Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Old School Country: Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash - johnny-cash photo

With a voice that crosses genres and has broad appeal, Johnny Cash is the Elvis of country music. Influenced by Blues and Gospel, and friends with the first generation of Rock and Rollers (occasionally even joining them, as with the famous Million Dollar Quartet).

Also, he wrote a novel. About the Apostle Paul.

Once of Cash's first hits, Cry Cry Cry is so steeped in Blues that Youtube has gone ahead and categorized it as a "Jazz and Blues" song.

On the other hand, his relation to Rock and Roll can be seen in his song Get Rhythm:

Another Cash's first solidly country-genre hit, as well as his first number 1, was I Walk the Line:

Cash released a long line of ballads, the most famous of which was his Don't Take Your Guns to Town:

Showing his depth and broad appeal, Cash crossed back into Rock and Roll and released Ring of Fire:

While there are far too many songs to list from Cash's extensive career, here are a few of my favorites that show how well he plays in numerous genres:

Tennessee Flat Top Box

There Ain't No Good Chain Gang (Duet with Waylon Jennings)

Ghost Riders in the Sky

Will the Circle Be Unbroken (With various country and bluegrass singers) Only the beginning is by Cash, but I think it shows that his voice goes fairly well with a group, even as varied a group as this one. These last songs also show his growing religious concern in his later years:

As a sequel to Charlie Daniels' hit The Devil Went Down to Georgia, Johnny Cash and other country stars produced The Devil Comes Back to Georgia

God's Gonna Cut You Down

The Man Comes Around

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lauren Winner on Ash Wednesday

Image Detail

So today Lauren Winner is going to stand in front of Duke University Hospital offering Ash Wednesday services to passersby. Why? Because
there is something about Ash Wednesday — the day the church sets aside for people to acknowledge, before God and one another, our mortality, our finitude and our moral failings — that suggests taking this particular liturgical action into the streets (besides following, as it does, the public revelry of Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday). We are going into public with our ashes because Jesus died in public. He didn’t die in the Upper Room surrounded only by his disciples.
I should point out that Ash Wednesday has some very good aspects to it. The Book of Common Prayer includes an excellent prayer for the occasion:
We confess our self-indulgent appetites and ways, and our exploitation of other people ... our intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts, and our dishonesty in daily life and work ... our waste and pollution of your creation, and our lack of concern for those who come after us.
The question is, how does one get from such solid theology to a priestess smearing ashes on the foreheads of random people one day out of the year? I would suggest that it is by forgetting the true heart of Christianity, the evangelical Gospel that
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Colossians 2:13-15)
The result of this Gospel is both positive and negative. On the negative side,
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day... Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. (Colossians 2:16, 20-23)
We are free from all regulations, rites, and rituals. How, then, are Christians to publically display what Christ has done for us? How do we reflect the Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection?
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:1-17)
Our public display of the Gospel is not to be a once-a-year blotch on our heads, but rather the new lives that come with forgiveness and regeneration. Our war against our own sin, and our kindness, compassion, and love for others are to mark us and God's people. I won't go so far as to say that participating in Ash Wednesday is sinful (I don't think that it is), I will say that I find it hard to see how such rituals are anything but a distraction from the true heart of the Christian Gospel. As Christians we should strive to reflect this Gospel every day in our lives, not once a year on our foreheads.

Praise Bands apparently not the point of worship...

Fors Clavigera: An Open Letter to Praise Bands:

Dear Praise Band,

I so appreciate your willingness and desire to offer up your gifts to God in worship. I appreciate your devotion and celebrate your faithfulness--schlepping to church early, Sunday after Sunday, making time for practice mid-week, learning and writing new songs, and so much more. Like those skilled artists and artisans that God used to create the tabernacle (Exodus 36), you are willing to put your artistic gifts in service to the Triune God....

One in spirit, two in practice.

