This list of "100 Hymns Everyone Should Learn" is not my own list of great hymns. For one thing, it doesn't include St. Patrick's Breastplate, nor any of the three versions of Hail Thee, Festival Day! However, it's a fun list and was sent as a challenge by a friend of mine whose experience with it turns out to be similar to my own. You can see the original article by following the above link; it includes more information, as well as—in most cases—a link to an image and/or recording of the hymn. I've listed them below in three catgories of familiarity. (The numbers correspond to the article's numbering, which is in reverse order.)

I find three things particularly notable in this exercise.

  • My eclectic denominational experience has stood me in good stead.
  • Knowing 85+% of the hymns on this list, I still find myself encountering a surprising number of completely unknown hymns when our grandchildren pick hymn numbers at random when we sing together.
  • Knowing 85+% of the hymns on this list of important, time-honored, congregational music of the Church does not help me in the least in a great number of church services, where I often stand mute during the singing (and those who know me, know that standing mute during singing is almost physically painful). I'll happily sing unfamiliar hymns if you give me the music—but these churches only provide the words, and I'm not a good enough musician (or psychic) to guess at the tune. Sometimes I can manage a harmony, as that gives more notes to choose from. :)

Hymns I know well (85)
98. There's a Wideness in God's Mercy
97. I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light
94. At the Name of Jesus
93. O Splendor of God's Glory Bright
92. When in Our Music God Is Glorified
91. What Child Is this?
90. God of Grace and God of Glory
89. Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee
87. Blessed Assurance
85. Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken
84. O Come, O Come Emmanuel
83. Take My Life and Let It Be
82. What Wondrous Love Is this
81. Go to Dark Gesthemane
80. To God Be the Glory
78. Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy
77. Savior of the Nations, Come (maybe in a different translation)
76. Come We That Love the Lord (but to a different tune)
75. Jesus, Lover of My Soul
74. Lead On, O King Eternal
73. Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending
71. O Jesus I Have Promised
70. Come, Christians, Join to Sing
69. My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less
68. Beneath the Cross of Jesus
67. Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me
65. For the Beauty of the Earth
64. It Is Well with My Soul
61. All Glory, Laud, and Honor
60. Ah, Holy Jesus
59. Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed
59. Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus
55. Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart
54. O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus
53. My Shepherd Will Supply My Need
52. This Is My Father's World
51. Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones
49. O Worship the King
48. Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation
47. And Can It Be That I Should Gain?
46. This Is My Song (I know other words better to this tune, but I've sung these as well)
45. Praise My Soul the King of Heaven
44. Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life
43. How Firm a Foundation
42. O Little Town of Bethlehem
41. Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above
40. Come, Ye Thankful People, Come
39. When Morning Gilds the Skies
38. Joy to the World, the Lord Is Come
37. Be Still My Soul
36. Thine Be the Glory (aka Thine Is the Glory)
35. Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing
34. Great Is Thy Faithfulness
33. O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go
32. Praise to the Lord, the Almighty
31. Lift High the Cross
30. Rejoice, the Lord Is King
28. Come, Thou Almighty King
27. For All the Saints
26. Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence
25. When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
24. Be Thou My Vision
23. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
22. Of the Father's Love Begotten
21. All People That on Earth Do Dwell
20. Immortal, Invisible God Only Wise
19. In the Cross of Christ I Glory
18. Holy God, We Praise Your Name
17. Tell Out My Soul
16. Abide with Me
15. Christ the Lord Is Risen Today
14. Crown Him with Many Crowns
13. Now Thank We All Our God
12. Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer (aka Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah)
11. The Church's One Foundation
10. O God, Our Help in Ages Past
9. O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing
8. O Sacred Head, Now Wounded
7. The God of Abraham Praise
6. Love Divine, All Loves Excelling
5. All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name
4. All Creatures of Our God and King
3. Jesus Shall Reign
2. A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
1. Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty

Hymns I've heard of or sort of know (6)
96. There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood
86. Leaning On the Everlasting Arms
72. Come Holy Ghost Our Souls Inspire (I know the tune well)
79. Hymn of Promise (the children's choir sang this when our kids were young)
62. Christ Jesus Lay in Death's Strong Bands (the words sound familiar, but not the tune)
61. Ask Ye What Great Thing I Know (but I know the tune)

