Thursday, September 10, 2009

Thursday News in Review!

NPR News

This week Garrison Keillor had a stroke. Keillor is one of my big three, the other two being Ira Glass and Robert Krulwich, of the info-tainment I spend a lot of my time soaking in. It's expected that Keillor will make a full recovery which is very good news. Although it did remind me that Keillor, who I believe is approaching 70, if I live a long and healthy life, will probably die before I do. It will probably have similar effects on me as Michael Jackson's death seemed to have on the world around me.

Keillor started his show, A Prairie Home Companion, in the 1970s. It is a splendid and smart musical variety/skit based variety show. If you've never heard it, you're totally missing out, but it is easily fixed. I would be surprised if you managed somehow to make your home somewhere in America where it is not broadcast. The popularity of the show has a lot to do with my beloved NPR(on which it is aired) being the amazing radio network that it is. But don't let's mourn the living. Keillor lives!

Obama News

Well, let's jump right onto the hot button, eh what? It's been a busy week in the life of Barak Obama and, I daresay , in American history. There was a very strange opposition at the beginning of the week to President Obama telling America's children very similar things to what I say on here all the time which is: study hard, take responsibility, and seek to better yourself (although if I had the ear of the nation's youth, speaking as a college graduate, I would highly encourage them to save their $200,000+ in tuition and be an auto-didact instead of going to college. Use your socialized library for your education. That, my Calvinism, my past extensive LSD abuse, my total defiance to conform my beliefs to one political party's approved set of beliefs, are just so many many reasons why I'll never be President. Kids, for extra-credit, see if you can come up with more reasons why Paul Mathers will never be President!) I really liked the President's address to our nation's children and am a little disturbed to imagine the type who would forbid their child from hearing it.

Which brings me to a larger point on President Obama and a segue. One of the aspects of current American political culture that I find most disturbing is the antagonism. I don't think either of the major political parties are out to destroy America. I think that they have different points of view, some are useful in some places, some are not so good in some places. The idea that if you're a Republican, the "lib-rull" is your mortal enemy (and, I hasten to add, vice versa) strikes me as not only silly but dangerous. United we stand and divided we what...? I think this week I had a bit of a wake up call as to how far such attitudes have progressed.

Which brings us to Joe Wilson (who, last night, I was calling Joe Louis when telling Laurie about it) who, last night, felt compelled in a fit of uncontrollable emotion to shout "you lie" at the President during his speech. My dog Schubert exhibits more self-control. No president has ever been treated with that sort of disrespect by a representative in the House. Some have said already that Joe Wilson just ended his political career, but I grew up in the district represented at the time by Bob Dornan (who now fills in for Michael Savage when he is periodically put under sedation and cattle-prodded back into his iron cage by his handlers) so I am no stranger to representatives acting in ways that make my pit bull blush with shame. And, of course, American history is full of people shooting at each other because they disagree, so there is precedent for atrocious behavior in politics. In fact there is a long tradition of it. My thesis is that that does not mean it's a good or helpful way to act.

Again, I've heard the religious right applauding Joe Wilson this morning and to them I really have to quote Romans 13,
"Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed."
That's a command from Scripture; and Paul was writing under the rule of Nero when he penned those words. So it's probably safe to assume that Paul disagreed with his ruler politically on a few points.

Regardless of your political affiliation, ought we really resort to shouting down and name calling? Ought we throw all manners and decorum to the wind? I've also read Christians who make the argument of "well, the Left did it to Bush." Really? Does that make it okay? Is it a race to see who can sink the lowest? In politics we do unto others as they've done unto us? And while I'm on my high horse, let me say a quick word about Hitler analogies. About 7 years ago I wrote a long letter to a record producer, who used a portion of his emailing list as a political opinion piece, explaining why it was wrong for him to compare Bush to Hitler or anyone else for that matter. It cheapens the argument. Hitler was Hitler, and if we are diligent and wise, and Lord willing, we will never see one like Hitler again. Bush was not like Hitler, nor is Obama. Hitler was Hitler. Hitler was awful. We can learn a lot from what happened in Nazi Germany; but Nazi Germany was Nazi Germany and is not modern America. Please, let's not make the evil that Hitler did meaningless by playing the Hitler card every time we're uncomfortable with the conversation.

