"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Notable Quote: The Psalms as the Blues

Certainly there are great quotes out of the Psalms, but as I’m reading through them, I was wondering if there were any great quotes about the Psalms.  I found this one

 What's so powerful about the Psalms are, as well as they're being gospel and songs of praise, they are also the blues.

That’s Bono from U2!  And he’s correct.  One third of the psalms are classified as lamentations.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Music Tuesday: Miss You by The Rolling Stones

As some may remember, I’m a big Rolling Stones fan.  This past Sunday was Mick Jagger’s 72nd birthday.  What a life this man has lived.  And they’ve still been touring now. So much Stones news lately.  In addition to the tour, which seems to be doing fabulously, especially when you consider they age, Keith Richards has a new solo album coming out in September.  A single has been released and you hear it here.     But the really big news is that once the Richards solo album is out, the Stones will gather and record a new album!  Oh yeah!!  Their last one was A Bigger Bang in 2005.  That was ten years ago.  Goodness how time flies. 

For Mick’s birthday, I wanted to post a very Jagger-esk song, the wonderful “Miss You.”  This song and the summer of 1978 will forever be linked together for me.  This is the only song all summer on my mind and lips. 

I’m going to embed video with the lyrics because I think they are so great.  Most pop songs are three verses divided by a chorus.  "Miss You" just takes you on a journey into central character’s dejection.  Notice the emotional range, from melancholy, dejection, acceptance.  There’s a contrasting voice of the friend who calls him, there’s a drunken induced walk, and there’s that wonderful melody that pulls the whole song together.  The song starts with anticipation—waiting on that call—and ends with the realization that she’s “been fooling with [his] time.”  And let’s not forget the funky, interweaving guitars, the sax that carries so much emotion two thirds of the way into the song, and that layer of the high pitched harmonica.  And special kudos must go to the rhythm section, Bill Wyman (bass) and Charlie Watts (drums); they were at their best. 

There are also extended versions of this song, which add lyrics and instrumental solos.  They are as good as the final studio.  You can find them on youtube.  The Stones have had so many great songs, but I think “Miss You” was their greatest composition.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Matthew Monday: Fingers Where They Don’t Belong

 For some reason this last year Matthew has started putting his fingers in his mouth.  He was never a finger sucker, and he’s not sucking on his fingers, but he’s either playing with his teeth or chewing his nails or something.

Earlier this week I got tired of warning him, so I swatted his hand.  It made a loud smack sound.  He gave me a shocked look and then a pouting lip.

“Don’t put your fingers in your mouth,” I scolded.  “From now on when I see your fingers in your mouth, I’m going to slap your hand.”  He quietly turned away.

We’ve been also warning him we’re going to put hot sauce on his fingers if he doesn’t stop.  Now Matthew is very sensitive to spices.  He hates them, but especially spicy hot.  “No, no,” he cried after the warning.  “Don’t do that.  Please.”

“OK, but you better stop putting them in your mouth.”

“I promise, I promise.”

Saturday afternoon I walked in the door after running chores all morning and Matthew came right up to me.  “Daddy, I never want to taste hot sauce again.” 

I was a little confused.  “What’s this all about?”

“Mommy put hot sauce on my fingers and it was yucky.”

“He kept putting his fingers in his mouth,” my wife said, walking into the room, “and finally I did it.”

“A-ha!”  I said.  “We finally did it.  We finally put hot sauce on your fingers.” 

“I’m gonna learn my lesson,” he said contritely. 

Next day, Sunday, we were driving to Philadelphia to see some family and I was doing the driving.  It’s a little over an hour drive from where we live.  About a half hour into the drive, my wife catches me chewing my nails.

“Will you stop that!” my wife who’s in the passenger seat said.  “Fine example you are.  That’s where Matthew gets it from.  He sees you chewing your nails all the time.”

I gave a shrug.  It’s true I chew my nails all the time.

“It’s not sanitary,” she continued.  “Maybe we ought to put hot sauce on your fingers.”

That got Matthew’s attention.  He was in the back and not fully hearing the conversation.

“What did Daddy do?” he asked.

“Daddy was chewing his fingernails.  Maybe we should put hot sauce on his fingers to get him to stop.  What-a you think?”

