Our collapse proceeds apace

Shifting the arc of history

The elites kind of have a Martin Luther King, Jr. envy. Every generation want to have that moral quality, that sense that they are shifting the arc of history in a better way, even though we’ve generally done about as much as we possibly can to do that — in terms of within the possibilities (sic) of a liberal system.

Andrew Sullivan, interviewed on the Conversations with Tyler podcast.

"As much as we possibly can … within the possibilities of a liberal system" is perceptive — and ominous, since the impulse for "equity" may consider destruction of our liberal system a very acceptable price to pay.

It’s my hypothesis (in what I’ve called "Selma envy" in parallel with what Sullivan calls it) that part of today’s madness is that progressive organizations that achieve their ultimate objective won’t declare victory, close down, and move on. Instead, they dream up some new objective even when the new objective is, objectively, quite mad.

Most of the trans phenomenon seems to fit that pattern; why didn’t the Human Rights Campaign, for instance, wind up its affairs starting the day after Obergefell? As I recall, Andrew Sullivan — an early and influential proponent of same-sex marriage — has the same question.

Note that "Selma envy" is not meant to demean. The human desire for meaning is strong, and when so many religious options for meaning-formation have fallen into disrepute, both Left and Right may end up in crazy places.

Lex orandi, lex credendi

Michael Brendan Dougherty steps away from the pages of National Review to voice white-hot objection to Pope Francis’ suppression of the Latin Mass.

If I were Roman Catholic, I think his piece would describe my position perfectly.

Of course, that’s a very big "if." Because if I were a Roman Catholic who had subjected himself to the Novus Ordo for decades, and had not availed himself of the Latin Mass during the blessed hiatus in its suppression sanctioned by Benedict XVI in Summorum Pontificum, I might have been "form[ed] … to a new faith," as Dougherty puts it.

This, too:

I learned that the Latin language was not the only distinguishing feature of this form of worship. The entire ritual was different from the post-Vatican II Mass. It wasn’t a mere translation into the modern vernacular; less than 20 percent of the Latin Mass survived into the new.

A freshman religious studies major would know that revising all the vocal and physical aspects of a ceremony and changing the rationale for it constitutes a true change of religion. Only overconfident Catholic bishops could imagine otherwise.

Just so. This is why we Orthodox guard our Liturgy (and our Liturgy guards us).

I had written the preceding part when I came across an interesting phrase in Fraces Fitzgerald’s The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape a Nation:

… [Paul] Weyrich, a Catholic so conservative he joined an Eastern Rite church after Vatican II ….

The implication is that the Orthodox Liturgy (used in the Eastern Rite with different diptychs) is more traditionally Catholic than the Novus Ordo.

That’s not wrong.

Institutions, internet, information

[T]hose who love the [Roman Catholic] Church’s traditions and choose to believe that she is truly the “perfect society” have, in actuality, zero power to preserve or protect her. They are left, therefore, with no choice but to obey papal innovations and be crushed, or to rebel against them, and thereby become the very opposite of what they espouse. Obedience to everything but sin is what the tradition recommends; rebellion against an unjust but not immoral order is anything but traditional.

Steve Skojec, Casual Saints and The De-Mythologizing of the Church – The Skojec File. H/T Rod Dreher.

Dreher continues on the corrosive difficulty of maintaining trust in institutions — any institutions — in the Information Age:

[I]t is certainly true that our governmental and health authorities have not covered themselves with glory in their management of information around Covid … [W]hen we saw last summer health authorities saying that it was okay to cast aside their warnings against public gatherings, for the sake of attending George Floyd protests, that instantly discredited them in the eyes of many of us. These things really do matter. At the same time public health authorities are giving warnings about Covid, and liberals are demanding that we TRUST THE SCIENCE, we are seeing things like the American Medical Association say that we should do away with “male” and “female” on birth certificates, because sex doesn’t exist. Now, it is perfectly possible that medical authorities could be telling the truth about how to deal with Covid, and be completely bonkers and politicized about sex and gender. But normal people see how quickly doctors are falling for the trendy ideologization of medicine, and wonder how much they can be trusted on anything.

Similarly, it is entirely possible that school systems are correct to mandate masks for students coming back to school in the time of the Delta variant. But when many school systems are also mandating teaching of radical neoracist ideologies based on Critical Race Theory, normal people can’t be faulted for doubting the judgment of those authorities.

I could cite examples all day. The point is this: authority is not the same thing as power. An institution that has squandered its authority has nothing left but power. And if it doesn’t have power to coerce others — as in today’s churches — what does it have? If it does have the power to coerce others, including those who don’t accept its authority, it risks being or becoming a tyranny.

You could say that the total information environment is good in that it compels institutions to become more honest and competent. Maybe. But humans are not machines. We are going to fail. If we live in a society where people regard all human failure as malicious, and freak out completely in the face of it, we aren’t going to make it.

(Emphasis added)

Relative dangers, Left and Right

Wokesters, a/k/a the Successor Ideology, is the current and is like a low-stage cancer, and the body politic has awakened to their presence and is responding. Left illiberalism has lost the element of surprise (surprise that it so swiftly leapt from the Ivy Tower to the street), and faces increasing resistance in the culture.

The more radically Trumpist Right, is an institutional disinformation organization, "flooding the zone with shit" about "rigged" elections and either violently seizing power or having red-state legislatures replace Democrat electoral winners with Republican losers. That’s more like an impending massive heart attack.

(Summarizing a portion of Monday’s Advisory Opinions podcast with Jonathan Rauch, author of The Constitution of Knowledge.)

This was an excellent discussion, including Rauch’s admiration for NIH head Francis Collins, who led the mapping of the human genome and is a faithful Christian. Looking at the considerable numbers of thoughtful believers in contrast to his contentedly-atheist self, Rauch hypothesizes that his atheism is perhaps like color-blindness.

That seems like a pretty good analogy, in part because a person who isn’t color-blind cannot with integrity deny the distinction between, say, red and green.

