Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A Barb For The Bard

Lee’s post on Shakespeare once again made me confront and come to grips with my attitude about ol’ Will’s work.

I have been intimately acquainted with five of his plays as an actor, designer or director the others I have only read. To the theatre world what I’m about to say is sacrilege – not on the "U2-charist" level - but not the popular held view. And it is this: William Shakespeare is the most overrated playwright in the world. There I said it.

Out of Will’s 28 plays he did write 10 or 12 plays that are sublime but the rest are boring and rhetorical, (Cymbeline immediately comes to mind). The idea of a Shakespeare industry is laughable and crude.

As Lee pointed out there is really very little verifiable information about Shakespeare’s life yet every few years we are treated to new batch of biographies. Last year we were given to a new approach – that Shakespeare was a Catholic - hiding in plain sight of a militantly Protestant government and that his plays were really Catholic apologetic tracts done in iambic pentameter. Lee mentioned about a new bio “Ackroyd does try to fill the gaps based on evidence in the play and some reasonable speculation…” When you base a biography on reasonable speculation doesn’t that make it a Historical Novel? Also to base any playwright’s bio from evidence gleaned from his plays is on the same level as saying you know a man by what he plants in his garden.

Will’s occasional genius lies in the fact that he can show us (in an entertaining way) man’s decent into madness and how easy it is to get there. Whether it is in the covetingly lustful pursuit of power, wealth or love man can spiral out of control. From this are we to conclude that Will was guilt racked for leaving his family and constantly afraid of going insane or that he his preaching to us about the consequence of sin or that he is simply a brilliant observer of the human condition and writing plays to keep the wolf from his door?

That said if none of his plays survived and all we had were his sonnets the world would be just as rich and if we lost his sonnets and only had his plays the world would be a little sadder. His sonnets are matchless and nothing in the English language compares to them.

To visit these gems of rare beauty go here.

Ignatius Insight

Ignatius Insight features GKC on STA and SF.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

GKC and the War Effort

I don't think this would happen in 2007:

In September of 1918, Chesterton attended an enthusiastic gathering of twenty-five British authors to discuss how literature could help the war effort. The meeting was convened by the head of War Propaganda, C.F.G. Masterman, and was also attended by (among others) Arthur Conan Doyle, Thomas Hardy, H.G. Wells, James Barrie, John Galsworthy, John Masefield, and John Buchan. The government proposed to subsidize patriotic books, pamphlets, articles and lectures by these writers. [Chisholm and Davie, Lord Beaverbrook, New York, 1993, p. 154]

Monday, January 29, 2007

"The first 'U2-charist' in England"

Here's something after all...

The Church of England, the world's most infamously hip-and-with-it institution since being created by a frustrated King in a moment of lust, is borrowing from a weird American idea and will be sponsoring a "U2 Mass," in which the noted band's music replaces the traditional hymns and those present are assailed by strobe lights and wall-sized images of poverty. No word yet on whether or not communion will involve the consumption of Bono's body and blood, but the outlook on that front is Likely.
The Pope may have condemned rock music as "anti-religion" but the Church of England has announced it is to use the songs of a global supergroup in an effort to boost congregations.
The first "U2-charist" in England, an adapted Holy Communion service that uses the Irish rock group's best-selling songs in place of hymns, is to be staged at a Lincoln church in May.
A live band will play U2 classics such as Mysterious Ways and Beautiful Day as worshippers sing along with lyrics which will appear on screen at St Swithin's parish church in the town centre.
The event calls to mind recent Vatican efforts in the same direction, expanding certain sections of the Gospels to include "The Beatleitudes," in which Christ thoughtfully reminds the reader that, among other things, "all we need is love."
The new Gospels of George, Paul and Ringo (called the synoptics, for their similarities; the Gospel of John remains a wild card) are appended to the ends of each of the traditional four, often integrating seamlessly with events both preceeding and following them. A bishop famously declared that this change was so perfect and clarifying that it ought to have been made at Trent. Another bishop informed him that the Council of Trent predates the Fab Apostles by over four centuries. The two fell to blows and a schism was swiftly declared.

Fringe gnostic texts ("The Book of Wings;" "The Apocalypse of the Travelling Wilburys") remain contentious.

In any event, Chesterton had something to say about these weird flights into irrelevancy, though I don't have the text in front of me at the moment. The general sense of it was an assault on the idea of fad-pandering for the purpose of getting more young people in. He wrote the essay in question in response to a letter he saw in the newspaper in which the author suggested that young people don't care about a lot of people and places and things from 2,000 years ago, and that said young people would flock to the churches if only those churches would replace those silly antiquities with something new and modern. Chesterton's chief objection to this line of thinking is that it makes no sense whatever to assume that people will rush out to church once the things they find uninteresting are removed. We may as well hope that people who object to war would suddenly flock to a war monument on discovering that the names and dates thereupon had been scraped off, or that those who are disinterested in Wellington would converge upon a statue of the great general in droves if only the face and plaque were to be removed.

The point is that there are certain incidental things in a church (and a Mass) that aren't strictly incidental. They're sort of the point of the thing.

Perhaps the Church of England knows what it's doing, but it hardly seems likely.


Finishing up last-minute additions to grad applications, working on some essays and seminars, and trying to finish some necessary readings (Willa Cather and Gertrude Stein; the one pleasant, the other regrettable), so I don't have the time or gumption to put anything up.

I'll try later, but I make no promises. Sorry :-/

Sunday, January 28, 2007

On Shakespeare

I have been reading Peter Ackroyd’s Shakespeare: The Biography.

It's a bit presumptuous to call any biography of Shakespeare "The Biography." There are so many gaps - for example, the several years between his marriage and his recognition in London as an actor and playwright - that we can't know for certain about some parts of his life.

Ackroyd does try to fill the gaps based on evidence in the plays and some reasonable speculation, but this is still not a definitive biography in the modern sense.

Still, it is a good read. Ackroyd provides some good insights and makes some connections that I, as an actor and playwright myself, found at least plausible. And Ackroyd is a good writer.

