I don't like liturgical worship. It's stiff and formal, not to mention confusing. It doesn't leave enough room for the Holy Spirit. Prayer should be sponataneous; reciting set prayers is just meaningless repetition. And what's with the "smells and bells," anyway?

That's what I hear from the many people who look with suspicion on Anglican, Catholic, and Orthodox forms of worship.

Those who know how much I love the heart-piercing beauties of traditional, "high church" worship can be excused for thinking I must have been born and raised in one of those denominations. That I'm just an elderly lady clinging to the good old days of her roots.

Not at all.

In my childhood I went to a Dutch Reformed church in a small village in Upstate New York. Since then I've experienced worship in a great variety of church denominations and non-denominations, including an atheist period in no church at all. And I've noticed something.

All churches have liturgy.

Liturgy, literally "the work of the people," is what happens in the worship service of any church. No matter how informal, every church service has a flow, a pattern, a set way of doing things that is comfortably familiar to regulars and confusing to visitors. Even the church I know that proudly proclaimed, "we have no liturgy," only meant that theirs was different from what you would experience at the Catholic church down the street. All churches have liturgy, and arguing over which brings you closer to God is like debating whether Johann Sebastian Bach or Louis Armstrong was the better musician.

In fact, I think music is a good analogy here. If you make music in an orchestra, or a jazz band, or a choir, you're going to feel uncomfortable at first if you're sightreading the music, or even the musical style. You'll play some wrong notes and miss the rhythm and maybe feel awkward and embarrassed. But after a while, with experience, the music begins to soar through you, and there is very little more glorious.

That's how I feel about Anglican worship. The set prayers, the gestures, the standing and kneeling, the chanting, and even the bells and the incense—these are all notes in a complex and beautiful symphony. I'm still learning; I don't hit all the right notes and my rhythm isn't perfect. But the music soars through me.

And when I visit other churches, I need to remember that my awkward, uncomfortable feeling is not because they are all wrong, but because I'm still sightreading their liturgy.

(Unless the music is too loud, as it so often is these days. In that case what I'm experiencing is plain, naked pain, which can't be overcome by time and practice.  But that's another issue.)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, January 30, 2020 at 9:35 pm | Edit
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Ya'll know how much I dislike shopping. But I made a purchase the other day that was pure delight.

I bought a mouse.

Not the kind that Elbereth—our grandson's California king snake—would like to eat, but a replacement for my computer mouse. I'd been living for quite a while with its reluctance to register clicks properly, but then its scrolling started acting up. I even lived with that for a while—I'm always too ready to believe that the problem must somehow be my fault, or a temporary glitch, or anything else that lets me avoid having to shop for something new.

But when it started not scrolling at all, and replacing the battery didn't help, I reluctantly headed to the Best Buy website. And what to my wondering eyes should appear, among all the mouse choices, but the very same model mouse that was failing me, the one that I really like and had served me well for many, many years.

Thirty years ago that wouldn't have surprised me. Now, however, I find that when it's time to replace an item, it's no longer sold. Shoes, jeans, bras, mixers, computers, software.... You name it, most of the time I am not looking to replace my worn-out item with something "new and improved," but rather with the same thing that has served me well and requires no learning curve—but in working condition. And most of the time I fail in my endeavour.

Not this time. Could I have found a better mouse? Could I have found a less expensive mouse? Perhaps. But I bought it then and there, and picked it up the next day at the Best Buy down the street. I installed the battery, plugged it into my computer, and was able to continue working with no more thought than how nice it was that my clicks and scrolling were now dependable. I consider that $20 very well spent.

If only I could achieve the same success with my jeans.  Even the pair I bought just a couple of years ago, and finally decided would be an acceptable substitute for my old favorites, is no longer sold.

I wonder if I should have bought two mice....

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, January 26, 2020 at 6:43 am | Edit
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We all know that sopranos specialize in hitting high notes. How about this one, reported by Stephan, who sings in a Catholic Church choir in Switzerland. He's not Catholic, but they have the choir! And the food, apparently.

The sopranos treated us to hors d’oeuvres and a six-course dinner for our choir’s annual general meeting. Beet carpaccio with goat cheese and honey; mushroom soup; pike-perch with saffron sauce, shredded leek, and wild rice; blood orange Campari granita; angus roast with pea sauce, celery-potato mash, and vegetables; and chocolate mousse with orange sauce and filleted orange wedges on the side. Of the hors d’oeuvres, the pear crisps with cream cheese, Gorgonzola and walnuts deserve a special mention. 

That's setting the bar pretty high. Will the tenors provide the next feast?

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, January 23, 2020 at 5:10 am | Edit
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Category Just for Fun: [first] [previous] [next] [newest] Food: [first] [previous] [next] [newest]

If you have a spare 15 minutes, I highly recommend listening to part of this "Fake Food" podcast from Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio. The relevant section starts at about 18:30. Here are a few high(low?)lights:

  • More money is made in food fraud worldwide than in narcotics trafficking.
  • In light of the above, it's not surprising that food adulteration is big organized crime business, all over the world.
  • Daffodil extract has been added to sunflower oil to make it look like olive oil.
  • Parmesan cheese has been adulterated with shredded cardboard.
  • When demand for a product of limited availability surges, fraud follows. (When coconut products became popular, what sold as "coconut water" was often just water, sweetened. You can't get more coconut palms fast enough to meet the increased demand.)
  • 25% of the oregano sold has been adulterated. In Australia, that's 70%. (That really makes me appreciate the live oregano growing in our front garden.)
  • Often even if the adulterants are theoretically not harmful, e.g. shredded olive leaves in oregano, they can be dangerous—olive leaves are often drenched in pesticides.