I glanced in the rearview mirror to see Matthew’s reaction.  He wasn’t smiling or playing along with the banter like I expected.  His face wasn’t jolly but most serious, as if some injustice had been overturned and proven him innocent. 

“And,” he said sternly, “and I’ve even seen him stick his fingers in his nose.”

Ba-dum.  That got everyone laughing.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Literature in the News: Discovery Identifies Victorian Authors

Wow, this is a big discovery in the literary world.  The authors of previously anonymously authored works published in Charles Dickens’s magazine, All the Year Round, have been identified through the found annotations written by Dickens himself.  From the UK’s The Independent:

It is a discovery that could solve some of the biggest mysteries of Victorian literature.

The authors of thousands of articles, short stories and poems, printed anonymously in a literary magazine edited by Charles Dickens, have finally been revealed after an antiquarian book dealer discovered a bound collection of the periodicals annotated by Dickens himself.

Among the biggest revelations are works by Elizabeth Gaskell, Lewis Carroll and Dickens’ close friend Wilkie Collins, as well as two articles co-written by Dickens.

This is big.  The find stemmed from a purchase by a book collector.

Last September Jeremy Parrott, an academic and book dealer, ordered a 20-volume bound collection of All the Year Round from an online bookseller in Wrexham.

Dr Parrott didn’t open the box of books until December, when he arrived in London from his home in Hungary.

“When I saw the listing of 20 volumes in red cloth with gilt edges for sale I was excited. There was no mention of annotation but when I opened the box and saw the notes it was all my Christmases at once.

“To realise it was Dickens’ own set and his own handwriting revealing who wrote everything was incredible. That has never been public information because the pieces were deliberately published without attribution as Dickens’ name appeared on the top of every page.”

Now that had to be some thrill for Dr. Parrott.  That has to be a scholar’s and book collector’s biggest dream.  It hardly ever happens.  I don’t think we comprehend how rich a find this was.  There are some 400 pieces of literature identified.

The discovery solves the mystery of which Victorian writers were commissioned by Dickens and identifies new works by many leading authors of the time. Dickens’ notes mean that between 300 and 400 authors have been identified as responsible for some 2,500 contributions.

And the literary world is in shock.

The BBC financial broadcaster Paul Lewis, who is also a renowned expert on Wilkie Collins and secretary of the Wilkie Collins Society, was at the conference. He said there were “audible gasps” when the scale of the revelation dawned on the audience of about 50 academics. “Everyone was completely blown away by it. This is the Rosetta Stone of Victorian studies because it gives you the key to what hundreds of people wrote. When this list emerges it will change Victorian scholarship.”

Wonderful!  I can’t wait to see what comes out of this.  There’s so much more at the Independent article, including a initial list of some identified finds.  You should read it.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

2015 Reads, Update #2

We are passed the midyear mark and into the year’s second quarter.  As I look over this passed quarter’s reads, I guess I’m still on a solid pace to read my usual year’s allotment.  I don’t know how far into Chesterton’s Orthodoxy I was at the end of last quarter when I hadn’t completed it, but it’s now in the complete column, and I’ve completed two other full length books, the “Cosette” volume of Hugo’s novel Les Misérables and non-fiction work of theology by Hans Urs von Balthasar, Dare We Hope that All Men be Saved?  I also completed Stephen Crane’s short novel, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, seven short stories, as well as started up The Book of Psalms and Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment while continuing on in reading Robert Lowell’s poetry and the biography of Julius Caesar. 

Orthodoxy is a great work, one that has amplified the way I think on the world.  It is the great intellectual dissent to the trajectory of modern culture.  Actually one could say that at the time of its publication (1908) it was dissenting to the trajectory of the culture but today, especially with the recent legalization of same sex marriage, it is now fully dissenting with the established culture.  It makes a passionate argument against secular modernism and why a Christian worldview is both coherent and culturally beneficial.  It’s really a must read whether you agree with a Christian world view or against it.  At a minimum you should know what you’re against.  If I can get to it, I want to have at least two posts on the book. 

The second volume of Les Misérables, “Cosette,” was just as good as the first volume, though I think the digressions in “Cosette” didn’t seem to fit like those in “Fantine.”  But more than likely it’s me not getting it.  Still Hugo’s novel is a pleasure to read. 

