Friday, May 31, 2013

My Granddaughter Was Six Months Old Yesterday. That's All.


Bruce Brown

Summer means many different things to different people. To some it might mean the thrill of a high speed catamaran. Others like to float around and soak up a few stray rays. Still others like some kind of inland activity. But for us, it's the sport of surfing.

The first trick was to find a camera that was waterproof, and there weren't too many of those in the 1950's.  He had taken many, many photos and much 8mm film of the surf and the surfers with other cameras, beginning with some photos he made for his mother when he was a high school kid so that she could see that the surfing he did [mostly instead of going to high school] wasn't dangerous and wouldn't result in a broken neck.  Although, to be fair, the waves where he surfed in Alamitos Bay could be wild, even in the days before the construction of the Long Beach breakwall, but what sons don't keep a little bit from their mothers?

Anyway, Brown enjoyed the water and the surf, no surprise since he hung out at the Huntington Beach pier, the place that bears the closest resemblance to my view of the Kingdom of Heaven, and equally enjoyed trying to capture the kinetic action of surfing on film.  So much so that he joined the Navy out of high school and made sure he graduated at the top of his class in submarine school so that he would have his choice of assignments.  He chose Hawaii, the home of Waikiki, the North Shore, Waimea, and the Banzai Pipeline.

After the Navy he became a life guard in San Clemente, trying to save money for that rad camera that would make all the difference, when he heard that the master surfboard shaper, Dale Velzy, was offering $5000 for a film that would highlight the Velzy surf team and the company's product.  This was 1957, when $5000 had the buying power that over $40,000 has today.  This would mean not only a waterproof camera but travel and living expenses for a whole year.  So, in a mad gamble, Brown quit his day job, took the money, bought the camera, and lived out of his beater Ford for the next year.  All he did was surf, sleep in the car, travel back and forth from California and Hawaii, and, oh, yes, take miles of 8mm film of surf, surfers, surfing life, and surfing styles.  The result was the documentary Slippery When Wet, narrated by Brown with a soundtrack by the mildly demented alto saxophonist, Bud Shank.

There were other surf films at the time, but none had the laid-back panache of Brown's.  As was the custom in the late 1950's, these films would be shown in high school auditoriums, at midnight shows in local movie theaters, or even on the outside walls of buildings on Friday or Saturday nights in SoCa.  Sometimes, they would not even have sound and the filmmakers would narrate them live.  Not only did Brown's film offer a soundtrack, he gradually, over the course of making Slippery's sequels, Surf Crazy, Barefoot Adventure, Surfing Hollow Days and Waterlogged, learn how to distribute a surfing documentary so that it could be released like any Hollywood film. 

What surfers once looked like when they traveled.  Heck, what everyone once looked like when they traveled. August, Hynson, and Brown boarding a plane.
The crowning achievement was realized in the documentary, Endless Summer, which was initially released to a growing collection of West Coast theaters in 1964, gradually working its way east where, two years later, it would bring the surfing ethos to a small barrier island in New Jersey where, on a rainy afternoon with nothing else to do, a nine-year-old from Ohio would see it with his father and begin an Ahab-esque fascination with the pursuit.  The nine-year-old wasn't alone.  Perhaps only the Holy Bible has so dramatically altered so many lives, but that may be an excessive observation.  Still, Endless Summer is regarded, without question, as the greatest movie about surfing that has ever been made.

Here's an academic description of the film:
"In his narration, Brown muses that if someone had enough time and money, they could literally follow the summer around the globe, and so Brown and two of his surfing buddies, Robert August and Mike Hynson, decide to do just that. With their surfboards as luggage, August and Henson travel from one coastline to the next, trying the waves in Hawaii, Africa, Australia, Tahiti, and a number of other nations where most folks had never even seen a surfboard before. Along the way, August and Hynson learn a lot about people around the world, and grow up a bit while they search for the elusive perfect wave."

Here's what Roger Ebert had to say:
"The peculiar charm of "The Endless Summer" is something I haven't got quite worked out in my mind yet. This is all the more strange because here, at last, is a completely uncomplicated film, fresh and natural, designed only to please. It does."

If people thought that surfing was about Frankie, Annette and playing bingo on a beach blanket, or what was captured in the insipid songs of the Beach Boys, Endless Summer rectified that misconception.  It is by turns lyrical and absurd, comical and rather sweetly touching; it is very much a product of those particular days in the middle of the 1960's, before drugs, Charlie Manson [another fellow who enjoyed hanging out in Huntington Beach, by the way], and the rancid horror of Vietnam began to discolor history.  The two surfers of the film, August and Hynson, reflect in their personal histories the twin experiences of surfing in the period now known as post-Summer.

Robert August took the smart route, turning his minor celebrity into a surfboard conglomerate that also offers skateboards, clothing, and anything else that feeds the surfing lifestyle.  He still surfs in HB or at his estate in Costa Rica and looks about twenty years younger than his age.  Hynson chose the stupid path and surrendered to drug addiction and smuggling, joined a notorious criminal gang and took the better part of four tragic decades to re-build his life.  To see those two young men in the film is to see a portion of our own history, with its successes and its excesses, revealed in an uncommon pursuit for the perfect wave.

Brown would continue to create documentaries, not all of them about surfing.  In the early 1970's, he would join with actor Steve McQueen to make a motorcycle racing documentary titled On Any Sunday, which would be nominated for an Academy Award.  There would also be a sequel in Endless Summer II, but the times had changed by 1994 and the charm in that film is a little forced.

Brown still lives by the ocean, managing his catalog of fims and giving interviews.  In a recent story, he spoke of his next goal: "Robert August sent me a new board -- for a fat man. He called and said, 'What are you doing, letting the resin cure?' I've been quite the hodad lately, but I'll be back at it soon."

All of his films, including those early black-and-white ones, are available in downloadable form via Netflix or Hulu or Amazon Prime or what have you.

Here's the original trailer for Endless Summer.  I won't watch it until the end because I will suddenly have the urge to go out to the garage and wax my [Robert August] surfboard.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Thursday's Verses

Come, thou Holy Spirit, come,
and from thy celestial home
shed a ray of light divine!
Come, thou Father of the poor!
Come, thou Source of all our store!
Come, within our bosoms shine!

