CategoryAll

Fuschia and Steerpike

a tribute

I should think, computing moderately, that 15 angels, several hundreds of ordinary women, many philosophers, a heap of truly wise & kind mothers, 3 or 4 minor prophets, & a lot of doctors and schoolmistresses, might all be boiled down, & yet their combined essence fall short of what Emily Tennyson really is.

— Edward Lear

inward isolation

Are we to live in an age in which every mechanical facility for communication between man and man is multiplied ten-thousandfold, only that the inward isolation, the separation of those who meet continually, may be increased in a far greater measure?

— F. D. Maurice, 1848

walking apart, then walking together

When Christian communities decide that they must, for whatever reason, walk apart, then the question that they should all be prepared to answer is this: What are you doing to make it possible to walk together again? For to treat the decision to walk apart as the end of the story is simply to mock the prayer of Jesus that we all be one, even as he and the Father are one. It is the grossest disobedience.

So I have been very pleased to read some reflections on the recent conference at Nashotah House, Living Sacrifices: Repentance, Reconciliation, and Renewal. For instance, this post by Mac Stewart quotes Rowan Williams describing the thought of Michael Ramsey:

It is more attractive to go in quest of the real Church than to seek for the pattern of Cross and Resurrection in the heart of where we happen to find ourselves. But Ramsey implicitly warns us that the quest can be a way back to the self-defining and self-protective religious institution that always distorts or stifles the gospel. Somewhere in this is a very substantial paradox — that the harder we search for a Church that is pure and satisfactory by our definition, the less likely we are to find it.

In another post, Clint Wilson writes,

During the last year, in particular, I have become increasingly engaged and grounded in ecumenical theology, having studied various ecumenical texts and developed several ecumenical relationships. I am a child among giants in this arena, but I trust my newfound passion for this area of work will endure throughout the course of my ministry. Given my experience on the inside of both the ACNA and TEC, it seems to me there are several items in the ecumenical toolbox that might be employed for the hard work of reconciliation between Anglicans, especially within the Anglican Communion. For instance, at a symposium held at the Pontifical Gregorian University last October, Dr. Paula Gooder of King’s College, London, called for an “ecumenism of wounded hands,” a recognition that “we cannot heal ourselves.” Her call is predicated on the notion that our healing is incomplete (and therefore is not gospel healing), until it includes the healing that comes through reconciliation with those from whom we are divided. The cross does not need to be protected, it needs to be invoked, carried, embedded, and embodied across our divisions.

Bishop George Sumner suggests,

Amid protracted international debate, mission in communion can and should continue at the grassroots. Parishes, dioceses, and provinces maintaining initiatives of mission in communion across lines of difference are their own kind of sign of reconciliation. Obedience to the risen Christ’s command to go is as much lived out from the bottom up as the top down. This on-going and local mission in communion is a valid dimension of our common life and vocation.

Zachary Guiliano asks some penetrating questions:

God does not call us merely to submit to the counsel of our friends. That would be too light a thing, and hardly cruciform. He calls us to submit to the oppressive, perhaps even arbitrary and mysterious, judgment of our enemies, even if they are our Christian sisters and brothers, baptized all. God does not call us merely to live within the constraints of communion. He summons us to come and die for those who would deny communion, in this way to give our Yes to every No — dying to self, dying to and for the world, dying for the sake of our enemies, taking up our cross and following him. Only then, perhaps, will he raise again the weeping ruins of our division.

And so I close with a final set of questions: How far will we go in pursuing communion? Will we go even to the cross?

Guiliano’s talk was a response to an address by Ephraim Radner, and I will conclude by quoting it:

The road together, at this stage of Christian history, begins in several places. But it leads and must lead to others, so that a convergence of ways can indeed finally include one flock and one Shepherd (John 10:16). Full and visible unity, as the 1961 New Delhi Report of the World Council of Churches emphasized over and over again as the necessarily and inevitable goal of Christian ecclesial life. Benedict XVI used this phrase — “to work tirelessly to rebuild the full and visible unity of all Christ’s followers” — to describe his pontificate. But the vocation is Anglicanism’s as well, and so it must begin with us too. Both the vocation and the promise laid out by the Covenant remain real and compelling in this general way: we have been given a charism to maintain and extend the communion of God’s transformative life in the midst of a world of instability, fragmentation, and now, in its wake, of swirling meaninglessness. The charism is given for the sake of others.

