.)
Nevertheless, the whole business of the availability of time and space and planned services adds something in the way of a practice of piety. The opportunity to just come into some quiet place and pray is a real gift to be relished. We could use more of it.
I am also thinking, what a blessing it is for older people to have a reason to get up in the morning, walk to church, sing and pray, receive the sacrament and get busy with some community work, as you can see them do, planning meals for the homeless, and so on.
When you come out of the church in Waikiki and you have been thus refreshed, you walk more serenely and contently. It strikes you as strange that you should be shopping, and buying and consuming every step of the way. This reminds me of Jesus' zealousness for the temple. It is a house of prayer, not for buying and selling and cheating while you are at it. -- You can only serve one master.
Snorkeling is like prayer, in a way, I thought. Recently I was able to enjoy the amazing experience of snorkeling in the ocean off the coast of Hawaii. Since in Europe we used to swim enthusiastically in any open body of water, I was able to take to the ocean like the duck to water, so to speak. We entered from a boat and it was easy and it was fun, though I worried a little about sharks. It was so easy, even a lady who had never swum before and who had brought a wet-suit managed to do it with proper flotation devices.
So, you stick your head under water and this incredible world is right there! You couldn't see it, at all, from the boat. You can't see, either, it if you lift your head back above the water. But right here with your face in the water, there is indeed an abundance of sea-life--the colorful fish, the school of fish, the longish ones just under the surface... There would be no way of imagining it if you did not see it with your own eyes. And your body is floating at the interface between two worlds. Lift your head and you see nothing but empty sky and water. Drop your head and there is an entire zoological miracle. It is a matter of your eyes just being above or below the surface.
I envision prayer like that now. There is the visible world, in which I function. There is the invisible world which I can enter by word and prayer. The invisible world is just as close at hand. In my mind and soul I can duck in an out of these, living right at the interface of both worlds, part of both.
For David says concerning him, “‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;" (Acts 2)
Through Christ, I have access to the ocean of God's love. I can call on him any time and he hears. I can call on him any time and ask for help and forgiveness. I can call on him any time and he will make paths for me to walk in. I can call on him any time and he will strengthen me with his grace.
The other day, a discovery on Mars made a great media splash. Somehow it was determined by robotic digging and analysis, that 4 billion years ago there may have been some water somewhere on that planet; -- "salty water" it said in another report.
We all know that water is necessary for life, as is oxygen and carbon. Maybe salt, too, whatever salt they are talking about.
With this report in hand, it only took the interviewer a second to make the leap from the possible presence of water 4 billion years ago, to having found "evidence" of life on Mars. The researcher had to caution the interviewer: no, we have not found evidence of life, not even a little microbe. We would love to find evidence of a microbe.
It's a little jump from possible water to a microbe.
Every Canadian housewife knows it.
A commercial arrived in the mail. It was a heavy card with an image of young people lying around in a field. The aim of the advertisment was to sell something to "grey power". The caption was: "Do you remember the concert that rocked the world?"
Ehem. Checking Wikipedia we find that the concert was in 1969, so it overlaps with my power of memory and that of my parents and older cousins; but no, we never heard of Woodstock where we lived and nobody I know really has ever talked about it or reminisced about it. I wonder who did the research before they put this advertisement out in the Edmonton area.
As a high school student, I participated in a exchange to Ontario. There were town names there like that: Tavistock, Stratford and yes, I think Woodstock. This is the most I can relate.
I am afraid, the advertisement is a bust with me. Woodstock never rocked my world nor anyone's I know.
A Mandela quote floating on the internet: "It is better to lead from behind and put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory, when nice things occur. You take the front line, when there is danger."
The commonality between the picture and the article is the marketing and changing of long-standing faith, in the American way. We should probably be glad that a Disney movie has not yet been made of the Bishop's life, though Disney, admittedly, has made some very enjoyable movies.