Thou, of comforters the best;
thou, the soul's most welcome guest;
sweet refreshment here below;
in our labor, rest most sweet;
grateful coolness in the heat;
solace in the midst of woe.

O most blessèd Light divine,
shine within these hearts of thine,
and our inmost being fill!
Where thou art not, man hath naught,
nothing good in deed or thought,
nothing free from taint of ill.

Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
on our dryness pour thy dew;
wash the stains of guilt away;
bend the stubborn heart and will;
melt the frozen, warm the chill;
guide the steps that go astray.

On the faithful, who adore
and confess thee, evermore
in thy sevenfold gift descend;
give them virtue's sure reward
give them thy salvation, Lord;
give them joys that never end.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day

Memorial Day in Roxbury means at least a couple of things, from the fun of our very particular town parade to the quiet witness of small American flags sprinkled throughout the three cemeteries.  Below is the collect for today:

Lord God Almighty, who have made all peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and peace: Grant to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Sometimes the old poetry teacher in me comes out, too.  Below, A.E. Housman's "Here Dead We Lie":
Here dead we lie
Because we did not choose
To live and shame the land
From which we sprung.

Life, to be sure,
Is nothing much to lose,
But young men think it is,
And we were young.

[For Jeff and Scott, who were young; and for those of the 1/4th Marines who fought the good fight and kept the faith.  "Whatever It Takes."]

Friday, May 24, 2013


It was called Dingo’s Beach Club and it wasn’t on any of the tourist maps. Actually, it wasn’t on any map at all as it existed mostly in the mind of a fourteen-year-old Mexican entrepreneur [empresario], with the help of what appeared to be a battalion of his siblings. Dingo, whose Christian name was Domingo, had claimed by right of imagination a portion of beachfront on the Costa Maya near the border with Belize where there was nothing except the ruins of what was once going to be a 3000 room hotel. As could often happen south of the border, the financial backing for the hotel evaporated, leaving a partially poured foundation that featured a phalanx of rusted rebar jutting from concrete that was cracking in the sun. When Dingo arrived on the scene, it served mostly as a home to iguana.

So, like any enterprising young person, Dingo found some discarded beach chairs and torn umbrellas [well, some may have been “found” at the hotel beaches in Playa del Carmen], arranged them in a pleasant crescent on the beach, “bought” a cooler, ice, sodas and baked goods from the local Bimbo [that’s a bakery and market chain in Mexico, just so you know], and painted a driftwood sign that simply said “Dingo’s”, with an arrow pointing towards the beach. To help generate traffic, Dingo also offered the driver of the local pollo bus a piece of the action if he would stop at the entrance to the property to “check the bus’s radiator”. “But only if he carries turistas”, Dingo explained to me.

No one came, of course, because Dingo’s had to compete with luxury hotels and well-maintained beaches from Cancun to Tulum; until the day when a couple of surfers realized that Dingo’s Beach Club was the site of one of the best surf breaks on the eastern coast of Mexico.

“Senior Whiskers [pronounced whee-skers], that was the day when my thoughts became eléctrico. That is the day when this became Dingo’s Beach and Surfing Club”, he explained to me.

Not having the backing, however transient, of a bank or brace of investors, Dingo harvested discarded portions of fiberglass hulls from boats in a repair yard in nearby Puerto Aventuras, cut them with an old hacksaw into the rough shape of a commercial bodyboard, sanded down the edges, and offered them for rent for a mere 10 pesos a day. Plus gratuity. The day after his first rentals, he had his sister sew pieces of old wetsuits into bands that could be worn around the hands of the bodyboarders, since Dingo’s sanding of the ragged fiberglass edges would not have satisfied any heath and safety inspection. Plus, having renters cut open their palms tended to reduce the attractiveness of renting.

“It is my own line of boards. Is it not eléctrico?” I had to agree that it was.

It was a pleasant place to surf, although one could not let go of one’s board, as it would suddenly become group property. Even if the price of lukewarm Bimbo soda was a little steep [“Twenty pesos, but tax free.”], Dingo was a good host and a number of gringo surfers would stop by, admire his organizational skills, stay away from the deadly Dingo bodyboards, surf that funky break all day long, get their pictures taken with Dingo [tax free], and enjoy some time at what was one of the last undeveloped beaches in Mexico.

Everything has a lifespan, of course. I had hoped to return to the Costa Maya the next winter, but work got in the way. The year after that, Hurricane Wilma hung around the coastline for four days and stripped the landscape of trees, the homes and hotels of their roofs, and, as I discovered, altered the sea bottom so that the wonderful surf break disappeared. By the time I returned, nearly four years later, Dingo’s Beach Club, and Dingo, had disappeared and some Mexican surfers had started to put up a small village of bungalows by the beach. They were half-built and abandoned, of course.

No one I spoke with knew of what happened to Dingo and his siblings, but I figured wherever he was, it was going to be eléctrico.

[Excerpt from Reading Water, all rights reserved ©2011]

From Federalist 25 By Alexander Hamilton

“The people are always most in danger when the means of injuring their rights are in the possession of those of whom they entertain the least suspicion.”

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Archaeological News

Structure at bottom of Sea of Galilee could reveal secrets of ancient life in Middle East

Good For Them

The NYC city council has just passed a resolution allowing religious groups to worship in public schools, taking a stand on a decades-old controversy. Since 1994, state legislators and activists with a radical interpretation of the First Amendment have been trying to evict New York City churches from public schools. The official New York City Board of Education policy forbids religious institutions from renting public schools, a restriction that applies to no other type of organization. Churches and their supporters have been fighting back, and the battle over the enforcement of this policy has taken a serpentine path though both state legislative bodies and state and national courts.

Thursday's Verses

Dance, my heart! dance to-day with joy

The strains of love fill the days and the nights with music,
and the world is listening to its melodies:

Mad with joy, life and death dance to the rhythm of this music.
The hills and the sea and the earth dance.
The world of man dances in laughter and tears.

Why put on the robe of the monk,
and live apart from the world in lonely pride?

