Saturday, August 31, 2013

Ayaan Hirsi Ali / submission

Ayaan Hirsi Ali , author of "Infidel" and  "Nomad" is an amazing person.  Time permitting, I want to watch all her Youtube clips. I have read "Infidel" but not "Nomad".  Her presentation is very calm, reasonable, rational,  on Islam, feminism, the role of Christianity.  She helped me understand, the other day, in her talk on Islam, the role of the central concept of "submission".  "Submission" is what "Islam" means.   Submission to saying your prayers five times a day in prescribed fashion.   Submission to all the rules and regulations handed down is a must for getting into paradise.  And women also must submit to their men.  This is where Ayaan Hirsi Ali's activism kicked in.  

Submission is the way you get to paradise.  It is a hard road.  I am thinking of the young men my son in law has worked with up North.  This year, Ramadan was in the middle of summer.  How long was the day up north during which you could not eat or drink?  And keep working physically on the scaffolding job?  What kind of crew members did these men make?  The co-workers were not happy, but think of it from the young man's point of view.  He is "submitting" to all the rules to get to paradise.  Ayaan Hirsi Ali (AHA) says following all the rules and having everything recorded by your recording angels on either shoulder is very difficult.  A suicide mission to guarantee a place in paradise is an easier route to follow.  She says, forget about the 72 virgins, but see how difficult it is live the life of a Muslim.

My daughter took physiotherapy with a young Muslim man in the class.  She told me about how much he struggled.  Life was very stressful for him.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


After watching news segments over the last number of days commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Dr. Martin Luther King "I have a dream" speech, I thought about how much we talk about the speech and how little we get to hear of it.  On Youtube several segments of the speech are available.  These excerpts let you catch the spirit of it and I was enthralled and amazed when I first heard them.

There was even a short clip of a Winston Churchill speech, today, on BBC, perhaps three sentences long. I suppose these little teasers might motivate us to look up more, since this material is easily available to us now. And, yet, I wonder why we spend so much time talking about speeches, rather than listening to them.

A friend of mine likes to quote a writer:  "Sermons don't convince."  But this would oppose this whole idea of important oratory, such as we are recalling today.  Well, news journalists spins don't convince much, either.

I will bring in one more instance.  Several months ago, I was painting some rooms and while doing that was captive to the CBC program hyping the election of Pope Francis, culminating in the smoke coming out and the everyone waiting with baited breath for him to make an appearance.  All this drama was turned up to the fullest extent and dragged out beyond all reason.  And THEN--when the new Pope came out to speak, the program switched abruptly to a story about butterflies in Newfoundland, then to a story about spring cleaning;  a whole hour was dedicated to spring themes.  We did not hear a word the new Pope delivered from the balcony.  At first, I thought, CBC has made a mistake.  They plugged the wrong cable into the wrong hole. -- Malfunction at the studio. -- But no, we did not get to hear a word of a very Christian speech.

In the light of the introduction to the African Heritage Hymnal (see a couple of posts back), and the deeply spiritual nature of the civil rights struggles, I wonder, if the Christian element of the effort is being sidelined deliberately.

For me, some of these sayings apply to grief work.

I have been hanging on to Jeremiah's words:  "I know the plans I have for you", declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future."  (Jeremiah 29:11)

However feebly, however nearly hopelessly, we must move forward.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Paradise in Islam

I've been reading about Islamic Paradise here, a very thoroughly documented article.  The strangest thing is that in Paradise all will have all the carnal pleasures imaginable, even those that are strictly forbidden in this life.  Women don't fare as well.  They just get their old husband back, who now will be a rejuvenated 30 years old, however, ready to take on 72 other beautiful women about him and drawing on the virility of 100 men which will be granted him.

If you abstain from all these sins here, you will then get to enjoy those carnal pleasures in paradise!   The words fail me to describe this phenomenon.   This must be the principle of submission.  If you submit to the rules now, you get your reward later.  But as the article states, the system reduces human beings to sexual beasts.

I do not think that the article overstates the matter.  I have watched videos of Muslims making converts on the streets of London.  The evangelists mentions the beautiful companions in paradise as he makes his pitch.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Bathing allowed on beaches of Fukushima

Beaches by Fukushima have been opened for the swimming public.

You must wonder about the Japanese.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Introductory comments in the African American Heritage Hymnal

A Rev. Otis Moss, Jr. writes in the introduction to the African American Heritage Hymnal:

     The African-American generation of the 1950s and 1960s beginning in 1955, took the songs and hymns of our ancestors into our marches, jail cell, and mass meetings and fashioned the faith of a movement that reintroduced the African drum, chant, and music in an undisguised and transforming symphony of protest and revolution.
     I remember being arrested and taken to a crowded jail in Atlanta and hearing a welcome song echoing from another section of the jail, "Ain't gonna let nobody turn me 'round." I remember another occasion when the jailer called the Reverend A.D. King and myself  aside for a private conversation.  At first, we were a little suspicious.  but when he began to tell us how he did not want his "soul to be lost," we knew that the spirituality of our movement was akin to that of Paul, Silas, and John.  The jailer was carrying side arms with the authority to kill.  We were armed with righteousness and the power to heal.  The music of the movement did not create this power but communicated it and motivated the messengers, teachers, and leaders.  

J. Alfred Smith, also says:

     During the period from 1960 to the present, gospel choirs have appeared on college campuses.  Members of many of these choirs are atheistic, agnostic, Jewish, or otherwise non-Christian in their faith posture.  They have chosen to sing about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the providence of God, not for the sake of worship, praise, and adoration of God, but for the motivation of satisfying their own emotional needs or for the embracing of aesthetic appreciation for a musical-cultural art form.  The intentionality of African American musicians in the black church ecumenical family has always been to creatively express, with the community engaged in worship, the deepest feelings of love for and dependence on the God who has come to us in Jesus Christ.
     May the love of God, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the sweet communion of the Holy Spirit be ever present as you utilize the resources of the hymnal. 

