Holy Week began with Palm Sunday, about which I've already written. I am so grateful that we live less then 10 minutes from church: much as we loved our previous church, the 45-minute drive each way meant that we rarely attended mid-week services. I didn't realize what we were missing.

Since our new rector arrived, we've regularly had a Mass on Monday nights. This was not much different. The congregation is never large for this service, but is a nice mix of people who attend different services on Sundays and thus don't normally interact much. We're getting to know new people, and I'm getting my Prayer Book Rite I fix. (It's Rite II at the Sunday service where the choir sings; I like both forms of the service, but I've been missing Rite I.) The sermons are different, too: more on the intellectual side, and very interesting—I'm getting a bit of an education in church history.

Tuesday was a "Contemplative Eucharist," with music from the Taizé Community. It is interesting that while I dislike the simplistic repetitiveness of much of the so-called "praise and worship" musical style, I find the Taizé songs, which are also simple and repetitive, deeply moving. The fact that they are gently-paced, hushed, and meditative makes a good deal of the difference.

I forgot to save the Wednesday bulletin, but it was a Tennebrae service, with many readings and prayers, and the gradual extinguishing of candles and lights, ending in darkness. It finished just in time for us to make our way across campus for choir rehearsal.

Maundy Thursday was the first service since Sunday that involved the choir. It was a multi-part service, with much singing, Scripture, and prayer, the traditional Footwashing, Communion, and the Stripping of the Altar. The hymns were: O Sacred Head, Sore Wounded; There Is a Green Hill Far Away; Humbly I Adore Thee; Alone Thou Goest Forth; and My Song Is Love Unknown. The choir sang two anthems: Ave Verum (Mozart), and Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring (Bach). Note that we sang the Mozart in the original Latin, but my German-speaking readers may be disappointed that we sang an English version of the Bach.

On Good Friday we skipped the noon service, which I regret a little since it also included the Stations of the Cross and I was curious as to how that might be different with our new rector. Maybe next year. Instead, we went to the evening service, with solemn readings, Communion, and just one hymn, Were You There?, sung without accompaniment.

Saturday evening was the Great Vigil of Easter, which might be my favorite church service of the year. There is so much to it! We began outside the church with the "lighting of the new fire" and the lighting of the Paschal Candle—and a lot of smaller candles in the hands of the congregation. We processed together into the church, which was very dark and lit only by our candles for the entire "vigil" part of the service. This was highly effective, but the solemnity was not without its amusing moments. As Episcopalians, we're pretty good at juggling hymnals and prayer books, but to do it all one-handed, with a lighted and wax-dripping candle in the other, was more than usually challenging. You'll be happy to know we did not burn down the church, nor even singe anyone's hair—that I know of. 

We finally extinguished and set down our candles as the lights went up for the Great Alleluia of Easter—a good thing, for at that point we needed to pick up our bells to follow the instruction, All ring bells with great fervor!

The choir did not sing for this service, but there was plenty of music, including the Exsultet. I liked it better when the whole choir sang it, instead of just the priest—but I'll take what I can get. Hymns: Through the Red Sea Brought at Last; The Day of Resurrection!; Alleluia, Alleluia, Give Thanks; I Am the Bread of Life; Jesus Christ Is Risen Today. Duet: Sound the Trumpet (Handel). And at least one more beautiful solo or duet, but memory is failing me on the details.

Easter Sunday: Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

To those who would ask why one would attend two Easter services (the Vigil and the Sunday service), I can only ask, why have cake and ice cream? I suppose the same logic could be applied to the 7 a.m. sunrise service—which I'm told was very beautiful—but not for us, not now. I'm an early morning person, but not for getting out of the house. We barely made it to the 8:00 potluck breakfast as it was. I contributed my customary devilled eggs. This photo is from our 2007 Easter in France, where I learned the trick of dying the whites. The eggs were similar this time, though the colors were darker due to my efforts to use up some old food dye. There were many other wonderful foods on this obviously post-Lenten spread: as the rector remarked, "What else says 'Christ is risen' like sugar-laden carbohydrates?"

The service at which the choir sang was one of those high festivals that include incense, but to my surprise and pleasure, this year it was pleasant and did not choke the choir. I like incense—at least if it's in church and not used for covering up the smell of marijuana smoke, as it was in my college days—but in my previous experience the smoke makes it difficult if not impossible to sing. I don't know if this was a different formulation for the incense, or simply a better distribution, but the choir was grateful.

If you can access Facebook, you should be able to watch the whole service if you so choose.

We had a brass quintet for the occasion (two trumpets, French horn, trombone, and tuba), and that was spectacular. Of course there was much singing, I mean lots and lots of singing: hymns, service music, anthems, clergy, congregation, choir, solo, duet. Also many readings, Baptism and Renewal of Baptismal vows, and of course Communion.

Hymns: Jesus Christ Is Risen Today (of course!); The Strife Is O'er; We Know That Christ Is Raised and Dies No More; The Day of Resurrection. Yes, I missed Hail Thee, Festival Day! but was well-consoled, knowing we will sing it the second Sunday of Easter. Twelve days of Christmas, fifty days of Easter—it's not just wine for Communion and at our parties that shows we know how to celebrate.