Dare We Hope that All Men be Saved? by the great Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar was an unplanned read.  It takes on the subject of universal salvation, certainly a controversial subject, and something the Catholic Church rejects.  Universal salvation is the idea that in time and by some process everyone is eventually saved.  It does not mean an absence of hell as some who strongly oppose the notion characterize, but either hell is not eternal or that on one actually goes to hell.  I was challenged to read this when I commented on a discussion board that I have strong sympathies to universalism.  Urs von Balthasar was severely criticized for his sympathies, and so has Fr. Robert Baron who wrote the introduction to this current publication.  I hope to write a full essay on universal salvation, though I know this is a touchy subject.

Maggie: A Girl of the Streets is one of Crane’s very first works, written before The Red Badge of Courage, and I’m afraid not a good one.  One could describe Crane’s writing as having two impulses, one toward Naturalism and one toward Impressionism, and ideally he combines the two.  Personally I don’t like Naturalism (it selects subjects and details that distorts realism) but I can respect it as an aesthetic movement.  Crane is clucky in Maggie with the Naturalism, and he really hadn’t develop his brilliant impressionistic writing yet.  Yes, there are a few brilliant flashes, but Maggie is a juvenescent work.

I can’t say any of the seven short stories were classics, except possibly Hemingway’s “An Alpine Idyll.”  I might do post on that one.  Eudora Welty’s “The Key” was touching, and I posted an excerpt a few months ago.  The Wodehouse story was the first I have ever read, and it was funny and enjoyable.  I’m not a big science fiction fan, but Johnny Wright’s story was interesting.  It comes from a collection called The Book of Feasts and Seasons and each story in the collection is a scifi piece with an association to feast on the Catholic calendar.  “Queen of the Tyrant Lizards” is associated with the Epiphany.  “Banal Story” was another worthwhile Hemingway story. It was very short (two pages, I think) and it was a work of metafiction and it reminded me of something Jorge Luis Borges might write.  The other two Hemingway stories were trite.

I started Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, and wow!  That is one intense novel.  This has the reputation of being one of the greatest novels of all time, and by the time I’m finished I may agree.  I’m about a quarter of the way through.  I hope to do a few posts on this great work.  Because I’m new to cat ownership, I decided to read the ASPCA’s Complete Guide to Cats.  It’s fast reading with a lot of pictures, but it’s interesting.  I really know little about cats.

I also started The Psalms as my Old Testament read and I’m having a difficult time making up my mind on how to proceed to span them.  I could just read them through like I did the other Old Testament reads, but the Psalms are so incredibly rich as literature and as theology that I wanted to do close readings of all 150.  I’m finding that doing close readings of that many takes an awfully long time.  And then there’s the question of how I perform the close reading.  I started by writing out by hand each one into a notebook, and got to Psalm 19 and realized this is taking forever.  But I noticed so much as I wrote.  There’s nothing like word by word copying to pick up what the reading eye just scans over.  For example, I was surprised at how martial the metaphors and subjects were in them.  In addition I picked up a couple of courses on understanding the Psalms and picked up Robert Alter’s translation with commentary.  Alter is a scholar of Hebrew literature and provides almost line by line commentary.  I’m learning so much about them: form, genre, themes, poetic style, allusions.  In three months I’ve only gotten to Psalm 25, which is a horrendously slow pace.  I’ll have to figure out a way to pick up the pace while continuing to learn.  I may have to drop my New Testament read this year and devote the entire year with the Psalms.

Finally I’m soldiering on with Julius Caesar and reading Robert Lowell’s poetry.

You can read my 2015 Reads inception post here and 2015 Update #1 post here.

Completed First Quarter:

The Sorrows of Young Werther, a novel by Johan Wolfgang von Goethe.
“Give Me Your Heart,” a short story by Joyce Carol Oates.
“The Triumph of Night,” a short story by Edith Wharton.
Not God’s Type: A Rational Academic Finds a Radical Faith, a non-fiction memoir by Holly Ordway.
“Master Misery,” a short story by Truman Capote.
Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, a non-fiction book of theology by Pope Benedict XVI.
“Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street,” a short story by Herman Melville.
The Book of Job, a book of the Old Testament, KJV Translation.
“Little Miracles, Kept Promises,” a short story by Sandra Cisneros. 
“The Portobello Road,” a short story by Muriel Spark.