Mike S. Adams has been there. In his own words the author "was once one of those bright kids, lost for seventeen angry years because of professors who lured me into their reason-less angst. It almost killed me. But I survived." Eventually Mike emerged from his funk and these days he is a professor of criminology at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, a nationally syndicated columnist and a highly successful author. The man who once counted himself an angry young "progressive" has undergone a metamorphosis and is now a happy conservative Christian. During his tenure as an educator Mike has seen firsthand the devastating consequences that unchallenged progressive ideas can have on impressionable young minds. As an exercise he decided to write a series of short and very personal letters to a student named Zach. Zach was sort of a composite of so many of the students that he had encountered along the way. Before long his idea morphed into a book. "Letters to a Young Progressive: How to Avoid Wasting Your Life Protesting Things You Don't Understand" is a heartfelt appeal to these young people to consider a very different set of ideas. If you know a naïve young person who you believe is being led down the primrose path then offering him/her a copy of this book would be a great way to engage them and perhaps even help to instigate some serious discussion. It is certainly worth a shot! --"How to Avoid Wasting Your Life Protesting things You Don't Understand" sounds good. What does it mean? We remember young protesters on TV, when interviewed about their views were found out to actually have no views. Facts and figures and are said not to matter or inspire--so I have been told repeatedly by professional protesters. --It seems to me lately that a lot of good and bad stuff comes out of North Carolina. As a knowledgeable person told me once, it appears to be a "hotbed'. Or maybe he said, there were a lot of "hotheads" there. I forget. 2. Contrast this with Nelson Mandela, who died yesterday, whose tributes are playing on the radio, as I am typing. Nelson Mandela knew and understood what he was protesting. Mandela wasted twenty some years in prison, not able to protest, and these years were no waste, as it turned out. His lengthy incarceration became a symbol for the unreasonableness of the government and became a moral impossibility to defend. He also was a great rhetorician, giving important speeches that both soothed and raised courage and vision. (Martin Luther did the same thing when he came down from the castle to straighten out the mess in the town. He had the same skills of good brain, big heart and picturesque, memorable language, soothing and inspiring the common people. He also was a scholar and knew his stuff.) Every great leader and progressive must know the place of knowledge, of experience, of listening to the people, including the weak, and develop his skills of head, heart and language. If his "love" only means pure "passion" or energy or even just anger, or aggression, he does not have "love". More is needed. Mandela is greatly praised for his grace and inclusiveness, today. His care for the Aids victims and his efforts to include other races in South African society, as well as modernizing economic models of the reform movement. The truth and reconciliation commission and Archbishop Desmond Tutu also provided a deep, spiritual component of honesty and forgiveness. Today, people are speaking about how these principles need to be applied in our own countries and with our various mixed populations. No doubt, knowledge, and grace and wisdom are needed. Mandela embodied these. The radio keeps exploding in triumphant African song. -- But so much needs to be done, still. Africa has so far to go. There is so much poverty. So much war. So much poor health and societal disfunction. So many orphans. And, yet with all its remaining many difficulties, South Africa is a light. The samples of Mandela speeches we get today are shafts of reasonableness and true love of the people. Now, the opposing view is aired, on my radio. Nelson Mandela was on the US terrorist list until 2005. He endorsed armed struggle. He is not Desmond Tutu and he is not Martin Luther King. He is not the ever smiling Santa Claus we have been seeing on pictures and TV. But he was in politics and had to come up with a mixed program dealing with IMF, and so on. Interesting about the armed struggle. Martin Luther was also not a pacifist, per se. Not that the church was to take up the struggle using arms, (it was a Reformation point, that the church cease doing such things), but the right organization was to fulfill its duties in defending justice in active and even violent means, if necessary. The right organization would never be the church nor involve vigilante action. Insurrection was not to be carried on in the name of the gospel, or for the sake of the gospel. ( Luther himself would always fight with the pen and mouth only. But the legitimate government would play this role of enforcing just rule of law and defense of the country and citizenry. The question of something unjust like an Apartheid government had not really come up. In Medieval society it was the Jews who lived segregated and disenfranchised, however, they also insisted on living together as they needed their own butcher, their own schools, their own language, their own bathing places by the springs, etc.. Not that this justifies what went on.) How to struggle against an unjust government is always an excruciating question. Government must be available and able to enforce the rule of law and defense. We have seen armed struggle and unarmed struggle. Bonhoeffer first studied Ghandi and wanted unarmed struggle, but after a terrific soul-searching got involved with a bomb plot to kill Hitler. How do you get rid of such an evil dictator? How many millions were lost to rid the world of him. The history of mankind seems to be nothing but war. Bonhoeffer, too, was hung, as were scores of dissidents of all ages and stripes. Young Scholl was guillotined.
