When I lamented my love/hate relationship with Penzeys Spices, one of my readers pointed me to an alternative spice source. I wasn't particularly looking for a new source at the time, having resigned myself to making do with grocery store spices except when Penzeys had a very, very special sale—which they seem to do every time Bill Penzey wants to point to a spike in sales as evidence that his customers support a particular political position.

But I checked out The Spice House and was blown away. I had not known the greater Penzeys story: It was Bill Penzey, Sr. who started the original Spice House company. His daughter took over the business, while his son, Bill Penzey, Jr., started his own spice company. Both companies have access to the old family recipes. The Spice House is smaller and more local than Penzeys, which they count to their advantage, all their spices still being prepared by hand in small batches, at their store.

The biggest difference between Penzeys and The Spice House is in politics. For all I know, the owners of the two stores share the same exact political views—or perhaps they are poles apart. I wouldn't know, because, unlike Penzeys, The Spice House makes a point of welcoming customers of all political persuasions, and keeping a very low profile themselves.

Here at The Spice House we are strictly a community of folks who like to cook; you will never get any lectures from us that include our personal agenda. We are just about the love of cooking and getting you the best possible ingredients to produce the most flavorful results!

Penzeys-quality seasonings without the side order of vituperation? I'm in!

My first order with The Spice House was just large enough to qualify for free shipping, because I'm trying to draw down my current spice stockpile, but what I've seen so far, I like very much. Here's a new blend that quickly became a favorite: Lake Shore Drive Seasoning: Gently hand mixed from salt, shallots, garlic, onion, chives, ground green peppercorns, scallions. My favorite alliums all together! I could only be happier if they had—without replacing this one—a blend that included all of the above except the salt, so I could add still more of the flavor to a dish.

I doubt The Spice House will totally replace Penzeys for me, as not all blends are available in both places. But it has certainly become the go-to store for my regular seasoning purchases.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, June 19, 2019 at 6:15 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 0 times | Comments (0)
Category Politics: [first] [previous] Food: [first] [previous]

altA Book of Narnians: The Lion, the Witch and the Others by C. S. Lewis, text compiled by James Riordan, illustrated by Pauline Baynes (HarperTrophy, 1994)

When I read a book, it's the words I care about. I confess that I rarely look at illustrations; even when reading picture books to our grandchildren I mostly ignore the pictures. (You can guess how I feel about the "wordless books" that were popular for children at one time.) My view is that if you can't tell a story without illustrations, you're not really telling the story. So much for "a picture is worth a thousand words," at least as far as my reading habits are concerned.

On the other hand, in A Book of Narnians the illustrations are the book, and as far as I'm concerned are the whole worth of the book. Sadly, James Riordan's descriptions of the various Narnian characters, even though taken largely from the books themselves, make me cringe. I'm not certain why, except that—unlike Lewis' words in their original context—they feel condescending, as if someone decided that because this is a picture book, it should be written on a childish level. That's an attitude no intelligent and self-respecting child would put up with.

But it doesn't really matter. The star of the show here is Pauline Baynes' paintings, full color and worth taking time to study. Included as well, to my everlasting delight, is a reproduction of the original published map of Narnia, a poster of which hung for years, alongside a similar map of J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle Earth, in whatever house or dorm room I happened to inhabit.

(The map of Narnia now resides with our daughter, who takes better care of it than I, alas, ever did. I'm sorry to say I don't know what happened to the Middle Earth map, which was just as delightful.)

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, June 16, 2019 at 6:10 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 27 times | Comments (0)
Category Reviews: [first] [previous]

On November 22, 1963, John F. Kennedy died. I vividly remember a television commentor remarking that 60 people had also died that day in a horrific nursing home fire. In God's eyes, he admitted, those deaths were equally important, "but we are not God."

Death is all around us, every day. Some deaths move us more than others. To some extent, that's as it should be; if your own mother's death isn't more significant to you than the death of a random woman in South Dakota, there's something wrong with either you or your mother. I get that.

What I don't get is what moves the general media, and thus (sadly) the general population, to chose to highlight, amplify, and honor certain deaths for which most people have no personal connection. One child dies in a hurricane, and it's played over and over on the news. More than a dozen children die weekly in auto accidents, and rarely get airplay. Workplace or school shootings arouse great fear and anger, but gang-related violence is mostly ignored. The death of Travon Martin brought intense media attention from all over the world to Central Florida; the concurrent brutal death-and-burning of two young men on a bike trail nearby was all but ignored even by local media.

And then there are ostensibly minor events—like the Sandy Hook shooting, and Orlando's Pulse nightclub attack—which have taken on iconic status, with commemorations that amount to the feast days of some American secular religion.

I do understand that. Human nature, even that of hard-boiled atheists, needs a form of religion, and anything at all can spring into the vacuum created when more traditional forms of faith are abandoned. What I don't understand is why churches buy into it. I'm not even sure why churches celebrate Mother's Day, Veteran's Day, and other secular holidays—much less Super Bowl Sunday, which, no kidding, has been honored at some churches I've been in.

This is no commentary on what my own particular church does or does not do. I am on vacation in a place where the church celebrations are Pentecost and Trinity Sunday; I can't speak for what's going on back home. But if it's like previous years, churches all over Orlando will be talking about the Pulse attack, and tolling their bells 49 times. I don't think that's necessary, or even important. But for those churches who do choose to join in the secular remembrance, I have one plea:

Ring your bell 50 times.

