Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Old Tode Blog

Did we miss this guy? He's a blogger who tosses a lot of quotes on the screen, especially from Chesterton. It appears that he quotes GKC nearly every day. He's also a student at the University of Hawaii, so it's not like he doesn't have a lot of great things to occupy his time. Maybe he quotes Chesterton in order to attract some of those beach babes.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Agatha and GKC

In 1939 Agatha Christie published a collection of murder mysteries with the title The Regatta Mystery. The volume included the cases of several of the author's detectives. In her notes, Christie describes as a "G.K.C. idea" the basic conception for the Miss Marple story in the collection. The idea, obviously based on Chesterton's 1911 story "The Invisible Man," was that the criminal is disguised as a housemaidso no one notices her. [Janet Morgan, Agatha Christie, New York: 1985, p. 221]

Monday, February 26, 2007


Chesterton will be in the Chicago area, signing copies of Outline of Sanity. It's in the Chicago Sun-Times.

I hear through the electronic grapevine, incidentally, that the Chicago Chesterton Society holds its meetings at the bookstore referenced in the notice. It's a publicity stunt, a good-faith mistake, or the folks at the CCS are eating mushrooms.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

One Train - Many Stations

During Lent, among other devotions, I take the time to do the Stations of the Cross.
I came across this essay by Chesterton that combines both this devotion with an essay about art – my two great loves in one place Jesus and art – cool. Something I have found only Chesterton can do with the proper balance.

This Chesterton piece was written for a book by Frank Brangwyn entitled;
The Way of the Cross: An Interpretation

Brangwyn is on my list of favorite illustrators. Here is a quote from that essay:

“. . . and this is the last portent of the darkness; that you are sorry for me. That part of me in which you never believed, the madman’s dream of deity—you need waste no tears upon that. But that part of me that is part of you; that ancient and achieved thing in which you do believe, that tradition that was mine as well as yours; the Blood; the Household; the Great Story—if you are wanting something to weep for! Because I was born Man, I was born patriot; of a place and of a people; and if you would compassionate me for anything, compassionate me for that; for the Tables and the Temple and Solomon in all his glory. Do you imagine that a dream has come to an end; if you knew what reality has come to an end! If you knew the real tragedy that shall trail after you across the world, century after century; the wrongs you do, the wrongs you suffer, the endless wrangle about wrongs. And you who stand on the very crest of the stooping wave of this awful and pitiable catastrophe—you do not even know what to pity.” I cannot exaggerate my sense of the vivid inspiration of the artist who made that last look backwards as fierce as a flash of lightning.
“Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for Me; but weep for yourselves and for your children.”

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Heresy's kiss

We are having a parish retreat with Father Simeon Gallagher this week.

He is using as the basis of the retreat Mathew 2: 1-11 – the story of the Magi.

Last night he talked about evil – Herod in the story. He pointed out that Herod/evil is with us still, putting on a pious, positive face to conceal his true actions and intentions.

Fr. Gallagher said we can’t/won’t confront evil because of what he called the three “P’s” – Passivity, Privacy and Peace (at all coasts).

Good stuff, all. Lots to think about. I’ve been thinking of the privacy problem.

We have made a false god of privacy. Whatever you do in the privacy of your home is your own business – drugs, sex, porn, etc.

But by allowing privacy to become such a sacred value we have allowed the degradation of other values.

And it did not take a frontal assault by evil (ala Lord of the Rings). It has crept in disguised as being progressive, open, nonjudgmental, and so on.

Take sex. Sex, once at least ideally reserved for marriage - I’m not na├»ve enough to say that was the practice in many cases, but it was at least the ideal – is now accepted as a part of dating. So are living together. My wife commented on a co-worker who is a “devout” churchgoer with God forever on her lips, yet she is living with her boyfriend and sees no conflict.

But while some of us might dismiss sex as just a small thing, and not really evil if we love each other or we’re “engaged,” it is one of the tools used by evil to open us to greater evils and to ultimate corruption (think Screwtape).