Anthems: Sound the Trumpet (duet); Alleluia from Mozart's "Exultate Jubilate" (solo); Ave Maria (with the Children's Choir); Vivaldi's Gloria In Excelsis Deo.

And the postlude? Choir and congregation (plus the clergy, I'm certain) singing Handel's Hallelujah Chorus for a glorious finish!

A few of us from the choir customarily go out to lunch after church, and on Easter our ranks are swelled to party-sized. This year we went to Caffe Positano, not my favorite place, but acceptable—they were able to fit us in, and we were there for the good company anyway. It was after 3 p.m. by the time we were home and partook of one more Easter Sunday tradition: collapsing, and taking the rest of the day off.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, April 28, 2019 at 7:52 am | Edit
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For anyone who has not already acquired the Kindle version of S. D. Smith's The Green Ember: it is being offered for free until Monday.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, April 25, 2019 at 11:20 am | Edit
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Of all the Seven Deadly Sins, Pride fittingly takes pride of place as the one considered the worst by most Christians, though Lust seems to get the most publicity. Today, Envy is making the headlines. It seems that the fire at the Cathedral of Notre Dame touched many hearts and opened many wallets, including those of some very wealthy people and corporations.

Naturally, this generosity has caused a nasty backlash.

As I wrote a couple of years ago, I never have understood why people hate the rich. I'll admit I don't seek them out, as a class, even though our summer vacations often throw us into the midst of people who are very wealthy indeed, because we seem to have very little in common. (Who am I kidding? The real reason I don't seek out our wealthy neighbors is the same reason I don't seek out our poor neighbors: I'm an introvert and very happy filling my time with the family and friends I already have. But the other sounds better.) I have observed, however, that most people with wealth work incredibly hard, put many, many more hours into their work than I ever wanted to, and often accomplish more for the general good than I can dream of. That's hard to hate. But maybe the real reason there's no temptation for me to hate the rich is that I do not envy them their lifestyles.

I suspect Envy has an awful lot to do with the backlash, even if it's couched in seemingly compassionate terms. How else to explain this comment, from an article in The Guardian?

We should also be asking ... why those generous donors are so averse to giving their money to democratically chosen priorities, which is what taxes represent. If the ultra-rich can chuck in so many millions of euros for a building, then what stops them ending hunger and poverty?

Why? I can think of a couple of really obvious answers.

Why would the rich rather support a cherished cause directly rather than pay more taxes? For the same reason anyone would. Instead of me giving to Charity A, you tell me you will take my money, keep some of it for yourself, then give the rest to Charities B, C, D, and E—and you expect me to be happy about it? I don't think so. There are good reasons for paying taxes, but this is not one of them.

What stops the super-rich from ending hunger and poverty? Perhaps because money is one of the least reliable means of doing so. When you give money to rebuild a cathedral, in a few years the cathedral is rebuilt and stands there till the next disaster. It's a simple, satisfying equation. Take that same money and give it to an organization trying to end hunger and poverty, and you may make a little progress, or you may not. Ask Bill Gates. You may even end up doing more harm than good. It's a much more complicated equation, and you may never see the results of your contribution, because anything that isn't a band-aid approach (feed a chronically hungry person today and he's hungry again tomorrow) is difficult to do right and takes a long time to show sustainable results. There are good reasons to make wise donations to organizations of proven reliability that have shown some success in lifting communities out of poverty, but if you take all their money from all the billionaires in the world you won't solve the problem—and then where will you get your next billions?

There is only one question worth asking when it comes to giving money, and it's not, "Why don't others use their money the way I think they should?" It's "Am I being both generous and wise with the money that has been entrusted to me?"

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, April 24, 2019 at 9:25 am | Edit
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It's Easter, and I'm writing about a different holiday.

Why? Simply and solely because the Easter post I want to write would be far too much work for the remainder of a day of rest after an exhilarating but exhausting week. I will celebrate Easter by not writing about it—yet.  Besides, Easter is not one day, but a 50-day season, so I have some time.


On March 25 of this year, our church celebrated the Annunciation. To the best of my recollection, that's the first time, in all of our many and varied churches, that we have done so.

That celebration set off an interesting train of thought.

It's usually around Christmastime that my thoughts turn especially to the Incarnation. As I've said before, for years I unthinkingly accepted the idea that Easter should be more important to Christians than Christmas. After all, the resurrection of Christ is the one spectacular event on which Christianity stands or falls.

Or is it? 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 enter his world as a human being, not in the shape-shifting ways of the Greek gods, but through physical birth, with human limitations? I finally concluded that debating which holiday is more significant for a Christian is like asking whether my left or my right leg is more important for running.

But now comes a new holiday into the mix: Annunciation. Obviously the birth of Jesus is still an important and awesome (in the literal sense) holiday. But if we're celebrating the Incarnation, aren't we about nine months too late? Figuring Jesus was conceived about the time of the Annunciation—ít's no coincidence that the feast day is celebrated nine months before Christmas—if we're celebrating the Incarnation, this would be it. So why is this holiday almost unheard of in most Protestant circles?

Thus I have some questions for other Christians:

  • If your church believes, as I do, that conception is the defining moment in the creation of a unique human being, but does not celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation, why not?
  • If your church believes that the defining moment in the creation of a unique human being is at some point other than conception, what is that point, and how does it affect your view of the Incarnation?