Behold! my heart dances in the delight of a hundred arts;
and the Creator is well pleased.
                                                                                - Tagore

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Monday, May 20, 2013

From The New English Review: Orwell, Huxley and the Emerging Totalitarianism

Several aspects of modern life seem to have been very accurately predicted by both Orwell and Huxley. Orwell’s idea of “New Speak,” for example, the deliberate remoulding and distortion of the English language by Big Brother, has been rightly compared to the politically correct manipulation of language that has become all too familiar in western societies over the past twenty to thirty years. The political purpose of “New Speak” is to control the thinking of the populace – not too different in aim from the new terms and words coined by political correctness. Huxley does not go into the language issue in the same way as Orwell, though we note too that in the Brave New World certain “offensive” words – such as “cross” – have been eliminated from public use. Thus for example Charing Cross Station in London has been renamed “Charing T Station” – after Henry Ford’s Model T automobile. 

Related to the question of language, both writers foresaw the rewriting of history, or rather the complete elimination of history in any meaningful sense of the word, in the totalitarian future. Thus in Big Brother’s world there exists a whole government department, the Ministry of Truth, whose purpose is the falsification of history. The Ministry’s task is to destroy real historical documents and forge others more pleasing to Big Brother. The destruction of historical consciousness is so complete that even traditional songs and nursery rhymes are all but forgotten by the populace. A similar situation prevails in the Brave New World. Here too there is no historical consciousness amongst the people and in fact all “education” is simply conditioning by the state.

Wow, The Creepshow Just Continues Today

Now a senator from Rhode Island [I worked there once upon a time and had a senator and a governor in my congregation; suffice it to say I'm not really surprised by this] has decided that this is just the primo perfect time to politicize the deaths of children.  He should really have waited a day, like our gov did after Sandy Hook.

While many Americans were tuned into news coverage of the massive damage from tornadoes ravaging the state of Oklahoma, Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse took to the Senate floor to rail against his Republican colleagues for denying the theory of anthropogenic global warming.

Oh, shove off, creep.  Maybe you should read this from the BBC: Since 1998, there has been an unexplained "standstill" in the heating of the Earth's atmosphere.

In science, "unexplained" usually means, "Gee, I guess our original theory was...wrong."

We Live In An Ugly Age

How marvelous:  A writer for the execrable "Daily Show" is making political jokes on Twitter about the Oklahoma tornado while parents are frantically digging in the rubble of a school for their children.  Now, am I supposed to silently reflect on this person's moral retardation and pray for them?  That's certainly the standard set by my colleagues.

Instead, in the face of the increasing callousness towards people that differ from them that is being presented by those in the news and entertainment communities, [after all, these people live in Oklahoma so they must be Republicans or Christians or against whatever this month's cause celebre might be, so it's okay to mock them at a time of gross tragedy], a callousness that the greater church seems to observe these days without comment or action, I'll simply tweet back to her, "Shove off, creep."

Then I'll pray for her.

Let Us Pray For The Repose Of The Soul Of Pop Culture

Last night's "Mad Men" featured a story that was handled with greater nuance and sociological import back when it was first presented on the "Dick Van Dyke Show" fifty years ago.  Oops, was I not to notice that?

Then, I thought I'd check out Billboard's TV presentation of the best current performers in pop music.  For all I could tell, they lip-synced to pre-recorded music.  The musicians were just there as props, pretending to play their instruments.  It's like that strange young woman who "sang" the National Anthem at the last inaugural   I suspect that she really can't sing and she had the Marine Corps Band there to pretend to play.

Read John Cheever's short stories sometime and you'll see what they are aiming for, badly, with the "Mad Men" nonsense, which is all the rage with the East Coast pseuds; and never listen to pop music again.  Scan the independent rock charts and download some songs from true musicians and singers.

And Now, News From The City With The Strictest Gun Control Laws

5 Dead, 15 Wounded In Weekend Violence

It's weird; it's as if there are people who don't follow laws.  How can that be?

Meanwhile, a frustrated Hartford resident nails it:

"We keep creating programs, but the programs we create, the only children that are going to go are the children that have morals instilled in them," said Guiles-Smith. "We walk right past the root of the problem."

Yep, if only there were organizations in our society that promoted positive thinking, mutual regard, moral elevation, and even love.  We could house their meetings in buildings conveniently located and offer their services to the entire community free of charge, say on a Sunday morning.  Hey, I know, we could offer music and instruction, too.  Gosh, what a great idea.  If only there were such institutions....

Maybe This Week's Funniest Paragraph

It's from a description of the long-running Eurovision Song Contest, part of an appreciation of an old Euro-Pop song of the 1970's:
The song contest has never quite recovered, but oh, you should have seen it in its glory days, when the rich national cultures that gave the world Bach, Mozart, Vivaldi, Purcell, Debussy, and Grieg bandied together to bring us "La-La-La" (winner, 1968), "Boom-Bang-A-Bang" (1969), "Ding-Dinge-Dong" (1975), "A Ba Ni Bi" (1978), "Diggy Loo Diggi Ley" (1984), and my personal favorite, "Lat Det Swinge," the 1985 winner by the Norwegian group Bobbysocks. The above songs are nominally sung in Spanish, Dutch, Swedish, and even English, but in fact it's the universal language of Eurogroovy: "Ja, ja, boogie, baby, mit der rock 'n' roll."

Nice To Know That Satire Is Alive And Well

“Right now, many of you are angry at the government, and no one is angrier than I am,” he said. “Quite frankly, I am glad that I have had no involvement in such an organization.”

The President’s outrage only increased, he said, when he “recently became aware of a part of that government called the Department of Justice.”

“The more I learn about the activities of these individuals, the more certain I am that I would not want to be associated with them,” he said. “They sound like bad news.”

Today's Feast Day

May 19, 804: Alcuin of York, an English scholar who became an adviser to Charlemagne and the most prominent figure in the Carolingian Renaissance (the rebirth of classical learning under Charlemagne), dies. He also devised a handwriting system using both small and capital letters for easier reading.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Stop Eating Whole Grains

That stuff's just Frankenfood.  Politicians love to posture about things that make absolutely no difference except to the gullible and simple-minded.  Like gun control, for example, which does anything but control the illegal use of guns.

