Saturday, February 26, 2005

Concentrating on the good

It occurs to me that I'm quite bad at depicting evil in my stories and whatnot. This could be a problem.

It further occurs to me that a lot of people have talent in that area, but don't really believe in good, truth, and beauty (to use Dr. Hake's triad). So perhaps it would be a useful niche for me to concentrate on the good.

The trick would be to convince them at the same time to listen to me as not being hopelessly out of touch with reality, which indisputably does contain evil.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Ezekiel, or why believers need the church

I was reading Ezekiel not long ago for my quiet time. I was having a terrible time getting through it, but I finally managed it by outlining the thing as I went. Well, today in wing chapel Jenny was talking about how she was having problems with Ezekiel too, but then she came across this chapter that was really cool.

An eyebrow raised, unconvinced. Something cool in Ezekiel?

In chapter 16 (she explained), God is talking to Israel about how He found her as a baby, abandoned and left to die outside, and He rescued her, and when she grew up He gave her a bath and rich clothes and all kinds of jewelry and oil and special food, and marries her. She immediately starts cheating on Him and disaster generally strikes, but then at the end of the long, nasty, sordid tale, He rescues her again and forgives her.

Jenny pointed out that this is what God does at salvation. Of course we're used to Him giving us grace and mercy and all that spiritual stuff, and it's good spiritual stuff, but in Ezekiel, the gifts are both tangible and exactly what his bride likes: the ancient equivalent of bubble baths and aromatherapy, embroidered and silk outfits, and bracelets, and a necklace, and rings, and earrings, and even a crown. How feminine is that? How cool is it to get individualized presents? I don't doubt the girl turned out gorgeous. Once Jenny mentioned it, it was completely obvious, but I'd been quite oblivious in my effort to "do" Ezekiel.

This is why (I think) God puts believers in churches, rather than sending everyone out into the desert at conversion: occasionally someone will notice something excellent you miss. :-)

Monday, February 21, 2005

Making friends with one's room

I'm finding that I need time at home. It's not enough to go to a coffee shop and get schoolwork done; it's not even the same simply being on campus. I need to be in my room.

There's something charming about making friends with one's room. Little things, like making the bed and washing the coffee pot, are so good for one's soul: to walk from the desk to the window, to tidy away papers, to fold clothes, to center and un-harry and de-stress. It may only be a dorm room, but it is my home. A maid could, theoretically, do the same jobs, but then it's not my work that has gone into it. It is hers.

I don't know how high-powered people survive, waking up in the morning, rushing off to work, staying late, maybe going to a church function or a party in the evening, and coming back to collapse into bed, to repeat the process. When things get too disastrous, they take a morning and power-clean. Feminists laud this process, call it empowerment or whatever, but it steals the sense of home. No wonder people have no loyalty to their town and state: they never make friends with their own house.

God knows what He's about

Michael and Rachel just got engaged--they're not my best friends, but I have a definite affection for them anyway! And I'm particularly glad to see them happily engaged. :-D

But God has shown Himself twice in little ways about them. First, I almost went dancing Saturday night, and after I decided not to, I found out that the candlelight ceremony for Rachel was that evening. I would have missed it if I'd gone. (It was a good one--she had a powerpoint and everything.) Second, tonight I had the chance to go swimming, and was thoroughly indecisive about it, and finally I decided that I'd go if I could find my swimsuit. Well, I turned the room upside down and lo and behold, there was a complete lack of swimsuit. So I stayed put. And it was a good blessing, because they just bobtized Michael, and I would have been very sorry to miss that. Thus, Michael and Rachel have had their engagement properly validated PHC-style. There's nothing like a courting ritual!

So. It's not the most profound blessing ever, but I thought it was a particularly nice one. :-)

Sunday, February 20, 2005

National Cathedral

At the National Cathedral yesterday, when I visited, they were having a Sacred Circles conference. I'm not entirely sure what they were doing, but I do know that it involved sock-footed women working their way through purple printed labyrinths and, downstairs, more women chanting and dancing in the crypt.

My friends and I were very polite. We were there to see the cathedral. So we wound our way around clockwise. We admired the stained glass windows, for they were very beautiful and the sunlight threw enchanting splashes of pink and purple on the limestone gothic arches. We went to the front altar and saw the saints and the crucifixes and the organ and the statues of Jesus. We climbed up into the choir loft, and oh, it was lovely. The narrow passages, lit only by narrow slit windows, felt like something straight from the Hundred Years' War.

At about four o'clock they announced evening vespers, so three of us went. It was the evening service from the Book of Common prayer and was nearly all Scripture readings. It was great--except that our chaplain was a woman. Whatever happened to male leadership?

"These people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me."

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

On Long Hair in Movies, Particularly Arwen’s in "The Fellowship of the Rings"

When hair is bound up
In braid or smooth bun
It tends to stay up
Which isn’t much fun.

But when hair flies loose
One just as conveniently
Might hunt wild goose
As comb the orientally

Confused knotty tangle
Which always ensues.
That’s why camera angles
On picturesque views

Which show streaming hair
Behind a girl riding
Are deeply unfair
To hair-doers residing.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

De gustibus

The Latin proverb goes, "de gustibus non est disputandum."

A bag of my New Mexican pinon coffee beans says, "sobre los gustos no hay disputa."

Roughly translated, that'd be, "Don't let's argue about matters of taste." In PBR class last semester, we talked about how with the removal of moral absolutes, all that remains is personal taste. Since there must be commonality if people are to live together, taste is enforced as law.

Ironically, perhaps, having an absolute moral law--one grounded in God's character and applicable to every human, everywhere--frees ordinary mortals to have opinions, yes, and even to disagree.

