Sunday, April 26, 2009
With these thoughts I was perusing my bookshelf and came across a couple books which apply to this situation, one lyrical, and one historical. Ballad of the White Horse is probably my favorite of Chesterton's works. For those unaware, it is a book length lyric poem about the battle between Alfred the Great and Guthrum of the Vikings. There is interpersonal tension, emotions of courage, fear, and cowardice, as well as the foreboding of being present at an epoch changing event.
The second book I paged through was H.W Crocker's Triumph. There are some areas that I think Crocker could delve more deeply into, but he does have to be brief in order to catch the whole range of his intended subject. What I notice from Crocker is the ebb and flow of history. Renewals and Renaissance follow periods of laxity and persecution. Easter Sundays follow Good Fridays.
Two very good and grounding volumes to gain some perspective.
Saturday, April 25, 2009
St. Francis of Assisi - I've just finished rereading Chesterton's delightful book about him - was said to have done that.
I have also done it, not only with the Bible, but also with writers I like. Chesterton is, of course, one of those writers.
Last night I grabbed a volume of the Chesterton's Collected Works - The Illustrated London News 1917-1919 - off the bookcase and popped it open. Here's the passage that his my eye:
"One preliminary point seems to me quite clear. If we are to make any attempt to tolerate all men, we must give up all attempt to tolerate all opinions." - "On `Maltheory'" April 28, 1917
I thought about our own culture - a culture that seems to be taking the opposite tack: Tolerating all opinions, but but not tolerating all people. But when you tolerate all opinions, then those opinions lose meaning - opinion itself loses meaning. We devolve into the realm of rationalizing - if rationalize is an appropriate word when we are abandoning thought - that all actions should be based on feelings. It becomes very much like trying to steer a boat without a rudder - and given our increasing rejection of faith, without sails to catch any wind. We wallow in the doldrums.
Another one of Chesterton's point in the essay is that it is easy to fall into absolutist opinions on issues, and along the way demonizing the other side. Yes, deplore what he does, but not him - "The assertion that the man is possessed of a devil is the only way of avoiding the assertion that he is a devil."
Is Obama a demon? Is Dick Cheney a demon? Is the pro-lifer a demon? The pro-choicer? The Republican? The Democrat? The bishop who does not promote and express the faith in the way we think is right? That rude clerk at the store? The college trustee who messes up our conference?
When we demonize people rather than point to the demonic in their actions, then we lose the ability to tolerate others. If we can no longer tolerate them, them even extreme responses toward them can, in some minds, become tolerable.
The world itself might begin to seem intolerable - and that would be intolerable.
Friday, April 24, 2009
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
34 Years old...Ive been married to one woman, been in 2 wars, had 2 kids, worked in 3 prisons, went to 4 years of college, had 5 cars, and Im stuck for all the numbers after that......
I notice as a look over Chesterton that we often fail to notice how his works do have a very wide timespan, from the dawn of the 20th Century to the eve of World War II. He saw many changes in Britain, in Europe, and the greater world, yet throughout his whole corpus he shows consistent qualities. Change and progress have gone from being simple slogans to now revealing themselves necromantic magic words with the power of changing the path of nations. It is interesting to note that as times change, Chesterton really does not. He develops as an Author and as a human being. His friendships with Belloc and others deepen. Although he does not truly "change", Chesterton stands above his peers as an advocate for liberty, freedom, and democracy throughout the tumultuous times that his career spanned. While those around him jumped from fad to fad, party to party, and movement to movement in search of finding how best to bring progress to mankind, GKC strayed very little from the pillars of orthodoxy and tradition and he outshines all of his now dated contemporaries.
Monday, April 20, 2009
Saturday night my son took me to see a theatrical production of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing” at a local college. And with out a doubt that was the worst evening of theatre I have ever had to endure. I have only walked out on one play in my life. This would have been the second except a friend of my son’s was in the play and he wanted to talk to him after the show. The only positive thing that can be said about this presentation was that the actors knew their lines. Many of the scenes were actually painful to watch. It’s not that the director butchered Shakespeare that bothers me because I’ve seen that before but the theatricality of that butchering was correct, (the operation was a success but the patient died sort-of-thing). It’s that this director butchered theatre.
Ahhh but Sunday was wonderful. Many of the youth of our Parish received their Confirmation today and what a great day to receive it – Divine Mercy Sunday. I was honored to be chosen lector for this day. The Bishop was there and in fine form. The master of Ceremonies was a young man a year away from ordination. I have known this man since he was a wise cracking fourteen year old. When he decided to become a priest I was wondering if I would be able to call him Father but seeing him today I saw he carries priesthood very well - he has become a good man which of course will make him a good priest. Calling him father will not be a problem.
There was an air of nervous expectation that was thick an juicy about the Church. The alter boys were very worried that they might drop the Bishops “hat and stick thing” the confirmantie were worried that the Bishop might find them unprepared and he would leave, (he’s done that before at other parishes) and I was worried that I might stutter and stumble through the readings. None of which happened – sigh of relief.