Health activists are in a tizzy over sugar and fast food, which they blame for the obesity “epidemic.” Responding to these concerns, politicians have sought to tax or regulate the alleged culprits. Tort lawyers, smelling tobacco-settlement-scale greenbacks, have been gearing up to sue companies producing sugary beverages. Last week, in an attempt to pre-empt this barrage of legislation, tax, and litigation, the Coca Cola Company announced that it would from now on “market responsibly, including no advertising to children under 12 anywhere in the world.” But none of these actions are likely to have much impact on our waistlines; indeed, some may be counterproductive, while others are likely to burn a hole in our wallets. And for most of us, life just wouldn’t be as sweet. Fortunately, there are better ways to achieve a healthy weight.

Knock off the whole grains, dump dairy products [except for eggs; they're good for you], and exercise in any routine manner that appeals to you.  You should see what happens.

What Moron Actually Thinks It's A Good Idea To Drink Pool Water?

Don’t Drink the Pool Water! It Contains a Surprising Amount of…Human Waste

This is why I try to swim only in ocean water.  I'd rather deal with New York/Jersey hypodermics than little Eddie's...accident.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Inevitable Declne Of Higher Ed

It is simply business as usual in American higher education today that one can major in history without taking a course in American history. It is only to be expected that a college will, like Bowdoin, jettison almost all traditional requirements but insist students take a first-year seminar whose subjects include “Affirmative Action and U.S. Society,” “Fictions of Freedom,” “Racism,” “Modern Western Prostitutes,” “Women in the European Union,” “Globalizing India,” etc. It’s the same with Speak About It, a student play about sex on campus. Bowdoin dispensed with its general education requirement as long ago as 1969, but it requires all students to watch the play. The take-away: “Whatever you decide you want your relationship with sex to be about there are opportunities out there. Whether you want to have sex or you don’t, you’re looking for love or a one-night stand, you’re gay or straight or somewhere in between, it’s all possible. And whatever happens remember to be safe, get consent, and watch out for your friends.” No wonder it costs nearly $60,000 to attend Bowdoin—that level of educational irresponsibility costs a lot to maintain.

My concern is not with Bowdoin nor for higher education in general; I've been a chaplain at a college and a university, plus three of the so-called "feeder" schools that provide their students, so I'm not shocked at the cult of diversity and how much it costs the parents of the students and, via student loans, the students themselves to pay for avoiding a real education.

What gets me is the attitude that permits this nonsense to continue, when it is obvious that it is doing little more than producing a generation of unrealistic, and barely employable, narcissists.  My academic exchanges with this generation usually reveal incredible holes in their knowledge of literature, history, and philosophy; and don't get me started on their ability to effectively use the English language, even in casual conversation.

No wonder they can't conceive of any being greater than themselves.

Related:  A Classic Text on Gender--And It's All Wrong

Also related: Recent Graduate Paradox: Overqualified and Underprepared

I Was Beginning To Think I Was Paranoid, But Now I'm Wondering If I'm Paranoid Enough

Sarah Hall Ingram, the IRS executive in charge of the tax exempt division in 2010 when it began targeting conservative Tea Party, evangelical and pro-Israel groups for harassment  got more than $100,000 in bonuses between 2009 and 2012. 

More recently, Ingram was promoted to serve as director of the tax agency’s Obamacare program office, a position that put her in charge of the vast expansion of the IRS’ regulatory power and staffing in connection with federal health care, ABC reported earlier today.

Of course:

...President Barack Obama finally emerged from the West Wing to hold a press conference with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Obama took the first question from Bloomberg’s Julianna Goldman, whose parents contributed at least $5,400 to Obama during the last cycle.

In My Experience, Thugs Tend To Be

Now We Find Out That the IRS Is Incompetent

Friday, May 17, 2013

Peter Marshall

"May we think of freedom, not as the right to do as we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right."

Preaching is a tricky art.  It may superficially appear to be a speech or lecture, but it is something else entirely; something much more organic.  As sermons are a form of proclamation, they are at their least interesting and effective when written down in advance and read at a later time, as the chief feature of a sermon is the connection between preacher and listener that exists in the moment of preaching. Thus, a sermon needs to be fluid and responsive to the shifting expectations and perceptions of the congregation, as does the preacher.  This may be one of the reasons that it is very difficult for there to be an academic, historical appreciation of preaching, as its very liveliness cannot be maintained outside of the event of the sermon itself.

There is no true "hall of fame" for Christian preachers.  One may read a sermon, of course, and find it to be a noble and erudite religious or doctrinal statement, but that's because it is effective as an essay.  To be a sermon means the document must be alive in the moment of its rendering; to listen to a recording or view a video of a sermon also removes the listener from the symbiotic immediacy of the preaching.  The only way to experience a sermon, even in this world of YouTube and What Not, is as a congregation encountering both sermon and preacher, with all of his/her pauses, vocal tics, gestures, and facial expressions, at its moment of conception.

If there is a style of preaching particular to the United States, it is represented through two schools, separated only slightly.  The first is that of the African-American tradition of Gospel proclamation that many people unfamiliar with African-American Christianity, or Christianity at all, know from the speaking style of Martin Luther King, Jr.  It is based on a repeated theme or refrain presented in an accelerating cadence, punctuated by call-and-response with either the congregation or another pastor just to the right or left side of the preacher.  Of course, it is also aided by the free and very verbal encouragement of the listeners.

This tradition actually reaches back through the American slavery experience to African folk tales, which would be presented by a designated story teller to the delight, and delightful participation, of the listeners in much the same manner.  It is ironic to note that, as much as MLK, Jr. had to do with familiarizing people with this preaching style, it is his father, Martin Luther King, Sr. who is regarded as its greatest artist.  Again, recordings do not capture the shared experience of preaching, so we'll have to take the word of those who were present.

The second school is more European in origin, although there are some overlapping qualities.  Early in the history of Christian development, a sermon, also known as "The Instruction", was delivered by a bishop from a seated position before the congregation.  While not a conversation by any means, this was certainly less formal than what preaching became over the course of the Middle Ages.  By the late 18th century, preaching became more "working class", in imitation of Simon Peter's manner in Christianity's earliest days.  Sermons were now forthright, almost physical, and dependent upon a non-verbal interaction between preacher and congregation that, although unlike call-and-response, was no less real.