Sexual immorality begets broken families, dysfunction, crime, and violence – even terrorism (would Osama Bin Laden be able to argue about the corruption of Western Society if there weren’t some truth in his claims?).

G. K. Chesterton (as usual) foresaw this.

In a 1926 essay called “The Next Heresy” he wrote:

For the next great heresy in going to be simply an attack on morality; and especially on sexual morality. And it is coming, not from a few Socialists surviving from the Fabian Society, but from the living exultant energy of the rich resolved to enjoy themselves at last, with neither Popery nor Puritanism nor Socialism to hold them back … The madness of tomorrow is not in Moscow, but much more in Manhattan.

It’s not coming, G. K. It’s here.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Mardi Gras

Happy Mardi Gras. I'm scrambling for a post this morning (readers at The Daily Eudemon may notice that my morning post went up almost two hours later than usual). I grabbed two GKC quote books, looking for a quote about Mardi Gras, Lent, fasting, asceticism, or something, but found nothing. I did find this: "Amusement can be a narcotic." I agree, though I don't think anyone should mention it to the people in New Orleans that are trying to have a good time.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

This is Monday's post

I'm posting this early because I have to go to bed early, for I've started waking up at a more reasonable hour (7AM) every day than I used to. This is in part because it's a good idea generally, in part because I have early classes some days, and in part because the Lenten season approaches, and it's never too early to get into a good habit for that marvelous, dolorous time.

All of which is to say that things will be very lean around here, as far as I'm concerned, or so it is likely. Though one is not generally supposed to talk about Lenten vows for fear of turning one's piety into a sort of pride, it is worth mentioning to you, the people to whom I am committed to provide weekly content, that I have resolved to give up as much of the internet as possible for the course of the season. This includes, regrettably, my personal blog, which I shall not be updating at all. It also includes reading news sites and other blogs, reading or posting on message boards or discussion groups, playing flash-based games in moments of idleness, and any number of other generally aimless things that have so distracted and pleased me over the last year. I need to devote more time to spiritual and frankly real things than I have been, and the internet is the guiltiest party in keeping me away from them. I also need to recommit myself to the literary world that I have, for some time, only been skirting, however substantially. Some have called me well-read, but I could stand to be more so.

So, I have some options. Because I have something of an obligation to post here, and because Chesterton is never impious (even his early agnosticism was reverent!), I could in theory add this particular blog to my list of things demanded by necessity (e-mail, mostly, which is sort of important to my current academic efforts). However, because this is also something I only do in my spare time rather than as a career, I am tempted to lay it aside, as well, for the next few weeks, as nobody likes half-measures.

What do you think?

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Who says local governments can’t do the right thing? Idaho can, listen to this beautiful turn of phrase in the House Concurrent Resolution No. 29By Ways And Means Committee:

“WHEREAS, any members of the House of Representatives or the Senate of the Legislature of the State of Idaho who choose to vote "Nay" on this concurrent resolution are "FREAKIN' IDIOTS!" and run the risk of having the "Worst Day of Their Lives!"

I am surprised the Congress did not use similar wording in their “nonbinding” resolution.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Deus Caritas Est

In my local parish we have a lecture series named "The Call to be Catholic." Im on the steering committee of this group, and we sponsored a wonderful event on Monday night.

We invited Fr. Peter Laird, vice rector of St. Paul Seminary in the Twin Cities to speak on Deus Caritas Est, the encyclical letter of Pope Benedict XVI.

Fr. Laird is a very engaging individual, as well as very orthodox. He expounded on the thought of Pope Benedict in a way I had never considered in the past. Fr. Laird made the point that two of the strongest influences on Benedict's scholarship are St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Bonaventure. These two figures are opposites in many ways, yet there is a sort of creative tension which is fostered by keeping true to both of these figures. This is the well from which Benedict draws when writing Deus Caritas Est, and later in his now infamous Regensberg address. Love, reason, rationality, Logos, and the irrationality of fallen human nature are all parts of the full depth of human experience, and Christian Life.

