Sunday, September 30, 2012

Without rivalry or fear

 From "The place of the church and the agony of Anglicanism" by Stanley Hauerwas (and very Rene Girard it is, too!):
[Rowan] Williams observes that the New Testament testifies to the creation of a pathway between earth and heaven that nothing can ever again close. A place has been cleared in which God and human reality can belong together without rivalry or fear. That place is Jesus. It is a place where a love abides that is at once vulnerable and without protection. It is a place in which human competition does not count:
"a place where the desperate anxiety to please God means nothing; a place where the admission of failure is not the end but the beginning; a place from which no one is excluded in advance."
According to Williams, the role of church is to take up space in the world, to inhabit a place where Jesus's priesthood can be exercised.


I'm a web developer.  Been doing it (as for some reason I always like to say) since before Coca-Cola (or anybody else) had a public website; the first sites I worked on were internal corporate ones.  The company policy manual online, for instance - and then signing up for yearly benefits, or changing or adjusting them.  That was big-time back then - very advanced stuff.  We coded in Notepad in those days!  And we liked it!  (Well, actually, we didn't; it was a total pain in the you-know-what....)

The organization I first worked for was divided into groups according to specialty:  back-end coders; front-end coders (that's me); graphic artists; UI experts (that stands for "user interface"); writers (AKA "content specialists"); salespeople; etc.  I'm still mostly front-end, although have absorbed skills from all of the above specialities.  I'm the person who actually puts all the other stuff together and presents it to the user; I've found, over time, BTW, that this skill set requires your right brain and your left brain to have about the same amount of influence.

I'm working on a church website now; this particular parish uses a particular church-database software and I have to work within certain constraints.  One of these is that content is organized in "channels"; the church purchases so-many-channels for such-and-such a price.  "Channels" are sort of "landing pages" - pages that act as central hubs to link to other information.  At first I thought this was not such a great thing; I'm used to total freedom in organizing content, and to the "section" concept, with sub-menus and sub-sub-menus, and etc.  One of the important things I've learned about websites is that people feel much, much happier when they can locate themselves easily within the site - and find other content easily, too.  So I tend to use - over-use, maybe - lots of menus and headers and breadcrumbs, so that people understand right away how the site is organized and so that it will make cognitive sense to them - and not lead to them feeling lost or wondering how to find things.

I was worried about "Channels."  You can't really do the sub-menu and sub-sub-menu thing with Channels; Channels point to "articles," which are mostly stand-alone bits of information.  (Well, you can do sub-menus - but you mostly have to do it by hand; not so much fun, really, these days.  And most people aren't going to bother; the other point of the software is that it's designed so that total non-techies can use it.  Most people simply won't have the time and/or patience to be making menus by hand, and cutting and pasting them into the pages.  So 1996, anyway, that.)  And, of course, having only so many channels meant that I had to be efficient, and make a lot happen with much less freedom than I'm used to.

What I found was interesting, though; it turns out that "Channels" may actually be a stroke of genius - and may more accurately reflect what the church is actually about.   A "Channel" allows you to organize content by "topic" - but it also allows to you link to stuff that may seem to belong to other "Channels" - and it turns out, amazingly, that life in the church really is like this.  Everything points to everything else; church life is an integrated experience.  I think integration may be its main purpose, in fact.

An example:  you may have a "Kids" channel, and a "Worship" channel, and a "Music" channel - as well as an "Events" channel and an "Education" channel.  Well, you'll certainly want to point to "Music" from the "Kids" channel; you'll want parents to know about the great things that being part of the choir can do for their children.  Likewise, you'll want to point to "Music" from the "Events" channel - and from the Worship channel, when you want people to know about All Saints' Evensong.  Stuff that gets categorized as "Education" can also be located under "Worship" - and vice-versa.  You'll want the "I'm New" channel to have links to articles in the "Service" channel and the "Education" channel and the "Events" channel and the "Groups" channel; people who are new often get hooked in by joining small groups or service groups.

If you're posting the daily prayers - well, you'll need to point to the Feast Day information, too.   One thing completes the other; one thing is incomplete without the other.

I was surprised to find, as I worked, that there's practically nothing in the life of the church that doesn't point to something else.  One thing flows very naturally into another; there really aren't any "sections" in the life of the church (even though you do have to organize your content somehow!).

And that, it seems to me, is the whole point of the thing:  integration.

Take it from a web developer.

"Moran: Raised Catholic, the church made me 'a spiritual refugee'"

In today.

(What interests me most in this piece - believe it or not! - is this sentence in his third paragraph:  "I memorized the prayers, received the sacraments and felt ecstatically cleansed after monthly confessions. I was all in."   That says something really important, doesn't it?  The rest of the piece is about love, and how it manifests in the Christian life, and about "looking after those in need" and that there is "no shame in being poor."  And that third paragraph introduces it all.  Note, please:  he "received the sacraments" and "felt ecstatically cleansed after monthly confessions"; see what that sort of thing can lead to?

Fr. Robert Henderson just made the same point in his latest post, The Church which is His Body: On Restructuring, the Episcopate, and the Sacraments:
We are initiated in baptism, fed in the Eucharist, express our devotion in confirmation, find forgiveness in confession, seek healing in anointing, embrace love in marriage, and some seek new forms of service in ordination. The sacraments walk us through the life cycle, drawing us to God and back to God and home to God. They are the foundation of ministry and unify the faithful in grace. The administration of the Sacraments cannot be unwoven from our pastoral function, nor from our teaching function, nor from social justice for it is through them that we are healed, united, and learn of God’s mercies.
Please take heed, Episcopal Church.  There really isn't any other reason to belong to the church, from my point of view.)
I was born into a devout Catholic family, the fifth of nine children. And one of my earliest memories is learning the catechism from my father, a sales executive who was in the habit of going to church every day before work.

He read me stories about the adventures of a boy who was nicknamed “Raggie” because his family was too poor to buy new clothes. Each story had the same basic lesson — good Catholics look after those in need, just as Jesus did. And there is no shame in being poor.

Sign me up. I memorized the prayers, received the sacraments and felt ecstatically cleansed after monthly confessions. I was all in.

In the decades since, I have fled a million miles from the church, and have never found a new religious home. I am a spiritual refugee.

One in three American adults was raised in a Catholic family, but fewer than one in four identify as Catholic today. No other church has shed so many followers, according to surveys by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

So if I am a refugee, I am walking on a road that is crowded with others who feel the same way.

Which brings us to my recent conversation with Newark Archbishop John Myers, and his attempt to sway the election to Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.

He didn’t say that, of course. But he wrote a letter last week saying Catholics have a “duty” to cast their vote based on opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion rights.

Gay sex, he wrote, is a purely “selfish enjoyment” because it “lacks openness to the procreative meaning of human sexuality.”

Gay parents are bad for children. And if the government grants equal marriage rights to homosexuals, it will soon invade families and churches to impose its moral views, stepping between a parent and child, between a pastor and his flock. Same-sex marriage is a threat to religious freedom.

Finally, he said, all Catholics must embrace his views. And those who refuse should not take Holy Communion.

I’ve gone through stages when it comes to the church, bouncing between anger, estrangement and exasperation. It started when one of my six sisters, at age 10, wrote the Vatican a letter asking why she couldn’t be an altar girl. She never heard back. But the dinner discussions on that planted seeds of revolt in all of us.