Hymns I don't know at all (9)
100. Built On the Rock, the Church Doth Stand (beautiful tune)
99. Forward Through the Ages (I know the tune well, though)
95. There Is a Higher Throne (the link mistakenly takes you to In Christ Alone, which I do know)
88. By Gracious Powers (it looks to be worth knowing better)
66. When the Church of Jesus (no tune is given so i don't know if that's familiar; the words are not)
63. King of My Life I Crown Thee Now (also apparently called Lead Me to Calvary)
56. The Day Thou Gavest, Lord, Is Ended
50. I'll Praise My Maker While I've Breath
29. God Is Here! As We Your People

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, December 13, 2018 at 11:10 am | Edit
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The Wreck and Rise of Whitson Mariner by S. D. Smith (Story Warren Books, 2018)

My place beside you, my blood for yours,
Till the Green Ember rises, or the end of the world!

I cannot resist a new Green Ember book, and while we are waiting for a continuation of the main series, S. D. Smith has provided an appetizer in the form of a sequel to the prequel. Of The Black Star of Kingston, I wrote, "It's a distant-past prequel to The Green Ember, and definitely enjoyable to read in its own right. It's not quite as satisfying, mainly because it's much shorter, but also because the strong female characters are mostly missing. Perhaps even rabbit civilizations need to develop over time."

Much the same could be said about The Wreck and Rise of Whitson Mariner. As an appetizer, it is small, and lacks the depth and nuance of a full meal. It's also primarily about battles, the kind that tend to appeal more to a young, male audience. While reading, I couldn't help seeing a juvenile version of the car chases and gun battles in NCIS: Los Angeles. Or, if you prefer a more classical analogy, the battle descriptions in The Iliad. That aside, it's a fun story, and not lacking in the examples of courage, love, and sacrifice I've come to expect from S. D. Smith. Plus, even though the men get most of the action, the women get some exciting parts, too, and come out better than in the previous story—if not as well as in the later Green Ember books.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, December 10, 2018 at 5:27 am | Edit
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We had a deep fryer once, long ago, and I found the whole process messy and rather more of a pain than it was worth. However, having recently experienced some really amazing fried food at the Melting Pot, I thought I'd investigate what new technology might now be available. (Who knew that deep-fried kale would be so awesome?)

I haven't made up my mind about anything yet. What holds me back the most is knowing I'd have to find a place to store a new appliance.

Be that as it may, look what I found in a review of the Presto Cool Daddy 6-Cup Electric Deep Fryer:

  • Ideal for a small family up to six people.

I like the way they think.

Revealing my age, I can say that I remember the days when a family of six was considered small; now our children's families (of six and eight) attract attention wherever they go.

Back then we didn't have Presto fryers, nor frozen French fries: my mother made fries for our (small) family of six starting from whole potatoes, and using a pot of oil on the stove.  And they were so good!  As time went on, she did switch to using frozen French fries, which was definitely easier, though not better.

Does anyone have thoughts about deep fryers to share? I'm interested—if I am interested; I'm still not sure—in something small, since our current household is small by any standards (two).

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, December 9, 2018 at 7:29 am | Edit
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Not long ago, I was eating lunch with a woman whom I had just met, and she asked me the oddest question: What are your hobbies?

The question threw me, not only because I hate personal questions that come out of the blue like that, but because I had no idea how to answer it. I answered simply, "I don't have any," hoping she would drop the subject. Porter tried to help by mentioning a few projects of mine, but as I had absolutely no desire to talk about any of them, much less explain why they were certainly not hobbies, I resorted to my usual strategy in such situations, and flipped the question as quickly as possible to her own "hobbies." Works almost every time.

Nonetheless, the encounter brought home once again the thought that I apparently have very different idea about work from the rest of the world. Some would say that is because it has been almost 40 years since I worked for a paycheck, but I don't believe money comes into the equation at all. Certainly my attitude towards work and leisure predates my wage-earning.

Work is what I do.

I have no memory of a time when my life was separated into "work" and "leisure." Some work, e.g. school before college, was more annoying and unpleasant than other work. Some was associated with a paycheck, some not. But neither monetary gain nor whether or not I enjoy a task marks it as work or not work for me.