This naturally made me reflect on Chesterton, and the two pillar biographies of St. Thomas and St. Francis. We can talk about paradox and mystery to the point of overusing the terms, but these two radically different lives bear witness to the truth of the "simple" complexity of the human person. We have created the technological world of rationality around us, yet most of the social issues of our day are mere clamorings for license. The passionate Francis or Augustine would likely see that as not cause for puritanism, but rather a blind seeking of fulfillment in a place where it can simply never be found.

These are powerful ideas. Chesterton and Benedict seem to have spent their lifetimes in contemplation of these depths.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

A pro-life pro-choice message

I first saw this picture a week or so ago. It popped up in a couple of different places, usually with critical comments from prolifers.

But rather than being dismayed, I’m pleased. I think we need to see more images of women like this.

I believe this picture sends a powerful pro-life message – even if the young lady doesn’t realize it.

Think about it.

“My baby is prochoice.”

If the child is prochoice, that implies that it is capable of making a choice. That means that the child has a mind, it is a sentient being capable of thought and choice even in utero.

Hence this woman is admitting that she has an intelligent being within her – not simply a product of conception or just a lump of tissue.

And that this woman believes this child is an intelligent being capable of choice is morally and ethically significant. It’s hard to imagine an intelligent being would choose to be killed – unless that being is sacrificing himself/herself for a noble purpose. That suggests a high level of moral thought on the part of the child. Moreover, admitting that someone is consciously choosing to die for us forces us to look at the reasons for that sacrifice. Allowing someone to die for us for the sake of convenience, embarrassment, bad timing, or poor finances seems, well, petty.

Then there is the fact that she refers to the child within her as a baby. Even as she promotes the pro-choice position – which denies the humanity of the “product of conception” – she admits that it is a human, a child, a baby.

Finally, she refers to the child as “my baby.” She has acknowledged a connection to this child. Prolifers will tell you that once a woman admits that the life that lies in her womb is a child, and that she has a personal connection to that child, it is highly unlikely that she will abort the baby.

And if she gradually comes to make that connection with her own child, the chances grow that she will begin to see the connection in other women to their own unborn children.

What we need are more pro-choice women like this to undermine their own position to help change the world’s view on abortion.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Falling Down on Job

I came down with food poisoning or something else that knocked me out for much of the day yesterday. Today, I'm shoveling out of the snow storm. My apologies for the lack of posting.

I did, however, watch Dale Ahlquist's EWTN show on Sunday evening. It was "A Chesterton Reading Plan." Dale highlighted 16 books, divided into four categories (e.g., "Indispensable Chesterton," "Fundamental Chesterton," and I forget what else, but all the categories were similar; I think he was saying, 'All 16 are "must reads'").

I can't remember all of them, but these were definitely listed: Orthodoxy, Heretics, The Everlasting Man, St. Francis Assisi, St. Thomas Aquinas, Collected Fr. Brown, Ballad of the White Horse, What's Wrong with the World, The Man Who Was Thursday, Charles Dickens, Illustrated London News (tall order, that).

I'm pretty sure these were listed: The Ball and the Cross, The Outline of Sanity, The Thing.

I think (maybe, possibly, wild guess) that these were the final two: The Well and the Shallows and On Lying in Bed and Other Essays.

I'm embarrassed to say that I, the former editor of Gilbert Magazine, have read only 10 of these "must reads." I'm sure Dale is disgusted to hear this, though he's probably not terribly surprised ("I always thought Scheske was a doofus").

Monday, February 12, 2007

a smaller quandry

Like Nick I too am in a quandry. Nothing philosophical, spiritual or of a literary bent but a mystery none-the-less. It is something that is becoming a pebble in my shoe. I hope one of you out there can help me.

We here in the Midwest are in the throws of a serious cold snap what the old folks say is a real winter. However two weeks ago I was looking out my studio window, after scraping off the ice, and there flitting around our Holly bush were not one or two but about a dozen Robins. Somebody (who is smarter at this nature stuff than I) help me out - did these guys forget to leave or did they come back waaaay too early?
Hokay, not hard news about What’s Wrong With The World or stuff that puts you off your feed but hey I find comfort in a well ordered universe and Robins at the beginning of February ain’t right.