They flowered as I began to understand the church’s views on birth control and divorce, which put even my mother on the wrong side of the law, and taught us how Catholics cope with the hierarchy.

A decade after my father died, she married a divorced man, which should have barred her from receiving Holy Communion. Her local priest saw that she would be crushed by that and quietly told her that she was free to take Holy Communion in his church any time she wanted.

“That local priest was wrong,” Myers said when I told him the story last week.

But my mother had no hesitation. Nor did she feel she was sinning by using birth control when she was knocked low by migraine headaches after bearing the nine of us. When she saw same-sex couples raising AIDS babies, she saw no threat to the moral order; she saw Christ’s love at work. She supported same-sex marriage before the New York Times did.

Her obedience to the church hierarchy was not blind, especially after it was exposed as complicit in the sexual abuse of so many children. She trusted her own compass, and in that way, she was a typical Catholic.

Most Catholics, like her, will never leave the church. They will sidestep the land mines and hope for change. They see the altar girls today and hope for female priests tomorrow.

In the meantime, though, men like Myers will drive millions more onto the refugee highway. He had his own small share of complicity in the sex abuse scandal, transferring a priest who had confessed to abuse to St. Michael’s Hospital in Newark without telling the staff. He refuses to release the names of priests who have been credibly accused, as some New Jersey dioceses do.

But the fixation on same-sex marriage may do even more damage in the long run. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that 53 percent of Catholics support same-sex marriage, a number that rises to 72 percent among those between ages 18 and 34. Remember, they shouldn’t be taking Holy Communion.

Myers swears that his letter was released during the heat of this campaign by pure coincidence. But he did much the same thing a few weeks before the 2004 election. Imagine the odds.

What’s shocking to me is that this 15-page letter, single-spaced, brushes by the problem of poverty and says nothing of Romney’s plan to savage the safety net.

“Catholic citizens must exercise their right to be heard in the public square by defending marriage,” Myers wrote.

I doubt most Catholics will see this election in such pinched terms. They know how to sidestep this land mine, too.

Because if you visit any poor neighborhood in New Jersey, you can see a more vibrant Catholicism at work in schools, hospitals and food pantries. I’m pretty sure Raggie would see this election through their eyes.

His was the Catholicism I was taught. And it was all about love.

Friday, September 28, 2012

"The Psych Approach"

This is David Brooks' column for today - and no surprise to many of us who've seen quite a bit of this; many people who end up in A.A. know everything about it.  In fact, I've always found it sort of amazing that some of the people I've met were able to survive at all - but it's always been difficult to convince the rest of the world about this. 
In the 1990s, Vincent Felitti and Robert Anda conducted a study on adverse childhood experiences. They asked 17,000 mostly white, mostly upscale patients enrolled in a Kaiser H.M.O. to describe whether they had experienced any of 10 categories of childhood trauma. They asked them if they had been abused, if their parents had divorced, if family members had been incarcerated or declared mentally ill. Then they gave them what came to be known as ACE scores, depending on how many of the 10 experiences they had endured.

The link between childhood trauma and adult outcomes was striking. People with an ACE score of 4 were seven times more likely to be alcoholics as adults than people with an ACE score of 0. They were six times more likely to have had sex before age 15, twice as likely to be diagnosed with cancer, four times as likely to suffer emphysema. People with an ACE score above 6 were 30 times more likely to have attempted suicide.

Later research suggested that only 3 percent of students with an ACE score of 0 had learning or behavioral problems in school. Among students with an ACE score of 4 or higher, 51 percent had those problems.

In Paul Tough’s essential book, “How Children Succeed,” he describes what’s going on. Childhood stress can have long lasting neural effects, making it harder to exercise self-control, focus attention, delay gratification and do many of the other things that contribute to a happy life.

Tough interviewed a young lady named Monisha, who was pulled out of class by a social worker, taken to a strange foster home and forbidden from seeing her father for months. “I remember the first day like it was yesterday. Every detail. I still have dreams about it. I feel like I’m going to be damaged forever.”

Monisha’s anxiety sensors are still going full blast. “If a plane flies over me, I think they’re going to drop a bomb. I think about my dad dying,” she told Tough. “When I get scared, I start shaking. My heart starts beating. I start sweating. You know how people say ‘I was scared to death’? I get scared that that’s really going to happen to me one day.”

Tough’s book is part of what you might call the psychologizing of domestic policy. In the past several decades, policy makers have focused on the material and bureaucratic things that correlate to school failure, like poor neighborhoods, bad nutrition, schools that are too big or too small. But, more recently, attention has shifted to the psychological reactions that impede learning — the ones that flow from insecure relationships, constant movement and economic anxiety.

Attention has shifted toward the psychological for several reasons. First, it’s become increasingly clear that social and emotional deficits can trump material or even intellectual progress. Schools in the Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP, are among the best college prep academies for disadvantaged kids. But, in its first survey a few years ago, KIPP discovered that three-quarters of its graduates were not making it through college. It wasn’t the students with the lower high school grades that were dropping out most. It was the ones with the weakest resilience and social skills. It was the pessimists.

Second, over the past few years, an array of psychological researchers have taught us that motivation, self-control and resilience are together as important as raw I.Q. and are probably more malleable.

Finally, pop culture has been far out front of policy makers in showing how social dysfunction can ruin lives. You can turn on an episode of “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” about a train wreck working-class family. You can turn on “Alaska State Troopers” and see trailer parks filled with drugged-up basket cases. You can listen to rappers like Tyler, The Creator whose songs are angry howls from fatherless men.

Schools are now casting about, trying to find psychological programs that will help students work on resilience, equanimity and self-control. Some schools give two sets of grades — one for academic work and one for deportment.

And it’s not just schools that are veering deeper into the psychological realms. Health care systems are going the same way, tracing obesity and self-destructive habits back to social breakdown and stress.

When you look over the domestic policy landscape, you see all these different people in different policy silos with different budgets: in health care, education, crime, poverty, social mobility and labor force issues. But, in their disjointed ways, they are all dealing with the same problem — that across vast stretches of America, economic, social and family breakdowns are producing enormous amounts of stress and unregulated behavior, which dulls motivation, undermines self-control and distorts lives.

Maybe it’s time for people in all these different fields to get together in a room and make a concerted push against the psychological barriers to success.

This American Life recently did a segment on Paul Tough and his new book, too; very worth listening to.

Some of the skills mentioned above, BTW, are exactly what religion (and A.A.) are attempting to teach.    In addition, the "power greater than oneself" is a straightforward psychological means of throwing off some of that anxiety, by focusing on the larger picture, and finding the confidence of having support where there was none before.

It's what the Psalmist means when he writes:  "Thou art my strong rock, and my castle."

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Feast of St. Michael and All Angels: St. Peter's, Chicago and Full Homely Divinity

This video has last year's full service of the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels celebrated at St. Peter's, Chicago (observed in 2011 on October 2).

Here's the blurb at the YouTube page:
For more information, visit our website at St. Peter's celebration of the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels (transferred from September 29) was truly a feast -- for the senses and for the soul. Hymns included "Christ, the fair glory of the holy angels"; "Praise the Lord, ye heavens adore Him"; "Ye holy angels bright"; "Let all mortal flesh keep silence"; and "Ye watchers and ye holy ones." The choir also performed a fantastic anthem written by our organist and choirmaster, Br. Nathanael Deward Rahm, based on Psalm 96.