If Daddy King represented the former style, The Rev. Peter Marshall, a mid-century Presbyterian pastor, was representative of the latter.  His preaching, based on the folksy manner of the storytelling of his Scottish youth and honed in his early career as a youth pastor, would gradually transform the expectations of congregations in mainstream Christian churches.  Although it would take some time, Marshall's preaching would become the standard in all but the stodgiest of churches by the end of the 20th century.

Peter Marshall was born by in The Lowlands of Scotland, not far from Glasgow, in 1902.  At the age of 24, he moved to the United States to attend Columbia Theological Seminary, a Presbyterian educational powerhouse in Decatur, Georgia.  Upon graduation and ordination, Marshall served in a small parish in rural Georgia, then an urban parish in Atlanta.  His preaching brought him much attention as he was found equally accessible by young and old alike.

Sometimes a parish, long thought of as steady if non-experimental, will decide, either through the deliberate choices of its leadership, because of necessity, or via divine inspiration, to depart from what it has known for decades and strive to re-cast itself in the face of a changing age.  The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. had become moribund by the late 1930's, so its elders decided to call as their next pastor Peter Marshall, who was young, just 35 years old, and an immigrant.  He came from a poor family; his wife made her own clothes.  Yet, the leadership of the Church known by its nick-name "The Church of the Presidents", the church that Abraham Lincoln faithfully attended while in residence at the White House just a few blocks away, took a chance on a Scotsman with nothing to offer except a pure sense of the Gospel and the most engaging preaching that anyone had ever experienced.  It should come as no surprise that Marshall saved the church; it would never again be moribund.  In 1946, in addition to his other duties, Marshall was appointed the official chaplain of the US Senate, a post he would hold until his death. 

It was never easy for him, though. There were many who objected to his perspective on Jesus, his use of colloquialisms sprinkled among the rolling prose; his Scottish burr. Yet, he persevered in prayer and seemingly ceaseless action.  Still, it all took its toll and Peter Marshall died of a heart attack at the age of 46.  His legacy is such that the Presbyterian Church still holds him to be a standard of pastoral service and, particularly, preaching effectiveness.

His widow, Catherine Marshall, would become an author, including in her canon a loving portrait of her late husband entitled A Man Called Peter, which is still in print.  Hollywood would turn it into a slightly sappy but rather welcome film in 1955; it would receive a nomination for the best picture Oscar. 

In the film there is a scene that some would dismiss as standard Hollywood overreach, but it is based on fact.  Marshall was invited to preach one Sunday morning in the chapel at the US Naval Academy.  For some reason, although he had spent the week preparing a sermon, he felt called to discard it at the last moment and preach extempore on a passage from the Epistle-General of James.  Unbeknownst to him and to the midshipman and officers present, Pearl Harbor had been attacked that morning.  His sermon spoke of change and mortality in a way that the former sermon did not; in a way that was much more appropriate to the assembly that appeared before him on that historic morning: young men who were about to go off to a world war.

Although presented through the lens of professional film-makers, the scene below uses the actual text of the sermon preached by Marshall that morning, as it had been recorded and faithfully learned and presented by the actor.  Consider as you watch that this was extemporaneous preaching and not something carefully crafted and read from notes or script.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Two More Marines Than The Number Allowed To Save The Benghazi Four

Guarantee two things:

1.  These Marines will get the ribbing of their lives tonight from their colleagues

2.  They would have rather have been in Benghazi than doing this ridiculous chore.

The New Model For Govt Service Appears To Be That Of Sgt. Schultz

Washington Post:  But when the Justice Department undermines the Constitution, recusal is no excuse.

Oh, wait; there's more.

Boston Herald:  "Nice try, Mr. President.  Feigning anger, firing an unknown bureaucrat and fleeing the podium won’t cut it with voters, or stop the hemorrhaging of the scandals that have spawned a Watergate-like feel around the Obama administration."

Thursday's Verses

The Lake Isle of Innisfree by W. B. Yeats

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Looks Like Everything Old Is New Again

And yet here we are, with a president who simultaneously professes the goodness of government even as that government misuses power in all the old familiar ways, changing only to adapt to new technology. 

So, as we prepare to hand authority over our health care system to a tax agency that has, time and again, wielded its power for political purposes on behalf of whoever is currently in power, we owe thanks. Thank you, Mr. President, for demonstrating that you're just as untrustworthy a [unfortunate term] as all of your predecessors. Thank you for reminding us that, no matter the public assurances we receive, every iota of power given to the government will be misused. We repeatedly forget these lessons, and we need our reminders.

And, in a related post in the Wall Street Journal:

But seriously, Obama has a point here. If you hear those voices that try to gum up the works by warning of tyranny, whatever you do, block them out. You must have faith in the federal government. Not only is the federal government omnipotent, omniscient and benevolent, but it has a way of going all Old Testament on those who disbelieve,

First It's Eggs, Then "Climate", Now Salt

NYT: No Benefit Seen in Sharp Limits on Salt in Diet

Will scientists ever make up their minds?  The big problem, of course, is when politicians decide to make laws based on transient science; then, bishops decide it's something we have to talk about at diocesan conventions.  Oh, to get those minutes of my life back....

No. Next Question.

Employers Love Wellness Programs. But Do They Work?

As medical tests find their way into the workplace, companies risk putting workers through unnecessary screenings and invite excess treatment that can be costly and harmful, say critics like Al Lewis. He’s a former consultant to health plans and employers who used to preach the benefits of wellness and disease management. Lewis became one of their most prolific critics after he says he realized the hoped-for savings never materialized. “You have to identify and medicate tons and tons of people to prevent one or two from getting sick,” he says. Corporate HR departments are “playing doctor,” says Lewis, of Waltham, Mass. “They’re doing things they don’t really know how to do.”

Here Comes Summer... the shark attack stories, which are pre-written in anticipation of half the newsroom being on summer vacation at any given time, will now begin to be published.