A quandry

I don't have a new post for you this week. The reason for this, however, has a great deal to do with Chesterton. At the present moment I am taking a class that deals, substantially, with the figure and work of Jorge Luis Borges, the Argentine Master of Curious Tales. He was a man of odd tastes and prejudices - a conservative when his entire continent bled its liberalism under tyrants - and perpetrator of the sorts of astonishing personal feats that one might expect from Chesterton himself, though they rather horrify here than amuse. He is said to have never once attended a concert or gone to a museum or art gallery. He never read the great masterpieces of the world. He never considered the prominent philosophies. He never even read newspapers, for heaven's sake.

What he did do, however, was revel in the obscure, the small-time, and the discredited. The legendary Greek paradox by which an arrow could never reach its target was a favourite of his. By the end, he had become convinced that only literature was real; reality itself, sadly, was lacking.

Another thing he did, though, was read Chesterton by the bushel. C.S. Lewis too, though not to the same extent (and he actually disliked Tolkien). He called Chesterton "his master," and this literary heritage can be plainly seen in many of his works. The lecture I have to deliver concerns one of his most famous short stories, "The Garden of Forking Paths," in which a Chinese man, who is in fact a spy for the German Kaiser at the height of the Great War, has to thwart the English counter-espionage service, and in so doing somehow convey a message to the German high command that a British artillery battery has been secretly moved into the village of Albert a few miles from the front. Despairing, and only minutes away from discovery and apprehension, he races off to send the message by the only means available to him: by killing the only man in his area of England who has the surname of Albert (both the murder and his name would then be reported in the newspapers that his continental counterparts were tasked with scouring, and, with luck, they would put two and two together). It is revealed that Dr. Stephen Albert knows far more about the Chinese spy, perhaps, than the spy does about himself...

That's just scratching the surface. It's a brilliant piece of moonshine, and is a mystery story after the fashion of what we might find in the annals of Father Brown or The Club of Queer Trades, though with the important distinction of being presented in reverse. In Chesterton's mysteries we arrive on the aftermath, as it were; a miracle has occured, and the story goes about elaborating upon it. In "The Garden of Forking Paths," however, we follow the affair from its panicked start to its bewildering conclusion, and yet, somehow, the sense of mystery is maintained.

So, because I have been doing all of this, reading and note-taking and internalizing texts and criticism, I haven't got anything new to say to you now.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Clerihew habit

Edward Lear
betrayed no signs of fear
about beard-nesting fowl
or a cat-courting owl.

Confessions of a bibliophile

When I first moved to Rochester, there was a wonderful Catholic shop called Trant’s. You could get all sorts of Catholic and religious items there – statues, rosaries, holy cards, Bibles, missals, the latest in theology and the Catholic classics, music, clerical supplies, you name it.

Alas, the store hit hard times, moved, and then moved again. It still exists – as a hole-in-the wall place with a poor and terribly outdated selection.

But lay people stepped into the gap. A parish group opened their own store, staffed by volunteers, offering Catholic and religious items at discount prices.

The shelves are crammed with title new and obscure. There are books there you won’t find anywhere else.

Chesterton would appreciate it – because of the selection, and the labor of love it represents for the volunteer staff.

I have been a frequent customer of theirs. The volunteers are all friendly and are as excited about what customers find as are the customers. There’s nothing like a nice bookstore.

It also has the best selection of Chesterton books and tapes in the region.

I stopped by there this week and added two books to my collection.

The first was a 1990 edition of Brave New Family, a collection of essays by Chesterton on men, women, children, families, enemies of the family, and Christmas culled from his books and columns. A nice find.

But the one I’ve been savoring is a 2006 reissue of his 1935 book The Well and the Shallows. There is a nice introduction by Dale Alquist. The book opens with “An Apology for Buffoons,” and I’ve been chuckling over his observations on alliteration, puns cliques and jokes.