It is nice when Christians work together. Unfortunately, it doesn't happen very often. Take for example the Marburg Colloquy, when the bigwigs of the early Reformation sat down and tried to work out their differences. And although they agreed on nearly everything (14 out of 15 points under discussion), they remained divided over issues like communion ("This IS my body" wrote Martin Luther on the table in front of him, so he wouldn't forget and give in to Zwingli).
It's still kind of cool to see so many important people gathered into one place. Below is a copy of the document they signed, including minor reformers like Martin Bucer, Philip Melanchthon, John Oecolampadius, and Andreas Osiander, and the two big names: Ulrich Zwingli and Martin Luther.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Historical Adam?


The folks over at the Christian Humanist Blog have linked to three recent articles on whether or not Adam was a historical person. The first, by Kevin DeYoung at the Gospel Coalition, gives 10 Reasons to Believe in a Historical Adam. DeYoung argues that "Christians may disagree on the age of the earth, but whether Adam ever existed is a gospel issue."
On the other hand, Dr. James McGrath of Butler University argues that these are actually Ten Really Bad Reasons to Believe in a Historical Adam. In fact, belief in a historical person named "Adam" actually hinders the Gospel, because it forces people to choose between what they're told about the Bible and what they're told by scientists, when really Christians have a history of reconciling historical and scientific fact with what is taught as theological truth in the Bible. He charges DeYoung with fundamentalism, and concludes "Fundamentalists, as always, set themselves up as the defenders of the gospel, while in fact their very stance and their claims represent distractions from it in the best of cases, and in the worst and most egregious instances, actually undermine the gospel."
On some kind of freakish third hand, Peter Enns has his own Thoughts on Kevin DeYoung's Restless Comments on the Historical Adam. In what is easily the humblest of these articles, Enns suggests that it is possible to believe that there is historical truth in the Genesis account, without taking it as a beginning-to-end narrative of creation, and that Christian belief should be modified accordingly in the face of scientific discovery. Enns suggests that such debates are too divisive, and perhaps should be left to true specialists: "
Posts like DeYoung’s do not defend the faith as much as they calcify particular doctrinal formulations in the face of very clear data to the contrary–to the harm of all concerned. What is needed in this discussion is not the airing of views by the young and the restless, but more efforts to “come and reason together” by the seasoned and centered."

Man, I don't even know where to start with this business. I certainly don't agree with DeYoung's stance that belief in Adam is a "gospel issue." You can certainly be a Christian and allegorize the first few chapters of Genesis (I think you still have to believe in sin, and that puts you in the awkward position of having to explain where it came from, but frankly that's your problem, not mine). After all, the gospel is the good news about Jesus Christ, who He was, and what He has done for us on the cross. The gospel is not the bad news about Adam and Eve. Neither, however, do I agree with McGrath, who goes too far in gutting Genesis to the point where it only has subjective meaning. I do think is point is a good one about not letting this become what we proclaim as "the gospel", but that's not the same thing as saying that we need to have a completely allegorical view of the creation narrative. The Enns article is interesting, and he likewise makes the perfectly valid point that this kind of discussion is very often a distraction from more important matters. Nevertheless, he goes a step too far in contextualizing -unless I'm misreading him- to the point where "scientific discovery" is replacing "revealed truth."