You get the depressing picture. The good news? Food scientists are getting better at detecting adulterated products, and someday soon your phone may have an app for that.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, January 19, 2020 at 7:45 am | Edit
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This article from becomingminimalist.com is filled with shocking statistics about Americans (and a few other nationalities). I'm naturally suspicious of that kind of survey and what goes into the statistics. But were it only half true, it would still be scary. If you click to the article, you'll see reference links to the sources of each statistic. That doesn't mean the data may not be lacking in veracity, but citing sources deserves commendation, and you can find out more if you'd like.

Did I say these statistics are scary? More than that, they're alien—have I landed on another planet? If this is the truth about our society, then we, our families, and our friends are 'way above average (or below, depending on your point of view). Here's an abbreviated version of the numbers, with commentary.

  • There are 300,000 items in the average American home. Hmmm. Since the definition of "items" includes paperclips, I'm not sure that number isn't on the low side. Legos alone might account for it in many families. :) I know we have some 2,000 books on the shelves, and an inordinate quantity of office supplies, kitchen utensils, and computer paraphernalia, so we're probably guilty here.
  • The average size of the American home has nearly tripled over the past 50 years. It's ironic, isn't it? Families are much smaller now, but have much larger houses—in which they spend much less time.
  • One out of every 10 Americans rents offsite storage. Not us. I can see situations in which someone might do that—such as the folks who put up elaborate Christmas displays and need to store everything for the rest of the year, or someone in the process of moving—but mostly I wonder what can be worth the cost of external storage.
  • Twenty-five percent of people with two-car garages don’t have room to park cars inside them, and 32% only have room for one vehicle. Exactly what is meant by these numbers is unclear, and it apparently leaves out people with one- (or three-) car garages, but if the number of cars parked on the streets of our neighborhood is any indication, it seems to be a common affliction. Porter made sure that every time we moved into a house, the car(s) went into the garage the first night. Because he knew that if we didn't make that push, it might never happen.... Still, in our extended family it is generally true that garages contain the indended number of cars.
  • British research found that the average 10-year-old owns 238 toys but plays with just 12 daily. Define "toy." Are all 300,000 Legos one "toy"? :)
  • The average American woman owns 30 outfits—one for every day of the month. In 1930, that figure was nine. I don't believe it, and if true, it's hardly excessive consumption. You can get 30 different outfits with five blouses, three skirts, and two pairs of shoes, which even I would call a pretty minimal wardrobe.
  • The average American family spends $1,700 on clothes annually. Thanks to the meticulous financier in the family (not me), I actually have our data for this—since 1984! From then until now we have averaged $519 spent on clothing per year. For the period from 1984 to 2000, when we were clothing two children as well as two adults, the average was $691.
  • Nearly half of American households don’t save any money. Of all these statistics, this may be the most shocking to me. All those two-income households and we're not saving? I won't detail our historical savings as I did our clothing expenditures, but I have noticed an attitude change over the years that I find most significant. For much of my life, saving money was a priority for most of the families I knew. We saved for big-ticket purchases like washing machines and vacations, we saved for medical needs, we saved for retirement, we saved for our children's college costs, we saved for unexpected expenses like job loss. What happens now? We run up credit card debt for those big-ticket items so we don't have to wait for them. "Normal" medical care has gotten so far out of whack that we've redefined "insurance" to cover everything, not just catastrophes. We expect the government to provide for our retirement and unemployment. College has become so expensive that we count on scholarships—where having money saved only hurts one's case—and want the government to provide this also. There is very little of a "savings mindset" left, and almost no thought of economizing by forgoing the things that in the past we have done very well without, such as cable television, eating at restaurants, and the latest fashions in clothing, cars, home furnishings, and phones. Worse, I've all too often run into the attitude that saving money is actually bad—evil. They call it hoarding money. This is not a call to charity, but the belief that if you are not out there buying, buying, buying you are not doing your part to support the economy. Never mind that money saved is still working to contribute to the economy (unless it's stashed under the mattress), and that NOT buying, buying, buying may be the best thing an individual can do to save the earth.
  • Our homes have more television sets than people. And those television sets are turned on for more than a third of the day—eight hours, 14 minutes. Sadly, I have to plead more guilty than I'd like to here. We still have but one TV for two people, but for a few years now Netflix has encouraged us to have it on more than is good for us. I miss the days when our children were at home and the television was almost never on. On the other hand, the educational opportunities available now are fantastic, from the many subjects available on The Great Courses (good), to travel information from Rick Steves (helpful), to the education in modern culture gained from watching shows like NCIS and Rizzoli and Isles (fun and eye-opening, but almost certainly bad for our mental health). None of our children, however, own even one television set. They do sometimes watch audio-visual media on other devices, but technically, if you count all our immediate family, that's a 1:17 televison-to-people ratio.
  • Some reports indicate we consume twice as many material goods today as we did 50 years ago. That's quite possible, especially considering our houses are three times as large (see above). But what is that figure measuring? What would be even more telling than total consumption would be the material goods consumption per person, since the average family size has shrunk. Personally? I doubt that in our case it's twice, but it's certainly more than when I was growing up, and 'way more than in the days of our ancestors, when estate inventories, even of the rich, would delineate down to the level of spoons and articles of clothing.
  • Americans spend more on shoes, jewelry, and watches than on higher education. Certainly not in our case (see above clothing expenditures). It's also a suspect figure: How are they counting the numbers for higher education? If they mean what we spend net of scholarships and other subsidies, I can believe it. But if they are counting the whole cost of college (and not excluding technical schools), I'm skeptical.
  • Shopping malls outnumber high schools. How is this a meaningful statistic? Even large high schools serve a very small number of people (2800 in the case of our local school, which is huge), whereas shopping malls serve the entire population.
  • Ninety-three percent of teenage girls rank shopping as their favorite pastime. Not me! I've always disliked shopping (except maybe for books), even as a teenager. But even for the rest of the population, I doubt this statistic is as much about consumerism as about the lack of meaningful work in teenagers' lives. Sure, the girls are out shopping, and no doubt buying, too. But is the primary impetus consumerism, or an opportunity to interact with friends? (I suspect that for boys the favorite activity is video games, which serves the same social purpose.) That they're not getting together to go hiking, or discuss books, or volunteer at the hospital, speaks more to skewed priorities and lack of convenient opportunity than to consumerism, I think.
  • Over the course of our lifetime, we will spend a total of 3,680 hours searching for misplaced items. Phones, keys, sunglasses, and paperwork top the list. I'm guessing this doesn't even count Google searches. :) This fact doesn't surprise me in the least. Certainly it's a logical consequence of having more stuff and bigger houses. And far too many people no longer believe in "a place for everything, and everything in its place." I've saved myself a great deal of time and effort by having a convenient basket that my keys go into every time I come home. If we always filed (and refiled) paperwork whenever we're no longer actively working with it (sadly, I don't) we'd waste less time keeping track of it. To view this apparently staggering statistic in perspective, however, if you figure a good life of 80 years, the time wasted looking for lost items amounts to less than eight minutes per day. I guarantee we all spend more than eight minutes daily on worse activities.
  • The $8 billion home organization industry has more than doubled in size since the early 2000’s—growing at a staggering rate of 10% each year. This is a natural consequence of the previous statistic. I'm sure I've spent more time on organizational activities (reading, thinking, planning, doing, re-doing) than in actually looking for lost items.
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, January 16, 2020 at 3:03 pm | Edit
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In a comment to my post, Sometimes Old Family Stories Are True, Heather asked, "Speaking of old family stories, what do you know about the truth of the My grandfather saved Einstein from drowning one?