Completed Second Quarter:
Orthodoxy, a non-fiction book of philosophy by G. K. Chesterton.
“Queen of the Tyrant Lizards,” a short story by John C. Wright.
“The Key,” a short story by Eudora Welty.
“Extricating Young Gussie,” a Jeeves Collection short story P. G. Wodehouse.
Vol 2 of Les Misérables, “Cosette,” a novel by Victor Hugo.
“An Alpine Idyll,” a short story by Ernest Hemingway.
Dare We Hope that All Men be Saved? With a Short Discourse on Hell, a non-fiction work of theology by Hans Urs von Balthasar.
“A Pursuit Race,” a short story by Ernest Hemingway.
“Today is Friday,” a short story by Ernest Hemingway.
“Banal Story,” a short story by Ernest Hemingway.
Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, a novella by Stephen Crane.

Currently Reading:

Julius Caesar: Life of a Colossus, a biography by Adrian Goldsworthy.
“The Book of Psalms,” a book of the Old Testament, KJV & NIV Traslations.
Robert Lowell: Collected Poems, an anthology of poetry edited by Frank Bidart and David Gewanter.
The Book of Psalms, a book of the Old Testament, KJV and Ignatius RSV Translations.
Crime and Punishment, a novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky. 
ASPCA Complete Guide to Cats, a non-fiction book by James R. Richards, D.V.M.

Upcoming Plans:

The Virgin and the Gypsy, a novella by D. H. Lawrence.
No More Parades, the 2nd novel of the Parade’s End Tetralogy by Ford Madox Ford.
“Now I Lay Me,” a short story by Ernest Hemingway.
“Sounds,” a short story by Vladimir Nabokov.
“Wingstroke,” a short story by Vladimir Nabokov.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Matthew Monday: Disney World Vacation, Part 2

Here’s a Part 2 to last week’s Matthew Monday post on our Disney World vacation. 

First up are some pictures at Epcot.  We never did figure out what “Epcot” stands for.  Some future thing and a replication of a dozen or so countries with really good restaurants representing their cuisine.  The people at each country are actually from that country, and so they bring an extra charm to the restaurants, stores, and exhibits.  I could show you lots of pictures of each country’s exhibit, but I’m sure you can find it at their website.  Instead I’ll focus on general pictures.

Going into Epcot.

Meeting with Pluto! 

Matthew really enjoyed meeting up with the characters.  Here one with Duffy. 

I have no clue who Duffy is.

Here’s a couple of pictures back at the hotel.  The pool area had a sprinkler.

And a baby pool, which was one foot deep.  Matthew could have used a two foot or so, but the options were one foot and then over three and a half feet or greater, which would have been over Matthew’s head.

Finally my favorite was Animal Kingdom.  The safari ride was great.  I could show you lots of pictures of animals but that would focus on Matthew.  One day I’ll have to post some of the pictures of animals I captured.  Photo captured, that is.  But for now here’s a few of Matthew. 

This is waiting outside the Simba Show, which was great.  Matthew wanted a stuffed baby Simba.

There was also a petting zoo.

And a picture below of the Himalayan Roller Coaster, or whatever it was called.  (I don’t think that’s the right name,)  That looked like some ride, but Matthew was too small to go on it.

Though Disney was not exactly my thing, we did have a good time.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Not God’s Type by Holly Ordway

At my last quarterly update of my annual reads, I mentioned I read Holly Ordway’s Not God’s Type, a memoir of her conversion story, and low and behold she turns up as a guest on the EWTN TV show, The Journey Home with Marcus Grodi.

For those that aren’t familiar, The Journey Home is an interview show where the guest provides their conversion story to the Catholic faith.  Holly Ordway was an atheist University professor of English Literature, and her memoir took the reader through the process of overcoming her strong atheism, compelled ultimately to believe in Christianity, and then after a few years as an Anglican/Episcopalian converted to Roman Catholicism.  Literature and philosophic reasoning was at the heart of her conversion. 

Here is the episode with Holly on The Journey Home.  Be aware, there lots of literature mentioned.

