I laughed, I cried, I groaned, I was on the edge of my seat till the very end!

A romance novel? An thriller? Murder mystery? Action-packed drama?

Well, no. The most recent blog post from The Occasional CEO, entitled, "25 Rules for Writing a Book." This actually showed up in my feed reader at the same time as the announcement of a new book by another friend, who writes as Blair Bancroft.

Eric Schultz writes completely different books from Blair Bancroft, though I wouldn't be surprised if Blair recognizes herself in some of Eric's points. I'm pretty sure that in this post he's writing about a book I've been waiting years for, ever since he dropped a hint in another post. If you read his 25 rules, you'll understand why I say I hope it's still the book I've been looking forward to.

To Eric:

  • Don't throw anything away! No experience is ever really wasted, but becomes fodder for something in the future. You never know when you might find it useful. (That attitude is why I have trouble decluttering my house, my photos, and especially my computer.)
  • When I accidentally deleted and had to rewrite a very long blog post, you assured me that the re-written post was guaranteed to be better. Based on this, I predict that when the new book is finally published, it will be your best ever.
  • I'm an Oxford comma person. But I also like semicolons.
  • #9!
  • Finish the hat???
  • Love the snowy owl!
  • I'm still looking forward to reading it, even if it is now more of a business book than a history book.

To everyone else: read it. Even if you don't consider yourself a writer. It's not just about writing; it's about life. Mothers especially can relate.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, January 13, 2019 at 8:19 am | Edit
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This is not a review, but a collection to replace the sticky notes I had affixed to C. S. Lewis' The Problem of Pain. With some comments. The emphasis is my own.

Chapter Three: Divine Goodness

The association of ... man and dog is primarily for the man's sake: he tames the dog primarily that he may love it, not that it may love him, and that it may serve him, not that he may serve it. Yet at the same time, the dog's interests are not sacrificed to the man's.  The one end (that he may love it) cannot be fully attained unless it also, in its fashion, loves him, nor can it serve him unless he, in a different fashion, serves it. Now just because the dog is by human standards one of the "best" of irrational creatures, and a proper object for a man to love—of course with that degree and kind of love which is proper to such an object, and not with silly anthropomorphic exaggerations—man interferes with the dog and makes it more lovable than it was in mere nature. In its state of nature it has a smell, and habits, which frustrate man's love: he washes it, house-trains it, teaches it not to steal, and is so enabled to love it completely. To the puppy the whole proceeding would seem, if it were a theologian, to cast grave doubts on the "goodness" of man: but the full-grown and full-trained dog, larger, healthier, and longer-lived than the wild dog, and admitted, as it were by Grace, to a whole world of affections, loyalties, interests, and comforts entirely beyond its animal destiny, would have no such doubts.

The man (I am speaking throughout of the good man) takes all these pains with the dog, and give all these pains to the dog, only because it is an animal high in the scale—because it is so nearly lovable that it is worth his while to make it fully lovable. He does not house-train the earwig or give baths to centipedes. We may wish, indeed, that we were of so little account to God that He left us alone to follow our natural impulses—that He would give over trying to train us into something so unlike our natural selves: but ... we are asking not for more Love, but for less.

Chapter Four: Human Wickedness

This chapter will have been misunderstood if anyone describes it as a reinstatement of the doctrine of Total Depravity. I disbelieve that doctrine, partly on the logical ground that if our depravity were total we should not know ourselves to be depraved, and party because experience shows us much goodness in human nature. Nor am I recommending universal gloom. The emotion of shame has been valued not as an emotion but because of the insight to which it leads. I think that insight should be permanent in each man's mind: but whether the painful emotions that attend it should also be encouraged, is a technical problem of spiritual direction on which, as a layman, I have little call to speak. My own idea, for what it is worth, is that all sadness which is not either arising from the repentance of a concrete sin and hastening towards concrete amendment or restitution, or else arising from pity and hastening to active assistance, is simply bad; and I think we all sin by needlessly disobeying the apostolic injunction to "rejoice" as much as by anything else. Humility, after the first shock, is a cheerful virtue: it is the high-minded unbeliever, desperately trying in the teeth of repeated disillusions to retain his "faith in human nature" who is really sad.