You can see how these legends grow over time, for the story as I know it was not that Bill Wightman saved Albert Einstein from drowning, but that the deed was done by a local "village idiot" named Johnny Dingle.

Here's what I was able to find out with some quick research.

In addition to the stories Porter and I remember hearing from Bill and other Old Saybrook natives, I discovered this in "Charles Griswold Bartlett: Mapping Old Lyme's Waterways," (Old Lyme Historical Society: River and Sound, Issue 12, Winter 2013, p. 5).

A hermit named Johnny Dingle lived on Great Island until September 1938.

Whether or not Dingle was also a bit mentally incapacitated is another issue, though Bill and others certainly described him that way. If nothing else, it provides great contrast in the story about Einstein.

This Patch article, "Sailing the Connecticut Coast with Albert Einstein," shows that an encounter between Dingle and Einstein was not only possible, but likely.

[Albert Einstein] learned to sail in Switzerland as a young man and continued to do so for more than 50 years. ... He rented a home called the "White House" in Old Lyme during the summer of 1935 and took his 17-foot sailboat named Tinef with him.

Despite sailing for over half a century, Einstein was not a very accomplished sailor. According to his biographers, he would lose his direction, his mast would often fall down, and he frequently ran aground and had near collisions with other vessels.

Often sailing near the mouth of the Connecticut River at Old Saybrook, Einstein ran aground on a sand bar once. The New York Times took note, running the following headline in the summer of 1935: "Relative Tide And Sand Bars Trap Einstein." Another newspaper put it this way: "Einstein's Miscalculation Leaves Him Stuck On Bar Of Lower Connecticut River."

Interestingly, Einstein seemed to be indifferent to the dangers of sailing, and the perils were particularly acute since he didn't know how to swim! It is rather amazing that he didn't drown.

Did Johnny Dingle really save Einstein from drowning? It's quite possible that story is true. What's near certain is that Dingle did help out the brilliant scientist one way or another, given the hapless sailor's predilection for getting into trouble, and that Dingle, however challenged he might have been in the rest of life, was constantly on and around the water where Albert Einstein was sailing, and knew well all the shoals, sandbars, and other hazards of his demesne.