So where does that leave me? With a problem, I guess. As I understand it now, my options as a Christian are
1) to become a mid-to-late 20th century theological liberal, where I set the Bible in opposition to science and choose science, at least in terms of the creation narrative vs. what I am told (admittedly mostly in the popular media) about evolution;
2) to become an early 20th century Fundamentalist, where I set the Bible in opposition to science and choose the Bible, at least in terms of the creation narrative vs. what I am told about evolution;
3) to become a late 19th century Evangelical, where I attempt to harmonize what the Bible teaches with what science discovers. This would include thinkers like B.B. Warfield, who said "I do not think that there is any general statement in the Bible or any part of the account of creation, either as given in Genesis 1 and 2 or elsewhere alluded to, that need be opposed to evolution;" and Henry Drummond (not the one from Inherit the Wind) who taught biology and believed that evolution was deeply reflective of Christian belief. He rejoiced that evolution had disproved the old idea of "spontaneous generation", which suggested that life just springs into existence from nothing. By proving that life comes from other life, Drummond wrote, evolution had given absolute proof that living things must spring from another living thing, that is, there must be a living God in order for there to be living beings. Further, evolution teaches us that anything which is not improving is dying (either as an individual or as a species), which reflects the spiritual reality that if we are not growing in Christ we are dying in sin. Above all, we see the hand of God at work in redemption in both science and religion. Science tells us from whence we came, how God raised us out of the mud and filth and set us on the path of the Gospel; while religion teaches us where we are going, and points us toward the heavenly city and eternal life embodied in Christ and prepared for those who believe. Drummond writes:
This is the final triumph of Continuity, the heart secret of Creation, the unspoken prophecy of Christianity. To Science, defining it as a working principle, this mighty process of amelioration is simply Evolution. To Christianity, discerning the end through the means, it is Redemption. These silent and patient processes, elaborating, eliminating, developing all from the first of time, conducting the evolution from millennium to millennium with unaltering purpose and unfaltering power, are the early stages in the redemptive work- the unseen approach of that Kingdom whose strange mark is that it "cometh without observation." And these Kingdoms rising tier above tier in ever increasing sublimity and beauty, their foundations visibly fixed in the past, their progress, and the direction of their progress, being facts in Nature still, are the signs which, since the Magi saw His star in the East, have never been wanting from the firmament of truth, and which in every age with growing clearness to the wise, and with ever-gathering mystery to the uniniated, procleam that "the Kingdom of God is at hand."
Now, Drummond and Warfield (and the other 19th century folks who lean this direction) are out of date in terms of their actual writings. So, as much as I'd love to throw my hat in their ring, their particular form of reconciliation between science and the Bible is no longer an option. (Note that it is NOT a question of submitting the Bible to science, Warfield was, after all, the guy who articulated the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy.)

Which leaves me choosing out of the three options... none of the above. Frankly, what I would like is a new Warfield or Drummond to come along and clearly define where contemporary evolution fits in with solid Biblical theology. In other words, I want the best of both worlds. Unfortunately, I'm not the person to find it. Fortunately, I am the person to order others to do so. So, get off your duffs, get out there, and get me a workable worldview that is Biblically accurate and matches what we seem to see evidentially in the world. Let's go people, this stuff ain't gonna find itself!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Old School Country: George Jones

Once again, note the similarities to rock and roll. Wikipedia has this to say about country legend George Jones:
Throughout his long career, Jones made headlines often as much for tales of his drinking, stormy relationships with women, and violent rages as for his prolific career of making records and touring. His wild lifestyle led to Jones missing many performances, earning him the nickname "No Show Jones."
Nevertheless, George Jones has been consistently popular for the last sixty years.

Notice that none of these songs are "cowboy" or even particularly "Western" in nature. Of course there were people singing songs about the West and cowboys at this time, but they tended not to define country western music. At this early stage, "country" meant largely "the mountain South."

White Lightnin'

The Race is On

The Corvette Song is an old favorite of many:

Walk Through this World with Me is a slower ballad:

Finally, one of Jones' most known and loved is He Stopped Loving Her Today. This might be the song I heard most on the radio growing up. Then again, it might not be. It's also clearly blues-influenced.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Horror: Good or Bad?

This article appeared here at Another thoughtful piece from a (I assume) Christian perspective can be found here (also the place I found the above picture).
My thoughts on horror to follow eventually.

Horror and 3D
Two recent developments in film

Karl Marx famously claimed, "Religion is the opiate of the people". For the 21st century, film is the opiate of the people.
Film seduces us to switch off our brains and immerse ourselves in a colourful, glossy, life-sized narrative. Without wanting to undermine the genuine pleasure that comes from relaxing in front of a good film, I want to encourage us to re-engage our brains and to critically consider modern cinematic output. As Neil Postman writes in his book Technopoly, the surrender to technology "is a state of culture" but "is also a state of mind". To help us do this, I will sketch out the implications of two recent developments in film that I consider to be the most significant: the rise of a new genre of horror, and the advent of 3D films in the commercial market.