French honeymooner killed by a shark while surfing in front of his wife at beach resort in Indian Ocean 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

It Won't Come From The Episcopal Church

Male Suicide: Where’s the Outcry?

“The suicide rate for middle-aged Americans has risen by nearly 30 percent over the past decade. This news is depressing enough on its own, but the gender breakdown is where it gets disturbing: According to the New York Times, middle-aged American men kill themselves at nearly four times the rate that women do.”

The church politely ignores the social issues involving men and military veterans, unless they can be cast as violent, homophobic, gun-loving, etc.  Then, the church has a lot to say; all of it negative.  Hmmm, I wonder why we have such difficulty getting men to come to church?  And really, in an age where there are more veterans than since 1946, why don't we have a coordinated program for their care and reintegration into society?

Well, we do.  I designed one and offered it to my diocese; they never got back to me.  I also offered it to the national church; they never got back to me.  The United Church of Christ in New England now uses it.  Thanks, Congo friends.

Tuesday's Wave

"It is one thing for the living water to descend from Christ into the heart, and another thing how--when it has descended--it moves the heart to worship. All power of worship in the soul is the result of the waters flowing into it, and their flowing back again to God."  - G.V. Wigram

Sunday, May 12, 2013

This Is Rather Good

You see, what Tsarnaev did is not just between him and God. He didn’t look at porn or cheat on his wife. He committed a public act of mass murder in the name of a religious ideology. God has final say over the disposition of Tsarnaev’s eternal soul and all that, but Caesar–which is to say, the society against which Tsarnaev committed this crime–has a clear and compelling interest, too. 

Oh, and by the way, it’s pretty big of Islamic Funeral Services of Virginia to “strongly disagree” with Tsarnaev’s “violent actions.” I know what you’re thinking: “Strong disagreement” is normally what we have in disputes over, say, immigration policy or a presidential election and ideologically-motivated mass murder probably warrants something a little higher up the condemnation scale.

So They Can Be Audited By The IRS

Mrs. Obama: Seek out those with different beliefs

Thanks, Mom

She came to this country from Scotland to join with her already-arrived parents during Germany's torpedo war against merchant shipping, traveling alone on a passenger ship in the North Atlantic. She was 14. She became the first woman in her family to graduate from college; then from graduate school.

As a teacher, she taught mainstream students and then, up until her 85th year, those judged "at risk" who would come to her classroom wearing court-mandated electronic ankle bracelets.

She made me go to church every Sunday and saw to it I became an acolyte who knew what he was doing.  When I was five, she made sure I learned how to swim at the local Y; then made sure, summer after summer, that we went down to the sea.

She taught me how to fight for one's students and against impassive and dull-witted bureaucracies, as I watched her do when she was involved in local politics. She is 4 feet, 11 inches of iron.  To this day, whenever I find myself encountering some diocesan martinet I think, "Do you really want to mess with me? I'm Mary Clements' son."

No Kidding

BBC: Sun's blood pressure benefits 'may outdo cancer risks'

In other words, put down the video game controller and go outside.  As Emerson wrote in Merlin's Song:

"The richest of all lords is Use,
And ruddy Health the loftiest Muse.
Live in the sunshine, swim the sea,
Drink the wild air's salubrity

An Obituary Of Note: Much Of My Love For The English Language Is Due To This Fellow

Vincent Dowling, Irish director and actor who led Great Lakes Theater Festival, dies at 83

Plus this from the obit:

"Though he made command appearances at the Reagan White House and won an Emmy Award in 1983 for a production of J.M. Synge's "The Playboy of the Western World" that he directed for PBS, Dowling might be remembered best for inviting a 20-year-old Tom Hanks to join Great Lakes in 1977. Dowling had directed him a year earlier in a production at California State University-Sacramento.

"Vincent's the reason I'm an actor, man," Hanks told a reporter decades later. "To act with Vincent on the stage is to share the wings with a master."

Friday, May 10, 2013

Perhaps They're All Moving To An Island With John Galt

So far this year, three clergy of my acquaintance have left their positions as rectors of parishes without first securing a new position.  Two of them gave just thirty days notice.  None are under investigation or have been accused of or committed some form of misconduct.  Each gives the same reason for departure, though:  Diocesan mismanagement.  Two will not seek future employment in the Episcopal Church.

Remarkable.  Clergy "going Galt" is not something I would have thought possible just a few years ago.

Wilfred Thesiger

"I was exhilarated by the sense of space, the silence, and the crisp cleanness of the sand. I felt in harmony with the past, travelling as men had travelled for untold generations across the deserts, dependent for their survival on the endurance of their camels and their own inherited skills."

It's hard to imagine, now that we can "visit" virtually any corner of the globe without leaving a computer screen, due to the various Internet services that offer maps and satellite photos of most of the planet, that during our lifetime the world still held places of mystery that repelled all but the most intrepid of explorers and retained long-hidden temples, cities, and even peoples.

The 20th century would be the last in human history where Earth-bound adventurers would push into the unknown using little more than book-based research, remarkable fortitude, and invincible curiosity.  A great number of those explorers have become household names, synonymous both with the art of exploration and the wistful realization that such days are all but done.  However, there are a few who remain almost unknown, and that probably suited them just fine.

One such explorer/adventurer/character was Wilfred Thesiger, pictured above not in some hothouse in Trilling or Tring but in his everyday garb as an honorary Bedu of the so-called Empty Quarter.  How he got to that place is obvious from the title of his autobiography, A Life of My Choice

[I'm not sure why those heroes of my youth are so much on my mind these days, perhaps it is the inevitable slide from upper middle-age to the lower elder years, my still novel status as a grandparent, or my realization that a world that made much sense to me, a world guided by now out-of-date values and under-girded by a hearty sense of self, is quickly surrendering to a strange pseudo-paradise where a 26-year-old is considered by the government to be a child in need of care, where a remote political class lives in its own luxurious bubble, occasionally venturing forth to instruct the rest of us on how to be morally evolved, or because I find myself increasingly expected to live by specious social constraints that are becoming more and more onerous.  But, I digress....]