My first memorable encounter with someone else's definition of work was in high school physics, when our teacher told us, "if you are holding a 100-pound weight above your head but not moving it, you are not doing any work." I had a problem with that. Of course, that problem is just a quibble, because physics has a specific, particular definition of the term "work," independent of how the word might be used by ordinary human beings. I can handle that. However, society's definition of work, although fuzzy and unstated, is no less restrictive.

A friend of mine creates beautiful quilts, much sought-after as gifts. I think she must realize that she is an artist, but seems to have bought into the idea that quilting is a "hobby." She's a writer, also. Unlike me, she gets paid for her writing! I consider myself a writer, and writing to be (one part of) my work. Vocation, not avocation. But again, she considers her own writing to be a leisure-time activity. She is also an avid gardener—another hobby. I know she recognizes that what she does is of value—and she certainly knows how much effort goes into it and that the alternative would be to pay someone else to do the job—but she still accepts the world's idea that her work is somehow unimportant because...well, I'm not sure why. Because she doesn't live on the income? Because she has no degree in the field? Because each one is not her sole interest? I don't know.

What I do know is that I like the definition of work given pride of place in Google's definition:

[Work is] activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result

That expresses exactly what I have felt intuitively all my life.

Everything I do has a purpose. Usually a deliberate, serious purpose. Preparing a meal? That one's obvious. Sifting through census records? Genealogy research, and the last person who called that a "hobby" got a vicious evil eye from me. Reading a book? Education. Walking? Exercise. Doing a puzzle? Mental exercise. Sleeping? Much-needed mental and physical rest. Writing? That one's tough, because there's so much to it, but it is sufficient to say: I write for the same reasons I eat.

How about watching television, which is high on just about everyone's list of worthless activities (even if it fills much of their time)? For me, the primary purpose is as a social activity, usually with my husband. Depending on the show there may be other purposes, notably education. But with or without that, the social result is the activity's primary purpose.

Staring into space? Yes, even that is purposeful and deliberate. If I look zoned out, with eyes open or eyes closed, one of three essential activities is going on:

  • I'm listening. I hear better if I can shut out, mentally or physically, the visual stimulus.
  • I'm thinking. I'm concentrating on something, or working out a problem.  For what it's worth, in my own brain, this usually takes the form of unwritten writing.
  • I'm not thinking. I'm letting my mind free-range, as a butterfly flits from flower to flower, or I'm resting in the silence. This is vital for creative activities (read: life).

Okay, so there's one other possibility, and any of the above may transition seamlessly into the fourth:

  • I'm sleeping.

If an activity has a purpose, it's work. If not, what is it? I don't know—boredom? Fortunately, I'm almost never bored.

What do you do for fun? is another question that throws me for a loop. Usually I can manage to respond with little more than a pathetic, "I don't do anything for fun." Perhaps it would be better to say, "I do everything for fun."

Fun is a travelling companion of work.

A rather fickle companion, it is true: unpredictable, here today and gone tomorrow, disinclined to come when called but also showing up in the most unexpected places. Some of my moments of intensest joy have occurred while doing simple housework. Anything I do can be fun, tedious, difficult, frustrating, exhilarating, exhausting, or refreshing.

The only downside I see to having my own, skewed definitions of words such as work, play, hobby, leisure, and fun—besides communication problems with others—is that it is difficult to decide what is and what is not an appropriate Sabbath day activity. If everything is work, how to I handle the command to "do no work"? I tend to lean in the direction of grace, on the grounds of "the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." It doesn't matter what the particular activity is: if the net effect is restful, refreshing, or uplifting, it's a good Sabbath occupation. If it's stressful, frustrating, or exhausting—necessities excepted—better put it off for another day.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, December 8, 2018 at 11:45 am | Edit
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I did not take the time to watch President Bush's funeral today, but now that I've seen the bulletin, I almost wish I had.

I don't even like funerals. And unlike many of my friends, I've never longed to be invited to a Royal Wedding, even if I am (ahem!) related to the present Queen of England. I've never felt the need or desire to attend a service at our own Washington National Cathedral. Until now.