James Abbington made an important distinction between "spirituals" and "gospel songs".  We see here in Smith's comment that "gospel" has also been used to communicate messages of non-Christ-centered material.  I have encountered this in two music workshops now, where all the hymns had been depleted of all biblical references except for possibly a "Hosanna" or "Alleluia" somewhere.  I must say that many of them were quite beautiful songs about social gospel, freedom and such.  But we need to heed this reminder, that a true Gospel song will be grounded in the "dependence on God who has come to us in Jesus Christ."  We are not there to "satisfy emotional needs or embracing aesthetic appreciation" for their own sake.

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Religion for Atheists / De Botton

 De Botton after making a number of comments about the existential loneliness, aggravated by modern living in cities, and the difficulties of truly meeting new people and even making new friends after the age of thirty, highlights the community which is shared in the "Catholic Mass".  (He does not want to say the Lord's Supper, I would think.  It happens to be the case that the Supper is shared not only in the Catholic Mass, etc.)
Religions seem to know a great deal about our loneliness.  Even if we believe very little of what they tell us about the afterlife or the supernatural origins of their doctrines, we can nevertheless admire their understanding of what separates us from strangers and their attempts to melt away one or two of the prejudices that normally prevent us from building connections with others.
     A Catholic Mass is not, to be sure, the ideal habitat for an atheist.  Much of the dialogue is either offensive to reason or simply incomprehensible.  It goes on for a long time and rarely overrides a temptation to fall asleep.  Nevertheless, the ceremony is replete with elements which subtly strengthen congregants' bonds of affection, and which atheists would do well to study and on occasion learn to appropriate for reuse in the secular realm.
     Catholicism starts to create a sense of community with a setting.  It marks off a piece of the earth, puts walls up around it and declares that within their parameters there will reign values utterly unlike those which hold sway in the world beyond, in the offices, gyms and living rooms of the city.  All buildings give their owners opportunities to recondition visitors' expectations and to lay down rules of conduct specific to them.  The art gallery legitimates the practice of peering silently at a canvas, the nightclub of swaying one's hands to a musical score.  And a church, with its massive timber doors and 300 stone angels carved around its porch, gives us rare permission to lean over and say hello to a stranger without any danger of being thought predatory or insane.  We are promised that here (in the words of the Mass's initial greeting) 'the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit' belong to all who have assembled.  The Church lends its enormous prestige, accrued through age, learning and architectural grandeur, to our shy desire to open ourselves to someone new.
     The composition of the congregation feels significant.  Those in attendance tend not be be uniformly of the same age, race, profession or education or income level;  they are a random sampling of souls united only by their shared commitment to certain values.  The Mass actively breaks down the economic and status subgroups within which we normally operate, casting us into a wider sea of humanity.

I have my entire life been involved in church and known many different kinds of people and always made a point to keep meeting new people, that I cannot even imagine what it is like not to have such immediate access to people of all stripes and colors.  Not too long ago, I met a new co-worker, a man from Egypt, a Christian who had fled here.  In Egypt he was a dentist.  Here he worked as a hygienist.  I could tell something about him right away and it did not take long for us to figure out that we shared Christ.  He took me in his arms and called me a sister.  This is so nice.   And I can't see this happen in any other kind of context unless you really were a long lost relative.  There is an immediate access which can be read in the face--a surrender of walls and prejudices--the gift of love and honesty--because we are both before God.  I don't know how an atheist could ever duplicate this.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Religion for Atheists

When I was a Chapters last week and did not buy Reza Aslan's book, I did chose a different book.  It is titled:  "Religion for Atheists. A Non-believers guide to the uses of Religion."  by Alain De Botton, an author I had not heard of before but who seems very talented to me.

I haven't previously thought about the cover picture which looks like an image of an eclipse. This choice leaves me stumped, at the moment. The book contains many moving images which fit the text in an evocative and meaningful way; but the eclipse--hm. ?  Maybe it means:  there must be some bigger truth out there but we can't grasp it through our religions, even though they are headed in the right direction.  Could be.

I enjoyed the book because it has much insight into human nature.  It is mostly trying to show how much sense religions make in terms of their practices and how they support human life, thought, art, travel, and emotional stability.  His underlying premise, though, I cannot fathom.  For some reason, he expects that all these benefits could be reaped without actually believing anything to be actually true.  This point of view seems to be rampant out there on the internet and in the English department ivory towers.  I haven't actually met any live honest-to-goodness down-to-earth people who hold this sort of ambivalence about truth, unless they are trying to cover something up.

So, you would think that I would be upset with the De Botton.  But he wrote such a fine and gentle and sensible book that I am really very pleased with him.  There is so much in the book which could help some "angry atheist" to calm down and look at the issues more clearly and from another perspective.  In that sense I read it like a Christian apologetic.  One might think that the reasonable conclusion to the matter is, that if religions have so much to go for them, maybe one of them is true?  And one might think that someone on an actual quest for truth would find some sign posts here.

The book helps me calm down, too, because it does not carry this constant, condescending, strident, insensitive, blaspheming, antagonistic, hateful tone that we are subjected to everywhere it seems.  It also helps me understand my own practice of Christianity better and from a different angle.  He makes points about our culture which ring so true but which are not usually articulated.  I think this is what really makes him stand out to me.  De Botton did speak to my soul and used beautiful words and paragraphs to do it.  He spoke truth.  He might be an arch-skeptic but he seems like a decent man.

I will quote a little bit in the next few days.  But since it is a new book, there won't be much.

Another good analysis of "Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth"

Here is another well written and thought-out review at Amazon of Reza Aslan's book "Zealot:  The Life and Time of Jesus of Nazareth".