The rise of horror

First, I will discuss the more insidious development of the two – the rise of a type of horror film that seems to demand hyperbole to capture its specific brand of "eyeball poppingly repulsive sadism".
The increasing extremity of the horror genre is an attempt to re-awaken the technologically dulled emotions of an audience programmed to ‘switch off’ in front of the big screen. Leading the way is Quentin Tarantino, a man often hailed as the king of gore. His outrageously bloodthirsty movies have become cult pieces, and he has become the spokesperson for a group who push on-screen violence to its limits in order to provoke a reaction. These days, Tarantino is largely accepted by the establishment, as new directors arrive to fill his role on the cutting edge. But he has had a remarkable impact on the British film industry, helping to make extreme violence more acceptable to the mass market.
He celebrates this as the most effective means by which a director can control the emotions of an audience: "I feel like a conductor and the audience’s feelings are my instrument". Audiences, it would seem, hand over not only their brains, but their hearts too.

Reality and fantasy

However, his films often keep their distance from reality. When blood spurts out of wounds it does so as though through a hose, and in his famous pair of Kill Bill films some scenes are replaced by animated manga (Japanese comic book cartoon) sequences.
In Tarantino’s own words, "You know you’re watching a movie", because the action "is definitely not taking place on planet Earth". Jenny McCartney, writing for the BBC, notes the important "distinction between violence which is clearly fantastical in origin" and "that which is realistic and sadistic in tone".
Interestingly, the best examples of this second kind are not niche interest horror extravaganzas, but popular mainstream hits like Casino Royale (James Bond) and The Dark Knight (Batman). These films are hugely successful and, thanks to the 12A rating, it is young people who are now able to watch ‘previously unthinkable’ acts played out on the big screen, with a side of popcorn. It is not only Christians who are concerned about the possibility that they will "taint [children’s] fundamental vision of the world and adult norms of behaviour" (McCartney).

Eroding moral categories

These films no longer depict a desperate struggle between good and evil. Rather, as with The Dark Knight, they erode any sense of such moral categories, instead pitting good against chaos.
The effect is utterly dehumanising, as is the case with the villain of The Dark Knight. The Joker was famously played by the late Heath Ledger, and his bawdy message is that "the only sensible way to live in this world is without rules". Not, note, the made-up world that constitutes the comic book backdrop of the film, but the same world that the audience lives in. Perhaps it is more glamorously dark, but, nonetheless, the film intentionally creates a world as believable and recognisable as possible.

Three dimensions

In this sense, the second phenomenon that I will discuss is not so different. The new fascination with a third dimension in film is also an attempt to come closer to the reality of the audience’s world. Avatar is currently the all-time highest-grossing film worldwide – testament to the novelty of the new form as well as the excitement of the new cinematic experience. 3D films are an attempt to replicate the shockingly dramatic experience that cinema once was.
The first ever publicly shown film was Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat, shot by the Lumiere brothers in 1895. An oft-rehearsed anecdote claims that a number of audience members ran from the screen, terrified by the train coming towards them and startled by a new form that they did not understand. Film directors have been trying desperately to replicate the effect ever since, and it seems that, with the advent of 3D film, cinema has found a way to make us duck in our seats again.

Involuntary response

What made the Lumiere brothers’ film so powerful was the fact that it occupied an uneasy position between the real and the fictive. People were aware that they were not standing in the path of an oncoming train, but were seated in a theatre. Nonetheless, unfamiliar with the form, they made an involuntary, physical response to the perceived danger that the train presented. 3D film presents us with a similar sense of virtual reality.
If 3D film and a new extremity in the horror genre is what we have so far experienced, what we must be prepared for is what will be hitting our screens later in 2010 — the amalgamation of the two.