Recently I read C.S.Lewis' "The Four Loves". There are some really marvelous insights and passages in the treatise. I will begin reviewing it but doing some quoting.
In discussing "Affection" he deals with some potential problems with the emotion. Affection turned into "god" will turn sour on us.
"But secondly, the comment in its own language admits the very thing I am trying to say. Affection produces happiness if--and only if--there is common sense and give and take and 'decency'. In other words, only if something more, and other, than Affection is added. The mere feeling is not enough. You need 'common sense', that is, reason. You need 'give and take'; that is, you need justice, continually stimulating mere Affection when it fades and restraining it when it forgets or would defy the art of love. You need 'decency'. There is no disguising the fact that this means goodness; patience, self-denial, humility, and the continual intervention of a far higher sort of love than Affection, in itself, can ever be. That is the whole point. If we try to live by Affection alone, affection will 'go bad on us'.
How bad, I believe we seldom recognize. Can Mrs fidget really have been quite unaware of the countless frustrations and miseries she inflicted on her family? It passes belief. she knew--of course she knew--that it spoiled your whole evening to know that when you came home you would find her uselessly, accusingly, 'sitting up for you'. She continued all these practices because if she had dropped them she would have been faced with the fact that she was determined not to see; would have known that she was not necessary. That is the first motive. then too, the very laboriousness of her life silenced her secret doubts as to the quality of her love. the more her feet burned and her back ached, the better, for this pain whispered in her ear 'How much I must love them if I do all this!' that is the second motive. but I think there is a lower depth. the unappreciativeness of the others, those terrible, wounding words--anything will 'wound' a Mrs. Fidget--in which they begged her to send the washing out, enabled her to feel ill-used, therefore, to have a continual grievance, to enjoy the pleasures of resentment. If anyone says he does not know those pleasures, he is a liar or a saint. it is true that they are pleasures only to those who hate. But then a love like Mrs fidget's contains a good deal of hatred. It was of erotic love that the Roman poet said, 'I love and hate,' but other kinds of love admit the same mixture. They carry in them the seeds of hatred. If Affection is made the absolute sovereign of a human life the seeds will germinate. Love, having become a god, becomes a demon." (p. 67,68, Harper Collins)
I have had many blessedly warm relationships in my life, but I have experienced one that is like this Affection gone self-centered and complaining. This person recently said: "All the things I have accomplished I have done for the love of my children." True enough, perhaps. But now, no one is good enough. I am tempted toward this also, in getting older, perhaps uglier, perhaps more useless, perhaps ignored, perhaps more easily injured... too much time to think, the devil's workshop. But this time can also be used differently. We need to look up and out. Do whatever useful things and enjoyable things we can find to do, and not expect "Affection" in return. Just do them and leave the rest to God.
Now that Breaking Bad is over, I have to watch other shows. Last I tried a Woody Allen biography, on Netflix. The first hour was fairly interesting, detailing early life, Brooklyn before car traffic, the cinemas, the first marriage... but it sort of drooped off after that with the analysis of every show he made and the virtues of every star involved. But this struck me: when he was five years old, he realized that everyone has to die. This realization put a damper on everything for him at the time, or maybe always. -- What is any pleasure? -- You are going to die. -- How can you enjoy anything? -- You are going to die.
It makes me wonder when in life I first felt similarly severely chastened by a fact or a thought. I am sure that I was older than five when first something seemed extremely poignant to me. I think it was when my cat died, speaking of death. Maybe this connects. She had eaten some rat poison in the neighbors yard and was bleeding, dying ever so slowly. My father soon dispatched her, in the basement, saving us all the misery. But what I could not forget was that even though the cat was suffering, she would still purr when we stroked her. She could lay dying and still purr. It seemed astounding to me.
We loved the cat, and it was also, in her feline way, attached to us. My hand was still an instrument of comfort and petting. All my life I have wanted grace in suffering. As in the Paul Gerhardt songs, we submit to God's leading and gracious will. We will not curse God, like Job's wife suggested to him. Though he slay me, I will trust him. This is a gift. I will not be able to do it on my own. I have always wanted a "good" death, as they say.