In truth, what I really wish is that I could have been part of that service, because as I always say, "I don't do congregation well." Put me in the choir, and I'm happy. I imagine President Bush's funeral was like the biggest service I've ever been a part of, the consecration of our current bishop, Greg Brewer—only a few orders of magnitude grander.  Check out the bulletin (it's a pdf).  I'm practically drooling.

Well, look what I just found. YouTube comes through again. Here's a recording of the whole service:

Now I only need to find a spare 3.5 hours to watch it.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, December 5, 2018 at 6:16 pm | Edit
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We are excited to welcome our new rector, Father Trey Garland, to the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection. Already the experience has been educational: I now know the difference between a beretta (a gun) and a biretta (a hat). This is probably important. No doubt our Catholic, gun-collecting friend Bill knew it already, but it was new to me.

Seriously, Sunday was a great first day.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, December 3, 2018 at 3:38 pm | Edit
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We're singing this lovely anthem for our Christmas Lessons & Carols service.

The Hands that First Held Mary's Child (Thomas Troeger and Dan Forrest, Beckenhorst Press, BP1928)

The hands that first held Mary's child were hard from working wood.
From boards they sawed and planed and filed and splinters they withstood.
This day they gripped no tool of steel, they drove no iron nail,
but cradled from the head to heel our Lord, newborn and frail.

When Joseph marveled at the size of that small breathing frame,
and gazed upon those bright new eyes and spoke the infant's name,
the angel's words he once had dreamed poured down from heaven's height,
and like the host of stars that beamed blessed earth with welcome light.

"This child shall be Emmanuel, not God upon the throne,
but God with us, Emmanuel, as close as blood and bone."
The tiny form in Joseph's palms confirmed what he had heard,
and from his heart rose hymns and psalms for heaven's human word.

The tools that Joseph laid aside a mob would later lift
and use with anger, fear, and pride to crucify God's gift.
Let us, O Lord, not only hold the child who's born today,
but charged with faith may we be bold to follow in His way.

At first, I was a litte put off by the words. Questions of logic kept getting in the way. 

Did Joseph really have steel tools? I looked that one up, and he certainly could have; steel had been invented long before. But was it common enough for an impoverished carpenter in Palestine to be using steet tools? That I couldn't easily determine.

Were Joseph's really the first hands to hold Jesus? This provoked quite a lot of comment from the women in our choir. We're talking more than 2000 years ago. Did men really act as midwives back then? I would guess only if absolutely necessary and they wouldn't have had a clue in any case. If Mary (wtih no experience) managed the birth herself, it's her hands that would have caught the baby. But how likely is it that in a very crowded Bethlehem there couldn't be found a midwife, or at least an experienced mother, to assist Mary when the birth pangs began? That a firstborn son should have been laid in the putative father's hands does not stretch the imagination, but that he was first? I'm skeptical.

Fortunately, our choir director is patient, and we just kept practicing the anthem. Lo and behold, I started to find it very moving. I finally recognized it for what it is: not literal, but symbolic. Symbolic hymns were once a lot more common, and modern folks generally think they're weird, e.g. the Christmas carol, I Saw Three Ships. But they can be very powerful.

I'm reminded of another, hauntingly beautiful, symbolic anthem that our children's choir sang many years ago.

A Legend (Christ, When a Child) (Tchaikovsky, Schirmer, ECS2200)

Christ, when a Child, a garden made, 
And many roses flourish'd there.
He watered them three times a day
To make a garland for His hair. 

And when in time the roses bloom'd,
He call'd the children in to share.
They tore the flowers from ev'ry stem, 
And left the garden stript and bare, 

"How wilt Thou weave Thyself a crown
Now that the roses are all dead?"
"Ye have forgotten that the thorns
Are left for Me, the Christ-child said.

They plaited then a crown of thorns
And laid it rudely on His head;
And from His brow all pierc'd and torn;
Sprang drops of blood like roses red.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, December 2, 2018 at 6:49 am | Edit
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Is it better to be hated, or ignored? To be thought evil, or irrelevant?

It's a common saying that hate is not the opposite of love—indifference is. Because the former indicates one cares, it can be more easily turned around.

I'm not so sure what I think about that now.