But do read the book.  It’s even better than the interview.  Here is an excerpt, this from Chapter 3, “Alone in the Fortress of Atheism.”

Behind all of my consciously articulated views was the same premise: there is no God, no ultimate meaning beyond ourselves.
If there is no real meaning to our lives, what is the point of living?  As early as high school, I had recognized the problem.  I remember in my junior-year Latin class reading some of the more philosophical despairing poets, and asking my teacher why, if they felt life was meaningless, didn’t they just kill themselves?  My teacher replied, “A lot of them did.”
…Atheism when consistently lived out, leads to self-deception or despair.  Self-constructed meaning is only a stop-gap: it is real only in the sense that a stage set of Elsinore Castle is a real place.  One can suspend disbelief while Hamlet is being performed, but at some point, the curtain falls and one must leave the theater.  What’s to be done when Helping Others, Doing Good Work, and Having Friends are recognized as paint and canvs and trick lighting?

But it was through reading high literature that opened her to exploring faith.  Here’s another excerpt (from Chapter 6, “Winter and Spring”) on how literature opened her to faith.

The greatest works of English literature spring from Christian roots.  And so, atheist though I was, when I turned back to literature I found myself rereading poems of explicit and profound Christain faith.  I rediscovered the work of T. S. Eliot, George Herbert, John Donne, Gerard Manly Hopkins, and the Anglo-Saxon poets whose names are lost to history.  Consciously, I dismissed their faith as antiquated, or subjective, or irrelevant; I took the condescending view that their work was worth teaching in spite of this irritating fascination with God.  But knowing a poem is experiential, like knowing a person.  In order to teach a poem you must know it inside and out: its nuances, its shifts of tone, its images and their play upon the imagination.  A great poem speaks more fully and deeply upon each reading of it.  And something happened as I read.

John Keats, in “Ode to a Grecian Urn,” closes with these words: “ ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,’—that is all/Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”  Beauty: I had admired it, appreciated it, been moved by it, but until now had not thought deeply about why I responded as I did.  Something had changed.  I could feel power thrumming in the lines of the poems, an electricity of meaning, drawing from some source beyond my reach, and I began to wonder what that source was.

Now that was not her conversion moment.  Just a seed that would blossom later.  It took a lot of philosophic jousting to reach her faith, and Ordway takes the reader through it.  The book is on Amazon for those interested.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Literature in the News: New Translation of Homer’s The Iliad

I came across a book review of a new translation of Homer’s The Iliad by Peter Green in Washington Free Beacon.  

When it comes to picking a translation of the Iliad or the Odyssey, readers of Homer sometimes feel as if they are being forced to choose between the beautiful and the good. The most popular translations of Homer are either praised for their poetry or for their accuracy, but not for both.

Robert Fitzgerald and Robert Fagles’ translations are known for their lovely verses, but also for taking liberties with the text. Meanwhile, Richard Lattimore’s translation is known for being line-by-line accurate to the Greek, but also for being convoluted and difficult to read. However, his fidelity to the text makes him the standard translation for purists.

Now that is an interesting observation on the various translations around.  I have read both the Robert Fitzgerald and Robert Fagles translations and think highly of them.  Now I can’t read the original Greek, so I can’t speak to their accuracy.  I have not read the Richard Lattimore translation but I have heard of it and I did not realize it was closer to the original translation.  Kate havard at the Free Beacon goes on:

In his new version of the Iliad, Peter Green, a professor emeritus of classics at the University of Texas at Austin, attempts to give us a translation that is as faithful to the Greek as the Lattimore while being easier to read, and, more important, easier to hear. Green believes that a poem “so oral in its essence … should be naturally declaimable.”

Because Green’s Iliad is written to be read aloud, the language is much simpler and less lofty than the Lattimore. Yet like Lattimore, Green insists on “preserving the strangeness” of Homer, the aspects of his poetry that strike the modern ear so oddly—the repeated formulaic phrases, the consistent use of epithets (Achilles is always “swift-footed,” even when he is merely sitting around) and the long, long, similes.

