Tuesday, Two Two Two Zero One Six

  1. Sing me to heaven
  2. The limits of tolerance
  3. Dark power
  4. An image of an image of an emotion
  5. First Things vs. first things
  6. A feature, not a bug

1

Saturday, we had the first rehearsal of a choir that will be touring later this year. We tried to get exposure to every piece we’ll be performing, and the music was just handed out.

An hour later, we read through this, which I’d never seen or heard before, and I was just undone by it even as we sight-read:

In my heart’s sequestered chambers
lie truths stripped of poet’s gloss.
Words alone are vain and vacant
and my heart is mute.

In response to aching silence
memory summons half-heard voices,
and my soul finds primal eloquence
and wraps me in song,
wraps me in song.

If you would comfort me, sing me a lullaby.
If you would win my heart, sing me a love song.
If you would mourn me and bring me to God,
sing me a requiem,
sing me to heaven.

Touch in me all love and passion,
pain and pleasure,
touch grief and comfort;
love and passion,
pain and pleasure.

Sing me a lullaby, a love song, a Requiem.
Love me, comfort me, bring me to God:
Sing me a love song, sing me to heaven.

(Jane Griner)

I typed it out so as to desensitize myself, to assure I can get through it dry-eyed and not choked-up in voice.

Of course, there was music (Daniel E. Gawthrop), which somehow seemed a perfect fit. I must get used to that, too.

If you’re wondering what all the fuss is about, bear in mind the maxim that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” Sorry if I failed to communicate.

2

The utter evil of the Holocaust has forced Jews and others to a radical reassessment of the humanistic heritage of the Enlightenment and compelled many of them to face the limits of tolerance and relativism.

(Rabbi Eugene B. Borowitz, arguing, probably in the ealy 1960s, that the modern emphasis on reason and self-imposed ethics needed the undergirding of a covenantal relationship with God. From his obituary.)

3

Here’s another question for the Republican contenders, a corollary to the Sasse challenge: Do you promise to reject dark power?

How the candidates answer ought to matter to every conservative voter. For almost a decade conservatives have suffered under a liberal movement that has honed the tactic of deploying government against its political opponents.

The Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative nonprofits—after Mr. Obama and Democrats encouraged the tax agency to act. Prosecutors hostile to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker staged predawn raids on conservative activists, part of a secret John Doe probe into bogus campaign-finance violations. Powerful Democratic senators harassed and intimidated conservatives for giving money to free-market groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council. Democrats singled out conservative donors, who found themselves subject to government audits.

The Republican presidential contenders would undoubtedly decry those nefarious acts—and be offended if asked whether they would do the same. Yet power is seductive, and plenty of voters are angry enough to embrace a “Republican Obama”—that is, someone who would go after their perceived political enemies. Witness the Washington Republicans who last year called on the IRS to hound the Clinton Foundation. Somewhere, Lois Lerner was smiling.

(Kimberly A. Strassel) I’ll say what Strassel only hinted at: I have little doubt that President Donald Trump would use dark power zestfully.

4

The “Doomsday Clock” is an odd thing — or non-thing, because of course there really isn’t any such clock. The idea, in 1947, was to use a ticking clock as an image of approaching nuclear war. Eventually someone decided to make a fake clock with moveable hands to make the occasional Doomsday Press Conferences a little more dramatic, but that’s not a timepiece; rather, it’s an image of an image of an emotion: fear.

I say “image of an emotion” because no actual science goes into the decision of where to place the hands of the clock. The scientists who make the decision have no particular expertise in geopolitical strategy, military and political risk assessment, or even climatology (relevant since they incorporate climate change into their assessment). They just read a bunch of stuff and take their own emotional temperature.

(Alan Jacobs)

5

Many of the First Things founding editors and writers were former liberals who had come to some conservative conclusions about social and cultural trends, conclusions that were labeled “neo-conservative.” One involved rejecting the presumption, then widespread, especially among serious Christians, that socialism is the most moral way to organize economic life. Another was a growing awareness that the sexual revolution did a great deal of harm to vulnerable people, not the least unborn children. Still another was that American military power is a good thing, deterring aggression and providing indispensible stability to the international order.

I came to many of these neo-conservative conclusions myself in the late 1980s. In the Episcopal Church, where I worshipped, and at Yale, where I was studying, these views were usually greeted with hostility, sometimes intense hostility. When First Things began in 1990, the magazine was a lifeline. It allowed me to see that there were others with whom I shared heterodox (in our academic and ecclesiastical worlds) moral and political judgments.

I never imagined these judgments more important than faith in Christ. But I thought then (and still do) that, as a Christian, I have a duty to come to considered conclusion about matters of public importance. It was a boon to have a forum like First Things where others—some Jews, some Catholics, some Protestants—could debate, discuss, and refine what they share in common when it comes to public life.

(R.R. Reno, responding to a Cathleen Kaveny column in Commonweal) This strikes me as a pretty accurate description of First Things, and the role it has played in my life — on again, off again — since its inception. It even identifies the areas in which I tend to disagree with it (American military power, systematic disregard of the cultural contradictions of capitalism and the effect on souls).

If I were deciding today, toward the end of my seventh decade of life, my relationship with First Things would be off again as I focus of truly first things and leave the political stuff more to others. But my last subscription renewal apparently was a long one, so for now I’m consciously skimming, resisting getting bogged down in things that feel like distractions, however pleasant those distractions might be.

6

[George W.] Bush’s personal decency did not stop him from making colossal errors in judgment, most of all with Iraq, but not only with Iraq. That honorable gentleman, George W. Bush — and I’m not calling him that snarkily, note well — blundered the nation into its worst foreign policy disaster since Vietnam. And all his personal decency did not stay his hand as a torturer. Jimmy Carter was probably one of the most decent men ever to hold the office, but it availed him nothing as a leader. Gerson cites Richard Nixon’s paranoia as an example of how a president’s temperament can affect his performance in office. He’s right: character really is destiny.

But it’s not always destiny in predictable ways, is it? The people who back Trump know he’s a jackass — and that’s what they like about him. 

(Rod Dreher, responding to Michael Gerson, whose defenses of Dubya ended up lowering him in my estimation.)

* * * * *

“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.