It's important to realize that when Lewis talks about sadness as being bad, he's not referring to the kind of sorrow, for example, that we feel when someone we love dies. The chapter is about sin and human wickedness.

Chapter Seven: Human Pain, continued

We must never make the problem of pain worse than it is by vague talk, about the "unimaginable sum of human misery." Suppose that I have a toothache of intensity x: and suppose that you, who are seated beside me, also begin to have a toothache of intensity x. You may, if you choose, say that the total amount of pain in the room is now 2x. But you must remember that no one is suffering 2x: search all time and all space and you will not find that composite pain in anyone's consciousness. There is no such thing as a sum of suffering, for no one suffers it. When we have reached the maximum that a single person can suffer, we have, no doubt, reached something very horrible, but we have reached all the suffering there ever can be in the universe. The addition of a million fellow-sufferers adds no more pain.

I'm not sure I buy this argument completely. I'm quite certain God knows (and feels) the fullness of that "composite pain"—though if there's a human limit, Jesus as man could not have experienced more than that. Lewis is speaking of human suffering so maybe what Omniscience knows doesn't count. And I do believe that to some extent pain is additive (or multiplicative): If I am sufferning x, and my child is suffering x, if we remain ignorant of each other's suffering, then we are indeed each only experiencing x. But if we know, if we can see, if we can hear each other's agony, then our own pain becomes greater: 1.5x, 2x, 10x, whatever—but definitely greater. This is why the media's fascination with reporting tragedies in all their gory details, over and over, is a problem. The graphic portrayal of even false suffering (think movies, TV shows, and video games) affects us badly. It might be worthwhile if it resulted in an outpouring of effective efforts to address the needs represented, but I believe the net effect is actually an increase in the natural responses to viewing suffering we cannot alleviate: depression and callousness.

Chapter 10: Heaven

Each of the redeemed shall forever know and praise some one aspect of the divine beauty better than any other creature can. Why else were individuals created, but that God, loving all infinitely, should love each differently? And this difference, so far from impairing, floods with meaning the love of all the blessed creatures for one another, the communion of the saints. If all experienced God in the same way and returned Him an identical worship, the song of the Church triumphant would have no symphony, it would be like an orchestra in which all the instruments played the same note. Aristotle has told us that a city is a unity of unlikes, and St. Paul that a body is a unity of different members. Heaven is a city, and a Body, because the blessed remain eternally different: a society, because each has something to tell all the others—fresh and ever fresh news of the "My God" whom each finds in Him whom all praise as "Our God."

Union exists only between distincts; and, perhaps, from this point of view, we catch a momentary glimpse of the meaning of all things. Pantheism is a creed not so much false as hopelessly behind the times. Once, before creation, it would have been true to say that everything was God. But God created: He caused things to be other than Himself that, being distinct, they might learn to love Him, and achieve union instead of mere sameness. ... Even within the Holy One Himself, it is not sufficient that the Word should be God, it must also be with God. The Father eternally begets the Son and the Holy Ghost proceeds: deity introduces distinction within itself so that the union of reciprocal loves may transcend mere arithmetical unity.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, January 11, 2019 at 4:21 pm | Edit
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[The preacher] began to discover one peculiar advantage belonging to the little open chamber of the pulpit—open not only or especially to heaven above, but to so many of the secret chambers of the souls of the congregation. For what a man dares not, could not if he dared, and dared not if he could, say to another, even at the time and in the place fittest of all, he can say thence, open-faced before the whole congregation; and the person in need thereof may hear it without umbrage, or the choking husk of individual application, irritating to the rejection of what truth may lie in it for him.