Jonathan Edwards wrote about this world and turning one's eyes toward Heaven:
"Is not what we have heard of that blessed world enough to make us weary of this world of pride, and malice, and contention, and perpetual jarring and jangling, a world of confusion, a wilderness of hissing serpents, a tempestuous ocean, where there is no quiet rest, where all are for themselves, and selfishness reigns and governs, and all are striving to exalt themselves, regardless of what becomes of others, and all are eager after worldly good, which is the great object of desire and contention, and where men are continually annoying, and calumniating, and reproaching, and otherwise injuring and abusing one another- a world where justice, and oppression, and cruelty- a world where there is so much treachery, and falsehood, and fickleness, and hypocrisy, and suffering, and death- where there is so little confidence in mankind, and every good man has so many failings, and has so much to render him unlovely and uncomfortable, and where there is so much sorrow and guilt, and sin in every form."
How Edwards describes the world in that passage was pretty much (although Laurie only very recently introduced me to this passage in particular) what led me to be a Christian. I heard the doctrine of Total Depravity and thought, "yep, that pretty much sums up me and the world as I have experienced it!"

My point is: don't be the world. In Philippians Paul writes, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." And in Galatians, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another." And Proverbs says "A man of wrath stirs up strife, and one given to anger causes much transgression." And James "Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God."

Don't leave your religion at the door when it comes to politics; and don't be so overwhelmed by politics that you lose sight of the real work which is the advancement of the gospel and giving glory to God.

Now, I can also point you to some claims that Joe Wilson's claim may be unsubstantiated. In fairness, for those who are gearing up to write me off as a "lib-rull," and in spite of my recent post on health care reform, I have to admit that I was on the phone with a very dear friend of mine in New York the other day and we both seem to have come to the conclusion, independently of one another, that the very best we seem to be hoping for today, at this point, is that whatever they end up doing doesn't make our situation worse than the one we, the uninsured, are in right now.

As I understand it, the health care reform, should it actually pass in some of the forms I've heard mentioned... well, let me put it this way, at least once a month we scrape the back of our cupboards, and after the first of the month we usually have a balance of next to nothing. Meaning, if the reform passes in such a way that requires me to purchase health insurance in any way, we will likely lose our house, our pets, and who knows what else. We can afford nothing extra, but on paper we're still not poor enough to qualify for our state's current government health care. Personally, I was more reassured by Obama's speech to the children. However, I want to make it perfectly clear that I still stand by everything I've written on the topic. Even if I lose everything, so what? Am I living for stuff?

Beatles News

The Beatles video game and boxed set of remastered material came out this week as, I seem to be alone in noticing, the major figures associated with the Beatles catalog who are not McCartney and Starr are now dead. I've seen so many articles in the past few days on the new Beatlemania assuring me that 1) it exists and 2) my gosh, anyone with a half a brain is crazy over the Beatles right now. Yes, I really did just say that.

As you can probably imagine I am not terribly overwhelmed by the work of The Beatles. I think they are extremely overrated. There is such a wealth of great music in human history that you could be listening to. Really, are you suggesting that the band that produced Octopus' Garden and The Magical Mystery Tour movie is the zenith of music? The songwriter who went on to pen Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey and Silly Love Songs is the greatest songwriter of our time? I think the two Beatles with talent died first, that they did their best work in their solo careers anyway, and that even that wasn't really all that great. I loved The Beatles in junior high. I also loved The Moody Blues. Hopefully one grows out of that sort of thing. I find the bulk of McCartney's work completely asinine. I like Ringo best as an actor. And, yes, I love the work of Yoko. Mainly they are a band over which I probably won't change the station if they come on - although I don't know why I would be listening to a station that plays them in the first place. And finally, while I don't hate them, I do have a bit of glee in passing this story on to you.