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, January 13, 2020 at 6:43 am | Edit
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altReflections on the Psalms by C. S. Lewis (Harcourt Brace & Company, first published 1958)

C. S. Lewis fan though I am, I was not prepared for how much I would enjoy this book. Not only does Lewis have wise advice for understanding and getting the most out of even the problematic psalms, but the book is filled as well with general wisdom.

Lewis's take on the Psalms has inspired me to read through them again before starting over from Genesis. It is very helpful to learn more about the culture in which they were written, and about poetry as well. He deals with not only what they might have meant to the writers of these poems, but also with why it's legitimate to view them as prophecy and with a Christian interpretation. A Christian can hardly insist that the Psalms only mean what the writers means, since Jesus freely interpreted them his own way. Nor does Lewis shy away from the parts that are shockingly offensive, such as the last verse of Psalm 137 ("Happy shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!"), which Don McLean wisely left out of his simple, beautiful, and haunting Babylon.

I think it is important to make a distinction: between the conviction that one is in the right and the conviction that one is “righteous,” is a good man. Since none of us is righteous, the second conviction is always a delusion. But any of us may be, probably all of us at one time or another are, in the right about some particular issue. What is more, the worse man may be in the right against the better man. Their general characters have nothing to do with it. The question whether the disputed pencil belongs to Tommy or Charles is quite distinct from the question which is the nicer little boy, and the parents who allowed the one to influence their decision about the other would be very unfair. (It would be still worse if they said Tommy ought to let Charles have the pencil whether it belonged to him or not, because this would show he had a nice disposition. That may be true, but it is an untimely truth. An exhortation to charity should not come as rider to a refusal of justice. It is likely to give Tommy a lifelong conviction that charity is a sanctimonious dodge for condoning theft and whitewashing favouritism.) We need therefore by no means assume that the Psalmists are deceived or lying when they assert that, as against their particular enemies at some particular moment, they are completely in the right. Their voices while they say so may grate harshly on our ear and suggest to us that they are unamiable people. But that is another matter. And to be wronged does not commonly make people amiable. (pp 17-18)

I made a similar point in A Debt Is a Debt Is a Debt.

It seems that there is a general rule in the moral universe which may be formulated “The higher, the more in danger”. The “average sensual man” who is sometimes unfaithful to his wife, sometimes tipsy, always a little selfish, now and then (within the law) a trifle sharp in his deals, is certainly, by ordinary standards, a “lower” type than the man whose soul is filled with some great Cause, to which he will subordinate his appetites, his fortune, and even his safety. But it is out of the second man that something really fiendish can be made; an Inquisitor, a Member of the Committee of Public Safety. It is great men, potential saints, not little men, who become merciless fanatics. Those who are readiest to die for a cause may easily become those who are readiest to kill for it. (p 28)

If I am never tempted, and cannot even imagine myself being tempted, to gamble, this does not mean that I am better than those who are. The timidity and pessimism which exempt me from that temptation themselves tempt me to draw back from those risks and adventures which every man ought to take. (p 29)

There is a stage in a child’s life at which it cannot separate the religious from the merely festal character of Christmas or Easter. I have been told of a very small and very devout boy who was heard murmuring to himself on Easter morning a poem of his own composition which began “Chocolate eggs and Jesus risen”. This seems to me, for his age, both admirable poetry and admirable piety. But of course the time will soon come when such a child can no longer effortlessly and spontaneously enjoy that unity. He will become able to distinguish the spiritual from the ritual and festal aspect of Easter; chocolate eggs will no longer be sacramental. And once he has distinguished he must put one or the other first. If he puts the spiritual first he can still taste something of Easter in the chocolate eggs; if he puts the eggs first they will soon be no more than any other sweetmeat. They have taken on an independent, and therefore a soon withering, life. (pp 48-49)