Chesterton had apparently been commissioned to write a book on the Bard, but died before he could do it. He did write a number of essays on Shakespeare and his plays, and Dorothy Collins collected 32 of them in Chesterton on Shakespeare, which, alas is out of print. I have not been able to find an online edition of it. My local library also does not have a copy. I may have to haunt some university libraries.

I do have an edition of A Handful of Authors, which contains "The Heroines of Shakespeare."

I also have a Chesterton poem that tickled my funny bone. So I end wiht that:

The Shakespeare Memorial

LORD Lilac thought it rather rotten
That Shakespeare should be quite forgotten,
And therefore got on a Committee
With several chaps out of the City,
And Shorter and Sir Herbert Tree,
Lord Rothschild and Lord Rosebery,
And F.C.G. and Comyns Carr
Two dukes and a dramatic star,
Also a clergy man now dead;
And while the vain world careless sped
Unheeding the heroic name --
The souls most fed with Shakespeare's flame
Still sat unconquered in a ring,
Remembering him like anything
Lord Lilac did not long remain,
Lord Lilac did not some again.
He softly lit a cigarette
And sought some other social set
Where, in some other knots or rings,
People were doing cultured things.
-- Miss Zwilt's Humane Vivarium
-- The little men that paint on gum
-- The exquisite Gorilla Girl . . .
He sometimes, in this giddy whirl
(Not being really bad at heart),
Remembered Shakespeare with a start --
But not with that grand constancy
Of Clement Shorter, Herbert Tree,
Lord Rosebery and Comyns Carr
And all the other names there are;
Who stuck like limpets to the spot,
Lest they forgot, lest they forgot.

Lord Lilac was of slighter stuff;
Lord Lilac had had quite enough.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

"Forced" to be a day late.....

I missed my regular Friday post. Our furnace went out during the night, and the next morning, our daycare lady told us she was leaving the business, a bit of a double whammy.

Anyway, I noticed from the blogs about the new Chesterton series that Dale's son, Julian, has large amounts of the Star Wars dialogue memorized. I also see that Nancy Brown is a Star Wars fan. My son is also a Star Wars comic fanatic.

I find this interesting as Chestertonians.......It seems that one of Dale's themes lately has been Chesterton, the complete thinker. I contrast this vs. George Lucas, the wealthiest incomplete thinker ever to achieve gainful employment. Honestly, I love the original trilogy, and I think the prequels have their moments, but cant we all acknowledge the existence of plot holes large enough to fly a Death Star through?

I find this an interesting paradox.

Friday, January 26, 2007

GKC at Tech Central Station

I invoked the big man's name anecdotally while writing about multi-tasking with the cell phone:

I like multitasking, if it's the right kind. Reading a book while waiting for laundry to dry: smart multi-tasking. Reading a book while interviewing for a job: dumb multi-tasking. Ordering a Pabst while the head on your Guinness settles: fun multi-tasking. Dictating a book to a secretary while handwriting an article: extraordinary multi-tasking (and pulled off by precious few, like G.K. Chesterton; his hero, Thomas Aquinas, could keep six scribes going at once).

Click here for entire piece.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Mea culpa

Exams - giving and correcting them - have put a crimp on me this week, so a clerihew to hold my spot. Something more substantial will come this weekend.

I don’t know if Rudyard Kipling
ever had problems with tippling.
The concerns that he’d face
involved imperialism and race.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

An Intellectual Man

A self-styled intellectual man stumbled across GKC earlier this week and blogs about it. Fairly humorous (albeit unintentionally), if you're into nerd stuff. Excerpt:

I randomly stumbled across this man's profile while browsing Wikipedia. Quite an incredible person. He never graduated college yet he wrote "around 80 books, several hundred poems, some 200 short stories, 4000 essays and several plays" and was critically acclaimed. He's known for his witty remarks and his "Uncommon Sense" approach to philosophy. . .

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Eco and GKC

In a 1989 interview reported in the Norwegian periodical magazine litteraire, author Umberto Eco revealed that he had built his 1989 novel Foucault's Pendulum upon a statement by G. K. Chesterton that "Those who cease to believe in God do not believe in nothing; they believe in anything!" [September 6, 1989, p. 46]

I'm looking for that quote, by the way. I would've thought I could find it in "The Suicide of Thought" in Orthodoxy, but I couldn't. Any leads?

Monday, January 22, 2007


An hour ago I made a post, checked the format, stuck a graphic on it and posted it.

A minute ago I realized I had forgotten to check the blog itself to make sure it all worked out properly (sometimes it doesn't).

Ten seconds ago I noticed that I had been beaten to the punch on the post's subject by the one just below it.

So here I am, with no idea what to do. I can't tell you about the Father Brown DVDs; you already know. There's nothing in my own life that could possibly be of relevance to this blog, beyond my having found a gentleman (Dominic Manganiello) at the University of Ottawa willing (and eager) to supervise my proposed MA thesis on GKC. I was planning a post on some of the works of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, but I'm nowhere near ready to do it just yet.

Well, maybe we can do something in that vein. Solzhenitsyn was (and remains, I suppose) a Russian academic and novelist of considerable talent, who has the uneasy distinction of being one of the first to bring to the West's attention the overwhelming gravity of the situation in the Soviet penal system. This distinction is an uneasy one, as I have said, because the picture he paints of that senseless and unforgiving world is substantiated, after the fashion of Dostoyevsky, by cold, hard experience. Solzhenitsyn was sent to the gulag in 1945 on an eight-year sentence for critical utterances on the subject of Josef Stalin, and both his personal experiences and subsequent research formed the basis of his penal masterpieces, A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and The Gulag Archipelago. He was released from the camps at last, enjoyed delicate success in the Soviet Union, and was eventually exiled (1974) shortly after being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

I'll have to leave his main body of work out for the moment, lacking any preparation to discuss it, but I will draw your attention to a lecture the gentleman delivered at Harvard in June of 1978. Although some of the political ramifications of it are dated, there is enough in this address to make us - even a Chestertonian us - stand up and take notice. He puts it right, for example, when he says, "how short a time ago, relatively, the small new European world was easily seizing colonies everywhere, not only without anticipating any real resistance, but also usually despising any possible values in the conquered peoples' approach to life." He is the President of Nicaragua.