All these words challenge me — some of them even judge me and find me wanting, and I acknowledge the power of that judgment — but they also encourage me. I commend them to any, and not just Anglicans, who prayerfully seek the oneness of the Church of Jesus Christ.

two quotations on the shape of lives

The problem of meaning is created by limits, by being just this, by being merely this. The young feel this less strongly. Although they would agree, if they thought about it, that they will realize only some of the (feasible) possibilities before them, none of these various possibilities is yet excluded in their minds. The young live in each of the futures open to them. The poignancy of growing older does not lie in one’s particular path being less satisfying or good than it promised earlier to be — the path may turn out to be all one thought. It lies in traveling only one (or two, or three) of those paths. Economists speak of the opportunity cost of something as the value of the best alternative foregone for it. For adults, strangely, the opportunity cost of our lives appears to us to be the value of all the foregone alternatives summed together, not merely the best other one. When all the possibilities were yet still before us, it felt as if we would do them all.

— Robert Nozick, Philosophical Explanations

We live out our lives, both individually and in our relationships with each other, in the light of certain conceptions of a possible shared future, a future in which certain possibilities beckon us forward and others repel us, some seem already foreclosed and others perhaps inevitable. There is no present which is not informed by some image of some future and an image of the future which always presents itself in the form of a telos — or of a variety of ends or goals — towards which we are either moving or failing to move in the present. Unpredictability and teleology therefore coexist as part of our lives; like characters in a fictional narrative we do not know what will happen next, but nonetheless our lives have a certain form which projects itself towards our future. Thus the narratives which we live out have both an unpredictable and a partially teleological character. If the narrative of our individual and social lives is to continue intelligibly — and either type of narrative may lapse into unintelligibility — it is always both the case that there are constraints on how the story may continue and that within those constraints there are indefinitely many ways that it can continue.

— Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, 2nd. ed.

a useful bit of perspective for the fururists

I’m not convinced that a civilization that is struggling to cure male-pattern baldness is ready to take on the Grim Reaper.

Maciej Ceglowski

Malcolm is ten years old today

Las Conchas Trail

A mile or so down the road from one of the most spectacular things I have ever seen — the Valles Caldera, the massive caldera of an ancient volcano, 11,000 feet up in northern New Mexico — we came across this paradisal place, the Las Conchas Trail on the East Fork of the Jemez wilderness. Easy to miss, but once found and seen, impossible to forget.

Palo Duro Canyon

So you’re driving through the panhandle of Texas with the land flat as a bedsheet as far as the eye can see, and then all of sudden the ground drops a thousand feet. Congratulations, you have discovered Palo Duro Canyon.