20 Hungarian Lessons the West Is Still Missing

There has been a lot of stupid, stupid stuff written about Hungary, Viktor Orbán, and some admirers on the American Right. 20 Hungarian Lessons the West Is Still Missing is a smart, balanced, longish piece written by Eric D’Amato, who knows Hungary well from 15 years there.

It’s embarrassing that so little commentary comes anywhere near this level, but I guess there must be loudly stupid things written on minor topics before there’s a market for smart ones.

Afghan collapse

After a long quote from a bitter, bitter blog from an ex-soldier who deployed twice to Afhanistan, Rod Dreher demurs just a teensy bit:

I think Joe Biden deserves criticism for the terrible way his administration handled the endgame. But Joe Biden didn’t lose this war. This war was lost not the day George W. Bush decided to attack Afghanistan — the Taliban government deserved it for harboring Osama bin Laden — but rather on the day that George W. Bush decided that we were going to nation-build in Afghanistan.

Dreher then goes on to quote a 2002 column that predicted, with what we now can all see was extreme accuracy, how our Afghanistan adventure could not and would not end well.

The neocon hatred for paleocons like Pat Buchanan, the author of that 2002 column, knows no bounds. I look forward to David Frum, one of the former, writing a ‘splainer in the Atlantic on how the débâcle is all Buchanan’s fault for not joining the imperialist cheer squad.

And I should add that Donald J. Trump, in addition to appointing a bunch of very good Federal judges (all of whom, remarkably, have "betrayed" him by staying faithful to their oaths of office) deserves credit for not starting any more of these perverse wars, as he promised (or at least implied) he wouldn’t.

Adiaphora

Andrew Cuomo Resigned Because the Democrats Aren’t a Cult
Normal political parties can police their own.

Benjamin Parker

Andrew Cuomo’s resignation shows 1 party is still capable of shame

Damon Linker. Linker continues:

Within hours of the attorney general’s press conference last week, the president of the United States, leading Democrats in Washington, and key members of the New York State Assembly had called on Cuomo to step down. With polls showing a majority favoring resignation, pressure in Albany mounting, and defenders dwindling, attempting to hang on would have been maximally risky. That made Cuomo’s decision a no-brainer.

The contrast with the Republican Party couldn’t be sharper.

Since Donald Trump’s hostile takeover of the party in 2016, the GOP has adopted an ethos of merciless bellicosity. Fighting is what counts and what gets rewarded. Sacrificing for the sake of principle is denigrated and dismissed. To resign is to give up power voluntarily. It’s therefore a choice reserved only for suckers and chumps.

Add in the cult of personality that has accompanied this shift in moral orientation and we’re left with a party overwhelmingly predisposed to forgive transgressions of the most charismatic and politically potent members of the team.


There was a time when I said I listened to NPR news because it made me feel at least a little bit smarter, whereas most network and radio news was stultifying.

Well, I haven’t been listening to much news, but I went back to NPR today, only to be teased for a story on the increasing hospitalization rates for "pregnant people" with Covid.

It’s weird when no broadcast news is helpful. I’ve heard that BBC World News remains excellent, but they spend so much time on in-depth stories from halfway around the world — stories that (this probably means I’m a bad person) just are not all that keenly interesting to me.


Sex-Toy Makers Lovehoney, WOW Tech Merge in $1.2 Billion Deal as Lockdowns Spur Demand
Germany’s WOW Tech Group and U.K.-based Lovehoney said they have agreed to merge in a deal that values the combined company at around $1.2 billion, as the pandemic helps fuel global demand for sex toys.

I guess if you’re the Wall Street Journal, you report all kinds of business news. (August 12 digital edition). It makes one excited at the news possibilities should prostitution be legalized.


Here is the evidence that trans women are really women, and that trans men are really men: They say they are. This has been confirmed in study after study. So stop opposing Science, bigots.

J Budziszewski


I have had it with Rand Paul.


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

Three from today

Schrodinger’s victims

For the moment, at least, Jews are Schrodinger’s victims; they may or may not be deserving of sympathy, depending on who’s doing the victimizing. When a group of tiki torch-wielding white nationalists chant “Jews will not replace us!,” the condemnation is swift. But replace the tiki torch with a Palestinian flag, and call the Jews “settler colonialists,” and the equivocations roll in: Maybe that guy who threw a firebomb at a group of innocent people on the street in New York was punching up, actually?

April Powers naively believed that American Jews should get the same full-throated defense as any other minority group in the wake of a vicious attack, without ambivalence, caveats and whataboutism. That belief cost her the security of a job.

… This is America, guys.

Kat Rosenfield, April Powers Condemned Jew-Hate. Then She Lost Her Job. (guest-written at Common Sense with Bari Weiss)

De mortuis nil nisi bonum

For decades and decades my view of the Episcopal Church in the United States has been “unfaithfully liberal.” And having started in the essentially fundamentalist wing of Evangelicalism, I was baffled at how a Real Christian®️ could stay in such a Church. (I felt much the same way about the unfaithfulness of some other denominations, but the Episcopal Church had the additional strike of descent from a bastard child of Henry VIII.)

Well, at least as to the Episcopal Church, I’ve figured out over the last five years or so why a believing orthodox Christian might decamp to, or stay in, that Church: worship. You know, the kind of stuff that’s addressed to God or to reposed saints rather than to oneself or one’s friends in the pew. I starved for such worship in Evangelical and Calvinist Churches, with sporadic respite (a great hymn accidentally replacing a praise song, for instance).

But a mid-sized Episcopal Church probably conducts its liturgies and other services more punctiliously than the Roman Catholic Churches in its city. And they are worshipful, or at least not a distraction from worship. The heterodoxy outside formal services was too big an ask for me, but it hasn’t been for others.

And now, The Death of the Episcopal Church is Near (Religion in Public). I will, somewhat, miss it.

“That’s not a thing”

The retiring Rep. Kevin Brady—the top Republican on the House Ways & Means Committee—pointed to some of these concerns in a tweet on Friday. “MORE TROUBLING SIGNS: June jobs report,” it reads. “Long-term unemployment worsened. Unemployment for ALL MINORITIES & LESS EDUCATED worsened. Construction jobs shrank. Labor-force rate: still poor.”