Africa News

600,000 people have been effected by the massive flooding spanning 11 countries in Africa this week. Around 160 are dead from the disaster, but did you hear about it on the news? Why not? Did you hear about the new Beatles release on the news? How about Ellen going on Idol? Yeah, we have that kind of news.,un-nearly-600000-affected-by-west-africa-floods.html

Beethoven News

Sheesh, how about something nice for a change? It's been a rough week for nice news; and at the end of this post I don't know if I need a drink, a shower, a nap or all three, but I know that I'm seriously questioning the wisdom of me doing a weekly news roundup, what with my high blood pressure and all. The Philadelphia Inquirer gives us this piece about a sort of small classical music club venue that is doing very well on the East Coast. It gives the performers the freedom to do different material, to not have to, for example, find something to fill the rest of a performance of Bach's Goldberg Variations with other material to make the price of a classical concert ticket seem worth it - seem like a full evening out. It allows for more audience interaction, conversation with the performers. And such venues are drawing top tier performers. It's kind of wonderful. Sort of like a jazz club for classical music.


  1. What a great sentence by Jonathan Edwards. Yep. One sentence! And "calumniating"! What a marvelous word! LOL

  2. I know! It's all one sentence. How cool is that! I love how he could follow a thought for days.

  3. That's hilarious! I didn't even notice that was all one sentence. You are very observant!

  4. Wow, so much to comment on... what threads to pick up? Okay, the thing I feel strongest on, maybe. ;-) Paul McCartney by himself is a smarmy hack. Ringo? Who's he? But I didn't care much for John Lennon's solo output, and haven't heard enough of the Harrison's solo work to comment. The Beatles, as a group? I think they were pretty spectacular once you get past their banal early days. Once they started experimenting (okay, so maybe their "lifestyle" experimentation wasn't the greatest) I really love what they did, from "A Day In The Life" to "Why Don't We Do It In The Road?" As a group they balanced into something greater than the sum of their individual talents. I would rank Sgt. Pepper as a nearly perfect album. Of course, my opinion may be suspect since I listen to a whole lot more Animal Collective than Beethoven. For classical -- are you familiar with Arvo Pärt? Fratres and Tabula Rassa are favorites, after that, just about any of his choral work, which is largely of the "pseudo-liturgical" type.

    I'll pass over Total Depravity with the suggestion that the likes of St. Isaac of Syria focus on the heart's cure rather than the wickedness of the world. Western Theology (well, and the Platonising aspects of Eastern, too) is too given to dividing up matter and spirit in an almost gnostic way, building up a dichotomy of location (with hell, earth, and heaven being so location-bound as to almost deserve a map) and separating matter and spirit into nearly an ontological evil and good. But the Incarnation blessed and blesses the material world. What is sick can be healed, etc., so forth, blather, blather. Sorry. I meant to pass briefly just saying that Total Depravity has the feeling of a truthful observation, and yet healing is to be found, and heaven isn't n-light years at a positive z-axis of j-degrees from the horsehead nebula. "The kingdom of God is within you." I started with St. Isaac of Syria... here's a page highlighting some of his well known words:

  5. I have to concur and aver that A Day In The Life is without a doubt one of the finest pieces of popular music in recording history. I'm not sure I'm quite there on the "whole of Beatles greater than the sum of its parts." Personal opinion based upon their solo works leads me more toward "McCartney and Starr got a free ride on the coat-tails of Lennon and Harrison." But, again, that's just me and my admittedly cynical take on the band.
    I love Tabula Rasa but can honestly say I had not heard Fratres until you mentioned it. So, thank you for that.