Pelphase, Interphase, Gusphase

“Now,” he said, swiveling his head to look at his pupils, “here is how the cycle works.” He marked off three arcs. “We have a Pelagian phase. Then we have an intermediate phase.” His chart thickened one arc, then another. “This leads into an Augustinian phase.” More thickening, and the chalk was back where it had started. “Pelphase, Interphase, Gusphase, Pelphase, Interphase, Gusphase, and so on, forever and ever. A sort of perpetual waltz. We must now consider what motive power makes the wheel turn.… In the first place, let us remind ourselves what Pelagianism stands for. A government functioning in its Pelagian phase commits itself to the belief that man is perfectible, that perfection can be achieved by his own efforts, and that the journey towards perfection is a long straight road. Man wants to be perfect. He wants to be good. The citizens of a community want to co-operate with their rulers, and so there is no real need to have devices of coercion, sanctions, which will force them to co-operate. Laws are necessary, of course, for no single individual, however good and co-operative, can have precise knowledge of the total needs of the community. Laws point the way to an emergent pattern of social perfection – they are guides. But, because of the fundamental thesis that the citizen’s desire is to behave like a good social animal, not like a selfish beast of the waste wood, it is assumed that the laws will be obeyed. Thus, the Pelagian state does not think it necessary to erect an elaborate punitive apparatus. Disobey the law and you will be told not to do it again or fined a couple of crowns. Your failure to obey does not spring from Original Sin, it’s not an essential part of the human fabric. It’s a mere flaw, something that will be shed somewhere along the road to final human perfection.… Well, then, in the Pelagian phase or Pelphase, the great liberal dream seems capable of fulfillment. The sinful aquisitive urge is lacking, brute desires are kept under rational control…. No happier form of existence can be envisaged. Remember, however,” said Tristram, in a thrilling near-whisper, “Remember that the aspiration is always some way ahead of the reality. What destroys the dream? What destroys it, eh?” He suddenly big-drummed the desk, shouting in crescendo, “Disappointment. Disappointment. DISAPPOINTMENT.” He beamed. “The governors,” he said, in a reasonable tone, “become disappointed when they find that men are not as good as they thought they were. Lapped in their dream of perfection, they are horrified when the seal is broken and they see people as they really are. It becomes necessary to try and force the citizens into goodness. The laws are reasserted, a system of enforcement of those laws is crudely and hastily knocked together. Disappointment opens up a vista of chaos. There is irrationality, there is panic. When the reason goes, the brute steps in. Brutality!” cried Tristram. The class was at last interested. “Beatings-up, secret police. Torture in brightly lighted sellers. Condemnation without trial. Finger-nails pulled out with pincers. The rack. The cold water treatment. The gouging-out of eyes. The firing squad in the cold dawn. And all this because of disappointment. The Interphase.” He smiled very kindly at his class. This class was agog for more mention of brutality. Their eyes glinted, they goggled with open mouths.

“What, sir,” ask Bellingham, “is the cold-water treatment?”

 

•••

 

“But,” went on Tristram, “the Interphase cannot, of course, last for ever.”” He contorted his face to a mask of shock. ‘Shock,’ he said. “The governors become shocked at their own excesses. They find that they have been thinking in heretical terms — the sinfulness of man rather than his inherent goodness. They relax their sanctions and the result is complete chaos. But, by this time, disappointment cannot sink any deeper. Disappointment can no longer shock the state into repressive action, and a kind of philosophical pessimism supervenes. In other words, we drift into the Augustinian phase, the Gusphase. The orthodox view presents man as a sinful creature from whom no good at all may be expected. A different dream, gentlemen, a dream which, again, outstrips the reality. It eventually appears that human social behaviour is rather better than any Augustinian pessimist has a right to expect, and so a sort of optimism begins to emerge. And so Pelagianism is reinstated. We are back in the Pelphase again. The wheel has come full circle. Any questions?”

“What do they gouge eyes out with, sir?” asked Billy Chan.


Anthony Burgess, The Wanting Seed

Augustine and Pelagius

No doubt the spiritual and moral standards for the Christian life had relaxed quite a bit since the days of persecution, when even the hint of Christian faith could cost a person his or her life; no doubt some restored tension, some call for a renewal of holiness, was surely needed. But Pelagianism, like many zealous movements of moral and spiritual reform, writes a recipe for profound anxiety. Its original word of encouragement (You can do it!) immediately yields to the self-doubting question: “But am I doing it?” It makes a rigorous asceticism the only true Christian life — as [Peter] Brown points out, “Pelagius wanted every Christian to be a monk” — and condemns even the most determined ascetic to constant self-scrutiny, a kind of self-scrutiny that can never yield a clear acquittal. You might have missed something; and in any case you could sin in the next five minutes and watch your whole house of cards crash down.