To my recollection both Fitzgerald and Fagles’ translayions keep Homer’s long winding epithets and similes.  So it’s hard to say what the distinction she is making with the Lattimore translation.  She goes on, however, to point out that the Green translation goes even further than the Lattimore’s close translation:

The virtue in Green’s translation comes from its meter. Homer’s poetry is written in dactylic hexameter, six sets of dactyls, a poetic foot consisting of one long sound and two shorts. It sounds something like this: DAH-didi DAH-didi DAH-didi DAH-didi DAH-didi DAH-didi (the dactyl can also consist of two longs, a DAH-DAH). It beats forward, like the drummer keeping time for rowers on a galley ship.

This meter is very difficult to render into English: Greek poetry relies on vowel lengths, but in English, vowel sounds have no fixed quantity. For this reason, Fitzgerald and Fagles abandon the hexameter.

But throwing out Homer’s meter, Green says, robs the reader of Homer’s stately and majestic rhythms, which contribute greatly to his momentum and power. However, he adds that when a strict dactylic hexamter is rendered into English, it results in over-long lines that drag lugubriously.

Wow, so Green uses Homer’s dactylic hexameter in English.  Yes, a volume as long as The Iliad would drag the reader down over such a span.  I couldn’t imagine enjoying that read.  And neither could Green:

Green’s solution is to use a loose approximation of Homer’s meter (“a variable 6/5 stress line ranging from 12 to 17 syllables”). This meter echoes the Homeric meter without trying too hard to force the English language to take on unnatural, ancient characteristics. Green’s approach results in passages that are deceptively simple and highly musical.
For example, in this passage, Homer describes Achilles’ inability to sleep due to the grief he suffers from losing his dear friend Patroklus to his great enemy, Hektor. The last line is particularly lovely:

…sleep the all subduing
got no hold on him: he kept tossing this way and that
missing Patroklus—his manhood, his splendid strength,
all he’d been through with him, the hardships he’d suffered,
facing men in battle and the waves of the cruel sea.

The pace of this passage seems to build and build until Achilles can no longer contain his heartache:

Recalling these things he shed large tears, lying now,
Stretched out on his side, but, restless, sometimes again
on his back, or prone. Then again he’d rise to his feet
and wander, distraught, by the seashore…

The description is uncomplicated but the movement here is rapid, and the pacing is as restless and as agitated as Achilles. The symmetry in the line “stretched out on his side, restless, sometimes again,” coveys something of the obsessive, circular thoughts and shifting around that define a sleepless night.

Fascinating.  I do like the metric solution that Green employs in that passage.  There are more examples at the Free Beacon article.  It’s a translation that’s worth considering, though I already have two translations.  

Monday, July 6, 2015

Music Tuesday: John Wayne's God Bless America

I know how a lot of people are feeling about this country.  Where has the country we knew and loved gone?  Here's a time when the people in the media were unabashedly patriotic.  This was the America we knew.

With hard work and perseverance, we can bring back that nation.  Have hope and love.

Matthew Monday: Disney World Vacation, Part 1

The other week, right after Matthew had completed his Kindergarten school year, we went on a vacation down to Orlando, Florida for mostly Disney World.  Matthew had a great time.  My wife and I had a good time.  It was good to be away, but I think the whole Disney World thing is for kids.  I do know adults that go almost every year, but I fail to see what makes it so interesting for adults. 

We picked a great week.  I think it was a week where a good number of schools around the country were still in session.  I’ve heard of lines for the rides being an hour plus long.  I don’t think we had any line over thirty minutes.   So if you making plans, aim for that third week in June, if you can. 

I said it was mostly Disney World.  We kind of broke it up.  We had a day in Legoland, then a pool day at the hotel, then Magic Kingdom day, then a day for Epcot, another hotel pool day, a day at Animal Kingdom, and finally a half day at Downtown Disney for shopping before an afternoon flight home.  We hit the major highlights, but there are a few other theme parks we could have tried.  There’s a ton of things to do, but it’s all rather child oriented if you ask me.  I’m not big on these theme parks.

So here are some pictures.

Matthew and Mom on some sort of mini train coaster.

Matthew as a knight on a Legoland horse.

Matthew beside a Lego wolf.  They had some really cool Lego built up items.

Matthew racing in his Lego police car.

Mathew and mom on Main street in Magic Kingdom.

