Thursday, January 31, 2013

This MIght Help A Few Folks...

...since the media seem to keep confusing terms and their history, although I think it's mostly from ignorance and indolence than for any conspiratorial reason:

"To avoid the confusion that media intentionally creates by mislabeling modern sporting rifles, it’s vital to remember that the firearms sought by [Department of Homeland Security] are banned from civilian commerce by the 1934 National Firearms Act and the Hughes Amendment to the 1986 Firearm Owners Protection Act. Government agencies can buy fully automatic military rifles and call them “suitable for personal defense.” But when a civilian buys the less-functional semi-automatic variant, it becomes an “assault weapon.'"

And this:  "Following December’s massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, we have witnessed the spectacle of politicians at every level of government tripping over each other to race before the cameras and proclaim their outrage, not at the perpetrator of the atrocity, but rather at the many law-abiding Americans who are employed in the making of firearms and the many, many more who use them recreationally. Something must be done, they tell us, “for the children.” That the “something” might be wholly ineffectual or even counterproductive in the fight against crime is of little significance when the real goal is to see one’s name in the headlines and one’s face on television."

The use of children as props for political press conferences is reprehensible; even more so when politicians exploit the grief of the victims' parents for their own dark purposes.  In every mass shooting in the last fifteen years, psychotropic medication has been used, sometimes long-term, by the shooter.  Why aren't we talking about that, too?  It's enough to make me think that, on the national stage, this is just an attempt to distract the press and public from the economy and, at state level, because Pfizer is a major employer in our area [and contributor to the current governor's campaign treasure chest].

You can always count on a bureaucracy to think clearly and offer good, sound advice.

NY Post: Is your workplace getting shot up by a crazed gunman?  No problem — just grab a pair of scissors and fight back!  That’s some of the helpful advice in a new instructional video from the Department of Homeland Security that was posted on the agency’s Web site just a month after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut

Some Good News On The Historical Front

Intrepid Citizens Save Timbuktu’s Priceless Manuscripts:

Once again civilization survives barbarism: Timbuktu’s ancient literary treasures were not destroyed after all. In a classic example of how the uncertainty of war can make bad reporters of us all, local accounts apparently vastly exaggerated the damage done to the city’s legendary library. Not only was the place not burned to the ground—as the city’s mayor claimed—but the manuscripts themselves were removed from the library by Malians last year.
It's an ugly thing when a religion designed to promote serenity is taken over by a collection of over-excited, intellectually incestuous barbarians. I hope that true Islam will prevail during my lifetime, but I wonder how lasting is to be the rise of those panicked that the world cannot and will not return to the 600's. The fact that both Australia and the United States are on the verge of overtaking Arab oil resources and production will make things all the more volatile.

Thursday's Verses

Come sing, ye choirs exultant,
those messengers of God,
through whom the living Gospels
came sounding all abroad!
Whose voice proclaimed salvation
that poured upon the night,
and drove away the shadows,
and flushed the world with light.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Of Course

Feinstein Gun Control Bill to Exempt Government Officials

Tales From The Secular World

Shaming fat people into losing weight is the only way to solve obesity epidemic, leading health academic claims

Public shaming makes a comeback.  This fellow should test his theory on Chris Christie or Hillary Clinton and see how well it works.  I'm sure it would be warmly received.

This Is Worth Noting

During the first few weeks of the 20-week study, run by researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in collaboration with Tufts University and the University of Murcia, all 420 subjects lost weight at about the same rate. But starting around week five, weight loss for dieters who ate their main meal after 3 p.m. began to stall and remained sluggish for the duration of the study. In the end, they lost 22 percent less weight than dieters who ate the bulk of their calories earlier in the day.

The Intellectual Marketplace That Is The Contemporary University

"Only hours after students installed a “Free Speech Wall” at Carleton University to prove that campus free speech was alive and well, it was torn down by an activist who claimed the wall was an “act of violence.”

This is a fun quotation:  "In a Tuesday afternoon Twitter exchange with a CBC reporter, Mr. Smith dubbed free speech an 'illusory concept' and declared that 'not every opinion is valid, nor deserving of expression.'”

Mr. Smith, I might add, is a seventh-year student at the four-year college.

Why Are These People Allowed To Have Guns?

Bystander shot by police to sue city

When our parish administrator can out-shoot the police, the NYPD may need to adjust their training.

Somehow This Will Linger For Me As A Sign Of These Times

"BeyoncĂ©’s dazzling rendition of the National Anthem at President Obama’s inauguration was a total fake — with the megastar lip-syncing as the Marine Corps Band merely pretended to play its instruments...."

Celebrities who earn fame without talent, the media-forced worship of millionaires that infects even the network news broadcasts, appearance as more important than reality; there is only one time that Western history has seen such a collision of social attitudes, and that was Rome in the 4th century. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Tuesday's Quotation

“It is not what you are nor what you have been that God sees with all-merciful eyes, but what you desire to be.” – from The Cloud of Unknowing

Monday, January 28, 2013

This Week's Lesser Feasts

January 28: Thomas Aquinas [1225–1274]

It seems hard to believe now, but there was a time, specifically in the 13th century, when the works of Aristotle had fallen out of common usage and were unstudied in the universities of Europe. Thanks to the Muslim scholars of Arabia and Spain, who were enamored of Aristotle's natural philosophy [Islam and its relationship with Western thought has really changed since then, eh?], Aristotle was ready for re-discovery when Thomas of Acquin, a Dominican monk of no small intellect, published a series of works re-presenting Aristotelian thought to his contemporaries and matching it with the theological framework of medieval Christianity. [It is helpful to remember, despite what trendy secularists would have one believe, that Christianity created the university model that educates the Western world to this day; not to mention also enabling scientific method to develop.]

As one with degrees in both philosophy and theology, I can testify to the continued influence of Aquinas in both fields. In fact, his popularity in secular philosophy continues to grow. All subsequent Western philosophy is in reaction to Aquinas's works. There is no greater figure in history whose accomplishments so strongly stand in the face of the errant belief that there is, or should be, a separation between theology, philosophy, and science.

Perhaps his most interesting contribution to human thought is through the field of natural theology. In an overly succinct definition, natural theology is the study of God as known not through sudden revelation, but through the application of observation and reason.

I would encourage readers to follow the links for more information. I will leave with this piquant quotation from G.K. Chesterton, the Catholic writer [and creator of the literary detective "Fr. Brown"] as to Aquinas's ecclesial abilities and ambition:

"His experiences included well-attested cases of levitation in ecstasy; and the Blessed Virgin appeared to him, comforting him with the welcome news that he would never be a Bishop."

Almighty God, you have enriched your Church with the singular learning and holiness of your servant Thomas Aquinas: Enlighten us more and more, we pray, by the disciplined thinking and teaching of Christian scholars, and deepen our devotion by the example of saintly lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

February 1: Brigid of Kildare [450-525]

Bridget (aka Brigid, Bride, or Bridey) of Kildare was born around 450 into a Druid family, and was the daughter of Dubhthach, the official poet to the king, a position of considerable social importance and political influence. At an early age, inspired by the sermons of St. Padraic [or Patrick], she decided to become a Christian and eventually took vows as a nun. With a group of like-minded women, she established a convent at Kildare. Bridget was later joined by a community of monks, as pre-Roman Celtic Christian evangelism [there's that word, again] was based on coeducational monastic houses. [Celtic monks and nuns did not include chastity as one of their holy vows and, as such, were permitted to live together in community, marry, and procreate. Roman Christianity, which would become the standard in the British Isles a century of so after the death of Bridget, would forbid such normal and sacramental relations between ascetic men and women.]