Secularism in America tends to be aggressive, even nasty. It is not neutral, but negative; not impartial, but specifically anti-Christian. (The latter is not too surprising, as we tend to be hardest on that which we think we are rebelling against.) Secularism, as practiced by most Americans, is also uneducated. We reject any number of faiths without knowing, much less understanding, their most basic tenets.

I know very little about Europe, and fully expect to be corrected by those who live there. But my experiences and impressions lead me to believe that European secularism is of a different sort. They are proud of their Christian heritage. They love their big, beautiful churches, and can give you a decent explanation of the facts of the faith and history that inspired them. They have respect for the value of education in the facts about a religion, even if they no longer believe them to be valid.

America's fierce secularism about holiday names must perplex the Europeans who have the sense to take whatever holidays they can, and have no problem calling them by their traditional names, whether Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, or even Mariähimmelfahrt. (I remember the last because it makes it appear that they close the stores in Lucerne for my grandson's birthday.) No "Winter Holiday" nonsense there.

But for most Europeans this surface Christianity has no impact on their lives. They are proud of their heritage and churches in the same sense that they are proud of their classical heritage and the Parthenon. They think no more of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost than we think of Thor on Thursday. The best use of those big, beautiful churches seems to be for generating tourist income—or, as one resident of Amsterdam explained to us, as party venues. Europeans know the basic facts, but think them irrelevant.

So ... is it better to be hated or to be ignored? I've seen enough hate on Facebook alone to make me doubt that the one is more easily turned than the other. Europe may be letting its active Christianity languish, but the foundation is there, ready to be unearthed by some curious archaeologist. America is iconoclastic and shares with ISIS, the French Revolution, and Byzantine Emperor Leo III the belief that it's better to destroy priceless art and history than to risk the curious being led astray.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, November 29, 2018 at 8:04 pm | Edit
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The Masterline Series of studies on George MacDonald, edited by Michael Phillips (Sunrise Books, 1989)

Volume 1: From a Northern Window: A Personal Reminiscence of George MacDonald by His Son by Ronald MacDonald

 Volume 2: The Harmony Within: The Spiritual Vision of George MacDonald by Rolland Hein

Volume 3: George MacDonald's Fiction: A Twentieth-Century View by Richard Reis

The first book is an interesting look at George MacDonald through the eyes of one of his sons. It was definitely worth reading, though not sufficiently well-written to encourage me to anticipate reading it again.

The other two are another story; I found them dust-and-ashes. Not dry, as in pedantic or overly academic, but of almost no value to me. And not for obvious reasons.

Both these authors have a good deal of respect for MacDonald and are fulsome in their praise of some of his works, so my active dislike of their books is not because they abuse one of my all-time favorite authors. C. S. Lewis, whose praise of MacDonald is as high as one person can give to another, acknowledges that while some of his works are unsurpassed, many others are clearly mediocre. As far as I can tell his points are valid, so the fact that these authors say the same thing can't be the sole reason I find their works unprofitable. I have to say, though, that some of what the literary world finds of no value I think is great. MacDonald was a preacher, and the fact that his philosophical ideas come through in his books is a plus for me. Not to mention that, unlike the literary world, I like happy endings and characters who are "too good to be true."

Partly, I'm sure, my dislike of these books is because they are in the genre of literary criticism, and the process of pulling apart a book to see what it is made of is distasteful to me. (Michael Ward's Planet Narnia is the only exception that comes to mind.) I've always been a voracious reader and it's obvious how much I now enjoy writing, but I hated English class at every level of school, and the process of taking apart a good (or bad) story, and guessing at what the author "really" meant, was largely responsible for that. I especially resent the apparent need to find "obvious" sexual meanings embedded in otherwise lovely and as far as I can tell innocent stories—which both Hein and Reis do. Possibly MacDonald meant the sexual references—he was a man, and as a gender men do have some extraordinary ideas about sex, plus he had eleven children—but I'm skeptical.

That aside, I did pull out a few quotes I wanted to remember:

These are from Ronald MacDonald's From a Northern Window.