But Tony Fratto—a top Treasury Department and White House official in the George W. Bush administration—argued naysayers were straining a little too hard to criticize the report: “I know it’s fun to find the dark clouds behind every silver lining, but there’s no such thing as a bad jobs report that adds 850k jobs. That’s not a thing.”

The Morning Dispatch: A Strong June Jobs Report – by The Dispatch Staff – The Morning Dispatch


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

The times, they are a changin’

1

The history of greed, venality, stupidity, cruelty and violence is long because that part of human nature is ineradicable. As the 20th century demonstrated, it is better to bet on a liberal society’s capacity to temper these flaws and iniquities than on a utopia’s false promise to eradicate them. Those promises end being written in blood.

… [C]ycles of history run their course. By 2008 it was clear that the world economic system was seriously skewed. Bailed out, it staggered on until now, accompanied by growing anger in Western societies.

… All the grotesque needed, to be revealed as such, was for time to stop.

Roger Cohen, No Return to the ‘Old Dispensation’. The grotesque did stop, but has it been recognized sufficiently for us to actually change entrenched behavior when some kind of normalcy is again permitted?

I loved this whole column, by the way. So sorry if you can’t get to it — I don’t know how much, if anything, a non-subscriber can see.

2

Are we inherently gullible? Research says no: Most adults have well-functioning machinery for detecting baloney, but there’s a common bug in the machine. Faced with a novel idea or new circumstances, we gravitate to information that fits our already existing beliefs. As Sherlock Holmes put the problem: “Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” This bug has always been exploited by people seeking money, power — or both. But with the rise of social media, the world’s propagandists, con artists and grifters find their search for suckers easier than ever.

Witness the grubby exercise known as “#Plandemic.” [A conspiracy theory video now banned from social media — after infecting 8 million brains.] …

People believe in a “#Plandemic” because it fits into existing convictions. A lot of people already believe — not without reason — that pharmaceutical companies cash in on suffering. Many people have heard that government labs do research on biological weapons. All true. Government has hemorrhaged credibility in recent years — even with regard to veteran public servants such as Fauci. All of these mind-sets are potential vectors for the viral #plandemic.

Americans need to understand that they are being actively targeted for disinformation campaigns by people and forces pursuing their own agendas. Conspiracy-monger Alex Jones wants to sell them overpriced nutritional supplements. Anti-vaxxers are hawking books and miracle cures. Vladimir Putin and the mandarins of Beijing are pushing the decline of the United States and the death of the Western alliance.

Some want your money. Some want your mind. Citizenship in the Internet era demands a heightened commitment to mental hygiene and skepticism. We have to learn that the information that fits neatly into our preconceptions is precisely the information we must be wary of. And even in these wild times, we must heed the late Carl Sagan, who preached that“extraordinary claims” — like grand conspiracies and healing microbes — “require extraordinary proof.”

David Von Drehle, Why people believe in a ‘plandemic’.

Take a look at the next-to-last paragraph. Someone’s missing: Steve Bannon, who pledged to “flood the zone with shit” to neutralize truth-telling about Trump.

3

Fourteen years ago, Rod Dreher introduced us to Crunchy Cons. Now his friend Tara Isablla Burton, with a degree in theology but a fairly short history of personally “faithing,” thinks Christianity Gets Weird, and wants New York Times readers to know about it.

Because of her audience, or perhaps via her editors, I find a lot of her wording and characterizations weirdly “off” and off-putting. I’m familiar with the sort of phenomenon she’s talking about, and I’d have to say that although she’s in the right ballpark, she’s not just “way out in left field” but somewhere in the bleacher seats much of the time. For instance.

  1. I would not affirm either half of “old-school forms of worship as a way of escaping” anything. “Escaping” is an unduly negative spin on something fundamentally sane.
  2. Her characterization of “mainline Protestant denominations like Episcopalianism and Lutheranism” was painted with a mighty broad brush.
  3. What is “weekly membership” (emphasis added) in reference to Roman Catholic churches with Latin Mass?

But the teaser is great:

Modern life is ugly, brutal and barren. Maybe you should try a Latin Mass.

And near the conclusion, she gives a characterization I can endorse:

Like the hipster obsession with ‘authenticity’ that marked the mid-2010s, the rise of Weird Christianity reflects America’s unfulfilled desire for, well, something real.

That “something real” is, in the best cases (and I suspect they are many), God.

Flaws aside, I welcome anyone using a prominent platform like the New York Times Magazine to shout out that “the fusion of ethnonationalism, unfettered capitalism and Republican Party politics that has come to define the modern white evangelical movement” is not the whole of American Christianity. Not even close.

UPDATE:

Rod Dreher on Sunday published the full text of Tara Isabella Burton’s interview of him. She got in a couple of well-formed, open-ended questions, and he really ran with thim. For my money, that interview is better than TIB’s NYT story, but TIB was casting the net wider than Catholic and Orthodox converts.

This, for me, was Rod’s best point in the interview:

The phrase “Christian values” has been worn as smooth as an old penny by overuse, especially in the mouths of political preachers. Look, I’m a theological, cultural, and political conservative, but I admit that it has become hard, almost impossible, to find the language to talk meaningfully about what it means to believe and act as a Christian. This is not a Trump-era thing; Walker Percy was lamenting the same thing forty years ago, at least. I think the term “Christian values” has become meaningless. It is taken as shorthand for opposing the Sexual Revolution, and all it entails — abortion, sexual permissiveness, gay marriage, and so forth. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that to be a faithful Christian does require one to oppose the Sexual Revolution, primarily because the Sexual Revolution offers a radically anti-Christian anthropology. But then, so does modernity — and this is an anti-Christian anthropology that clashes with the historic faith in all kinds of ways. I’m thinking of the way we relate to technology and to the economy.