You will hear again and again that 49 people died in the Pulse shooting. But the true number is 50. Any church calling itself by the Name of Christ must acknowledge that the 50th death—that of the attacker—is just as important, and just as tragic, as the other 49. As I wrote a year ago,

The natural way is not the Christian way. It is very, very clear that we are to love our enemies, which at the very least means mourning the violent, if necessary, death of this angry and unstable young man. He, as much as any of the other victims of this tragedy, was someone's son, someone's brother, someone's father, a human being, created in the image of God—no matter how distorted that image had become.

As that commentator acknowledged more than 50 years ago, we are not God. But if we are Christians, we should try to be more like him, and less like the world.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, June 13, 2019 at 2:03 pm | Edit
Permalink | Read 61 times | Comments (1)
Category Random Musings: [first] [previous]

Variations on this article have been making the rounds on Facebook recently: "Should Arabic numerals be taught in schools? Most Americans say no." Briefly,

CivicScience, whose mission is to power the world’s opinions and bring them to the decision makers who care, asked 3,624 people if schools in America should teach Arabic numerals. By the numbers, 2,020 people said no, 1,043 people said yes and 561 people shared no opinion. In simpler terms, 56% of respondents said no, 29% said yes and 15% chose no opinion.

Perhaps the numeral system’s name exposed a bias among the respondents. Maybe they just didn’t know where our numeral system came from. Both could be true, but CivicScience CEO John Dick is calling it bigotry. “Ladies and Gentlemen: The saddest and funniest testament to American bigotry we’ve ever seen in our data.”

I doubt it.

It's not the apparently negative findings about the American public that worry me, it's that the polling organization is creating polls clearly designed to show Americans to be ignorant and prejudiced. Then, they see what they want to see. For some reason, that sells.

Why is the immediate conclusion that those who rejected the idea of schools teaching Arabic numerals are bigots, and that they are reacting negatively because of the word “Arabic”? I can think of a few reasons off the top of my head that are at least as likely to be true:

  • The polls were not set up in a way designed to get an honest, thoughtful response. I’ve seen hundreds, maybe thousands of surveys in my lifetime—and created a few—and I know it’s hard to make one that does not prejudice the data. Surveys designed by those with an axe to grind are particularly egregious.
  • People who think our teachers are already overtaxed, people who believe our schools are already being asked to do too much, and people who say schools are not being very successful in what they teach as it is, are automatically choosing “no” to what is presented as if it were something being added to the current educational program.
  • People are hearing “Arabic numerals” and thinking “Roman numerals,” which they vaguely remember from elementary school and consider to have been a waste of time and effort. This is the most likely scenario. 
  • People recognize the question as ridiculous, and are having fun with the pollsters. Don't underestimate this possibility.

It takes little thought and minimal charity to come up with conclusions that treat people with respect. Isn't this what we would want done for us? Why do we immediately assume the worst?

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, June 11, 2019 at 10:20 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 49 times | Comments (0)
Category Random Musings: [first] [previous] [newest]

There's no doubt that video games and manipulating phones and tablets develop certain skills. But if we think all that button pushing and finger-swiping are improving manual dexterity, apparently it's not doing so in ways that still matter greatly—such as the skills needed by a surgeon.

Roger Kneebone, professor of surgical education at Imperial College, London, says young people have so little experience of craft skills that they struggle with anything practical. ... "It is a concern of mine and my scientific colleagues that whereas in the past you could make the assumption that students would leave school able to do certain practical things—cutting things out, making things—that is no longer the case," says Prof Kneebone.

Prof Kneebone says he has seen a decline in the manual dexterity of students over the past decade. ... Students have become "less competent and less confident" in using their hands, he says. ... "We have students who have very high exam grades but lack tactile general knowledge."

Such skills might once have been gained at school or at home, whether in cutting textiles, measuring ingredients, repairing something that's broken, learning woodwork or holding an instrument.

Is this something to be gravely concerned about, or will we simply turn surgery over to robots the way we have turned shifting the gears in our cars over to automatic transmissions?

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, June 8, 2019 at 7:02 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 75 times | Comments (1)
Category Education: [first] [previous] Children & Family Issues: [first] [previous]

I have many sins on my conscience, but Evil E-mail Man proved that he was talking through his hat by choosing one that I know beyond the shadow of a doubt I have never committed.

Apparently, "I have a video of you screaming at your kids, and if you don't pay me a bunch of Bitcoin, I'll release it to all of your contacts" is not considered nearly as threatening as "I have a video of you visiting an internet porn site."  But at least it would have been credible.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, June 5, 2019 at 8:30 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 57 times | Comments (1)
Category Computing: [first] [previous] Everyday Life: [first] [previous]

The contrast between our children's high school music experience and our New Hampshire grandchildren's couldn't be greater. The band/chorus/school sizes differ by almost a factor of 10.

If I had to choose one over the other, I don't know which I would prefer. At first glance, I'd have gone with the larger programs hands down. Our Central Florida school opportunites are amazing, with music and theater performances (and equipment/resources) of near-professional quality. Plus the area also has magnet schools and private schools dedicated to the performing arts. The opportunities for serious students of the arts are wonderful here. Not perfect—when we were directly involved, the flaws were obvious—but further experience has shown me how much better off we were than many other places.

But what if you just want to have fun? Or even if you're dedicated to your art, is it better to be in the middle of a great talent pool, or at the top of a small one? I don't think there's an easy answer.