Upcoming horror

Saw 3D is scheduled for release in October 2010. With the Saw films, as with so many others in their genre, the first inspired a second, which leads on to a third, each more audaciously sadistic than the last. This year sees the release of the seventh film in the series, which follows the grizzly traps left by Jigsaw to test the physical and psychological resistance of his victims. The continuation of the series is proof both of its ingenuity, and its failure. None of the films can satisfy our desire to be shocked by cinema. Some audience members fainted during Saw III. But judging by ticket sales, it did not stop them going back for more. Each film may be horrifying at the time, but simply reveals a desire to see something even more extreme, thus guaranteeing the box-office success of the next instalment. The Saw films do not send fans screaming from the cinema, they send them screaming into the queue for the next episode. Just a few weeks ago, there was great online excitement after the first two behind-the-scenes images from the film were leaked on Wikipedia. The media hype shows no signs of slowing down.
We are not quite at the stage where we can enjoy a Saturday night out at the ‘feelies’ as Huxley prophesied in 1932 (A Brave New World). But we are edging ever closer. Writing about the Saw films for The Guardian, Jane Graham commented: "It’s possible that watching a woman have her ribcage torn apart or seeing someone drilling into a man’s temple isn’t your idea of fun – but then again, if you’re male and aged between 16 to 24, it’s entirely likely that it is."
If that is the case, in October you may be enjoying the sight in 3D that seems "far more real than reality", thanks to ever improving technology. The real world and the fictive world are once again beginning to overlap before our very eyes – eyes that are still, for now, covered by ridiculous 3D glasses.

Who is getting who?

Perhaps you plan to go and watch. Or perhaps, like me, you cower behind a cushion at the very thought. Either way, we must begin to think seriously about the issues that modern cinema presents to us right now. Otherwise, we may be left to echo Dick Gowdwin in Robert Redford’s 1994 film Quiz Show:
"I thought we were gonna get film. The truth is, film is gonna get us."
© 2010 Rachel Thorpe
This article appears here by the kind permission of Rachel Thorpe. It first appeared in the September 2010 edition of Evangelicals Now.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Old School Country: Hank Williams Sr.

Hank Williams, Sr.

So, one way that I think I might be able to stay somewhat faithful to the blog without compromising the dissertation is by occasionally drawing on aspects of my misspent youth, part of which involved long days with only two AM radio stations to listen to. One of these was talk radio, which I could only handle in small chunks; the other was classic country, which I could handle in slightly larger chunks. (If only I could send my iPod back in time...) The result of this is that I have a largish body of knowledge about country music between the 1940s and the 1980s (and a largish body of knowledge about American government in the late 1990s, but that's perhaps less valuable; and of course I also have just a largish body). Because I am so kind and generous, I am going to share my thoughts and wisdom on some of these older country singers, and hopefully expose the best of their music to folks who otherwise might never encounter what is a decent-in small doses- genre that has been largely forgotten.

One interesting facet of classic country music is its various roots, including bases in jazz, folk, blues, gospel, bar songs, and the early stages of rock and roll. A good functional definition of "country music", at least in the 1950s, is "traditional ballads set to contemporary music." This highlights the difference between 1950s country and 1950s rock and roll, which is perhaps defined as "contemporary ballads set to contemporary music." And, sadly, that's really the main difference. Even though rock and roll is more associated with sex and substance abuse, country was right there with it. Consider the Wikipedia entry on Hank Williams, Sr.'s death:
During his last years Williams's consumption of alcohol, morphine and other painkillers severely compromised his professional and personal life. He divorced his wife and was dismissed by the Grand Ole Opry due to frequent drunkenness. Williams died suddenly on the early morning hours of New Years Day in 1953 at the age of 29.
This is not atypical.
After the 50s the two genres go their separate ways and evolve in distinct streams. They don't really rejoin until the 1990s, which I may not get to (depending on the dissertation and how long this line of thought holds my interest).

And, as a note, this will NOT be a historical/biographical series of posts, primarily I hope it to be a musical one, focusing on the best music, not on the interesting tidbits and themes. Though I may not always be able to help myself.

So, starting with one of the founders of country music as a distinctive style, here are some of Hank Williams, Sr.,'s most notable creations:

Notice in this song, I Saw the Light, the clear Gospel roots with jazz overtones. The song is singable both by a soloist and by a group, which remains a feature of country music through the 1970s. (Other notables here include Roy Acuff and June Carter, yes THAT June Carter):

Williams' first big hit also clearly indicates its roots in jazz:

Your Cheatin' Heart shows the blues influence (thematically):

One of his most popular songs remains I'm so Lonesome I could cry, this version is covered by Elvis. One of the reasons Elvis is so able to cover this is his own amazing ability to cross genres, but at least part of the reason this works so well is the close relationship between early country and rock and roll.