St. Peter's welcomed its former rector, the Very Rev. James H. Dunkerley, back to the pulpit to help dedicate some portions of the most recent capital campaign -- Visions, Voices, and Devotion. And the rector, the Very Rev. Sarah K. Fisher, sang the Mozarabic chant for Eucharistic Prayer D, which appropriately enough for the day tells of "countless throngs of angels [who] stand before You to serve You night and day."

A beautiful liturgy by beautiful people, in a beautiful church for a beautiful God.
"Christ, the fair glory of the holy angels" is is the English-translation version of Christe, sanctorum decus Angelorum, the traditional hymn at Lauds for this feast day. As you can see, there are loads of other angel-themed hymns as well, including the wonderful and spooky "Let all mortal flesh keep silence," with its references to "six-winged seraphs" and "cherubim with sleepless eye," sung at Communion. And you don't often get to hear Eucharistic Prayer D chanted Mozarabic-style - but you do hear it on this video (beginning at around 52 minutes). (They also say the Prayer of Humble Access at this parish - nice to hear it.)

And Full Homely Divinity has a new (or revised) version of its posting for this day; don't miss it!   It's got a full rundown on all the orders of angels:  watchers and holy ones, bright seraphs, cherubim, and thrones; dominions, princedoms, powers, virtues, archangels, and angels' choirs. (Plus a bit about the Theotokos, even "higher than the cherubim, more glorious than the seraphim!") Here's an excerpt:

We suspect that ... colloquial and figurative uses of the term "angel" are rooted in an uncertainty about and, quite probably, a discomfort with the true nature of angels. In our experience, many people reject the existence of angels out of hand. Their objections often appear to arise from an intellectual objection to the existence of anything that cannot be seen or verified "scientifically," which, we might note, puts God in a somewhat tenuous position, as well. However, we suspect that a deeper objection for many, if not all, has to do with the realization that angels are not merely the Christian version of a fairy godmother who goes around smiling sweetly and doing nice things for people. At some of the principal appearances of angels in the Bible, the first words out of the mouth of the angel are, "Fear not!" It is not necessary to tell people not to be afraid, unless they are afraid, or think they have some reason to be afraid. When we contemplate the story of the appearance of the angels to the shepherds of Bethlehem, we hear the words, "Fear not," but it is likely that what we see (in our mind's eye) is a child, perhaps our own daughter, or the child of a friend, dressed in a flowing white gown and aluminum foil wings. The effect on us is to feel warmth and affection. Fear is the last emotion that would occur to us. And then we immediately fast forward to a vision of a sky full of twinkling stars and angels singing "Glory be to God on high!" Beauty and wonder are the things we imagine--but it is very likely that the shepherds were frightened half to death and needed to be calmed and reassured before it was possible for them to hear the truly wonderful news the angels brought. We recall a story told in class by the church historian Jaroslav Pelikan. He told us how one evening his young son was agitated and unable to sleep and came to his father for comfort. The problem, he told his father, was that there was an angel in his room. The famous scholar did not dismiss his son's story as a bad dream, the product of an active imagination, or even a ploy to delay going to bed. Rather, he took the boy seriously, and assured him that the angel had come to protect him, not to harm him. The child's fear was genuine, and understandable. The father's belief was also genuine, and no one in that class of graduate students had any doubt about that.

"We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all that is, seen and unseen...." or, as the older translation puts it, "all things visible and invisible." Is the Creed referring merely to those technically "unseen" aspects of creation which are discernible to some of the senses but not to the naked eye, such as the wind, which blows where it will but cannot be seen, or to microscopic matter, whether animate or inanimate, which is so small that it is virtually invisible? Or were the Fathers of Nicaea and Constantinople referencing a realm of creatures of another order, either in heaven or perhaps even existing side by side with us in this world in an unseen, spiritual state? Scripture and the Liturgy leave little doubt about the answer to that question. When it deals with angels at all, popular culture tends to reduce them either to the putti of Renaissance art, adorable pudgy "cherubs" adorned with wings, or else the more stately, but delicate, and almost always feminine, winged adults in flowing robes. This is a far cry from the biblical cherubim, fearsome four-faced creatures who are ever-watchful by the throne of God and who were set at the entrance to the Garden of Eden to guard the way to the Tree of Life when Adam and Eve were cast out. Far, too, from the archangels named in canonical and apocryphal Scripture, who are not characterized by gender and, in any case, are hardly delicate. Jacob Epstein's monumental Michael at the entrance to Coventry Cathedral (above left) is formidable in his triumph over Satan in the apocalyptic confrontation between good and evil. And even the usually playful putti seem distressed by the appearance of Gabriel in El Greco's painting of The Annunciation....

There is another important application of the term "angel" which must not be overlooked here, though it is not our primary subject. There are occasions in Scripture when angels appear on earth who are not actually angels. The most significant instance of this is the visit of the three men to Abraham by the oak of Mamre in Genesis 18. The story is sometimes (intentionally?) vague in its identification of the men. At a point in the story, the Lord himself speaks to Abraham. Is the speaker one of the three men or not? It is not clear, but at the beginning of the next chapter, only two of them travel on towards the doomed city of Sodom and the two are explicitly described as angels. Christian tradition has generally interpreted this appearance in trinitarian terms. No mortal may look directly upon God and survive, but God does occasionally appear in person, taking the form of an angel or, in the case of Abraham's visitors, three angels. Later in Genesis (chapter 32), Abraham's grandson Jacob is confronted in the night by a man with whom he wrestles until daybreak. The man does not prevail and Jacob refuses to let him depart until he has blessed him. The man (or angel as tradition almost always identifies him) not only blesses Jacob but gives him a new name, Israel--"he who strives with God."
Much, much more at the article.  The artwork to the right above is Viktor Vasnetsov's Seraphim, from 1896.  And here's the El Greco Annunciation mentioned in the quote above:

EG didn't stop there, though; he was Annunciation-mad, it would seem.  Here are several more; I'm not sure of the dates of these, nor of the one above, but El Greco lived from about 1541 to 1614:

See the office hymns for St. Michael and All Angels, and more about the feast day, here. Other posts about St.M & AA are here.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A renovated Church of the Resurrection, Mirfield

From the YouTube page, this is:
A tour of the newly-refurbished Church of the Community of the Resurrection, Mirfield, West Yorkshire.

Walter Frere was a co-founder of the monastic Community of the Resurrection in 1894, and became its superior in 1902.  There's a theological college at the same location.

The Community had been worshipping elsewhere - perhaps in a chapel - until this past December, when the refurbishing of their church was complete. 

Here's another video, "an excerpt from the Vigil of the Resurrection, sung on the Eve of Palm Sunday, 2012." Sounds very Orthodox-chant.

And here's a third, from this past spring, "Easter Day Solemn Mattins."

The blurb at YouTube says:
This is the beginning of Solemn Mattins on Easter Day 2012, as sung by the Community and College of the Resurrection, Mirfield. It begins with the entry of the Officiant, the Regina Coeli, the chanting of the opening response, the Easter Anthems, and finally the Haec Dies, which is sung in place of the Office Hymn from Easter Day until the First Evensong of Low Sunday.