But one thing I do know: One advantage of small town schools is that they're more likely to be flexible, e.g. allowing a fifth grader to be in the seventh grade band, and another student to play in both the middle school and the high school bands.  (The elementary, middle, and high schools are all on the same small campus, making the latter possible.)

More to the point of this post, there's room in the spring concert schedule to add a blessing for your grandmother when she makes the 1300-mile journey to hear you play and sing.

This was a total surprise.

Earlier in the year, Jonathan had transcribed Seminole Wind, which I love, from a YouTube video, got together with some of his friends, and arranged it for the group. They played it for their classmates, and I'd had a chance to hear a cell phone recording of that, for which I was very thankful—but the sound quality was not all that great.

How Jonathan managed to persuade the music director to let their group serve as the introduction to the spring concert, I don't know—but Jonathan can be very persuasive and their director is very supportive. Here they are:

If I hadn't been wrangling the camera (which I had gotten out just that minute in preparation for taking a snapshot or two), I would have cried. What a gift!

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, June 2, 2019 at 6:58 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 70 times | Comments (0)
Category Everyday Life: [first] [previous] [newest] Music: [first] [previous]

altOn Stories and Other Essays on Literature by C. S. Lewis, edited by Walter Hooper (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1982; originally written between the mid-1940's and the early 1960's)

This is a surprisingly delightful, eclectic collection of essays. They are less informal than Mere Christianity, which was originally a series of radio broadcasts, but more accessible than his deeper, more philosophical works, like Miracles: A Preliminary Study. Not that these are any less intellectually honest, but the shorter lengths and the variety of subjects make On Stories a joy to read, with relatively little effort.

Table of Contents

On Stories
The Novels of Charles Williams
A Tribute to E. R. Eddison
On Three Ways of Writing for Children
Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What's to Be Said
On Juvenile Tastes
It All Began with a Picture
On Science Fiction
A Reply to Professor Haldane
The Hobbit
Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings
A Panegyric for Dorothy L. Sayers
The Mythopoeic Gift of Rider Haggard
George Orwell
The Death of Words
The Parthenon and the Optative
Period Criticism
Different Tastes in Literature
On Criticism
Unreal Estates

From "On Stories"

Lewis is speaking of a film version of H. Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines, but he captures much of my complain about the film version of The Lord of the Rings.

At the end of Haggard's book ... the heroes are awaiting death entombed in a rock chamber and surrounded by the mummified kings of that land. The maker of the film version, however, apparently thought this tame. He substituted a subterranean volcanic eruption, and then went one better by adding an earthquake. Perhaps we should not blame him. Perhaps the scene in the original was not "cinematic" and the man was right, by the canons of his own art, in altering it. But it would have been better not to have chosen in the first place a story which could be adapted to the screen only by being ruined.

It is usual to speak in a playfully apologetic tone about one’s adult enjoyment of what are called "children’s books." I think the convention a silly one. No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty—except, of course, books of information. The only imaginative works we ought to grow out of are those which it would have been better not to have read at all.

[N]othing can be more disastrous than the view that the cinema can and should replace popular written fiction. The elements which it excludes are precisely those which give the untrained mind its only access to the imaginative world. There is death in the camera.

It is very difficult to tell in any given case whether a story is piercing to the unliterary reader's deeper imagination or only exciting his emotions. ... The nearest we can come to a test is by asking whether he often re-reads the same story.

It is, of course, a good test of every reader of every kind of book. An unliterary man may be defined as one who reads books once only. There is hope for a man who has never read Malory or Boswell or Tristram Shandy or Shakespeare's Sonnets: but what can you do with a man who says he "has read" them, meaning he as read them once, and thinks that this settles the matter? 

From "The Novels of Charles Williams"

Good characters in fiction are the very devil. Not only because most authors have too little material to make them of, but because we as readers have a strong subconscious wish to find them incredible.

From "On Three Ways of Writing for Children"

A children's story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children's story. The good ones last.

Since it is so likely that [children] will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker. ... I side impenitently with the human race against the modern reformer. Let there be wicked kings and beheadings, battles and dungeons, giants and dragons, and let villains be soundly killed at the end of the book. Nothing will persuade me that this causes an ordinary child any kind or degree of fear beyond what it wants, and needs, to feel.

The question "What do modern children need" will not lead you to a good moral. If we ask that question we are assuming too superior an attitude. It would be better to ask "What moral do I need?" for I think we can be sure that what does not concern us deeply will not deeply interest our readers, whatever their age. But it is better not to ask the questions at all. Let the pictures tell you their own moral. For the moral inherent in them will rise from whatever spiritual roots you have succeeded in striking during the whole course of your life. But if they don't show you any moral, don't put one in. For the moral you put in is likely to be a platitude, or even a falsehood, skimmed from the surface of your consciousness. It is impertinent to offer the children that. For we have been told on high authority that in the moral sphere they are probably at least as wise as we. Anyone who can write a children's story without a moral, had better do so: that is, if he is going to write children's stories at all. The only moral that is of any value is that which arises inevitably from the whole cast of the author's mind.

The child as a reader is neither to be patronised nor idolized: we talk to him as man to man. But the worst attitude of all would be the professional attitude which regards children in the lump as a sort of raw material which we have to handle. We must of course try to do them no harm: we may, under the Omnipotence, sometimes dare to hope that we may do them good. But only such good as involves treating them with respect. We must not imagine that we are Providence or Destiny. I will not say that a good story for children could never be written by someone in the Ministry of Education, for all things are possible. But I should lay very long odds against it.