Kildare was a pagan shrine where a sacred fire was perpetually burning, and Bridget and her nuns, instead of extinguishing the fire, maintained it with a Christian interpretation. This was the evangelical practice of the era as Druidism gave way to Christianity with rare opposition, as the Druids understood their own beliefs were of a transient nature, recognizing in Christianity a completion of their beliefs.

As an abbess, Bridget participated in several Irish councils, and her influence on the policies of the Church in Ireland was immeasurable. She is thought to have died in the year 525. On the Irish calendar, this is the first day of spring, thus this date was assigned as her feast since her name, in both the druidic and Christian traditions, represents new beginnings.

Above is a cross made of rushes, called a "Bridget's cross", as she once wove such a devotional for a dying man.

Everliving God, we rejoice today in the fellowship of your blessed servant Brigid, and give you thanks for her life of devoted service. Inspire us with life and light, and give us perseverance to serve you all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Waldo Peirce

File:Silver Slipper by Waldo Peirce.jpg

"I'm a painter, not an artist".

I always wanted to write a biography of Waldo Peirce, mainly because of two photographs, separated by about twenty years.  The first is of Peirce with his Harvard roommate; the second of Peirce with a writer friend on a beach in France in the 1920's.  There is nothing remarkable about either photograph, except that his college roommate would become one of the most influential and famous journalists of the early 20th century and his beach buddy would win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

There is much about Peirce that I really shouldn't care for, as he was born into money, had a first-class education shoved into his grudging hands, and was able to move easily through the seminal experiences of the American century, dragging along four wives, five children, and a considerable number of paintings.  It all came to him rather easily, along with rude health and vigor.  He once stated that he never worked a day in his life.

But, what's interesting about him is that he was what Goethe and Balzac referred to in their respective languages as a "life-artist".  As we have seen before with literary artists such as Yukio Mishima and James Magner, there is something compelling about those who wish not only to create tactile art, but to merge their lives with it so that it is a seamless expression of the sheer joy of living out of the bounds of normal expectation.

Peirce was sent to Phillips Andover and then to Harvard where his roommate was John Reed, eventual author of Ten Days That Shook The World, who was a great chronicler of the worker's movement in the United States and of the Russian Revolution.  So prized was Reed's sympathetic reporting during Lenin's rise to power that he is buried in the Kremlin Wall.  [Some may recall a film of thirty years back entitled "Reds", which starred Warren Beatty as Reed].  Reed and Peirce took a trip to Europe upon graduation and got into some trouble with the shipping line on the return voyage.  Peirce, upon leaving port, decided that the ship and its accommodations weren't to his liking so he jumped overboard and swam back to shore.  Upon discovering a missing passenger, the ship's captain had Reed locked in the brig under suspicion of murder.  There are a number of endings to this story, the most amusing is that Peirce was waiting at the dock upon Reed's arrival back in the United States, having taken a faster ship, thus untangling the potential murder charges.

During World War I, like other men who would one day claim distinction in the art world [a full list may be found here], Peirce joined the Red Cross Ambulance Corps and served with distinction at the front, gaining some French medals along the way.  After the war, and again like many Americans who served, he remained in Paris to be a part of the very large and creative expatriate community that included Ernest Hemingway, who became one of Peirce's life-long friends.

From a Harvard Magazine article from some years back:

Living and painting in Paris off and on in the 1920s, Peirce became friends with many of the notables who defined this period in the arts: Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Sylvia Beach, Bernice Abbott, Archibald MacLeish, LL.B. ’19, John Dos Passos ’16—and Ernest Hemingway, another wartime ambulance driver. He and Hemingway stayed friends for life, a relationship not sustained by many other Hemingway associates from the Paris days; their letters to each other were filled with news, gossip, and witty passages, often interlaced with Spanish and French asides. Both men were voracious readers. Both were remarkable presences in a room, regaling others with ribald tales, great stories, and vivid word pictures. Their six-foot frames and beards were as impressive as their artistic talents. (Peirce was occasionally referred to as the “Hemingway of American painting,” but said once that made as much sense as “calling Hemingway ‘the Peirce of American literature.’”) Both men shared a formidable gusto for life and adventure—each married four times—and possessed an unending, consuming curiosity about the world around them. Fishing was their passion, and several times Peirce joined Hemingway in the Dry Tortugas and the Marquesas Keys. Never without a sketchbook, he captured these expeditions in oils and watercolors. When Hemingway’s face graced the cover of Time in 1937—he had just published To Have and Have Not—the magazine used a Peirce portrait of his friend holding a fishing pole, eyes focused on the line. The two can also be found together in other Peirce paintings—fighting bulls in Pamplona, drinking in Sloppy Joe’s in Key West, catching tarpon in the Gulf Stream.
On his many visits to Key West, Peirce was always sure to bring both his paints and his children, along with a rather singular sense of the duties of fatherhood.  Hemingway wrote in a letter:

"Waldo is here with his kids like untrained hyenas and him as domesticated as a cow. Lives only for the children and with the time he puts on them they should have good manners and be well trained but instead they never obey, destroy everything, don't even answer when spoken to, and he is like an old hen with a litter of apehyenas. I doubt if he will go out in the boat while he is here. Can't leave the children. They have a nurse and a housekeeper too, but he is only really happy when trying to paint with one setting fire to his beard and the other rubbing mashed potato into his canvasses. That represents fatherhood."

He lived a long life and left many works of art scattered about museums both great and small, including the Smithsonian.  The bulk of his estate was left to Colby College in Maine, near where he lived his final two decades, including not only paintings but some of the most entertaining letters one can ever hope to read.

Getty image - Looks like Waldo!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Thursday's Verses

Sun and moon shall darkened be,
stars shall fall, the heavens shall flee;
Christ will then like lightning shine,
all will see his glorious sign;
all will then the trumpet hear,
all will see the Judge appear;
thou by all wilt be confessed,
God in man made manifest.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Newsflash: Episcopal Clergyman Says Something Liberal

Episcopal dean of the National Cathedral teaming up with Democrats on guns

Judging from the dean's "invocation" at the gun control presentation at the Senate, one cannot be a true Christian or, particularly, an Episcopalian if one belongs to the "gun lobby" or owns a rifle.  Hypothetically, what does that make an Episcopal priest who owns a rifle and belongs to the NRA?  I'm given the understanding by his comments that the dean does not think such creatures exist.  Is that priest no longer be a member of the ordained "club"?  Would he/she be judged as somehow disharmonious and worthy of shunning or shaming?  Groupthink is alive and well in both academy and church, apparently. 

Begone, Peasants. Only The Wealthy May Be Protected.

The mayor also takes along a police detail when he travels, flying two officers on his private plane and paying as much as $400 a night to put them up at a hotel near his house; the city pays their wages while they are there, as it does whether Mr. Bloomberg is New York or not. Guns are largely forbidden in Bermuda — even most police officers do not use them — but the mayor’s guards have special permission to carry weapons. A spokesman for the Police Department declined to comment.

I'll bet.  This from the guy who doesn't want the peons to legally own guns.

By the way, some politician should regulate the mayor's intake of red meat.  He's eating too much of it.

I Think I Have A Strategy Should I Ever Wish To Rob A Denny's

Police Kicked Out Of Belleville Denny’s For Being Armed

They made a customer "uncomfortable", you see. 

Oh, Bishops! Here's A Cause In Need Of Address

Rampant sexism in regards to both access to power and access to wealth:

The White House’s Flickr account recently released a photo of President Barack Obama and his top advisers. The complete absence of women in the image is another reminder that females are underrepresented in Obama’s staff.