This passage from George MacDonald's Thomas Wingfold, Curate (chapter 7) applies not only to the pulpit, but also to the blog. The trouble with opinions, complaints, suggestions, and exhortations spoken in person (or e-mail, or text—anything addressed to an individual or a distinctive group) is that the hearer often takes the words personally, as directed towards himself, even when they are not. A blog post, on the other hand, is an offering, one of many in a smorgasbord, presented to the world so that one might take, and another reject the offering, in whole or in part, without offense to either the giver or the recipient.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, January 8, 2019 at 4:47 pm | Edit
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My brother used to tell me that drinking orange juice was no better than drinking Coke, as it was no better than sweetened water.

Being a Floridian, that has rankled ever since.

It was brought to mind recently in a discussion with my nephew, the medical student, in which I heard him say that the recommendation for drinking juice was no more than two or three times a week. I may have heard the details wrong, because I don't see that when I look online for official recommendations, which are a bit more generous. Or it may be the newest medical-school thinking that hasn't yet been set in stone. But the upshot of the discussion was that whole fruits are good for you and should be encouraged, while fruit juice is bad for you, with no real benefits, and should be severely restricted. This opinion piece in the New York Times is an example of the bad rap juice is getting.

The doctors have good intentions, but I wouldn't be surprised if the real impetus behind this negative attitude towards juice comes from those who want to push soda consumption. After all, if orange juice isn't any better than Coke, why not drink Coke for breakfast, as the granddaughter of an acquaintance used to do?

The real question is: Why is juice so radically different from the whole fruit from which it is (supposedly) made, that the recommendations for consumption are polar opposites?

My answer is that what is called juice these days may have started as fruit, but has been so processed—strained, filtered, heated, added to and subtracted from, torn apart and put (somewhat) back together—that its source is no longer recognizable. Consider the following products:

  1. Oranges, freshly-picked from the tree, and reamed to extract the juice and much of the flesh
  2. Fresh orange juice that has not been pasteurized (I can buy this at local specialty stores, and also at Costco!)
  3. "Not from Concentrate" orange juice from the grocery store, which has been processed and pasteurized but at least looks like orange juice because it includes pulp
  4. #3 but without any pulp
  5. #3 or #4 with calcium added
  6. Orange juice from concentrate (John McPhee's book, Oranges, has a graphic description of what happens in that process)
  7. Orange juice drink, orange drink, orange-flavored drink, and other designations of something that may or may not have some real orange juice in it
  8. Tang and other pseudo-orange beverage mixes

The legal definitions are fuzzy—it's amazing what you can do to a product and still call it "orange juice"—and doctors rightly draw a line between #6 and #7, but say "orange juice" to the general public, and you could evoke thoughts of any of the above.

As far as I'm concerned, the list is in decreasing order of flavor. I suspect it is also in decreasing order of nutrition. But this definition of "juice" is so broad, even if you exclude #7 and #8, that it's useless. What do the doctors mean when they say "fruit is good, juice is bad"? Are they even considering how slippery the definition is?

This is orange juice.

It is juice I squeezed from oranges Porter picked from our own Page orange tree. Technically, the above statement is incorrect, because the Page orange is not a true orange, but a hybrid developed in Orlando in the 1940's that is 3/4 tangerine and 1/4 grapefruit. I should have said, This is citrus juice. I have no idea what the Food and Drug Administration would call it. I call it delicious.

Drinking this juice is not the same thing as eating the fruit, I'll grant. Some of the membranes are left behind in the juicing process. But a lot gets through, as you can see in this picture of the juice before I shook the bottle.

I'd say the experience is pretty close to eating the fruit. I acknowledge that the experience of drinking processed, grocery-store juice is radically different from that of eating fruit. However, the problem is not in the juice. The problem is in the processing, and the labelling.

Don't fight to eliminate juice. Fight to bring back real food!