 Hey Good Lookin has been a lasting favorite of fans of Williams' as well (song starts 40 seconds in)


This video is a tribute done by Hank Williams, Jr (possibly covered later), covering his father's There's a Tear in my Beer:

Friday, February 10, 2012

Stumbled across in my reading this morning

I Would Not Live Always by Augustus Muhlenberg
I would not live alway—live alway below,
Oh, no, I’ll not linger when bidden to go:
The days of our pilgrimage granted us here
Are enough for life’s woes, full enough for its cheer.
Would I shrink from the paths which the prophets of God,
Apostles, and martyrs, so joyfully trod?
While brethren and friends are all hastening home,
Like a spirit unblest, o’er the earth would I roam?

I would not live always. I ask not to stay
Where storm after storm rises dark o er the way;
Where seeking for peace, we but hover around,
Like the patriarch's bird, and no resting is found;
Where Hope, when she paints her gay bow in the air,
Leaves its brilliance to fade in the night of despair;
And Joy's fleeting angel ne’er sheds a glad ray,
Save the gloom of the plumage that bears him away.

I would not live alway—thus fettered by sin,
Temptation without, and corruption within;
In a moment of strength if I sever the chain
Scarce the victory's mine e’er I m captive again.
E’en the rupture of pardon is mingled with fears,
And my cup of thanksgiving with penitent tears;
The festival trump calls for jubilant songs,
But my spirit her own miserere prolongs.

I would not live alway. No welcome the tomb;
Since Jesus hath lain there I dread not its gloom;
Where He deigned to sleep I’ll, too, bow my head;
Oh, peaceful the slumbers on that hallowed bed!
And theu the glad dawn to follow that night,
When the sunlight of glory shall beam on my sight,
When the full matin song, as the sleepers arise
To shout in the morning, shall peal through the skies.

Who, who would live alway—away from his God,
Away from yon heaven, his blissful abode,
Where the rivers of pleasure flow o’er the bright plains,
And the noontide of glory eternally reigns;
Where saints of all ages in harmony meet,
Their Saviour and brethren transported to greet;
While the songs of salvation exultingly roll,
And the smile of the Lord is the feast of the soul?

That heavenly music! What is it I hear?
The notes of the harpers ring sweet in the air;
And see soft unfolding, those portals of gold!
The King all arrayed in his beauty behold!
Oh, give me, oh, give me the wings of a dove!
Let me hasten my flight to those mansions above!
Aye, ‘t is now that my soul on swift pinions would soar,
And in ecstasy bid earth adieu evermore!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Stuff I learned about Martin Luther

In the course of my morning reading, the following facts came to light about Martin Luther:
  • He called his wife "Lady Luther, Lady Doctor, Lady of the Pigmarket" (apparently, that was a compliment in 16th century Germany).
  • "He was too poor to keep a horse and carriage, but he kept a bowling-alley for exercise."
  • He once offered a prize to his dinner guests for the one who could say the shortest blessing. (Philip Melanchthon won with: Benedictus Benedicat, something to the effect of "bless us o Blessed One.")
  • He paid his wife fifty guilders to read the Bible cover to cover.
  • "He regarded comets, which he calls 'harlot stars,' as tokens of God's wrath or as works of the Devil." (I now have something to shout every time I see a comet...)
From Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. 7, chapter 78.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

On Teaching

Roman boys were sitting in the class like this, but with much more students.

I don't often think about what it means to be a teacher. Frankly, I usually too busy actually doing it to give it the thought it likely deserves.