When he continued, uttering the following, was he speaking of his own time, or was he speaking of ours?
But the blindness of superiority continues in spite of all and upholds the belief that vast regions everywhere on our planet should develop and mature to the level of present day Western systems which in theory are the best and in practice the most attractive. There is this belief that all those other worlds are only being temporarily prevented by wicked governments or by heavy crises or by their own barbarity or incomprehension from taking the way of Western pluralistic democracy and from adopting the Western way of life. Countries are judged on the merit of their progress in this direction.
This misapprehension is at the heart of almost all of our Western misadventures, be they in the folly of secular vacuity in Europe or in jingoistic democratic capitalism in North America. In a very real sense, it is of course true that all we can do is measure others in relation to ourselves. It takes a superhuman effort to decontextualize to the extent necessary to produce real and hearty analysis (not just anyone can write The Everlasting Man, after all), and we must make allowances for those who are unable to do it. But the systems remain problematic regardless, and our collective combination of pride and myopia diminishes daily the possibility of doing anything about it.

On the decline of courage as a virtue in the West, he says:
[A] decline in courage is ironically emphasized by occasional explosions of anger and inflexibility on the part of the same bureaucrats when dealing with weak governments and weak countries, not supported by anyone, or with currents which cannot offer any resistance. But they get tongue-tied and paralyzed when they deal with powerful governments and threatening forces, with aggressors and international terrorists.

Should one point out that from ancient times decline in courage has been considered the beginning of the end?

A powerful and truthful statement, albeit one qualified by the fact of it having been said in 1978. Ours is a slow and languishing death, I suppose.

With an eye for paradox that should be familiar to our readers, Solzhenitsyn describes one of the terrible costs of Western liberty:
The individual's independence from many types of state pressure has been guaranteed; the majority of people have been granted well-being to an extent their fathers and grandfathers could not even dream about; it has become possible to raise young people according to these ideals, leading them to physical splendor, happiness, possession of material goods, money and leisure, to an almost unlimited freedom of enjoyment. So who should now renounce all this, why and for what should one risk one's precious life in defense of common values, and particularly in such nebulous cases when the security of one's nation must be defended in a distant country?

Even biology knows that habitual extreme safety and well-being are not advantageous for a living organism. Today, well-being in the life of Western society has begun to reveal its pernicious mask.

It continues in this vein, and is wonderful. There's much to be considered in his section on "Humanism and its Consequences." Are there areas about which we could argue? Certainly, and I encourage it. However, I am also happy to recommend Solzhenitsyn to anyone with eyes to read him, and look forward to reading further into his many and varied works. I will close with this excerpt from his section on "Legalistic Life," which has articulated beautifully a fierce, gut-based objection I have had with regards to our modern reality, but that I had not previously been able to put into words:
People in the West have acquired considerable skill in using, interpreting and manipulating law, even though laws tend to be too complicated for an average person to understand without the help of an expert. Any conflict is solved according to the letter of the law and this is considered to be the supreme solution. If one is right from a legal point of view, nothing more is required, nobody may mention that one could still not be entirely right, and urge self-restraint, a willingness to renounce such legal rights, sacrifice and selfless risk: it would sound simply absurd. One almost never sees voluntary self-restraint. Everybody operates at the extreme limit of those legal frames. An oil company is legally blameless when it purchases an invention of a new type of energy in order to prevent its use. A food product manufacturer is legally blameless when he poisons his produce to make it last longer: after all, people are free not to buy it.

I have spent all my life under a communist regime and I will tell you that a society without any objective legal scale is a terrible one indeed. But a society with no other scale but the legal one is not quite worthy of man either. A society which is based on the letter of the law and never reaches any higher is taking very scarce advantage of the high level of human possibilities.
Home run, Alexander.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Fr. Brown at Decent Films

Steven Greydanus at Decent Films dot Com reviews the Fr. Brown DVD set. Excerpt:

Father Brown, G. K. Chesterton’s pudding-faced, sharp-witted clerical sleuth, was most famously played on the big screen by Alec Guinness in the 1954 film Father Brown, known in the US as The Detective. Unfortunately, that film, despite flashes of Chestertonian wit and Guinness’s greatness, botched the character and Chesterton’s worldview in numerous ways frustrating to any GKC fan (see my review for more).

Now, though, Chesterton fans have an alternative. Seven classic Father Brown stories — adapted with gratifying fidelity in the 1974 television series starring Kenneth More — are now available on DVD from Acorn Media in “Father Brown” – Set 1.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Trojan Horse

One of the books I continually re-read is Dietrich Von Hildebrands Trojan Horse in the City of God. I share the following Chestertonian idea. pp. 108 -109

"Progressivism holds that human culture always improves

.........But the thesis of progressivism is by no means confirmed by the facts of human history. Indeed, it is flatly contradicted by it. Progress can be spoken of in certain domains only.
It is true that in the course of history man has acquired an incomparably greater knowledge of the material world. In the natural sciences, in medicine, and especially in technology in the widest sense of the term, an enormous progress has been achieved.
When it comes to the question of a truly human life, when we look at history from the point of view of true humanism, it is impossible to conclude that real progress has been achieved. There are ascents in cultural achievement followed by descents. There are epochs of extraordinary cultural and spiritual plenitude, dominated by an overwhelming multiplicity of geniuses. But periods such as fifth-century Athens or fourteenth and fifteenth century Florence are mysterious gifts which are anything but the result of a steady progress.......Who could claim that the second century before Christ was on a higher cultural level than was the fifth century before Christ in Athens? It is impossible to overlook the obvious ups and downs that take place in history with respect to culture and true humanism. "

Von Hildebrand is much like Chesterton. Every paragraph has meaning. Chesterton is definitely the romantic, Von Hildebrand is more the wounded poet.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

On a questionable war

All too often when people criticize wars – such as the current questionable conflict in Iraq - the right cries out, "How dare you question our leaders during the war! You are being unpatriotic and are not supporting our troops!"

And then there’s the other side, trying to make political points by snipping and sniping, but not offering alternatives.