If I keep this up, I may have to buy a bookcase just to house my Chesterton related works.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Urgent bulletin

A chance encounter in a combox at Mark Shea's blog has produced a link to an illustrated version of Chesterton's "Song of the Strange Ascetic." The illustrations were originally published in the stalwart pages of Gilbert magazine, and were produced by Ben Hatke, who was responsible for embellishing the Regina Doman heartwarmer Angel in the Waters (which you can read in full at the link).

If I had been a Heathen,
I'd have sent my armies forth,
And dragged behind my chariots
The Chieftains of the North.
But Higgins is a Heathen,
And he drives the dreary quill,
To lend the poor that funny cash
That makes them poorer still.

Go now!

P.S. Don't forget Alan's latest post just below.


In one of my early communication courses a professor told us, “Television has a tremendous power to teach. We should be grateful that it doesn’t.” That was a long time ago. With the proliferation of cable TV things have changed. TV no longer wants to entertain by reflecting society and appealing to a national consciousness but it wants to change society, rising the lowest to a new world order of mostly leftist ideals. This has not been a mass conspiracy it’s more insidious than that – it’s called niche marketing. With more outlets for communication the ideal model of balanced reporting doesn’t draw the crowds. Now they have to be louder, meaner and more myopic than their competitors. These outlets see the success of the Ted Turners and copy that approach. The middle ground – the common sense approach – is now viewed as ignorant and as superstitious religious nonsense. These outlets need only assert a conclusion and it is enough to establish its truth; no evidence is required and no rebuttal allowed. None of this is new of course it is just now coming at us so fast and so relentlessly that it has become difficult to separate the truth from the truthiness. We are not given time to reflect we can only react. And they can get us to react in a predictable way.

Case in point, the media coverage of the war in Iraq. Regardless of what any of us know or think about this war the mass media wants us out of there. They never teach us what jihad really means, the difference in Shiite and Sunni, the practice of Moslem female circumcision, or that Islam really means submit not peace. What they teach us about this war is all about the confusion and mayhem but mostly the carnage. Some even want us to apologize for the Crusades as we leave. (As Mark Shea once said, “Yes, we should apologize – that we lost!”) They want us out. They would say “Out now and let the chips fall where they may” but they don’t think there are any chips.

There has been a monthly average of 160,000 troops in the Iraq theatre of operation during the last 22 months, and a total of 2,112 American deaths (as 12/06). That gives a firearm death-rate of 60 per 100,000 soldiers.

The firearm death-rate in Washington D.C. is 80.6 per 100,000 persons for the same period of time.

That means Americans are about 25% more likely to be shot and killed in the U.S. Capital than in Iraq.

Conclusion? The U.S. should pull out of Washington. (Push governing back down to the local level.)

The vast majority of Americans want to throw in the towel in Iraq and the Middle East in general. This mistaken attitude lies solely at the feet of the Main Stream Media who want to teach us that at heart all people are peaceful and we should just leave them alone. In other words it’s the blind denial of The Fall. We have a Capital full of Neville Chamberlain’s where we could use a few Churchill’s

Victor Hanson of American Enterprise online made some observations I feel appropriate here.
He was commenting on war-torn Iraq of 26 million residents, versus peaceful California with 35 million. The former is a violent and impoverished landscape, the latter said to be paradise on Earth.

“Imagine what the reaction would be if the world awoke each morning to be told that once again there were 6 more murders, 27 rapes, 38 arsons, 180 robberies, and 360 instances of assault in California — yesterday, today, tomorrow, and every day. I wonder if the headlines would scream about “Nearly 200 poor Californians butchered again this month!”

How about a monthly media dose of “600 women raped in February alone!” Or try, “Over 600 violent robberies and assaults in March, with no end in sight!” Those do not even make up all of the state’s yearly 200,000 violent acts that law enforcement knows about.”

There are of course good things in California just as there are good things that have happened in Iraq but nobody hears about those in the MSM. Why cloud our agenda with facts.

Its progress.

Some time ago, a U.S. Senator referred to Iraq as another Vietnam. It was not true then…but dissenters like him – with the help of the teaching media – have made it true now.
What we see are the headlines running across the screen on CNN: “Carnage In Iraq.”
Followed by Al Gore asking “Is it hot in here or is it just me?”
It is no longer journalism but brain washing. The MSM knows this - it has become an ends justify the means thing.