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, January 5, 2019 at 10:14 am | Edit
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The year of 2018 may stand as the one in which I read the most books ever. Records were made to be broken, of course, but this year's effort was helped considerably by the completion of my project of reading my entire collection of books by Miss Read, which tend to be under 300 pages and easy reading. When I realized that I had tied my previous record before the end of September (73, set in 2015), the thought crossed my mind, "Wouldn't it be cool to reach 100 by the end of the year?" "Impossible," I told myself. Well, you know how I feel when someone says, "impossible," even it's myself to myself. So I set a goal of reaching a full century, without resorting to padding the list with books chosen merely for their brevity. I confess that the goal did change my reading habits somewhat, since after making that decision I put off any particularly lengthy books—such as my grandson's favorite Wheel of Time series with its 900 or so page average—until 2019.

The month with the fewest books read was January, no surprise since we were overseas part of the month, and that's when I read the first of the Wheel of Time books. I read the most books (14) in October. Once again I'm pleased with the mixture, though as I said it was pretty heavily weighted towards Miss Read. I enjoy these projects of binge-reading a particular author; I've also done Shakespeare, George MacDonald, and J. R. R. Tolkien. My current project is C. S. Lewis, which will weigh in very heavily next year, given that our home library alone contains 50 books by or about him.

Here's the alphabetical list; links are to reviews. Titles in bold I found particularly worthwhile. This chronological list has ratings and warnings as well.