I am inclined to think a Christian would be wise to avoid, where he decently can, any meeting with people who are bullies, lascivious, cruel, dishonest, spiteful and so forth. Not because we are “too good” for them. In a sense because we are not good enough. We are not good enough to cope with all the temptations, nor clever enough to cope with all the problems, which an evening spent in such society produces. The temptation is to condone, to connive at; by our words, looks and laughter, to “consent”. The temptation was never greater than now when we are all (and very rightly) so afraid of priggery or “smugness”. And of course, even if we do not seek them out, we shall constantly be in such company whether we wish it or not. This is the real and unavoidable difficulty. We shall hear vile stories told as funny; not merely licentious stories but (to me far more serious and less noticed) stories which the teller could not be telling unless he was betraying someone’s confidence. We shall hear infamous detraction of the absent, often disguised as pity or humour. Things we hold sacred will be mocked. Cruelty will be slyly advocated by the assumption that its only opposite is “sentimentality”. The very presuppositions of any possible good life—all disinterested motives, all heroism, all genuine forgiveness—will be, not explicitly denied (for then the matter could be discussed), but assumed to be phantasmal, idiotic, believed in only by children. What is one to do? For on the one hand, quite certainly, there is a degree of unprotesting participation in such talk which is very bad. We are strengthening the hands of the enemy. We are encouraging him to believe that “those Christians”, once you get them off their guard and round a dinner table, really think and feel exactly as he does. By implication we are denying our Master; behaving as if we “knew not the Man”. On the other hand is one to show that, like Queen Victoria, one is “not amused”? Is one to be contentious, interrupting the flow of conversation at every moment with “I don’t agree, I don’t agree”? Or rise and go away? But by these courses we may also confirm some of their worst suspicions of “those Christians”. We are just the sort of ill-mannered prigs they always said. Silence is a good refuge. People will not notice it nearly so easily as we tend to suppose. And (better still) few of us enjoy it as we might be in danger of enjoying more forcible methods. Disagreement can, I think, sometimes be expressed without the appearance of priggery, if it is done argumentatively not dictatorially; support will often come from some most unlikely member of the party, or from more than one, till we discover that those who were silently dissentient were actually a majority. A discussion of real interest may follow. Of course the right side may be defeated in it. That matters very much less than I used to think. The very man who has argued you down will sometimes be found, years later, to have been influenced by what you said. There comes of course a degree of evil against which a protest will have to be made, however little chance it has of success. There are cheery agreements in cynicism or brutality which one must contract out of unambiguously. If it can’t be done without seeming priggish, then priggish we must seem. For what really matters is not seeming but being a prig. If we sufficiently dislike making the protest, if we are strongly tempted not to, we are unlikely to be priggish in reality. Those who positively enjoy, as they call it, “testifying” are in a different and more dangerous position. As for the mere seeming—well, though it is very bad to be a prig, there are social atmospheres so foul that in them it is almost an alarming symptom if a man has never been called one. Just in the same way, though pedantry is a folly and snobbery a vice, yet there are circles in which only a man indifferent to all accuracy will escape being called a pedant, and others where manners are so coarse, flashy and shameless that a man (whatever his social position) of any natural good taste will be called a snob. What makes this contact with wicked people so difficult is that to handle the situation successfully requires not merely good intentions, even with humility and courage thrown in; it may call for social and even intellectual talents which God has not given us. It is therefore not self-righteousness but mere prudence to avoid it when we can. (pp 71-74) [emphasis mine]

Of course this appreciation of, almost this sympathy with, creatures useless or hurtful or wholly irrelevant to man, is not our modern “kindness to animals”. That is a virtue most easily practised by those who have never, tired and hungry, had to work with animals for a bare living, and who inhabit a country where all dangerous wild beasts have been exterminated. The Jewish feeling, however, is vivid, fresh, and impartial. In Norse stories a pestilent creature such as a dragon tends to be conceived as the enemy not only of men but of gods. In classical stories, more disquietingly, it tends to be sent by a god for the destruction of men whom he has a grudge against. The Psalmist’s clear objective view—noting the lions and whales side by side with men and men’s cattle—is unusual. And I think it is certainly reached through the idea of God as Creator and sustainer of all. (pp 84-85)

The next several quotations are from the very helpful chapter entitled simply "Scripture."

The human qualities of the raw materials [of Scripture] show through. Naïvety, error, contradiction, even (as in the cursing Psalms) wickedness are not removed. The total result is not “the Word of God” in the sense that every passage, in itself, gives impeccable science or history. It carries the Word of God; and we (under grace, with attention to tradition and to interpreters wiser than ourselves, and with the use of such intelligence and learning as we may have) receive that word from it not by using it as an encyclopedia or an encyclical but by steeping ourselves in its tone or temper and so learning its overall message. (pp 109-110)

We might have expected, we may think we should have preferred, an unrefracted light giving us ultimate truth in systematic form—something we could have tabulated and memorised and relied on like the multiplication table. One can respect, and at moments envy, both the Fundamentalist’s view of the Bible and the Roman Catholic’s view of the Church. (p 112)

We may observe that the teaching of Our Lord Himself, in which there is no imperfection, is not given us in that cut-and-dried, fool-proof, systematic fashion we might have expected or desired. He wrote no book. We have only reported sayings, most of them uttered in answer to questions, shaped in some degree by their context. And when we have collected them all we cannot reduce them to a system. He preaches but He does not lecture. He uses paradox, proverb, exaggeration, parable, irony; even (I mean no irreverence) the “wisecrack”. He utters maxims which, like popular proverbs, if rigorously taken, may seem to contradict one another. His teaching therefore cannot be grasped by the intellect alone, cannot be “got up” as if it were a “subject”. If we try to do that with it, we shall find Him the most elusive of teachers. He hardly ever gave a straight answer to a straight question. He will not be, in the way we want, “pinned down”. The attempt is (again, I mean no irreverence) like trying to bottle a sunbeam. (pp 112-113)

Descending lower, we find a somewhat similar difficulty with St. Paul. I cannot be the only reader who has wondered why God, having given him so many gifts, withheld from him (what would to us seem so necessary for the first Christian theologian) that of lucidity and orderly exposition. (p 113)