Anglican Chant XX: Psalm 62

The YouTube page says that this is "Psalm 62 sung by Westminster Abbey Choir at the 70th Anniversary Service of the Battle of Britain."  That would have been in 2010.

They are singing only verses 1-8 of that Psalm - but here's the whole thing, from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (Coverdale) Psalter:
Psalm 62. Nonne Deo?
MY SOUL truly waiteth still upon God : for of him cometh my salvation.
2. He verily is my strength and my salvation : he is my defence, so that I shall not greatly fall.
3. How long will ye imagine mischief against every man : ye shall be slain all the sort of you; yea, as a tottering wall shall ye be, and like a broken hedge.
4. Their device is only how to put him out whom God will exalt : their delight is in lies; they give good words with their mouth, but curse with their heart.
5. Nevertheless, my soul, wait thou still upon God : for my hope is in him.
6. He truly is my strength and my salvation : he is my defence, so that I shall not fall.
7. In God is my health, and my glory : the rock of my might, and in God is my trust.
8. O put your trust in him alway, ye people : pour out your hearts before him, for God is our hope.
9. As for the children of men, they are but vanity : the children of men are deceitful upon the weights, they are altogether lighter than vanity itself.
10. O trust not in wrong and robbery, give not yourselves unto vanity : if riches increase, set not your heart upon them.
11. God spake once, and twice I have also heard the same : that power belongeth unto God;
12. And that thou, Lord, art merciful : for thou rewardest every man according to his work.
 As always:  if anybody knows the composer, I'd be grateful....

[EDIT:  Scott comes through again - and with lots of informational tidbits!  "It's a double chant in E-flat by William Boyce (1711-1779), MusD (Cantab); Organist of the Chapel Royal, 1758-79; Master of the King's Music, 1755-79. Conductor of the Three Choirs Festival and the Festival of the Sons of the Clergy. Buried in the crypt of St Paul's Cathedral [London]. Credit: John Scott's New St Paul's Cathedral Psalter."  

Scott is, truly, a Jolly Good Fellow!]

Friday, September 21, 2012

Rajaton ~ "Väinämöisen Veneretki"

Music from the a capella Finnish group Rajaton.  Beautiful!

From the YouTube page:
Rajaton is one of my favourite groups, and this year I had the pleasure of watching them live and having my cd signed! I'm uploading these songs purely because I think it's tragic that they're not on youtube for people to listen to. Such beautiful music should be shared :)

The pictures (mostly of Vietnam) are my own hence not great, but I didn't want to upload a blank video so tried to find some images that suited the themes (= waterscapes) of the song.

Arist: Rajaton
Album: Tarinoita
Song: Väinämöisen Veneretki (Väinämöinen's Boat Journey)

English translation:

Old and steadfast Väinämöinen
Wrought a boat up on the mountain.
On the rock he hewed the tree trunks,
And he put the ship together,
Wrought the gunwale, got to singing,
Made a song all in his carving.
And he spent some time about it,
Little time he spent about it
And the boat he wrought was finished,
Soon enough the boat was finished.

Then did steadfast Väinämöinen
Launch his boat out on the waters.
Old men rowed it, heads a-trembling,
Their old heads were sore a-trembling.
Young men rowed with oars a-straining.
Fleet and flashing all the oarlocks.
Rowed one day and rowed another,
Rowed a third day yet thereafter
Out onto the open waters,
On the ocean's broadest billows.

But the wooden boat soon grounded,
God-made vessel soon did founder,
Not on stone, nor sunken deadwood,
But upon a great pike's shoulders.
Old and steadfast Väinämöinen
Took his sword and struck the water.
And in three the pike was splintered.
What on earth shall we make of it?
What now? What? A kantele, now?

Whence the body for this kantele?
Whence the strings to make its music?
From the captured pike's great jawbone,
From the hair of fair young maiden.
Then he took the harp to finger,
Played one day and played another.
All from far and near did harken,
Awed by Väinämöinen's music!
All from far and near did harken,
Awed by Väinämöinen's kantele!

HT Siris.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

RSA Animate: "The Truth About Dishonesty"

This is pretty good! Worth watching just for the drawing, I think - but of course the content is what I'm mainly interested in here. The voice on the video is Dan Ariely's; he's a professor of psychology and behavioural economics at Duke.  The part about Confession is especially interesting - and so is the thing about the banking crisis.

HT Brain Pickings.

Is this anything?

I'm never exactly sure what "Radical Orthodoxy" is - but whatever it is, it's just produced the "inaugural issue" of its online journal, according to Theology Studio blogs.

I do like RO's own description of itself - at least this part of it (the online site is called "Radical Orthodoxy: Theology, Philosophy, Politics"):
RO:TPP  is a new online journal dedicated to the discussion of the proposition that credally orthodox Christianity is the most transformative of all cultural phenomena and that it remains the ineliminable core of the Middle-Eastern and European-originated civilisational project. It freely invites contributions both from those who agree with this proposition – in whatever sense – and those who reject it.
It goes on to say that:
The journal intends uniquely to combine the academic and the current; the intellectual and the popular. To this end it intends to publish both pieces longer and shorter than those carried by the typical academic journal, as well as some of the usual length: taking full advantage of the flexibility offered by the online format.

‘Theology’ is taken to include theologies of all kinds, besides a predominant concern with the implications of orthodox Christian theology in particular. ‘Philosophy’ is intended in the most ample possible sense, to include all the various schools, Eastern and Western, Ancient, Medieval and Modern, Continental and Analytic. It is also taken to extend to all branches of aesthetics, including literary, art and music criticism, besides the philosophy of science. ‘Politics’ is taken to include both political theory in the past and the present, and political practice, especially in the present. More widely, it is intended to indicate the entire practical branch of philosophy, and so to cover also ethical, social, economic and cultural theory.

The journal will normally be published four times a year and each of the four issues will have a distinctive purpose; There will be: 1. A General issue which will publish a diverse range of submitted articles; 2. A Special issue which will be devoted to a specific topic and will include both commissioned pieces and uncommissioned ones subject to peer review; 3. A Reviews issue which will seek to discuss some of the most important books published within a 12 month period in both short notices and review-articles; 4. A Current Affairs issue which will seek to mediate between academic and media analysis of contemporary events and cultural conditions. In this issue especially, but also in all the issues, we hope to include articles by both academics (established and emerging) and those engaged in other modes of writing and activity.

And it links to PDFs of file on such topics as:
Special Section on Life
On the Surface of Things: Transient Life and Beauty in Passing Philosophy on the Surface PDF
William Desmond
Affect: Towards a Theology of Experience PDF
Graham Ward
On the Natural Desire of Seeing God PDF
Louis Dupré
Life as an Analogical Concept: Earthly and Eternal PDF
Beáta Tóth
Life, or Gift and Glissando PDF
John Milbank
“Original Wholeness:” (Living) Nature Between God and Technê PDF
Adrian J Walker
Taking Life out of Nature: Jewish Messianic Vitalism and the Problem of Denaturalization PDF
Agata Bielik-Robson
Is Life a Transcendental? PDF
Stratford Caldecott
Anthropomorphism and the Meaning of Life PDF
William Christian Hackett
Reason and Church Social Doctrine: Benedict XVI and the Renewal of Tradition (2005-2008) PDF
Evandro Botto
Instrument and Noumenon: Experimental Science and the Mysticism of the Instrument PDF
Neil Turnbull
Theology, Philosophy, God and the Between PDF
Christopher Ben Simpson

Theology and Practice of America’s ‘New Evangelicals’ PDF
Marcia Pally

So.  There's some news.