By contrast, Augustine’s emphasis on the universal depravity of human nature — seen by so many then and now as an insult to human dignity — is curiously liberating. I once heard a preacher encourage his listeners to begin a prayer with the following words: “Lord, I am the failure that you always knew I would be.” It is the true Augustinian note. Pelagianism is a creed for heroes; but Augustine’s emphasis on original sin, and the consequent absolute dependence of every one of us on the grace of God, gives hope to the waverer, the backslider, the slacker, the putz, the schlemiel. We’re all in the same boat as Mister Holier-than-Thou over there, saved only by the grace that comes to us in Holy Baptism. Peter Brown once more: “Paradoxically, therefore, it is Augustine, with his harsh emphasis on baptism as the only way to salvation, who appears as the advocate of moral tolerance: for within the exclusive fold of the Catholic church he could find room for a whole spectrum of human failings.”

— from my Original Sin: A Cultural History; quote prompted by this essay by Elizabeth Bruenig.

the public interrogation of Tim Farron 

Farron’s religious beliefs may be publicly interrogated, even if he has an immaculate history of quarantining them lest they contaminate his liberalism. Farron’s beliefs are subject to casual public ridicule. If Tim Farron wanted his religion to be unreservedly praised in the British media, we all know what he had to do: Convert to Islam and blow up a few teenage girls. 2017 is the year we learned every Farron interview inspires people to kick Christianity and every terrorist attack starts a wave of public proclamations about the beauty of true Islam.

Michael Brendan Dougherty. Michael is being quite the provocateur here, but I don’t see how a reasonable person could deny the truth of what he says.

Trump and Constitutional Law

This is a great idea for a podcast: What the Trump presidency, with its manifold eccentricities, can teach us about Constitutional law. After all, on almost a daily basis the words and actions of the President raise some question about the powers and limits of the office.

The first episode takes off from Trump’s comment about Judge James Robart,  who blocked his first attempt at an executive order banning travel to the U.S. from six mostly-Muslim countries: Trump tweeted that Robart is a “so-called judge.” According to Elizabeth Joh, the con-law professor who co-hosts the show with Roman Mars, that tweet raises the question of judicial legitimacy, which leads her to describe the famous Supreme Court case Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, in which the Court ruled that President Truman did not have the authority to commandeer the nation’s steel mills to serve the needs of the military during the Korean conflict. For Joh, the really important point here is that Truman, though angered by the ruling, did not question it — he acknowledged and deferred to the legitimacy of SCOTUS.

But that’s where the podcast ends, which I think is just the wrong place. The vital question that arises is: What if Truman hadn’t so deferred? What if he had said “I do too have this authority, and I’m sending in my people to take over and run the steel mills”? People talk loosely about Trump’s actions producing a “Constitutional crisis,” but that would be a Constitutional crisis. For law enforcement officials, and maybe even the Army, would have to decide whether to back the Court or the President.

Given the current President’s history of demanding that he get his way in all things, and his oft-expressed frustration (even in these first few months of his presidency) at having his will thwarted, something like that could eventually happen: that is, the Executive branch simply refusing to acknowledge the legitimacy of one of the other branches and doing what it wants to do regardless of protests. So what, within the boundaries of Constitutional law, would happen then? I’d like to see the podcast play out some of those scenarios.

The Gospel of Taylorism in Truro

Via Archbishop Cranmer I learn that the Anglican Diocese of Truro in Cornwall is looking for a new employee. The good Archbishop is exercised by this phrase in the advert: “You do not need to be a practising Christian.” Well, that might well be something to be exercised about — but look at the overall job description:

The Strategic Programme Manager will be responsible for leading and managing the Transforming Mission programme from initial set up through to successful delivery. This role requires an individual with exceptional project management skills including the ability to successfully manage stakeholders; implement change and balance multiple projects simultaneously.

The scope of the role incorporates both the strategic leadership of the Transforming Mission programme — first in Falmouth, and then in other parts of Cornwall; and the project management of key programme elements including the establishment of the Student Hub (café) and redevelopment of the Resource Church.