For Someone

This was quickly for someone with whom we shared a difficult experience, recently, and who likes to write rhyming poetry, (which is something I will never hope to accomplish).

Life is light,
and pain.
Life, itself, is the most
of all.
The Lord knew it.
His life and ours
is shared
in the mysterious
communal meal
of justice
In all,
he draws us to him,
as we feed on his grace.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

David Marshall's Review and Critique of Reza Aslan's book on Jesus the Zealot. / Very good.

A very good writer, David Marshall, has written a excellent review of Reza Aslan's "Zealot" book.  It is very well done and everyone interested in the subject should have a look.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Luther's Small Catechism with Bible Proofs / Loehe / In English !!!!!!

Pastor Donovan Riley has translated and updated Luther's Catechism with Bible explanations from Loehe's work.  This document is now available for free use.  !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thanks be to God!  

You can find it here:

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Metaphorical Fundamentalists

I just watched a short video clip by John Dominic Crossan, in which he compares all people--all of them (!)--who take a sacred text literally to Hitler.  Hitler described the Jews to "germs" which must be eradicated.  In the same way he states that those who believe in a "fundamentalist" way, i.e. believe the message of the text is literally true, (not just possibly metaphorically true), will describe their opponents as "evil" and in the end will take some sort of measures to eradicate them.

Woe-oe!  Did he just say that.  It seems to take one to know one.  Those who hold to a truth with become evil people because they will persecute and harm those who do not believe like they do. -- These kinds of people count as "scholars".

Someone once told me that there are no religious scholars in America.   Crossans sweeping non-analysis just confirms this generalization.  Of course, there are some scholars in America.  But it seems a good deal of what has gone as scholarship is a rehashing, popularizing and demonizing based on German "scholarship" or "science".

From how I read it recently, the 19th century in Germany spawned a lot of interesting work which was called "science", such as "Relgionswissenschaft"--"science of religion".  We should realize that none of the creative theories should be called a "science" in the way we use the word.   They should be called in inquiry, an interpretation, a philosophy, but they are anything but science;  and Crossan's little analogy does not establish him as a religious scholar but as a shallow demagogue, it seems to me.

Also see this:

and I am still reading this:

We have hundreds of millions of Christians under active persecution in the world, mostly at Muslim and Communist hands and this is the simple-minded analysis about violence.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Myth of the Metaphorical Resurrection

I am reading through this dissertation on John Dominic Crossan's work by Tawa Anderson.  Surprisingly, I know the author, as he lived in Edmonton.  Small world!  Great topic!

Introduction to Psalms, Luther

C.S. Lewis has done me a lot of good this summer with his Surprised by Joy.  His school and life experiences will stay with me.  What colorful people and descriptions!  What circuitous thinking!  It must take a philosophical mind to make things so complicated and so simple and finally so uniquely Lewis, and still appealing to us all.

I've been thinking about the Psalms, the last couple of days, because I quoted one on this thread on Naked Pastor.   It was Psalm 2.  I had it handy because I just started reading Psalms from the beginning and it was number two!  Well, in the Lutheran Study Bible, I also found a very wonderful introduction to Psalms by Martin Luther, which I will put here. It amazes me how he so often has the right words.