  1. Affairs at Thrush Green by Miss Read
  2. American Terroir by Rowan Jacobsen
  3. At Home in Thrush Green by Miss Read
  4. Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild
  5. Battles at Thrush Green by Miss Read
  6. The Bible (ESV - English Standard Version)
  7. The Big Burn by Timothy Egan
  8. The Birth of the United States: 1763 - 1816 by Isaac Asimov
  9. The Black Star of Kingston by S. D. Smith
  10. By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  11. C. S. Lewis: A Biography by Roger Lancelyn Green and Walter Hooper
  12. C. S. Lewis: Images of His World by Douglas Gilbert and Clyde S. Kilby
  13. Celebrations at Thrush Green by Miss Read
  14. Changes at Fairacre by Miss Read
  15. The Christmas Mouse by Miss Read
  16. Country Bunch by Miss Read
  17. Dancing Shoes by Noel Streatfeild
  18. The Dark Tower and Other Stories by C. S. Lewis
  19. Ember Falls by S. D. Smith
  20. Ember Rising by S. D. Smith
  21. Emily Davis by Miss Read
  22. The Excellence Habit by Vlad Zachary
  23. The Fairacre Festival by Miss Read
  24. Farewell to Fairacre by Miss Read
  25. Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  26. Farther Afield by Miss Read
  27. The First Four Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  28. Force 10 from Navarone by Alistair MacLean
  29. Foster's War by Carolyn Reeder
  30. Fresh from the Country by Miss Read
  31. Friends at Thrush Green by Miss Read
  32. From a Northern Window by Ronald MacDonald
  33. George MacDonald: 365 Readings by C. S. Lewis
  34. George MacDonald's Fiction: A Twentieth-Century View by Richard Reis
  35. The Golden Door: The United States from 1865 to 1918 by Isaac Asimov
  36. Gossip from Thrush Green by Miss Read
  37. The Green Ember by S.D. Smith
  38. The Harmony Within: The Spiritual Vision of George MacDonald by Rolland Hein
  39. Heidi by Johanna Spyri
  40. Highest Duty by "Sully" Sullenberger
  41. The Howards of Caxley by Miss Read
  42. Invitation to Number Theory by Oystein Ore
  43. Killing Lincoln by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard
  44. The Last Archer by S. D. Smith
  45. Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading by Maureen Corrigan
  46. The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien edited by Humphrey Carpenter
  47. Life Essential: The Hope of the Gospel by George MacDonald, edited by Rolland Hein
  48. The Light in the Forest by Conrad Richter
  49. Lincoln's Last Days by Bill O'Reilly and Dwight Jon Zimmerman
  50. Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  51. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  52. Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  53. The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  54. The Lost Empress by Steve Robinson
  55. The Man Who Counted by Malba Tahan
  56. The Market Square by Miss Read
  57. Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink
  58. The Mindverse Chronicles by Anaya Roma (Diana Villafaña)
  59. Momo by Michael Ende
  60. Moonshiner's Son by Carolyn Reeder
  61. The Pilgrim's Regress by C. S. Lewis
  62. Mrs. Pringle of Fairacre by Miss Read
  63. Proving the Unseen by George MacDonald
  64. New Worlds to Conquer by Richard Halliburton
  65. News from Thrush Green by Miss Read
  66. Night Without End by Alistair MacLean
  67. No Holly for Miss Quinn by Miss Read
  68. Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t by Steven Pressfield
  69. On Stage, Please by Veronica Tennant
  70. On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  71. On the Way Home by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane
  72. One Beautiful Dream by Jennifer Fulwiler
  73. Our Federal Union: The United States from 1816 to 1865 by Isaac Asimov
  74. Out of the Silent Planet by C. S. Lewis
  75. Outlaws of Time #1: The Legend of Sam Miracle by N. D. Wilson
  76. Outlaws of Time #2: The Song of Glory and Ghost by N. D. Wilson
  77. Outlaws of Time #3: The Last of the Lost Boys by N. D. Wilson
  78. A Peaceful Retirement by Miss Read
  79. Planet Narnia by Michael Ward
  80. The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis
  81. R & M (beta version) by MB
  82. Return to Thrush Green by Miss Read
  83. The School at Thrush Green by Miss Read
  84. Shades of Gray by Carolyn Reeder
  85. The Shaping of North America: From Earliest Times to 1763 by Isaac Asimov
  86. Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog by Kitty Burns Florey
  87. Spirits in Bondage by C. S. Lewis
  88. Summer in Fairacre by Miss Read
  89. Theatre Shoes by Noel Streatfeild
  90. These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  91. Thrush Green by Miss Read
  92. Time Remembered by Miss Read
  93. Toby Tyler; or, Ten Weeks with a Circus by James Otis
  94. Tyler's Row by Miss Read
  95. Village Affairs by Miss Read
  96. Village Centenary by Miss Read
  97. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
  98. What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell
  99. The Wheel of Time Book 1: The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan
  100. White Fang by Jack London
  101. The White People by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  102. The White Robin by Miss Read
  103. The Wind from the Stars by George MacDonald, edited by Gordon Reid
  104. Winter in Thrush Green by Miss Read
  105. The World Encyclopedia of Christmas by Gerry Bowler
  106. The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan
  107. The Wreck and Rise of Whitson Mariner by S. D. Smith
  108. The Year at Thrush Green by Miss Read
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, January 2, 2019 at 9:15 am | Edit
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George MacDonald, from a sermon preached at the Christ Church, Addiscombe. Proving the Unseen, chapter 8: "Growth in Grace and Knowledge."

We should give ourselves an opportunity to understand humanity, to know those who are about us, and from them to know the individual, until we are a hiding place from the wind, a covert from the tempest, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land. Every Christian ought to be a refuge. I believe that, if we were like Christ, even the wild beasts of our woods and fields would flee to us for refuge and deliverance.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, December 30, 2018 at 6:49 pm | Edit
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By the title above I do not mean that I am remembering C. S. Lewis. I'm sharing from pp. 42-43 of Walter Hooper's book, C. S. Lewis: A Companion and Guide, which I am slowly reading as I progress in my current project of reading all the books by or about C. S. Lewis that we have in our home library.

The girls and I have been talking about memory recently, so this passage jumped out at me. Hooper is quoting one of Lewis' former students, Kenneth Tynan.*

He had the most astonishing memory of any man I have ever known. In conversation I might have said to him, "I read a marvellous medieval poem this morning, and I particularly liked this line." I would then quote the line. Lewis would usually be able to go on to quote the rest of the page. It was astonishing.

Once when I was invited to his rooms after dinner for a glass of beer, he played a game. He directed, "give me a number from one to forty."

