Jason Peters on the Krustian sell-a-bration of Eester

Item 983 on my growing list of reasons I’m blessed to have stumbled onto Orthodox Christianity.

This kind of stuff, I’m afraid, is the entropic eventuality of Protestantism. We experienced it as “Worship Wars” in my Protestant church before I left, eventually giving one group reluctant leave to “plant” a new church to its tastes. “Church planting” was the lipstick we put on the pig of splitting up.

I look back now and think neither side knew what real worship looked like, but one was more clueless than the other.

I hesitate to use the term “entropy” with Roman Catholicism, which has endured for a rather long time now. But they’ve got some boundary-setting to do, as in this (I shudder to use the term) Liturgy in Los Angeles:

Cigarettes, terror, and Barack Obama: Glamour is Serious Stuff

So many insights, so little time!

Virginia Postrel at the Weekly Standard writes of “the deeper meaning of glamour,” opening with an anecdote about a C-Span Booknotes watcher who was disappointed that she was involved with the website “DeepGlamour” instead of something serious.

Boy, what a moron! What could be more serious than Deep Glamour? (C-Span’s founder, Brian Lamb, by the way, is a local boy made good.)

Postrel names and reminds readers of a very important pervasive, perhaps even fundamental, human reality: our ability to be persuaded by a bit of mystery – even taken in as suckers (though she doesn’t say that).

As critics who denounce movies that “glamorize violence” or “glamorize smoking” understand, glamour is much more than style. It is a potent tool of persuasion, a form of nonverbal rhetoric that heightens and focuses desire, particularly the longing for transformation (an ideal self) and escape (in a new setting). Glamour is all about hope and change. It lifts us out of everyday experience and makes our desires seem attainable. …

Glamour can, of course, sell evening gowns, vacation packages, and luxury kitchens. But it can also promote moon shots and “green jobs,” urban renewal schemes and military action. (The “glamour of battle” long preceded the glamour of Hollywood.) Californians once found freeways glamorous; today they thrill to promises of high-speed rail. “Terror is glamour,” said Salman Rushdie in a 2006 interview, identifying the inspiration of jihadi terrorists. New Soviet Man was a glamorous concept. So is the American Dream.

Barack Obama was elected partly because his “campaign’s iconography employed classically glamorous themes, with its stylized portraits of the candidate gazing into the distance and its logo of a road stretching toward the horizon.”

Glamour is Serious Stuff. Serious enough that I’m adding it as a category.

My grandmother used to recoil as we watched circus performers in tight or skimpy (by the day’s standards) outfit on black and white television: “Does your mother let you to look at that?” (That’s not a typo; that was one of her speech mannerisms unless my memory is fooling me and she really did say “allow you to look”.) She probably was dimly aware (she of humble origins, widowed at 29 years and for 65 years beyond, worker of fingers-to-the-bone) that this contraption, popularized after her 50th year on earth, was somehow subversive and potentially transformative by bringing glamour into the home in a new way.

It occurs to me that one of the implications of Postrel’s insight is that parents – if they allow their children to watch television at all – need to begin early and age-appropriately to point out the manipulativeness of so much of it, and not just the commercials. The trouble is, identifying the manipulativeness of the shows themselves requires some real work. When smoking was already accepted, who’d have thought that smoking characters were committing glamourization? When consumerism is already accepted ….

I highly commend the article.

14 years on death row

I wrote about my position on the death penalty a few weeks ago. I won’t even say “coincidentally” because stories like this are so common (I do not go looking for them), but conservative columnist Jacob Sullum writes about a man on Louisiana’s death row for 14 years through serious prosecutorial misconduct – withholding proof that a murderer had Type B blood while the defendant had Type O.

And if you are so inclined, don’t tell me the story proves that “the system works.” The system worked only because two dogged lawyers, God bless ’em, were working the case for free.

A Myth in the Making

Because Shelby Steele is a scholar instead of a pundit, he usually has something worth saying when he speaks up. Just so this column, Barack the Good, from tomorrow’s Wall Street Journal.


Mr. Obama wants to be—above all else—a profoundly transformative president … Mr. Obama … remains rather undefined—a president happy to have others write his “transformative” legislation … As the health-care bill and the stimulus package illustrate, scale is functioning as vision … “if I don’t know what to do, I’ll do big things” …

For me, the big insight was that the President may “literally experience [him]self as a myth in the making.” That rings true.

After the Market State: Phillip Blond on the Future of a Free Society

I must pass along an important lecture which summarizes the direction my thought has been heading in politically.