In over 66 years on this planet, more than two-thirds of them as a professing Christian, I have never asked myself these questions. I am astounded at my ignorance. To be fair to myself, I've never heard anyone else ask them either.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, April 21, 2019 at 7:04 pm | Edit
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altC. S. Lewis on Scripture: His Thoughts on the Nature of Biblical Inspiration, the Role of Revelation and the Question of Inerrancey by Michael J. Christensen (Abingdon Press, 1979)

When this book was written, there was a lot of fur flying in the Christian world over the nature of Biblical inspiration. Christensen's book is an attempt to ferret out what C. S. Lewis thought about the matter, though it's perfectly clear that if Lewis had still been alive during that time, he would have determinedly steered clear of the controversy. With the imprimatur of a forward by Owen Barfield and an introduction by Clyde S. Kilby, however, I suspect this book hits pretty close to the mark.

In any case, as far as I can tell from the Lewis books I've read, it seems a fair explanation. Moreover, I learned a lot here and respect Lewis's views even more—though I don't pretend to understand all the ins and outs of the philosophy and the literary criticism.

Many colleges, and sometimes even high schools, offer a course called "The Bible as Literature." I've never taken one, the very title sounding to me like a course in "what you can get out of the Bible if you don't actually believe a word of it." C. S. Lewis on Scripture makes me realize that such a course taught by Lewis would be a totally different experience altogether.

I won't attempt to summarize his ideas, nor even to summarize this summary of his ideas. But in a nutshell, Lewis believed that we cannot properly interpret Scripture without approaching it through both rational thought and imagination. Leave one out, and you miss the point. Thus he will not be put into a box when it comes to his views on the inspiration of the Bible. In short, to no surprise, he is very ... Anglican.

C. S. Lewis on Scripture is worth reading, though not as valuable as reading Lewis himself.

Partial Table of Contents

  1. IN WHAT WAY IS THE BIBLE INSPIRED?
    Are there errors in the Bible?
    What does the Bible say about itself?
    Revelation: Personal Encounter or Propositional Truth?
    Where does Lewis stand?
  2. LEWIS: LIBERAL OR CONSERVATIVE?
    Religious tolerance: we are not to judge
    Heaven and hell: the choice is ours
    Purgatory: our souls demand it
    The Eucharist: the very life and grace of God
    Theistic Evolution: animal raised to higher life
    Immortality of animals: a heaven for mosquitoes
    Christ's Atonement: fact and theories
    Is the Bible historically true?
    Biblical criticism: friend or foe?
    Modern theology: Christianity-and-water
    Lewis: Liberal, Conservative, or Fascinating Mixture?
  3. LITERARY CRITICISM OF THE BIBLE
    Good literature compels good reading
    Good poetry is artistic imitation of reality
    A "baptized imagination"—the key to ultimate reality
    Human language falls short of the reality it seeks to describe
    The human predicament
  4. MYTH, REVELATION AND SCRIPTURE
    We see through a glass darkly
    Myth converys the inexpressible
    Wishful thinking or the truly real?
    God's revelation assumes different forms
    Scripture as inspired literature
  5. THE QUESTION OF INERRANCY
    What did the early church believe?
    What did the medieval church believe?
    What did the reformers assert about Scripture?
    What happened after the Reformation?
    With the Age of Reason came the liberal position
    Neoorthodoxy: return to orthodoxy or religious cop-out?
    Evangelicalism: A house divided
  6. A TREASURE IN EARTHEN VESSELS
  7. How should the Bible be read?
    The problem of authority: we are not content
    Conclusion: a treasure chest of truth

APPENDIX A. TWO LETTERS FROM C. S. LEWIS
APPENDIX B. LEWIS: THE RATIONAL ROMANTIC

From the Preface

Most evangelicals believe in the inerrancy of Scripture. C. S. Lewis, who said "most of my books are evangelistic," did not. The Bible for him was human literature, divinely inspired and authoritative, but not verbally inspired or without error.

Should evangelicals simply dismiss Lewis as too "liberal" or "naive" because he failed to affirm a particular notion of inerrancy? Or, should they give him a fair hearing and withhold judgment until they have thoroughly considered his literary understanding of the nature of Scripture? In light of Lewis's firm evangelical commitment and acknowledged orthodoxy, I support the latter.

From Chapter 2: Lewis: Liberal or Conservative?

A self-confessed romantic converted to Christianity halfway through life, he is neither theologically liberal nor conservative; he defies classification.

From Chapter 4: Myth, Revelation and Scripture

The notion of progressive revelation suggests that God discloses himself to man in a way that is best suited to man's particular stage of religious development. For pagan culture, divine revelation took the form of mythology. For the Hebrew culture, God spoke through the Law and the prophets. Christianity is the grand culmination of progressive revelation and religious maturity in both cultures.

How are Christians to understand the obvious similarities between pagan myths and Christianity? Either pagan mythology is essentially demonic and functions as counterfeit revelation for the purpose of confusing mankind, or else it is the dim foreshadowing of God's supreme revelation in Christ. Lewis identifies with the latter view.

It can be concluded at this point that Scripture for Lewis functions as myth, as well as historic fact. It has most of the qualities of imaginative literature and all the characteristics of myth, requiring an imaginative embrace to perceive meaning.