Chesterton, citing another questionable war, once commented:

"A man who says that no patriot should attack the Boer War until it is over is not worth answering intelligently; he is saying that no good son should warn his mother of a cliff until she has fallen over it. But there is an anti-patriot who honestly angers honest men, and the explanation of him is, I think, what I have suggested: he is the uncandid candid friend; the man who says "I am sorry to say we are ruined," and he is not sorry at all. And he may be said, without rhetoric, to be a traitor; for he is using that ugly knowledge, which was allowed him to strengthen the army, to discourage people from joining it. Because he is allowed to be pessimistic as a military adviser, he is being pessimistic as a recruiting sergeant. "

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

No Blogging

A new work schedule has made blogging time more rare than a mellow Wahabbi. On top of that, I prepared a post a little while ago, and Blogger malfunctioned on me (I think problems are becoming second nature with this blog service). Anyway, maybe I'll blog again soon, but until Blogger starts working, the motivation to prepare involved posts is nil.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Children of Men

Note: Don't forget to check out Eric's post just below, and Alan's excellent and engrossing piece just below that one. It was added on Sunday, so it's possible you might miss it. Trust me, you don't want to.


There is a film in theaters now that is unabashedly pro-life - almost to the point of being a punch in the gut to supporters of abortion and euthanasia - but that manages to carry itself with quiet power without mentioning abortion once. That film is Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men (based on a P.D. James novel of the same name), and, because of the poor job its distributors have done advertising it, it's entirely possible that you may not have heard of it, or if you have, you may have no idea what it's about.

The premise is simple: women stop having babies. That's it. Human infertility is utter, beginning in 2009, and there is no end in sight as 2027 rolls around, in which year the film lays its scene. The impact this has on the world is extreme, naturally, and the film does a good job in capturing this. The very young become celebrities; in fact, the film opens with all of England in horrified mourning upon hearing that the youngest person on Earth (just over 18) has died after doing something stupid (it is always and ever the way, with the young). Quite apart from that, however, the face of the world has been changed significantly by successive acts of terrorism, the collapse of traditional world powers like America and China, and the implementation of functional fascism in such states as remain cohesive.

So it's England, alone, and there's nothing merry about it. There is no joy to be had for the common man. There is no hope for the future. In a very real sense, there is no future. All that can be done is shudder against the wind and wait for the end to come. Never have I seen a nation in despair portrayed so eloquently. It's worth noting at this point, for people who have seen V for Vendetta, that Children of Men does everything politically that VforV tried to, hoped to, wished with all its might to do, but without even trying. That is, fascism and brutality and the soulless state are not what this movie is about, but it hits them out of the park almost as an afterthought.

No, the movie, as I said, is about life, and it's greatly in favour of it. The turning of the tide comes when the film's protagonist, Theo Faron (Clive Owen), a middle-aged office drudge struggling to find a reason to even wake up in the morning is recruited by his ex-wife, now a terrorist leader, to escort a young woman named Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey) to the English coast, and thence onto a ship that will take her far away from the rapidly-disintegrating island. What's at stake: Kee is mysteriously and undeniably pregnant, and the time of birth is quickly approaching. What follows is epic, and I won't spoil it for you.

There's a lot to unpack in this film, and I hardly know where to begin. It is not too much to say that, when the child is inevitably born, the effect that it has upon the world around it is immediate and extreme. In its birth we see the triumphal return of Significance to a world that had lost all semblance of it. The Ultimate Things burst forth, as ever, and we remember truths that we had forgotten. Elders sing lullabyes to the child wherever it goes, even in an apartment building under siege by the forces of the police state. The soldiers themselves are no less impressed, looking upon this son of man with shock and soul-wrenching, sublime joy, some of them going so far as to kneel before it, crossing themselves. It's a moment of great power.

Elsewhere, other Ultimate Things return. At one point we see a parade of angry Muslims marching through a shattered street in a refugee camp, machine guns firing in the air, green banners waving and a sustained, pulse-pounding chant of "Allahu Akbar" going up like thunder. Such is the majesty of this film, and the crushing barrenness of what has gone before, that I felt like saluting them as they went. Dozens are slain as the film progresses, many in vain, some sacrificially and with that paramount love. A man, shot through and bleeding to death, uses his last ounce of strength to instruct the young mother on how to comfort her crying child, and, this having been successfully done, dies with a smile on his face.

In all honesty, Children of Men is a film of excruciating moments. If there can be a complaint leveled against it (and I suppose there could), it would be that it sacrifices flow for the sake of individual events. But these events - these moments - are so astonishing and heartbreaking that it's difficult to notice. An ante-natal nurse recalls the horror she felt at suddenly noticing that no new appointments were being made. A terrorist, having already been seen to kill men in cold blood and for no good reason, describes how he wept like a little girl after simply looking at the baby. A minor lord lives in sybaritic luxury in his "ark of the arts," into which the treasures of the world have been collected as best as could be managed, battling the uselessness of his endeavour with drugs and ignorance. Pink Floyd's inflatable pig floats outside his window. He raises a toast to it, but it is a sad one. Looking upon the slightly damaged form of Michelangelo's David, he comments bitterly that he couldn't save La Pieta - that is, the archetypal image of Mother weeping for her fallen Son - as it had been smashed to pieces before he could get to it. It might be the most crucial thought of the film, at least from a Catholic perspective.

Cuaron directs with monstrous skill. Bouts of conversation and depression are interspersed with tense set pieces in which destruction and collapse are always in evidence. Good men are cut down by bastards. Good women are betrayed. Barbarians scream and hurl molotov cocktails and rocks. The scene in which the apartment building comes under attack is part of a thirty-minute sequence, set in the ruins of a small coastal town and filmed in a single, breathless take. This futuristic England is awash in advertisements and television sets, all of them blaring angry warnings against harboring illegal immigrants, or avoiding fertility tests. Also prevalent are advertisements for the drug Quietus, the government's "solution" to the crushing ennui of this brave new world. Here is euthanasia portrayed in all of its clinical, lying horror, and the film's characters will have no part of it, if they can help it. The drug's slogan: "You decide when." Take that one to the bank, folks.

Anyway, to make a long story short, I recommend this film without hesitation or qualification. I will warn that it does contain cursing, drug use, extreme and realistic violence, scenes of great heartbreak and tragedy, and any number of other things. What it doesn't have, however, is salaciousness, frivolity, sex scenes, or any truck whatever with the culture of death. Countless people die, it is true, but many of them do so with the hope of helping bring an infant safely into the world. Maybe there's something to that.