Some of the kids that became soldiers for Christ today were children I have known since they were babies. Many Graces were poured down upon us this day.
As Chesterton said, (from the Ball and the Cross) “The Sacraments are certain and incredible.” Today I saw that paradox in full flower.
Makes being upset about a horrible play production kinda stupid.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
For me Chesterton reveals the truth in two ways. The first is as if he takes off my glasses cleans them and says, “Now do you see?”
“Why yes I do. Thank you very much.”
The other way is that he simply reminds me of what is true. Stuff I already knew but have forgotten or things that were driven out of my head by ‘adult’ forces. Even in his innocuous sounding essays that might easily be passed over he reminds us of a joy we might have forgotten. These are usually a childhood joy that is still a joy if only we old folks could remember how to play the game. Both of these ways of course is what prophets always do.
In his essay “On Lying in Bed” he reminded me of the pleasure of doing ‘nothing’ of letting your mind float like a boat on a current. This is something I had not done for a looong time. So a few Saturdays back I rolled over to see my wife had already awoke and I was alone. I started to get up and get to it but told myself the list can wait and fell back into bed.
I reached over and put George Gershwin’s American in
I then tried to imagine Fred Astaire in Gene’s role but that was absurd. Fred could never play the tragic hero. No more than Gene could have pulled off the Fred’s dancing up the walls in The Royal Wedding. When Fred danced on the ceiling we said, “Of course he can do that.”
Both of these men are Great dangers it is just that their greatness lies in opposite directions. Gene’s greatness is his constant struggle to break the law of gravity while Fred’s lies in his struggle to obey it.
This put in mind of Chesterton and Belloc. Belloc teaches us how to dig while Chesterton teaches us how to fly.
Next I put in Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring and thought if Martha Graham’s dance within Isamu Noguchi’s sculpture (set). Perhaps the greatest collaboration of artist’s in the 20th century. All those artists knew the central fact about art – Great art must tell a story - a story that holds universal truth. Martha, a pioneer of modern dance, never lost her ability to tell a story through movement – she never fell into that trap of dance for dance sake.
I could have gone like this for hours more except my wife, for some reason, refused to bring me up food and my youngest came in to remind me that I would dig her bike out of the garage today.
The up side that when I did get up I ignored my ‘to do list’ (except for the bike) and spent the rest of the day in my studio.
Saturday, April 04, 2009
In Gilbert Magazine it is my appointed duty to use the Illustrated London News essays as my primary source material. I have noticed that Chesterton never mentions economic statistics throughout the economic slowdowns of the 1930s and other periods. There is an online archive of ILN stories, http://www.iln.org.uk/, and it shows that many other ILN writers did get into the details and particular issues of the day.
Chesterton, it seems, always sees the eternal in the temporal, and sees the spirits behind the statistics.
I am trying very hard to do the same during our current times. I actually think that there are some silver linings to the current times. First, I think that the taboo regarding discussing finances is breaking down. People no longer buy into the "IF you are so smart, how come you are not rich," mentality. People of intelligence, energy, and talent are having difficult times, so financial status as a measure of self worth seems to be deteriorating.
Second, I think I am noticing some people, myself particularly, becoming more sincerely prayerful. I think that the flexing of political strength that arose from Evangelical Muscle and Catholic Brains has waned. It is part of our vocation to engage the world and stand up for truth, justice, and true mercy. It is also part of our vocation to remember the words of Scripture, "Be still and know that I am God, supreme among the nations, supreme over the Earth."(PS 46:10)
Wednesday, April 01, 2009
In my musings on philosophy of late, I came across something interesting regarding Greek thought. Im looking for other sources on this, but it appears that the Hellenistic kingdoms of Alexander the Great in Northern India had a great deal of longevity, absorbed in the end by the expansion of Islam. Using rounded numbers of 300Bc - 650 AD gives us almost a millenium, not too far off of the time of the English monarchy from Hastings until the present. The author in question is making the point that the ancient world was very "diverse" in what we would consider the modern sense, and that much of our thinking about diversity is a reaction to perceived abuses of colonial times.
What does this have to do with Chesterton?
I think it shows us that the search for truth is universal, and that the human race truly is a large family. With the possibility that the Greek Stoics had influenced Hindu and Buddhist scholarship, the world suddenly becomes much smaller, and Chesterton's brilliant image of The God in the Cave becomes that much more powerful. Human reason can only go so far before it reaches a point where it encounters a moment of anticipation of transcendence. The Greek Stoics, unlike there more cerebral Roman inheritors, did practice what we would today call meditation....realizing that intellect could only penetrate so far. I have written around this point for several weeks now, but I think that in dealing with contemporary culture this is the starting point. The discussion of Faith and Reason is a deep and rich dialogue that has spanned centuries. Our culture does not even see them as opposites, but defines Reason as logic, but dresses it up in leftist political utopianism, and likewise defines Faith not as an inner act of the person and an intimate expression of the soul, but rather as fundamentalist adherence to a denomination. How did we get to this point?