Hildegard of Bingen: Spiritus Sanctus

Hildegard's feast day was two days ago, September 17. This is from the YouTube video description:
"Spiritus Sanctus, the second Antiphone and Psalm 110/111 from the vesper of Hildegard von Bingen. Admiring the height of God´s Creation, praising him, thanking him."

The antiphon sung at the start is one of Hildegard's own compositions, and one of my favorites:
Spiritus Sanctus vivificans vita,
movens omnia,
et radix est in omni creatura,
ac omnia de immunditia abluit,
tergens crimina,
ac ungit vulnera,
et sic est fulgens ac laudabilis vita,
suscitans et resuscitans omnia.
And here's my favorite translation of this bit of verse:
Holy Spirit,
Giving life to all life,
Moving all creatures,
Root of all things,
Washing them clean,
Wiping out their mistakes,
Healing their wounds,
You are our true life,
Luminous, wonderful,
Awakening the heart from its ancient sleep.
The Psalm sung here is #111 (#110 in the Roman numbering system. The following comes from this Parallel Latin/English Psalter:

Psalmus 110 (111)

Psalm 110 (111)

1 Confitebor tibi Domine in toto corde meo in consilio iustorum et congregatione1 I will praise thee, O Lord, with my whole heart; in the council of the just: and in the congregation.
2 Magna opera Domini exquisita in omnes voluntates eius2 Great are the works of the Lord: sought out according to all his wills
3 Confessio et magnificentia opus eius et iustitia eius manet in saeculum saeculi3 His work is praise and magnificence: and his justice continueth for ever and ever.
4 Memoriam fecit mirabilium suorum misericors et miserator Dominus4 He hath made a remembrance of his wonderful works, being a merciful and gracious Lord:
5 Escam dedit timentibus se memor erit in saeculum testamenti sui5 he hath given food to them that fear him. He will be mindful for ever of his covenant:
6 Virtutem operum suorum adnuntiabit populo suo6 he will shew forth to his people the power of his works.
7 Ut det illis hereditatem gentium opera manuum eius veritas et iudicium7 That he may give them the inheritance of the Gentiles: the works of his hands are truth and judgment.
8 Fidelia omnia mandata eius confirmata in saeculum saeculi facta in veritate et aequitate8 All his commandments are faithful: confirmed for ever and ever, made in truth and equity.
9 Redemptionem misit populo suo mandavit in aeternum testamentum suum sanctum et terribile nomen eius9 He hath sent redemption to his people: he hath commanded his covenant for ever. Holy and terrible is his name:
10 Initium sapientiae timor Domini intellectus bonus omnibus facientibus eum laudatio eius manet in saeculum saeculi10 the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. A good understanding to all that do it: his praise continueth for ever and ever.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

"Caught, not taught"

I just found a piece at called "The God Concept in Alcoholics Anonymous"; the article was written in 1948 by Dr. George A. Little.  Dr. Little was a Minister of the United Church in Toronto. 

The website itself is dedicated to Dr. William Silkworth, a friend of Bill Wilson's, and an early supporter of A.A. Here's a little bit about him from Wikipedia:
William Duncan Silkworth, M.D., (1873-1951) was an American medical doctor and specialist in the treatment of alcoholism. He was Director of the Charles B. Towns Hospital for Drug and Alcohol Addictions in New York City in the 1930s, during which time Bill Wilson, a future co-founder of the mutual-help movement Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.), was admitted on three separate occasions for alcoholism. Silkworth had a profound influence on Wilson and encouraged him to realize that alcoholism was more than just an issue of moral weakness. He introduced Wilson to the idea that alcoholism had a pathological, disease-like basis.

William Silkworth wrote the letters in the chapter titled "The Doctor's Opinion" in the book Alcoholics Anonymous.
Here's an excerpt from the article; my bolding.  What's really interesting to me is the section that begins "The program of recovery is absorbed rather than learned, caught rather than taught."  The "private conversations" aspect is really, really important; newly-sober alcoholics who really want to stay sober spend lots of time with other recovering alcoholics, talking over what they're learning and asking questions of people more experienced.  I'm kind of thinking this peer-to-peer sort of exchange could be awfully helpful in the church, too; an hour on Sunday really just can't make much of a dent, as far as I can see.  (Of course, "peer-to-peer" is already helpful in some parts of the church, as I understand it; some Evangelicals go very much in for that kind of thing, I think.)
Experienced A.A. practitioners, while admitting that they are only amateur psychologists, are wise enough not to begin by demanding beliefs. They work on thoughts, desires, attitudes, relationships, purposes, and habits. They are agreed that the root trouble is in the thinking, not in the drinking. At one meeting of a rather intellectual group the drink problem was not directly mentioned. Half a dozen speakers rang the changes on freedom from fears, surrender of resentments, cultivation of good will, positive help to others, building up a sense of dependence upon the Higher Power. When the inner life is brought under discipline the outer conduct is largely self-regulated.

The program of recovery is absorbed rather than learned, caught rather than taught. Listening to speakers, private conversations with alcoholics who are now happily and contentedly sober, reading the book Alcoholics Anonymous and pamphlet literature, and picking up fragments of truth will produce a transforming change. This may be sudden or gradual, and there is little concern as to which. Often the slow recoveries prove to be very sure, but the ladder of rehabilitation has these rungs, not necessarily in this order: honesty, humility, tolerance, concern for others, inner contentment, radiant happiness, a new standard of values, faith. Religious people would describe this as conversion: A.A.'s are content to speak of a personality change.

No one is more surprised at the transformation than the alcoholic himself. Like the lady in the fairy tale he is inclined to say "This is none of I." An army man, a heavy drinker for thirty-five years, had the temperament of a sergeant-major even after he became a colonel. Now he is mellow, tender, as sacrificial as once severe. Before a group of medical men he said, "I have had a personality change." A psychiatrist checked him by saying, "My dear fellow, you can't have a personality change." "Well at least I'm under new management," replied the A.A.

Spiritual power is frequently found on the lower levels of mysticism. The inner voice is really a mentor. An inebriate who had panhandled all over North America had an obsession against religion, fearing that it meant letters of fire in the sky, voices from the clouds, or a dramatic emotional upheaval. It was suggested to him that he spend five minutes each morning planning his day with his conscience, how he would use his time and spend his money, the mood in which he would meet his family, the sense of responsibility he would have in his work. He discovered that as soon as he listened, the inner voice spoke. He found he could be spiritual in a very practical way without seeing visions or dreaming dreams.


It is this experimental, demonstration offer that is the key to A.A. Controversy, argument, and dogmatism are avoided. Everything is on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. "It worked for me, it might work for you." The goal is far greater than merely to stop drinking. In itself that may not be of very much help. To be conscious of not drinking and still wanting to drink is just about as distracting a state of mind as being under the influence of alcohol. The big positive goal is happy and contented sobriety, a rewarding and satisfying way of living. It is a distinct privilege to be an alcoholic if it leads to twenty-four hours at a time without fear and in good will toward people and in humble dependence upon God. Restoration to sanity is abundant proof of the working of a Higher Power.