When our son died, my husband said: this is the kind of day we have been going to church for all this time. Someone said that this was about the best reply to tragedy that they have ever heard. Indeed, it was a good reply. We can enjoy life and still be ready to die, Woody.
One was very rational laying out the SLED acronym. The fetus is fully human. It only differs from the rest of humanity in "S", size, "L", Level of Development, "E", environment, and "D", dependency. -- If you would not kill just any toddler, you can't just kill any pre-born.
The unborn is your neighbor whom you must defend.
The other man told his own story of abortion. And of another death, that put him into court for three years. He told me of this only afterward, when we talked in the hallway. He sounded like a very good pastor. I was very glad to meet him.
I am a little weepy after all that. Our losses have us so much in their grip. Death lays his icy hand on our lives and crushes our little hearts under his power. And the guilt, the resignation, the depression, the denial, the unexpected shocks and flashbacks, the hollowness, they all gnaw relentlessly at our courage and hope.
He is a pastor and a pastor's pastor, initiating various programs. But he is not a Lutheran. I told him about the age-old practice of confession and absolution, about rejoicing continually in your baptism. He said that men don't share. I said, why not? Because, they just don't. I said, why not. I said Christian men confess their sins to one another. They have father confessors. They make a practice of it. We are not superchristians. The love of God makes me positively giddy. Satan can have all his crap and keep it.
The last several years have represented a complete collapse of my old world. That is how it seemed and felt. The world of the last thirty years or so. The world of new marriage and family, of business, management, staffing, music lessons, living in the country, being with young folk, having everyone drive out to get their teeth fixed and then coming over for coffee or dinner. It all stopped at once. And Stefan died. All of it at once. And the dog died, too. I wasn't going to mention that. There were not many who walked with me through this valley of the shadow of death. Not many, AT ALL.
New things start.
New people enter your life, as you branch out again.
You try yourself at different things.
A slow spring. A slow resurrection.
Stops and starts, like an endless April.
Not everything works.
Somethings don't work at all, anymore.
I was thinking about how in the new situations, it turned out that it was Christian people who provided the encouragement, the respect, the care, the basic human decency and respect I needed. But not only. There are others. Christians have a better sense of community than many others. There is a desire to include where often you meet only exclusion. There were also some very bad people. And some who like to confuse, and I don't know if they are good or bad. They do it on purpose.
They think it is a useful game. -- It does not feel like it to me. Intellectually, it could be rationalized, maybe, but emotionally, I can't rationalize it. It is supposed to be humanistic but it does not seem human or humane.
When I think back over my life and decide which have been the most wonderful people to be with, I have to say, hands-down, it was the fellow peer-counselors at the Pregnancy Crisis Center. They stand out for listening, for praying, for holding your hand and being Christ to you. They heard serious stories and they gave serious ear and they prayed with you about your concerns--here and now, and out loud. They shed serious tears with those who were despairing. They shared the word and they offered help. They have been my favorite people, ever.
I've lately met people who claim such universal love for mankind that they hate all religions, even though people are all religious one way or another.
On the other hand, logic only does so much good.
Since in the Holy Scriptures Christ is called a mystery upon which all heretics dash their heads, we admonish all Christians not to arrogantly indulge their reason in crafty investigations about such mysteries. With the beloved apostles, they should simply believe. They should close the eyes of their reason and bring their understanding into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and rejoice without ceasing in the fact that our flesh and blood is placed so high at the right hand of God's majesty and almighty power. In this way we will certainly find constant consolation in every difficulty and remain well guarded against deadly error.
I have absolutely no idea why such stuff interest me. Or irks me. (What is the difference?) I should focus on important writers not these who have themselves lost in the maze.
2. On the coffee table still sits the William Zinsser "On Writing Well. The classic guide to writing non-fiction". It is very enjoyable and I love the examples he provides. They illustrate his points and also some of the non-fiction of life. Hopefully, it has ever so slightly improved the writing on this blog. I have attempted to cut out superfluous and extraneous words and thoughts.
But I am only on page 195. Here I want to quote him because he makes the same point that Chesterton made a few posts back: a critic should be someone who loves the subject matter. It also connects to the last post: someone who hates everything and denounces everything quickly becomes a bore.