     Many of the holy fathers prized and praised the Psalter above all the other books of Scripture.  To be sure, the work itself gives praise enough to its author;  nevertheless we must give evidence of our own praise and thanks.
     Over the years a great many legends of the saints,...books of examples, and histories have been circulated...and the Psalter has been neglected.  It has lain in such obscurity that not one Psalm was rightly understood.  Still it gave off such a fine and precious fragrance that all pious hearts felt the devotion and power in the unknown words and for this reason loved the book.
I hold, however, that no finer book of examples or of the legends of the saints has ever come, or can come, to earth than the Psalter.  If one were to wish that from all the examples, legends, and histories, the best should be collected and brought together and put in the best form, the result would have to be the present Psalter.  For here we find not only what one or two saints have done, but what he has done who is the very had of all saints.  We also find what all the saints still do, such as the attitude they take toward God, toward friends and enemies, and the way they conduct themselves amid all dangers and sufferings.  Beyond that there are contained here all sorts of divine and wholesome teachings and commandments.
     The Psalter ought to be a precious and beloved book, if for no other reason than this:  it promises Christ's death and resurrection so clearly--and pictures his kingdom and the condition and nature of all Christendom--that it might well be called a little Bible.  In it is comprehended most beautifully and briefly everything that is in the entire Bible.  It is really a fine enchiridion or handbook.  In fact, I have a notion that the Holy Spirit wanted to take the trouble himself to compile a short Bible and book of examples of all Christendom or all saints, so that anyone who could not read the whole Bible would here have anyway almost an entire summary of it, comprised in one little book.
     [The Words of the Saints.]  Beyond all that, the Psalter has this noble virtue and quality.  Other books make much ado about the works of the saints, but say very little about their words.  The Psalter is a gem in this respect.  It gives forth so sweet a fragrance when one reads it because it relates not only the works of the saints, but also their words, how they spoke with God and prayed, and still speak and pray.  Compared to the Psalter, the other legends and examples present to us nothing but mere silent saints;  the Psalter, however, pictures for us real, living, active saints.
     Compared to a speaking man, a silent one is simply to be regarded as a half-dead man;  and there is no mightier or nobler work of man than speech.  For it is by speech, more than by his shape or by any other work, that man is most distinguished from other animals.  By the carver's art even a block of wood can have the shape of a man;  and an animal can see, hear, smell, sing, walk, stand, eat, drink, fast, thirst--and suffer from hunger, frost, and a hard bed--as well as a man.
     [The Hearts of the Saints.]  Moreover the Psalter does more than this.  It presents to us not the simple, ordinary speech of the saints, but the best of their language, that which they used when they talked with God himself in great earnestness and on the most important matters.  Thus the Psalter lays before us not only their words instead of their deeds, but their very hearts and the inmost treasure of their souls, so we can look down to the foundation and source of their words and deeds.  We can look into their hearts and see what kind of thoughts they had, how their hearts were disposed, and how they acted in all kinds of situations, in danger and in need.  The legends and examples, which speak only of the deeds and miracles of the saints, do not and cannot do this, for I cannot know how a man's heart is, even though I see or hear of many great deeds that he does.  And just as I would rather hear what a saint says than see the deeds he does, so I would far rather see his heart, and the treasure in his soul, than hear his words.  And this the Psalter gives us most abundantly concerning the saints, so that we can be certain of how their hearts were toward God and of the words they spoke to God and every man...
     What is the greatest thing in the Psalter but this earnest speaking amid these storm winds of every kind?  Where does one find finer words of joy than in the psalms of praise and thanksgiving?  There you look into the hearts of all the saints, as into fair and pleasant gardens, yes, as into heaven itself.  There you see what fine and pleasant flowers of the heart spring up from all sorts of fair and happy thoughts toward God, because of his blessings.  On the other hand, where do you find deeper, more sorrowful, more pitiful words of sadness than in the psalms of lamentation?  There again you look into the hearts of all the saints, as into death, yes, as into hell itself.  How gloomy and dark it is there, with all kinds of troubled forebodings about the wrath of God!  So, too, when they speak of fear and hope, they use such words that no painter could so depict for you fear or hope, and no Cicero or other orator so portray them.
And that they speak these words to God and with God, this, I repeat, is the best thing of all.          This gives the words double earnestness and life.  For when men speak with men about these matters, what they say does not come so powerfully from the heart;  it does not burn and live, is not so urgent.  Hence it is that the Psalter is the book of all saints;  and everyone, in whatever situation he may be, finds in that situation psalms and words that fit his case, that suit him as if they were put there just for his sake, so that he could not put it better himself, or find or wish for anything better.
     [The Communion of Saints.]  This also serves well another purpose.  When these words please a man and fit his case, he becomes sure that he is in the communion of saints, and that it has gone with all the saints as it goes with him, since they all sing with him one little song.  It is especially so if he can speak these words to God, as they have done;  this can only be done in faith, for the words [of the saints] have no flavor to a godless man.
     Finally there is in the Psalter security and a well-tried guide, so that in it one can follow all the saints without peril.  The other examples and legends of the silent saints present works that one is unable to imitate;  they present even more works which it is dangerous to imitate, works which usually start sects and divisions, and lead and tear men away from the communion of saints.  But the Psalter holds you to the communion of saints and away from the sects.  For it teaches you in joy, fear, hope, and sorrow to think and speak as all the saints have thought and spoken.
     In a word, if you would see the holy christian Church painted in living color and shape, comprehended in one little picture, then take up the Psalter.  There you have a fine, bright, pure mirror that will show you what Christendom is.  Indeed you will find in it also yourself and the true ["Know yourself"], as well as God himself and all creatures....
     To this may God the Father of all grace and mercy help us, through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom be praise and thanks, honor and glory, for this German Psalter and for all his innumerable and unspeakable blessings to all eternity.  Amen, Amen. (AE 35:253-57)
     [Types of Psalms.]  The entire Psalter may be treated in a five-fold fashion, that is, we may divide it into five groups. First, some psalms prophesy.  They speak, for example, of Christ and the church or what will happen to the saints.  This class includes all the psalms that contain promises and warning--promises for the godly and warnings for the ungodly.  Second, there are psalms of instruction, which teach us what we should do and what we should avoid, in accordance with the law of God.  This class includes all the psalms that condemn human doctrines and praise the Word of God.  Third, there are psalms of comfort, which strengthen and comfort the saints in their troubles and sorrows but rebuke and terrify the tyrants.  This class includes all the psalms that comfort, exhort, stimulate endurance, or rebuke the tyrants.  Fourth are the psalms of prayer, in which we call on God, praying in all kinds of distress.  To this class belong all the psalms that lament or mourn or cry out against our foes.  Fifth, are the psalms of thanks, in which God is praised and glorified for all his blessings and help.  This class includes all the psalms that praise God for his works.  These are the psalms of the first rank, and for their sake the Psalter was created;  therefore it is called in Hebrew Sefer Tehillim, that is, a praise book or book of thanksgiving.

     Now, we should understand that the Psalms, with all their verses, cannot always be classified so precisely and exactly into these groups.  At times one psalm might contain two, three, or even all five classifications, so that one psalm may belong in all five divisions, with prophecy, instruction, comfort, prayer, and thanksgiving lying next to one another.  However, this is the intention, that the reader may understand that the Psalter deals with these five topics.  The classifications are a help, so that we might more easily understand the Psalter, become adapted to it, and also be able to learn and keep it. (PIML, pp 6-7)

I have not always appreciated all of the psalms thoroughly.  Certainly, most of us have favorites.  We Germans have such a phenomenal hymn book, that we might with clutching hands not want to trade a Paul Gerhardt song for a psalm by David, if we had to.  (I am talking foolishness.)  But Luther because of his schooling read the entire Psalter every so many days.  I think six or ten psalms were read per day. Can one imagine getting through the Psalter this often and so many times?  It would ring in ones ears.  What a treasure that would be. We have so many scripture verses in the liturgy and they ring in my ears.  It is a wonderful thing, indeed.  I am wondering if I can get my husband to read and discuss the Psalter with me next.  We finished everything by Solomon;  so maybe we'll back up and read what David had to say.

Luther wrote some commentaries on the Psalms  and I find them highly telling about himself and his life experiences.  In a way was another David, in that he had so many enemies to fight, was a thorough man of prayer, coaching and enticing everyone else to apply themselves to prayer. Their God and their trust in God saw them through historically important events in which they found themselves in leadership positions with many situations to manage in a God-fearing way.