Additionally, the president still pays his female employees significantly less than their male counterparts.

More from the Washington Post: Obama’s failure to nominate women for two top Cabinet posts questioned

If a bishop tried to have an all-male staff, there would be considerable commotion.  Heck, the bishops would never let a Republican president get away with this.  Are we merely pawns of one secular political party or are we to stand for a greater cause of social justice?  I've been told my entire career in the Episcopal Church that we speak truth to power.  What suddenly happened?  Do we speak truth only to certain forms of power?  Do we respect the dignity of every human being, as long as that person agrees with our ideology with unquestioning totality?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Tuesday's Quotation

"God has created me with free will. If I have sinned, I have sinned…. I, not fate, not chance, not the devil." —St. Augustine

Monday, January 21, 2013

This Week's Lesser Feasts

January 21: Agnes of Rome [292-304]

St. Agnes of Rome

A popular saint about whom little is known, Agnes is said to have been a beautiful, wealthy Roman maiden who had, in childhood, dedicated herself to God. Some say that a rejected suitor betrayed her to authorities; others say that she was asked at 13 to sacrifice to the gods and marry, both of which she refused. Legends tell of her being thrown into a brothel, where her purity was miraculously preserved. Having escaped that fate, she was martyred. In the IV Century, Constantia, the daughter of Constantine, built a basilica on the site of her tomb....Her emblem in art is the lamb because of the similarity between her name and the Latin word for lamb, agnus.

 Almighty and everlasting God, you choose those whom the world deems powerless to put the powerful to shame: Grant us so to cherish the memory of your youthful martyr Agnes, that we may share her pure and steadfast faith in you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

January 22: Vincent of Saragossa, Deacon and Martyr [? - 304]

Deacon and martyr. Born at Huesca, Spain, he became a deacon and served St, Valerius at Saragossa until his martyrdom at Valencia during the persecutions under Emperor Diocletian (r. 284-305). St. Valerius was exiled, but Vincent was cruelly tortured because he would not surrender the holy books. He converted the warden of the prison and then died. He was honored by Sts. Augustine, Pope Leo I, and Prudentius, and is considered the patron saint of vinedressers in some regions of Spain.

Almighty God, your deacon Vincent, upheld by you, was not terrified by threats nor overcome by torments: Strengthen us to endure all adversity with invincible and steadfast faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

January 23: Philips Brooks, Bishop of Massachusetts [1835-1893]

A member of a wealthy old Brahmin family of New England, Brooks attended Harvard University (1851–55) and taught briefly at the Boston Latin School before attending the Episcopal Seminary at Alexandria, Va., being ordained there on July 1, 1859. The following month he began his ministry at the Church of the Advent in Philadelphia, where his impressive personality and eloquence won crowds of admirers. Three years later he became rector of Holy Trinity in the same city. Except for a year of travel abroad in 1865–66, he remained there seven years, during which he finished the lyrics of his famous Christmas carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” (music by Lewis H. Redner). In 1869 he accepted the rectorship of Boston’s Trinity Church, the nation’s stronghold of Episcopalianism, and retained that position until he became bishop of Massachusetts in 1891.

In Lectures on Preaching (delivered at Yale University in 1877), Brooks offered his most influential assay of his profession, defining preaching as “the bringing of truth through personality,” by which he meant a kind of radiant optimism. His own eloquence was matched by his commanding, handsome figure, standing six feet four inches tall and weighing (in his prime) 300 pounds. His charismatic preaching became so renowned that he was invited in 1880 to preach at Westminster Abbey in London and at the Royal Chapel at Windsor before Queen Victoria. In 1890 he conducted an acclaimed series of services at Trinity Church, New York City. Several volumes of his sermons were published during his lifetime and posthumously.

I would add to the "canned" commentary above that there was considerable competition for the title "greatest preacher of the 19th century", as it was a more pious and unapologetically Christian age, yet Brooks was undeniably such.  As his composition formed the content of our Christmas Eve sermon this past month, we know of the genesis of that simple hymn, "O Little Town of Bethlehem", and how it brought a sense of healing to Brooks and to his parishioners upon the close of the Civil War and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.  If you weren't in church to hear it, you're out of luck.

O everlasting God, you revealed truth to your servant Phillips Brooks, and so formed and molded his mind and heart that he was able to mediate that truth with grace and power: Grant, we pray, that all whom you call to preach the Gospel may steep themselves in your Word, and conform their lives to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

January 24: Florence Li Tim-Oi [1907-1992]

Li Tim-Oi was born in Hong Kong in 1907. When she was baptized as a student, she chose the name of Florence in honor of Florence Nightingale. Florence studied at Union Theological College in Guangzhou (Canton). In 1938, upon graduation, she served in a lay capacity, first in Kowloon and then in nearby Macao.

In May 1941 Florence was ordained deaconess. Some months later Hong Kong fell to Japanese invaders, and priests could not travel to Macao to celebrate the Eucharist. Despite this setback, Florence continued her ministry. Her work came to the attention of Bishop Ronald Hall of Hong Kong, who decided that “God’s work would reap better results if she had the proper title” of priest.
On January 25, 1944, the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, Bishop Hall ordained her priest, the first woman so ordained in the Anglican Communion.

When World War II came to an end, Florence Li Tim-Oi’s ordination was the subject of much controversy. She made the personal decision not to exercise her priesthood until it was acknowledged by the wider Anglican Communion. Undeterred, she continued to minister with great faithfulness, and in 1947 was appointed rector of St. Barnabas Church in Hepu where,on Bishop Hall’s instructions, she was still to be called priest.

When the Communists came to power in China in 1949, Florence undertook theological studies in Beijing to further understand the implications of the Three-Self Movement (self-rule, self-support, and self- propagation) which now determined the life of the churches. She then moved to Guangzhou to teach and to serve at the Cathedral of Our Savior. However, for sixteen years, from 1958 onwards, during the Cultural Revolution, all churches were closed. Florence was forced to work first on a farm and then in a factory. Accused of counter revolutionary activity, she was required to undergo political re-education. Finally, in 1974, she was allowed to retire from her work in the factory.

In 1979 the churches reopened, and Florence resumed her public ministry. Then, two years later, she was allowed to visit family members living in Canada. While there, to her great joy, she was licensed as a priest in the Diocese of Montreal and later in the Diocese of Toronto,where she finally settled, until her death on February 26, 1992.

Allow me to offer some controversial observations, as I was active in the church upon the initial "discovery" of Li Tim-Oi's story.  Mother Li was so unknown that, upon the much-trumpeted occasion of the ordination of the first women clergy in 1974, we were not generally aware that the Anglican Communion had already ordained a woman to the priesthood more than thirty years before.  Once Mother Li's remarkable story was discovered, it deflated some of the self-importance of the newly ordained, all of whom were white and economically privileged; two things Mother Li was not.  The fact that Mother Li was nothing if not humble, even by Chinese standards, didn't make her story any more than grudgingly popular in the American church, as the ecclesial style of the day was stridently "ME"- oriented.  It seemed that it was only out of good Episcopal manners that she was initially granted a date on the calendar.

Anyone who met her in person, as I was so honored when we shared a lecture hall at the University of Toronto, would have recognized being in the presence of a true priest.  She lived to serve God, not self, and reached beyond culture to preach a quiet, simple message of faith.  I'm glad she was the first woman priest, as she set a standard that is inspiring, catholic and universal.

