Thank goodness it’s over

I have no idea why we should think that the dropping of a ball in Times’ Square should mark the end of the troubles, but I’ll wink at any ritual assurance I can get.

    1. Rest for Your Soul
    2. Lay aside all earthly cares
    3. Freedom of Fiction
    4. Straight-Edged Ruler in a Fractal Universe
    5. Our Archduke Franz Ferdinand
    6. The Power of Language
    7. Wendell Berry supplement
    8. Immigrants, State-by-State


1

God is free and cannot be expected to behave in a predictable manner (known to us). We can expect certain things according to His promise, but even those things remain largely hidden. For example, we can trust that He is always at all times and in all things working for our salvation, our true communion with Him and healing from the ravages of our brokenness. But we are creatures who dream of being gods, though entering by a false door. Rather than being raised up and conformed to God’s image by the ineffable working of His grace, we prefer to make little god-lets of ourselves and becoming masters of our lives …

Some seek to partner with God, looking for ways of praying and living that rig the game in their favor. Much of this is utterly contrary to the purposes of God in our life. We seek for success and accomplishment. We look for rewards and things we perceive to be desirable and good. Surely no one prays and asks for difficult things. And yet the difficult things are precisely the place where the refining fire of God’s grace burns brightest and best. No one is saved by success and prosperity.

We are indeed saved by grace. However, the Protestant meme that interprets this as mere judicial kindness is an egregious error. Grace is the very life of God, the Divine energies, the fire by which we are transformed into the image of Christ.

(Fr. Stephen Freeman, Rest for Your Soul)

2

Stanford scientists have simulated the acoustics of Hagia Sophia. In collaboration with Cappella Romana, they staged some live performances in the digitally-enhanced virtual Hagia Sophia on the Stanford campus.

Sounds easy at first blush and then the questions start.

English translation: Let us who mystically represent the Cherubim, and who sing the Thrice-Holy Hymn, now lay aside all earthly cares.

3

Ranking high among the surrealities of 2016 was the meltdown at a literary festival in Australia when the American-born novelist Lionel Shriver defended the freedom of fiction writers to conjure characters unlike themselves.

“Taken to their logical conclusion,” Ms. Shriver warned, “ideologies recently come into vogue challenge our right to write fiction at all.” Among the concepts she skewered was “cultural appropriation,” the notion that members of one ethnic group mustn’t use (or eat or wear or write about) things emanating from other ethnic groups. The illogical impracticality of the idea, especially with fiction, hasn’t impeded its spread, and the resulting umbrage was a wonder to behold: An Australian writer of Egyptian and Sudanese origin stormed out of the speech, later blaming Ms. Shriver for celebrating “the unfettered exploitation of the experiences of others, under the guise of fiction.” The officials in charge of the event disavowed their keynote speaker’s remarks.

In January, after a two-week social-media drumming, Scholastic pulled from distribution “A Birthday Cake for George Washington,” which was criticized for an excessively jolly portrayal of enslaved people in the first president’s household. The picture book valorized Hercules, Washington’s chef, who is regarded as America’s first celebrity cook and who, in the story, dazzles his daughter by confecting a cake without sugar. That the book was written by Ramin Ganeshram, a woman of Iranian-Trinidadian descent, and was illustrated and edited by two African-American women, Vanessa Brantley-Newton and Andrea Davis Pinkney respectively, did not soften the opprobrium.

Defending her ill-fated book for Scholastic, Ramin Ganeshram wrote: “It is the historical record—not my opinion—that shows that enslaved people who received ‘status’ positions were proud of these positions—and made use of the ‘perks’ of those positions.” She went on: “Many of us don’t like to consider this, fearing that if we deviate from the narrative of constant-cruelty we diminish the horror of slavery. But if we chose to only focus on those who fit that singular viewpoint, we run the risk of erasing those, like Chef Hercules, who were remarkable, talented, and resourceful enough to use any and every skill to their own advantage.”

(Meghan Cox Gurdon, The PC Police Crack Down on . . . Kids Books, WSJ— emphasis added)

I bolded that one phrase because it so well captured several of the objections chronicled in Ms. Gurdon’s article, but I would extend the sentiment: if we don’t allow deviation from “the narrative of constant cruelty” by depicting oppressed people having pleasure, we sell short human resilience and spiritual strength, and will get propaganda pieces so relentlessly dark that nobody but a mascochist could bear to read them except to mock their inauthenticity.

4

At the very best there are two major problems with ideology. The first is that it does not represent or conform to or even address reality. It is a straight-edged ruler in a fractal universe. And the second is that it inspires in its believers the notion that the fault here lies with miscreant fact, which should therefore be conformed to the requirements of theory by all means necessary. To the ideologue, this would amount to putting the world right, ridding it of ambiguity and of those tedious and endless moral and ethical questions that dog us through life, and that those around us so rarely answer to our satisfaction. Anger and self-righteousness combined with cynicism about the world as he or she sees it are the marks of the ideologue. There is always an element of nostalgia, too, because the ideologue is confident that he or she is moved by a special loyalty to a natural order, or to a good and normative past, which others defy or betray.

(Marilynne Robinson, Austerity as Ideology, one of the Essays in When I Was a Child, I Read Books) This item was deliberately relocated to follow number 3. Connect the dots.

5

What makes 2016 such a disaffecting year is not that it was the outright worst year of humanity’s existence, but that so much of the tragedy seems archaic. We failed to learn from history.

Everything that is happening in the world now — deaths of beloved celebrities aside — seems like relics of a less developed society: the rise of fascism and the far right, retreats into isolationism and factionalism.

The world’s current situation too eerily parallels the fractured state of the world right around the time of World War I, when an interconnected, globalized economy descended into national tribalism. It took two global conflicts for a more coherent and prosperous world order to emerge after World War I began, and I think there’s a sense that 2016 was our Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

It seems that things are only going to get worse before they get better. “Never again” we said after the horrors of the first half of the 20th century, and yet here we are.

Auguste in Washington, reacting to an op-ed about the relative gloom of 2016.

6

In the stack of magazines, read and unread, that I can never bring myself to throw away, there are any number of articles suggesting that science, too, explores the apophatic – reality that eludes words – dark matter, dark energy, the unexpressed dimensions proposed by string theory, the imponderable strangeness described by quantum theory. These magazine essays might be titled “Learned Ignorance,” or “The Cloud of Unknowing,” or they might at least stand beside Plato’s and Plotinus’ demonstrations of the failure of language, which are, paradoxically, demonstrations of the extraordinary power of language to evoke a reality beyond its grasp, to evoke a sense of what cannot be said.

(Marilynne Robinson, Imagination and Community, another of the Essays in When I Was a Child, I Read Books)

7

Jeffrey Bilbro, a kindred spirit of Rod Dreher and Tamara Hill Murphy, takes issue with Hill’s thesis, approved by Dreher. This continues the theme I broached, offering no conclusions of my own, on Thursday.

8

From Pew Research. Biggest change is disappearance of German immigration being dominant in any state.

How America's Source of Immigrants Has Changed Over Time

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“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.