It may be that what we should have liked would have been fatal to us if granted. It may be indispensable that Our Lord’s teaching, by that elusiveness ... should demand a response from the whole man, should make it so clear that there is no question of learning a subject but of steeping ourselves in a Personality, acquiring a new outlook and temper, breathing a new atmosphere, suffering Him, in His own way, to rebuild in us the defaced image of Himself. So in St. Paul. Perhaps the sort of works I should wish him to have written would have been useless. The crabbedness, the appearance of inconsequence and even of sophistry, the turbulent mixture of petty detail, personal complaint, practical advice, and lyrical rapture, finally let through what matters more than ideas ... Christ Himself operating in a man’s life. And in the same way, the value of the Old Testament may be dependent on what seems its imperfection. It may repel one use in order that we may be forced to use it in another way—to find the Word in it, not without repeated and leisurely reading nor withoutdiscriminations made by our conscience and our critical faculties, to re-live, while we read, the whole Jewish experience of God’s gradual and graded self-revelation, to feel the very contentions between the Word and the human material through which it works. For here again, it is our total response that has to be elicited. (pp 113-114)

Yet it is, perhaps, idle to speak here of spirit and letter. There is almost no “letter” in the words of Jesus. Taken by a literalist, He will always prove the most elusive of teachers. Systems cannot keep up with that darting illumination. No net less wide than a man’s whole heart, nor less fine of mesh than love, will hold the sacred Fish. (p 119)

Between different ages there is no impartial judge on earth, for no one stands outside the historical process; and of course no one is so completely enslaved to it as those who take our own age to be, not one more period, but a final and permanent platform from which we can see all other ages objectively. (p 121)

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, January 10, 2020 at 7:30 am | Edit
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It's time for my annual compilation of books read during the past year. A few patterns stand out: my current C. S. Lewis retrospective; the discovery of several new Rick Brant Science-Adventure books, necessitating a re-read of the whole series; the release of a new Green Ember book, ditto; and the discovery in July of the Brother Cadfael books. Mystery and adventure were heavily represented this year; hence so was fiction. Here are a few statistics:

  • Total books: 92, not up to last year's 108, but more than any other year since I started keeping track in 2010
  • Fiction 61, non-fiction 22, other 9 
  • Months with most books: February and December, tied at 15
  • Months with fewest books: September, not a one; June had only two; travel is another way of expanding one's horizons
  • Most frequent authors: John Blaine (Harold L. Goodwin) 24; C. S. Lewis 23; Ellis Peters 16

Here's the alphabetical list; links are to reviews. Titles in bold are ones I found particularly worthwhile, but the different colors only reflect whether or not you've followed a hyperlink. This chronological list has ratings and warnings as well.