From "Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What's to Be Said"

In the Author's mind there bubbles up every now and then the material for a story. ... This ferment leads to nothing unless it is accompanied with the longing for a Form: verse or prose, short story, novel, play or what not. When these two things click you have the Author's impulse complete. It is now a thing inside him pawing to get out. He longs to see that bubbling stuff pouring into that Form as the housewife longs to see the new jam pouring into the clean jam jar. This nags him all day long and gets in the way of his work and his sleep and his meals. It's like being in love.

From "On Science Fiction"

Speaking of the charge of "escapism" in some literature:

I never fully understood it till my friend Professor Tolkien asked me the very simple questions, "What class of men would you expect to be most preoccupied with, and most hostile to, the idea of escape?" and gave the obvious answer: jailers.

From "A Reply to Professor Haldane"

I am a democrat because I believe that no man or group of men is good enough to be trusted with uncontrolled power over others. And the higher the pretensions of such power, the more dangerous I think it both to the rulers and to the subjects. Hence Theocracy is the worst of all governments. If we must have a tyrant a robber baron is far better than an inquisitor. The baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity at some point be sated; and since he dimly knows he is doing wrong, he may possibly repent. But the inquisitor who mistakes his own cruelty and lust of power and fear for the voice of Heaven will torment us infinitely because he torments us with the approval of his own conscience and his better impulses appear to him as temptations. And since Theocracy is the worst, the nearer any government approaches to Theocracy the worse it will be. A metaphysic, held by the rulers with the force of a religion, is a bad sign. It forbids them, like the inquisitor, to admit any grain of truth or good in their opponents, it abrogates the ordinary rules of morality.

From "Different Tastes in Literature"

In literature the characteristics of the "consumer" of bad art are [easy] to define. He (or she) may want her weekly ration of fiction very badly indeed, may be miserable if denied it. But he never re-reads. There is no clearer distinction between the literary and the unliterary. It is infallible. The literary man re-reads, other men simply read. A novel once read is to them like yesterday's newspaper. One may have some hopes of a man who has never read the Odyssey, or Malory, or Boswell, or Pickwick: but none (as regards literature) of the man who tells you he has read them, and thinks that settles the matter. It is as if a man said he had once washed, or once slept, or once kissed his wife, or once gone for a walk.

From "Unreal Estates"

A book's no good to me until I've read it two or three times.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, May 30, 2019 at 8:35 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 80 times | Comments (2)
Category Reviews: [first] [previous] [newest]

I saw this posted by someone in a nearby neighborhood:

I'm very thankful that I have good neighbors. I have a neighbor who just put up security cameras at her house, she lives behind me and her cameras pick up any activity in my back yard! Great neighbor in more than just one way.

Great neighbor, if you are actually comfortable with your neighbors recording everything that goes on in your backyard!

I see the advantage in the case of nefarious activity, and I've accepted that privacy is not what it used to be, but surely this is going too far. A 24-hour Peeping Tom? And I'm supposed to be grateful?

Come to think of it, I actually have no idea what our neighbors are recording. If you see us on YouTube, let me know.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, May 27, 2019 at 2:29 pm | Edit
Permalink | Read 103 times | Comments (2)
Category Everyday Life: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

altMere Christianity by C. S. Lewis (Macmillan, 1978; originally published 1944)

Mere Christianity grew out of a series of radio talks Lewis gave in the 1940's. Consequently, although he reworked them slightly to be more suitable for the print medium, they still retain an informal, easy-to-read flavor. I don't want to say Lewis dumbed down his talks for the sake of the average BBC listener (and me) but ... he did. There's none of the head-spinning intricacies of philosophy and literary criticism found in some of his other books. As with the others, there are some allusions that made more sense to a mid-20th-century Englishman than to a 21st-century American, but they're minor and easily puzzled out—or ignored. There's nothing dated about the content of this very worthwhile book. [Emphasis in the quotes below is mine.]

Table of Contents

BOOK I. RIGHT AND WRONG AS A CLUE TO THE MEANING OF THE UNIVERSE
  1. The Law of Human Nature
  2. Some Objections
  3. The Reality of the Law
  4. What Lies Behind the Law
  5. We Have Cause to Be Uneasy
BOOK II. WHAT CHRISTIANS BELIEVE
  1. The Rival Conceptions of God
  2. The Invasion
  3. The Shocking Alternative
  4. The Perfect Penitent
  5. The Practical Conclusions
BOOK III. CHRISTIAN BEHAVIOR
  1. The Three Parts of Morality
  2. The "Cardinal Virtues"
  3. Social Morality
  4. Morality and Psychoanalysis
  5. Sexual Morality
  6. Christian Marriage
  7. Forgiveness
  8. The Great Sin
  9. Charity
  10. Hope
  11. Faith
  12. Faith
BOOK IV. BEYOND PERSONALITY: OR FIRST STEPS IN THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY
  1. Making and Begetting
  2. The Three-Personal God
  3. Time and Beyond Time
  4. Good Infection
  5. The Obstinate Toy Soldiers
  6. Two Notes
  7. Let's Pretend
  8. Is Christianity Hard or Easy?
  9. Counting the Cost
  10. Nice People or New Men
  11. The New Men