Like others whom we have appreciated on Fridays, Thesiger grew up privileged and British, a dangerous combination in the 20th century it would seem.  After being born in Addis Ababa, where his father was British envoy and a frequent visitor to the lush imperial court of the Ethiopian emperor, followed by a miserable time at Eton and Oxford, Thesiger spiced his summer vacations with jobs on merchant ships that took him to places like Istanbul and Iceland.  While not the most exotic of ports, these journeys did prove useful for his developing personality as an explorer.

After becoming an acquaintance of Halie Selassie, the Emperor of Ethiopia, who had invited Thesiger to his coronation, the neophyte explorer was able to include himself on an expedition to Abyssinia's Awash River and lived for a time with the notoriously unstable and murderous Danakil nomads.  This challenge he met free from fear and with the aplomb for which the British of his generation have become either famous or infamous, depending on which side of the river of history one stands.

A memorable profile, along with a nose that must have made the camels jealous

After graduation from Oxford, and earning a rather spectacular sporting profile due to his nose being broken while serving as the captain of the university's boxing team, Thesiger took a post in the foreign service in the Sudan, specifically the perennially troubled Darfur region, where he admits he spent most of his time shooting the lions that were decimating both livestock and laborers.  It was during this time that he learned how to ride a camel, live, dress, and eat as a native; and to love the Sahara desert, learning to live off the land with nothing other than a compass and stout British rifle.

This ability proved useful during the Second World War, as Thesiger served as an officer in the Sudan Defense Force, the Druze regiment of the Syrian Legion, and eventually with the earliest incarnation of the British Army's redoubtable commandos, the Special Air Service [better known these days as the terrorist-hunting SAS].  In between missions that liberated Abyssinia, routed the Vichy French in Syria, and captured 2,500 Italian soldiers [earning him the Distinguished Service Order, a significant British medal], Thesiger explored the more remote regions and even made a trek to fabled Petra.  After the war, and now a member of the United Nations' anti-locust unit [I could not make this stuff up], Thesiger explored Arabia's Empty Quarter, a place that held a fascination for a number of British explorers, including the previously mentioned Richard Burton

The native dress certainly looks more comfortable than the scratchy British wool; but I realize how important it was to wear a tie into battle.

As related in an article about him on the occasion of his death, The Guardian notes: "...between 1945 and 1949. Arabia's legendary Empty Quarter had been the goal of all Arabian explorers from Richard Burton onward, and although Thesiger was not the first to cross it, he was the first to explore it thoroughly, mapping the oasis of Liwa and the quicksands of Umm As-Sammim. He crossed the desert twice with Bedu companions, and his trek across the western sands from the Hadhramaut to Abu Dhabi was the last and greatest expedition of Arabian travel.

During his journeys he was caught up in inter-tribal raids, pursued by hostile raiders, and arrested by the Saudi authorities. He travelled alone in the Hejaz, the Assir and Najran, and explored the Trucial Coast and Dhofar in southern Arabia. He lived with the canoe-borne marshmen of Iraq for several periods over the seven years up to the Iraqi revolution of 1958...."

A scene in the film Lawrence of Arabia comes to mind, when Prince Faisal, as played by Alec Guinness, cannot fathom Lawrence's interest in the desert.  I quote from that portion of the film's script, as written by the playwright Robert Bolt: 

"I think you are another of these desert-loving English: Doughty, Stanhope, Gordon of Khartoum. No Arab loves the desert. We love water and green trees, there is nothing in the desert. No man needs nothing."

Thesiger, too, seems to have found something in the nothingness.  What that was would be addressed in his well-received and still-in-print travelogues including, but not limited to, Arabian Sands, The Marsh Arabs, both current Penguin Classics; Across the Empty Quarter, one of the Penguin Great Journeys series, and his autobiography, the aforementioned A Life of My Choice.  Each is well-written and each a ripping yarn.

Wilfred Thesiger would carry a number of awards and honours and would die peacefully shortly after his 93rd birthday, just a decade ago. 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Thursday's Verses

He sent no angel to our race of higher or of lower place,
but wore the robe of human frame himself, and to this lost world came.

...For us baptized, for us he bore his holy fast and hungered sore,
for us temptation sharp he knew; for us the tempter overthrew.

For us he prayed; for us he taught; for us his daily works he wrought;
by words and signs and actions thus still seeking not himself, but us.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Yes, But Job Creation Is Hard And You Can't Posture As Well

Princeton's Gallup Poll: Americans Give Guns, Immigration Reform Low Priority; Creating jobs and growing the economy get highest priority

Gee, No Kidding

Gun Control Would Address Declining Crime Rates With Irrelevant Laws

Laws only control the law-abiding.  By definition, lunatics, criminals, and terrorists exist outside of laws.

Some Days, I Miss My Hometown And Its People, As Uncommon [Or Common] As They Can Be

"No, no, no. Bro, I'm a Christian, an American, and just like you. We bleed same blood, put our pants on the same way. It's just that you got to put that... being a coward -- that 'I don't want to get in nobody's business' -- you got to put that away for a minute."

Yes. Next Question.

Slate: Did the Police Fail to See the Signs in Cleveland?

My first job out of college was as an English teacher at a high school just three blocks from the house of horrors.  I lived seven blocks away from the abduction site [How did the police not notice that three young women of similar description disappeared from the same block-and-a-half within a 24 month period?] I know this neighborhood and its people; the police were never, ever interested, even back in the late 1970's, in actual police work in these city blocks.  Usually, the best and brightest of the CPD were not posted to this district; it was seen as punishment duty.

This has been challenged in recent years as young couples are buying those inexpensive homes and renovating them; however, there has been some "resistance" from the local constabulary and some spectacular examples of unprofessional and even brutal behavior towards the public.

As a neighborhood activist once said to me, paraphrasing Richard Pryor:  "Down here, 'justice' means 'just us'".

Because The 21st Century Media Report An Agenda, Not A Collection Of Logically Ordered Facts

LA Times:  Gun crime has plunged, but Americans think it's up, says study

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Tuesday's Wave

"The Christian should be an alleluia from head to foot." —St. Augustine

Monday, May 6, 2013

This Week's Lesser Feasts

May 8: Dame Julian of Norwich

One of Christian history's insomniacs, as well as a sufferer of migraine headaches [specifically, scintillating scotoma] was Julian of Norwich, of whom more may be found here.  Of greater importance is that she was one of the mystics of the Anglican tradition and her story evocative of that portion of spirituality of which we seem rarely to speak these days.