  1. 100 Fathoms Under: A Rick Brant Science-Adventure Story #4 by John Blaine
  2. 3000 Quotations from the Writings of George MacDonald by Harry Verploegh (ed.)
  3. The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis
  4. The Armchair Economist: Economics and Everyday Life by Steven E. Landsburg
  5. The Bible (The Message paraphrase)
  6. The Black Star of Kingston by S. D. Smith
  7. The Blue Ghost Mystery: A Rick Brant Science-Adventure Story #15 by John Blaine
  8. A Book of Narnians: The Lion, the Witch and the Others by C. S. Lewis, James Riordan, Pauline Baynes
  9. The Books of the Apocrypha
  10. The Business of Heaven: Daily Readings from C. S. Lewis by Walter Hooper (ed.)
  11. C. S. Lewis on Scripture by Michael J. Christensen
  12. The Caves of Fear: A Rick Brant Science-Adventure Story #8 by John Blaine
  13. The Chronicles of Narnia 1: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
  14. The Chronicles of Narnia 2: Prince Caspian by C. S. Lewis
  15. The Chronicles of Narnia 3: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis
  16. The Chronicles of Narnia 4: The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis
  17. The Chronicles of Narnia 5: The Horse and His Boy by C. S. Lewis
  18. The Chronicles of Narnia 6: The Magician's Nephew by C. S. Lewis
  19. The Chronicles of Narnia 7: The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis
  20. The Confession of Brother Haluin (Brother Cadfael #15) by Ellis Peters
  21. The Crusades Controversy: Setting the Record Straight by Thomas F. Madden
  22. Danger Below!: A Rick Brant Science-Adventure Story #23 by John Blaine
  23. Dead Man's Ransom (Brother Cadfael #9) by Ellis Peters
  24. The Deadly Dutchman: A Rick Brant Science-Adventure Story #22 by John Blaine
  25. Decisive by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
  26. The Devil's Novice (Brother Cadfael #8) by Ellis Peters
  27. The Egyptian Cat Mystery: A Rick Brant Science-Adventure Story #16 by John Blaine
  28. The Electronic Mind Reader: A Rick Brant Science-Adventure Story #12 by John Blaine
  29. Ember Falls by S. D. Smith
  30. An Excellent Mystery (Brother Cadfael #11) by Ellis Peters
  31. The First Fowler by S. D. Smith
  32. The Flaming Mountain: A Rick Brant Science-Adventure Story #17 by John Blaine
  33. The Flying Stingaree: A Rick Brant Science-Adventure Story #18 by John Blaine
  34. Go Wild by John Ratey and Richard Manning
  35. The Golden Skull: A Rick Brant Science-Adventure Story #10 by John Blaine
  36. The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis
  37. The Green Ember by S.D. Smith
  38. The Hermit of Eyton Forest (Brother Cadfael #14) by Ellis Peters
  39. Innovation on Tap by Eric B. Schultz
  40. The Last Archer by S. D. Smith
  41. The Leper of Saint Giles (Brother Cadfael #5) by Ellis Peters
  42. The Lost City: A Rick Brant Science-Adventure Story #2 by John Blaine
  43. Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray by Sabine Hossenfelder
  44. The Magic Talisman: A Rick Brant Science-Adventure Story #24 by John Blaine
  45. Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis
  46. Miracles by C. S. Lewis
  47. The Misadventured Summer of Tumbleweed Thompson by Glenn McCarty
  48. Monk's Hood (Brother Cadfael #3) by Ellis Peters
  49. A Morbid Taste for Bones (Brother Cadfael #1) by Ellis Peters
  50. More Sex Is Safer Sex: The Unconventional Wisdom of Economics by Steven E. Landsburg
  51. Ocean-Born Mary by Lois Lenski
  52. On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature by C. S. Lewis
  53. One Corpse Too Many (Brother Cadfael #2) by Ellis Peters
  54. Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
  55. Past Watchful Dragons: The Narnian Chronicles of C. S. Lewis by Walter Hooper
  56. Perelandra (space trilogy part 2) by C. S. Lewis
  57. The Phantom Shark: A Rick Brant Science-Adventure Story #6 by John Blaine
  58. The Pilgrim of Hate (Brother Cadfael #10) by Ellis Peters
  59. The Pirates of Shan: A Rick Brant Science-Adventure Story #14 by John Blaine
  60. Poems by C. S. Lewis
  61. A Preface to "Paradise Lost" by C. S. Lewis
  62. A Rare Benedictine: The Advent of Brother Cadfael (Brother Cadfael #16) by Ellis Peters
  63. The Raven in the Foregate (Brother Cadfael #12) by Ellis Peters
  64. Recasting the Past: The Middle Ages in Young Adult Literature by Rebecca Barnhouse
  65. Reflections on the Psalms by C. S. Lewis
  66. The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson
  67. Rocket Jumper: A Rick Brant Science-Adventure Story #21 by John Blaine
  68. The Rocket's Shadow: A Rick Brant Science-Adventure Story #1 by John Blaine
  69. The Rose Rent (Brother Cadfael #13) by Ellis Peters
  70. The Ruby Ray Mystery: A Rick Brant Science-Adventure Story #19 by John Blaine
  71. Saint Peter's Fair (Brother Cadfael #4) by Ellis Peters
  72. The Sanctuary Sparrow (Brother Cadfael #7) by Ellis Peters
  73. The Scarlet Lake Mystery: A Rick Brant Science-Adventure Story #13 by John Blaine
  74. The Screwtape Letters and Screwtape Proposes a Toast by C. S. Lewis
  75. Sea Gold: A Rick Brant Science-Adventure Story #3 by John Blaine
  76. Smoke on the Mountain by Joy Davidman
  77. Smugglers' Reef: A Rick Brant Science-Adventure Story #7 by John Blaine
  78. Son of Charlemagne by Barbara Willard
  79. Stairway to Danger: A Rick Brant Science-Adventure Story #9 by John Blaine
  80. The Story of Christianity, Volume 1: The Early Church To The Dawn Of The Reformation by Justo L. Gonzalez
  81. The Story of Christianity, Volume 2: The Reformation to the Present Day by Justo L. Gonzalez
  82. Strange Planet by Nathan W. Pyle
  83. Studies in Words by C. S. Lewis
  84. Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis
  85. That Hideous Strength (space trilogy part 3) by C. S. Lewis
  86. Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis
  87. The Veiled Raiders: A Rick Brant Science-Adventure Story #20 by John Blaine
  88. The Virgin in the Ice (Brother Cadfael #6) by Ellis Peters
  89. The Wailing Octopus: A Rick Brant Science-Adventure Story #11 by John Blaine
  90. The Weight of Glory and other Addresses by C. S. Lewis
  91. The Whispering Box Mystery: A Rick Brant Science-Adventure Story #5 by John Blaine
  92. The Wreck and Rise of Whitson Mariner by S. D. Smith
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, January 7, 2020 at 11:30 am | Edit
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I grew up in a family as wonderful and loving as anyone could want. As close as we were, however, we lacked one thing: a sense of family beyond the here-and-now, including any knowledge of our ancestry. In a world where most of my friends knew "where they came from"—their families having emigrated relatively recently from Poland, Italy, England, Canada, South Africa, and more—my parents insisted that we all were Americans and nothing else mattered. We not only embraced America, we spanned it: my father came from Washington in the west, my mother from Florida in the south, and they met in Schenectady, New York. Our cousins were spread all over the map, and back then keeping in touch was not the easy thing it is today.

Not till much later did I realize how rootless this perspective had left me, but it was well-intentioned and possibly a good thing—a vaccination against the anti-immigrant feelings that occasionally troubled the times. Sadly, though, it was half a century later before I developed an appreciation of the importance of learning history.

Porter's family was different. On his father's side, he had two great-grandparents who came from Sweden, and a great-great-grandmother from England, but the rest of his family was well established in Connecticut long before the United States existed. He grew up hearing "old family stories" of the kind that genealogists tend to debunk: We came over on the Mayflower (turns out to be true), our ancestors fought in the American Revolution (also true), I'm part Native American (a very common belief and almost certainly untrue), and the one of importance today: one of your relatives was a friend of Eli Whitney, inventor of the cotton gin.