P.S. The film has many striking and, I'm forced to assume, purposeful evocations of T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land." Those of you who are familiar with that work might wish to read it through before seeing the film for added effect.

GKC at Times Online

Dawn Eden wrote a piece for this weekend's Times Online. It promotes her new book, The Thrill of the Chaste. The piece is largely autobiographical. The whole thing is good, but I mention it here for this passage:

As far as I could see, Christians were a dull, faceless mass who ruled the world. My mission in life, as I saw it, was to be different; creative, liberal, rebellious. Then one day in December 1995, I was doing a phone interview with Ben Eshbach, leader of a Los Angeles rock band called the Sugarplastic, and asked him what he was reading. His answer was The Man Who Was Thursday by G K Chesterton. I picked it up out of curiosity and was captivated. Soon I was picking up everything by Chesterton that I could get my hands on, starting with his book Orthodoxy, his attempt to explain why he believed in the Christian faith.

That was the first time it struck me that there was something exciting about Christianity. I kept reading Chesterton even as I continued my dissipated lifestyle, and then one night in October 1999 I had a hypnagogic experience — the sort in which you’re not sure if you are asleep or awake. I heard a woman’s voice saying: “Some things are not meant to be known. Some things are meant to be understood.” I got on my knees and prayed — and eventually entered the Catholic church

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Continuing Miracle at Cana

I grew up in a time when the merits of Leopold Stokowski were discussed as often as the merits of Vince Lombardi, when there was only AM radio and black and white TV. No one carried day planners and the activity of children had yet to become an industry. It was a time when the standard form of family entertainment was impromptu ‘get-togethers’. On any given evening the doorbell might ring and a neighbor or two would pop in or we might walk next door and do the same. Saturdays were the best when several families might just decide to all gather at our house. I do not remember my parents making any calls or plans in front of us; people would just show up. I always enjoyed these little parties, it meant extended playtime with my friends but most of all they provided me an opportunity where I could spy on the mysterious world of adults. None of the parents minded we were in the room, as long as we practiced the manners we were vigorously taught or kept the noise to a “dull roar”.

These parties would always follow the dramatic form of a 3-act play. The first act was the “meet-and-greet”, several conversations at once, quick jokes and family updates. All the while my mom and dad would be seamlessly preparing and placing food and drink around the kitchen. I cannot remember a time when our refrigerator did not have several cheeses, pepperoni or antipasto fixings. There was always coffee in the pot and cookies in the jar. One of my father’s top sources of pride was being able to say, “No one leaves my house hungry and if they do it’s their own fault”.

The second act was when the men would separate from the women. It was then that the men could talk man stuff and the women could talk woman stuff. The rule for us children was the prepubescents could wonder between both groups but after puberty we had to separate too or “disappear”. At our house the cue to separate was initiated by my dad leaving the room carrying a plate of food after receiving “the look” from my mom, (of course it was not until I was married that I learned about “the look” and all its subtle meanings). Although the tone and focus would be different they talked about the same things. The men would talk about their work, their kids, and what home and yard projects they wanted to start or finish. The women would talk about their work, their kids, and what projects they wanted to start or get their husbands to finish.

The gathering I remember most vividly was a late winter party when during the second act one of the men started talking about how big his children were getting and that the house was growing smaller. He stated that it was time to finish off the basement to give the kids a place to play and “get out of his hair”. Another man said that it was about time he did the same, and another stated that he was also thinking along those lines. Then my dad said, “That’s a good idea we could use the extra space as well”. At which point my older brother whispered to me, “Have you ever seen dad with a hammer in his hand”? I told him that I had not.
Over the next several months the men went from house to house helping each other turn their cement grottos into knotty pine rec. rooms. At the first house my dad was the guy that carried and held stuff and at the next he started doing some of the construction and picked up a smashed thumb, no one laughed. By time we were working on our basement he had amassed a good collection of tools and my brother and I were the ones carrying and holding stuff. (When mom was not looking he let us try out power tools).

It was many years later that I found out what the women’s project was that winter. I had asked my parents why they always referred to my little brother as the “club baby”. Mom told me that the women had all decided to have another baby. That fall six new lives were brought into our neighborhood. Four basements finished, six lives started: all in all it was a great year.

The third act was when the adults would all do the clearing up and putting away with some last jokes, promises to do this again and herding up the kids. The announcement for this last act to begin was when one of the men would say, “Let’s go join the ladies.” And my dad would always say, “Yes let’s, so we can make one big lady”.

I did not know it at the time but once I started to read the Bible that it was these get togethers that made it all seem familiar, true and tangible, I knew these people. When I read the marriage at Cana story I love not only what it says but more of what it does not say. Mary makes a request to Jesus and He says, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come”. And then she says, “Do whatever he tells you”. It is the space between those lines that show me a flesh and blood family and the intercessory power of Mary. She makes a request -He says no - she gives him “the look” - He acquiesces.

These little gatherings gave me a microcosm of Christ’s Church as well. True, like the Church, not all of the times were sit-com happy, sometimes there would be fights or a joke would be played that offended someone but we always forgave. We knew we had to live next door to each other; we needed each other for support in laughter and tears, good times and bad, sickness and in health. The grace that pours from the marriage covenant does radiate beyond the walls of the house, (“Neither do men light a lamp, and put it under the bushel, but on the stand; and it shineth unto all that are in the house. Even so let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:15-16). They showed me what Saint Francis meant when he said, “Preach the Gospel everyday and if necessary use words”.

It is difficult for me not think of those times whenever I read Paul’s letter to the Romans. 12: 4-6, “For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually parts of one another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them…”. My father could have never finished off our basement without the help of the other men working together as one. He knew he could not do it alone but was not afraid or too proud to admit his shortcomings. Even if all he ever did was carry and hold that was an important part of the project. But, he learned new skills and then taught his kids so that eighteen years later my dad, my younger brother and I helped build my older brother’s house.