Gracious God, we thank you for calling Florence Li Tim-Oi, much beloved daughter, to be the first woman to exercise the office of a priest in our Communion: By the grace of your Spirit inspire us to follow her example, serving your people with patience and happiness all our days, and witnessing in every circumstance to our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the same Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Swein MacDonald

My mother's family are Highlanders.  If you are of Scots descent, you know what that means.  If you aren't, well, it's a bit hard to explain. 

Scotland is divided into the Highlands, Lowlands, and The Borders.  The Borders is the area that abuts northern England.  While Highlanders tend to carry names that begin with "Mac", Borderers carry the familiar Scottish surnames of Armstrong, Elliot, Scott, Douglas, Hepburn, Bruce and Johnston, among others. North of the Border is the Lowlands, which includes most of the economic and political life of the country, an area from the Firth of Clyde in the west to Moray Firth in the east. In the Lowlands one finds the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh. 

Inverness and north lie the Highlands, an area of geographic distinction from the rest of the country.    The Highlanders belong to the various clans that claim particular, sometimes spectacular, roles in the history of the northern Britons.  My mother's family are the Mackay on the maternal side, and the McIntyre on the paternal.  Again, this is meaningless save to other Highlanders.

Highlanders are by turns aristocratic and common; sagacious and intemperate, literate and pre-verbal.  Because of their physical isolation from the other areas of Scotland, they became self-sufficient and remarkably redoubtable, forming the tightly-knit system of clan membership that kept them protected from the vagaries of English rule.

They were a hardy, active and warlike people - of this there is no possible doubt. Everybody who has left early evidence testifies to it, and not generally in flattering terms. Such people need to be well nourished, and the Highlanders were always great meat eaters. They bred cattle in their glens, and their woods were full of game that they loved to hunt. At a time when the Lowlander of central Scotland was little better than a serf, tyrannized by greedy bonnet lairds [landed proprietors], and lived mainly off brose and oatmeal, the Highlander was well fed. 
[Scottish Highlanders, Barnes and Noble Books, 1992. P.29]

In such an atmosphere, Highlanders also tended to be closer to the more mystical elements of human experience.  Hence, they claim to have developed an acute form of what psychologists refer to as hyper-observation.  In the Highlands, it's called "second sight".  Those blessed, or cursed, with second sight can predict events before they happen, note occurrences from hundreds or even thousands of miles away, and receive terrific visions.  My Great-Granny Mackay was one of her clan's seers and she could be positively spooky sometimes.  My grandfather used to try to get her to pick horses for him, but I don't think she was keen on betraying the gift so that her son-in-law could win a few extra bob at the track.

While every clan has its seer, there is usually one who stands out even in the competitive world of Highland para-psychology.  That man or woman is generally declared a "Highland Seer", although I don't think the office is all that formal.  The first so recognized was Coinneachd Odhar of Brahan in the 17th century, who died after being "burned in a barrel of tar at Chanonry Point on the Black Isle on the orders of the Countess of Seaforth, after he declared he 'saw' her husband in dalliance with a courtesan in Paris."*  For a fair part of the 20th century, the best known Highland Seer was Swein MacDonald.  Well, depending on whom you ask.  To some, he was a consummate con man.

There isn't all that much about him online, which is appropriate, as he really didn't seek fame or fortune.  [Although notoriety he certainly found.]  After working as a performing psychic, he retired to a humble life in a crofter's cottage in the Highlands, a life many of us would think rather perfect.  From there he would offer his "readings".  He charged very little for these and gave what he made to charity. But, whether a lord or lady, movie star or undergrad in his cups, MacDonald offered both hospitality and a sometimes frighteningly accurate prediction for them.

My particular memory of him is that he would be featured on Scottish radio every New Year's Eve, telling us what we might expect in the year to come.  With a talent for the theatrical, something that can never be taught, his presentation was the only part of New Year's entertainment that I never missed, even after moving back to the US, when I would listen to the BBC on an underpowered shortwave radio.

MacDonald died in 2003.  The current Seer does not seek publicity, so the great accessibility offered by MacDonald is no more, which is understandable, but somewhat of a pity.  Highlanders never seek to be regarded as "grand", you see.  That's best left to the Lowlanders.

This anecdote from MacDonald's life is to be found in a remembrance of him published in The Herald of Scotland on the occasion of his death.  There is something wonderfully Highland about it:

"Well-known names in show business, the film industry, and among the nobility regularly called on him, either in person or by telephone. He had offers to be flown to the United States, to Switzerland, and to the Middle East for consultations with the rich and powerful. Of course, the media loved him. The sceptical news editor of a Glasgow-based paper telephoned him gruffly to arrange an interview. ''I don't like your attitude, my man,'' Swein told him stiffly, ''and furthermore you are conducting an illicit affair with a woman called M.'' The startled news editor abruptly terminated the call."

[*from Tremayne's History of the Scottish Folk: The Highlands.]

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Thursday's Verses

Holy Jesus! every day
keep us in the narrow way;
and, when earthly things are past,
bring our ransomed souls at last
where they need no star to guide,
where no clouds thy glory hide.

In the heavenly country bright,
need they no created light;
thou its light, its joy, its crown,
thou its sun which goes not down;
there for ever may we sing
alleluias to our King.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Week Ago This Was Some Crazy Idea From A Right-Wing, NRA Nutcase. What Happened?

A nutcase who was ridiculed and vilified by the people who can afford private security, have publicly-funded security provided by tax-payers, or send their kids to schools with their own security services.  Now look:

Washington Post:  White House may consider funding for police in schools after Newtown

You mean my granddaughter could potentially be protected like the children of NBC's David Gregory, who scoffed at this idea on Meet the Press, or the mayor of Chicago, that gun control paradise, who scoffed at the idea in public comments?  Gee, what changed?

Oh, look:  Obama Signs Bill Giving Him Armed Protection For Life

Of course:  Obama Opposed Right to Use Gun to Defend One’s Home

It's Always Good To Hear From A Couple Of Sensible Episcopalians

Walter Russell Mead:  America: Doomed by Scarcity, Doomed by Plenty, Doomed, Doomed!


Stephen Carter: Angry at the NRA? That Won’t Reduce Gun Violence

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tuesday's Quotation

"The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything.” - Dame Julian of Norwich

Monday, January 14, 2013

This Week's Lesser Feasts

January 17: Antony of Egypt, or Anthony of the Desert [251–356]

"Who ever met him grieving and failed to go away rejoicing?"

It seems difficult to believe from the viewpoint of the 21st century, in a nation such as ours, rich beyond the ancient world's measure and with freedoms that never would have been dreamt of in prior generations, that, once upon a time, to become a Christian meant to become a kind of monastic.  Nowadays, of course, one may transit from heathen to Christian, and vice versa, without any apparent alteration to one's life.  The job stays the same, family membership is un-threatened, one's income and possessions are not surrendered. 

Such was not the case in the 4th century.  Becoming a Christian wasn't so much a "lifestyle choice" but a total and complete commitment to something far greater than one's life.  Early Christians would sometimes lose their families, their roles in society, their possessions would happily be given over to their faith community.  [Remember that next time we hand out pledge cards.]  Their lives would become dedicated to God in a manner that would be found worthy of an intervention in contemporary times.

In the midst of this zealous Christianity, Antony of the Desert was its most ardent practitioner.

"Most of what is known about Saint Anthony comes from the Life of Anthony. Written in Greek around 360 by Athanasius of Alexandria, it depicts Anthony as an illiterate and holy man who through his existence in a primordial landscape has an absolute connection to the divine truth....