Given the volume of literature that has been produced about her and her visions, especially since the mid-20th century, it may be safe to say that she is the greatest of Anglican mystics, even if it seems absurd to attempt to measure such a thing.

Lord God, in your compassion you granted to the Lady Julian many revelations of your nurturing and sustaining love: Move our hearts, like hers, to seek you above all things, for in giving us yourself you give us all; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Actors. They Know Everything.

The next time some TV actor lectures us on the importance of the environment, I'll think about today.  At the end of the town tag sale in our municipal field, all of the vendors packed up their stuff and left their areas pristine; all except for one.  One of our locals left an unsold TV set sitting in the middle of an empty field.  Thanks, bub.

The worst part:  He left a tag on it that said "free".  Wow, you're a real mensch.  And yeah, I cleaned up after you.

Other than that, though, it was a perfect day.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Peter Scott

"The people I burgled got rich through greed and skullduggery. They indulged in the mechanics of ostentation - they deserved me and I deserved them. If I rob Ivana Trump, it is just a meeting of two different types of degeneracy on a dark rooftop."

I'm a sucker for "caper" movies; even the bad ones.  It doesn't matter if it's Cary Grant, David Niven, Maximilian Schell, Robert Wagner, Tom Selleck, or even George Hamilton, once the protagonist dons crepe-soled shoes and a cashmere turtleneck, I enjoy the un-knotting of the elaborate details of the theft and root for the thief to successfully steal the diamonds, ornamental knife, Nazi secret plans, or whatever macguffin drives the plot.

I recall being fifteen and adrift in Europe, living on 75 cents a day, when I thought that this would make a pretty good life, especially if it meant a villa on the Cote d'Azur and some quality time with Grace Kelly.  I also always liked the ingenuity it takes to figure out how to get into a place that is supposedly impregnable.  Rather like a logic puzzle, I guess.

But what a lot of people don't know is that, during my time in Europe dreaming of being a cat burglar, there was an actual cat burglar on the loose who had been plying his trade among the rich and famous for some time.  His name was Peter Scott and he died just a few weeks ago, leaving behind some very interesting writings and stories, and a legend that may never be touched.  After all, computer hackers, who are the cat burglars of the 21st century, aren't generally fit enough to scale a wall and are too socially awkward to hang out with Melina Mercouri.  Besides, in turtlenecks, they tend to look more like beatniks than international men of mystery.

High-society cat burglar Peter Scott, pictured in 1998, has died aged 82
Brits of a certain generation just can't help but be jaunty

Most of the facts of Scott's early life are unknown except through his autobiography, Gentleman Thief, and require a considerable amount of salt.  According to Scott, after flunking out of the Royal Belfast Academy around 1950, he squandered his inheritance and turned to a life of crime, using his posh appearance and familiarity with the lives and manners of the affluent to simply walk into homes, usually during parties, and pass himself off as a guest to the household staff or as a member of the household staff to the guests.  He perfected this double-subterfuge over 150 times in the homes in Belfast and, eventually, London.

While he was first caught in 1952, he served only six months.  This gave him time to perfect his technique and enjoy a bit of a holiday.  After his release, he returned to a life of crime with a vengeance, now casting himself, if just in his mind, as a new type of Robin Hood:  He stole from the rich and...well... that was pretty much it.

Throughout the 1950's and 60's, Scott used the Daily Mail gossip pages as the source for his research as to what homes were most deserving of his professional attention.  As a surprising amount of information about party guests, the value of jewelry on display, and security precautions would be listed in print, Scott found a lush field of information   Soon, the homes of Mayfair, Belgravia, and Sloane Square became featured in another section of the newspaper.  Namely, the crime pages.

Using his ill-gotten gains, Scott enjoyed memberships in a variety of exclusive clubs and the company of many female members of the swank set.  In turn, these social connections introduced him to even more victims, enabling him to continue his pursuits and become the creme de la creme of burglars.

Just to give the reader a primer on Scott's professional life, over the course of 40 years, using techniques as various as the above-described party-crashing or the old-fashioned shimmy up a drainpipe, Scott stole jewelry from, among others, Elizabeth Taylor, Vivien Leigh, Lauren Bacall and Sophia Loren. Actually, it may have been that latter theft that lead to his undoing, as the Italian starlet, upon discovering that her $400,000 diamond necklace had been lifted, placed a gypsy curse on the burglar. Shortly thereafter, Scott was arrested, tried, and sentenced to 12 years in Wormwood Scrubs [or some such place].

[I should note he wasn't limited to jewelry.  In the 1990's, by now in his late '60's, he was arrested for stealing Picasso's Tete de Femme from a London gallery.]

Personally, I'm not sure why anyone would want it. 

After four wives and four divorces, partying with The Rolling Stones, millions of pounds stolen and spent, memoirs written and published by name even while he was still actively stealing, and occasional "vacations" at the pleasure of Her Majesty, Scott died peacefully in a council flat [a tax-supported housing complex], his medical bills and living expenses generously paid for by the honest, working, and law-abiding people of the United Kingdom. 

And they say that crime doesn't pay.  I think I already had that one figured out when I was fifteen.

Scott's autobiography is now out of print and rather difficult to find, or afford, even when using online used and rare book agencies. 

However, some recommended "caper" films include the following:

To Catch A Thief [1956]
Topkapi [1964]
The Pink Panther [1964]
Bob le Flambeur [1956]
The League of Gentlemen [1960]
How to Steal a Million [1966]
The Italian Job [1969]
The Great Train Robbery [1979]
Jack of Diamonds [1967]
Lassiter [1984]

Also the old TV shows It Takes A Thief [1968] and T.H.E. Cat [1966] are pretty good, too, if you like that sort of thing.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Thursday's Verses

Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God;
he, to rescue me from danger, interposed his precious blood.

O to grace how great a debtor daily I'm constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee.

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love;
here's my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.