    I come from a Quaker background and am currently at a Reformed Baptist church with some personal leanings toward Lutheranism. I say this to say two things. First of all, I am very interested in what you are saying and would be very interested in hearing more. Second, I come from a very different background so my terminology might be very different in this discussion.
    I probably should have pointed out as well that the doctrine of Total Depravity is by no means a stopping point (although it was for me for years and they were some dark years.)
    John Calvin's hermeneutic (which I personally find to be one of the more accurate ones) led him to the doctrine of Irresistible Grace which I think, if I'm not mistaken, bears some similarities at the very least in tone to the St. Isaac of Syria's focus on the heart's cure, specifically "God’s recompense to sinners is that, instead of a just recompense, God rewards them with resurrection." What a beautiful page of quote. Thank you so much for pointing it out to me.

  6. McCartney and Starr got a free ride -- yeah, I won't argue with that. Though maybe take it to the next step in cynicism and aver that Lennon and maybe Harrison were good at using them to suit their needs. Lennon seems a particularly good candidate for that kind of thing. Maybe. I really learned long ago not to learn too much about pop artists and their personal lives and what goes on behind the curtain.

    Glad to introduce you to Fratres. That youtube vid was decent, but I noticed there were several places that the violinist seemed to be having intonation problems. I don't know what a preferred recording would be. I've got a cd of Tabula Rasa, Fratres and Symphony no. 3 which is my standard listen. Tabula Rasa and Fratres just feel like they belong together. I'm *not* a big fan of Symphony no. 3. I think it's one of Pärt's older compositions from before he got heavily into the whole pseudo-liturgical thing.

    I grew up the son of an independent Baptist preacher. My dad always used to say he's about a 3 point Calvinist. When he left the ministry we joined a GARBC church in Ohio. In high school I briefly dated the daughter of an Episcopalian priest who introduced me to Thomas Merton. I wandered here and there until I joined the Eastern Orthodox Church in 2001.

    There are many, many things I absolutely love about Orthodoxy, and I really believe that it's unique perspective is a needed one. But there's a few things that make my particular situation difficult and somewhat tenuous.

    Oh, and it's interesting to mention that strictly speaking, St. Isaac of Nineveh was probably Nestorian, and yet he is universally revered by both the Eastern and Western Church as a saint of the early Church. Another father I've a great interest in is St. Ephrem the Syrian, probably the most prolific hymn writer of the early Church. As a Syrian Christian he inherited a strong Semitic Christian theology, which is a fine counterpoint to the dominant Hellenism of the early Church. If you ever find a copy of his Songs on Paradise, grab it. His theological songs make very heavy use of paradox -- drawing on two seeming opposite truths, he points to the ineffable God.

    While I don't want to take too strong a line on doctrine -- I think often we falter because we're attempting to depict spiritual truths with rational language -- the Eastern answer to Irresistible Grace is Synergia, which should definitely not be mistaken for some kind of "earn your own salvation" flavor of theology. The most beautiful image of our salvation, to my mind, is St. Andrei Rublev's famous icon of the Holy Trinity: Sometimes the only thing that makes sense to me is staring at that icon. I think what is most truthful for me to say is that whatever tint of Calvinism I grew up with didn't sit with me well, and lead to a kind of moroseness, which I tend toward anyway. Patristic theology was life altering. I just wish local parish life was a little more livable for me, and that I'd come to Orthodoxy *after* making peace with the churches I came out of.

    Wow... I'm even long winded when I'm actively trying not to be.

  7. As a friend of Tuirgin, I was sent your way for a look see. Very glad I did. A wonderful, thoughtful and balanced post. Thanks!


  8. Thanks, Jamie!

    I would agree. That does seem to fit with what I know about Lennon's character. I was given the advice years ago, "Don't meet your heroes."

    Love love love Thomas Merton.

    While a member of a Reformed Baptist church, I do differ on a few points (even to the extent which would preclude me from entering into leadership in our church. Which I don't mind at all, actually. I hold to Martin Luther's view of consubstantiation and my church does not.)

    Here you've introduced me to two early church figures. I look forward to learning more about both. I shall keep an eye out for Songs of Paradise.