This "absolute connection" served, through Antony's private and public practices, as the foundation for monasticism and what is known as "ascetical theology".

It was a common practice at this time for fervent Christians to lead retired lives in penance and contemplation on the outskirts of towns, and in the desert, while others practiced their austerities without withdrawing from their fellow men. In even earlier times we hear of these ascetics.  Origen, about 249, wrote that they abstained from flesh, as the disciples of Pythagoras did.  Antony lived in his tomb near Coma until about 285. Then, at the age of thirty-five, he set out into the empty desert, crossed the eastern branch of the Nile, and took up his abode in the ruins of an old castle on the top of a mountain. There he lived for almost twenty years, rarely seeing any man except the one who brought him food every six months.

In his fifty-fifth year he came down from his mountain retreat and founded his first monastery, not far from Aphroditopolis. It consisted of scattered cells, each inhabited by a solitary monk; some of the later settlements may have been arranged on more of a community plan. Antony did not stay with any of his foundations long, but visited them all from time to time. These interruptions to his solitude, involving as they did some management of the affairs of others, tended to disturb him. We are told of a temptation to despair, which he overcame by prayer and hard manual labor. Notwithstanding his stringent self-discipline, he always maintained that perfection consisted not in mortification of the flesh but in love of God. He taught his monks to have eternity always present to their minds and to perform every act with all the fervor of their souls, as if it were to be their last.

Heathen philosophers who disputed with Antony were amazed both at his modesty and at his wisdom. When asked how he could spend his life in solitude without the companionship of books, he replied that nature was his great book. When they criticized his ignorance, he simply asked which was the better, good sense or book learning, and which produced the other. They answered, "Good sense." "Then," said Antony, "it is sufficient of itself." His pagan visitors usually wanted to know the reasons for his faith in Christ. He told them that they degraded their gods by ascribing to them the worst of human passions, whereas the ignominy of the cross, followed by Christ's triumphant Resurrection, was a supreme demonstration of His infinite goodness, to say nothing of His miracles of healing and raising the dead. The Christian's faith in his Almighty God and His works was a more satisfactory basis for religion than the empty sophistries of the Greeks. Antony carried on his discussions with the Greeks through an interpreter. His biographer Athanasius tells us that in spite of his solitary life, "he did not seem to others morose or unapproachable, but met them with a most engaging and friendly air." He writes that no one in trouble ever visited Antony without going away comforted.

O God, by your Holy Spirit you enabled your servant Antony to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil: Give us grace, with pure hearts and minds, to follow you, the only God; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

January 19: Wulfstan, Bishop of Worchester [1008-1095]

This seems to be "Monk Week" in the lesser feast days, which is fitting given our church's foundation as an extention of the monasteries and abbeys that were happily sprinkled about the Celtic landscape.  Below is something from the Church of England, but I would add that Wulfstan, like Antony and his followers, was also a vegetarian.  In fact, Wulfstan is the patron saint of vegetarians, as that diet seemed to be the best for a life free of temptation.

Wulfstan became a monk in Worcester, eventually becoming prior of the monastery, and would probably have been happy to stay that way but was persuaded to become Bishop of Worcester in 1062. He managed to combine the role of superior of the monastery and bishop very successfully. He was also successful in surviving in turbulent political times. In 1066 the Anglo-Saxons came under the rule of William of Normandy who placed his own Norman people in positions of power. Wulfstan was the only Anglo-Saxon bishop to keep his position. This may have been due to his holiness entirely or he may have had some extra help, as a legend about his suggests. Wulfstan was very much ahead of his times in preaching against the slave trade which was conducted through Bristol at that time. He was successful in stopping the trade for a long time. He died while washing the feet of the poor – a fitting example to us all.

Almighty God, your only-begotten Son led captivity captive and gave gifts to your people: Multiply among us faithful pastors, who, like your holy bishop Wulfstan, will give courage to those who are oppressed and held in bondage: and bring us all, we pray, into the true freedom of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Friday, January 11, 2013

James Magner

"Larry, I can't find my car keys.  Would you just drop the papers off at my house?"

I didn't usually mind driving out to Magner's house, as it was in a pleasant neighborhood that overlooked the lake, any more than I minded being called "Larry". [Larry having been Magner's last research assistant.  I recall hoping that my successor at least would be called by my name, but she was probably called Larry, too.]  It was just I was never sure what would meet me at his door. 

Sometimes it would be unlocked and I would find him out in the back yard, wandering with the neighbor's dog, locked in a deep conversation with the animal.  Sometimes the door would be locked, because, in the twenty minutes it took for me to get there, he would have forgotten that I was coming; I would find him either at the corner bar and grille or the Chinese restaurant next to it.  Sometimes he would be just standing at the door, looking like Walt Whitman's impossibly younger brother.  Other times, he would be in the dining room poring over a pile of notes that contained correspondence with other professors or other poets; stray verses for poems in mid-composition, or the grocery list that was mostly made up of things for his neighbor's dog.

When he was writing he would wear a weathered John Carroll University sweatshirt in that shade of gray familiar to those of us old enough to recall the days before synthetic fabrics became the preference in athletic apparel.  On those occasions, I knew to drop off the "papers" [really, it was just the mail from his faculty mailbox; the usual detritus of announcements about grading deadlines, upcoming sports events, a term paper that was two months late, and other items familiar to educators] and leave, as he would be so deep in a shell constructed of rhyme and meter that normal conversation would have been impossible, and may have destroyed his creative trance.

The days I used to prize, though, were those when I would find his front door unlocked and Erroll Garner playing from the stereo.  That meant that whatever he had been working on was completed to his satisfaction and he was feeling expansive enough to talk to me for hours of his days in the demi-monde, what it was like to hang out with the Beat poets like Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg, his Korean War memories, and, since he had once been a boxer, the best moves to use when you know you're over-matched [as I always was when boxing].  I really enjoyed it when he would begin sentences with statements like, "You know, Kerouac used to do this thing with his face...."

In the classroom he was a natural teacher.  There is no better professor of poetry than a poet, of course, as he knows not only how difficult it is to compose in even rough verse what has been captured by the heart's imagination, but the importance of perspective.  It was also interesting to think in terms of the practical concerns of a poet, such as what it takes to get something published and how much one anticipates how the verses are received by others.  Thus, Magner presented poems not just as some editor's choice for a textbook, but as portions of the souls of artists.  He was always particular about recognizing the familiar in the poet's narrative voice. 

I once saw him teaching a class filled with shy, and a little overwhelmed, freshmen, trying to get them to venture away from the safe observations that had gotten them through high school lit classes and into this new world of Magner-ness.  "So, who's Hardy's narrative voice?  Can you describe him?"  When met with the inevitable silence, he would ask in a voice lifted from a Hanna-Barbara cartoon, "Is it Joey Bananas?"  It would take awhile, but he'd get them loosened up enough to become thinking readers of lyrical verse.

Once, when discussing Yeats's "Down by the Salley Gardens", he stopped in mid-discussion and said, "It sounds like a song by Eddie Foy."  He then began to compose, extempore, the music to which Foy would have set the poem.  It was through Magner, and his nimble classroom technique, that I finally gained an appreciation for Gerard Manly Hopkins, a poet for whom I had no previous use.  For that alone I am obliged to him. 

One evening, after his third Manhattan, he found an old cigar box resting on some books on the bottom shelf of his library and handed me correspondence from Thomas Merton.  I hadn't known, but wasn't surprised, that the two had written back and forth for years and that Magner had once studied for the Roman Catholic priesthood and even been a monk.  In addition to Hopkins, he gave me something else that I had never had before: an appreciation for the poetic that may be found in ordained service to God.