That my mother and her friends talked the men into a new baby was no small feat either. It was a tangible out come of Ephesians 5. The neighborhood became stronger with a common goal, a common love of life and for each other. Parents took responsibility for all of us. There was not a mother we did not obey nor a refrigerator closed to us.

“Whoever is without Love does not know God for God is Love” (1 John 4:8). Through my neighborhood I got to know God before I could even pronounce his name. It is why when I did meet him in the Eucharist I was already familiar with Him. When I receive Him body and blood – soul and divinity I realize that if anyone leaves God’s house hungry it’s their own fault.

Jesus lived in a lot tougher neighborhood than I did yet the seeds for my neighborhood were planted there. At His last gathering with His friends He told them of the project He started and wanted them to cooperate with Him to finish. He bought for them, at great price, a box full of all the power tools they would need to do the job – the sacraments. It was not a playroom but a family room - a Church - made of living stones. These men taught others to build and so on down head long through the generations. Some would hold and carry and some were to make compound miter joints each vital because, as my dad taught me, you can not put up crown molding by your self, (“…if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy”. 1 Corinthians 12:26).

And now, on certain Sunday mornings, when my wife hollers up the stairs to roust our sluggish teens, “Come on let’s go! Time to join us for Church”.
I smile and think to myself, “Yes, so we can make one big Christian”.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Jewel of Wisdom

From The Daily Eudemon on Tuesday;

"I finished Albert Jay Nock’s Our Enemy, the State last month. I’ve been meaning to write something about it, but the holidays sucked the oxygen out of my time.
I think this minor classic boils down to a handful of points:
1. State power comes at the price of social power. If the state will take care of something, then people won’t. As social power collapses, so does society. This is Nock’s best insight, and upon two minutes’ reflection, is so obviously true that I’m kind of embarrassed I’d never articulated the thought before. For years I’ve lamented that the welfare state kills charity, but I never reached the larger point: an increasing state gradually kills all social endeavors. (You ever wonder why the social fabric of Russia is in complete tatters?)"

Ive been thinking about this all week. My degree is in political science, and this was something that was on the tips of our tongues, but never spoken. My profs would never let us within a hundred miles of a book like Nock's.

This connects to Chesterton in a deeper way than merely restating principles of distributism and subsidiarity. The history of Church and State in Britain is permeated by the implications of Nock's statements. The silent cataclysm that took place under Henry VIII and Elizabeth I writes these words in blood.

One of the most telling conversations Ive ever had in my life took place while I was in Bosnia with the Army in 2000. My team and I were in the office of a local official of the SDA, the Islamic political party in Bosnia. This man's words have stuck with me ever since. Through our translator, he lamented what happened to his countrymen under communism. He was not speaking of this as a tragedy of poor philosophy, or bad economics, but rather the moral decay of the people, and the social breakdown of family and villiage life. He noted that communism made people lazy, greedy, and corrupt.

Taking Nock's words into account, we see that ideas, especially ideas about the state begin and end in our bathroom mirror. We project our moral selves on the state, and likewise the state's power and values create a moral atmosphere.

Chesterton wasn't just elucidating a particular system with distributism, but as Dale Alquist so often says, he was acting as a complete thinker. Chesterton's thoughts regarding economics, the arts, religion, and society all draw from and contribute to a full robust philosophy of the human person.

Much like CS Lewis' Abolition of Man, where Lewis talks about the Tao as a type of natural law. Nock and Chesterton remind us of universal themes which transcend even Western culture. Confucian ethics are grounded in the idea that moral rectitude backed by social convention are far superior to any action of the state. As Eric said, these are such obvious ideas, it is amazing that it takes thought and study to draw them to our minds.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

More clerihews

I've had clerihews on my mind of late. They're certainly better things to focus on than what's happening in Iraq.

So here’s a few more:

Jean Paul Sartre
opined, for his part,
that he finds it hell to sit
in a room with no exit.

Ernest Hemingway
would allegedly have his lovers say,
"I love you."
"Me too."

When talking with Socrates
just give simple answers please,
or we'll all have to slog
through another dialogue.

Yvonne De Carlo
once made Moses's heart glow,
but she drove me silly
when she played Lily.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

New Gilbert Arrived!

Though I fear causing angst among this blog's readers, I am happy to announce that the new issue of Gilbert Magazine has arrived. Volume 10, Number 3. It's a good one, but I simply don't have time right now to write much about it.

But I will mention the cover story: Four men do the Belloc walk through Sussex. The essay doesn't say which of the four is the old man, the middle aged man, the young man, and the teen (something like that; I never was sure how Belloc broke down the four men, age-wise, in his neat book; he just identifies them as Grizzlebeard, the Sailor, the Poet, and Myself).

After that, an essay recounts how five men walked GKC's route of life.

More later, when I have more than two minutes to blog.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Westward Leading, Still Proceeding

Yesterday was the solemn feast of the Epiphany.
The day the Kings came to town.
I’ve heard many a sermon on this day covering the historical, symbolic, and spiritual meaning of the Kings and their gifts but my favorite was the one that included the line, “You don’t think Daddy would send his Boy to camp without any money do you?”
The 12th day of Christmas.
A day mixed with joy and sadness because it is the last day of the Christmas feast.
Over so soon?
Today is the day I unplug my exterior Christmas lights (a sigh of relief from my neighbors – yea I light it up – not so you can see it from space, but big).
It is the day I give my wife one last present - earrings usually or some golden bling of a thing.
The tree will last another week.
The beginning of Ordinary Time.
During Chesterton’s day it was not called Ordinary time for if it had been I’m sure he would have had something to say about that. Like ‘How can time be called ordinary after the Incarnation.’ or ‘The last thing one might call orthodoxy is ordinary.’ Pre Vatican II every season had a name or meaning that would help the faithful focus on the prize. Yes, I know Ordinary in this use does not mean plain but ordered or numbered time. I have some misgivings though that the majority understand it as that. Even if we all knew its true meaning it still sounds like treading water.
This Christmas gone and folded into another lovely memory as each passing day wipes clean the crazy family moments. Big families can lead to big crazy which leads to big laughs.

So today we begin our steps, in an ordinary way, toward Lent - preparing to prepare.