Myth, it must be remembered, does not mean lie, error, illusion or misunderstood history. The term has little to do with fact or history but transcends both. Properly understood, myth is a medium of divine revelation bringing a level of understanding superseding that which can be known through facts and history. To regard a portion of Scripture as myth, far from being less than true, is to acknowledge a higher truth and a deeper reality than could otherwise be expressed.

From Chapter 6: A Treasure in Earthen Vessels

This divine message, Lewis would have us remember, is not confined to the medium of Scripture. God, the Source of all truth, in the process of "reconciling the world unto himself," has used many means to call his sheep back into the fold: He has inspired great myths and literature throughout history, created in us immortal longings, spoken to us through conscience and religious experience, and given us Holy Scripture to convey his message. And finally, he has revealed himself in human form, died, and risen again so that we might die and live with him.

Because of God's initiative in revelation, we possess a treasure chest of truth that is of eternal value. God's Word is the "treasure" revealed through "earthen vessels," as 2 Corinthians 4:7 implies: "But we have this treasure in earthen vessels to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us." Let us not mistake the vessels for the treasure nor fail to find the treasure in the vessels.

From Appendix A: Two Letters from C. S. Lewis

[Quoting from a page of Lewis's notes] That the over-all operation of Scripture is to convey God's Word to the reader (he also needs his inspiration) who reads it in the right spirit, I fully believe. That it also gives true answers to all the questions (often religiously irrelevant) which he might ask, I don't. The very kind of truth we are often demanding was, in my opinion, not even envisaged by the ancients.

From Appendix B: Lewis: the Rational Romantic

As a rationalist, Lewis approached the message of the Bible as a truth to be believed. As a romantic, he approached the message of the Bible as a reality to be received. Lewis's literary view of inspiration encompassed both his rational faculty for understanding and his romantic intuition to find meaning.

Reason and imagination for Lewis are the complementary human faculties for knowing. In the realm of facts, empirical evidence, sense objects, particulars, and so on, truth is known through reason. But transcendent Reality—knowledge of universals in the eternal realm—if it is to be known at all, must be grasped by imagination.

Such is Lewis's rational-romantic synthesis of truth and meaning, reason and imagination. Reason alone cannot lead us to truth. But neither can truth be understood apart from reason. Both reason and imagination, seemingly at odds with one another, are necessary for truth to be meaningful.

The appendix ends with this poem, from Lewis's novel, Till We Have Faces.

O who will reconcile in me both maid and mother,
Who make in me a concord of the depth and height?
Who make imagination's dim exploring touch
Ever report the same as intellectual sight?
Then could I truly say, and not deceive,
Then wholly say, that I BELIEVE.
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, April 18, 2019 at 6:51 am | Edit
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I read it in the Orlando Sentinel, on page 10 of the front section of today's paper, part of an article entitled, "Will census show Latino boom?"

And people wonder why I don't trust the mainstream media. Part of me still retains a small hope that professional news organizations—like our local newspaper—have more of a chance of getting the news right than the average Internet source, but they keep taxing my credulity. Here's the latest.

[E]xperts say the typical hurdles for an accurate census have been aggravated by a controversial question proposed by the Trump administration—"Is this person a citizen of the United States?"—that some fear will dissuade non-citizens from participating.

"The biggest barrier is one that the Trump administration has created," [attorney Tom] Wolf said. "This would mark the first time in American history that the census would try to ascertain the citizenship status of the entire country."

The emphasis is mine. Tom Wolf is "an attorney who specializes in the census and redistricting at the Brennan Center for Justice in New York." Specializes in the census? I suppose I could give him the benefit of the doubt and allow that perhaps he was wildly misquoted—but I'm skeptical.

From my genealogical work, I knew he was wrong: citizenship questions had been asked before. What I didn't know until I looked it up again was just how wrong he was. Check out the following census years:

1870

  • Is the person a male citizen of the United States of 21 years or upwards?

 1890

  • Is the person naturalized?
  • Has the person taken naturalization papers out?

 1900

  • What year did the person immigrate to the United States?
  • How many years has the person been in the United States?
  • Is the person naturalized?

1910

  • Year of immigration to the United States
  • Is the person naturalized or an alien?

1920

  • Year of immigration to the United States
  • Is the person naturalized or alien?
  • If naturalized, what was the year of naturalization?

1930

  • Year of immigration into the United States
  • Is the person naturalized or an alien?

1940

  • If foreign born, is the person a citizen?

1950

  • If foreign born, is the person naturalized?

1970

From 1970 on, the census stopped asking all the questions of everyone—only a small percentage of households received the long form with the interesting questions. Speaking as a genealogist, that was a very big mistake.

  • For persons born in a foreign country—Is the person naturalized?
  • When did the person come to the United States to stay?

1980

  • Is this person a naturalized citizen of the United States?
  • When did this person come the United States to stay?

1990

  • Is this person a citizen of the United States?
  • If this person was not born in the United States, when did this person come to the United States to stay?

2000

  • Is this person a citizen of the United States?

2010

In 2010 the short census form had a mere 10 questions, and the long form was replaced by the annual American Community Survey. The ACS asked questions about citizenship.

So, Mr. Wolf is correct if he only considers the censuses taken from 1960 onward. But he ignores eight censuses in which the country did, indeed, "try to ascertain the citizenship status of the entire country." The proposed question is hardly something new.