James Magner was a long-time professor at John Carroll University, a Jesuit institution in greater Cleveland, where I studied literature at the graduate level and served as his researcher and general dogsbody.  He published at least five books of well-received poetry and a wonderfully lyrical fictionalized autobiography. He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in Poetry in 1965, 1968, 1973, 1976, and 1978.  I regret that small poetry is so transient these days that finding copies of his work is difficult, however from a review of one of his longer works, "Till No Light Leaps", the critic observed that his poetic voice was "an amalgam of Melville and St. Augustine, bridging both Eastern and Western philosophy, presenting an original view on the Christian notion of fate."  Yeah, that's why I'm not a poetry critic.

One of his publishers noted, "As every individual soul who was fortunate enough to know Magner will affirm, he had that unconditional love for and immediate acceptance of everyone just exactly as they were – as they stumbled, as they stood, as they soared. He was one of those rare birds in this life who was both brilliant and insightful, yet compassionate and humble – an uncommon and wondrous concoction of love and intellect that enabled him to quite easily identify and affirm the unique essence of each and every person – without regard to race, religion, profession, status, or education."

James Magner died in the summer of 2000.  A couple of months later I received a slim volume of previously unpublished poetry in the mail, sent on by his executor.  In the frontis he had written, "To Larry Rob, with appreciation."  In the back was found a letter from the poet Richard Eberhart, one of his other friends, that said, "Poems in a way are spells against death. They are milestones, to see where you were then from where you are now. To perpetuate your feelings, to establish them. If you have in any way touched the central heart of mankind's feelings, you'll survive."

Well, Magner survives in the hearts of all of his students, especially those who went on to teach, to serve as novitiates in monasteries, and to ordained priesthood.  Thanks to him, I have always seen priesthood not as a professional function, but as a form of poetry itself.  While that may explain my rather unimpressive career arc, I hope it also explains why, in the most simple and "normal" of circumstance, I can feel God's pleasure.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Thursday's Verses

Shall we then yield him, in costly devotion,
odors of Edom, and offerings divine,
gems of the mountain, and pearls of the ocean,
myrrh from the forest, and gold from the mine?

Vainly we offer each ample oblation,
vainly with gifts would his favor secure,
richer by far is the heart's adoration,
dearer to God are the prayers of the poor.

Brightest and best of the sons of the morning,
dawn on our darkness, lend us thine aid;
star of the east, the horizon adorning,
guide where our infant Redeemer is laid.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Poor Will Be With Us Always, Especially As We Need To Fuel Our Cars

From the New York Times:  As Biofuel Demand Grows, So Do Guatemala’s Hunger Pangs

This should be provocative, but I know we won't hear anything about it from our "Peace and Justice" crowd in TEC as it would conflict with the established environmental narrative.

A Common Form Of Class Snobbery

“There are no young people going into the trades,” Hall said. “The push for college prep is so prevalent in the high schools that the talented young people who are good working with their hands are being told, ‘You have to go to college to get good jobs,’ and that’s just not the case anymore.”

I always viewed askance the attitude of many of my education colleagues that being an electrician, plumber, carpenter, mechanic, etc. was somehow not a "good job".  Maybe that's because I'm from a long line of carpenters and laborers; or because I wanted to be an auto mechanic when I was in high school and was repeatedly dissuaded from that by my teachers and counselors because I was "too smart".  Clearly, they didn't hear my Jeopardy! answers from last night.

Some Common Sense From The Hartford Courant

Malloy Oversight: Safety Panel Locks Out Gun Industry

"The gun industry will oppose many of the proposed reforms, it will lobby hard, and it may end up on what some of us consider the wrong side of this issue. But excluding it from the table at the outset would be unwise policy even if this were not the state where the industry was born, and even if this were not the industry whose history did nothing short of defining Connecticut’s industrial heritage."

Again, I'm absolutely amazed that no one is seriously speaking about the role of psychotropic medication, the common element is all of the mass shootings for the last fifteen years. 

Colt may be part of Connecticut's heritage, but Pfizer is its future.  Besides, guess which one gave more to the governor's campaign.

[By the way, bishops; consider this a free lesson in speaking truth to power, questioning authority, and all of the other nonsense I've heard from the Houses of Bishops and Deputies for the last thirty-one years.  True representation of the Gospel means that you sometimes have to question even those for whom you voted in secular elections.]

Great Moments In American Education

High school student suspended for writing a poem.

Latest From The Witherspoon Institute

Absentee Fathers and the Newtown School Shooting

For those who don't know, The Witherspoon Institute is a Princeton University-based "think tank" that looks at social/moral issues from an objective perspective.  They tend to rankle those who want to hear only one ideological side to an argument, and also tend to puncture any sacred cows that are in need of perforation.

Such is the politicization of opinion in our country that objective discussion makes people angry.  Weird, huh?  Anyway, the article presents an important element worthy of consideration, especially since so many have an opinion about recent events.

I would also note that, in every, single one of the mass shootings in the last fifteen years, the murderers were either long-term psychotropic drug users or had just stopped taking the drugs.  It's easy for politicians retroactively to turn law-abiding, tax-paying people like myself into gun criminals, it's far more difficult to look at a social circumstance in which politicians may feel some sense of guilt, or fly in the face of their major contributors in the pharmaceutical industry.

After all, which Connecticut industry gave more to the Malloy campaign?  Colt or Pfizer?  Oh, you know the answer.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

For Those Of You Who Like To Stay "Hep"

The 10 Tech Terms to Know in 2013 - Popular Mechanics

Tuesday's Quotation

If your God can allow you to remain complacently the poor thing that you are; if He tells you soothingly not to worry—that He, for His part, is not making a fuss about your faults and failures, will not overpress such matters...—then there is something essentially wrong. For all who know God by more than mere hearsay are at one in this— that He can’t abide sin, that He will let no friend of His settle down in it in peace. - A.J. Gossip

Monday, January 7, 2013

This Week's Lesser Feasts

January 8: Harriett Bedell, Deaconess and Missionary [1875-1969]

A newer, and very welcome, addition to our calendar, Bedell was a member of a now-forgotten order of Episcopal nuns, the Order of Deaconesses, who offered ministry similar to that of the nursing/teaching sisters of the Church of England.  She was an interesting woman who, in her early thirties, initially became a missionary to the Seminole tribe in Florida and later to the Inuit in the far reaches of Alaska.  She is credited with convincing the Seminole to use their native arts to raise money for the tribe's education and health-care needs, thus beginning that tradition among American Indians.  She founded schools and clinics in both Florida and Alaska, and was a popular writer in Episcopal Church publications up until her death.  [She also could tell a story.  She once told the taciturn, long-time rector of my home parish about the ordeal of having to catheterize a rather surprised Inuit man; a story that reduced my rector to tears of laughter.]

Holy God, you chose your faithful servant Harriett Bedell to exercise the ministry of deaconess and to be a missionary among indigenous peoples: Fill us with compassion and respect or all people, and empower us for the work of ministry throughout the world; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

January 9: Julia Chester Emery [1852-1922]

"Emery was the National Secretary of the Women's Auxiliary of the Board of Missions for forty years, from 1876 to 1916.  Emery's father was a New England sea captain. Two of her brothers became priests. Her sister Mary preceded Julia as National Secretary of the Auxiliary and served from 1872 to 1876. During her time as National Secretary, Julia visited every diocese in the United States, coordinating and encouraging work in support of missions. She traveled to London as a delegate to the Pan-Anglican Congress. She traveled to Japan, China, Hong Kong and the Philippines to advance missionary work there, and to be able to report on it to the Episcopal women in the United States.