A New Star in the Heavens

Ethan Osten, a friend of mine, has taken up blogging again after a long absence, and I am delighted to discover that the work is largely Chestertonian. This is a far cry from the religiously apathetic atheist I first encountered so long ago, so in that respect alone the thing is worth checking out. Apart even from that, however, it is well-produced and pleasant.

Be sure to check it out here, if you've a spare moment.

Good news from California

Check it out, everyone. The St. Anthony of Padua Institute is hosting "An Evening with G.K. Chesterton," replete with good food, good drink, and our own "Mr. Chesterton," Chuck Chalberg.

Friday, February 9th, 2007

Cocktails at 5pm
Dinner - 6pm
Performance - 7:30 pm

St. Margaret Mary's Church
1219 Excelsior Ave
Oakland, CA 94610

For more information, please contact the Institute at our toll free number: (888) 619-7882, or by emailing us at events@StAnthony
This promises to be a first-class event, and if you can make it there it would certainly behoove you to do so. Bringing a heaping load of GKC to Oakland* CA would no doubt do those poor afflicted ladies and gentlemen a world of good. I'd go myself, of course, were it not for this pesky continent that lies between us.

*Attentive reader Doug has kindly pointed out that the event is to be held in Oakland, not Berkeley. The St. Anthony of Padua Institute is itself located in Berkeley, but is not holding the event there.

As an added bonus, the Institute's website directed me to the website of one John Herreid, the man responsible for some of the artwork that occasionally graces the covers of Ignatius Press books, and a Gilbert! alum to boot. His Tolkien:

Be sure to check him out, and maybe send him some business if you're feeling acquisitive.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Dale's Favorites

The American Chesterton Society's Dale Ahlquist lists his favorite books read during 2006. Excerpt:

I also read a bit of G.K. Chesterton this year, mostly uncollected pieces, of which there are only a few thousand. But a re-reading of his book on Charles Dickens was a divine treat. His description of Dickens' "innocent love of living and ignorant love of learning" describes Chesterton himself. I wish it described me.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Chesterton the Journalist

The last couple days of posts centered around a poorly done news story, and the insertion of questionable history and unnecessary agendas into an article. Media bias and professionalism is a subject of great interest to me.

If you scan the Collected Works of Chesterton's essays and news columns, as is my job to do regularly, there soon appears a chasm between the standards of journalism in Chesterton's day and our own. Ironically, it was during GKCs era that "yellow journalism" came into our cultural lexicon.

Its not just a matter of bias, but professionalism. Even if I were an avowed-athiest-leftist-socialist-revolutionary, I would still take it as a matter of personal pride and attention to detail to accurately represent the opposing side, using correct terminology and not setting up straw man arguements.

Reporting of military stories particularly stirs my venom. ESPECIALLY if you are anti-war-anarchist-pacifist it would benefit you to understand the subject in at least a superficial way. At least that way if someone tells you a certain convoy is leaving for a specific purpose, you know enough about equipment and operations to know if they are lying. "They say they are going to do route security, but they wouldnt be taking XYZ if that were true. They have too many vehicles, something else is up........." Its amazing where you can get when you quit taking pride in ignorance and slovenliness all the while calling it unbiased.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Feeling much better, thank you

In my most recent post I spoke out against an editorial that appeared The Courier. In all fairness the editor was making a valid point in condemning the Libyan court for sentencing those heath workers to death. The point was however diluted when she brought in the Middle Age mentality and that the civilized world does not do judicial murder or corrupts the political process. It was the Middle Ages slam that first fired me up. To paraphrase Gilbert, all reporters should pay a tax whenever they mention Galileo, The Inquisition, The Crusades or the Middle Ages to prove a moral superior point. In this way they would have to try to come up with new knee jerks or actually study those things to find the truth.

In the reply box of my post, jimmyv suggested I send my post to the editor – so I did. This was her reply to my letter:
“From the ignorant editor,
For the vast majority of Europeans the Middle Ages were a time of ignorance and widespread illiteracy. There were, of course, exceptions.
Give me a break, please.
Cindy Moorhead”

I don’t know maybe it’s that I’m just now getting my game back or there was a tone in that response that sounds a lot like, ‘You’re a moron. Leave me alone’. So I had to write her back.

Dear MS Moorhead,

Thank you for clearing that up for me. Since illiteracy was as pervasive in the Muslim world as it was in Europe during the Middle Ages when you said ignorant I thought you meant stupid. Setting aside the fact that it was Middle Age Europe that established the first public schools to combat that illiteracy it is still true the typical European Middle Age person was stupid, like when a man planted an Apple seed he actually thought he would have a tree bearing Apples that would feed him and his family. Where as today we realize that when you plant an Apple seed random chance mutation takes over and he is just as likely to get Marigolds as Apples. And yes they were superstitious. They believed that Fairies lived in the woods and in the reality of Dragons. Unlike today because we know that Aliens are in area 51 and the photographic proof have made the existence of Big Foot a certainty. Or by superstitious do you mean (gasp) Catholic?

You asserted that the Middle Age “Muslims were at the forefront of medical and scientific advances” that is debatable, but what is not left for question is their prowess in horse breeding and coffee cultivation. This has led to those wondrous things like Off Track Betting and Starbucks. Now the men and women of Middle Age Europe planted some seeds too in the area of Science, Art and Philosophy that have given us some minor trifles like Heart Transplants, Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, and John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. Yes they are small in comparison to Starbucks but nice none-the-less.

As for your suggestion to give you a break I would love to do that. Put down your copy of Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil and get a copy of G. K. Chesterton’s Everlasting Man. It will be a good read as you sip on your double latte.

Thank you again for your enlighten response,


If you would also like to drop her line she can be reached at
For those of you who have kept me in your prayers for the past several months during my unfortunate period of emotional turmoil – thank you.

Clerihews again

Another mention of clerihews inspired me to finish one one I'd been working on. President Ford's death made the time right as well - keeping in mind he had a sense of humor about himself!

With President Ford
we never were bored
thanks to the pardon, the gaffes, and the falls,
and, of course, those errant golf balls.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

I'm Back

Google has apparently straightened out its Blogger sign-in problems. They have an improved Blogger system, but I've declined to sign up for it. They say you have to have a Google password in order to use it. I have a Google password, but they wouldn't accept it last week, so I'm not optimistic that they'll accept it now.