The U. S. Federal Census has often asked nosy and sometimes peculiar questions, such as

  • Is the person deaf and dumb, blind, insane, or idiotic?
  • Can the person read?
  • Was, on the day of the enumerator's visit, the person sick or disabled so as to be unable to attend to ordinary business or duties? If so, what was the sickness or disability?
  • For mothers, how many children has the person had? and How many of those children are living?
  • Is the person's home owned or rented? If it is owned, is the person's home owned free or mortgaged?
  • Is the person a survivor of the Union or Confederate Army or Navy?
  • Person's father's mother tongue
  • Is the person an employer, a salary or wage worker, or working on his own account?
  • Does the household own a radio?
  • Number of weeks worked in the year
  • What is the highest grade this person has attended in school?
  • How did this person get to work last week?

There was a time in my life when I was disgusted with the census for asking such personal questions. But now I see them as an invaluable glimpse into the world of my ancestors—and our country's history. I grieve that the names of all household members don't show up until 1850, and that most of the country has been excluded from the interesting questions since 1970.

I don't see how the Sentinel has a leg to stand on with its statement that the census has never before asked the citizenship of all the country's inhabitants. Why I continue to believe so much of what I read boggles my mind.  Maybe for the same reason I agree to all those End User License Agreements.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, April 15, 2019 at 12:14 pm | Edit
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 Now it begins: Holy Week 2019. Here's what the schedule looks like.

  • Palm Sunday 8:00 and 10:30am with Procession of the Palms at both services (just 10:30 for us)
  • Monday 6:30pm, Holy Eucharist
  • Tuesday 6:30pm, Taize service
  • Wednesday 12:00 noon, Holy Eucharist; 6:30pm, Tenabrae Service (followed at 7:30 by choir practice for us)
  • Thursday 7:00pm, Eucharist and Foot Washing, Stripping of the Altar, and Prayer Vigil until Midnight (the choir sings for this service, but we will be home well before midnight)
  • Good Friday 12:00 noon and 7:00 pm. Good Friday Liturgy (just the evening service for us)
  • Holy Saturday 8:00pm Easter Vigil, Baptism and Solemn Communion (possibly my favorite service of the year)
  • Easter Sunday 7:00am Lakeside Eucharist, Pot Luck Breakfast/Brunch from 8:30 to 10:00am, 10:30am Holy Eucharist in the Church (the choir sings for the 10:30 service, of course, but we'll skip the early service)

(Much as I don't generally care for Daylight Saving Time, I note that this year it works out well for our sunrise service—the sun rises at 6:54 a.m. that day.)

For several reasons, the choir has a lighter schedule this year, singing for only three of these services. Not that it lightens the schedule much—we'll attend most of them and we'd generally rather be singing with the choir than sitting in the congregation. But it means that we may not collapse in total exhaustion on Easter afternoon.

Today began, as usual, with the altar party, the choir, and the congregation waving palm fronds and processing around the parking lot and into the church, singing "All Glory, Laud, and Honor." It was a bit sad not to have tambourines this year, but I have to say the two trumpets did an excellent job of keeping our voices more or less in unison.

I miss the days when this was simply Palm Sunday, and not what it has become: Palm/Passion Sunday. I like having a whole service for celebrating the Triumphal Procession, and room for singing the sublime "Ride On, Ride On in Majesty"—though I'm of mixed feelings about that, because our hymnal's version is not the tune I like best for that hymn (WINCHESTER NEW) anyway. But for quite a while now most churches seem to move fairly quickly from the Triumphal Entry to the Passion (which also has beautiful hymns, I'll admit). That seems a little premature to me, given that we have all Holy Week in which to do that. It also takes something away from the Good Friday service I think. But obviously I'm in the minority here.

Today was also a day of Bach3: "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" for our anthem, a hymn with Bach harmonization, and a Bach postlude. Can't argue with that.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, April 14, 2019 at 5:05 pm | Edit
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altUnplanned
The Movie

About once a year or so we actually go out to a theater and watch a movie. I knew I wanted to see Unplanned, and did not have any confidence that it would eventually make it to Netflix. So Porter bought tickets online for our local AMC theater, and we made a date of it.

"Date" is an appropriate word, because despite the seriousness of the subject and a couple of horrifying scenes that probably earned it its "R" rating, Unplanned is basically a love story: The unconditional love of parents for a child who has made lifestyle choices in complete opposition to their own deeply-held values; the steadfast love of a man in support of his wife despite his conviction that her chosen career path is an immoral one; the love that leads us to embrace our common humanity in the face of chasmic differences; and the relentless love of God for his hurting world—"unresting, unhasting, and silent as light."

Abby Johnson's desire to make a difference in the world, to support the rights of women, and to help women in crisis situations led her, beginning as a student volunteer at the local Planned Parenthood clinic, to a promising career with that organization. She became one of the youngest-ever clinic directors, and won an Employee of the Year award in 2008.

And then that same heart-felt desire to help women led her to quit. Unplanned is her story.

The story is well told. The movie is beautiful—except of course where it's ugly. I particularly like the fact that it is not a black-and-white, one-dimensional story of a sudden conversion, despite the "what she saw changed everything" subtitle. As much as can be done in a movie less than two hours in length, we see Abby's growth through time and experience. Her change of heart seems more of a tipping point than a crisis, though there are certainly elements of the latter as well. Abby at the end of the movie is more knowledgeable, more experienced, certainly less naïve, and moving in a different direction in more than one area of her life—but still Abby.