From the Preface

[This book] did at least succeed in presenting an agreed, or common, or central, or "mere" Christianity. In that way it may possibly be of some help in silencing the view that, if we omit the disputed points, we shall have left only a vague and bloodless H.C.F. [Highest Common Factor, for those who have left elementary mathematics far behind]. The H.C.F. turns out to be something not only positive but pungent; divided from all non-Christian beliefs by a chasm to which the worst divisions inside Christendom are not really comparable at all. If I have not directly helped the cause of reunion, I have perhaps made it clear why we ought to be reunited. Certainly I have met with little of the fabled odium theologicum from convinced members of communions different from my own. Hostility has come more from borderline people whether within the Church of England or without it: men not exactly obedient to any communion. This I find curiously consoling. It is at her centre, where her truest children dwell, that each communion is really closest to every other in spirit, if not in doctrine. And this suggests that at the centre of each there is something, or a Someone, who against all divergences of belief, all differences of temperament, all memories of mutual persecution, speaks with the same voice.

We must therefore stick to the original, obvious meaning [of "Christian"]. The name Christians was first given at Antioch (Acts 11:26) to "the disciples," to those who accepted the teaching of the apostles. There is no question of its being restricted to those who profited by that teaching as much as they should have. There is no question of its being extended to those who in some refined, spiritual, inward fashion were "far closer to the spirit of Christ" than the less satisfactory of the disciples. The point is not a theological, or moral one. It is only a question of using words so that we can all understand what is being said. When a man who accepts the Christian doctrine lives unworthily of it, it is much clearer to say he is a bad Christian than to say he is not a Christian.

I hope no reader will suppose that "mere" Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of the existing communions—as if a man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else. It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted. But it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals. The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in. For that purpose the worst of the rooms (whichever that may be) is, I think, preferable.

It is true that some people may find they have to wait in the hall for a considerable time, while others feel certain almost at once which door they must knock at. I do not know why there is this difference, but I am sure God keeps no one waiting unless He sees that it is good for him to wait....

When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall. If they are wrong they need your prayers all the more; and if they are your enemies, then you are under orders to pray for them. That is one of the rules common to the whole house.

From Book 2, Chapter 5: The Practical Conclusion

Do not think I am setting up baptism and belief and the Holy Communion as things that will do instead of your own attempts to copy Christ. Your natural life is derived from your parents; that does not mean it will stay there if you do nothing about it. You can lose it by neglect, or you can drive it away by committing suicide. You have to feed it and look after it: but always remember you are not making it, you are only keeping up a life you got from someone else. In the same way a Christian can lose the Christ-life which has been put into him, and he has to make efforts to keep it. But even the best Christian that ever lived is not acting on his own steam—he is only nourishing or protecting a life he could never have acquired by his own efforts. And that has practical consequences. As long as the natural life is in your body, it will do a lot towards repairing that body. Cut it, and up to a point it will heal, as a dead body would not, A live body is not one that never gets hurt, but one that can to some extent repair itself. In the same way a Christian is not a man who never goes wrong, but a man who is enabled to repent and pick himself up and begin over again after each stumble - because the Christ-life is inside him, repairing him all the time, enabling him to repeat (in some degree) the kind of voluntary death which Christ Himself carried out.

From Book 3, Chapter 2: The "Cardinal Virtues"

Prudence means practical common sense, taking the trouble to think out what you are doing and what is likely to come of it. Nowadays most people hardly think of Prudence as one of the "virtues." In fact, because Christ said we could only get into His world by being like children, many Christians have the idea that, provided you are "good," it does not matter being a fool. But that is a misunderstanding. In the first place, most children show plenty of "prudence" about doing the things they are really interested in, and think them out quite sensibly. In the second place, as St, Paul points out, Christ never meant that we were to remain children in intelligence: on the contrary, He told us to be not only "as harmless as doves," but also "as wise as serpents." He wants a child's heart, but a grown-up's head. He wants us to be simple, single-minded, affectionate, and teachable, as good children are; but He also wants every bit of intelligence we have to be alert at its job, and in first-class fighting trim. The fact that you are giving money to a charity does not mean that you need not try to find out whether that charity is a fraud or not. The fact that what you are thinking about is God Himself (for example, when you are praying) does not mean that you can be content with the same babyish ideas which you had when you were a five-year-old. It is, of course, quite true that God will not love you any the less, or have less use for you, if you happen to have been born with a very second-rate brain. He has room for people with very little sense, but He wants every one to use what sense they have. ... God is no fonder of intellectual slackers than of any other slackers.

Temperance is, unfortunately, one of those words that has changed its meaning. It now usually means teetotalism. But in the days when the second Cardinal virtue was christened "Temperance," it meant nothing of the sort. Temperance referred not specially to drink, but to all pleasures; and it meant not abstaining, but going the right length and no further. It is a mistake to think that Christians ought all to be teetotallers; Mohammedanism, not Christianity, is the teetotal religion. Of course it may be the duty of a particular Christian, or of any Christian, at a particular time, to abstain from strong drink, either because he is the sort of man who cannot drink at all without drinking too much, or because he wants to give the money to the poor, or because he is with people who are inclined to drunkenness and must not encourage them by drinking himself. But the whole point is that he is abstaining, for a good reason, from something which he does not condemn and which he likes to see other people enjoying. One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he cannot give up a thing himself without wanting every one else to give it up. That is not the Christian way. An individual Christian may see fit to give up all sorts of things for special reasons—marriage, or meat, or beer, or the cinema; but the moment he starts saying the things are bad in themselves, or looking down his nose at other people who do use them, he has taken the wrong turning.