The last was just one of many lesser family stories I'd heard upon marrying into the family, and I'd filed it away in the back of my mind, along with Superman mowed my uncle's lawn. (That one's also true: Christopher Reeve was a neighbor.) But after reading Eric B. Schultz's chapter on Eli Whitney in Innovation on Tap (review to come), I decided some further research was called for.

The name Whitney appears several times in Porter's recent family history, all close relatives of Hezekiah Scovil (1788-1849) of Haddam, Connecticut, and his wife, Hannah Burr (1794-1859):

  1. Son Whitney Scovil 1813-1837
  2. Grandson Whitney Tyler Scovil 1837-1840
  3. Grandnephew Whitney Scovil 1847-1940
  4. Grandson Whitney Daniel Scovil 1861-1867
  5. Great-grandson Whitney Scovil Porter 1886-1958 (Porter's grandfather)
  6. 4th great-grandson Spencer Whitney Sloane

By itself this is no indication of a relationship with Eli Whitney, but it is suggestive that the name was nowhere in the family before this.

Hezekiah Scovil, Porter's 3rd great-grandfather, was a blacksmith in the small town of Higganum, Connecticut, and he is the connection to Eli Whitney. He apprenticed to Whitney in New Haven, and later manufactured gun barrels for him in his own shop in Higganum. The following story is taken from the Commemorative Biographical Record of Middlesex County, Connecticut:

[Hezekiah Scovil] became acquainted with Eli Whitney, who came to see him at his home, and spent one night with Mr. Scovil. Mr. Whitney was a very tall man, and the following morning Mr. Scovil inquired of his guest how he had rested. Hesitating some little, Mr. Whitney answered the question of his host by saying: "Well, pretty well if the bed had been longer." As the result of this visit Mr. Scovil turned his skill to the making of gun-barrels by hand, power being substituted later on. He went to New Haven, engaged in this work, and then returned to Candlewood Hill, where he made the gun barrels for Mr. Whitney.

Hezekiah had 10 children, the oldest of which was named Fanny. She married John Porter. Their youngest son, Wallace, was the father of Whitney Scovil Porter (#5 above), who was Porter's grandfather and the great-grandfather of Spencer Whitney Sloane (#6).

Those of you who have followed the story of Phoebe's Quilt may be interested to know that the quilt connects here more than once: Fanny was first cousin to the recipient, Phoebe L. Scovil, and it is through Fanny that the quilt came into Porter's family. Phoebe's father was Hezekiah's brother, Sylvester; Phoebe's brother William was the father of the Whitney Scovil who is #3 above.

The first Hezekiah's firstborn son, Whitney (#1 above), was the father of #2, Whitney Tyler Scovil. It is a sad story: Whitney married in January of 1837, and his son was born in November of that year. He himself died the next month, and his son followed in 1840 at the age of two.

Of the original Hezekiah's other children, I will note three. Many of the others died quite young and/or unmarried. 

His daughter Josephine died at the age of 48, unmarried—but she is notable because we have her portrait hanging on our living room wall.

Having explained the truth of the old family story connecting Porter's family with Eli Whitney, I'll spend the rest of this post on two of Hezekiah's other sons, Daniel and Hezekiah. Hezekiah was the father of Whitney Daniel Scovil, #4 in the Whitney list above.

Daniel and Hezekiah are the famous names in Higganum, and part of the Eli Whitney legacy, having carried on their father's blacksmithing tradition by creating the D & H Scovil Manufacturing Company in 1844. In addition to manufacturing gun barrels, and lovely things like the two iron candelabra that stand in our house, D & H Scovil made hoes. The "Scovil hoe" is what they are famous for.

Daniel made a trip into the plantations of the South, where he discovered that the English hoes being used there were of terrible quality. Family lore suggests that Daniel might have had a travelling companion, Eli Whitney, Jr.—but I haven't found documentation for that. Daniel put his mind to the problem of building a better hoe, and he did. He designed and manufactured what he called a "planter's hoe," which gripped more tightly on the handle and sharpened itself as it was being used.

Every inventor needs a partner with good business sense, and for Daniel that was his brother, Hezekiah. The hoe was a hit, and a success.

The first four minutes of this video show a Scovil hoe and some of its history and features. The narrator gets a few things (and pronunciations) not quite right, but it's mostly true to what I've learned elsewhere.

Here are some references that might be of interest if you want to dig further:

Finally, if you really want to know the D & H Scovil history, I just found these three presentations given at the Haddam Historical Society, and I'm sure they will be fascinating. I admit I haven't watched them, and I sure hope they don't contradict what I've written. I'm looking forward to seeing them with Porter—maybe I'll make popcorn for the occasion—but it's nearly four hours' worth of material, so that's not going to happen for a while.

A Year in the Life of D and H Scovil – Part 1

A Year in the Life of D and H Scovil – Part 2

A Year in the Life of D and H Scovil – Part 3


There is an interesting postscript to this story. Although Porter's family worked with and was inspired by Eli Whitney, they are not related in any way I could find. My family, however, is! Mr. Whitney and I are second cousins, six times removed.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, January 4, 2020 at 9:03 am | Edit
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Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, January 1, 2020 at 10:31 am | Edit
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