After his abandonment of the predicant profession, he never took remuneration for a spoken sermon; and never, I am sure, refused his preaching, from whatever Christian denomination the invitation might come. I remember very well his saying that the Unitarians were among the most instant to get him to preach; and that he always stipulated for liberty to maintain the doctrine of the Trinity; by which orthodoxy I do not think he ever gained a Sunday's rest. (p. 35)

His own family of eleven children, whatever the narrowness of accommodation or banking-account, seemed never enough to keep the house comfortably full. During his lecturing tour in the United States, in 1872-3, it was widely reported that he was father of thirteen children—a mistake proved to be due to his frequent statement that he had "the wrong side of a dozen." (p. 50)

These from The Harmony Within by Rolland Hein.

MacDonald felt deeply that the great possibility for mankind is to grow into complete godlikeness, so that men shall be one with God. This does not mean that men shall be absorbed into God, as more pantheistic systems hold; rather, as men mature into moral and spiritual perfection, they develop at the same time a more distinct individuality. ... MacDonald's vision is one of an innumerable multitude of redeemed individuals with a final unity of will and spirit. (p. 30)

God made each man unique, MacDonald insists, and God intends that each maintain his uniqueness, that he might serve and worship the Lord in a way no one else can. The result is that each man both learns and teaches something of God in his relations with his neighbors. (p. 68)

And these are from George MacDonald's Fiction by Richard Reis.

More interesting ... are MacDonald's views on God's self-expression in nature. "This world is not merely a thing which God hath made, subjecting it to laws; but it is an expression of the thought, the feeling, the heart of God himself." "Nature is brimful of symbolic and analogical parallels to the goings and comings, the growth and changes of the highest nature in man." "The faces of some flowers lead me back to the heart of God; and, as his child, I hope I feel, in my lowly degree, what he felt when, brooding over them, he said 'They are good'; that is, 'They are what I mean.'" "There is not a form that lives in the world, but is a window cloven through the blank darkness of nothingness, to let us look into the heart, and feeling, and nature of God." (p. 38)

I shall not discus at much length MacDonald's theories about the interpretation of Christ's words in the New Testament, because his views are essentially those of every other interpreter—that Jesus taught precisely what the interpreter believed all along. (p. 37)

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, November 26, 2018 at 6:35 am | Edit
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Having recently read C. S. Lewis' The Pilgrim's Regress, I found a couple of quotations about extremism that I'm saving here.

I do not admire the excess of one virtue unless I am shown at the same time the excess of the opposite virtue.  A man does not prove his greatness by standing at an extremity, but by touching both extremities at once and filling all that lies between them. — Blaise Pascal

Opposite evils, far from balancing, aggravate each other...widespread drunkenness is the father of Prohibition and Prohibition of widespread drunkenness. — C. S. Lewis

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, November 23, 2018 at 7:59 am | Edit
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We found this at an exhibit on medieval music at the Veste Oberhaus museum in Passau, Germany: 

A worship service without music was unthinkable. Almost every instrument was available as accompaniment for the singers: from the glockenspiel to the organ, from the harp to the guitar and from the flute to the horn.

Just sayin'.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, November 20, 2018 at 12:32 pm | Edit
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altC. S. Lewis: A Biography by Roger Lancelyn Green and Walter Hooper (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1974)

I'm already convinced I made the right decision to begin my C. S. Lewis "retrospective" with biography. Learning about an author's personal life may not be the best introduction to his works, but when I'm facing a list of nearly 50 books that range from those I haven't yet read (e.g. The Discarded Image) to those I've read literally dozens of times (e.g. the Narnia books), it's probably a good idea to remind myself of the man behind the words.

I can recommend this biography without qualification, even though there were one or two spots that annoyed me, such as when the authors accuse Lewis of exaggerating the horrors of one of his childhood schools. "Oh, come on; it isn't that bad" are harsh words for a sufferer to bear. Lewis was safely dead ten years before the book was published, but I'm sure he heard similar comments in his lifetime.

What struck me most about Lewis this time was how brilliant he really was, from his earliest days. The sheer volume of his reading is phenomenal, and it seems he forgot nothing. He read adult books as a child and children's books as an adult, enjoying them strictly on their merits. He suffered greatly in the normal British educational system, but absolutely thrived in his two and a half years, beginning at age 14, with a private tutor (William T. Kirkpatrick) who would have terrified most children. "Some boys would not have liked it [but] to me it was red beef and strong beer."