You want to clear a room of Christians, both liberal and conservative? Tell them that giving smartphones with Internet access to their kids is one of the worst things you can do from the standpoint of living by Christian values. Oh, nobody wants to hear that! But it’s true — and it’s not true because this or that verse in the Bible says so. It’s true because of the narrative that comes embedded in that particular technology. It’s not an easy thing to explain, which is why so many Christians, both of the left and the right, think that “Christian values” means whatever their preferred political party’s preferred program is.

[Philip Rieff wrote that] “Barbarism is not some primitive technology and naive cosmologies, but a sophisticated cutting off of the inhibiting authority of the past.” This is perfectly true. This is why the dominant form of religion today is, to use sociologist Christian Smith’s phrase, “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” It’s crap. It’s what people believe when they want the psychological comfort of believing in God, but without having to sacrifice anything. It’s the final step before total apostasy. In another generation, America is going to be like Europe in this way.

But something might change. The problem with the phrase “Christian values” is that it reinforces the belief that Christianity is nothing more than a moral code. If that’s all Christianity is, then to hell with it. The great thing about ancient, weird, traditional Christianity is that it is a lifeline to the premodern world. It reminds us of what really exists behind this veil of modern selfishness and banality and evil.

Weird Christianity: The Rod Dreher Interview.

That’s about as deep as I’ve ever read Rod going. Good stuff.

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You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

Liturgy, mimesis, humus

I went to a symposium over the weekend, the intimidating theme of which was For I Am Holy: The Command to Be Like God.

Like God?!

But this was my fifth year. I have people who are becoming like family to me. I wanted to see them.

Boy, am I glad I went.

There were no formulae. Holiness formulae can only turn us into delusional, self-righteous Church Lady prigs.

So the emphasis was how the liturgy and encountering great literature (sometimes with holy protagonists) and practicing humility at the most “humus” level can shape us toward holiness.

The Eighth Day Symposia are always ecumenical in the sense that the three main speakers are Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant. The commonality comes from moderate to deep knowledge of the Church Fathers.

Christians are divided. This is a fact. We have been since the schism between East and West at the turn of the first millennium and since the Protestant Reformations in the sixteenth century. This is a tragedy. That’s why we believe we have a duty to facilitate a dialogue of love and truth, one that acknowledges our real differences, but one that also seeks to achieve a common mind so we can stand reunited in the One who is the Truth.

There is a separate Florovsky-Newman week to focus on our differences. I’ve never been to one, but I think that’s going to change.

Eighth Day Institute is mutually and enthusiastically supportive of Eighth Day Books, a Christian bibliophile’s “happiest place on earth.”

EDB has just published a paper catalog for the first time in eight years. Get one before they’re gone!

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All Christian readers could benefit from listening to the podcast The Struggle Against the Normal Life. It’s a short (11:05) detox for our toxic faux Christian environment.

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

The PCA and The Nashville Statement

[The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)] endorsing the Nashville Statement was an odd move. The Statement itself is a jumble. It purports to be a broad account of Christian teachings on sexuality, but has nothing to say about divorce, contraception, or biomedical tech, and says very little about procreation as an essential good in Christian marriage. This makes the statement lopsided in its teachings about sexuality in ways that are evangelistically disastrous where the [Tim Keller and Reformed University Fellowship] wing of the PCA tends to be most active.

… The right … needs to recognize that what they confuse for progressive drift is usually the more banal work of finding ways to present the faith to people with minimal knowledge of Christianity, or with some deep hostility to orthodoxy …

Contrary to some hyperbolic claims, there is no serious movement in the PCA to reject historic teachings about sexuality. Those who dissented on Nashville did not do so because they are progressive on sexual ethics, but because of the procedural and pastoral issues cited above—as well as the lopsidedness of the statement itself.

Jake Meador

Apart from garbling a little denominational history (the PCA did not exist in the late 60s when the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy was issued — but then neither did Jake), Jake nails this.

I read the Nashville Statement and many reactions to it when it was issued (I clipped 20 items on the topic), and it was both sloppy (e.g., what’s the “homosexual self-conception” Christians should not adopt?) and lopsided (what about the sexual sins and dubious practices of heterosexuals? [Crickets.])

I often object to “whataboutism” as a rhetorical ploy to defend the indefensible, but the Preamble of the Nashville Statement does indeed promise “a broad account of Christian teachings on sexuality,” whereas the Statement is negative only on homosexuality, with flaws both rhetorical and pastoral, and without coming anywhere near stepping on any heterosexual toes about un-natural practices that have been adopted wholesale and uncritically.

People should not feel compelled to endorse sloppy and lopsided statements to prove their orthodoxy.

[This post is not categorized “lifework” or “deathwork,” just to prove that I maintain some sense of proportion. But had I waded in on the topics about which the Nashville Statement is silent, the “deathwork” category probably would have been invoked.]

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You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

I highly recommend blot.im as a crazy-easy alternative to Twitter (if you’re just looking to get your stuff “out there” and not pick fights).

Venerating God, Worshiping Nothing

I’ve been an Orthodox Christian now for a bit more than 21 years. During that time, I’ve heard (and enjoyed hearing) some things that struck me as cute quips or snappy evangelistic comebacks.

One, which I thought of as just a snappy comeback to the charge that we Orthodox “worship icons,” went like this:

You just don’t know what worship is. We’re merely venerating the saints or the events depicted in those icons. We worship only God.

Maybe you merely venerate God and worship nothing.

“Venerate God and worship nothing” struck me as true of my former tradition after my experience of Orthodoxy.

The experience of real worship had been a strong draw to Orthodoxy, a fulfillment of a long longing, and the answer to my trouble-making in “Worship Committees” and such, about un-worshipful gospel songs — songs directed to one another rather than to God.

Let’s take just one example, far from the worst:

I serve a risen savior, He’s in the world today.
I know that He is living, whatever men may say.
In all the world around me, I see His loving care,
and every time I need Him, He’s always there.
He lives! He lives! Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me along life’s weary way.
He lives, He lives, salvation to impart.
You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart!

God is third person singular, a topic of discussion, not a second person singular Thee/Thou or You/Your, an object of worship. And there’s way too much “I.”

Hand me a contemporary Christian “hymnbook,” or whatever they call them these days, and I could go on all day and all night.