From Book 3, Chapter 3: Social Morality

The first thing to get clear about Christian morality between man and man is that in this department Christ did not come to preach any brand new morality. The Golden Rule of the New Testament (Do as you would be done by) is a summing up of what everyone, at bottom, had always known to be right. Really great moral teachers never do introduce new moralities: it is quacks and cranks who do that.

From Book 3, Chapter 5: Sexual Morality

The Christian rule of chastity must not be confused with the social rule of "modesty" (in one sense of that word); i.e. propriety, or decency. The social rule of propriety lays down how much of the human body should be displayed and what subjects can be referred to, and in what words, according to the customs of a given social circle. Thus, while the rule of chastity is the same for all Christians at all times, the rule of propriety changes. A girl in the Pacific islands wearing hardly any clothes and a Victorian lady completely covered in clothes might both be equally "modest," proper, or decent, according to the standards of their own societies: and both, for all we could tell by their dress, might be equally chaste (or equally unchaste). Some of the language which chaste women used in Shakespeare's time would have been used in the nineteenth century only by a woman completely abandoned. When people break the rule of propriety current in their own time and place, if they do so in order to excite lust in themselves or others, then they are offending against chastity. But if they break it through ignorance or carelessness they are guilty only of bad manners. When, as often happens, they break it defiantly in order to shock or embarrass others, they are not necessarily being unchaste, but they are being uncharitable: for it is uncharitable to take pleasure in making other people uncomfortable. I do not think that a very strict or fussy standard of propriety is any proof of chastity or any help to it, and I therefore regard the great relaxation and simplifying of the rule which has taken place in my own lifetime as a good thing. At its present stage, however, it has this inconvenience, that people of different ages and different types do not all acknowledge the same standard, and we hardly know where we are. While this confusion lasts I think that old, or old-fashioned, people should be very careful not to assume that young or "emancipated" people are corrupt whenever they are (by the old standard) improper; and, in return, that young people should not call their elders prudes or puritans because they do not easily adopt the new standard. A real desire to believe all the good you can of others and to make others as comfortable as you can will solve most of the problems.

Reading this out of context might lead one to think that Lewis would approve of the relaxations of the rule of chastity itself that have taken place since his time; I think it's clear that he would not. He remains firm on chastity—it's modesty or propriety he considers flexible. What struck me was the part I highlighted, with regard to language, and it works both ways. I should think better than I do of young people who use casually (and frequently!) language that not that long ago marked one as scum of the earth, and I wish they would think more kindly of their elders who grew up in a time when certain racial terms, now only used by the "scum of the earth," were in many circles considered normal and not improper. "A real desire to believe all the good you can of others and to make others as comfortable as you can will solve most of the problems" would do the job well.

You can get a large audience together for a strip-tease act—that is, to watch a girl undress on the stage. Now suppose you came to a country where you could fill a theatre by simply bringing a covered plate on to the stage and then slowly lifting the cover so as to let every one see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food? And would not anyone who had grown up in a different world think there was something equally queer about the state of the sex instinct among us?

...There is nothing to be ashamed of in enjoying your food: there would be everything to be ashamed of if half the world made food the main interest of their lives and spent their time looking at pictures of food and dribbling and smacking their lips. I do not say you and I are individually responsible for the present situation. Our ancestors have handed over to us organisms which are warped in this respect: and we grow up surrounded by propaganda in favour of unchastity. There are people who want to keep our sex instinct inflamed in order to make money out of us. Because, of course, a man with an obsession is a man who has very little sales-resistance. God knows our situation; He will not judge us as if we had no difficulties to overcome. What matters is the sincerity and perseverance of our will to overcome them.

I've heard before the comparison of our appetite for sex and our appetite for food; what I note now is how much the latter is now veering off course as well. We may not actually have food stripteases, but I've seen cooking shows and food videos and bizarre recipes that could almost be called food pornography. There's more to food than nutrition, just as there's more to sex than reproduction, but when the basic purpose of an appetite is almost forgotten, and when any instinct is kept inflamed for profit—it's a sure sign we're on the wrong track.

A repressed desire or thought is one which has been thrust into the subconscious (usually at a very early age) and can now come before the mind only in a disguised and unrecognisable form. Repressed sexuality does not appear to the patient to be sexuality at all. When an adolescent or an adult is engaged in resisting a conscious desire, he is not dealing with a repression nor is he in the least danger of creating a repression. On the contrary, those who are seriously attempting chastity are more conscious, and soon know a great deal more about their own sexuality than anyone else. They come to know their desires as Wellington knew Napoleon, or as Sherlock Holmes knew Moriarty; as a rat-catcher knows rats or a plumber knows about leaky pipes. Virtue—even attempted virtue—brings light; indulgence brings fog.

From Book 3, Chapter 6: Christian Marriage

Before we consider this modern view [of marriage and divorce] in its relation to chastity, we must not forget to consider it in relation to another virtue, namely justice. Justice, as I said before, includes the keeping of promises. Now everyone who has been married in a church has made a public, solemn promise to stick to his (or her) partner till death. The duty of keeping that promise has no special connection with sexual morality: it is in the same position as any other promise. ...