That is why I uphold the right to differences of opinion. The atheist cannot say the same.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Adumnan of Iona's Life of St. Columba

As one of the myriad introductions to Adumnan (over a hundred pages of them, most of which I skipped) pointed out, this book is less a biography than a list of miracles. Adumnan himself put Columba’s biographical information into an introduction and then got on with the serious business of recording miracles. Some of them are just funny. Despite a certain amount of sympathy with the medieval mindset, I have difficulty believing all the stories actually happened.

Some stories showed, to me, less about the miraculous than about the writer’s presuppositions. In one, Columba saw a clumsy guest coming and told his assistant to keep an eye on him because he would upset the inkwell. The guest arrived, the assistant got distracted, and sure enough, over went the inkwell. This struck me as Columba merely being an observant human, but in went the story along with the miracles.

A lot of the miracles were very specific prophecies. This boy will grow old and see his grandchildren; this boy will die next Friday. And so it came to pass. Today you should sail around the long way because a whale[1] will attack you if you go straight across, and a whale did attack. I see why they believed in prophecy. I believe in it myself. But some of those particular prophecies are definitely suspect. A hallmark of Biblical prophecy is that it was “not made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” The prophets told what God thought the people should hear, quite apart from whether the people wanted to hear it or not. Columba was more like a fortune-teller at a fair. People would come ask about their son’s fate, or whatever, and Columba would give them what they asked for. That right there gives me pause.

Overall, I was disappointed in what I read of the Life. In most biographies, the subject can be either a Good Example or an Awful Warning, but Columba is so supernatural he cannot function as either to normal mortals like me. I dare say it is just a medieval thing, but it is still a disappointment.

[1] “Whale” was the translator’s choice of word. Personally, I think that as unlikely a translation as “hippopotamus” for “behemoth” in Job, as whales do not generally attack boats. If there was a sea monster, why not call him a sea monster? It is not as though Sharpe can be trying to preserve for modern audiences the realism of an otherwise entirely plausible book. That would at least have been a comprehensible motive.

"Ianthe to Landor": third edition

Perhaps our faithful loves entwine like fire.
Perhaps your poems remember all my best,
My youth and beauty, summer manifest.
But even if such star-strewn songs inspire
All earthbound men to read your verse beyond
Your grave, I still will grieve and die. What life
Can mortal words bestow? Temporal strife
And fame will fail when earth and sky pass on.

In death, Annihilation flees from me.
If he should chase you where Atlantis went
(Oh, time-drowned love!), I’ll breathe, protected by
Divine eternal immortality.
When fusion fire in time-soaked suns is spent,
This brilliant Love will blaze across the sky.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Young goodman Brown

Young Goodman Brown portrays truly the human condition, but only half of it. He caught the evil that resides in everyone, and interestingly enough, he shows how evil is a perversion or corruption of the good. But Hawthorne shows us the problem and far from resolving it, throws doubt on its existence. His ending implies that when one rejects evil, the problem is with the beholder, not the evil. A better understanding is within the Puritan doctrine Hawthorne neglected.

Everyone in Young Goodman Brown is tainted by evil, symbolized by the witch-meeting. None is exempt: the old lady who taught Brown his catechism, the pastor, the deacon, Brown's father and grandfather (whom the man with the snake-staff implied had been attending meetings of the coven as they prosecuted witches in their public life), and even his own wife, Faith, whom Brown had left at home at the narrative's opening. Hawthorne probably intends this to reflect the doctrine of original sin, which does, in fact, hold that "there is none righteous, no, not one," and "the heart is deceitful above all else and is desperately wicked."

But Hawthorne undercuts this position in three ways. First, he distances himself by implying that the witch-meeting may only have been a dream of Brown. The dream-frame is a classic medieval method for an author to promulgate information that may otherwise be rejected. Second, the only consequences of any of these deeds are psychological ones to Brown himself. No other character shows any remorse or indeed any knowledge of witch-meetings. Every other character continues with their outwardly righteous lives. Only Brown is haunted to his death by the perversions and evil he saw that night in the woods. Finally, everyone is portrayed as living happily ever after unless he refuses to get involved in sorcery. This distancing of oneself from evil--not the getting close to it in the first place--seems to be the trouble. He subtly reinforces that by naming Brown's wife "Faith" (and making of a point of the fact she is aptly named) and letting her attend the meeting as well. All of Christian faith is implicated with the wife's witchcraft, however unwilling it may be. And that is a profouundly anti-Biblical message.

Yet Hawthorne accurately describes the nature of evil, at least as St. Augustine and other Christian thinkers have described it. Augustine is clear in his Confessions that evil is not an equal and opposite entity to good, but is an absence or perversion of good. The coven is convened near a large rock which looks like a natural altar or pulpit. In the Old Testament, the Jews were commanded to make an altar of uncut stones. When an apparition appears before this stone, he looks like a Puritan minister. The sorcerers do not sing their own songs, but a Christian hymn with rewritten lyrics. Indeed, almost nothing they do is not, in some sense, like something a Christian would do.

But Hawthorne goes a step further. Evil doesn't just consist of good things made bad, but is given the power of poisoning things which are good. After the night of the story, his life is utter despair. Certainly, evil tries to do precisely that, but Hawthorne neglects to mention that God is more than a match for the devil and all his apprentices. The entire point of Puritan doctrine is that man is sinful but God both can and will redeem anyone who comes to Him. This theme is strongly in evidence in Edward's Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. God hates sin: very true. God has entire power to cast sinners into damnation: also true. But it also pleases God to extend the offer of salvation to these sinners.

In the last day, those who do evil and those who are under grace will be separated for punishment and joy. In Hawthorne's tale, the division is between those who do evil and those who reject it, and the rejector is the one who lives and dies in misery.