Society and the private sphere have become increasingly monopolized by the state and the market, which seem inadequate for dealing with increasing economic and social dysfunction. Phillip Blond, the influential Director of the London think-tank Respublica, argues for the necessity of the enduring bonds of family and local community, and the wide distribution of property and public responsibility that these require. Blond will outline the vision that has increasingly captured the attention of Britains Tory Party in his lecture, Red Toryism: What it means and why it is a genuinely radical alternative to the Market State.

I tried to embed the YouTube video here, but couldn’t get that to work.

I don’t mind singing in an empty Church

Well, technically, I’m not sure the Church is ever really empty. There’s always that great cloud of witnesses.

But apart from them, the Church is sometimes empty except for Priest and Cantor (me). We rarely have more than the “clergy” (Priest, Deacon, Cantor and maybe another Reader) at the very beginning  of Matins. Occasionally that will happen in a weekday service, too. Usually one or two will arrive soon after the start, though. The inspired doodle above is (from Steve Robinson at Pithless Thoughts, shall we say, reality-based.

But it doesn’t bother me, at least not in the sense of “why do I bother?” I may regret that many who could be present don’t bother, and miss out (missing out on what is the point of this posting – read on). But many really can’t come, and that’s okay. We’re a small Parish, with lots of young families with children. I’d think there was something seriously wrong if those families dragged their young ones to Matins, which combined with Liturgy routinely runs almost 3 hours. Others commute as much as an hour each way. So I don’t expect them to come.

But by coming and singing, I myself – hard of hearing and heart – steep in the teaching and mind of the Church. Slowly, I’m absorbing it. That counts for quite a lot since I’m serious about my faith but have nearly 5 decades of baggage from other Christian traditions, each misguided about many things, to unload.

One of those pieces of baggage is how to approach scripture. I had already begun to write this when Father Stephen posted on “the hearing of the word.” It illustrates beautifully how the Church approaches scripture:

I am convinced after years of preaching and listening to preaching that the bulk of Scripture has become lost to our ears. We hear it, but fail to “hear” it ….

Much of my conviction on this matter has come in the last 12 years or more and my immersion into the services of the Orthodox Church. These services, long and with ample “hymnography” that is but a poetic commentary on the Scriptures and doctrines that surround any particular feast, are probably the richest surviving engagement with the Word of God to be found in a 21st century Church. Here no Reformation has occurred and reduced all Scripture to a “riff” on Justification by Faith, or a subset of Calvin’s paradigms. Here no Enlightenment has shown with its darkness of doubt and obfuscation.

Instead, there is a constant wonderment at the Scriptures themselves, as if the hymnographer were discovering something for the first time or had found a rare gem to share to any willing to listen – and all in the form of praise and thanksgiving to God.

It is true to say that in Orthodoxy, “Theology sings.” ….

…In our modern context most people have either been shaped by fundamentalist literalism; by modernist historical criticism; or by nearly nothing at all. In each case the Scriptures will not sing – they will not yield up their treasures.

I was struck by a particular case this evening – at the Vigil for  Palm Sunday. The gospel account in question was the Matthean version of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem:

“And when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find an ass tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If any one says anything to you, you shall say, `The Lord has need of them,’ and he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfil what was spoken by the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion, Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of an ass.” The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the ass and the colt, and put their garments on them, and he sat thereon.”

Modern historical criticism hears in this only the “foolishness” of Matthew. Matthew has cited the prophecy in Zechariah that “your king is coming to you…mounted on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of an ass,” and has crafted his story in precisely that manner, placing Jesus astride two animals. The same critics will note that in other gospel accounts Christ is only on a “foal of an ass,” i.e., one animal. Historical Critics have a field day with such problems (I was first confronted with this “discrepancy” in my sophomore year of college – it was presented as if the professor had noticed something no one had ever seen before). Modern fundamentalists will rush to defend the integrity of the gospel accounts, “Two different eye-witnesses reported on the same thing and one emphasized one thing and the other emphasized another.”

Both explanations lack imagination and are precisely the sort of blindness that afflicts so much modern reading of Scripture. Listening to the hymnody for the Vigil of Palm Sunday, the hymnographer, without apology for the discrepancy, races to it and declares:

“O gracious Lord, who ridest upon the cherubim, who art praised by the seraphim, now Thou dost ride like David on the foal of an ass, The children sing hymns worthy of God, while the priests and scribes blaspheme against Thee. By riding an untamed colt, Thou hast prefigured the salvation of the Gentiles, those wild beasts, who will be brought from unbelief to faith! Glory to Thee, O merciful Christ. Our King and the Lover of man!”

the ancient hymnographer has come closer to the heart of Scripture than either the modern sceptic or the modern literalist will ever know.