To this someone may reply that he regarded the promise made in church as a mere formality and never intended to keep it. Whom, then, was he trying to deceive when he made it? God? That was really very unwise. Himself? That was not very much wiser. The bride, or bridegroom, or the "in-laws"? That was treacherous. Most often, I think, the couple (or one of them) hoped to deceive the public. They wanted the respectability that is attached to marriage without intending to pay the price: that is, they were imposters, they cheated. If they are still contented cheats, I have nothing to say to them: who would urge the high and hard duty of chastity on people who have not yet wished to be merely honest? If they have now come to their senses and want to be honest, their promise, already made, constrains them. And this, you will see, comes under the heading of justice, not that of chastity. If people do not believe in permanent marriage, it is perhaps better that they should live together unmarried than that they should make vows they do not mean to keep. It is true that by living together without marriage they will be guilty (in Christian eyes) of fornication. But one fault is not mended by adding another: unchastity is not improved by adding perjury.

From Book 3, Chapter 7: Christian Forgiveness

I remember Christian teachers telling me long ago that I must hate a bad man's actions, but not hate the bad man: or, as they would say, hate the sin but not the sinner. For a long time I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life—namely myself.

Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them. ... But it does want us to hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if it is anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere, he can be cured and made human again. ...

The real test is this. Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one's first feeling, "Thank God, even they aren't quite so bad as that," or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. 

From Book 3, Chapter 9: Charity

Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible.

From Book 4, Chapter 8: Is Christianity Hard or Easy?

When [Jesus] said, "Be perfect," He meant it. He meant that we must go in for the full treatment. It is hard; but the sort of compromise we are all hankering after is harder—in fact, it is impossible. It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad. ... This is the whole of Christianity. There is nothing else.

It is so easy to get muddled about that. It is easy to think that the Church has a lot of different objects—education, building, missions, holding services. Just as it is easy to think the State has a lot of different objects—military, political, economic, and what not. But in a way things are much simpler than that. The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life. A husband and wife chatting over a fire, a couple of friends having a game of darts in a pub, a man reading a book in his own room or digging in his own garden—that is what the State is there for. And unless they are helping to increase and prolong and protect such moments, all the laws, parliaments, armies, courts, police, economics, etc., are simply a waste of time. In the same way the Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose.

From Book 4, Chapter 11: The New Men

No man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, May 23, 2019 at 10:50 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 90 times | Comments (0)
Category Reviews: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

Florida supposedly makes it easy to renew my driver's license. I can renew in person (cost $54.25), online (cost $50.00) or by mail (cost $48.00 plus one stamp). You read that right—it's cheapest to renew by mail, and they charge extra for online renewal, which ought to be easiest and cheapest. No problem. We need to write a check now and then to keep in practice.

The DMV kindly mails me a reminder letter, well before the expiration date, letting me know that my license is expiring but that I don't have to worry bout REAL ID compliance because I already am. They give me my renewal options (see above), and a place where I can change my address. Perfect.

But then they include a whole page about REAL ID compliance, which they have just stated is unnecessary. And a third of a page where I can check off any of 20 charities to which I can contribute the whopping sum of $1 if I increase my payment by the same amount. REALLY? On my driver's license renewal? Since when is the DMV in the business of distributing charitable contributions? And what makes them believe I think any one of their 20 organizations would use my money better than my own list of preferred charities?

But what's even stranger is the next page, an entire page dedicated to something else that's none of the DMV's business: voter registration. Yes indeed, you can use your driver's license renewal form to register to vote, or to change your registration. Most of it is conveniently filled in for you. And there's a place at the bottom to sign. That's for the voter registration, I'm sure, since you are agreeing to "protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Florida," and last I knew that wasn't a requirement for being able to drive legally. In fact, I don't even remember that being part of registering to vote, as if I were being sworn in as President, but I registered a long time ago. Be all that as it may, I'm certain that many people simply sign in the box, assuming it's part of the license renewal, leaving themselves open to fraud or even identity theft.

What should have been a one-page application or less—instructions, place to change address, what more do you need?—has become four pages of small and confusing print. 

Plus, these four pages are labelled Page 1, Page 2, Page 5, and one without any page number, with no hint as to where or what might be pages 3 and 4.

One more thing. The instructions clearly state where to mail your application form and check—though it's less clear which part of the four pages must be returned. They even include a handy pre-addressed envelope for the return. The catch? The address on the envelope is not the same as the address in the instructions. Not to mention that the back of the envelope specifies a way to make out the check that also differs from the instructions.

Finally, there's this confusing and disturbing statement:  Your completion of a driver license or identification card application will constitute notification of consent for voter registration purposes.  Huh?  What exactly am I consenting to?

I'm going to take a chance and send in my form (hopefully the right pages) and my check (hopefully to the right address), as best I can figure out—with the additional hope that I have not in the process consented to something I shouldn't have.

It's a good thing there's plenty of time before my current license expires.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, May 20, 2019 at 7:00 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 108 times | Comments (3)
Category Everyday Life: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

As I said to a choir friend, on revealing that I had no idea who or what the Blues Brothers were, there is no limit to the depths of my ignorance when it comes to pop culture. Today I experienced Exhibit B, in a way strange enough to be worth reporting.

The first thing I saw on my Facebook feed this morning was a short post by a friend. It said, simply,

JFK blown away what else do I have to say?

The next thing I did was run to Google News, more than half expecting to read about a new terror attack on New York City.

I found nothing of the sort. And no one else on Facebook was talking about it, so I concluded it was a joke or a comment meant for other eyes than mine, and forgot about it.

Then this afternoon, I got a haircut.