"Yet I suggest several conditions that apply to both good reviewing and good criticism. One is that critics should like--or better still, love--the medium they are reviewing. If you think movies are dumb, don't write about them. The reader deserves a movie buff who will bring along a reservoir of knowledge, passion and prejudice. It's not necessary for the critic to like every film; criticism is only one person's opinion. But he should go to every movie wanting to like it. If he is more often disappointed than pleased, it's because the film has failed to live up to its best possibilities. This is far different from the critic who prides himself on hating everything. He becomes tiresome faster than you can say 'Kafkaesque.' "
"The modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything.” - G.K. Chesterton
Rebelling. I have something of a rebel in me. We all do. It's good and it's bad. Let that be the given. What is useful rebelling? When you speak up for those who can't speak and are being victimized. When someone tramples on your own human rights. When someone should be and could be doing better. All of it implies some sort of standard, that we know what is right and wrong and what is better. Then there is the rebelling against doing yourself what you know you ought to do, or do better. This is not good rebelling or a not knowing a standard. But are there any who don't have a standard written in their hearts? The "natural law". We are so constituted that we adulterate it for our own benefit and justification. Somewhere in our hearts we generally know that we are doing this -- and we rebel against this knowledge, the best we can. Sometimes is is not easy to do. We end up talking it over with friends, who confirm us in our wrong understanding. Or we end up talking with friends who tell us the truth. -- What about this picture: what about rebelling for the sake of rebelling? And what did Chesterton mean? I know about Chesterton. There were Communists, Eugenists, Fabian Society... everyone trying to break down the fabric of existing society, of marriage as the bedrock, or the church as a meaningful, living community with standards of faith and practice. We see, now, where their rebellions have led. We can't get around the standards. There is only useful rebellion with standards, with law, with a law to keep. And there is only a useless rebellion with our not caring to keep this law. (The Law: Friend or Enemy?) Here is some useful protesting. Indians living in England are protesting the fact that even in Great Britain the caste system persists and discrimination based on being "untouchables" pursues them, in a society which is basically more fair and just than Hindu society. I am glad someone is saying something about that. The fact that millions of people are subjugated based simply on the caste system, is something we are too silent about. http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/british-indians-seek-legal-protection-from-caste-system-1.2224275
MARTIN LUTHER ON PSALM 6:5 (from The Seven Penitential Psalms)
5. "For in death there is no remembrance of Thee." That is, the dead do not praise Thee and do not extol Thy mercy; only the living do this, as we read in Ps. 115:17–18:5 “The dead do not praise the Lord, nor do any that go down into silence; but we will bless the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.” Therefore here the psalmist speaks not only of temporal death but also of spiritual death, when the soul is dead. For sin is the death of the soul, and pain is its hell. Both are felt by one who lies in this distress, namely, in sin and in punishment for sin. Therefore he says: “Do not let me remain in death and hell; but according to Thy mercy graciously raise me up, deliver me from hell, and console me.” Thus this verse makes us understand that this tribulation is a door and entrance into eternal sin and punishment, that is, into death and hell, as King Hezekiah says: “I have said in great terror: I must enter the gates of hell in the midst of my days, that is, when I thought I was in the best years of my life” (Is. 38:10).
"In hell who will give Thee thanks?" Therefore I have said, “for Thy mercy’s sake!” Hell, where Thy mercy does not dwell, does not praise Thee; it really desecrates and blasphemes Thy justice and truth. This is by far the noblest thought which the saints have in their crosses and by which they are also sustained. Otherwise they are in every way like the damned, as we read later in the last of these psalms: “Hide not Thy face from me, lest I be like those who go down to the pit” (Ps. 143:7). The difference is this, that the saints retain a good will toward God, and that they are more concerned about losing God’s gracious will, praise, and honor than about being damned. For he does not say: “In hell there is no joy and pleasure” but rather: “There is no praise and honor.” Therefore here he inserts the thought that God is well disposed toward no one in hell, and if he goes to hell, he, like the condemned, would be in God’s disfavor. This would be more unwelcome and painful to him than the pain itself. Therefore we read in the Song of Solomon that the love of God is as strong as death and as firm as hell, because it remains even in deathly and hellish pain (8:6). Thus God says through Isaiah: “I will bridle you with My love, that you do not perish” (48:9). That is: “I will grant you a sincerely favorable disposition toward Me in the midst of your suffering, and this will restrain you and keep you. Without this all others perish in their trials.” Again, in Ps. 18:3: “I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.” We must overcome afflictions, death, and hell. However, they will not be overcome by running away or by impatience, but with favor, good will, and love continuing toward God in their presence. These are sharp words for the old Adam, especially if he is still fresh and green; but that does not matter.