A few quick GKC things: The Blog of the American Chesterton Society has apparently made a New Year's resolution to be active this year. Check it out. A blogger has decided to try to her hands at Clerihews, using other bloggers as the subject. Quite unique.

What? You don't know what a clerihew is? Check out Wikipedia's entry. Excerpt:

A Clerihew (or clerihew) is a very specific kind of short humorous verse, typically with the following properties:

  • It is biographical and usually whimsical, showing the subject from an unusual point of view; but it is hardly ever satirical, abusive or obscene
  • It has four lines of irregular length (for comic effect)
  • The first line consists solely (or almost solely) of a well-known person's name.

The form was invented by and is named after Edmund Clerihew Bentley. As a student, Bentley invented the clerihew on Humphry Davy (see below) during his studies, and it was a great hit with his friends. The first use of the word in print was in 1928.[1]

Bentley's friend, G. K. Chesterton, was a practitioner of the clerihew and one of the sources of its popularity. However, other serious authors also produced clerihews, including W. H. Auden.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Cheat the Prophet

The opening paragraphs of Chesterton's The Napoleon of Notting Hill are famous and thrilling, even if they are light-hearted, and they hit upon the very real and healthy schadenfreude we experience when our experts make pompous and bloody fools of themselves.
THE human race, to which so many of my readers belong, has been playingat children's games from the beginning, and will probably do it till the end, which is a nuisance for the few people who grow up. And one of the games to which it is most attached is called,"Keep to-morrow dark," and which is also named (by the rustics in Shropshire, I have no doubt) "Cheat the Prophet." The players listen very carefully and respectfully to all that the clevermen have to say about what is to happen in the next generation. The players then wait until all the clever men are dead, and bury them nicely. They then go and do something else. That is all. For a race of simple tastes, however, it is great fun.
[. . .]
But the way the prophets of the twentieth century went to work was this. They took something or other that was certainly going on in their time, and then said that it would go on more and more until something extraordinary happened. And very often they added that in some odd place that extraordinary thing had happened, and that it showed the signs of the times. Thus, for instance, there were Mr. H. G. Wells and others, who thought that science would take charge of the future; and just as the motor-car was quicker than the coach, so some lovely thing would be quicker than the motorcar; and so on for ever.
And so on indeed. It's all good fun. Imagine my surprise, then, to discover that the Prophets have obligingly put all their ducks in a sweet, tempting row for the buckshot of a spiteful population. What surprised me most about it, however, was to discover that these are the same predictions about the future that men a hundred years dead made about today. Among the standard starry-eyed affirmations of immortality and an end to war comes the typical - we might say platitudinous - confident assertion that religion is in its death throes and will soon, mercifully, leave this earth forever. Says Richard Dawkins, in a phrase that could not have been better crafted were it the production of a satirist, "[the] final scientific enlightenment will deal an overdue death blow to religion and other juvenile superstitions."
Prove him wrong, people.

Monday, January 01, 2007

A Plank In The Eye

The Courier (Findlay, Ohio) ran an editorial (similar with hundreds of other newspapers) concerning a Libyan court sentencing six truly innocent healthcare workers to death. This particular editorial begins with the line, “In a case that illustrates the cultural divide between the Middle east and West…” it the goes on to condemn the Libyan courts for this obvious miscarriage of justice calling them a “people steeped in irrationality…”. The article concludes with, “During the Middle Ages, Muslims were at the forefront of medical and scientific advances while the West languished in ignorance and superstition. This case illustrates how totally the tables have turned -- in large part due to closed minds and the common Muslim conviction of moral superiority. Judicial murder is not a moral act. If Libya wants to join the civilized world, it needs to make sure that facts and justice rule -- not the ignorance of a mob.”
Let’s insert a Chesterton quote now because this editor has not a clue about the Middle Ages or the fact that it was not a time of ignorance or superstition, (can you say Thomas Aquinas?) “There is something odd in the fact that when we reproduce the Middle Ages it is always some such rough and half-grotesque part of them that we reproduce . . . Why is it that we mainly remember the Middle Ages by absurd things? . . . Few modern people know what a mass of illuminating philosophy, delicate metaphysics, clear and dignified social morality exists in the serious scholastic writers of mediaeval times. But we seem to have grasped somehow that the ruder and more clownish elements in the Middle Ages have a human and poetical interest. We are delighted to know about the ignorance of mediaevalism; we are contented to be ignorant about its knowledge. When we talk of something mediaeval, we mean something quaint. We remember that alchemy was mediaeval, or that heraldry was mediaeval. We forget that Parliaments are mediaeval, that all our Universities are mediaeval, that city corporations are mediaeval, that gunpowder and printing are mediaeval, that half the things by which we now live, and to which we look for progress, are mediaeval."
{"The True Middle Ages," The Illustrated London News, 14 July 1906}
I’m not sure if this editorial is an example of America’s rampant cultural schizophrenia or a celebration of its sort term memory loss. For those of you who think we are still morally superior to the Libyan courts in that we do not commit judicial murder or that we are the bench mark for the civilized world or that we do not follow the ignorance of the mob I have two words for you, Terri Schiavo.

Happy New Year!

We're more or less into the thick of things with 2007, a year ripe with prospective significance. I can't say anything specific of course, as this blog is not in the habit of providing spoilers, but rest assured that something important will likely happen.

I've not been posting here (or anywhere) as the luck of draw saw both of the season's holidays fall on a Monday. I'm only posting now because there's no particular need for reverence attached to the mere transition of numbers, so I don't feel strange doing something so mundane as a blog post on a day where others are celebrating. I do not myself celebrate the new year in any recognizable way beyond enjoying the fact that I'm still not back at school (even if I am beginning to wish I were).

Anyway, I have nothing to say, really. Despairing of never getting The Everlasting Man for birthdays or Christmas, I've decided to just buy the thing myself, as it seems to be presenting everyone else with weird, insoluble problems. In the meantime, however, I have the whole of Dostoevsky to happily work through, so that should be enough.

All shall return to form next week, when school resumes and I return to London. Until then, have a good time with yourselves.