The only fault I find is the portrayal of Abby's boss, who is indeed one-dimensional; we never see her human side. It reminds me of what C. S. Lewis said about George MacDonald, that he was rare among authors in being able to portray good much better than evil: "His saints live; his villains are stagey." It's certainly possible that this woman was as nasty as she seems, and as I said, it's a short movie, but I would like to have seen something redeeming about her character.

Do I recommend seeing Unplanned when you have the chance? Absolutely, 100%, a hundred times over. Do I recommend it for our grandchildren? Eventually. They're all under age for the rating at this point, anyway. Maybe the oldest one or two could handle it well, if their parents watch the film first and agree. Anyone younger than that would be traumatized, maybe scarred for life—if they understood it at all. At first I wondered about the R rating, given the horrible things I've seen in PG-13 movies, but I believe the MPAA got it right in this case. Unplanned is a beautiful movie, and an important one, but there's no denying that it's disturbing in a way no child should be asked to handle. Not that so many kids haven't already seen worse. And it's rather bizarre to require parental consent for a child watch a movie with a few abortion scenes, when that same child could actually have an abortion without it.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, April 11, 2019 at 11:11 am | Edit
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altThe Abolition of Man: or Reflections on Education with Special Reference to the Teaching of English in the Upper Forms of Schools by C. S. Lewis (Macmillan, 1978; originally published 1947)

Don't be put off by the occasional dated and UK-based references: this is very important material, definitely still applicable today. It is a good book to read either before or after That Hideous Strength, the third book in Lewis's space trilogy, in which the same ideas appear in the form of fiction. You must also get over Lewis's use of the term Tao. You can see why he uses it, but the meaning is not exactly the same as in Chinese philosophy. 

As the review is short, so the quotations are few. Lewis is not easily reduced to sound bites. The bolded emphasis is mine, though I'm not sure it's a good idea, because it separates them from their context, which is just as important.

From Chapter 1, "Men Without Chests"

I doubt whether [the authors of a particular English literature textbook] really planned, under cover of teaching English, to propagate their philosophy. I think they have slipped into it for the following reasons. In the first place, literary criticism is difficult, and what they actually do is very much easier. To explain why a bad treatment of some basic human emotion is bad literature is, if we exclude all question-begging attacks on the emotion itself, a very hard thing to do. ... To "debunk" the emotion on the basis of a commonplace rationalism, is within almost anyone's capacity. In the second place, I think [they] may have honestly misunderstood the pressing educational need of the moment. They see the world around them swayed by emotional propaganda ... and they conclude that the best thing they can do is to fortify the minds of the young people against emotion. My own experience as a teacher tells an opposite tale. ... The right defence against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments. By starving the sensibility of our pupils we only make them easier prey to the propagandist when he comes. For famished nature will be avenged and a hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head.

Until quite modern times all teachers and even all men believed the universe to be such that certain emotional reactions on our part could be either congruous or incongruous to it—believed, in fact, that objects did not merely receive, but could merit, our approval or disapproval, our reverence, or our contempt. 

Where the old [education] initiated, the new merely "conditions." The old dealt with its pupils as grown birds deal with young birds when they teach them to fly: the new deals with them more as the poultry-keeper deals with young birds—making them thus or thus for purposes of which the birds know nothing. In a word, the old was a kind of propagation—men transmitting manhood to men: the new is merely propaganda.

It still remains true that no justification of virtue will enable a man to be virtuous. Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism. I had sooner play cards against a man who was quite sceptical about ethics, but bred to believe that "a gentleman does not cheat," than against an irreproachable moral philosopher who had been brought up among sharpers. ... Reason in man must rule the mere appetites by means of the "spirited element." The head rules the belly through the chest—the seat ... of Magnanimity, of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments. The Chest—Magnanimity—Sentiment—these are the indispensable liaison officers between cerebral man and visceral man. It may even be said that it is by this middle element that man is man: for by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal. The operation of [this textbook] and its kind is to produce what may be called Men without Chests.

And all this time...we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.

From Chapter 2, "The Way"

[The authors of this textbook] will be found to hold, with complete uncritical dogmatism, the whole system of values which happened to be in vogue among moderately educated young men of the professional classes during the period between the two wars [World War I and World War II]. Their scepticism about values is on the surface: it is for use on other people's values: about the values current in their own set they are not nearly sceptical enough. And this phenomenon is very usual. A great many of those tho "debunk" traditional or (as they would say) "sentimental"values have in the background values of their own which they believe to be immune from the debunking process.

This thing which I have for convenience called the Tao, and which others may call Natural Law or Traditional Morality or the First Principles of Practical Reason or the First Platitudes, is not one among a series of possible systems of value. It is the sole source of all value judgements. If it is rejected, all value is rejected. If any value is retained, it is retained. The effort to refute it and raise a new system of value in its place is self-contradictory. There never has been, and never will be, a radically new judgement of value in the history of the world. What purport to be new systems or (as they now call them) "ideologies," all consist of fragments from the Tao itself, arbitrarily wrenched from their context in the whole and then swollen to madness in their isolation, yet still owing to the Tao and to it alone such validity as they possess. If my duty to my parents is a superstition, then so is my duty to posterity. If justice is a superstition, then so is my duty to my country or my race. If the pursuit of scientific knowledge is a real value, then so is conjugal fidelity. The rebellion of new ideologies against the Tao is a rebellion of the branches against the tree: if the rebels could succeed they would find that they had destroyed themselves. The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of imagining a new primary colour, or, indeed, of creating a new sun and a new sky for it to move in.