She founded the United Thank Offering (UTO), which gave each woman a small box with a slot in the top and encouraged them to drop a small contribution in to it whenever they felt thankful for something. Once a year, the women of the parish presented these at a Sunday service. The money was sent to national headquarters to be used for missions."

[Personal note: When I was a monk we had a van that was used throughout our diocese for mission work that was purchased through a UTO grant.  It was painted like one of the well-known "blue boxes" and included a black stripe on the roof, symbolic of the coin slot on the actual boxes.  It's a fond memory as the sight of the van used to elicit smiles among members of tiny congregations scattered through the hills of western Pennsylvania.  I also recall my mother dropping coins in her UTO box whenever I brought home a reasonable report card.  The UTO didn't get rich off of that, though.]

A further note: At its height of influence, the UTO was the single most successful fund-raising group in the Episcopal Church.  Not bad for a bunch of women who weren't even allowed to vote in parish meetings or serve on vestries.

God of all creation, you call us in Christ to make disciples of all nations and to proclaim your mercy and love: Grant that we, after the example of your servant Julia Chester Emery, may have vision and courage in proclaiming the Gospel to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our light and our salvation, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

January 10: William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury [1573-1645]

Laud was one of the "Caroline Divines", those clergy of the Church of England who opposed the horrid and oppressive theology of the Puritans, thus rallying around the authority of King Charles I in his role as "defender of the faith".  [Note: Charles in Latin is "Caroline".]  He was martyred by the Puritans, of course, because that's what they, did.

There is rather a lot to discover when one takes a voyage around Laud, and a good place to start would be here.

Keep us, O Lord, constant in faith and zealous in witness, that, like your servant William Laud, we may live in your fear, die in your favor, and rest in your peace; for the sake of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

January 12: Aelred, an abbot [1109-1167]

Aelred is prized especially in the Scottish Episcopal Church for two reasons.  First, his original position was that of Master of the Household for the Scottish king, David I.  Second, and of greater importance to the mostly convivial Scots, he redefined the holy call of friendship.

When service to the king no longer fulfilled him, Aelred became a member of the Cistercian order of monks, who were notoriously severe even by the standards of the Middle Ages.  In response to one of their common practices...well, I'll let the reader enjoy this link:

"In many religious houses, where the monks or nuns walk two by two into chapel or the dining hall or while pacing about during the daily hour of recreation, the superior will make a point of constantly shifting partners, lest anyone form a liking for one partner more than another. (This does not apply just to friends. It is sometimes held that no monk ought to allow himself any preferences in food or drink.) Against this view, Aelred wrote that it is compatible with the highest degree of Christian perfection to take special pleasure in the company of particular friends."

If the Episcopal Church had patron saints in the same manner as does the Church of Rome, Aelred would be the patron of friendship.  Actually, he is unofficially and rightly so even in our tradition.

Pour into our hearts, O God, the Holy Spirit's gift of love, that we, clasping each the other's hand, may share the joy of friendship, human and divine, and with your servant Aelred draw many to your community of love; through Jesus Christ the Righteous, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Please Read The Whole Thing

Yet at the same time the state becomes stronger, it loses control of itself. When the moral tone of a people declines, bureaucrats and the police are not exempt from the decay of morals. Perhaps a stratum of high minded elites and civil servants can keep up a moral tone that is significantly higher than the declining standard around them, but lesser officials and the police will reflect the society around them. They will steal; they will abuse their authority; they will manipulate the processes of the state to serve themselves and their favored clients. The courts become corrupt; the security services link up with the crime syndicates. Night falls.

This is not some abstract fear; history and the world today are full of places where the collapse of moral values blights daily life and undermines the prospects for development. I’ve been to many countries where nobody trusts the courts, the police, the politicians or the journalists. None of these countries are nice places to be, and more than anyone else it is the poor — those who most need the state and most need justice — who suffer the accumulated consequences of the moral failures of their society.

Sadly, people do not spontaneously choose to behave like angels. Virtue has to be cultivated and developed. Young people have to be persuaded, cajoled, admonished and above all inspired to seek wisdom, self control, a life of service and all the other virtues that are necessary for our civil lives as well as for the fullest development of our true selves. Older people have to be reminded of their ideals, encouraged to live up to them and to continue fighting the good fight through the long years of adulthood and on into the twilight.

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Hippie Who Sat Next To Me At Tony Mart's

I never caught his name, which I regret, because he gave me the best "welcome back" that I think I received.

Permit me some nostalgia.

In a summer in the early '70's I returned to the United States from Scotland. I went from rainy, gray skies, meat pies, wool jackets, tiny cars, and incomprehensible accents from Taysiders to the beach in south Jersey, which meant sunny skies, caramel corn, swimsuits, my dad's Pontiac Catalina and incomprehensible accents from Philadelphians.

Summer beachwear in Scotland was a jumper [sweater vest] and half-pants [shorts]. If it got up to 60 degrees I'd wear footer bags [shorter soccer shorts]. An exciting day included banana sandwiches.

In New Jersey, beachwear was board shorts and towels and an exciting day meant a trip over to Tony Mart's, which was one of those marvelous music venues, now long gone, that used to present a rich variety of pop music from a surprisingly diverse collection of musicians.  One night, it could have been a soulful singer/songwriter, the next a huge band complete with horns offering a Ray Charles retrospective.  In the mid-'60's, their house band was named "Levon and the Hawks".  Bob Dylan stopped by one night, heard the Hawks, and asked them to be his back-up band as he had decided the time had come for folk music to use electric instrumentation.  They changed their name to The Band.  Levon, of course, was Levon Helm. [You've heard his voice, even if you don't realize it.]

The night I was there The Hawks were long gone, of course, but other elements of the '60's still lingered.  The Vietnam War was still in progress, the serial killer Ted Bundy was roaming around the area, hippies, or at least their fashions, were still to be found, the music on the jukebox was a combination of hard rock, doo-wop, Dylan, and The Beatles.  Oh, and there was a familiar LSD casualty who had a regular, perpetual seat at the bar. 

Next to him, naturally enough, is where I wound up sitting, as it was a crowded night and it was the only seat left.  There are two things I still remember from those days, mainly the smell of Coppertone and the look of sunburn; now rarely encountered in the beach scene.  But I remember them in particular as I was appreciating both in the person of a blond girl my age whose name was "Clarkie".  As she was inviting me to dance with her [I used to cut quite the rug in my youth], the old hippie next to me smiled, raised a rather soiled glass, and said,

"There are few things better than being a young man in America."

Ain't that the truth, brother.  It was great to be back home.

Tony Mart's met an ignoble end.  It went through a lot of hands, mostly those of inept businessmen, and finally burned down one night during the off-season.  I think it's a parking lot now, I don't know. 

The hippie I would occasionally see during the rest of that summer, but then never again.  Clarkie is now a grandmother on the west coast who owns a decorative bead franchise, and I'm a grandfather in Connecticut who occasionally misses the halcyon days of youth but can still form a smile when he hears a certain song, the one that Clarkie and I were dancing to, the one that played, in all of its surreal glory, on the jukebox as I savored the wisdom of the hippie and the sheer joy of being home.

It's below, if you wish to hear it.

[P.S.  For more Tony Mart's trivia, there is a dull movie called "Eddie and the Cruisers" that came out in the early '80's that features a pivotal scene at Tony Mart's.  As far as I know, that's the only time it was captured on film.]