"If ever a man came near to being a purely logical entity, that man was Kirk*", Lewis decided, and his own acutely logical mind was to a great extent formed and sharpened by Kirkpatrick's. Kirkpatrick's outstanding conviction was that language was given to man solely for the purpose of communicating or discovering truth. The general banalities and "small-talk" of most people did not enter into his calculations. "The most casual remark was taken as a summons to disputation." To a mere "torrent of verbiage" he would cry "Stop!", not from impatience, but because it was leading nowhere. More sensible observations might be interrupted by "Excuse!", ushering in some parenthetical comment. Full approval would be encouraged by "I hear you"—but usually followed by refutation:  "Had I read this? Had I studied that? Had I any statistical evidence? And so to the almost inevitable conclusion: 'Do you not see then that you had no right...' "

Lewis arrived ... on Saturday, 19 September 1914, and two days later he was flung straight into Homer, of whom he had never read a word, nor had any introduction to the Epic dialect, having only studied the straight Attic of Xenophon and the dramatists. Kirkpatrick's method was to read aloud twenty lines or so of the Greek, translate, with a few comments and explanations for another hundred lines, and then leave his pupil to go over it with the aid of a lexicon, and make sense of as much of it as he could. It worked with Lewis, who had no difficulty in memorizing every word as he looked up its meaning. Kirkpatrick at this stage seemed to value speed more than absolute accuracy, and Lewis soon found himself understanding what he read without translating it, beginning to think in Greek.

Of Lewis, his tutor said,

He was born with the literary temperament and we have to face that fact with all it implies. This is not a case of early precocity showing itself in rapid assimilation of knowledge and followed by subsequent indifference or torpor. ... It is the maturity and originality of his literary judgements which is so unusual and surprising. By an unerring instinct he detects first rate quality in literary workmanship, and the second rate does not interest him in any way. ... [He] has a sort of genius for translating. ... He has read more classics in the time than any boy I ever had, and that too very carefully and exactly. In Homer his achievement is unique. ... In the Sophoclean drama, which attains a high level in poetic expression ... he could beat me easily in the happy choice of words and phrases. ... He is the most brilliant translator of Greek plays I have ever met.

With that as background, consider how near Lewis and Oxford University—with which he had fallen in love at first sight—came to missing out on each other. Without trying to understand and explain the British university system, I can boil it down to this: Lewis was accepted to Oxford pending the successful completion of a particular examination. In this, the brilliant student failed the mathematics portion. He was admitted anyway, because he had volunteered for Army service (World War I) and he went through the Officers' Training Corps there. The theory was that he would be working on algebra (his downfall) as he could and would re-take the exam after his service ended. He tried, but never mastered the subject well enough to pass the exam. Fortunately for all of us, after the war veterans were specifically exempted from the need to pass that exam. "Otherwise," Lewis observed, "I should have had to abandon the idea of going to Oxford."

I shudder at the close call, and while I have difficulty fathoming the idea that someone so intelligent, skillful, and hard-working could fail to understand algebra, I offer this story as encouragement to those who may find themselves struggling now that so many high schools have made the subject a requirement for graduation. You can be brilliant and successful without algebra! I just hope you don't have to fight a war to get where you want to go, and that you will be able to afford an assistant to help you with the math of daily life. Algebra was not Lewis's only problem: He never managed to grasp the difference between gross and net profit when it came to his book sales, and had to be saved from dire financial straits by friends who set up a system whereby he could be exceedingly generous to others without going bankrupt himself.

If you are new to the works of C. S. Lewis, his own writings are the place to start. I would suggest beginning with either the Narnia books or Mere Christianity, depending on your temperament. But if you're interested in learning more about the brilliant, complex, surprising person behind all the books, Green & Hooper's book is a good bet.

*Some would say Spock, not Kirk, but that's another story.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, November 17, 2018 at 8:02 am | Edit
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Words of wisdom for our time from George MacDonald (from The Hope of the Gospel: "God's Family").

One thing is plain—that we must love the strife-maker; another is nearly as plain—that, if we do not love him, we must leave him alone; for without love there can be no peace-making, and words will but occasion more strife. To be kind neither hurts nor compromises.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, November 14, 2018 at 11:34 am | Edit
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One hundred years ago today, on November 11, 1918, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the armistice was signed that ended battle on the Western Front of World War I, the war that devastated a generation of Europeans, and set the stage for World War II two decades later. The cost was personal on this side of the Atlantic as well.