From Chapter 3, "The Abolition of Man"

In what sense is man the possessor of increasing power over Nature?

Let us consider three typical examples: the aeroplane, the wireless, and the contraceptive. In a civilized community, in peace-time, anyone who can pay for them may use these things. But it cannot strictly be said that when he does so he is exercising his own proper or individual power over Nature. If I pay you to carry me, I am not therefore myself a strong man. Any or all of the three things I have mentioned can be withheld from some men by other men—by those who sell, or those who allow the sale, or those who own the sources of production, or those who make the goods. What we call Man’s power is, in reality, a power possessed by some men which they may, or may not, allow other men to profit by. Again, as regards the powers manifested in the aeroplane or the wireless, Man is as much the patient or subject as the possessor, since he is the target both for bombs and for propaganda. And as regards contraceptives, there is a paradoxical, negative sense in which all possible future generations are the patients or subjects of a power wielded by those already alive. By contraception simply, they are denied existence; by contraception used as a means of selective breeding, they are, without their concurring voice, made to be what one generation, for its own reasons, may choose to prefer. From this point of view, what we call Man’s power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument.

For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means, as we have seen, the power of some men to make other men what they please. In all ages, no doubt, nurture and instruction have, in some sense, attempted to exercise this power. But the situation to which we must look forward will be novel in two respects. In the first place, the power will be enormously increased. Hitherto the plans of educationalists have achieved very little of what they attempted and indeed, when we read them—how Plato would have every infant “a bastard nursed in a bureau”, and Elyot would have the boy see no men before the age of seven and, after that, no women, and how Locke wants children to have leaky shoes and no turn for poetry—we may well thank the beneficent obstinacy of real mothers, real nurses, and (above all) real children for preserving the human race in such sanity as it still possesses. But the man-moulders of the new age will be armed with the powers of an omnicompetent state and an irresistible scientific technique: we shall get at last a race of conditioners who really can cut out all posterity in what shape they please.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, April 8, 2019 at 7:40 am | Edit
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altMiracles: A Preliminary Study by C. S. Lewis (Macmillan Books, 1978; first published 1947)

This is another book in my C. S. Lewis retrospective. It's hard to imagine that it has probably been 40 years or so since I read Miracles. I can't be sure, since I began keeping track of my reading only in 2010, but the book is covered with clear contact paper, a practice I used in college and for a little while thereafter. The cover is clean and almost new, but protecting it did not help the binding—many of the pages are falling out and I think I'm due for an upgrade.

If you're looking for a book full of examples of purported miracles—faith-healing stories out of Africa, perhaps, or an examination of testimonies from Lourdes—this is not your book. Lewis's approach is much more academic and philosophical, from careful definition of terms, to examination of the presuppositions inherent in different worldviews, to analysis of the type and function of various miracles in Christianity.

For me, the book started slowly, a bit of a slog. Lewis spends a great deal of time laying the philosophical groundwork for his study of miracles. Philosophy makes my head spin more than physics ever did, and I don't pretend to have a clear grasp of all his arguments. But I can testify that the end of the book is well worth the work at the beginning. The last three chapters, the Epilogue, and the two appendices are especially worthwhile. Here's the Table of Contents:

Chapter 1 The Scope of this Book
Chapter 2 The Naturalist and the Supernaturalist
Chapter 3 The Cardinal Difficulty of Naturalism
Chapter 4 Nature and Supernature
Chapter 5 A Further Difficulty in Naturalism
Chapter 6 Answer to Misgivings
Chapter 7 A Chapter of Red Herrings
Chapter 8 Miracles and the Laws of Nature
Chapter 9 A Chapter Not Strictly Necessary
Chapter 10 “Horrid Red Things”
Chapter 11 Christianity and “Religion”
Chapter 12 The Propriety of Miracles
Chapter 13 On Probability
Chapter 14 The Grand Miracle
Chapter 15 Miracles of the Old Creation
Chapter 16 Miracles of the New Creation
Appendix A: On the Words “Spirit” and “Spiritual”
Appendix B: On “Special Providence”

I didn't mark many quotations this time, and almost none in my favorite chapters—not because there was little worthwhile, but because it all hangs together in a way I find difficult to dissect into independent pieces. But here are a few.

From "Answers to Misgivings"

It is no accident that parents and schoolmasters so often tell us that they can stand any vice rather than lying, the lie being the only defensive weapon of the child.

If we are content to go back and become humble plain men obeying tradition, well. If we are ready to climb and struggle on till we become sages ourselves, better still. But the man who will neither obey wisdom in others nor adventure for her [that is, for wisdom] himself is fatal. A society where the simple many obey the few seers can live: a society where all were seers could live even more fully. But a society where the mass is still simple and the seers are no longer attended to can achieve only superficiality, baseness, ugliness, and in the end extinction. 