But my objections to that sort of thing fell on deaf ears because some people liked those songs.

If there is any of that—singing about God to each other rather than singing to God—in Orthodox services, it has escaped my notice for 21 years. And I love that absence.

But given the insensate response to my concerns within my Protestant context, all I felt comfortable saying about Orthodox worship to non-Orthodox was “come and see,” hoping that my invitee would experience the fulfillment I experienced. “Venerate God and worship nothing” was insider talk, not really useful.

Or so I thought. My reticence ended Thursday, December 13, around 5:30 PM.

After running an errand and catching the evening news, I listened to podcasts as I drove to a meeting an hour away. A particular podcast brought home to me that the quip about veneration and worship is literally true in an objective sense, not just as an allegation about subjective intentions.

That was a revelation, though probably not a life-altering epiphany for me as I’m already Orthodox. But it may be a life-altering epiphany for you.

I’ve transcribed much of that podcast for you, though I’d encourage you to pour a coffee (or whatever) and savor the less than 14 minutes it takes to hear all of The Sacrifice of Worship, spoken in Father Stephen Freeman’s deeply reflective, gentle southern drawl.

My convention in transcribing the podcast is that italics represent emphasis in Father Stephen’s delivery, whereas boldface represents my added emphasis:

… Sacrifice itself was part of the universal language of of ancient religion … This was worship.

Today, “sacrifice” has passed into more generalized cultural metaphors that have nothing to do with worship, and “worship,” the word itself, has become a vague concept, generally associated with prayer and praise and hymn-singing. And as such, it has become increasingly difficult to distinguish what many contemporary Christians describe as worship from the treatment of various rock, sport and entertainment stars, or patriotism and ideological fetishism.

At a large gathering of some tens of thousands, hands are lifted in the air, people are singing, the music swells — and if I stop the description at that point, it is possible that this is a moment of praise and worship. But if, however, I note that the venue was a concert, then it’s mere adulation of a celebrity. But … the bare bones, what I call the “grammar” of the action — is utterly the same …◊

So fast-forward now to the setting of an Orthodox Church. Here, there are numerous icons of holy men and women, saints, adorning the Church. Candles and lamps burn before them. A non-Orthodox contemporary Christian, visiting for the first time, becomes distinctly uncomfortable and thinks to himself “they are worshiping saints!

Somehow, the psychological confusion that is contemporary culture can distinguish between the worship of God and the adulation of celebrities, but accuses traditional Christianity — that is, Orthodox Christianity — of violating the second and third commandments.

What we have is a clash of grammars.

So I suggest a working definition for contemporary worship. It would be this. It would mean “any number of activities, including singing, dancing, waving hands, shouting, weeping, when in a religious setting. The same actions in a non-religious setting are not worship.

But in the grammar of Orthodoxy — and, may I say, in the grammar of scripture — worship has a different definition. Worship may be defined, just as it was in Abraham’s day [when Abraham progressed toward sacrifice of Isaac], … as the offering of a sacrifice to a deity.

The trouble comes when one grammar seeks to understand the other. That which the Orthodox render to saints and holy objects, such as relics, the cross, icons and such, is understood to be honor or veneration, for no sacrifices are ever offered to saints as though they were gods. Note this carefully

This distinction is difficult for contemporary Christians because the notion of sacrifice in its original meaning has been lost. It is certainly the case than honor and veneration are given to God, but they do not of themselves constitute worship.

The contemporary road map of religion consists almost exclusively of various psychological states. The honor given a rock star is understood to differ from that given to God based on the intention within the person who is giving the honor. To the outside observer, the actions might appear indistinguishable. But, we’re told, God knows the heart and so God can tell the difference between the two.

Sacrifice has largely disappeared from the experience of contemporary Christianity. The Protestant Reformation mounted something of a frontal assault on medieval Catholicism’s treatment of the Eucharist as a sacrificial offering … [Catholic counter-arguments] fell on deaf ears — at least for the reason that the ears wanted to be deaf …

I jump in here to note that the Orthodox view of the Eucharist is essentially identical with that of Roman Catholicism, which the Reformers and their spiritual progeny rejected. Father Stephen makes that point himself, but in a way that seemed a digression from my point in this blog.

… [In contemporary Christianity] “Do this in remembrance of me” becomes a mere memorial and then simply becomes a means of forgetting …

The Mystery of our salvation as well as they Mystery that we described as “worship” is found within the sacrifice of Christ. Abraham and all of ancient Israel would have understood worship to largely be identical with sacrifice … Christians of the first millennium-and-a-half understood that the bloodless sacrifice of the Eucharistic offering was the central act of worship. Their hymns and psalms happened as part of that context …

We continue to offer the bloodless sacrifice‡ of Christ’s death. It is the single perfect offering of all of humanity, made through the person of God’s Son ….

By a strange twist of history, the praise that took its meaning from the sacrifice itself by analogy came to displace the sacrifice and made praise itself the essential element of worship.

As hungry as my Protestant self was for real worship, my understanding of it did indeed stop at, essentially, “praise of God and to God, with no calculated sentimentality and no focus on one another in our songs and hymns.” Praise to God was my “essential element of worship.” Worship wasn’t “about me.”

I wasn’t wrong, but far short. So are you if praise (or a sermon) is your essential element of worship.

An implication of this is that if your church “serves communion” only rarely, then at best you worship only rarely. If your church treats the communion elements only as a remembering-with-props, then you worship never.†

And sacrifice properly speaking is a ritual or rite. As Father Stephen said in his opening (part of the initial ellipsis in the transcription above):

When God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, in Genesis 22, there was no questioning on Abraham’s part about what was intended. He understood precisely what was involved in such a thing.

There was wood to be gathered, an altar of stones to be constructed, the victim was to be bound, and then the slitting of its throat, the gushing forth of blood, all consummated in the burning fires of the now-completed offering.‡

You cannot turn your contemporary Christian church’s wafers and grape juice, prepared in the church kitchen by who-knows-who the night before and dumped down the disposal after the service, into the Christian Eucharistic sacrifice, the true body and blood of Christ, just by fervently thinking of it that way.µ

You need, at a minimum, to be in a Church with an epiklesis, and that’s part of a whole package.