One thing that annoys me about Supercuts (but it's true almost anywhere) is the incessant music in the background: music I don't know with a pounding drumbeat I can't stand and incomprehensible words. I view it as part of the expense of a haircut. At least the volume is acceptable.

But today, as I was sitting in the chair getting trimmed, they played a song with kind of a catchy melody, and I managed to make out a few words, notably a refrain of "we didn't start the fire." That was intriguing, and that line sounded familiar even if the music did not.

If you know me, you know it's hard for me to let a mystery rest, so as soon as I was back in the car and before turning the key, I pulled out my phone and queried on that phrase. Then I knew what nearly all the rest of you know: That's the title of a song by Billy Joel. (For the record, I have heard of Billy Joel. I couldn't tell you anything about his music, but I have heard of him.)

And then it got weird. I started reading the lyrics, noting that they actually made some sense of the apparently garbled words I had heard. And somewhere in the middle I read this:

JFK blown away what else do I have to say?

I still don't know what Don was trying to say on Facebook, but now I know where it came from. What were the odds against solving that problem, on the same day, at Supercuts?

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, May 17, 2019 at 3:22 pm | Edit
Permalink | Read 124 times | Comments (3)
Category Everyday Life: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

altPast Watchful Dragons: The Narnia Chronicles of C. S. Lewis by Walter Hooper (Macmillan, 1971)

No other analysis of the Narnia books stands a chance with me now that I've read Planet Narnia. And both books are best read only by those who have already absorbed and fallen in love with the Chronicles. But for such people there is value. I didn't find Past Watchful Dragons nearly as interesting this time as when I first read it—several decades ago, I believe—possibly because through my "C. S. Lewis Restrospective" I've already absorbed much of what Hooper says here, sometimes several times over.

For me, the best part of the book—the reason I recommend it—is Hooper's inclusion in Chapter 5, "Inspiration and Invention," of a long fragment of the only substantial Narnian manuscript that survived Lewis's decluttering fervor. The story never saw publication, though many elements show up in other Narnian tales, most notably The Magician's Nephew. But in this case the boy Digory has a special gift: the ability to talk with animals and trees in our own world—until he tragically loses it. I would really like to have seen what Lewis would have made of that part of the story had it continued. Of course it made me think immediately of my friend Diane, who talks with trees and would probably approve of the reason Digory lost his gift.

Reading it also made me appreciate how much work must go into getting a book from the initial idea to the final version, as this fragment, despite the good story line, sounds amateurish, clearly lacking the beauty and polish of the other tales of Narnia.

I'll end with one of my favorite quotations. I had no idea it was from C. S. Lewis until I found it here, quoted a couple of pages before the story fragment.

There are only two times at which you can stop a thing. One is before everyone is tired of it—and the other is after!

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, May 15, 2019 at 5:31 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 111 times | Comments (2)
Category Reviews: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

Thinking of my own mother on Mother's Day.

  • Four children
  • Seven grandchildren
  • Eleven great-grandchildren...and counting

Every one of them a credit to their heritage.

I have the best siblings, children, nephews, and grandchildren imaginable.

Now that's a legacy.

Happy Mother's Day to all the wonderful mothers in our family!

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, May 12, 2019 at 6:12 am | Edit
Permalink | Read 101 times | Comments (1)
Category Everyday Life: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

I've written a little about face blindness (prosopagnosia) before. It's something I didn't realize I was afflicted with until late in life, though once I learned what it is, I realized that I've had it as far back as I can remember. I had just thought that I was particularly incompetent at recognizing people. When I was a teenager, I think I irretrievably insulted one of my best friends by failing to recognize her when I passed her in the street. This wasn't after a hiatus of 40 years and lots of changes—we'd last seen each other maybe a year before. But I had moved to another state, and did not expect to see her when I did.

Life for me was filled with little traumas like that. It was especially difficult when our children were young and I spent a lot of time volunteering in their activities: whether it was a church choir or a school group, people expected me to be able to recognize my students, and I often could not. That's tough when you're a field trip chaperon trying not to lose anyone!

Just last night at church I "passed the peace" to one person twice, not realizing that we had already greeted one another.

We prosopagnosics develop all sorts of compensatory tricks. My voice-recognition is particularly strong. When we're watching a movie, Porter amazes me with his ability to recognize actors who have played in other movies or shows—and he's still amazed that I can't. But let me hear the actor's voice, and I usually make the connection before he does. I have one friend I run into every year or two at the grocery store. Fortunately, she's a talkative person, either on her phone or conversing with a fellow shopper; hearing her voice before she spots me has saved me great embarrassment.

Other strategies involve recognizing people's hair, glasses, way of walking—anything but the face. That works well ... most of the time.

This past Maundy Thursday, our rector, who had for months sported a fairly long hairstyle with loose curls, walked into church having been shorn like a sheep. I truly had no idea who he was. This was before the service, and he was working up in the altar area. I thought maybe he was a new altar server, or perhaps a member of the Vestry whom I didn't know.

Then he spoke.

It still blows my mind that other people get the same instantaneous recognition from a face as I do from a voice.

I really hope I never have to give testimony as a witness to a crime. But if you plan to do something stupid, be sure to change your appearance, and don't talk. You'll be safe with me.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, May 10, 2019 at 7:25 pm | Edit
Permalink | Read 110 times | Comments (1)
Category Everyday Life: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]
Go to page:
1 2 3 ... 173 174 175  Next»