From "A Chapter Not Strictly Necessary"

Everything becomes different when we recognize that Nature is a creature, a created thing, with its own particular tang or flavour…. It is not in her, but in Something far beyond her, that all lines meet and all contrasts are explained. It is no more baffling that the creature called Nature should be both fair and cruel than that the first man you meet in the train should be a dishonest grocer and a kind husband. For she is not the Absolute: she is one of the creatures, with her good points and her bad points and her own unmistakable flavour running through them all.

To say that God has created her is not to say that she is unreal, but precisely that she is real. Would you make God less creative than Shakespeare or Dickens? ... The theologians certainly tell us that He created Nature freely. They mean that He was not forced to do so by any external necessity. But we must not interpret freedom negatively, as if Nature were a mere construction of parts arbitrarily stuck together. God's creative freedom is to be conceived as the freedom of a poet: the freedom to create a consistent, positive thing with its own inimitable flavour.

From "Christianity and 'Religion'"

We who defend Christianity find ourselves constantly opposed not by the irreligion of our hearers but by their real religion. Speak about beauty, truth and goodness, or about a God who is simply the indwelling principle of these three, speak about a great spiritual force pervading all things, a common mind of which we are all parts, a pool of generalized spirituality to which we can all flow, and you will command friendly interest. But the temperature drops as soon as you mention a God who has purposes and performs particular actions, who does one thing and not another, a concrete, choosing, commanding, prohibiting God with a determinate character. People become embarrassed or angry. Such a conception seems to them primitive and crude and even irreverent. The popular "religion" excludes miracles because it excludes the "living God" of Christianity and believes instead in a kind of God who obviously would not do miracles, or indeed anything else.

The stillness in which the mystics approach [God] is intent and alert—at the opposite pole from sleep or reverie.

From "The Grand Miracle"

The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation. They say that God became Man. Every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this. Just as every natural event is the manifestation at a particular place and moment of Nature’s total character, so every particular Christian miracle manifests at a particular place and moment the character and significance of the Incarnation. There is no question in Christianity of arbitrary interferences just scattered about. It relates not a series of disconnected raids on Nature but the various steps of a strategically coherent invasion—an invasion which intends complete conquest and “occupation.” The fitness, and therefore credibility, of the particular miracles depends on their relation to the Grand Miracle; all discussion of them in isolation from it is futile.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, April 5, 2019 at 5:45 am | Edit
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Despite our general antipathy to most forms of rock music, there's one rock concert we try to attend whenever we have annual Disney passes: when Air Supply comes to EPCOT. Recently they performed as part of the Garden Rocks concert series for the Flower & Garden Festival, so we headed to the park for an afternoon of food and fun.

Here's what we sampled this year, with brief comments. Overall much better than the offerings at the Food & Wine Festival, though mostly because they are new and different.

  • Fried Green Tomatoes with Blue Crab-fennel Salad, Remoulade and Smoked Paprika Oil — delicious!
  • Tuna Tataki with Spicy Yuzu Glaze, Mango, Avocado and Pappadam Crisp — very good
  • Citrus Shortcake: Orange Chiffon Cake, Lemon Curd, Mandarins, Whipped Cream, Citrus Crumble — absolutely awesome
  • Tropical Freeze (non-alcoholic frozen drink with tropical fruit, including mangos and pineapple) — excellent, good balance of flavors
  • Honey Tandoori Chicken Flatbread with White Cheddar Cheese, Charred Vegetables, Clover Honey Sour Cream and Micro Citrus Greens — good
  • Local Wildflower Honey-mascarpone Cheesecake with Orange Blossom Honey Ice Cream garnished with Fennel Pollen Meringue Kisses and Petite Lavender Shoots — delicious, and the honey was a gorgeous golden color filled with sparkles (pollen?) that shone in the sun
  • Vegetable Spring Rolls — okay, but you can get better at almost any Chinese restaurant
  • Toasted Pretzel Bread topped with Black Forest Ham and Melted Gruyère Cheese — yummy
  • Chilled Soba Noodle Salad with Pan-seared Tuna and Wasabi Dressing — good, but the Tuna Tataki was better
  • Canard Confit à la Provençal: Braised Duck Confit with Tomatoes and Olives on Polenta — good but not memorable
  • Earl Grey Tea Cake with Orange-Honey Filling topped with Honeybell Tangelo Buttercream, Honeycomb, and Bee Pollen — fantastic!

No visit to EPCOT would be complete without relaxing in a cool, darkened theater and enjoying Impressions de France, but that's the only ride we did. That's what happens when you can freely visit more often that you want to, and don't have children or grandchildren with you.

Soon enough it was time to head over to the American Gardens Theater and watch Mirko Tessandori (and Those Other Guys) perform. This video was taken from my seat, but actually is a better view than we had because of the zoom. It's just a snippet, but you get the idea.

Here are some mindblowing statistics: Air Supply has been touring for fourty-four years, and this was their 5060th concert. I wonder if after that long, living from hotel room to hotel room, all over the world, begins to feel normal.

It's always good to see friends and family doing what they love. I even attend basketball games when our grandson is playing. :) And I love to hear Mirko in action, albeit it is more fun in an interactive, smaller setting.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, April 2, 2019 at 9:43 am | Edit
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