I suspect that at some level, most students (and certainly most parents) assume that education is fundamentally functional, that is, it is intended to convey a set of practical skills which, when the education is complete, may then be sent out into the world and by the magical process of the marketplace, turned into money, a house with a two car garage, and children who, in their turn, will themselves need to be educated.
Of course, this definition might work for the sciences or engineering (or it might not, those really aren't areas I know much about), but when you're dealing with the humanities, this becomes a difficult proposition. There really isn't much of a living to be made with the "skills" gained from learning how to read and explain a book or an idea. In fact, in order to turn these particular skills into money, one essentially has to go back into the system and teach, either at the high school or college level.

So, at the end of the day, just what on earth are we doing as teachers anyway?

One suggestion, responding directly to the "practical" mentality," is given by Peter Augustin Lawler:
 Some claim liberal education should be about what’s required to be a productive citizen.  I’ve already said that the case that liberal education makes us more productive is weak.  The case that it can contribute to citizenship is stronger.  To be a citizen is to be a part of a particular place in the world with its own traditions, customs, understanding of justice, and both privileges and duties.  A citizen needs to do a lot of untechnical reading unrelated to most work to experience himself or herself as properly at home.  So citizenship really does require “civic literacy,” as long as that phrase is understood broadly enough.  That education might be called liberal education insofar as it’s required to be a free man and woman located particular, political place in the world. Still, to be a citizen purely speaking is to be all about service to a country (or “city” in the Greek sense).  Each of us knows that he or she is more than a productivity machine and more than a mere citizen.  It’s finding out who we are when we’re not working for money or our country (or even our family) that liberal education is all about.  In the pure sense, liberal education isn’t about citizenship—although it far from abolishes the duties of citizenship,  just as it as far from abolishes the duty to work.
Another perspective is given by Jeffrey Polet over at Front Porch Republic, (which starts off talking about one topic and ends discussing the nature of education). At one point, Professor Polet cites a Wendell Berry work (one of those which I have not read):
Consider, for example, Berry’s telling of the story of Hannah Coulter. She was not a native to Port William, having spent her early years in Shagbark. She was encouraged to move to Port William to “make something of herself,” to find a place where she could deliver on her promise and native gifts, leaving behind her own family. Repeating this narrative, when she had children of her own she sent them to be formally educated, believing that she owed it to them. Berry writes:
“The way of education leads away from home. … The big idea of education, from first to last, is the idea of a better place. Not a better place where you are, because you want it to be better and have been to school and learned to make it better, but a better place somewhere else. In order to move up, you have to got to move on.”
And then later, when reflecting back on the absence of her children from her life, Berry has Hannah say something I could easily imagine my mom saying:
“When I think back to the childhood of my own children now, I remember that the thought of their education was always uppermost. … We wanted them to have all the education they needed or wanted, and yet hovering over that thought always was the possibility that once they were educated they would go away, which, as it turned out, they did. We owed them that choice, and we gave it to them, and it might be hard to argue that we were wrong. But I wonder now, and I wonder it many a time, if the other choice, the choice of coming home, might not have been made clearer.”
That, as well as anything, sums up the paradox within which many of us on the Porch operate. Education was not simply a way up, it was an appropriate development of our native gifts. But the way up led out, and we were never told there was a choice of coming home, only a choice of leaving – which is, of course, not a choice at all. The deep suspicion for some of us on the Porch is not that we want to restrict people’s freedom of choice, but that our choices aren’t as rounded, aren’t as full as we often believe them to be, for it is not our willing and doing, but that which happens to us above and beyond our willing and doing that is the proper province of our thinking.³ But knowledge always comes too late.
In other words, the point of education is to help individuals round out the abilities and talents they already possess, so that they can live the fullest human life possible.

So, like I said, I'm not sure what the point of teaching is, other than it's more than just passing on information. I suspect the truth is some form of balance between the various options. Teaching should be practical, useful for leisure, and helpful in developing the inner abilities already present in the individual. Beyond that? Well, maybe it bears more thought...

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Looking for a new small group?

Apparently, this is an oldie, but as with most pop-cultural (and especially religious pop-cultural) things, I missed it:

This is, sadly, mostly true...

Warning! Crude language ahead!

"If your only interaction with farm animals is petting zoos and cheeseburgers, you probably see them as lovable and innocent creatures. Don't be fooled -- petting zoos are where animals go when their spirits are broken."