I said, "Thirty."

He acknowledged, "Right. Go to the thirtieth shelf in my library." Then he said, "Give me another number from one to twenty."

I answered, "Fourteen."

He continued, "Right. Get the fourteenth book off the shelf. Now let's have a number from one to a hundred."

I said, "Forty-six."

"Now turn to page forty-six! Pick a number from one to twenty-five for the line of the page."

I said, "Six."

"So," he would say, "read me that line." He would always identify it—not only by identifying the book, but he was also usually able to quote the rest of the page.

 


*That C. S. Lewis and the creator of Oh! Calcutta! could sustain to the end a friendship of mutual respect and enjoyment should be an inspiration to us all.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, December 27, 2018 at 1:12 pm | Edit
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Rather than spending Christmas Eve writing the same sentiments in a different way, I'm making a few modifications to my Christmas post from two years ago. It's still appropriate.

Once upon a time, the War on Christmas was led, with good reason, by Christians themselves. Over time, I've come to be more understanding of those, like my Puritan ancestors, who banned the celebration of the holiday. It had become anything but a holy-day, filled with drunkenness, lewdness, and all sorts of riotous and unseemly behavior, hardly appropriate to the sublime occasion. If our moral behavior is no better these days, at least the holiday is kinder to children.

It is unfortunately fashionable among Christians to mock other Christians who worry about what they think is a secular war on Christmas. Despite Martin Luther's approval of its use in certain circumstances, I think mockery is a very low form of argument, hardly suitable for one human being to use against another. Be that as it may, I don't think there's an actual war being fought against Christmas.

Call it cultural appropriation.

Christmas is one of the greatest festivals of the Christian year—among many Christians the celebration lasts 12 days. Some would say Easter is more important, but if it is unique and astonishing that a man so clearly dead should in three days be so clearly alive, and alive in such a new way that he has a physical body (that can be touched, and fed) and yet comes and goes through space in a manner more befitting science fiction—is it any less unique and astonishing that God, the creator of all that is, seen and unseen, should become a human being, not in the shape-shifting ways of the Greek gods, but through physical birth, with human limitations?

Christmas is the celebration of this Incarnation: The God who in the act of creation made the world separate from himself, at a specific time in history implanted himself in that world, not from the outside like some alien visitation, but from the inside, as deep and physically inside as a human baby in a woman's womb. This is what we celebrate at Christmas. It is beyond astonishing, and absolutely requires the Virgin Birth. Take away either the unique conception of Jesus, or his physical resurrection, and you are left but a religion of good intentions and wishful thinking.

However, just as there is commonly a lot more involved in the celebration of a wedding than the legal act of marriage, many traditions have enriched the essential celebration of Christmas. From gift-giving to special foods, from carols to children's pageants, from decorated Christmas trees to stockings hanging by the chimney, beautiful customs have grown like many-faceted crystals around the core meaning of Christmas.

Indeed, these traditions are so special that millions hang onto them who reject the idea of God entering the world as a particular baby at a specific place and time. They even retain the name "Christmas" for this eviscerated holiday. Once upon a time that bothered me, but then I recognized that the symbols and traditions of Christmas are so rich and so powerful that—like a Christmas tree—they can retain life and beauty and a pleasing aroma for quite a while even when cut off from their roots.

Using the term "Christmas" for a celebration that no longer acknowledges nor respects the holiday's origin and history may be what is derisively called cultural appropriation, but I'm no longer convinced that's a bad thing. Christmas carols are very popular in Japan, a country where less than 2% of the people believe the words they are singing. In Europe, Christian holidays are celebrated by people who probably know no more about the meaning of the days than that the stores are closed and they don't have to go to work. In America, children eagerly count the days till Christmas who neither know who Christ is nor have ever been to mass.

More power to them. Cultural appropriation at its best is a terrific learning opportunity. For ourselves, let's take pains to celebrate the whole tree, root and branch. Beyond that, I see no need to fret about keeping Christ in Christmas. He's there, in every lovely symbol and custom, waiting patiently, as he always does, to be revealed at the right time.