Matthew and Dad somewhere in Magic Kingdom.

That's quite a few pictures already.  I'll have to break this up into more than one Matthew Monday post.  Stay tuned for next week.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Great Speeches: Henry Lee Eulogizes George Washington

In my Plans for 2015 Reads, I mentioned I would start a new feature this year where I would present a great speech from history and perform a little analysis on it.  Well, I’ve been trying to find the time to start that off.  So here’s an ideal moment, the fourth of July.

I’m going to start with Henry Lee III’s famous eulogy of George Washington.  Lee, a fellow Virginian, serve with Washington in the Revolutionary War, and at one time was Governor of Virginia.  He was also the father of the Civil War General, Robert E. Lee.

Amazingly I could not find the entire speech on the internet.  You can find that famous first paragraph that is often quoted, but I was at a loss to get a hold of the entire thing.  So, I had to type it out myself.  It’s not a very long speech.  My copy comes from William Safire’s collection, Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in History

First in war—first in peace—and first in the hearts of his countrymen, he was second to none in the humble and endearing scenes of private life; pious, humane, temperate, and sincere; uniform, dignified, and commanding, his example was as edifying to all around him as were the effects of that example lasting.

To his equals he was condescending, to his inferiors kind, and to the dear object of his affections exemplarily tender; correct throughout, vice shuddered in his presence, and virtue always felt his fostering hand; the purity of his private character gave effulgence to his public virtues. 

His last scene comported with the whole tenor of his life—although in extreme pain, not a sigh, not a groan escaped him; and with undisturbed serenity he closed his well spent life.  Such was the man America has lost—such was the man for whom our nation mourns.

Methinks I see his august image, and I hear falling from his venerable lips these deep-sinking words:

“Cease, sons of America, lamenting our separation; go on, and confirm by your wisdom the fruits of our joint councils, joint efforts, and common dangers; reverence religion, diffuse knowledge throughout your land, patronize the arts and sciences; let liberty and order be inseparable companions.  Control party spirit, the bane of free governments; observe good faith to, and cultivate peace with, all nations, shut up every avenue to foreign influence, contract rather than extend national connection, rely on ourselves only: be Americans in thought, word, and deed—thus will you give immortality to that union which was the constant object of my terrestrial labors; thus will you preserve undisturbed to the latest posterity the felicity of a people to me most dear, and thus will you supply (if my happiness is now aught to you) the only vacancy in the round of pure bliss high heaven bestows.”

Certainly that is such a memorable beginning using the rhetorical device called anaphora (the sequence of a repeated first word), here constructed in a sequence of three components: “First in war—first in peace—and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”  Writing in elements of threes creates a sense of completeness that twos lack, and greater than threes suggest you can’t fully pin down.  You should try to construct many sentences in elements of threes in writing, but in a speech you should always construct in threes.  The ear picks up on the threes even more so than in writing.  Even as Lee goes on to list an abundance of Washington’s attributes, he divides them into groups of threes.

I also found the conclusion fascinating.  Lee almost brings Washington to life by calling forth “his august image,” and then does something that is brilliant: he allows the image of Washington to speak from the dead in that last paragraph.  Notice also the tone shift (it heightens into a more formal tone) when he has Washington “speak.” 

I hope that brought you back to our founding fathers.  I revere George Washington above all our other founders.  Pious, dignified, ascetic, noble in a natural sense.  Virtue I think is the most precise adjective.

Happy Fourth of July!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Literature in the News: Flannery O’Connor and the Public Square

I came across this article in First Things on Flannery O’Connor and her relationship with the secular society.  The article starts with the recently commemorative stamp the US Post Office recently put out of O’Connor.  I posted on it a few weeks ago, here.  

The author of the article, Ralph C. Wood, notes there is a fair amount of irony in the stamp because he claims O’Connor refused to “assimilate her fiction to the national consensus” of the “American Project.”  There was a theory in the 1950s which continues to today that religion and the secular polis at large needed to remain separate, though respectful.  Wood claims that O’Connor rejected this theory on the basis it would lead to a society without religion, which would amount to idolatry.  From Wood’s article:

Flannery O’Connor resisted such idolatry. She would not be honored with a commemorative stamp if she had attuned her faith and her fiction to the national consensus. Her achievements would have been significant but not drastically important. Setting her loves in proper order, O’Connor gave her first and final loyalty, not to the United States of America, but to the incarnate and living God, the God under and to whom this nation putatively pledges its allegiance. She became the most important Christian author this nation has yet produced—T. S. Eliot the Christian poet being not an American but a British citizen—by becoming a radically unaccommodating Catholic writer.