But just what are the ends they hope to achieve – that is what I do not know nor am I sure they do. They think movement – any movement – is progress. "Progress should mean that we are always changing the world to fit the vision, instead we are always changing the vision." (GKC) MSM has lost the vision and is confusing something sparkly with clarity.

Or as Edison’s little brother once said. “Golly Tom, now that we put the balls on the other end it goes in and out just like anything!”


Chesterton Friends at Wheaton

A couple of Chesterton notes:

The Marion E. Wade Center of Wheaton College (Ill.) publishes VII: An Anglo-American Literary Review. The title number referes to the seven writers Owen Barfield, G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, Dorothy L. Sayers, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams.

Never heard of this joint: The Chesterton House at Cornell.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Productions of a young man, old beyond his years

There are two pieces of poetry before us, today. We are most familiar with the productions of Chesterton's mature and established years, in which such vaunted masterworks as Lepanto and The Ballad of the White Horse came roaring into the world. However, it may prove surprising to some to discover that Chesterton was producing poetry and prose at a furious rate long before he was ever felt by his superiors to be even on the verge of amounting to something. His friends, of course, knew better, and so, perhaps, do we.

Two poems, then, as I said before. One was written at the age of sixteen; another around the age of eighteen. For my own part, though I have tried hard and long, I could not hope to approach such majesty with a hundred years of effort and learning behind me. Both are distinctly Christian in nature, though Chesterton's opinions on this score were far from fully formed at this point. The first, "Adveniat Regnum Tuum," would be an astonishing production from a man of any age. As it stands, it transcends astonishment. We may rather call it a sort of miracle.

Not that the widespread wings of wrong brood o'er a moaning earth,
Not from the clinging curse of gold, the random lot of birth;
Not from the misery of the weak, the madness of the strong,
Goes upward from our lips the cry, "How long, oh Lord, how long?"
Not only from the huts of toil, the dens of sin and shame,
From lordly halls and peaceful homes the cry goes up the same;
Deep in the heart of every man, where'er his life be spent,
There is a noble weariness, a holy discontent.

Where'er to mortal eyes has come, in silence dark and lone,
Some glimmer of the far-off light the world has never known,
Some ghostly echoes from a dream of earth's triumphal song,
Then as the vision fades we cry, "How long, oh Lord, how long?"
Long ages, from the dawn of time, men's toiling march has wound
Towards the world they ever sought, the world they never found;
Still far before their toiling path the glimmering promise lay,
Still hovered round the struggling race, a dream by night and day.

Mid darkening care and clinging sin they sought their unknown home,
Yet ne'er the perfect glory came--Lord, will it ever come?
The weeding of earth's garden broad from all its growths of wrong,
When all man's soul shall be a prayer, and all his life a song.
Aye, though through many a starless night we guard the flaming oil,
Though we have watched a weary watch, and toiled a weary toil,
Though in the midnight wilderness, we wander still forlorn,
Yet bear we in our hearts the proof that God shall send the dawn.

Deep in the tablets of our hearts he writes that yearning still,
The longing that His hand hath wrought shall not his hand fulfil?
Though death shall close upon us all before that hour we see,
The goal of ages yet is there--the good time yet to be:
Therefore, tonight, from varied lips, in every house and home,
Goes up to God the common prayer, "Father, Thy Kingdom come."
What is there to be said?

The second piece is perhaps better known, and had something of an important place in Chesterton's early years. We first see mention of it in Maisie Ward's treatment, thus:
Even now his school work had not brought him into the highest
form--called not the Sixth, as in most schools, but the Eighth: the
highest form he ever reached was 6B. But in the Summer term of 1892
he entered a competition for a prize poem, and won it. The subject
chosen was St. Francis Xavier. I give the poem in Appendix A. It is
not as notable as some other of his work at that time: what is
interesting is that in it this schoolboy expresses with some power a
view he was later to explode yet more powerfully. He might have
claimed for himself what he said of earlier writers--it is not true
that they did not see our modern difficulties: they saw through them.
Never before had this contest been won by any but an Eighth Form boy,
and almost immediately afterwards Gilbert was amazed to find a short
notice posted on the board: "G. K. Chesterton to rank with the
Eighth.--F. W. Walker, High Master."