The personality change can be sudden, unexpected, and involuntary. A well-seasoned drinker, after two months of sobriety, was asked to speak at a meeting. He answered that as yet he had nothing to say. "Then just say that you have nothing to say," he was told. When called to speak he announced that for the sake of politeness he could not refuse but "actually I have nothing to say, for nothing has happened to me." Then he paused. After a somewhat painful silence he said quietly, "Something has happened to me," and sat down. Two months later an old friend asked what did happen. He replied: "As I was saying I had nothing to say, suddenly I knew that at long last I had surrendered to goodness. All my life I had been debating and holding back. I have been different ever since and I have not the slightest desire for a drink." Without conscious effort his personality has been unified.

Rehabilitation may follow a Christian pattern. One man after thirty years of hard drinking made an inventory of what drink had cost him. He became convinced he was a fool, and he did not like being a fool. In his own words this is his story: "I decided to investigate religion. I read what the apostles had to say about Jesus Christ. Christ came into my life and liquor has stayed out. Nothing goes out until something else comes in."

The spiritual aspect of the program is by no means camouflaged but it is not made too obvious at first. The big book, Alcoholics Anonymous, sometimes described as the A.A. bible, has three hundred references to the Higher Power. One member spent a Christmas Day counting them. Six of the Twelve Steps refer to God. The official magazine, The Grapevine, unhesitatingly refers to the Higher Power as God. With increasing frequency at group meetings older members say quite openly that they are staying sober only with the help of God. Surprising coincidences happen and the explanation naively offered is "Somebody Upstairs." The intimacy does not come from irreverence but from trust. However slight and vague the faith at first, progress is steadily made toward a more mature and adult thought of God.


Do A.A.'s go back to church? Some do and some don't. Much depends upon early training. Some have a childhood belief to which they return with a deeper understanding. As a rule Roman Catholics resume their religious duties and observances - to them religion means their church. Some Protestants become active church workers, others go a time or two and report that "my minister doesn't know about God." Quite a few accept A.A. as their church. It gives faith and fellowship even though lacking much formal worship. Church relationships, like so much else in A.A., are left to individual preference and choice, without any overhead rulings. Those who do attend church find new meaning in Scripture and sermon, hymns and prayers. A.A.'s become spiritually sensitive and morally responsive.

The church will be wise not to try to control or guide this movement but to learn from it. Sympathetic co-operation is being shown by providing church halls as meeting places and by directing problem parishioners to A.A. The churches may learn something from the flexibility of A.A. organization, the power of fellowship, the possibility of lay evangelism, the transforming power of truth, the influence of common interest groups and the originality of non technical language and non dogmatic theology. This movement is of the people, by the people, for the people. But the new wine cannot be put into old bottles. It must find its own carriers.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

"This Is Water: David Foster Wallace on Life"

From Brain Pickings today; my bold below.  There are some audio files at the link, too.
Four years ago today, David Foster Wallace took his own life, becoming a kind of patron-saint of the “tortured genius” myth of creativity. Just three years prior to his suicide, he stepped onto the podium at Kenyon College and delivered one of the most timeless graduation speeches of all time — the only public talk he ever gave on his views of life. The speech, which includes a remark about suicide by firearms that came to be extensively discussed after DFW’s own eventual suicide, was published as a slim book titled This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life (public library).


On solipsism and compassion, and the choice to see the other:
Here is just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute centre of the universe; the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centredness because it’s so socially repulsive. But it’s pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute centre of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on. Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.

Please don’t worry that I’m getting ready to lecture you about compassion or other-directedness or all the so-called virtues. This is not a matter of virtue. It’s a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default setting which is to be deeply and literally self-centered and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self. People who can adjust their natural default setting this way are often described as being ‘well-adjusted’, which I suggest to you is not an accidental term.
On the double-edged sword of the intellect, which Einstein, Steve Jobs, and Anne Lamott have spoken to:
It is extremely difficult to stay alert and attentive, instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your own head (may be happening right now). Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about ‘the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.’

This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible master. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger.

And I submit that this is what the real, no bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out.
On empathy and kindness, echoing Einstein:
[P]lease don’t think that I’m giving you moral advice, or that I’m saying you are supposed to think this way, or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it. Because it’s hard. It takes will and effort, and if you are like me, some days you won’t be able to do it, or you just flat out won’t want to.

But most days, if you’re aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her kid in the checkout line. Maybe she’s not usually like this. Maybe she’s been up three straight nights holding the hand of a husband who is dying of bone cancer. Or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the motor vehicle department, who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a horrific, infuriating, red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it’s also not impossible. It just depends what you want to consider. If you’re automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won’t consider possibilities that aren’t annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.
On false ideals and real freedom, or what Paul Graham has called the trap of prestige:
Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.

They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.

And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving…. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.
On what “education” really means and the art of being fully awake to the world:
[T]he real value of a real education [has] almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:

‘This is water.’
‘This is water.’

It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. Which means yet another grand cliché turns out to be true: your education really IS the job of a lifetime.
In the altogether excellent Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation, Tom Bissell writes:
The terrible master eventually defeated David Foster Wallace, which makes it easy to forget that none of the cloudlessly sane and true things he had to say about life in 2005 are any less sane or true today, however tragic the truth now seems. This Is Water does nothing to lessen the pain of Wallace’s defeat. What it does is remind us of his strength and goodness and decency — the parts of him the terrible master could never defeat, and never will.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

"All By Myself" - Sonny Rollins

This just showed up in my Twitter stream.

I guess everybody knows by now that he used to practice on the 59th St. Bridge. Just close your eyes and imagine....

(Until about 3:30, that is, when the orchestra comes in....)

(Actually, his website says it was the Williamsburg Bridge!   Ah, well - every illusion is shattered in time.  Good thing....)

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Catechism Project

Derek's recent post, "Catechism Resurrection - What's Needed?" has given me an idea, which I mentioned over there but would like to formally propose here:  let's start a blog that works from "An Outline of the Faith" - the Catechism printed in the back of the 1979 US Prayer Book - and....well, fills in the outline.

I have several beefs with the Catechism, as I've written here before in the now-defunct pre-July 2012 part of the blog (which can still be found in the Google Reader feed. BTW!).   (I really would like to start afresh with another blog, but haven't figured out what to call it yet....)

First beef:  the Catechism starts out assuming the very thing for which it's trying to argue!  Now, perhaps the Catechism isn't actually supposed to be an apologia - but our Catechism really doesn't say much to anybody who hasn't already accepted the basic tenets of the faith.  And this, I think, is because it comes out of Christendom; it assumes that everybody has absorbed the tenets of the faith from childhood onward and already accepts them.  This is absolutely no longer true.

Second, and far more problematically:  the Catechism is just not interesting.  It's a list of rather dry and lifeless "facts."  This is fine, if you want to use it as a defense - but it sure doesn't have what it takes to tell the tale to new people.  Again:  for the most part, you have to understand and accept these ideas already.

So, the Catechism works for people who are already Episcopalians, to remind them about the propositions of the faith that the Episcopal Church teaches.  Of course, it's tucked away in the back of the book next to "historical documents" - and it's a comparative snooze, anyway!  So who's going to read it?