If you are as I was, then right about now you’re saying “Father Stephen called this the grammar of scripture. Now put up or shut up. Show it to me in The Book.”

Okay:

16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?
17 For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.
18 Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar?
19 What say I then? that the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing?
20 But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils.
21 Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils.

I Corinthians 10.

Satisfied? Now what are you going to do about it? Do you care enough to forsake your praise services and find a Church that worships?

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Notes:

◊ Thus it is especially ironic that they accuse us, the Orthodox, of worshiping things that aren’t God because they don’t notice the difference—a difference that I didn’t notice, either, in a way that I could articulate before now. Mea culpa! We do bring baggage into the Church with us!

† Another implication is that Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans and the handful of Reformed congregations that have adopted weekly communion are not my focus here. I’m not indifferent to the differences among us, but sussing those out is not my task for today, if ever.

‡ As I labored over this blog, some more personal implications of my “revelation” emerged, such as freshened appreciation for the shed blood of Christ once-for-all, the predicate of our now-bloodless Eucharistic sacrifice. The desire to preach to others is rarely what I get out of Fr. Stephen.

µ Maybe it’s even prepared in a commissary: I and thousands of others engaged in that sort of “communion” on New Year’s Eve 1970-71 in at Assembly Hall in Champaign-Urbana, under Intervarsity Christian Fellowship auspices, so shallow was our parachurch understanding, so feckless those few present who knew better.

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Put Mass back in Christmas

In the late 1600’s in colonial Boston, the celebration of Christmas was against the law. Indeed, anyone evidencing the “spirit of Christmas” could be fined five shillings.

English Churches outside of the Catholic and Anglican were non-liturgical. The “feast” of Christmas was as absent as the “feast” of anything else. It was not part of their consciousness. Thus, the growth of a popular Christmas in the mid to late 19th century took place outside the walls of the Church. It became a cultural holiday, with an emphasis on family and the home.

Surprisingly, Christmas is probably far more a part of Protestant Church life in America today than at any time in our history. But the echoes of cultural Christmas remain strong. When Christmas Day falls on a Sunday, Christianity in America revisits its conflicted past. It is not unusual to see Churches of a more Evangelical background cancelling Sunday services, deferring to Christmas as a “family” celebration. For liturgical Churches (Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, etc.) such a practice seems scandalous in the extreme.

There are protests against the secular Christmas that say, “Put the Christ back in Christmas!” From a liturgical point of view I’ve wanted to add, “And put the Mass back in Christmas!” It is, after all, a feast of the Christian Church. Neither of these, however, will likely be dominant in a culture that once had little Christmas at all.

(Fr. Stephen Freeman)

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Mostly religious, 9/21/18

1

Small-o orthodox Christians are up against immense power. Think of the opening lines of David Foster Wallace’s famous Kenyon College commencement address:

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

This is liberalism. If we wish to change the water, so to speak, we have to first learn what water is, why it’s wrong, and how to be in the water, but not of it …

It’s not an either-or, but a both-and. But as Alan Jacobs says, if we’re going to have Daniels and Esthers, we have to have fathers, mothers, and communities that produce Daniels and Esthers. Notice, though, that Dante (the pilgrim) comes to Marco from a world where the formative institutions have become corrupt. Marco tells Dante that if he wants to undertake the work of reforming the corrupt institutions, he has to start with his own heart, and work outward.

It’s true for us too.

Rod Dreher.

Remember: Dreher is not using “liberalism” as an epithet for the beliefs of the Democrat party. He’s using it as a term that fits roughly 99% of us — or at least I thought it did until the 2016 election. Its opposite is not “conservative” but “illiberal.”

I don’t think I’d ever read that David Foster Wallace commencement address before. It’s well worth reading.

2

Some fellow named Richard Gaillardetz explains in The Tablet (pay wall — my summary is from an email teaser) what’s going on with Pope Francis:

Francis is determined to realise the bold, reforming vision of the second Vatican Council, and some of those closest to him are determined to stop him.

Gosh. That was easy — facile, even. It’s nice when neutral observers can help clear the mind of troublesome doubts.

3

I should say that the danger to our own social order is not that a relatively small number of people engage in same-sex acts, but that a great number of people are approaching the view that the bodily powers have no purpose but physical pleasure, and that not even marriage has any necessary connection with either the procreation of children or the union of their parents. One might say that heterosexuals are coming to accept an essentially homosexual view of sex.

J. Budziszewski, responding to a question about whether we should treat homosexual acts as an evil whose eradication nevertheless would bring even greater evil (as Augustine treated prostitution).

4

Having left Evangelicalism some 21 years ago, I’ve lost track of who’s who (with a few exeptions: Tim Keller, good; Jen Hatmaker, bad). I had heard the name “Beth Moore” but couldn’t place her.

Now Emma Green has done a profile, occasioned by Moore’s lost attendance, revenues, etc. because she thought there was something rotten about Evangelicals barely skipping a beat for Trump even when the obstacle was “grab them by the pussy.”

She still gets push-back, even from people who attend her rallies, talks or whatever they are:

“I don’t think this is the avenue for political discussions,” said Shelly, 56. “I think it should stay focused on God.”

Moore believes she is focused on God. The target of her scorn is an evangelical culture that downplays the voices and experiences of women. Her objective is not to evict Trump from the White House, but to clear the cultural rot in the house of God.

Moore has not become a liberal, or even a feminist. She’s trying to help protect the movement she has always loved but that hasn’t always loved her back—at least, not in the fullness of who she is.

(Emphasis added)

I still don’t know whether Moore is a solid teacher or a flake; that’s not within Emma Green’s scope, really.

But I do find it reasonable to view Evangelical acceptance of Trump’s misogynist (okay: maybe it’s just misanthropy or narcissism) remarks as clean clinical specimin of the mind that gave us, most recently, Bill Hybels and Paige Patterson. That mind could use some reform, no?