Luther's Works, AE, vol. 14, Selected Psalms III, p. 144. Copyright 1958 by Concordia Publishing House. I have always found it so, that in my afflictions my fervor and love of God have grown. This is how one is "bridled with his love". Sing a Paul Gerhardt song and keep going.
I've been busy... and can't even seem to get any reading done. This is the book I'm trying to work on:
(See also Concordia Publishing House.)
It hasn't grabbed me overly much, yet, as far as I've got; I feel, here and there, that things have been brought in that don't completely pertain or are analogous. At some point, maybe, we'll quote a bit.
Mostly, I've been living off the "Words of Jesus" app on my cell-phone. It is a change to not stuff your mind with a lot of reading and just go with Jesus' words plain and simple. A little can go so far.
Today, there was a quote from the Gospel of John, where Jesus says that the Helper will come and help them remember all the things that he said.
First I thought, hm, the skeptics will say that: yes, yes, of course, John's is the last gospel and this is how he claims that what he writes is true. The Holy Spirit told him.
But in real life this happens. We remember the right thing at the right time. It seems to come out of nowhere. Or we had a relationship with someone, a relationship that had its ups and downs, but afterward you can only remember the nuggets. All the dross has been washed away, but that what is pure gold remains and it is lodged somewhere in you, living, growing, giving without loss, shining more brightly with time, becoming more valuable all the time. This is how the Holy Spirit works. He is there. He is alive. He comforts and he brings things to mind. Just so, Jesus words are never lost. They remembered them, they talked about them, the preached about them, they wrote them down.
As they said with astonishment, he does not teach like their scribes but as one who has authority. Who can forget?--Unforgettable.
Last night, I was driving home at 8:30 and listened to CBC for about 10 min., but I can't find the broadcast online, just now.
A guest was speaking about his research into entitlement behavior. He showed that the richer a person is, the more flashy a person's car is, the more he or she has accumulated by chance in a monopoly game, etc. the less honest, moral, and considerate their behavior. The idea that rich people turn into well-meaning benefactors is faulty. (Or as others have pointed out, if the billionaire gives away a few million, he's still got a lot left.)
And it was not that it was the ruthless behavior which got a person to become rich and therefore ruthless people are rich. It was the comparative advantage of the person which made him or her act more entitled and less considerate.
Jesus did say something about the rich and the eye of the needle. And he did speak about those who give from their plenty. Ah, yes. He had a lot to say about it. Researchers are just getting around to the statistics.
It makes sense to me in a number of different contexts. I have seen people act impatiently and unkindly with others when they seem to have an advantage over handicapped or newcomers. I have seen it with university professors, who have a relatively advantaged, cushy and prestigious job over those not in their field or those who must garner their favor, or those who don't have their nose for certain things. I have seen it with intelligent theologians over those who can't get to church or study as often. -- There are different kinds of riches and advantages. There are those who are unkind to children, the aged, the vulnerable.
It is running away with me now. This wasn't all on the program.
This week I have thought about two famous women. One is the young Malala from Pakistan. What a powerful voice on all levels! I even like the way she wears her headdress. We have some modesty, which we could emulate, and even some pretty fabric, which is fun, but none of the horrible hidden-ness and darkness of other potential garb and insane rules about showing no hair and endless terror. -- To have so much courage in a young person is really something else. It makes us all look like cowards.
Her story also shows us why the Son of God had to die. The narrative is not complete or moving without the willingness to suffer and the survival of ghastly attack showcasing both the horror and the valor.
Then there was also Alice Munro, this week. She won a Nobel prize for literature. She is the only female Canadian short-story writer whom I have read. Well, I have really only read three short-story writers; the other two are Nathaniel Hawthorne and Flannery O'Connor. I would say that I like Hawthorne the best of the three. Flannery hits me out of nowhere in ways I find more contrived. Hawthorne seems more unified and satisfying while also being hard-hitting.