Saturday, August 10, 2013

C.S.Lewis' chess pieces fall

The natural step would have been to inquire a little more closely whether the Christians were, after all, wrong.  But did not take it.  I thought I could explain their superiority with that hypothesis. Absurdly (yet many Absolute Idealists have shared this absurdity) I thought that "the Christian myth" conveyed to unphilosophic minds as much of the truth, that is of Absolute Idealism, as they were capable of grasping, and that even that much put them above the irreligious.  Those who could not rise to the notion of the Absolute would come nearer to the truth by belief in "a God" than by disbelief.  Those who could not understand how, as Reasoners, we participated in a timeless and therefore deathless world, would get a symbolic shadow of the truth by believing in a life after death.  The implication--that something which I and most other undergraduates could master without extraordinary pains would have been too hard for Plato, Dante, Hooker, and Pascal--did not yet strike me as absurd.  I hope this is because I never looked it squarely in the face.  (p. 215)
Realism had been abandoned;  the New Look was somewhat damaged;  and chronological snobbery was seriously shaken.  All over the board my pieces were in the most disadvantageous positions.  Soon I could no longer cherish even the illusion that the initiative lay with me.  My Adversary began to make His final moves.  (p. 217)
     Up till now my thoughts had been centrifugal;  now the centripetal movement had begun.  Considerations arising from quite different parts of my experience were beginning to come together with a click.  This new dovetailing of my desire-life with my philosophy foreshadowed the day, now fast approaching, when I should be forced to take my "philosophy" more seriously than I ever intended.  I did not foresee this.  I was like a man who has lost "merely a pawn" and never dreams that this (in that state of the game) means mate in a few moves.
     The fourth Move was more alarming.  I was now teaching philosophy (I suspect very badly) as well as English.  And my watered Hegelianism wouldn't serve for tutorial purposes.  A tutor must make things clear.  Now the Absolute cannot be made clear.  Do you mean Nobody-knows-what, or do you mean a superhuman mind and therefore (we may as well admit) a Person?  After all, did Hegel and Bradley and all the rest of them ever do more than add mystifications to the simple, workable, theistic idealism of Berkeley?  I thought not.
     Then I read Chesterton's Everlasting Man and for the first time saw the whole Christian outline of history set out in a form that seemed to me to make sense.  Somehow I contrived not to be too badly shaken.  You will remember that I already thought  Chesterton the most sensible man alive "apart from his Christianity."  Now, I veritably believe, I thought--I didn't of course say;  words would have revealed the nonsense--that Christianity itself was very sensible "apart from its Christianity."  But I hardly remember, for I had not long finished The Everlasting Man when something far more alarming happened to me.  Early in 1926 the hardest boiled of all the atheists I ever knew sat in my room on the other side of the fire and remarked that the evidence for the historicity of the gospels was really surprisingly good.  "Rum thing," he went on.  "All that stuff of Frazer's about the Dying God.  Rum thing.  It almost looks as if it had really happened once."  To understand the shattering impact of it, you would need to know the man (who has certainly never since shown any interest in Christianity).  If he, the cynic of cynics, the toughest of the toughs, were not--as I would still have put it--"safe", where could I turn?  Was there then no escape? (pp. 222-223)

Thursday, August 8, 2013

C.S. Lewis and Christian Creativity

Now that I was reading more English the paradox began to be aggravated.  I was deeply moved by the Dream of the Rood;  more deeply still by Langland:  intoxicated (for a time) by Donne;  deeply and lastingly satisfied by Thomas Browne.  But the most alarming of all was George Herbert.  Here was a man who seemed to me to excel all the authors I had ever read in conveying the very quality of life as we actually live it from moment to moment;  but the wretched fellow, instead of doing it all directly, insisted on mediating it through what I would still have called "the Christian mythology."  On the other hand most of the authors who might be claimed as precursors of modern enlightenment seemed to me very small beer ad bored me cruelly.  I thought Bacon (to speak frankly) a solemn, pretentious ass, yawned my way through Restoration Comedy, and, having manfully struggled on to the last line of Don Juan, wrote on the end leaf  "Never again."  The only non-Christians who seemed to me really to know anything were the Romantics;  and a good many of them were dangerously tinged with something like religion, even at times with Christianity.  The upshot of it all could nearly be expressed in a perversion of Roland's great line in the Chanson--Christians are wrong, but all the rest are bores. (p. 214, Surprised by Joy)

This is great.  All the rest are bores.  Nice.

I was arguing with someone not long ago who thought that people who have catechisms are rigid sticks.  I asked him if the doctrinally more sophisticated people he had met were really less interesting than others.  He didn't answer that.  And I think it was because it is just simply not so.  Christians and doctrinal people are not more boring, and not less flexible, and not less interested and not rigid idiots.  (If we must compare.  But generally you hear the other stereotype.)

Just today someone linked this article about creativity, conservatism and Christianity.  This is all so much non-sense, it must come down from the Puritans. Honestly.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

C.S. Lewis on Wordsworthian joy and Christian joy

     The History of Joy, since it came riding back to me on huge waves of Wagnerian music and Norse and Celtic mythology several chapters ago, must now be brought up to date.
     I have already hinted how my first delight in Valhalla and Valkyries began to turn itself imperceptibly into a scholar's interest in them... And only very gradually did I realize that all this was something quite different from the original Joy.  And I went on adding detail to detail, progressing toward the moment when "I should know most and should least enjoy." Finally I woke from building the temple to find that the God had flown.  Of course I did not put it that way.  I would have said simply that I didn't get the old thrill.  I was in the Wordsworthian predicament, lamenting that "a glory" had passed away.
     Thence arose the fatal determination to recover the old thrill, and at last the moment when I was compelled to realize that all such efforts were failures.
... But then what I had felt on the walk had also been desire, and only possession in so far as that kind of desire is itself desirable, is the fullest possession we can know on earth;  or rather, because the very nature of Joy makes nonsense of our common distinction between having and wanting.  There, to have is to want and to want is to have.  Thus, the very moment when I longed to be so stabbed again, was itself again such a stabbing.  The Desirable which had once alighted on Valhalla was now alighting on a particular moment of my own past;  and I would not recognize him there because, being an idolater and a formalist, I insisted that he ought to appear in the temple I had built him;  not knowing that he cares only for temples building and not at all for temples built.  Wordsworth, I believe, made this mistake all his life.  I am sure that all that sense of the loss of vanished vision which fills The Prelude was itself vision of the same kind, if only he could have believe it.   (pp 165-167.  Surprised by Joy.)