The High Master at any rate had travelled far from the atmosphere of
the form reports when Mrs. Chesterton visited him in 1894 to ask his
advice about her son's future. For he said, "Six foot of genius.
Cherish him, Mrs. Chesterton, cherish him."
That poem now follows, and I will say that it was worth every laurel that was heaped upon it. There is a certain dolourous excellence to the piece that seems fitting to the gentleman in question, and to the task he undertook.
The Apostle of the Indies

He left his dust, by all the myriad tread
Of yon dense millions trampled to the strand,
Or 'neath some cross forgotten lays his head
Where dark seas whiten on a lonely land:
He left his work, what all his life had planned,
A waning flame to flicker and to fall,
Mid the huge myths his toil could scarce withstand,
And the light died in temple and in hall,
And the old twilight sank and settled over all.

He left his name, a murmur in the East,
That dies to silence amid older creeds,
With which he strove in vain: the fiery priest
Of faiths less fitted to their ruder needs:
As some lone pilgrim, with his staff and beads,
Mid forest-brutes whom ignorance makes tame,
He dwelt, and sowed an Eastern Church's seeds
He reigned a teacher and a priest of fame:
He died and dying left a murmur and a name.

He died: and she, the Church that bade him go,
Yon dim Enchantress with her mystic claim,
Has ringed his forehead with her aureole-glow,
And monkish myths, and all the whispered fame
Of miracle, has clung about his name:
So Rome has said: but we, what answer we
Who in grim Indian gods and rites of shame
O'er all the East the teacher's failure see,
His eastern church a dream, his toil a vanity.

This then we say: as Time's dark face at last
Moveth its lips of thunder to decree
The doom that grew through all the murmuring past
To be the canon of the times to be:
No child of truth or priest of progress he
Yet not the less a hero of his wars
Striving to quench the light he could not see,
And God, who knoweth all that makes and mars,
Judges his soul unseen which throbs among the stars.

God only knows, man failing in his choice,
How far apparent failure may succeed,
God only knows what echo of His voice
Lives in the cant of many a fallen creed,
God only gives the labourer his meed
For all the lingering influence widely spread
Broad branching into many a word and deed
When dim oblivion veils the fountain-head;
So lives and lingers on the spirit of the dead.

This then we say: let all things further rest
And this brave life, with many thousands more
Be gathered up in the eternal's breast
In that dim past his Love is bending o'er
Healing all shattered hopes and failure sore:
Since he had bravely looked on death and pain
For what he chose to worship and adore
Cast boldly down his life for loss or gain
In the eternal lottery: not to be in vain.
It's good stuff.

When one considers the sort of poetic work being conducted now among our sixteen- and eighteen-year-olds, one is moved to tears and anger by the comparison. I have known young men and women who really can write this well, and really could write this well, if only they would do it. But they busy themselves instead with the loose lady of free verse, producing beauty as fleeting as a good conversation. It does not endure; it only lingers on, fading, like the face of Moses.

Chesterton was a special case, it is true. We can not expect all of our young to be him. The world would be a nightmare if they were, for variety really means something, and that variety demands a variety of talent and capability. We need poor or self-indulgent or spiteful poets to set off those who are not.

I guess I just wish that our better ones didn't need so much setting off.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

A Melville Clerihew

Herman Melville
chose to fill
his epic novel with page after page of involved but possibly plagiarized details
about whales.

The last lines.........

...of Orthodoxy are powerful, and weighted with meaning. I particularly remember them from a TCCS meeting a couple years ago when Dale had Chuck Chalberg read them "in character."

"Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the secret of the Christian. And as I close this chaotic volume I open again the strange small book from which all Christianity came; and I am again haunted by a kind of confirmation. The tremendous figure which fills the Gospels towers in this respoect, as in every other., above all the thinkers whoever thought themselves tall. His pathos was natural, almost casual. The Stoics, ancient and modern, were proud of concealing their tears. He never concealed His tears; He showed them plainly on His open face at any daily sight, such as the far sight of His native city. Yet He concealed something. Solemn supermen and imperial diplomatists are proud of restrainingh their anger. He never restraied HIs anger. He flung furniture down the front steps of the Temple, and asked men how they expected to escape the damnation of Hell. Yet He restrained something. I say it with reverence; there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness. there was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray. There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuouse isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was his mirth. "

I was just at a company conference, and the obligatory motivational speaker was a retired psychaitrist who was talking about how some people thrive in situations that crush others. The sum total of his hour talk is in the above paragraph........the sense of wonder, mystery, true passion, and Christian joy, although he didnt use those words.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Not a prayer

"Religious liberty might be supposed to mean that everybody is free to discuss religion. In practice it means that hardly anybody is allowed to mention it." - Autobiography

I suppose it could be argued that the Town of Greece brought it all upon itself.

For those of you not familiar with the Rochester, New York, region, Greece is a large western suburb of the Flower City. My own suburb, the smaller Gates, lies just to the south of Greece.

Greece, Gates and a few other suburbs have for years contributed to the support of a public access channel. That’s one of those channels on which anyone with a video recorder and half a brain (or less) can record and broadcast a show. Lots of high school sports, town meetings, church services, pro-life and pro-choice shows, Air America, old movies, cooking shows, politicians delivering monthly canned messages, and guys (almost always) sitting around pontificating on whatever they wanted to.

Free speech in action.

In December, Greece and Gates decided to not renew their contracts with the channel, effectively killing it. The plan is for the Greece school district to take the channel over and have students operate it as a learning experience. I’m all for learning, but the fear is that with a public school running it, certain shows will no longer be allowed. Religious shows and political shows, for example.

It was the issue of the channel takeover that brought Nancy Braiman to the Greece town Board Meeting. Braiman hales from the Eastside suburb of Brighton (Westside suburbs tend to be working class, Eastside suburbs tend to be mor affluent).

The town board meeting began with a Baptist minister leading a prayer.

Braiman was aghast.

She describes herself as having been raised Jewish, and is now a Universalist – in other words, of no discernable religion any more – and she believes in separation of church and state.

A reasonable person might have tried to talk to town officials about ther prayers, but being an Eastsider of no discernable religion she just went to the ACLU and filed a complaint.

So now Greece has decide whether to drop all prayers, try to get people of more religions to lead prayers, or to fight.

My first thought when I read about the complaint was that God was getting back at Greece for trying to take over the public access channel and possible getting religious shows off the air.

My second thought was, wait a minute, why is this Brighton resident getting the ACLU after Greece? (Dang Eastsider!).

After a moment of prayerful (ahem) thought, I had to concede that Braiman had a point - if Greece does indeed only feature Christian prayers.
It is apparently one of only four towns in our county where they have prayers to begin their meetings. Gates is the only one with a moment of silence.
According to published accounts, Greece officials say that they rotate the prayers among clergy from Greece churches, but that there are no synagogues and mosques in Greece so they can't have representatives of those or other faiths.
Hmm. I bet they could find representatives of the Jewish and Islamic faiths if they tried. Oh, and Hindus, Wiccans, Baha'is, Santerians, Shintoists, Jains. Sikhs, Yankee fans (devil worshippers!), and others.
They could even get an agnostic to lead them in a moment of confusion.

It’s a shame if she completely wins and there is no mention of religion allowed. Her actions might lead, as Chesterton suggests, to a loss of liberty.

Here in Gates, we take kind of a middle position with our moment of silence (referred to as a "silent prayer"). As Gate Supervisor Ralph Esposito notes, no one is forced to take part in it.
This might be a reasonable compromise if Greece does not go for the all-inclusive approach.
Besides, I suspect in some towns - with and without official prayers - the people at the meetings are already doing some heavy duty praying as they listen to their town leaders in action.