Parish News

Just a reminder that Christ Church has been on Facebook for a couple of years now.  Don't hold me to this, as FB seems to change their rules and status with schizophrenic frequency, but I don't think one has to be a FB member to access the page.  So, those who "don't do" Facebook may still be able to stay informed of parish events through the so-called social media [or medium].

At any rate, the Facebook page address may be found here:!/pages/Christ-Church-Roxbury/166498456732773

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Thursday's Verses

For he is our lifelong pattern,
day by day like us he grew;
he was little, weak and helpless,
tears and smiles like us he knew.
and he feeleth for our sadness,
and he shareth in our gladness.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

I Knew It!

The whole government "health" industry's narrative just got KO'd; and by the NYT, too.

The report on nearly three million people found that those whose B.M.I. ranked them as overweight had less risk of dying than people of normal weight. And while obese people had a greater mortality risk over all, those at the lowest obesity level (B.M.I. of 30 to 34.9) were not more likely to die than normal-weight people.

Of course, when your talking about the government, it's never really about "health", it's about control.  That, plus a little class snobbery thrown in for good measure. 

By the way, my BMI is 29.4, which is less than Tom Cruise's, so I'm all set.

Here's some more from Slate: Is Fat Good?

Of course, the obvious explanation is that the science is wrong, but who in the 21st century is ever going to admit that?

News Of The World: How Reporters Sometimes Miss A Better Story

My favorite article of the day is this one from The Australian, a newspaper that is particularly sensitive about not traumatizing the Muslim population; so much so that they completely miss the larger aspect of the story they report:

1193 cars torched on New Year's Eve in France

What makes this story sublime for me is that car torching is a common form of protest in France by the disgruntled and impoverished Muslims who live in the areas surrounding Paris.  There is no mention of that in this story, though, as the arsonist/protesters are referred to as "young revellers" and "youths".  "Gangs", even.

Here's another:  2 teens on West Side among 15 shot, 3 fatally, on New Year's Day

See, in my day as a reporter, we would have been asking the police and city hall why gun violence is particularly present in Chicago, the city with the most strident gun control laws in the nation.  [It used to be tied with Washington D.C., but the District apparently will only prosecute poor blacks for rifle accessory possession, not wealthy whites.  Ergo, the gun control laws are not equally enforced, thus making the law more or less moot.  Well, unless you're a poor black person.]

In a related story [oh, if only I were an editor], we have this from the local area:

Gunman robs Kent restaurant, takes owner's vehicle

What is left unmentioned is how this could be, given that the commercial area of Kent is a gun-free zone.  I would also be wondering what law enforcement would recommend in this regard, as Kent has no police department and residents and business owners can expect a 20-30 minute response time from the state authorities.  After all, the robber escaped in a rare and highly recognizable vehicle along a well-traveled route, and he was still able to get away.

Is it possible that there are people in our society who will not respect gun-free zones or gun control laws?  If so, what protection may the law-abiding seek, especially when one lives in an isolated town with no police department?

Here are two stories that really should go together in a larger article, especially of interest if you're a parent currently paying tuition, or if you're a recent grad paying a mortgage-worth of student loan installments:

After Arrest, a Wider Inquiry on SAT Cheating


Tulane University has admitted that it sent U.S. News & World Report incorrect information about the test scores and total number of applicants for its M.B.A. program.  The admission -- as 2012 closed -- made the university the fourth college or university in that year to admit false reporting of some admissions data used for rankings.

That'll Teach 'Em

Pennsylvania police say they will charge a 13-year-old boy at Tamaqua Middle School with disorderly conduct for pointing his finger like a gun at other students. The boy, who wasn't identified by local media, has been suspended by the school.

Oh, wait, here's another one:

"The 6-year-old, who attends Roscoe R. Nix Elementary School in Silver Spring, made a gun with his hands, pointed it at another student and said "pow," according to Robin Ficker, the boy's attorney. He was given a one-day suspension, with a conference on the matter planned for Jan. 2, the day students return to school from winter break."

Sorry to deflate anyone's lofty understanding of education, but, as a former government school teacher and administrator, I can tell you that for some it's more about "control" than it is about "safety".  I guarantee you that some bilious school bureaucrat went home after suspending this kid thinking he/she was just about the greatest gift to education since John Dewey.

This is why, when you find that your son or daughter has some good teachers, honor their service whenever possible.

"Keep Your Hands Off The Archaeology, Ya Weirdos"*

Mayan temple damaged in tourist 'apocalypse' frenzy

*An actual quote overheard from a digger [field archaeologist] issued to a group of tourists at a Mayan site in Mexico some years ago.

Ave Atque Vale

Heroic Sandy surfer drowns

A surfer who saved six neighbors in the Rockaways during Hurricane Sandy drowned yesterday while on vacation in Puerto Rico, officials said.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

I'm Sorry About The One Objectionable Term, But This Did Make Me Laugh

Higher ed: an obituary

Perhaps the biggest impediment to the changes on the horizon is the entrenched nature of the educational establishment: the college presidents with their $1 million plus salaries and bloated administrative staffs, the whole system of tenure which has turned out to be as much a recipe for intellectual conformity as it is a fiscal nightmare. Those who have diagnosed a “bubble” in higher education are right. Change is coming, coming fast, and it is not going to be easy for those indentured to this outmoded, unsustainable model. Doubtless there will be important losses. There is something deeply entrancing, if also financially extravagant, about the ideal residential college experience, even if the reality seldom lives up to the advertisement. Still, Harden has a point: “if our goal is educating as many students as possible, as well as possible, as affordably as possible, then the end of the university as we know it is nothing to fear. Indeed, it’s something to celebrate.”

The National Church Seems Not To Have Anything To Say About This

DOJ white paper lays legal basis for drones targeting US citizens

A three-year seminary education was expensive in my day and not all of us had trusts or family money from which to draw to fund the tuition and fees, which came to equivalent of $27,000 a year in 2013 money.  In fact, some of us were impolite enough to actually be poor and yet still trouble the Episcopal Church with our pesky call to ordained ministry.  [Fortunately, I notice that the Church is taking care of that problem and mostly ordaining only those from the gentry these days; it's part of their drive to diversity, I'm told.  No, I don't know how only ordaining elites is diverse, but....]

So, some of us had to work at jobs outside fo the full-time, year-round schedule of classes and internships.  This was not permitted, so we had to do so surreptiously.  For example, I worked as a phlebotomist at a Manhattan hospital and also a dishwasher in a neighborhood restaurant.  Another classmate served with the Army Reserve during that time, again to supplement his income in order to afford to live in NYC and to attend the once-prestigious, now embarassingly diminished General Theological Seminary.  That meant, on weekends, he had to travel to the armory in lower Manhattan.  As he had to leave in uniform, he had to sneak out of the seminary so no one could see him.

This Week's Look At Secular Hypocrisy

Anti-gun Va. lawmaker who brandished AK-47 in legislature was disbarred after brutal 1999 assault

And this from the fellow who wants the citizenry judged by their caloric intake and body mass index: Obama gut-busting lunch menu tops 3,000 calories

Happy New Year, All

Above is the late Swein MacDonald, who was Scotland's greatest seer. He would always offer surprisingly accurate predictions on the occasion of the new year.

Tuesday's Quotation

"As Christians, we must maintain day in and day out that peace is not something to be achieved by our power. Rather peace is a gift of God that comes only by our being a community formed around a crucified savior—a savior who teaches us how to be peaceful in a world in rebellion against its true Lord."   - Stanley Hauerwas