No, I think we need an Anglican-based exposition of those facts - one that can be read and understood devotionally, as well.   Full Homely Divinity is my model here; the people who put that site together do this very, very well.   Right from the start, on the home page, it states its primary purpose: it wants to be "a website for the Anglican at the Altar and especially for the Anglican in the pew."

When I first came to the church, that site was a great gift for me - because there I was able to read colorful, warm, and fascinating articles about the Anglican way of faith.  The liturgical year is discussed from a variety of viewpoints:  feasts, rituals, ideas, customs - and all in a warm, accessible way and with an obvious love for the Anglican approach.

As for a model of how to work when the subject is the Catechism?  I admire the Catholic catechism very much.  It starts out this way:

27 The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for:
The dignity of man rests above all on the fact that he is called to communion with God. This invitation to converse with God is addressed to man as soon as he comes into being. For if man exists it is because God has created him through love, and through love continues to hold him in existence. He cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and entrusts himself to his creator.1
28 In many ways, throughout history down to the present day, men have given expression to their quest for God in their religious beliefs and behavior: in their prayers, sacrifices, rituals, meditations, and so forth. These forms of religious expression, despite the ambiguities they often bring with them, are so universal that one may well call man a religious being:
From one ancestor [God] made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him - though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For "in him we live and move and have our being."2
29 But this "intimate and vital bond of man to God" (GS 19 § 1) can be forgotten, overlooked, or even explicitly rejected by man.3 Such attitudes can have different causes: revolt against evil in the world; religious ignorance or indifference; the cares and riches of this world; the scandal of bad example on the part of believers; currents of thought hostile to religion; finally, that attitude of sinful man which makes him hide from God out of fear and flee his call.4
30 "Let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice."5 Although man can forget God or reject him, He never ceases to call every man to seek him, so as to find life and happiness. But this search for God demands of man every effort of intellect, a sound will, "an upright heart", as well as the witness of others who teach him to seek God.
You are great, O Lord, and greatly to be praised: great is your power and your wisdom is without measure. And man, so small a part of your creation, wants to praise you: this man, though clothed with mortality and bearing the evidence of sin and the proof that you withstand the proud. Despite everything, man, though but a small a part of your creation, wants to praise you. You yourself encourage him to delight in your praise, for you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.6
And then:
50 By natural reason man can know God with certainty, on the basis of his works. But there is another order of knowledge, which man cannot possibly arrive at by his own powers: the order of divine Revelation.1 Through an utterly free decision, God has revealed himself and given himself to man. This he does by revealing the mystery, his plan of loving goodness, formed from all eternity in Christ, for the benefit of all men. God has fully revealed this plan by sending us his beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. 

A person can, of course, accept or reject all of that - but at least the argument is offered, and supported.  The Catholic Catechism does not assume that people already accept its claims.  And the way it's written - both expositionally and devotionally, that is - speaks to the human heart and the human mind.

Here is how its section on "The Sacrament of the Eucharist" begins:
1324 The Eucharist is "the source and summit of the Christian life."136 "The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch."137
1325 "The Eucharist is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept in being. It is the culmination both of God's action sanctifying the world in Christ and of the worship men offer to Christ and through him to the Father in the Holy Spirit."138
1326 Finally, by the Eucharistic celebration we already unite ourselves with the heavenly liturgy and anticipate eternal life, when God will be all in all.139
1327 In brief, the Eucharist is the sum and summary of our faith: "Our way of thinking is attuned to the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn confirms our way of thinking."140
1328 The inexhaustible richness of this sacrament is expressed in the different names we give it.
Do you see what I mean?  "The source and summit of the Christian life."  "The whole spiritual good of the Church."  "The efficaious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life...."  "The sum and summary of our faith."  "The inexhaustible richness of this sacrament...."

Does this language itself not seem fascinating and appealing?  Does it not provoke in you - at the very least - a bit of curiosity about the Eucharist, and a desire to know more?   Wouldn't it interest you to know exactly why people write and think this way?

We're not Catholics, of course; we're Anglicans.  FHD has done a fantastic job, IMO, of expressing some ways in which that fact affects our faith and practices. But surely there is more to say?  And certainly it's possible to write both devotionally and expositionally (is that a word?  I'm not sure!)  about what's in our Catechism?   

Well, I would like to try, because I think a Catechism is a good thing - explanations are always a good thing - but it's not effective unless it can speak to people.   I was hoping to write my own version, in fact!  But in fact that would take me  many years, because at the moment I don't have most of the training and background necessary.   So I would like to see if I can gather expositional/devotional articles from those who do have the background, with each person taking a question-and-answer from the Catechism and discussing it in more depth, and with an eye towards explaining our faith to people outside the church (or those new to it).   (I will also point to A.A.'s original 1939 book, "Alcoholics Anonymous" as a good example of what it takes to do this - the book was written expressly to let alcoholics know about A.A. and to explain its principles and its workings - although I admit it's really florid in places.  "Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions" might be a better bet; that one was written about 20 years later, after some of the original alcoholics had gotten the cobwebs out.  And it does work, more or less, in the expository/devotional style, too.)

This is the perfect project, I think, for a group effort like this. I'll have to go off and ponder a good name for the new blog.  "The Catechism Project" sounds a bit on the dull side, too, I admit - but here's the blog, for now.  We can always change the name later.

If you're interested in submitting something, go ahead and pick out a question and answer, and let me know what you've taken; I'll keep track of who's got what.  Or if you have other ideas, please let me know in comments, or yahoo me (tr.Babs). 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

"Barton Turf rood screen - a glimpse of heaven"

Here's a video made by Fr. Allan Barton, author of the wonderful Medieval Church Art blog, about the painted rood screen at Barton Turf in Norfolk.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

"The Counter-Intuitive Wisdom of the Twelve Steps" (or, "I don't wanna be a freak, but I can't help myself....")

Some good A.A. stuff today at Mockingbird - plus a great 70s disco video!  What more could anybody possibly ask for?

Here's the whole thing:

In 2010, Mockingbird published a little pamphlet called Grace in Addiction: What the Church Can Learn from Alcoholics Anonymous, and the response was so positive that we decided to develop it into a full-length book. We are truly excited to announce that the project–retitled Grace in Addiction: The Good News of Alcoholics Anonymous for Everybody–is now finished and will make its debut later this month at the Charlottesville Conference (9/28-29)! Not only will it be available for the first time, the esteemed author John Zahl will be on hand to present some of the material in person. The session, like the book itself, will be a winsome, practical and theologically astute introduction to the Twelve Steps, and is recommended for anyone who has struggled with addiction, knows someone who has struggled with addiction, or spent time thinking about the subject (and/or breathing). As a preview, we’ve reproduced a hefty portion of the book’s first few pages:

On a Friday night in late 2011, in a small nightclub in Charleston, South Carolina, I witnessed a crowd’s exuberant reaction when the DJ put on an old disco record called “I Don’t Want to Be a Freak (But I Can’t Help Myself)” by Dynasty. With its whispering voices, infectious funky hook and sizzling Cuban percussion, the track sounded amazing. The crowd of dancers gathered on the floor practically exploded with enthusiasm the moment the chorus circled back around. Onlookers rushed to join the frenzy. Soon the entire group of more than fifty club-goers was singing along to the refrain en masse with their arms raised in the air: “I don’t wanna be a freak, but I can’t help-my-self…I don’t wanna be a freak, but I can’t help-my-self…”

“I Don’t Want to Be a Freak” was recorded in Los Angeles in 1979 at the height of the disco craze. That same year it reached #20 in the UK Singles charts. Not long after that, disco took a serious nosedive in the US, becoming the epitome of un-cool. Yet here we were, more than 30 years later in the Southern Low Country, very far from Los Angeles and even further from London, and this little record was finding a second wind. It may have been one of many disco tracks played that night, but “I Don’t Want to Be a Freak” stood out because of the crescendo reaction it received from the primarily twenty-something audience.