Let us note several things.

1.  This obsession with Wagnerian music, Norse mythology, the Siegfried legend and all such Germanic stuff that fed the Nazi new religion of superior Germanic being that could trample on everyone else, is something popular and also available to the young C.S. Lewis.  It is somewhat surprising to me, that this propagation and obsession went beyond German borders and dovetails with some things we have recently looked at.

2.  Wordsworthian predicaments and longing I don't know anything about, and something tells me I can be glad for that.  Males intensely longing for things isn't something I really need to know about very badly, as long as my husband comes home for dinner. Sorry, that sounds like a stupid thing to say, but it suffices me at the moment.  BUT this thinking lies very close to the heart of the theme of the book, so we can't shove it aside.

3.  Temple building by man or by God.  God cares nothing for temples built.  That would be like the tower of Babel, a Ziggurat, a climbing up a ladder to God, to Joy.  This seeking for the "glory", for the "stab"--it seems all a bit overwrought and unnatural to me.  And yet there is the "stab" of longing for the "stab" which is also already a Joy.  Well, does it not seem a bit obsessive?  On my part I will play and sing some favorite music of mine that has made its way into the pleasure center of the brain, but music and singing in themselves are enjoyable.  I am not sure that a great "desire" is associated with it.

I don't know. -- I think of it in terms of neurotransmitters, maybe.  But there is desire.  No doubt there is desire, longing, or as some like to say "Sehnsucht."  But really I can do without it.  Yes?  No?

Buddhism tries to extinguish it and the self.  And then there are these poets who need to flan it into flame and are constantly looking for it.  And then there is God who makes a person a temple of the Holy Spirit, and such are we.  The emphasis is perhaps on the just "are", no trying, no extinguishing, no fanning into flames.  It just is. --  How nice.-- I like it. -- I think this is where Lewis was going with all that.

Yes, in fact, this is how C.S.Lewis concludes the book:

...But what, in conclusion, of Joy?  for that, after all, is what the story has mainly been about.  To tell you the truth, the subject has lost nearly all interest for me since I became a Christian.  I cannot, indeed, complain, like Wordsworth, that the visionary gleam has passed away.  I believe (if the thing were at all worth recording) that the old stab, the old bitter-sweet, has come to me as often and as sharply since my conversion as at any time of my life whatever.  But I now know that the experience, considered as a state of my own mind, had never had the kind of importance I once gave it.  It was valuable only as a pointer to something other and outer.  While that other was in doubt, the pointer naturally loomed large in my thoughts.  When we are lost in the woods the sight of a signpost is a great matter.  He who first sees it cries, "Look!"  the whole party gathers round and stares.  But when we have found the road and are passing signposts every few miles, we shall not stop and stare.  They will encourage us and we shall be grateful to the authority that set them up.  But we shall not stop and stare, or not much;  not on this road, though their pillars are of silver and their lettering of gold.  "We would be at Jerusalem."
     Not, of course, that I don't often catch myself stopping to stare at roadside objects of even less importance.

So here we have it all tied up.   There is a kind of Buddhist-like detachment from whether or not the experience of joy happens or not but not because the self is extinguished but because the other, outer is there to contemplate in relation--a Christian known by God and knowing himself known.  But the poet is still the poet, he still stops and stares, though he does not search for the road-sign but for Jerusalem.


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

C.S. Lewis on getting boys to read newspapers

...Meanwhile, on the Continent, the unskilled butchery of the first German War went on.  As it did so and as I began to foresee that it would probably last till I reached military age, I was compelled to make a decision which the law had taken out of the hands of English boys of my own age;  for in Ireland we had no conscription.  I did not much plume myself even then for deciding to serve, but I did feel that the decision absolved me from taking any further notice of the war.
...No doubt, even if the attitude was right, the quality in me which made it so easy to adopt is somewhat repellent.  Yet, even so, I can hardly regret having escaped the appalling waste of time and spirit which would have been involved in reading the war news or taking more than an artificial and formal part in conversations about the war. To read without military knowledge or good maps accounts of fighting which were distorted before they reached the Divisional general and further distorted before they left him and then "written up" out of all recognition by journalists, to strive to master what will be contradicted the next day, to fear and hope intensely on shaky evidence, is surely an ill use of the mind.  Even in peacetime I think those are very wrong who say that schoolboys should be encouraged  to read the newspapers.  Nearly all that a boy read there in his teens will be known before he is twenty to have been false in emphasis and interpretation, if not in fact as well, and most of it will have lost all importance.  Most of what he remembers he will therefore have to unlearn;  and he will probably have acquired an incurable taste for vulgarity and sensationalism and the fatal habit of fluttering from paragraph to paragraph to learn how an actress has been divorced in California, a train derailed in France, and quadruplets born in New Zealand.  (pp. 158,159; Surprised by Joy.)

Part of me rebels against this.  Because I read newspapers, maybe.  But I am not a schoolboy.  I am a fully grown woman, a voter, a commentator...  who knows.  Good information is important.  What you don't know does kill you.  Ignorance is not bliss.  Things like that.

Goethe said something similar.  He did not read the paper for some weeks and found at the end that he had missed nothing.