5

Phillipino Catholics are as zany as American Evangelicals:

Who is the world’s worst popular president? “Probably the foul-mouthed, gun-toting septuagenarian president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte. His most recent approval rating was 88 per cent, rising to 91 per cent among the poorest Filipinos. How does he do it? By indiscriminately rubbing out supposed bad guys – and if some of them do actually turn out to be criminals, so much the better. Insulting all and sundry seems to help too. He recently had a pop at God himself, who is a ‘stupid … son of a bitch’ in the president’s considered opinion. And all that in a country that remains deeply Catholic.”

Micah Mattix, Prufrock

6

It may seem at times that I’m a Democrat because of all the scorn I heap on the Republicans. But that would be like thinking I’m an atheist because of my frequent criticisms of Evangelicalism and my fascination with lurid news out of Roman Catholicism.

I am not a Democrat. I have never been a Democrat. As long as they remain the Friends of Feticide I will never be a Democrat. My favorite old characterization of that party was that of, I believe, the late Joe Sobran: the party of “vote your vice.” Were sexual vices the only vices, that would have been true at the time he wrote it. Nowadays, I give the GOP no credit for any manner of probity, sexual or otherwise.

To he## with them both. My most formal affiliation is with the American Solidarity Party, though I expect no miracles from that quarter.

I’m so full of disgust about the state of our politics that I’m going to ignore it now. Really. I’ve done it dozens of times before. It’s easy. You’ll see.

Or not.

Religiously, I’m Orthodox.

Long observantly Christian, I stumbled into Orthodoxy 21 years or so ago. I finally told the story a few years ago, first on my own blog and then, verbatim, here. I think I could easily enough be Western Rite Orthodox (just as there is “Byzantine Rite” Roman Catholicism), but I happen to be “Eastern” Orthodox because such was (and is) the rite used in the parish through which I entered the Church. I hope to visit a Western Rite parish some day, as much of the language is familiar from 55 years of singing sacred choral music.

Frankly, my residual care about politics is mostly for “completion of our lives in peace and repentance” as one of our litanies has it — and tides have turned so suddenly that it’s clear that the United States is not exempt from the 30,000 foot view of history in Psalm 2, elaborated in the Acts of the Apostles:

The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against His Anointed One.

(Acts 4:26) They hate Him and they’ll hate us. Get over it. Better: get ready for it.

 

7

This is, or is very close to, Autumnal Equinox, but I’d be a non-trivial amount that the sky will not be as light at 7:09 today as it was at 7:09 yesterday evening, when I happened to notice it.

Update: Equator, dummy, equator. #facepalm.

 

8

Just about anyone can spark a Trump meltdown; forcing lasting reform on Nike would be a real feat.

Matt Steward, Notes on Nike.

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Friday, 9/7/18

1

Evelyn Waugh’s gently satirical Scott-King’s Modern Europe follows the declining career of a classics teacher at Granchester, a fictional English public school. Granchester is “entirely respectable” but in need of a bit of modernizing, at least in the opinion of its pragmatic headmaster, who is attuned to consumer demands. The story ends with a poignant conversation between Scott-King and the headmaster:

“You know,” [the headmaster] said, “we are starting this year with fifteen fewer classical specialists than we had last term?”

“I thought that would be about the number.”

“As you know I’m an old Greats man myself. I deplore it as much as you do. But what are we to do? Parents are not interested in producing the ‘complete man’ any more. They want to qualify their boys for jobs in the modern world. You can hardly blame them, can you?”

“Oh yes,” said Scott-King. “I can and do.”

“I always say you are a much more important man here than I am. One couldn’t conceive of Granchester without Scott-King. But has it ever occurred to you that a time may come when there will be no more classical boys at all?”

“Oh yes. Often.”

“What I was going to suggest was—I wonder if you will consider taking some other subject as well as the classics? History, for example, preferably economic history?”

“No, headmaster.”

“But, you know, there may be something of a crisis ahead.”

“Yes, headmaster.”

“Then what do you intend to do?”

“If you approve, headmaster, I will stay as I am here as long as any boy wants to read the classics. I think it would be very wicked indeed to do anything to fit a boy for the modern world.”

“It’s a short-sighted view, Scott-King.”

“There, headmaster, with all respect, I differ from you profoundly. I think it the most long-sighted view it is possible to take.”

Richard Gamble, To Be Unfit for the Modern World.

2

Midway through Revelation, John sees a pantomime of the Gospel’s beginning, enacted in the sky (Rev. 12). There’s a woman clothed with the sun, standing on the moon, crowned with twelve stars, laboring to bring a boy into the world. Near her is a dragon, ready to devour the infant …

We’ve seen plenty of sea monsters over the past few centuries, from the de-Christianization purge of the French Revolution to the personality cult of today’s North Korea. Even cuddly liberal house pets can turn into monsters. But oppressive political regimes aren’t the only threat. The dragon always calls monsters from the sea and monsters from the land, monsters of the state and monsters of the church.

Easy examples come to mind: Compromised German churches under the Nazis; Orthodox priests double-timing as KGB agents. But there are land beasts closer to home: Churches that support the fascism of the new sexual regime and persecute traditionalists; churches that cheer on every American war without asking whether it’s just or unjust; churches that serve as court prophets of humanistic internationalism; churches that serve as court prophets of humanistic nationalism.

Revelation unmasks the satanic monsters that lurk behind the veil of power, and it reminds us that sea monsters are never alone. Whenever a thuggish state tramples on the faithful, there will be thuggish pseudo-saints nearby, piously cheering it on.

Peter J. Leithart

3

Any discussion of the family must presuppose that it can be defined. That definition until recent times has always been accepted to be the natural or traditional family. It’s not possible to talk about alternative families, different kinds of families without first having a primary model.

Family First (New Zealand) board member Bruce Logan, quoted by Carolyn Moynihan.

Family First faces loss of charitable status because it advocates for the traditional family, whereas New Zealand now has thrown open “family,” which means that Family First advocates (drum roll) discriminaaaaaation! How could that possibly be a permissible charitable purpose.