Most people's exposure to rural environments consists of taking a scenic drive through wine country or being tricked onto a tomato farm by a Domino's ...

There's hope for me yet...

If this guy can get (and keep) a job, perhaps my future in academia isn't quite so bleak-looking after all...

A snippet:
If you find yourself called to the lowly ranks of the professoriate; and if, moreover, you find that your first call is to an all-girls’ college; and if years later you find yourself the center of attention in a tenure hearing at another institution, being asked to comment on what it was like to teach at an all-women’s college; and if by way of response you find yourself not at all against your will or better instincts saying, “I felt like a pork chop at a bar mitzvah,” you may be sure your true calling is not so much to the professoriate as to the noble duties and obligations of smartassery.
If in the same hearing you are asked about your “perceived arrogance,” and if, leaning back, legs crossed lockerroom style, you say, “well, I don’t know about ‘perceived,’ but I’m damned sure arrogance is no misdemeanor,” then you may likewise be sure you were marked long ago for—indeed, called from your mother’s womb to—the holy office of (you guessed it) smartassery.
No doubt at one point in your undergraduate career you were summoned by the dean of students, who expressed in sincere and lofty tones his worry that you were developing a “cynical attitude.” (This is because you filled out a questionnaire meant, apparently, to be taken seriously, in blue crayon with yellow illustrations.) And you, no doubt, looking him straight in the eye, said, “I’m afraid you’re a little late.”
No doubt a high school teacher, unable to put to rest your line of inquiry, once pulled out this old chestnut: “Do you think you are the only one who knows the truth?” And you, not quite able to help yourself, said, “No, sir. In fact I know several people who do. Some are in this room. It just so happens that you are not one of them.”
(The Bar Jester doesn’t aspire to autobiography. Invention is ever his principal interest, second only to his disinterest in principles.)
Now the scorn that patient merit of the unworthy takes (like the insolence of office and the proud man’s contumely) is another matter altogether; it goes by various names, including “assholery,” and it is not to be endured. This the Bar Jester acknowledges.
But who can think ill of an untenured man, sitting in a meeting with a rambling colleague going on and on once again about how she has been silenced her whole career, who breaks in and says, “yes, thanks very much for all that, but how do you square it with the fact, apparent to everyone in this room, that not a soul on earth has ever known you to shut up”?
I think you must praise him for his smartassery.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Article: What Americans Mean When They Say They're Conservative - The Atlantic

There's a thoughtful little article over at The Atlantic: What Americans Mean When They Say They're Conservative - The Atlantic. And while it doesn't necessarily give any solid definitions for "conservative" (that word, along with "liberal", is functionally meaningless these days anyway), it does lay out several of the options. Of the choices listed, I'd say I fall into:
  • 16, 17, & 18, not because I'm conservative, but because I'm sane.
  • 20, 21 & (to a lesser extent) 10, ditto.
  • 19 because I'm a Christian.
  • 19 & 1 because I've studied quite a lot of history.
  • 15 & 14  I hold in a slight tension. I don't think we have an absolute right to be left alone, but I think it's awfully nice if we are. Likewise, I'm a pretty firm federalist (in the older sense of that word), which in turn means that government does have a role to play in our lives, including at the national level.
  • 2 only in a vague sense (this is largely where my "federalism" works itself out).
  • 9 in a much less vague sense.
And, I think that's pretty much it. There are of course issues on which I am more or less conservative (often more), but in broad philosophical strokes there are quite a few on this list which frankly I want nothing to do with. Which I suspect shows, as I noted above, that the word "conservative" is these days mostly an empty word.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Becker on Modernity

It is one of the engaging ironies of modern thought that the scientific method, which it was once fondly hoped would banish mystery from the world, leaves it every day more inexplicable. Physics, which it was thought had dispensed with the need of metaphysics, has been transformed by its own proper researches into the most metaphysical of disciplines. The more attentively the physicist looks at the material stuff of the world the less there is to see.
-Carl L. Becker, The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers 24.