For O’Connor, there was something ajar almost from the beginning of the American experiment. She famously complained that, in his 1832 refusal to celebrate communion at First Church Boston, without first removing the bread and wine, Emerson began the vaporization of religion in America. The anti-sacramental becomes the spiritual, the discarnate.

How interesting that this article came out a few weeks before this horrendous Supreme Court decision legalizing same sex marriage for the entire country,  It is without question that the separation of religion from the polis has led to an idolatry of the secular.  But what makes this article particularly interesting is that it explores the rich integration of the sacred with society in O’Connor’s fiction. 

…she sought an alternative to the vaporizing spirituality of her age. She found it chiefly in her own region. She both loved and criticized her native South, praising its transcendent virtues while lamenting its temporal evils. Chief among the Southern virtues that made O’Connor the Roman Catholic thoroughly at home among the folk Christians of the Protestant South was their saturation in Scripture. She shared their conviction that the biblical Story of the world’s creation and salvation is meant to master us rather than for us to master it. We have engaged Scripture aright, O’Connor declared, when, “like Jacob, we are marked.”

O’Connor admired the backwoods believers of the American South because they were thus “mastered,” thus “marked.” She was drawn to their self-blinding street prophets and baptizing river preachers. Despite their awful failings, they spoke the language and declared the message of Scripture. These economically poor and educationally uncouth believers possessed no cultural standing or political power; indeed, polite society had passed them by on the other side. Yet she makes them the focus of her fiction, not in scorn but sympathy. Their fierce and sweated Faith enabled them to feel “the hand of God and its descent,” she confessed. “We have trembled with Abraham as he held the knife over Isaac.”

In O’Connor’s world view Wood finds a Christian response to what will certainly be the coming religious ostracism.

When God dies, as O’Connor learned from Nietzsche, “the last man” arrives. “‘We have invented happiness,’ say the last men, and they blink.” They blink because they no longer question or probe, because they refuse to take courageous risks or venture untrodden paths. The last men are shrunken creatures who make everything small, who live longest because they hop like fleas from one warm host to another, who no longer shoot the arrow of their longing beyond man, who want the same things as everyone else because everyone is the same. Unable even to despise themselves, they blink because they are satisfied with happiness as small-minded as themselves.

Wood sees O’Connor advocating courage, resistance, and fight instead of what some have called the Benedict option, a Christian retreat to a self-regulating society removed from the secular world.  (The Benedict option was first proposed by Rod Dreher in The American Conservative.)  Now to be fair to Mr. Dreher, I don’t think he means that the Benedict Option requires religious to be flee-like, but nonetheless it does suggest a lack of courage to stand for your beliefs.

Finally this is a must read article if you wish to have an insight into O’Connor’s work.  For instance,

O’Connor’s work answers these seemingly legitimate protests. Her characters learn to “see” by discerning the invisible realities that are both the cause and the cure of the world’s misery. They discover that, as O’Connor herself declared, evil is not a problem to be fixed but a mystery to be endured. Our great temptation, in an age of “antireligious religion,” is to believe that, because we can repair much of human pain by human measures, we can also mend the human soul. Thus do we also blink. We benignly yield to feelings that, at whatever cost, must not be “hurt.” We cancel our very humanity in conforming ourselves to a happiness that denies both our moral perversions and bodily limitations.

Flannery O’Connor’s characters do not blink. Like many biblical figures, her central characters are not good country people or just plain folks. They believe and they behave strangely. They often find what they are not looking for. They are put on the path toward something infinitely more important than social acceptance and cultural conformity. They are being burned clean and made whole—not by a soft-centered tenderness but by the purifying fire of divine mercy.

I found Wood’s article to be fascinating and rich on many levels, especially when you consider we are in our annual Fortnight for Freedom prayer.  If you’re interested in O’Connor’s work or just in religious liberty, you should read it.