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas, however you choose to celebrate it.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, December 24, 2018 at 7:08 pm | Edit
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For the last Sunday of Advent, a somber note.

Sixteen Christmases ago, while the world was singing blithely of joyous birth, we were mourning the death of our first grandchild, whose last breath came but two days after his first. The haunting Coventry Carol spoke to me then as none other. Frankly, I could not handle all the songs about a newborn baby boy; with Coventry Carol I felt merged into an ancient and universal grief. 

This reminder that the First Christmas was not a facile Peace on Earth and Joy to the World, and that the first Christian martyrs were Jewish children, is for all who mourn this Christmas, especially those who have suffered the loss of a child.

Isaac Christopher Daley, I still think of you whenever I hear this carol.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, December 23, 2018 at 7:41 pm | Edit
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What do the trees know?

The acorn harvest has been absolutely spectacular this year. The onslaught began in September and even now they continue to fall like hailstones on our roof, our porch, our yard. They fall in buckets, they fall like machine gun fire, they fall like squirrels playing candlepins. It has been four months, and "it doesn't show signs of stopping," to borrow a line from a song about a different form of precipitation.

This modern, scientific age insists there's no correlation between the number of acorns produced and the harshness of the coming winter. I'm inclined to agree, given that summer has been very reluctant to let go this year. In honor of the official beginning of winter, forecasters are suggesting that we will experience the low 40's for a few days, but they add that within a week the highs will be back up to 80.

Perhaps the abundance of acorns instead presages a winter that will send cooler weather well into the spring, as it did last year, in which case we will be abundantly grateful.

Whatever the case, our squirrels will feast this year.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, December 22, 2018 at 11:16 am | Edit
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As usual, when I make a longish comment on a Facebook meme, I hate to waste it, but use it here as well.  This one struck a nerve.

I abide by both vaccine recommendations and food recalls,
but the CDC can pry raw cookie dough out of my cold, dead hands.

Amen to that. If a food system is so broken that even flour and eggs must be cooked to be safe to eat, you don't meekly comply, you FIX THE SYSTEM. Seems a matter of national security to me!

Anyone who has tasted the difference that even simple pasteurization makes in food—milk, orange juice, cider—knows what heating does to flavor. I'm from upstate New York, and I know what cider is supposed to taste like.  The pasteurized [fill in your own noun] available now doesn't deserve the name.

I've said it before: I'm convinced that a good part of the obesity problem in America is that we are unconsciously searching for the FLAVOR that mass-produced, heavily-processed foods have lost. National security again.

Don't get me wrong, however—I love cookies after they're baked, too. I'm a big fan of the Maillard Reaction as well as of raw food.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, December 19, 2018 at 10:35 am | Edit
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I almost cried in church today. Instead, I fist-bumped Porter.

We are learning more and more about our new rector. I don't expect always to be pleased with what we learn, but if I heard him right, today was huge on the plus side.

He was talking about the Confirmation class he will be teaching, explaining that unlike some rectors he prefers to teach everyone together instead of separating children from adults.

He went further. Families, he said, belong together in church. He reminded people that we have an alternative children's activity that families are welcome to take advantage of if they wish, but added that in his view the norm is for famlies to worship together and children are welcome in the service. He didn't explain any further—this was more of an aside during the announcements—but I very nearly broke my staid choir persona and shouted, "Amen!" It's a personal, as well as a philosophical, issue for us.

It's too bad Lucerne and New Hampshire are so far away.  I can't wait till 2020 when I anticipate bringing 10 grandchildren and their parents to sit in the front pews. :)

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, December 16, 2018 at 2:46 pm | Edit
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It was a grandmother moment.

I woke up today to this report from six-year-old Vivienne:

I get to open the Advent calendar!  It's my first and only composite!

That's my girl!

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, December 15, 2018 at 7:41 am | Edit
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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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