These are the people that make up stories (Lewis and Goethe). They don't miss the newspaper when they don't read it.

But, Chamberlain appeased Hitler.  The English were so firm in their opinion of the genetic militarism of the Germans they refused to help the German resistance, writing off the German movement.  I don't know.  We have got to be with it.  What we don't know or suppress can kill millions.  But surely there is a time for news and a time for no news and always with a dose of skepticism.  And not everything is good for children.

He does not talk about girls.  Should girls read newspapers?  The other day there was a study published that world-wide females are more poorly informed about events than males are.  But only in America were those who watched more newscasts more poorly informed than those who don't watch as much.  This does say something about some media and the American diet of sensationalism.  I have no trouble rationalizing cutting out all American news outlets.

Decent news has always been important. And where ever someone wants to take over and dominate he wants to first dominate or cut out the media.  This has become very difficult to do with the internet and such, but now it seems that those who have the least knowledge want to scream the loudest.  It's not an easy thing to sort out, but we have to try.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

C.S.Lewis and his teachers / 4 / Ode to the dialectic teacher Kirkpatrick

C.S. Lewis finishes chapter nine of "Surprised by Joy" with saying how much Kirkpatrick meant to him.

Smewgy and Kirk were my two greatest teachers.  Roughly, one might say (in medieval language) that Smewgy taught me Grammar and Rhetoric and Kirk taught me Dialectic.  Each had, and gave me, what the other lacked.  Kirk had none of Smewgy's graciousness or delicacy, and Smewgy had less humor than Kirk.  It was a saturnine humor.  Indeed he was very like Saturn--not the dispossessed King of Italian legend, but grim old Cronos, Father time himself with scythe and hourglass.  The bitterest, and also funniest, things cam out when he had risen abruptly from table (always before the rest of us) and stood ferreting in a villainous old tobacco jar on the mantelpiece for the dottles of former pipes which it was his frugal habit to use again.  My debt to him is very great, my reverence to this day undiminished.

That nearly takes my breath away.  What a finish, right after giving that image of him fishing for bits of tobacco:  it is a great thing to be able to express so much gratitude for a man--a simple man, a flawed man, a gifted, passionate man to whom you owe a great debt.

Have fellowship as sinners.

“'Confess your faults one to another'” (Jas. 5:16). He who is alone with his sin is utterly alone. It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship,common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness. The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners. This pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners! But it is the grace of the Gospel, which is so hard for the pious to understand, that it confronts us with the truth and says: You are a sinner, a great, desperate sinner; now come as the sinner that you are, to God who loves you. He wants you as you are; He does not want anything from you, a sacrifice, a work;  He wants you alone. “My son, give me thine heart” (Prov. 23:26). God has come to you to save the sinner. Be glad! This message is liberation through truth. You can hide nothing from God. The mask you wear before men will do you no good before Him. He wants to see you as you are, He wants to be gracious to you. You do not have to on lying to yourself and your brothers, as if you were without sin; you can dare to be a sinner. Thank God for that; He loves the sinner but He hates sin."

–Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

C.S. Lewis and his dialectics teacher Kirkpatrick / 3

     I have said that he was almost wholly logical; but not quite.  He had been a Presbyterian and was now an Atheist.  He spent Sunday, as he spent most of his time on weekdays, working in his garden.  But one curious trait from his Presbyterian youth survived.  He always, on Sundays gardened in a different, and slightly more respectable, suit.  An Ulster Scot may come to disbelieve in God, but not to wear his weekday clothes on the Sabbath.
     Having said that he was an Atheist, I hasten to add that he was a "rationalist" of the old, high and dry ninteenth century type.  For Atheism has come down in the world since those days, and mixed itself with politics and learned to dabble in dirt... At the time when I knew him, the fuel of Kirk's Atheism was chiefly of the anthropological and pessimistic kind.  He was great on The Golden Bough and Schopenhauer.
     The reader will remember that my own Atheism and Pessimism were fully formed before I went to Bookham. What I got there was merely fresh ammunition for the defense of a position already chosen.  (pp. 139,140.  C.S.Lewis. Surprised by Joy. Harcourt. 1955)

On the internet I have met a few atheists and former Christians and they seem to me particularly stressed on Sundays and high holy days.  Some of them need to engage in hightened rhethoric and polemic against religion on those days.  I believe this is how this stress manifests and have come to expect it, though it detracts from my own celebration.  If we said that we pray for them when we recognize this we would put them even into a higher distress and frenzy, so one doesn't quite know what to do.  We will just take it and pray in silence (but do know that we pray for you because we... just have to.  XO).

So dear old Knock wore his different suit on Sundays.  Something in him needed to separate the day and honor it.

Schoperian atheism or pessimism I have read about, but I am not sure he has much to tell me that I need to know.  I already know that my own will is pretty bad.  The Golden Bough I haven't read either.  Maybe I will read a summary.

The Golden Bough attempts to define the shared elements of religious belief to scientific thought, discussing fertility rites, human sacrifice, the dying god, the scapegoat and many other symbols and practices whose influence has extended into twentieth-century culture.[2] Its thesis is that old religions were fertility cults that revolved around the worship and periodic sacrifice of a sacred king. Frazer proposed that mankind progresses from magic through religious belief to scientific thought.

Aha.  That sounds like some people.  I might have to peruse it some time.

Alright, then C.S. Lewis describes the day of study, reading, discussion and basic seclusion at the Kirkpatrick house and makes a little point about selfishness and self-centeredness, which is interesting but a little cryptic here.  He does pick up the theme in other places such as the Screwtape Letters.