A few interesting things were going on in that little moment. First, an old song was finding fresh life with a whole new generation of dancers. The song was as much their song in the 21st century as it had been their parents’ in the late 1970s. Second, the lyrical content made an impression. The inability to help oneself seems hardly an appropriate occasion for conviviality. But these young people were connecting with a seemingly downbeat message with a surprising amount of eagerness, the result of which, surprisingly, was joy and dancing – the thing that one associates with celebration and freedom.

I see this same dynamic at play in the world of twelve-step recovery. In owning their defeat—through the infamous 1st Step: “We admitted we were powerless…that our lives had become unmanageable”– defeated people find a pathway to hope, freedom, and exuberant joy. A tragic diagnosis opens the door to all of the things that its verdict seemed to deny. As Bill Wilson, founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, wrote in 1955, “The principle that we shall find no enduring strength until we first admit complete defeat is the main taproot from which our whole society has sprung and flowered.” Alcoholics Anonymous and the various recovery programs it has spawned display a practical spirituality whose fruits are undeniable and far-reaching. Their insights are worthy of study.

The peculiarity of AA’s approach is apparent right from the outset, its foundation being an ever-unpopular skepticism concerning human willpower. David Brooks drew attention to this aspect of Alcoholics Anonymous in a 2010 New York Times editorial entitled “Bill Wilson’s Gospel”: “In a culture that generally celebrates empowerment and self-esteem, AA begins with disempowerment. The goal is to get people to gain control over their lives, but it all begins with an act of surrender and an admission of weakness.”…

The world of AA closely resembles a church. People from all different backgrounds gather together on a regular basis. Prayer is encouraged. Many of the members talk about God, how He has changed their lives and enabled them to do that which they could never have done before. Plus, in AA there is an obvious social energy. Long-standing friendships are often formed. Alcoholics Anonymous offers a massive support network, has no fees, and hugely emphasizes outreach. It all sounds suspiciously familiar.

The recovery community, however, is often quick to distance itself from “organized religion.” While AA meetings may resemble religious services, it is stated at the outset of every meeting that “AA is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution…” So while it may function in the lives of its members in a way that looks like church, the idea that it actually is church is staunchly denied. This train of thought has roots extending all the way back to its earliest days. The goal was and is to avoid controversy at all costs, for the sake of unity. Thus, AA has only one officially stated purpose: helping alcoholics to find sobriety. Such driving instincts have given AA an opportunity to blossom and thrive in a world where similar endeavors often fail.

In moving from AA into the Christian Church, I have nevertheless been surprised to see how well the two do in fact relate to each other. At their best, the two have so much to teach each other. The AA text that deals with the 11th Step is especially positive on involvement with religious institutions, but that aspect of the literature is rarely mentioned.

The wall of separation between AA and the Christian Church is unfortunate. It’s as though they are looking at each other from across the street, assuming the worst about each other, rather than hoping they might become friends. I hope this book will serve to help build such a bridge, or at least reveal that this apparent disconnect is ultimately insubstantial…

Yet there are Christian theological traditions that begin with a realistic view of human nature. These traditions begin, at least in theory, with an emphasis on the comprehensive nature of human limitation and sin, and as such they are often better equipped to speak about addiction in general, and AA in particular. But for whatever reason, as far as I’m aware, none have done so. This present work seeks to take a step in that direction, showing how AA buys into an understanding of human nature that has, for the most part, been lost in both secular and sacred spheres.

My thesis is simple: AA and traditional Reformation Christianity make sense of life in a way that is relevant to every person. I have tried to show what this angle on life actually looks like, how it views the world, and how it can change a person for the better.

It may surprise many AAs to discover that there are churches that actually agree with them about the nature of life in God’s world. They might also be surprised to hear that AA actually inherited much of its worldview directly from Christianity. Conversely, many Christians may find that familiarizing themselves with old-fashioned Protestant theology, as it’s brilliantly expressed in AA, will enrich and deepen their own self-understanding. Like Dynasty’s hit from 1979, we hope that a great song from the past will find a second life in the pages of this book and in the hearts and minds of its readers.

Finally, it is my sincere hope that this material will even inspire you to try working the Twelve Steps for yourself. In the chapters that involve taking particular actions (such as Steps 3, 4, 9, and 10), I have tried my best to offer clear directions on how to do the associated work.

Missa Albanus - Robert Fayrfax (1464-1521):

Saturday Chorale  points to this video - a beautiful 15th Century mass by Robert Fayrfax (a name new to me).   Read SC's post below the video.

I've picked Fayrfax's Missa Albanus for this week's "Sunday Playlist" to serve as a further introduction to Fayrax and his work. It's a lovely piece of music with soaring ethereal polyphony that is very restrained and spare and all the more beautiful for that, it's a piece of music I listen to often. During his life Fayrfax was recognised as a leading composer by King Henry VIII who acknowledged his status as a  leading composer of his generation and rewarded him handsomely. A Lincolnshire man, Fayrfax was born in Deeping Gate on April 23, 1464. There's no surviving record of his schooling or of his earliest musical training but he's known to have had Lady Margaret Beaufort (1443–1509), Countess of Richmond and Derby and King Henry VII's mother as a patron. Her patronage would have led to Fayrfax being established at court and by 1497 he was sufficiently well thought of both as a musician and as a courtier to be appointed a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal. He studied music in both Cambridge and Oxford receiving the degrees of MusB (1501) and MusD (1504) from Cambridge and was awarded Oxford University's first ever doctorate in music in 1511. He's known to have been present at such important state occasions as Henry VII's funeral, Henry VIII's coronation, the burial of Prince Henry, and the meeting of the kings of England and France at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in June 1520. He died in 1521.

His "Missa Albanus" Mass setting was most likely written for choir of St Alban's Abbey, like his Marian antiphon "Maria plena virtute"  it's based on a nine note theme found in a plainsong antiphon "Primus in Anglorum", in the rhyming Office of St Alban "O Albane Deo grate". It's a fairly traditional English festal Mass which omits the Kyrie which would have been troped under the Sarum rite usage his setting also truncates the Credo. The four movements – Gloria, Credo, Sanctus & Benedictus, and Agnus Dei are of approximately equal length and are each introduced by a head motif which looks forward to the cantus firmus. His treatment of the cantus firmus was very original he presents his theme backwards – both inverted and in retrograde inversion, this supplements his use of contrasting freely composed three part sections and cantus firmus based sections for the full choir.  It's sung below by The Cardinall's Musick conducted by Andrew Carwood.