… The writers of the New Testament believed that everything in the Old, when read rightly would yield insight into the Messiah and the mystery of our salvation. But their creative insight (again, I believe it is inspired) is far removed from the flat-footed nonsense that we hear out of modern fundamentalist “prophetic” scholars, whose reading of the Old Testament is almost as poorly constructed as the 19th century false prophecies of the book of Mormon! Neither bear any resemblance to the treatment of prophecy found in the New Testament.

And thus I return to my original point. We have become deaf. We listen with ears either hardened by modernist scepticism, or by a false literalism that has substituted Darbyite nonsense for the Apostolic faith, or reduced Scripture to delicate harmonizations. None of them have the boldness and audacity of the patristic hymnographers who stood in the proper line of succession, proclaiming the faith as it had been taught and received and continuing to expound its mysteries. Thank God that somewhere in this modern world, you can still stand and listen to the wonders of our salvation, sung and unraveled before the unbelieving heart of man. Glory to God who has so loved mankind!

So, whether there’s a single soul besides me in church, I’m singing theology. I’m singing poetry. I’m expounding the mysteries of the faith. I’m unraveling the wonders of our salvation before my own unbelieving heart, made dull by 48 years of desparate harmonizations – “flat-footed nonsense.”

[If this sampling from Father Stephen has whetted your appetite, probably the most target-rich zone of audacious expounding of the Old Testament is the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, sung in segments during the first week of Lent and then sung in its entirety Thursday of the 5th week. Download and savor.]

And in a sense that I’m slowly and dimly beginning to apprehend, we are doing the reconciling work of God. This gets into a sacramental view of the world, which I am unqualified to address and would surely botch if I tried. Perhaps another day.

Although I’m occasionally bone-weary when I go to sing, it’s always a very great privilege, and I benefit as much as anyone.

America at 2050 – and 400 millionsub

Another voice of economic optimism for the U.S. to counter my pessimism, Joel Kotkin thinks the next hundred million Americans, mostly immigrants, will be our economic salvation. But he thinks these folks – who won’t necessarily be very upwardly-mobile – will live in the suburbs, “the best, most practical choice for raising their families and enjoying the benefits of community.”

Huh!? I’ll grant the the faux estate in the auto-dependent suburbs has become the American dream since World War II, but is it really a community-promoter? And how will they afford the $10/gallon gas to get to their jobs?

The rosy picture doesn’t work for me at that level if nothing else.

Is economics really a science at all?

David Brooks at the New York Times describes the history of modern economics as a 5-act play. We’re in act IV currently.

In The Wall Street Journal, Russ Roberts of George Mason University wondered why economics is even considered a science. Real sciences make progress. But in economics, old thinkers cycle in and out of fashion. In real sciences, evidence solves problems. Roberts asked his colleagues if they could think of any econometric study so well done that it had definitively settled a dispute. Nobody could think of one.

“The bottom line is that we should expect less of economists,” Roberts wrote.

Consider my recommendation of the column as a contribution to iconoclasm.

Tiger Amadeus Woods: A Lenten Meditation

It started with Jason Peters rewriting William Blake. Then John Willson performed a dental colostomy* on Tiger, with FPR contributor Jeffrey Polet, I and at least a few others taking exception to what we thought was an extremely harsh tone. Now at last Polet has published his own promised thoughts on L’Affaire Tiger.

It was timely for me. I have avoided the details of Tiger’s transgressions, but moments before clicking on a link to Polet’s piece, I stumbled across a reproduction of some of Tiger’s text messages to a porn star mistress, and they were pretty shocking. I won’t link to them. I don’t think there’s a shortage of ways to track down the salacious detail.

I don’t recall who said “to understand all is to forgive all.” A quick Googling suggests that it’s probably a French proverb – proof again that the French are more than “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” (as Jonah Goldberg called them. I can’t help but laugh at many French jokes, as the French in my experience deserve a reputation for haughtiness. There’s a reason why one Wall Street Journal columnist always refers to John Kerry as “the haughty, French looking Senator from Massachusetts who, by the way, served in Vietnam.”). But Polet’s analogy between Tiger and a tempestuous genius of an earlier century puts things in an edifying perspective. It helps to understand, and to me “feels right,” as I try to empathize with the temptations of superstardom.

I could meander off into some personal reflections about how easy it is to condemn X immediately after condemning Y’s condemnation of Z, but I won’t.

* “Dental colostomy” is a euphemism for the slang phrase “chewing him a new [body part omitted].” I think I coined it.