Reading that description, I see quite clearly why you need not be a Christian to do the job: it has nothing whatsoever to do with Christianity, and in fact may be incompatible with that other religion. What the Diocese of Truro wants to do is practice modern administrative management in the way that monks pray the Hours: purely, for its own sake, and with a studied indifference to any everyday notions of cause and effect, means and ends, purposes. It’s admirable, in a way: it is rare to see the Gospel of Taylorism followed with such apostolic zeal. In the Diocese of Truro there are no human beings, still less creatures made in the image of God who need to be reconciled to that God; there are only “stakeholders” who must be managed, change that must be implemented, projects that must be balanced, programs that must be strategized — and then, on the last day, we hope for “successful delivery.” (Though those who ask of what and to what shall be cast into outer darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth.)

So, in short, not a job for a practicing Christian at all. After all, no one can serve both God and Strategic Programme Management.

The long slow work of combatting ignorance

As our cultural elites lose even the most elementary biblical literacy, this is going to happen more and more often: reading the Bible-saturated literature of the past and missing, not secondary and trivial illusions, but the entire point of stories and novels and plays and poems, and for that matter paintings and sculptures and musical compositions. The artistic past of the West will become incomprehensible, but — and this is the scary thing — no one will know that they’re misreading. Gross errors will be passed down from teacher to student, from scholar to reader, and it is difficult to imagine circumstances arising in which they can be corrected.

I wrote this a couple of years ago, and I continue to think regularly, almost daily, about this problem. One of the chief tasks of Christians in our time, I think, is simply to correct errors: to engage patiently and gently in the tedious work of explaining to people that what they think they know about Christianity is simply wrong.

thought, speech, writing

A continual negotiation was going on between thought, speech and writing, thought having as a rule the worst of it. Speech was humble and creeping, but wanted too many fine shades and could never come to a satisfactory end. Writing was lordly and regardless. Thought went on in the twilight, and wished the other two might come to terms for ever. But maybe they did not and never will, and perhaps, they never do.

— Edward Thomas, “How I Began” (1913)

from the Galloway Hoard

Another item of note is a gold pin shaped like a bird. [Says Dr. Martin Goldberg,] “It is an incredibly striking object. Gold items like that are unusual, often single finds…This is one of the real curiosities, as far as I can tell it’s unique. Nothing gives away where it came from.”

Sports commentary follies, 1/3749

As you can tell from my title, I am planning to provide an exhaustive inventory of dumb things that sports pundits and commentators say. I will begin with an enormously widespread, and perfectly idiotic, tic. When a player fails to do something that the commentator thinks the player should have done, the commentator says, “He’s got to make that play.” Obviously not! And then the player does something the commentator thinks the player should not have dome, the commentator says, “He just can’t do that.” (Can’t miss that shot, can’t get picked off in that situation, can’t lose the man he’s supposed to be guarding.) But obviously he can! Save words, commentators, and just imitate our President: say “Bad!” Your “can’t” and “must” add nothing to that verdict. 

from the Staffordshire Hoard

Stunning

Hypocrisy? 

Darryl Hart says I have accused my fellow evangelicals of “hypocrisy” in voting for Trump. Well, no. I noted a major shift, from the 1990s to now, in the standards that most evangelical leaders use to evaluate the role of character in Presidential candidates: then it mattered a lot, and now it doesn’t matter at all. I think I document that pretty thoroughly.

Now, I do believe that people like William Bennett and James Dobson ought to explain what led them to change their minds so dramatically — a 180-degree reversal ought to be accounted for. But many of the people who voted for Trump in the past election didn’t vote in the 1990s, and if they did vote then may well have voted for Bill Clinton. So the question of changing standards doesn’t apply to them. My essay is concerned with one simple question: If character no longer counts, what does? And having explored that, I tried to make a defense of the value of bringing specifically Christian ideas into the general political conversation (a move that Rusty Reno thinks imprudent).

To Darryl’s claim that I “completely ignore” Hillary Clinton’s moral failings: I did indeed, because my essay is about how Christians who supported Trump evaluated his character. Those are not people who were ever going to vote for Hillary, any more than I would have.

© 2017 Snakes and Ladders

Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑

css.php