Such is my ideal, and such then (almost) was the reality of "settled, calm, epicurean life."  It is no doubt for my own good that I have been so generally prevented fro leading it, for it is a life almost entirely selfish.  Selfish, not self centered;  for in such a life my mind would be directed toward a thousand things, not one of which is myself.  the distinction is not unimportant   One of the happiest men and most pleasing companions I have ever known was intensely selfish.  On the other hand I have known people capable of real sacrifice whose lives were nevertheless a misery to themselves and to others, because self-concern and self-pity filled all their thoughts.  Either condition will destroy the soul in the end.  But till the end, give me the man who takes the best of everything (even at my expense) and then talks of other things rather than the man who serves me and talks of himself, and whose very kindnesses are a continual reproach, a continual demand for pity, gratitude, and admiration.


We know about these things.  The Lord preserve us from them in others and ourselves.  It is the great trial to deal with the ego and that of others. 

Kirkpatrick's ego one could stand to hear a bit more about, but Lewis leaves it at that.  It seems Kirkpatrick was a reclusive man who thought, as we heard, even the bridge ladies wanted to define terms for hours on end.  Is that what Lewis meant:  a man wholly absorbed in his own thoughts and own way of thinking to his own pleasure?

Morning Routines

I sat on the deck in the sun,
the other day,
with my hymnbook and my coffee,
and tried to contemplate God,
(as I am reading a Roman Catholic book
on prayer and catechists.)

Across the back some men
were already (!)
making a racket with power tools,
and I thoughts about the fact that I was trying to
get myself going to do my morning
physical exercise, which I am always loath to do.

And I thought that this work the men were completing,
was just as pleasing to God as my contemplation,
and so would my morning physical exercise be,
to keep this old body from rusting completely.

So I went and sat down at the computer
to write this down,
--but now I will go exercise.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Music Symposium

The Music Symposium with James Abbington has been spectacular so far.  What a treat to have him.  He has a fantastic voice and unparalleled keyboard skills.  He has incredible warmth and much scholarly depth.

Last night Edmonton's white and black Christian community sang together and rocked the church with "Be still my Soul" and "Calvary" and much else.

Gonna sing some more today!  You can still come.  9:00 AM we start!

Friday, August 2, 2013

C.S. Lewis and his teacher Kirkpatrick / 2

    If ever a man came near to being a purely logical entity, that man was Kirk.  Born a little later, he would have been a Logical Positivist.  The idea that human beings should exercise their vocal organs for any purpose except that of communicating or discovering truth was to him preposterous.  The most casual remark was taken as  a summons to disputation....  Some boys would not have liked it;  to me it was red beef and strong beer...  The only two kinds of talk I wanted were the almost purely imaginative and the almost purely rational; ...  Kirk excited and satisfied one side of me.  Here was talk that was really about something.  Here was a man who thought not about you but about what you said.  No doubt I snorted and bridled a little at some of my tossings;  but, taking it all in all, I loved the treatment.  After being knocked down sufficiently often I began to know a few guards and blows, and to put on intellectual muscle.  In the end, unless I flatter myself, I became a not contemptible sparring partner.  It was a great day when the man who had so long been engaged in exposing my vagueness at last cautioned me against the dangers of excessive subtlety.
   If Kirk's ruthless dialectic had been merely a pedagogic instrument I might have resented it.  But he knew no other way of talking.  No age or sex was spared the elenchus.  It was a continuous astonishment to him that anyone should not desire to be clarified or corrected.  When a very dignified neighbor, in the course of a Sunday call, observed with an air of finality, "Well, well, Mr. Kirkpatrick, it takes all sorts to make a world.  You are a Liberal and I am a conservative;  we naturally look at the facts from different angles,"  Kirk replied, "What do you mean?  Are you asking me to picture Liberals and Conservatives playing pee-bo at a rectangular Fact from opposite sides of a table?  If an unwary visitor, hoping to waive a subject, observed, "Of course, I know opinions differ--Kirk would raise both his hands and exclaim, "Good heavens!  I have no 'opinions' on any subject  whatsoever."  A favorite maxim was, "You can have enlightenment for ninepence but you prefer ignorance."  The commonest metaphors would be questioned till some bitter truth had been forced from its hiding place.
... It will be imagined that Mrs. Kirkpatrick led a somewhat uneasy life:  witness the occasion on which her husband by some strange error found himself in the drawing room at the beginning of what his lady had intended to be a bridge party.  About half an hour later she was observed to leave the room with a remarkable expression on her face;  and many hours later still the Great Knock was discovered sitting on a stool in the midst of seven elderly ladies begging them to clarify their terms.

It seems to me that this kind of dialectic has gone out of favor.  The people I have come dispute with seem to care nothing about facts, logic, clarity, defining terms.  They want an elenchus out of pure insult and ad hominems.  They want new ideas from vagueness and think that there is no one right way to look at things.  Though it appears that any real dialectitian is obsessed with his craft and can't seem to gauge a social situation.  This is probably not so wholesome.  I wonder how they could mitigate this professional handicap.

I think, that I probably also have a kind of scrappy edge that some feel inappropriate.  I probably also am somewhat impatient with the kinds of subject matter that usually serves as conversation topics.  I want to talk about truth, too.

Music Symposium this weekend at Concordia University College of Alberta

James Abbington is going to be here today, and tomorrow and we are going to sing! sing! sing!

Info/ Registration here:

Thursday, August 1, 2013


I am getting old and ugly,
but he is beautiful.

I am garrulous and cantankerous,
but he is gentle of heart.

I am weak and silly,
but he is firm and fair.

I am declining,
but he is increasing.

I am into myself,
he is into others and God.

I am a sorry mess,
he became a sorry mess for me.

I am sad and dejected
but he is hope.

To the end of my days,
he will carry me.

I pruned the roses yesterday,
and held some thorny sticks to remove,
some just cut and some old brown ones
from other year.

I held the old one and looked at the big thorns,
and thought that this sort of thing,
which was poking my fingers,
was put on Jesus' head,

and I thought about that he
did it gladly,
so gladly,
for me