Anyways, Munro I can't remember hitting me aside from some strange sexual respects, which I did not enjoy and the perverted images are still with me. What I did enjoy with Munro were the settings because they were familiar Canadian settings. I guess I don't enjoy the queernesses in some of the short-stories, especially if they seem dragged in by the hair. All of it makes me want to try and write a short story while reminding me of an old friend/enemy, whom I miss today.
The story seems to be about an IT worker who is married and deeply in love with his wife, who is struggling with a psychosis. Strangely, he knows nothing and understands nothing about her deeper life and struggles. After her suicide he begins a literal and figurative journey to find her background and understand her better, if only in retrospect. On the bottom half of the page runs the dairy of his wife, which he reads as he travels along. So there are two stories running parallel in time and on the page.
"The Ungeheuer", i.e. "The Monster" is the wife's psychosis. The novel is to show the complete lack of foundation of modern life and said to be very timely for our days. "Bodenlosigkeit" is the German word they use. Which would mean: the lack of ground under your feet.
Hm. If someone gives it to me, I will read it.
A negative reviewer on Amazon found the whole idea preposterous. How could the husband know nothing of his wife's mental illness and depression. We could say that this is slightly unrealistic or very much an artistic construct for the purposes of the novel. It seems neither to me. I think that many a man has hardly an idea, or even an interest in what is going on with his wife's inner life, or perhaps even his own. In fact, this inner life may be the very monster he fears. Talk to me about everything but not your feelings. Or maybe we all feel like this somehow about our own inner life--always running and hiding from it, as from a charging bear (I could have said "charging bull", but I live in Canada.)
Goodness knows we don't want to know female or anybody's despair. My husband does not even read my blog and it is not a despairing place, I think.-- No, no, I think the premise of "Das Ungeheuer" works. I don't even know that any man can know what goes on with a woman, and vice versa.
It might take a woman to understand such a thing as this disconnect. I could be wrong.
Now that I have vented my frustration in the last post, and have had a chance to think about "And the Mountains Echoed", by Khalid Hosseini and let the characters live in my head for an evening, night and morning, I have to come to see more clearly what I like about the book. The positive is emerging like shapes coming out of the morning mist. I am even thinking, it could be read to the husband, after all, with a little editorializing. Hosseini actually deals gently with issues we all deal with but don't discuss very often because we find them dreary or frightful. Caregiving, looking after the handicapped and elderly with the attendant strain on families, as well, as their emotional growth or decline, is not that often brought up. It is like the underbelly of our existence. We look for the excitement and health in life, but what happens as we become frail and more "diminished"?
"Diminished" is a word Hosseini used in the interview and the book. And not "diminished" in a cataclysmic, spectacular going-out, just the gradual, usual way--in a nursing home, for example--step by step "diminishing". The reunion of the separated siblings is similarly un-spectacular. Pari can't remember the time before their separation, and Abdullah is demented by the time they meet again.
Several people on Amazon said that they did not even bother to read the last 40 pages. The climax was not climactic enough, one thinks. But that was the point. What can we do? How do we deal with the losses and the unfulfilled dreams? How do we receive what we can receive, if it is not what we wanted or expected? How do we deal with this punctuated novel and its unsatisfactory characters and events?
And then there is the matter of Afghanistan. Gently, we see a critique of the horrors and the hardness. Hosseini's various scenes and stories are just glimpses. We must take from them what we can. We must be patient with them, as we must be patient with our lives and our loved-ones and with God.
It has been heavily promoted and is available at Costco. If was my first book by the author, but Hosseini was familiar to me from hearing the same interview with CBC radio three times. (It does make you wonder that one could hear this interview this many times.) However, I had enjoyed the interview with Khaled Hosseini as he made a very good impression for his depth and humanity. I even thought that I might read it out loud to my husband for bonding.
But I am afraid the book disappointed. After a few pages I realized it would not make good reading aloud, as I was lost already. Half the time you are wondering who is the narrator and what is the setting and what on earth is going on. It was on the strength of the oft-heard interview that I soldiered on. There was no way that I could subject my husband to it, if I was feeling so impatient.
There were parts to enjoy and lessons and insights to keep. I even cried like three times. -- I can't remember about what, though. It's too bad that venturing out into fiction was a bit of a let-down. In future, in choosing novels, I will try to stick to classics and prize winners.