Veterans' Day is a time for honoring all veterans, but this year it seems appropriate to feature WWI. Those closest to us include:

Hezekiah Porter 

Hezekiah Scovil Porter, son of Wallace and Florence (Gesner) Wells Porter. Porter's granduncle on this mother's side. Army, 26th Division, 101st Machine Gun Battalion. Killed in action near Chatêau-Thierry, France, July 22, 1918. His story is elaborated here: The Complete World War I Diary of Hezekiah Scovil Porter.

 

 

 

Harry Faulk 

Harry Gilbert Faulk, son of Olaf Frederick and Hilma Justina (Reuterberg) Faulk. Porter's granduncle on his father's side. Army, 26th Division, 101st Machine Gun Battalion. Wounded in action near Chatêau-Thierry, France, July 25, 1918. Died of his wounds later that day. Here is a (mostly accurate) article about him.

 

 

 

Howard Harlan Langdon, WWI

 

Howard Harland Langdon, son of Willis Johnson and Mary Lucy (Wood) Langdon. My grandfather on my father's side. Army, 219th Aero Squadron, served in England. He didn't fly the planes, but kept them air-worthy.

 

 

 

George Cunningham Smith, Sr., WWI

 

George Cunningham Smith, Sr., son of Nathan and Issyphemia (Cunningham) Smith. My grandfather on my mother's side. Army, 5th Engineers, Company B, served in France. His father fought in the Civil War (16th Pennsylvania Cavalry, Company B).

 

 

Thank you to all who have stood "between their lov’d home and the war’s desolation."

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, November 11, 2018 at 7:54 am | Edit
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altC. S. Lewis: Images of His World by Douglas Gilbert and Clyde S. Kilby (Eerdmans, 1973)

This book of photos—places, people, manuscripts—from the world of Clive Staples Lewis was a gift from Porter eons ago, probably not many years after its publication. I read it then, of course, and just re-read it as part of my newest reading project: binge-reading all the books in our home library by or about a particular author. I have previously tackled George MacDonald, J. R. R. Tolkien, William Shakespeare (plays only, read or viewed), and Miss Read (Dora Jesse Saint). Since the C. S. Lewis collection is exceeded only by our George MacDonald books, this is no small project.

Often I read the books in publication order, because I think that gives insight in to an author's growth and development. I'll do some of that with Lewis, but I thought I'd start with a biography, and this book seemed good to read even before that ("Book 0"), to give context to what I will be reading. It was a good choice.

It's largely a picture book, no surprise, so there's not a lot to quote from, but there were two I couldn't resist marking.

In spite of his academic success [at Malvern College], Lewis wrote home in March 1914, imploring his father to take him away. His brother Warren commented: "Much to my surprise, my father reacted to this letter by making an immediate and sensible decision. Jack was to leave Malvern at the end of the school year.... The fact is that he should never have been sent to a public school at all. Already, at fourteen, his intelligence was such that he would have fitted in better among undergraduates than among school boys; and by his temperament he was bound to be a misfit, a heretic, an object of suspicion within the collective-minded, and standardising, Public School system."

Granted, what the Brits mean by "public school" is not the American version, but the point about how school life treats those who don't fit in—especially if they are particularly intelligent—is still the same. It is worth noting that Warren himself was very happy at Malvern, yet he also said (taken from another source), "He was, indeed, lucky to leave Malvern before the power of this system had done him any lasting damage."

After almost 30 years as a professor of English Language and Literature at Magdalen College of Oxford University, Lewis became Chair of Medieval and Renaissance English at Magdalene College, Cambridge.

I think I shall like Magdalene better than Magdalen. It's a tiny college (a perfect cameo architecturally) and they're all so old fashioned, and pious, and gentle and conservative—unlike this leftist, atheist, cynical, hard-boiled, huge Magdalen. Perhaps from being the fogey and "old woman" here I shall become the enfant terrible there. 

I can identify with that. Put me with liberals, and my conservative side predominates. Put me with conservatives, and my liberal side comes to the fore. Always the troublemaker.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, November 10, 2018 at 9:43 am | Edit
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