    I understand the rather gloomy side of Calvinism. I would say that Calvin's view of salvation was distinctly Augustinian. The antidote I've found to the morose side is focusing on God's grace, love and goodness as well as our unearned salvation.
    I just finished teaching a church history class on the Puritans (I have very very mixed feelings about that crowd.) Some of the ugly side of their history stemmed from the type of legalism that can spring from what I would call a misapplication of the doctrine of Unconditional Election. Some, on the other hand, went in the completely opposite direction.
    Although this conversation is making me more and more aware that while I've read ABOUT the early church fathers, aside from Augustine of Hippo I've read very little OF the early church fathers.

    And don't worry about running long in your comments here. Clearly I never give it a second thought.

  9. The book is actually Hymns on Paradise... think I left my brain tied behind my back today. I seem to remember having typed an excerpt of it up to share with someone once. I'll have to see if I can find that. In the meantime you may get to read some of it on Google Books:

    Regarding patristics, it's a HUGE field. Christianity has 2k years of literature, and some of the 1st century stuff (other than the NT) is still available to us. It can be overwhelming, and it can be hard to navigate. When I was looking for resources to help me figure out the landscape I made some mistakes, and ended up getting influenced by people who were as sectarian and legalistic as the churches from my childhood. But there are some really good starting points. If you value cheap, then there's the Church Fathers collection at If you value newer translations and scholarship I've found a lot of good stuff from Paulist Press, especially in their Classics of Western Spirituality line.

    C.S. Lewis was particularly fond of St. Athanasius's On The Incarnation (also at, and it remains a frequently read book. A bishop friend recommended to me St. Gregory of Nyssa's Life of Moses (Paulist Press), as well as Oliver Clement's Roots of Christian Mysticism. The first two are source texts, while the 3rd is an anthology of excerpts woven together by Clement's prose. All three are very good. St. John Chrysostom has many sermons available that cover most of the New Testament. I've yet to read a good modern translation of him, unfortunately, and golden mouthed or no, his sermons aren't the most pleasant prose to read. That said, his scriptural sermons are a fundamental source of patristic exposition for both the East and West.

    The bottom line is this: before I found out about Orthodoxy, the Fathers were relegated to some relatively distant history lesson, remote both geographically and in time. From within the context of Orthodoxy, the Fathers are near and dear. There's a definite continuity. There's not that 1400 year gap between Jesus Christ and the beloved teachers of our faith--it's contiguous.


  10. The criticism that can be waged, and to some degree legitimately, is that Orthodoxy is still stuck in the days of the old Eastern Roman Empire (or of old Holy Russia). It's not completely fair, but there's something to it. Eastern Christianity hasn't had to deal with the Enlightenment in the way that the West did, and this has a significant impact on outlook. It's both a blessing and a curse, because on the one hand it has a perspective outside that of the development of Western scholasticism and the cult of logic, while on the other it hasn't necessarily been able to address the legitimate issues that were raised by them, not to mention that aspects of Old World culture are frequently so interwoven with the thinking and expressions of Orthodox Christianity that it sometimes wants to press modern Westerners with archaic Eastern customs.

    Maybe you're familiar with the Chesterton quote from his book, Orthodoxy: Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man's opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man's opinion, even if he is our father.

    If Western culture tends to go in one extreme, that of a progressive anti-traditionalism, the East tends toward the other extreme, of not only giving the dead a vote, but on overwhelming fiat. I'm increasingly convinced of the need for a middle way.

    I'm going on far too long about all of this. But I know personally how a small interest can explode into an uncontrollable fire. I wish that when it happened to me that I had a better grounding and some guidance on what to ignore or avoid. I'm really telling you what I wish I would have known when I first started looking at the early Church. I wish I had been aware of this site: It's the personal site of an acquaintance of mine with whom I corresponded a few years ago. He's got many excellent articles, essays, and excerpts from longer works, and it's generally sane, not sectarian nor given over to excessive triumphalism. Plus he's just generally a good guy.

    Anyway, this for now.