QED

4

Someone wrote the other day:

Unlike the many, many online commentators who are extremely performative in their iconoclasm (yet somehow always managing to comfort the powerful), [Fredrik] deBoer is truly orthogonal to established ideologies.

That packs in quite a lot, and it seems like a good description of why many folks want to encounter deBoer.

Thursday, he did it again, in self-care is just another set of expectations you’ll never realize. It defies my summarization, but it seems to me that we’d miss a lot if we thought only about self-care when we read it. It applies to more than that, as I assume he intended.

5

We sang many hymns together. For the most part, our hymns served collectively to frame what would prove to be the centerpiece of our Sunday services: the sermon that—I now recognize—replaced centuries-old liturgical worship with something akin to a classroom whose lessons were punctuated by a soundtrack.

The hymns employed within that frame, by and large, fell into two categories: preparation for the sermon and altar call. Most were sentimental and didactic, speaking to the choir—as it were—while pretending to speak to God. That is also how most of our public prayer worked—with the pastor overtly addressing God while more pointedly admonishing the flock.

In any case, one hymn stood profoundly apart from the others, as it seemed to me more like prayer than any other utterance we made; it was, moreover, a prayer that I found myself praying as I sang the words. That hymn, “Be Thou My Vision,” therefore has always moved me.

Poet Scott Cairns, in Image Journal.

6

Deneen said he lead at Notre Dame a class on the idea of utopia, from ancient days until now. At the end, he polled the class to ask them which society of those he presented would they least want to live in, and which they would most want to live in. They all said 1984 is the one they wouldn’t want to live in. But which would they choose? A handful chose the world Wendell Berry presents in Hannah Coulter. But about half the class said Brave New World.

“It was stunning that they saw it as a utopia,” Deneen said. “That’s liberalism succeeding, and that’s liberalism failing.”

Rod Dreher (emphasis in original).

Notre Dame (My emphasis).

This came to mind as I read Nicholas Zinos, Erotic Love and the Totalitarian State, which agrees with me that Huxley got sex in dystopia better than Orwell, and who introduced me to One Evening in 2217, a 1906 classic available as part of a collection of Red Star Tales: A Century of Russian and Soviet Science Fiction, in English translation.

I find Brave New World scarily prophetic — so far, more so every time I read it.

7

It is perfectly necessary and routine for hired and appointed officials to give advice that runs contrary to a president’s wishes and instincts. It is perfectly legitimate to try to guard any president against his worst defects of judgment and character, and such stories are the stuff of all White House memoirs. And it is necessary for advisers and attorneys to warn a president about the constitutional and moral limits that should restrain his ambitions.

What is disturbing about the Times op-ed author is that he or she admits not to doing the above, but to actively subverting the agenda of the president on policy questions that were hotly debated and thrashed out publicly in the campaign, questions on which this adviser’s side arguably lost the popular debate.

And yet, one shouldn’t feel too bad for Trump. It is President Trump’s inability to hire and staff his campaign and his administration with competent and ethical people willing and able to translate the ideologically heterodox promises of his campaign into workable policy that gives this resistance staying power, and that constantly humiliates him in the press. Trump has not hired enough of the best people. He’s hired too many self-flatterers, grifters, and people who proudly identify with the swamp. If he can’t get out of his own way, no one else will either.

Kevin D. Williamson

8

If you prick him, does he not explode? If you stroke him, does he not purr?

The testimony of the tell-alls is remarkably consistent. Some around Trump are completely corrupted by the access to power. But others — who might have served in any Republican administration — spend much of their time preventing the president from doing stupid and dangerous things.

Michael Gerson, We are a superpower run by a simpleton.

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A distinctly American counterfeit

There’s some commentary in the New York Times Sunday that requires more than just a Facebook share with an open-ended comment like “a cautionary tale.”

It’s not that I disagree with the author’s interpretation of How America’s Jews Learned to Be Liberal. It’s not that I object to America’s Jews becoming liberal, politically or religiously though I identify as conservative in both realms (guarded locution because both liberal and conservative are highly contested and equivocal, and there no doubt are some, starting with one of my nephews, who would scoff at the very notion of a Never Trump Conservative).

What merits comment is this:

Judaism became a distinctively American religion, substantially changed from what it had been for more than two millenniums.

One factor in the rise of an American Judaism was practical. To assimilate and work in their adopted land, many Jews abandoned some of their ancient practices, from observing the Sabbath to keeping kosher and wearing distinctive clothing. Discarding these practices forced Jews to turn their faith into a devotion to core beliefs, rather than customs and practices.

More broadly, Jews sought to “Americanize” their rituals, making them look more like the church ceremonies of their neighbors. The largely German immigrants of the 19th century started Sunday schools, mixed men and women in family pews and incorporated choirs, organ music and sermons in their services while rejecting or shortening some obscure prayers. These changes provoked debates, division and lawsuits. But they took hold, even among traditionalists, and continued even after the influx of two million Jews from Russia at the turn of the 20th century.

The most significant change to Judaism was its untethering from the ancient tradition of praying for an altogether human messiah to deliver the Jews back to Jerusalem, restore the ancient temple destroyed in the year A.D. 70 and re-establish the House of David to rule over Jews in their ancient land of Zion, as prophesied in the Bible. These were among the enduring 13 principles codified as central to Judaism by Maimonides in the 12th century.

(Emphasis added)

I grieve that American seduced many of its Jews to abandon their ancestral religion for what arguably is a counterfeit.

I caution those Americans whose Christian tradition has some “ancient practices,” especially in your liturgy/order of worship,  not to relinquish even one of them just because it makes you odd. As Flannery O’Connor once quipped, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd.”

Those Americans whose Christian traditions have no “ancient practices” I would caution differently: Have you already substantially changed historic Christianity into a distinctly American counterfeit? (I’m looking at you, Evangelicals who not just tolerate Trump but enthuse over him because he promises to “MAGA”.)

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Our lives were meant to be written in code, indecipherable to onlookers except through the cipher of Jesus.

Greg Coles.

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